Friday, August 29, 2014

Andrea Rosal's companion asks SC to free him

From ABS-CBN (Aug 29): Andrea Rosal's companion asks SC to free him

The mother of the companion of alleged Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) officer Andrea Rosal during her arrest is seeking the help of the Supreme Court.

Edward Dimalaluan Lanzanas aka Rafael De Guzman filed a petition with the SC on Friday to seek a reversal of a Court of Appeals (CA) ruling that junked her petition for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of her son.

Lanzanas was the companion of Rosal when she was arrested last March 27.

Nimfa Lanzanas, in her petition against Imus Jail Warden Bernardino Camus, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Director Virgilio Mendez, and NBI Anti-Organized Crime Division chief Atty Rommel Vallejo, said that the CA erred in junking her plea.

Lanzanas pointed out that Edward was arrested with Rosal even if his name was not included in the warrant of arrest for murder, and kidnapping with murder, issued by a Mauban, Quezon trial court.

The arresting officers claimed that Edward is a certain "Ka Jomel."

In her petition, Lanzanas said there was no basis to arrest Edward, and no basis for his continuing detention.

Lanzanas urged the high court to order respondents to present Edward before the court, and subsequently order his release from detention.

Captive’s wife: NPA assures abducted soldiers are in “good hands”

From the Philippine Information Agency (Aug 28): Captive’s wife: NPA assures abducted soldiers are in “good hands” 

New People’s Army (NPA) assured families of two abducted soldiers that the captives are now in “good hands.”

In a press statement, Lt. Col. Lennon Babilonia, 8th Infantry Battalion Commander, said PFC Marnel T. Cinches and PFC Jerrel H. Yorong—though unarmed and wearing civilian clothes— were reported kidnapped around 4:00 p.m this August 22.

They were abducted while on their way to barangay Bontongon in Impasugong town to assist people’s livelihood project in said village.

Cinches’ wife Lolibeth, in an interview, said that at 8:30 p.m. of the same day, she quickly heeded her husband’s request through “text message” to call his mobile phone.“

The voice who identified himself as NPA frontrunner assured me that the captives are alive and safe. I thanked God upon hearing it, but fear still surrounds me as I really don’t know how long will they be released by the captors,” she said.

Alan Juanito, spokesman of the NPA’s Julito Tiro Command, said in a statement the two are now under the NPA’s custodial unit and that they are taking care of them.

Meanwhile, Lt. Norman M. Tagros, 8thIB CMO, said the kidnapped soldiers are elements of 8thIB who are members of Peace and Development Team that provide assistance in conducting community-based initiatives identified by the locals themselves in tandem with the local government unit.

The military said they are now closely coordinating with religious groups, IP leaders, local government units (LGUs), media, and civil society organizations, among others, for the safety of rescue troops conducting operations and to help them gather information regarding the abduction.

NPA’s hooded armed men abduct army’s “peace, development” workers

From the Philippine Information Agency (Aug 27): NPA’s hooded armed men abduct army’s “peace, development” workers

Four hooded armed men of the New People’s Army (NPA) abducted two unarmed enlisted personnel of the 8th Infantry Battalion (8thIB) of the Philippine Army.

Army’s PFC Jerrel H. Yorong and PFC Marnel T. Cinches, wearing civilian clothes, were reported kidnapped around 4:00 p.m, August 22, 2014, while on their way to barangay Bontongon in Impasugong town to facilitate a livelihood project for the people.

Lt. Col. Lennon Babilonia, 8thIB commanding officer, said the soldiers were kidnapped in the area where the late Impasugong town mayor Mario Okinlay was murdered by NPA early last month.

The two soldiers are members of Peace and Development Team who provide assistance in conducting community-based initiatives identified by the locals themselves in tandem with the local government unit (LGU).

“Obviously, the NPAs are against this ‘peace and development’ program of the government. This prompts them to sow fear to those who support and joined in the bandwagon for peace, which is part of our ‘Bayanihan para sa Kapayapaan (working together for peace)’ program,” Babilonia said.

The 403rd Infantry Brigade (403rdIB) and the 8thIB of the Philippine Army are now conducting rescue and recovery operations to locate the two missing soldiers.

Col. Francisco L. Pabayo, 403rdIB Commander, meanwhile, said they are now collaborating with religious groups, IP leaders, LGUs, media, and civil society organizations, among others, to help them in gathering information regarding the abduction by reporting to the nearest army unit or police station

Sabah kidnaps work of Muktadil brothers: Cops

From the Daily Express (Aug 24): Sabah kidnaps work of Muktadil brothers: Cops

Semporna: Police here released photos of two of three suspects believed linked to the Kidnap-for-Ransom (KFR) group which forced security forces to fire a warning shot near Pulau Maiga, off Semporna, at 5.30pm on Thursday.

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Jalaludin Abdul Rahman said the highly wanted person identified as Nikson Muktadil in his 30s, and his brother, Badong Muktadil @ Adzmil Muktadil in his 40s, from Pondohan, Balitang Sitangkai, Tawi-Tawi Philippines - were both linked to several KFR cases in Semporna.

He said Nikson who is involved in a KFR group in Pondohon, Tawi-Tawi, is also believed involved in the kidnapping case in Singamata Resort on April 2 this year and reportedly stayed in Kg Bangau-Bangau and Balitag Island in Semporna before fleeing to Philippines.

Badong who is connected with a KFR group in Pondohon was also reported to have 30 to 40 followers and four boats of 40 and 70 horsepower.

Badong is suspected involved in four kidnapping cases in Semporna and Lahad Datu, namely in Pom-Pom Resort (Nov. 15, 2013), Singamata Resort (April 2, 2014), Wonderful Terrace Sdn Bhd in Lahad Datu and the recent incident at Mabul Water Bungalow Resort in Mabul on July 12, 2014.

Police are still identifying the third suspect also believed to be Filipino.

Asked if the suspects were linked to militants in Southern Philippines, Jalaluddin said there are possibilities because based on information there are a lot of terrorist groups involved in the KFR.

"We urge the public to assist police in hunting the three suspects by providing information on their whereabouts," he told a press conference at the Semporna Marine Police Base, Saturday.

Also present were Sabah Region Marine Police Commander ACP Mohammad Madun and Semporna Police Chief Superintendent Mazlan Lazim.

Jalaluddin warned the public not to hide or protect or be in alliance with the wanted suspects as it is an offence. "Once we protect criminals, we are also considered as criminals É please alert our security enforcement or the district police chief should you come across any information," he stressed.

On another development, Jalaludin told reporters that a joint operation between police and the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom), was conducted at three islands - Gaya, Maiga and Tatangan Island -where the three suspects are believed to be hiding.

He said 103 illegals were rounded up during the "cleaning operation", adding that after the warning shot incident, six marine boats were mobilised to the three islands to track down the suspects.

On the 5.30pm warning shot incident, Jalaluddin said, it happened in the curfew waters when a marine patrol boat came across the three men who were masked and with weapons on a white and blue boat.

"Our men fired a warning shot when the trio attempted 'to do something' resulting in a boat chase where the suspects escaped by going into shallow waters," he added.

In a related development, he hoped the curfew order strategy could obstruct any form of criminal activity, especially kidnapping, and it was proven with no recent cases so far in August after the April, May, June and July kidnapping cases.

He said police even received many requests from foreign tourists for the curfew to be extended.

Jalaluddin also urged fishermen affected by the curfew to apply for a permit and not to make the curfew a reason to hike the price of fish.

"Curfew is imposed for only 10 hours and they have 14 hours to fish," he said.

Meanwhile, Sabah United Chinese Chambers of Commerce (SUCCC) President Datuk Seri Panglima Gan Sau Wah expressed regret over misleading reports on the warning shot which sparked widespread panic in the East Coast.

Gan who is also the Semporna Chinese Chambers of Commerce President said: "As far as I know no gun battle occurred but the media (not Daily Express) reported it as if an intense shooting had taken place," he said, adding that this caused panic among the people, business sectors as well as foreign investors.

He received many phone calls from friends and business acquaintances here and abroad after the news hit the streets through printed and electronic media with many expressing their concern and some even withdrawing their intention to invest here for the time being.

"The media has a social obligation to society and must adhere to it, such report does not benefit us but is more burdensome to our livelihood, especially those living in Lahad Datu, Kunak and Semporna, where business is badly affected," he said.

Gan believed there must be some sort of control when dealing with highly sensitive issues and that the head of security forces must take into consideration the negative impact delivered to people before making any statement to the media.

"I hope security leaders would be more cautious when confronted by the media in future, as this would avoid unnecessary burden to the people and the business sectors as well as the State Government," he said.

Gan also hoped the media would do the same by taking into account the impact on the people before deciding to report and publish any article related to highly sensitive issues.

"We set up a new East Coast Security Unit headed by the Lahad Datu Chinese Chamber of Commerce President Mok Tian Sang who is expected to chair the first meeting early next month and discuss issues related to security in the East Coast as well as how we can contribute in achieving a common goal," he said.

He said over the years many Chinese businessmen and Chinese tourists had been the victims of kidnapping by foreign armed criminals.

"As the organisation representing the Chinese community in the State, SUCCC feels that it is our obligation to protect our members and Chinese business communities, as such this Unit was formed to play our role to assist the government to ensure Chinese business community adhere to the security guideline, assisting security forces in maintaining better security level and provide constructive suggestion to the government on security issues," he explained.

The members of the Unit comprise six Chinese Chambers of Commerce (CCC) in the Esszone area, Semporna CCC Secretary Gan Shi Wah is the Deputy Chairman of the Unit, Kunak CCC President Pong Kim Wai appointed as the Secretary of the Unit, while its committee members comprised of Tawau CCC President Lo Su Fui, Sandakan CCC President Chia Hock Ak and Kudat CCC President Pak Chee Eng.

Malaysia and US hold war games in Sabah

From the Straits Times posted to Asia One (Aug 29): Malaysia and US hold war games in Sabah

Malaysia and US hold war games in Sabah

A file photo of a Malaysian soldier in action at Kampung Tanduo, where Filipino gunmen held villagers hostage last year.

The Malaysian army and the US military have kick-started their first joint military exercise at Kampung Tanduo in Sabah to boost security at the exact location that was invaded by Filipino gunmen more than a year ago.

The Malaysia-United States Amphibious Exercise (Malus Amphex) began on Monday with the aim of improving troops' readiness and amphibious training such as assault and landing, the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur said.

For nine days, the two forces will train in areas including shipboard familiarisation, medical and dental capabilities, weapons familiarisation, amphibious rehearsals with ship-to-shore connectors, live-firing ranges and Rapid Response Planning Process, the embassy added.

The exercise in Kampung Tanduo, a small village surrounded by oil palm plantations in eastern Sabah, is a symbolic location as it was bombed by Malaysian security forces to drive out gunmen from southern Philippines who had claimed sovereignty of the area and held villagers hostage in February last year.

The military operation to flush them out killed more than 100 people, including at least 10 Malaysian soldiers and policemen.

Mr Shahriman Lockman of Malaysia's Institute of Strategic and International Studies said that over the years the US has supplied Malaysian armed forces with radars to enhance security in eastern Sabah.

The long and porous Sabah coastlines, and proximity to southern Philippines where many insurgents are holed up, have made it easy for terrorist groups to kidnap tourists for weapons and money.

Since April this year, there have been four abductions, including the latest case last month, when a policeman was kidnapped in a shootout.

Asked about the joint exercise being held in Kampung Tanduo, Mr Shahriman told The Straits Times yesterday: "The US is merely responding to up Malaysia's capabilities to address the rising security concerns in east Sabah."

Those involved in the joint exercise include personnel from the 7th and 22nd Royal Malay Regiments based in Sabah, as well as US marines and sailors from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group.

Malaysian and US armed forces had been involved in various joint exercises in the past, the most recent being the Cope Taufan and Teak Mint Exercise in June.

That exercise featured the newest US Air Force fighter, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, in its maiden exercise in South-east Asia.

Dr Oh Ei Sun of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies told The Straits Times that the US military presence is generally welcome in the region as a stabilising and balancing force.

"Such an exercise could have a deterrent effect on the armed terrorists," he said, "lest the terrorists think they are immune from the collective wrath of Malaysia, the Philippines and the US."

Sayyaf now targets ‘weakest,’ not richest, prey, say police

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 30): Sayyaf now targets ‘weakest,’ not richest, prey, say police

Members of the terror group Abu Sayyaf seized yet another government worker shortly after releasing another in two cases that, authorities said, were a sign that the al-Qaida-linked crime gang is now indiscriminate in its targets.

The latest victim of kidnapping is Lailani Bernabe, a midwife at a district hospital in Luuk town, Sulu province.

According to Dr. Raden Ikbala, of the Sulu integrated provincial health office, Bernabe was on her way to work Friday when she was seized by members of the Abu Sayyaf in Barangay Libug Kabaw, Panglima Estino town.

Chief Insp. Arthur Valdez, of the Antikidnapping Group (AKG), said Bernabe was believed to have been taken to Barangay Bagsak in Talipao town.

The AKG is an antikidnapping task force of the Philippine National Police covering Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces, and Zamboanga City, where kidnappings are frequent.

Bernabe’s kidnapping is the second in recent days in Sulu.

On Wednesday, a resident of the city, Ronald Pelegrin, 39, was released by his kidnappers right inside the provincial capitol in Patikul town.

Pelegrin was held for 12 days and the Abu Sayyaf had demanded P15-million ransom for his release.

Since 2013, over a dozen regular or contractual employees of the provincial government have been taken captive.

According to Valdez, the kidnapping of ordinary employees established a pattern showing that the Abu Sayyaf is now targeting victims “regardless of their status in life.”

Valdez said that unlike in the past, when the Abu Sayyaf chose its victims according to their capacity to pay ransom, “the Abu Sayyaf of today abducts people regardless of whether they can pay, as long as they are easy to snatch.”

“It’s based more on vulnerability now,” said Valdez.

He said the terror group could also be trying to embarrass the provincial government, particularly Sulu Vice Gov. Abdusakur Tan, who is being credited for a relentless campaign against terror groups in the province.

“They might be also trying to send a message to the Sulu government that they can create trouble,” said Valdez.

Senior Supt. Abraham Orbita, Sulu police director, said Pelegrin had told authorities that he was kept by his captors in Barangay Danag, also in Patikul, before his release in the provincial capitol’s motor pool area.

It was not certain if ransom was paid for the release of Pelegrin.

Pelegrin and his cousin, Dante Avilla, a mechanic, were kidnapped on Aug. 16. Avilla resisted the armed men and was killed in the process.

Leftist rebel group vows to force gov't back to peace talks

From the Philippine Star (Aug 29): Leftist rebel group vows to force gov't back to peace talks

The New People's Army (NPA), a leftist group in the Philippines, vowed today to intensify its tactical offensives against government troops to pressure the Philippine government to go back to the negotiating table.

"By intensifying guerrilla warfare, the reactionary government will also be forced to return to the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP)," said Karlos Manuel, spokesperson of NPA Eastern Visayas Regional Operations Command.

Formal peace talks between the Aquino administration and the NDFP, the political wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines- NPA, have been stalled since 2011.

Manuel said the NPA members, particularly in his region, were also poised to heighten their operations to ensure the defeat of the government's Oplan Bayanihan, a counterinsurgency program of the military.

"We will strive for tactical offensives that are annihilative and with political impact. We will combine these with attritive actions such as sniping and the punishment of enemy spies," Manuel added.

Future Bangsamoro not to be cradle of religious extremism: official

From the Philippine Star (Aug 29): Future Bangsamoro not to be cradle of religious extremism: official

The future Bangsamoro region in southern Philippines will promote collective security, not cradle threats of religious extremism as espoused by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or other regional violent groups like the Jemaah Islamiyyah (JI), a senior government official said here Friday.

The Government of the Philippines (GPH) peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said that the peace deal signed in March this year by the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest Muslim rebel group, aims to establish genuine autonomy in the south that respects the diversity of the people in the area, the basic rights of all and collective security.

"The intention is to put in place a better system that would be able to address security issues, such as those that involve extremist groups that may try to move in and out of these territories," she said.

Coronel-Ferrer aired optimism that the "implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which includes a normalization process, can contribute to enhancing collective security in Mindanao and in the country, as well as security cooperation with neighboring countries."

The security aspect of normalization includes policing, gradual decommissioning of MILF forces and weapons, redeployment of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) from or within the conflict- affected areas, and the disbandment of private armed groups.

Earlier reports said that some 100 Filipinos from southern Philippines have trained in the Middle East to join ISIS.

But the Philippine government said there was no confirmation regarding those reports.

Japan military asking for record budget

Posted to the Manila Times (Aug 29): Japan military asking for record budget

Japan’s defense ministry on Friday made its biggest ever budget request, as Tokyo bolsters its military amid worries over China’s expanding naval reach.

The ministry wants 5.05 trillion yen ($48.7 billion) for the year, with the focus on boosting protection of a string of southern islands that stretches from Kyushu to waters near Taiwan.

The request, if approved, would mark the third straight annual defense budget increase and a 3.5-percent rise from the budget for the current fiscal year to March 2015.

The trend reflects Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wish to build a more active military, with an eye on a possible escalation of tensions with China.

Japan is increasingly wary of China, which is seen by several countries in the region as becoming increasingly aggressive in various sovereignty claims, including a suppurative row over island ownership with Tokyo.

Among items on the defense ministry’s shopping list are 20 “P1” maritime patrol aircraft, with a price tag of 378 billion yen.

It also wants five MV-22 “Osprey” —crossover aircraft that have the maneuverability of helicopters and the range of airplanes—along with three “Global Hawk” drones and six high-tech F-35 stealth fighters.

The ministry also wants to set aside money to launch a new amphibious brigade, to be assigned to protect the Nansei Shoto islands that lie between the East China Sea and Pacific Ocean.

The augmented budget request comes after the Abe cabinet decided late last year to set aside roughly 24.7 trillion yen between 2014 and 2019 to spend on things including drones, submarines, fighter jets, and amphibious vehicles, in a strategic shift towards the south and west.

Japan and China have routinely butted heads over the ownership of the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyus, with official Chinese ships and aircraft regularly testing Japanese forces.

Separately, Chinese naval ships and military jets are seen increasing their activities around Japan, while an unpredictable North Korea continues its missile and nuclear programs.

Conservative ideologue Abe has tirelessly traveled abroad to reinforce ties with foreign leaders, particularly those in Southeast Asia, in a bid to counter China’s efforts to expand its sphere of influence.

Abe has also worked to strengthen Japan’s military alliance with the United States.

His defense efforts, however, have provoked unease in China and South Korea, which were victims of Japan’s aggressive military campaigns through the end of World War II.

Army troops overrun rebel landmine manufacturing encampment in Comval town

From the Manila Times (Aug 29): Army troops overrun rebel landmine manufacturing encampment in Comval town

MABINI, Compostela Valley Province: The operating troops from the Philippine Army’s 66th Infantry Battalion overran a New People’s Army (NPA) camp believed to be a landmine manufacturing encampment when they encountered around 20 rebels at Sitio Pag-asa (Mascareg), Barangy Anitapan, Mabini town in Compostela Valley Province earlier this week.

Capt. Ernest Carolina of the Civil Military Office of the PA at the Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) reported on Friday that the government troops tracked down the rebels following a terrorist attack at a banana farm located in the nearby Barangay Tagdagua of Pantukan, Comval Province just a week ago.

Carolina said after an intense firefight, the rebels left behind several items including 12 grenade-type Improvised Explosive Device (IED); two switch detonators; two rolls detonating cord; 120 pieces dynamites; one Voltage regulator; blow torch; two bags full of personal belongings, one pack bolts and knots and one drill machine believed to be used in manufacturing internationally-banned landmines.

Carolina believed some rebels were wounded as indicated by the traces of bloodstains when they pursued the withdrawing rebels. From the government side, one soldier was wounded.

Carolina said the explosive items showed the rebels’ continued violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law or CARHRIHL.

“The Filipino soldiers, being the true vanguards of peace and democracy zealously performed their constitutional mandate as present-day heroes dedicated in serving the Filipino people and securing the integrity of the national territory,” Carolina said.

Osaka University professor pays courtesy call to MILF Chairman

Posted to the MILF Website (Aug 29): Osaka University professor pays courtesy call to MILF Chairman

On August 24, Dr, Masako Ishii of Osaka University gave a courtesy call to MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and was granted an interview by the latter.
Dr. Masako is an Associate Professor for Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development in the Osaka University in Japan.

One of her concerns was how the Indigenous Peoples would be accommodated into the future Bangsamoro Government, and to which the MILF Chairman assured that all their rights would be well protected.

The visit of Dr. Masako was well appreciated by the MILF chieftain and he expressed the Front’s gratitude to the Japanese government and people for their continuing support to the Bangsamoro.

Also present during the courtesy call was Mohamad Nasif of the Office of Operation, Department of General Staff of MILF, who  happens to be Teduray, one of the largest groups of  Indigenous Peoples in the Bangsamoro.

Nasif also said that “if the Bangsamoro Government will take place, the IP’s concerns on their protection and rights will be promoted inside the core territory, and I am one of those people who will guarantee that this promise will be implemented.”

Earlier, Masako was also able to interview BTC Commissioner Timway Melanio Ulama and Datu Antonio Kinoc, a member of MILF Peace Panel. Both are members of the Indigenous Peoples and they said that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is better than previous laws for IPs, such as IPRA (Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act).

She expressed her sincere thanks to those who made possible her learning on the situation of Southern Philippines, particularly the Bangsamoro.

MILF commander, men face double murder raps

Posted to the MILF Website (Aug 28): MILF commander, men face double murder raps

Moro Islamic Liberation Front's (MILF) National Guard Front Commander Saya, four of his followers, and other John Does were charged with double murder for the killing of a commander of the 106th Base and his son in Sultan sa Barongis town last week.
Commander Bato and his son Sadam Kamad, the barangay chairman of Tugal, were on board their motorcycle when they were gunned down by the suspects in a far-flung village in the same municipality.

The shooting incident led to a short firefight between the two warring groups.

The victims sustained multiple gunshot wounds from high-powered firearms. Their hands were almost amputated, police said.

Sultan sa Barongis Police Chief Inspector Cesar Ibal said they have identified five suspects based on the testimonies of witnesses who were just three meters away from the crime scene.

Meanwhile, the local government on Tuesday called for a peace and order council meeting.

Authorities said over a thousand families have already left their homes due to fear of getting caught in between the fighting.

"Naririnig kasi nila na may reinforcement daw at ganun din ang gagawin ng kabilang grupo. So kung magsalubong itong dalawa, siguradong magkakaroon ng barilan," Ibal said.

But MILF Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces spokesman Von Al Haq said a directive has been sent to the ground commanders not to make any movement and reinforcement on the warring parties to avoid more tension between the two.

The MILF is also doing an investigation to find out the root cause of the killing of Commander Bato.

The MILF said it will leave to its disciplinary board the decision on what sanctions will be imposed on whoever will be found guilty in the crime.

Due to the tension, classes in two elementary schools were suspended. The local government and the Department of Education then decided to hold classes in nearby evacuation centers where the residents are temporarily staying.

CPP/NPA: Intensify tactical offensives to defeat Oplan Bayanihan and overthrow the US-Aquino regime

NPA propaganda statement posted to the CPP Website (Aug 29): Intensify tactical offensives to defeat Oplan Bayanihan and overthrow the US-Aquino regime
Karlos Manuel
NPA Eastern Visayas Regional Operations Command (Efren Martires Command)
The Efren Martires Command (EMC) of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Eastern Visayas (EV) commends all the Red commanders and fighters in the region for their heroic efforts in the past two years. The US-Aquino regime’s Oplan Bayanihan is a dismal failure based on the two-year assessment (July 2012-July 2014) of the Regional Operations Command. But the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is daydreaming that it can reduce the NPA in the region to inconsequence by 2016 and turn over “counterinsurgency” operations to the Philippine National Police.
It is more likely that Aquino will be booted from power and his fascist troops will be following in his downfall.

With the region as one of its national priorities since 2012, the US-Aquino regime stepped up its “peace and development team” (PDT) operations, combat operations and the “convergence approach” that used various government agencies to deceive the people. The Regional Operations Command estimates the 8th Infantry Division (8th ID) launched as many as 10,000 combat operations up to division level. The PDT operations also covered 48 towns and 136 barangays in Samar and Leyte. The 8th ID concentrates its attacks on the “triboundary” area in Samar where the three provinces meet and where it believes the guerrilla bases are strongest. The 8th ID’s priority areas include Northern Samar, Western Samar and Northern Leyte.

But the 8th ID paid dearly for its Oplan Bayanihan in EV, suffering a total of 341 casualties: 255 killed in action and 86 wounded in action. The enemy casualties are a far cry from the NPA losses of 14 killed in action, eight wounded in action, and 18 captured by the enemy.

The 8th ID is striving to pit one battalion per guerrilla front, but its forces are too overstretched. While it may be able to concentrate on 10% of an area at a given time, the NPA is still free to move in 90%. The 8th ID also cannot cover up the failure of the reactionary government to deliver basic services through its “bayanihan activities” such as medical and dental missions, tree planting, and other such tokenisms. The 803rd Infantry Brigade carried out 52 such activities, the 87th IB 20 more, and the 19th IB in one year 80 such activities. The human rights violations that arise from militarization furthermore highlight the anti-people character of Oplan Bayanihan.

The US-Aquino regime also cannot continue deceiving the people with its “convergence approach” or the mobilization of other government agencies for “counterinsurgency.” This comprises the pouring of billions of pesos into projects in areas deemed as guerrilla bases, including various construction projects. These include the ₱470 million projects on Samar island by the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan or PAMANA that targets the mass base of the NPA, and under the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. There are also the ₱12 billion Regional Peace and Order Council road projects, the 14 tourism projects worth ₱888.8 million, and the ₱1.6 billion Samar Pacific Coastal Road and ₱900 billion Samar Peace and Prosperity Road (both in Northern Samar). The biggest project remains the $357.15 million of the US Millennium Challenge Corporation, mainly road projects.

But such projects by the US-Aquino regime do not solve the fundamental problems of the people and serve only to line the pockets of corrupt civilian and military officials. The region is now the second poorest in the country. Millions of Yolanda survivors and the rest of the people in the region suffer from government neglect, landlessness, lack of social services, rising prices of basic commodities, militarization and other burdens.

The NPA is thus poised to intensify tactical offensives in the region to ensure the defeat of Oplan Bayanihan and to support the people’s struggle to overthrow the regime. It is the responsibility of the NPA in the region to participate in the national effort to intensify guerrilla warfare and advance the people’s war to the strategic stalemate from the strategic defensive. This will contribute to the political climate favorable for the overthrow of the US-Aquino regime. It is also the duty of the NPA in the region to support our comrades in Mindanao by tying down the AFP troops and preventing their deployment to that island, the current target of all-out offensive by the regime. By intensifying guerrilla warfare, the reactionary government will also be forced to return to the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

All NPA forces in the region are abiding by the national directive of the Communist Party of the Philippines to carry out tactical offensives in the remaining months of the year. We will strive for tactical offensives that are annihilative, confiscate arms and with political impact. We will combine these with attritive actions such as sniping and the punishment of enemy spies.

While we are carrying out tactical offensives, we will pay attention to related work to widen and consolidate our guerrilla bases and zones, strengthening the mass organizations and organs of political power, advancing the agrarian revolution and launching mass struggles.

By advancing the armed struggle, the people can best express their outrage through the principal form of struggle against the puppet, oppressive, corrupt and brutal US-Aquino regime. Thus, the Efren Martires Command is ready to carry out its mission as the main weapon of the people for national and social liberation!

Del Pilar class frigates to be fitted with CIWS, Harpoon missiles

From AngMalaya (Aug 30): Del Pilar class frigates to be fitted with CIWS, Harpoon missiles


“Our initial target is for the Del Pilar frigates to have the same capabilities as the Hamilton-class did when they were in US service, such as having the Phalanx CIWS and Harpoon anti-ship missiles,” Marine Colonel Eric Nicanor, commander of the PN’s Naval Communications, Electronic and Information Center and chairman of the technical working group for the Del Pilar-class frigate upgrade told IHS Jane’s.

He also said that they are looking to possibility of fitting Del Pilar class firgates with weapon and sensor system same with the upcoming brand new frigates the Navy is acquiring. In this way, maintenance and logistics will be simplified, as well as training.

“We are also discussing whether the combat systems and sensors should be the same as the frigates that will be acquired in the future.”

Another possibility is to acquire different systems for Del Pilar class frigates for Navy to experience and access variety of systems.

“We are still discussing and conducting the studies as to which of the two approaches we should consider regarding the Del Pilar upgrade and we also want surface-to-air missile capability for them, so we are studying the options for that also.”

Muslims alert versus ISIS

From the Visayan Daily Star (Aug 29): Muslims alert versus ISIS

Even the Muslim communities in Negros Occidental are on alert against the entry of their misguided brothers, Col. Jon Aying, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, said yesterday.

Aying said that they are closely coordinating with Muslim community leaders in the province, in monitoring the arrival of possible lawless elements from Mindanao.
The Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Mindanao, have recently vowed allegiance to the extreme jihadists Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, who are responsible for the beheading of an American journalist and Islam non-believers, in video clips uploaded on the Internet.
Concerns were aired that both groups may be sending recruits abroad to fight side by side with ISIS. The Armed Forces of the Philippines, however, said there was no evidence to such claims.
Aying said they are closely coordinating with the police intelligence community in monitoring the arrival of individuals from Mindanao, in tandem with Muslim community leaders.
He said they were told by Muslim community leaders that they are even the ones who take the initiatives of sending their Muslim brothers, who have questionable backgrounds back to Mindanao.
The Abu Sayyaf is described by some as a loosely organized Al-Qaeda-linked group of several hundred militants blamed for the deadliest terrorist attacks in Mindanao.
Supt. Alexander Munoz, Police Community Relations chief of the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office,said they have not monitored any reports on arrivals of lawless elements from Mindanao in the province.

Abu Sayyaf men snatch rural health worker in Sulu–report

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 29): Abu Sayyaf men snatch rural health worker in Sulu–report
Suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits have snatched a rural health worker in Panglima Estino, Sulu, officials said.

Dr. Raden Ikbala of the Sulu Integrated Provincial Health Office said that Lailani Bernabe was on her way to work when snatched in Barangay (village) Libug Kabaw in the said town around 10 a.m. Thursday.

The Anti Kidnapping Group said Bernabe was a midwife assigned at the district hospital in Luuk town.

Chief Insp. Arthur Valdez of the AKG said Bernabe was believed to have been brought to Barangay Bagsak in Talipao town.

The Islamic State's Dangerous Influence in Asia

From The National Interest (Aug 29): The Islamic State's Dangerous Influence in Asia (by Hannah Suh)

"While the administration has rightly focused on the Middle East, it should also pay attention to the ripple effects of IS in the Asia-Pacific region."

In places across Indonesia, small collections of political Islamists have “openly pledged their allegiance” to the extremist terrorist group, the Islamic State (IS). One of those who have voiced their support is Abu Bakar Bashir, the founder of the extremist Indonesian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) responsible for the deadly bombings during the 2000s, including the Bali nightclub bombing in 2002, the Marriott bombing in 2003, the Australian Embassy bombing in 2004, the Bali II bombing in 2005, and the Jakarta hotel bombings in 2009. While the spillover of IS into the Asia-Pacific region is unsurprising, this troubling yet under-recognized trend has serious implications for the region as well as the United States.

Southeast Asia’s history of homegrown terrorist groups heighten concerns of IS’ spillover effect. The demographics of the region itself contribute to the fear of a revival of militant Islam—nearly 62% of the world’s Muslim population lives in the Asia-Pacific—Indonesia being the world’s largest Muslim population, with 209 million or 87.2% of the population identifying as Muslim. In the case of Indonesia, although the number of Indonesians joining IS abroad is relatively small, the return of these experienced fighters to their homeland is a larger security threat with serious ramifications. These jihadists could “rekindle the domestic terrorist threat by developing new connections with well-funded, armed, and organized jihadi groups in the Middle East,” according to Sri Yunanto, an adviser to Indonesia’s national counterterrorism agency. As president-elect Joko Widodo transitions into office, he must be cognizant of the security threat and act decisively by identifying it among the most important issues of his administration’s policy agenda.

While not much has been reported on IS’ spillover into other Southeast Asian countries, the same causes of concern in Indonesia apply to the rest of the region. With the drawdown of U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines, Manila may be more vulnerable to terrorism. Similar to Indonesia, if members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Philippine-based Al Qaeda offshoot terrorist group, traveled to Syria or Iraq to fight and returned home, the MILF could be revitalized. Despite a March 2014 agreement ending 45 years of conflict between the Philippine government and the MILF, peace is tenuous. Rogue MILF troops and Islamist militant groups continue to threaten to reignite religious and separatist tensions.

The threat of terrorism is not isolated to Southeast Asia but has also reached Australia; the discussion of IS’ threat dominated the recent AUSMIN ministerial. The graphic picture of Australian terrorist Khaled Sharrouf’s young son holding the severed head of a soldier in Syria has only further emphasized the rampant spread and persistence of terrorism outside of the Middle East. Once again, the threat of returning jihadists planning attacks is prevalent in Australia. During the 1990s and 2000s, an estimated 30 Australians traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan to train with Al Qaeda. Of those who returned, almost one-third were arrested on terror-related charges and all were involved in some type of terrorist activity. The insurgency has even reached East Asia. The Japanese Foreign Ministry is investigating a video posted to YouTube, which shows a Japanese national captured by IS members. A recent press conference by China’s special convoy for the Middle East is evidence, according to some Chinese scholars, that China is watching the Middle East closely and is aware of its influence on China, specifically the Xinjiang region.

The importance of individual countries’ counterterrorism strategies cannot be understated. However, a regional response is equally important. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) could help fill this gap. By the end of 2015, ASEAN has pledged to strengthen its political-security cooperation by creating the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC). With Malaysia assuming the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2015 amidst reports that IS is directly recruiting in Malaysia, hopefully the re-rise of terrorism in the region will serve as an impetus for ASEAN to actually take action.

Although the term “global war on terror” has long lost favor, the global aspect is still important. Coming full circle since 9/11, the crisis in Iraq and resurgence of militant Islam in Southeast Asia reinforce and reemphasize the globalization of terrorism. While the administration has rightly focused on the Middle East, it should also pay attention to the ripple effects of IS in the Asia-Pacific region. As globalization proceeds, the two regions will increasingly be linked by negative trends like the spread of extremism in addition to positive ties like trade. As part of its Asia rebalance policy, the United States is continuing to reinvigorate diplomatic and defense relations with its allies and partners in Asia. Security cooperation with Asian partners under the Bush administration was often focused on counter-terrorism to the exclusion of other issues, but the spread of IS demonstrates the continued relevance of CT in the U.S. Asia policy portfolio.

Detachment 88, an Indonesian special forces counterterrorism squad funded and trained by the United States and Australia, has experienced a high level of success since its creation in 2003 as evidenced by the deaths of top JI officials Noordin Mohammad Top and Dulmatin and master bombmaker Azhari. Further progress and cooperation are needed, as maintaining a positive security bilateral relationship between the United States and Indonesia is of great importance. The United States should continue providing capacity building mechanism and tactical responses and investigative skills training through the State Department’s Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA).

The drawdown of U.S. special forces in the Philippines is actually a positive sign of how successful bilateral security efforts have been; Philippine security forces have reached a point where they depend less on U.S. assistance. However, Washington and Manila’s relationship should not stay stagnant. Instead, both countries should seek opportunities for growth. With the Philippine government transitioning from the military, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), to the police force, the Philippine National Police (PNP), to maintain peace in high-risk security situations, the United States should provide tactical training and support the transition as much as possible.

In regard to both countries, the United States should continue engaging in annual bilateral as well as regional military exercises. Also, the United States should continue to support regional cooperation via ASEAN forums such as the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) Experts’ Working Group on Counterterrorism, ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) on Counterterrorism and Transnational Crime, and APEC’s Counterterrorism Task Force. Overall, the United States has allocated a considerable amount of resources to counterterrorism efforts for both countries. At a time when IS may be fueling a new period of Islamist radicalism, many southeast Asian countries are facing new or resurgent terrorism threats. This security threat provides a new opportunity for U.S. policy. There is no time for complacency with respect to counterterrorism.

[Hannah Suh is the Program Coordinator for the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).
This piece originally appeared on the Center for a New American Security’s website.]

China hastening work on reclamation projects in disputed waters–DFA

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 29): China hastening work on reclamation projects in disputed waters–DFA

China is working double time on their reclamation projects in the South China Sea in order to complete their expansion agenda before the arbitration case is concluded, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Friday.

“DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario has mentioned that these activities are now being hastened in anticipation of the arbitral decision and the conclusion of the legally binding Code of Conduct,” DFA spokesman Charles Jose said in a briefing Friday.

That’s why they are trying to actualize or realize their expansionist agenda in the South China Sea before these two things happen,” he said.

Japanese news agency NHK recently reported that China has built military facilities on several disputed reefs in the Spratly Group of Islands where they have done land reclamation.

They showed aerial photographs obtained from Philippine military sources showing the development of helicopter landing pads, radar facilities, and even machine gun platforms.

“The photos of Mischief Reef taken in April show solar panels, radar facilities, and what look like machine guns. They show that the facilities have been modernized and more militarized over the past 4 years,” the report said.

“Photos of Fiery Cross Reef show a heliport and what look like agricultural greenhouses and gun platforms. On Subi Reef, a white spherical object believed to be a large radar facility can be seen,” it said.

The DFA has previously showed a series of aerial photographs showing the progression of the reclamation work China has undertaken from 2012 up to early 2014.

This latest development in China’s reclamation however was seen as “quite significant.”

“When we released the pictures in May, we were able to show the progress of the reclamation work starting 2012 up to 2014. We were not surprised to see in a matter of months they have progressed quite significantly,” Jose said.

“The reclamation work causes massive disruption of the marine environment,” he added.

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, including portions of the Philippines exclusive economic zone in the western seaboard, as part of its territory through its nine-dash line claim.

The Philippines has challenged China’s claim before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) but China has repeatedly refused to participate in the proceedings insisting it has “indisputable sovereignty.”

Currently, China has been able to maintain an “overwhelming presence” in the South China Sea and has repeatedly used force to drive away Filipino fishermen, as well as those from other Southeast Asian countries, away from the region.

AFP chief: No regrets not pulling out troops sooner in Golan Heights

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 30): AFP chief: No regrets not pulling out troops sooner in Golan Heights

The Philippine military said there’s no regret in their part in not pulling out troops in Golan Heights sooner despite the previous cases of abduction and the ongoing standoff between Filipino UN peacekeepers and armed Syrian rebels.

“No [regrets], it’s an honor and pride for our country to be deployed as UN peacekeepers because it shows that we can contribute to world peace and security,” Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. told on Friday.

It was only last week that the Philippine government decided to recall its peacekeepers serving in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force due to the worsening security situation in the Middle East. The peacekeepers were only waiting for their end of duty in October.

The government has also decided to pull out its troops in Liberia due to the outbreak of Ebola virus. The troops in Haiti will remain.

On Thursday, Syrian rebels asked Fijian peacekeepers in Al Qunaytirah to surrender their firearms and later abducted 43 of them after doing so.  The rebels headed to Filipino encampments in Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah to do the same, but the troops resisted to give up their firearms, which caused the ongoing standoff. There were 75 troops still trapped.

The UN is still negotiating the release of the peacekeepers.

Despite the incident, Catapang said they will still not pull out the Filipino peacekeepers immediately but will wait for them to finish their tour of duty in October.

Last year, Filipino peacekeepers were also abducted by Syrian rebels in March and May but were eventually released unharmed.

As of July, there are 1,223 peacekeepers from six countries serving in Golan Heights. The Philippines has been sending contingents to Golan Heights since 2009 as part of its commitment to the UN.

PH soldiers’ courage hailed

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 30): PH soldiers’ courage hailed

Filipino peacekeepers in Golan Heights defy Syrian rebels, ready to use ‘deadly force’

STANDING THEIR GROUND IN STANDOFF This handout photo taken in October 2013 shows the officers and men of the 7th Philippine peacekeeping force bound for Golan Heights during their sendoff ceremony at Army headquarters in Manila. The photo was released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines public affairs office on Friday, as news broke about heavily armed Filipino peacekeepers defying Syrian rebels in a stand-off at the Golan Heights hours after the gunmen disarmed and took hostage 43 Fijian soldiers. AFP

Seventy-five heavily armed Filipino peacekeepers besieged by Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights are ready to use “deadly force” to defend themselves, their commander said on Friday.

The Filipino peacekeepers locked in a standoff with Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights are “showing the world the courage of the Filipino spirit,” Malacañang said.

They have been holding their line in two camps at the United Nations-controlled Golan Heights since Thursday after rejecting a demand from Syrian rebels that they surrender their firearms.

The rebels have also taken 43 Fijian peacekeepers hostage after seizing their weapons.

“Because of the bravery of these troops, there is no way that these weapons will be pried from their hands,” said an Inquirer source who was privy to the monitoring of the situation in the Golan Heights.

Col. Roberto Ancan, the commander of the peacekeeping operations division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said no shots had been fired during the standoff, but that his troops were prepared to engage in combat.

“We can use deadly force in defense of the UN facilities,” Ancan said.

“It is the UN flag that flies in those facilities. We must defend those facilities,” he said.

“I [would] just like to emphasize our troops are well-armed, well-trained … and well-disciplined warrior peacekeepers,” he said.

Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said that the Filipino soldiers would not surrender.

“The Filipino peacekeepers are contributing to the United Nations for a more peaceful world. But when we are challenged, the warrior spirit in us will not make us surrender,” Zagala said.

The standoff forced President Benigno Aquino III to cut short his visit to Mindoro Oriental province where he led the inauguration of several infrastructure projects on Friday.

“The plan was for me to try to be a tourist here in Mindoro Oriental tonight. That was the plan. But the truth is, I have been asked to return to Manila after this because you know, there is a slight problem in [the] Golan Heights with our peacekeepers. They are caught in the civil war happening in Syria,” President Aquino said as he began his speech.

‘Stable’ situation

But Mr. Aquino told his audience not to be anxious about the standoff because the “situation is stable.”

“Right now, while the situation is tense it appears there is no real danger, based on the report of the Department of National Defense to us,” he added.

Malacañang issued a statement praising the courage of the Filipino peacekeepers in the Golan Heights.

“It is our hope that this matter will be resolved in a safe manner in the soonest possible time. We join the rest of the world in praying for the safety of all the peacekeepers in the region, in particular our countrymen who continue to carry out their honorable duties. They are showing the world the courage of the Filipino spirit,” presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in the statement.

The 75 Filipino peacekeepers are part of the 346-strong Philippine contingent and they are all from the Army.

They serve in two platoons occupying two separate camps called Area Positions 68 and 69, about 4 kilometers apart and not far from the Fijian peacekeepers’ Area Position 28.

Rebels’ action condemned

The Philippines condemned the Syrian rebels’ hostile action against UN peacekeepers and demanded the withdrawal of fighters surrounding UN-manned outposts in the Golan Heights.

“The Philippines also expressed great concern for the escalation of violence in the Golan Heights and condemns hostile actions directed against UN peacekeepers,” Charles Jose, spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), said in a statement.

“Our government, including our foreign mission in that region and at the UN headquarters in New York, is closely monitoring developments and is coordinating with the UN and concerned foreign governments to help bring about a peaceful resolution of this crisis,” he said.

The United States also condemned the rebels’ action against the UN detachment.

“This is a force that is responsible for peacekeeping around the world, and certainly we don’t think they should be a target of this type of efforts,” said Jen Psaki, spokesperson for the US state department.

Meeting from 7 p.m.-1:30 a.m.

Another Inquirer source said the report about the standoff reached the Department of National Defense and the AFP headquarters as soon as it began at 10 a.m. in the Golan Heights (5 p.m. in Manila).

The Inquirer sources requested anonymity, as they were not authorized to speak to journalists.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin called a meeting attended by, among other officials, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang and Undersecretary Natalio Ecarma III, who was United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (Undof) commander in 2011.

Held at AFP headquarters, the meeting started at 7 p.m. and lasted up to 1:30 a.m. yesterday.

President Aquino was given updates on the situation during the meeting, according to the second Inquirer source, who added that the standoff began when fighting between Syrian troops and the rebels erupted near the UN-occupied Golan Heights.

The peacekeepers were not the targets of the Syrian rebels but the shelling by the rebels reached the camp of the Fijian soldiers, who found themselves caught in the cross fire.

“The armed [Syrian] elements were able to seize the Fijian soldiers’ camp after the shelling. It was apparent that they only wanted the soldiers’ firearms,” the source said.

The rebels then proceeded to Positions 68 and 69, demanding that the Filipino troops give up their firearms as well. The Filipinos refused, triggering the standoff.

No regrets

Asked if the government regretted not pulling out the Filipino contingent earlier, Zagala said, “No.”

“We do not regret our deployment to any UN mission. Our commitment to the UN as a nation is firm and supporting peace initiatives such as peacekeeping mission is a national priority,” Zagala said.

Only last week, President Aquino ordered the repatriation of the Filipino peacekeeping contingents in the Golan Heights and Liberia, citing security and health risks.

The pullout of the troops in Liberia was a precaution against the spread of Ebola in West Africa. (See In the Know.)

The withdrawal from the Golan Heights was triggered by the worsening civil war in Syria, putting the Filipino soldiers “at risk,” a government primer said at that time.

The primer said some members of the Philippine Battalion with the Undof had been injured while on vehicular patrols and their convoy was in the same area as a clash between Syrian soldiers and the rebels.

Not direct targets

“While Undof troops are not direct targets, UN personnel, particularly Filipino troops, are inadvertently caught in clashes between Syrian troops and AGAEs (antigovernment armed elements),” the primer said.

The government considered pulling out its contingent from the Undof in the Golan Heights last year following the two consecutive abductions of Filipino peacekeepers by Syrian rebels.

‘Back channel talks’

They were released unharmed. President Aquino decided not to pull out the troops from the Undof that time after a commitment made by the UN that they would be properly equipped in the Golan Heights, among other things, amid concerns that chemical weapons were being used in the civil war.

Undersecretary of Defense for Operations Natalio Ecarma III told reporters the UN was conducting “back channel talks” with supporters of the Syrian rebel groups for the release of the Fijian peacekeepers and the lifting of the siege on Undof Area Positions 68 and 69, occupied by the Filipino peacekeepers in the buffer zone between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights.

Ecarma said the rebels gave the Filipino soldiers an ultimatum to surrender their weapons but the Filipinos refused and stood their ground.

“The rebels did not do anything so this may be a good indicator that they really do not mean what they say. We are hoping and praying that it will not escalate,” Ecarma said.

The rebels were most likely just after the peacekeepers’ weapons and provisions, he added.

The Filipino peacekeepers are armed with M4 assault rifles, M60 light machine guns, K3 squad automatic weapons and .45-caliber pistols.

Peaceful resolution

Maj. Gen. Domingo Tutaan, spokesperson for the AFP, said UN officials were trying to “peacefully resolve the situation.”

“Potential for the deescalation of the situation is still positive,” Tutaan said.

The positions of the Filipino peacekeepers are well fortified, Tutaan said. The troops have protective equipment, including bulletproof vests and Kevlar helmets, he added.

The UN earlier said 81 Filipino peacekeepers were surrounded, but Ancan said there were only 40 Filipinos in one post and 35 in the other.

On Wednesday, Syrian rebels, including militants from the al-Nusra Front, stormed one section of the buffer zone and exchanged fire with Israeli troops.

A day later, the fighters captured 43 Fijian peacekeepers, forcing them to surrender their weapons then taking them hostage.

The rebels used an English-speaking Fijian hostage to relay their demand to the Filipino peacekeepers, who refused and stood their ground.

Earlier pullout

Last week, President Aquino ordered the withdrawal of the Philippine peacekeeping contingents to the Golan Heights and Ebola-hit Liberia because of security and health concerns.

The peacekeepers in Liberia would be withdrawn as soon as possible, but the peacekeepers in the Golan Heights would have to wait until the end of their tour of duty in October.

Peter Paul Galvez, spokesperson for the defense department, said the government had not decided whether to pull out the Philippine contingent to the Golan Heights earlier as a result of the standoff.

“We still have to talk about that. There are processes to follow in the pullout. We cannot just pull out,” Galvez told reporters.

“What we have been fearing has happened. So I think it justifies the pullout. The situation has gotten worse,” he said.

But the Philippines’ commitment to the UN peacekeeping mission still stands, he added.

UN peacekeeping mission

Israel seized 1,200 square kilometers of the Golan Heights during the 1967 Six-Day War, then annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.

The UN peacekeeping force has been stationed there since 1974 to monitor the ceasefire between Israel and Syria.

There are currently 1,200 Undof peacekeepers from the Philippines, Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands.