Friday, September 5, 2014

Eastern Mindanao has new commander

From Rappler (Sep 5): Eastern Mindanao has new commander

Major General Aurelio Baladad oversees Filipino troops based in communist strongholds

NEW COMMANDER. Major General Aurelio Baladad (L) is the new commanding general of the military's Eastern Mindanao Command. Photo courtesy of Eastmincom
NEW COMMANDER. Major General Aurelio Baladad (L) is the new commanding general of the military's Eastern Mindanao Command. Photo courtesy of Eastmincom

DAVAO CITY, Philippines - Major General Aurelio Baladad on Friday, September 5, assumed the top post of one of the country's largest military commands, the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) based in this city.

Baladad, the 8th commander Eastmincom, replaced Lt. Gen. Ricardo Rainier Cruz III who will retire from the military on September 6. Eastmincom is relatively a new command in the Philippine military, which used to just have one command – the Western Command based in Zamboanga City – overseeing all Armed Forces troops and facilities in Mindanao. Eastmincom covers communist hot spots such as the Davao region, Caraga, Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon, as well as Sarangani, South Cotabato, North Cotabato, and General Santos City. The area is host to about 2,000 New People's Army (NPA) members or about half of the estimated strength of the armed wing of the Communist People's Party (CPP), based on military estimates.

Armed Forces chief of staff General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr attended the turnover ceremony here and encouraged soldiers to work harder to ensure peace and stability in Mindanao.

Baladad accepted the challenge. "To the people of Eastern Mindanao, I am reporting for duty. Rest assured that the team EastMinCom will work for the achievement of lasting peace and development," Baladad said.

The bemedalled Baladad is a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy and is a member of the “Sandigan” Class of 1982.

Before his promotion, Baladad was the commander of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division in the Visayas. Baladad was also the former commanding officer of the 202nd Infantry Brigade of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division based in Tanay, Rizal.

It was during his Tanay stint when he was linked to alleged human rights abuses. As brigade commander he led the arrest of the so-called "Morong 43" – a group of people tagged by the military as NPA members but who, according to human rights groups, turned out to be health workers. Baladad and other soldiers involved in the arrest were accused of human rights violations before the Commission on Human Rights.

In 2012, he was designated as the assistant division commander of the Army’s 9th Infantry Division in the Bicol region.

Meanwhile, the retiring Cruz was recognized for "effectively implementing" Internal Peace and Security Plan “BAYANIHAN” through the command's own campaign plan dubbed as “PANAGDAIT MINDANAW II.”

The military claimed that under the command of Cruz at least 247 members of the NPA surrendered while more than 273 assorted firearms were recovered.

Cruz also led the arrest of two suspected front secretaries and two regional secretaries of the CPP.

High-ranking NPA arrested in CDO

From ABS-CBN (Sep  5): High-ranking NPA arrested in CDO

A high-ranking official of the New People's Army (NPA) was arrested in Barangay Puerto, Cagayan de Oro (CDO) on Thursday night, police said.

The suspect was identified as Victoriano Dimco alias Ka Berting, the vice chairman of the NPA's South Eastern Command (SECOM) 3 Guerilla Front based in Bukidnon.

Dimco tried to flee but was chased down by police. He was served 5 warrants of arrest for murder charges.

He is accused of participating in the ambush of members of the Army Special Forces in 2000 which left Capt. Apollo Palasol and 4 others dead.

He is also facing charges for the NPA raid on the Quezon municipal station.

Scout Rangers in Basilan foil Abu Sayyaf bomb plot

From the Philippine Star (Sep 5): Scout Rangers in Basilan foil Abu Sayyaf bomb plot

Security forces foiled an attempt suspected by terrorist group Abu Sayyaf to detonate a powerful bomb after it was recovered Wednesday afternoon in a village of Lamitan City, Basilan province.

The police said elements of the 14th Scout Ranger Company tracked down the improvised explosive device, or IED, in Barangay Sabong about 4 p.m. guided by intelligence information information on an impending attack by the group.

Lamitan police chief Senior Inspector Gean Gallardo said personnel of explosive ordnance disposal were deployed and successfully defused the explosive.

The recovered IED was fashioned through a liquefied petroleum gas tank, a mortar ammunition, blasting cap, nails and ammonium nitrate which was described to be powerful and deadly.

Investigation further reveals the bomb was laid by a certain Erik Ajibon, a suspected Abu Sayyaf member under sub-leader Nurhassan Jamiri.

Gallardo said security have been intensified in Lamitan and nearby areas due to the bomb threats of the Abu Sayyaf group.

Maguindanao town exec acts to contain rash of killings

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 5): Maguindanao town exec acts to contain rash of killings

DATU PIANG, Maguindanao –- Alarmed by the rash of killings in his town, Mayor Genuine Kamaong convened the municipal peace and order council to stop violence in this conflict ridden community, officials said Friday.

“We need to put a stop to this, everybody should cooperate to make our town peaceful,” Kamaong said after the meeting.

Without revealing in details the strategy his town is working on, Kamaong appealed to all residents of Datu Piang locked in misunderstanding not to use violence in settling conflict.

On Monday night, Haron Datuhan, 35, of Barangay Liong, Datu Piang, was shot dead by still unidentified gunmen for still unknown reason. He died on the spot.

Police recovered two empty shells for cal. 45 pistol in the crime scene.

Hours later, on Tuesday morning, unidentified gunman shot dead a 15-year-old Datu Kasim, 2nd year high school student and resident of Barangay Liong.

Kasim who was riding on a pedicab was shot at close range at 11 a.m. Daer Domato, 9, was hit by stray bullets.

Police are still determining whether the twin murders are related.

Kamaong said the municipality is burdened with so many problems and the rash of killings is adding more headaches to its leaders.

Datu Piang has been bracing for atrocities committed by the extremist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and natural calamities that inundated most of its low lying villages.

He told local officials and the people of Datu Piang that dialogue is still the best and most effective way of resolving conflict whether it was borne out of personal grudge, land dispute or simple misunderstanding.

He admitted though that loose firearms abound in Datu Piang and nearby municipalities.

Army foils BIFF attempt to retake Maguindanao stronghold

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 5): Army foils BIFF attempt to retake Maguindanao stronghold

Government forces on Thursday foiled another attempt by Moro bandits to take over an Army detachment in Datu Piang, Maguindanao, the Army here said.

Members of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) tried to takeover an Army detachment in Barangay Damabalas in Datu Piang town by firing assault and grenade rifles, according to Army Colonel Dickson Hermoso.

Hermoso, speaking for the 6th Infnatry Division, said the bandits quietly crawled toward the position of the 62nd Division Reconnaissance Company from two directions, provoking a 30-minute fire fight.

But the soldiers, Hermoso said, had been prepared all throughout and expecting harassment from the BIFF anytime. Soldiers quickly responded after the bandits fired rockets at about 10 p.m. from the defense perimeters of the detachment.

Hermoso, quoting reports from village officials and witnesses, said the civilians saw three wounded bandits carried by retreating guerrillas as the Army fired mortars and assault rifles.

“Nobody was hurt on our side but the loud explosions triggered panic among villagers who are still bracing for floods,” Hermoso, also the 6th Infantry Division judge advocate general, said.

Hermoso said the latest BIFF attack in Barangay Damabalas was the seventh in the past six weeks.

The villages of Damabalas and Ganta in Datu Shariff Saydona town, also in Maguindanao, used to be the stronghold of the BIFF.

It fell into government hands in March following an air and ground assaults by the 6th Infantry Division.

“Obviously, they wanted to retake the camp. They tried it many times in the past and they failed,” he said.

Abu Misry Mama, speaking for the BIFF, confirmed the BIFF initiated harassment but refused to issue further comments.

Number of recovered NPA firearms in Abra clash now at 13

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 5): Number of recovered NPA firearms in Abra clash now at 13

The number of rebel weapons recovered during the clash in Barangay Guinguinabang, Lacub town, Abra, Thursday morning has now climbed to 13.

This is six higher than seven recorded earlier, according to Major Calixto Cardano, 5th Infantry Division spokesperson, who said the weapons were recovered by troopers from the 41st Infantry Battalion, the same unit, whom the rebels fought 5 a.m. Thursday.

Aside from the weapons, the soldiers also recovered an additional body from the encounter scene, raising the number of rebel dead to six.

The firefight stemmed from the discovery of a rebel camp in the above-mentioned locality.

Cardano said the recovered weapons can be broken down into eight M-16 automatic rifles; an AK-47; two M-653;M-1 Garand and one .45 caliber pistol.

Also recovered was a generator set, two ICOM radios and subversive documents.

One of the six fatalities was identified as Arnold Jaramillo who is allegedly the leader of the Abra Provincial Party Committee of the NPA.

Jaramillo is a fugitive from law with Criminal Case number 2011-125 pending before the Regional Trial Court Branch 1 of Bangued, Abra.

The identities of the five other dead are still unidentified as of this posting.

Soldiers elated with new weapons

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 5): Soldiers elated with new weapons

FORT MAGSAYSAY, Nueva Ecija -- Low- ranking soldiers from the Light Reaction Regiment (LRR) of the Special Operations Command and 7th Infantry Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) have expressed satisfaction over the phase of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization program.

This as AFP chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang led the distribution of newly acquired M4 assault rifles to “frontliners” in ceremonies held at the firing range of the Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Division here Thursday.

Pvt. Kevin Amarillo, who personally received an M-4 and bullet proof gear from Catapang, said he realized that the AFP does not take for granted lowly soldiers like them.

”We are so happy as we felt the concern of the Army to us,” Amarillo, a member of the 7th IB said.

Some 500 soldiers received the firearms.

Catapang said the firearms were part of the 50,000 M-4 assault rifles purchased by the government for the AFP modernization program.

He said the government can buy more firearms because of the huge savings generated in purchasing the supplies under President Benigno S. Aquino III’s “straight path policy.”

The government, he said, has allocated Php 68,000 for each unit but “straight path policy” had bought it for only “Php 38,000 plus.”

“We were able to buy quality firearms at lesser cost,” he added.

The AFP has acquired Php 1.9-billion worth of brand-new assault rifles from a United States-based company to beef up its forces as part of its modernization program.

Catapang said the new rifles, involving 5.56mm M4 rifles, form part of the joint Philippine Army-Philippine Marine Corps Assault Rifles Acquisition Project (PAPMPCARAP) of the government.

He was assisted by the 7th Infantry Division chief, Brig. Gen. Glorioso Miranda, during the turnover of the initial 100 units at the firing range here to troops from the Light Reaction Regiment (LRR) of the Special Operation Command (Socom) and 7th Infantry Battalion under 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) who have undergone the Battalion of Excellence (BOC) training.

Catapang said the Army is set to receive a total of 44,186 units while another branch, the Philippine Navy, will get 6,443 units.

The funds for the weapons were sourced from the AFP Capability Upgrade Program of 2012. The US-based Remington Outdoor Company won the public bidding in October last year.

“This weapons program will contribute significantly to the transformation of the AFP into a multimission-oriented force capable of confronting both internal and external threats,” Catapang said.

The heavy-barreled, full automatic, wear-resistant rifles will replace the old, worn-out M16A2 assault rifles.

Comparatively, the M4 Carbine rifle is lighter, shorter, more cost-efficient and can reach a target up to 600 meters. In contrast, the M16-A1 rifle’s maximum effective range is only up to 460 meters.

Catapang said they chose to give these new rifles to field soldiers because they are the front liners and “so we must assure that they are fully equipped in every encounter.”

2 Army units in Fort Magsaysay get new M-4 rifles

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 5): 2 Army units in Fort Magsaysay get new M-4 rifles

Around 400 Remington M-4 automatic rifles were distributed to Army units based in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija Thursday afternoon.

These units are the 79th Infantry Battalion and the Light Reaction Regiment, the premier counter-terrorist unit of the Philippine Army.

Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato, Army spokesperson, said that more M-4s will be added to the arsenal of these units in the coming days.

He also said that another 400 M-4s will be distributed to 84th Infantry Battalion, a field unit of the Eastern Mindanao Command, Friday afternoon.

The initial batch of 27,300 units out of the 63,000 M-4 units acquired for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) arrived last July.

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.

"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," the AFP earlier said.

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.

Detoyato earlier said 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 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 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.

BRP Ramon Alcaraz, attached AW-109 doing well in 'Kakadu 2014'

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 5): BRP Ramon Alcaraz, attached AW-109 doing well in 'Kakadu 2014'

BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16) and her embarked AgustaWestland AW-109 "Power" helicopter is doing very well on "Kakadu 2014"

"They have been doing good so far," Navy public affairs office chief Lt. Cmdr. Marineth Domingo said Friday.

The ship is the country's most up-to-date warship.

"Procedures that they have been doing varies at some point and there have been noted difference as well, but these does not hinder them but rather make way to learning and understanding about the reasons for these differences," she stressed.

The BRP Ramon Alcaraz has so far participated it live-fire exercises with HMAS Sydney and JS Hatakaze last Aug. 30 (Australian time).

While her AW-109 helicopter successfully landed at the flight deck of HMAS Sydney last Sept. 1 (also Australian time).

"Kakadu 2014" is the biennial naval maneuvers hosted by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).

Ensign John Windy Abing, Philippine Navy public affairs officer, said the activity is part of the PN's efforts to improve its ability in the joint operation ships and aircraft.

Twelve nations are participating in this activity which started Aug. 25 and will end on Sept. 12.

The participating countries with navy ships/aircraft are Japan, New Zealand, Philippines, Pakistan and Australia while Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Thailand, Vanuatu, South Korea, and India deployed personnel as observers.

It is held at the Northern Australian Exercise Area.

"(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," Abing said.

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 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.

Guerrero vows to preserve peace with help of local stakeholders

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 5): Guerrero vows to preserve peace with help of local stakeholders

Major Gen. Rey Leonardo B. Guerrero, the newly-appointed commander of the Capiz-based 3rd Infantry Division, on Friday pledged to work closer with local stakeholders to preserve peace.

"We will continue to work closely with our partners and stakeholders so that social and economic issues in the community can be appropriately and swiftly addressed," he added.

Guerrero assumed command of the 3rd Infantry Division last Sept. 4.

He replaces Major Gen. Aurelio B. Baladad who has been named Eastern Mindanao Command chief.

Prior his appointment to the 3rd Infantry Division, Guerrero served as Army chief-of-staff. He also have extensive front-line services.

"With the level of professionalism of the men and women of 3ID, we will continue to serve selflessly with the highest degree of commitment and dedication in the performance of our duty with utmost respect for the rights of our people," Guerrero added.

The former graduated from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in 1984.

Regarded as a person who always strives for excellence, he graduated number 3 from his class in PMA out of 215.

He was also consistently on top of his class in his military schooling and trainings.

His awards in the military include two Distinguished Service Stars, Order of Lakandula, Philippine Legion of Honor, Outstanding Achievement Medal, three Bronze Cross Medals for bravery, Silver Wing Medal, Two Gawad sa Kaunlaran Medals, 27 Military Merit Medals, Commendation Medals and various Campaign Medals and Ribbons.

Pamatong posts bail for malicious mischief

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 5): Pamatong posts bail for malicious mischief

Two days after his arrest by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Atty. Ely Pamatong has posted bail for the case of malicious mischief.

Pamatong was also among those who are being investigated by the NBI in connection with the foiled bombing attempt at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 last Monday.

NBI Director Virgilio Mendez on Friday confirmed that based on the information provided to him by the Anti-Organized Crime Division (AOCD), there was already an order of release issued by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) for the release of Pamatong.

Pamatong was arrested by the NBI last Wednesday based on the strength of a warrant of arrest issued by the Quezon City RTC for the case of malicious mischief where he was charged in 2004.

He stayed at the office of the AOCD for two days and he even visited the NBI Detention facility where the three suspects who were arrested at the NAIA Terminal 3 after Improvised Incendiary Device (IID) was discovered inside their vehicle parked at the open parking lot of the airport last Monday.

Pamatong earlier admitted that he personally knew the suspect, Grandeur Guerrero as one of his officers in their group USAFFE (United States Armed Forces in the Far East) who is opposed to the alleged aggressive territorial claim by China in the West Philippine Sea.

PHL takes up peacekeeping concerns with UN

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 5): PHL takes up peacekeeping concerns with UN

The Philippine government said on Friday it has taken up its concerns regarding the peacekeeping operations in the Golan Heights after the Philippine military and a United Nations commander traded accusations of security breach during last week’s standoff with Syrian rebels.

Filipino troops monitoring the armistice line in the Syria-Israel border in the Golan Heights sneaked out of their posts and made a daring escape last week after being surrounded by rebels.

“The Philippines is taking steps to address our peacekeeping concerns through diplomatic channels within the UN. We should focus now on supporting efforts to secure the freedom of the Fijian peacekeepers,” DFA Spokesman Charles Jose said at a press briefing.

The Philippine military admitted defying the orders of UN Disengagement Force (UNDOF) commander Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha for putting the lives of the Filipino soldiers at risk when he reportedly ordered them to surrender their weapons to the rebels, which earlier seized a group of peacekeepers from Fiji.

Singha denied the accusation, saying the Filipinos broke the chain of command and were the ones who endangered the lives of the Fijian hostages when they abandoned their posts at the height of a "delicate" ceasefire with the rebels.

Jose said the Philippine mission in the U.N. in New York is coordinating with the world body regarding the Philippine government’s concerns.

'Sokol' now flyable, material factor ruled out in Lanao del Sur crash --PAF spokesman

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 5): 'Sokol' now flyable, material factor ruled out in Lanao del Sur crash --PAF spokesman

All seven W-3A "Sokol" combat utility helicopters of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) are now active and flyable.

This was stressed by Air Force spokesperson Lt. Col. Enrico Canaya in a statement on Friday.

"Restrictions on the use of 'Sokol' were lifted on Aug. 15. Material factor was ruled out since no evidence points to material failure during initial investigation. The continuing investigation shifted to other contributory factors that affected human intervention. The investigation is still ongoing," he said.

Other factors being looked into include environmental ones, Canaya stressed.

He declined to comment on whether this could be contributory to the Marawi City crash last Aug. 7, adding that PAF investigators are still looking into this angle.

Earlier, all seven W-3 "Sokol" were grounded as a result of the mishap.

"As far as the aircraft is concerned, it is now safe to fly," Canaya pointed out.

The PAF acquired eight units of the "Sokol" from Polish manufacturer PZL-Swidnik and British-Italian firm AugustaWestland for Php 2.8 billion.

Two people, one civilian and one crew member, were hurt in the crash attributed to stiff headwinds.

Defending an encircled position for 7-hours no sign of cowardice - AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 5): Defending an encircled position for 7-hours no sign of cowardice - AFP

Mincing no words, Armed Forces chief-of-staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang on Friday said that defending an outpost for seven hours, outnumbered and heavily-outgunned at that, is no sign of cowardice.

Catapang was referring to the valiant act of Filipino peacekeepers in Position 68 in the Golan Heights who fought to a stand-still a Syrian rebel force who earlier disarmed and held hostage 44 Fijian peacekeepers.

Aside from holding their ground, the Filipinos also sustained no casualty in the seven-hour fighting.

The cowardice accusations came from United Nations Disengagement Force (UNDOF) commander Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha.

The latter claimed that the 40 Filipino peacekeepers were guilty of this when they broke out of their encircled outpost early Sunday morning (Syrian time).

The UNDOF commander also alleged that the Filipinos decision to break out jeopardized the ceasefire he negotiated with the Syrian rebels and the lives of the 44 hostaged Fijians.

Singha also denied claims that he ordered the surrender of Filipino peacekeepers and their weapons, an allegation Catapang said that the AFP has solid basis.

He added that Filipino troops would not be reporting this to higher headquarters if it were not true.

The AFP chief said that there is no need for the Philippine military to be involved in a "blame-game problem".

He added that the AFP will just let the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reply to all queries regarding the matter.

"We (AFP) decided that we should just keep our silence on further discussion about the incident. We have ask the DFA to reply to all queries about this unfortunate incident," Catapang stressed.

"We will just submit all the reports as directed by the President. After saving our troops from being massacred, the last thing we want to do is be involved in a 'blame-game' problem," the AFP chief stressed.

Negros clearing 3rd ID priority

From the Visayan Daily Star (Sep 5): Negros clearing 3rd ID priority

The clearing of remnants of armed insurgents in Negros Occidental may temporarily take a back seat for now, as the effort of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division is now focused on Panay island, that include Iloilo and Capiz.

“We intend to finish it by the yearend,” Maj. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, newly-installed commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division, said.
The provinces of Negros Oriental, Antique and Aklan have been declared as “conflict manageable and development ready” by the Philippine Army, with Iloilo, Capiz and Negros Occidental to follow soon, Army chief Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri said yesterday.
Iriberri ordered Guerrero to sustain the momentum and gains of his predecessor, Maj. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, who will assume as commanding general of the AFP Eastern Mindanao Command today.
Guerrero said the 303rd Infantry Brigade managed to reduce significantly violent incidents, including armed threats, perpetrated by the NPA in Negros Occidental.
He, however, encouraged commanders and their troops to remain vigilant, and make sure to sustain their gains, to prevent the resurgence of armed threats in their areas.
Col. Jon Aying, 303rd IB commander, had earlier declared that they are “winning the peace” in Negros Occidental, using non-traditional military approaches, that include social, economic, political and even justice reforms, in addressing the insurgency problem in the province.
After clearing Iloilo and Capiz, Negros Occidental will be next, Guerrero said.
He, however, said they do not expect additional forces in Negros and Panay, as the priority areas for clearing are in Caraga and Davao regions in Mindanao.
“But we have been consistently asking and requesting higher headquarters for additional forces in Visayas, especially now that we have completed our campaign in Negros Oriental,” Guerrero, who had served as the Philippine Army chief of staff, said.
Iriberri, meanwhile, said the campaign in Negros and Panay is on track.
“We are confident about our target to make the NPA remnants to become inconsequential in the coming years”, he added.
He added the modernization of the Philippine Army will help them a lot, not only in terms of equipment, but also its impact on the morale of the troops.

PH and Fiji in Golan: One order, different outcomes

From Rappler (Sep 5): PH and Fiji in Golan: One order, different outcomes

Last week, Filipino and Fijian peacekeepers were given the same order to surrender their weapons to Syrian rebels. Who made the right choice?

Peacekeeping forces from two countries were caught in a similar situation, and were given the same order by their overall commander. Each took a different path – one defied it and the other followed – leading to different outcomes.

Fiji’s Army Chief Brigadier General Mosese Tikoitoga revealed in various interviews that the detained 45 Fijian peacekeepers, in fact, surrendered to the Syrian rebels following the orders of United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) Commander Lieutenant General Iqbal Singha, based on various reports in Fiji.

"At no stage in an operation would I expect any of my officers not to follow the decisions of the first commander....The Filipinos chose to do so and the Philippines government has supported them for having chosen that path," Tikoitoga said in new interview defending the surrender. The situation of the Fijians was being compared to the Filipinos who were able to escape.

“We cannot criticize them for it, nor can we follow the decision they have made. We live by our own ethos of following command," Tikoitoga added.

Forty Filipinos in the besieged UN facility Position 68 disobeyed Singha's orders to surrender their weapons and executed an unauthorized escape mission after a 7-hour firefight with rebels. (READ: Inside Filipino troops' 'greatest escape' in Golan)

Philippine military chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr said there was no guarantee that the Syrian rebels – among them members of the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, the Al-Nusra Front – will not also take them hostage after they surrender their firearms.

While Filipinos celebrate the daring escape of their soldiers in the middle of the night when the rebels were asleep, Singha is telling Indian media that the move was an "act of cowardice."

"The higher UN echelon as well as the Indian Army agrees with me that the decision was correct. It is an act of cowardice to desert posts especially when a delicate ceasefire was in place....They broke the chain of command and UN orders," Singha was quoted in various Indian news outlets.

Singha said the Filipinos also endangered the lives of the 45 Fijian peacekeepers who were taken hostage by the Syrian rebels.

"The non-professional actions of the Filipino troops have endangered the lives of the Fijian soldiers. They have defied orders at a time when we had negotiated a ceasefire with the rebels to ensure that all troops in the conflict area could exit," Singha added.

The Philippine military has questioned Singha for using the Filipinos as "sacrificial pawns" to save the Fijians. Catapang said Singha should have extracted the Filipinos first, and the Philippine peacekeepers would later help rescue the Fijians.

Risks of surrender

Caught in the middle of the blame game is the UN, which has backed Singha and denied there was an order to for the Filipinos to surrender their weapons. UN Under Secretary for Peacekeeping Operations Herves Ladsous said the order was “not to shoot.”

The Philippines said Singha verbally issued the order to surrender the weapons and supposedly refused to put his order in writing. The new interviews with Singha and Tikoitoga back the narration of the Filipinos, however.

Surrendering weapons to rebels is risky, as UN experience shows.

In 1993, 10 Belgian peacekeepers who surrendered to the ethnic Hutu extremists in Rwanda were executed. They were members of UNAMIR, the UN Assistance for Rwanda. The Hutu militia is behind a genocide of about 800,000 people of the minority Tutsi community.

The UN peacekeepers' role in Rwanda during the genocide was questioned as the world body was accused of allowing the genocide by refusing to send in more troops to control the situation. Most of the UNAMIR troops were pulled out after the execution of the peacekeepers.

Singha, however, was confident of the talks with the Syrian rebels. A negotiated ceasefire would supposedly ensure that all troops could exit the conflict area. But the Filipinos claimed they monitored the rebels massing up after the 7-hour firefight and believed they would be "massacred" if they did not escape.

The crisis in Golan that started at 10 am Thursday, August 28, enters Week 2. The UN continues to demand for the unconditional release of the Fijian peacekeepers. Tikoitoga said there’s been a “lull” in the negotiation for their release, however.

The Al-Nusra Front earlier issued 3 demands: its deletion from the the UN terrorist list, compensation for 3 colleagues killed in firefights against peacekeepers, and humanitarian assistance for a town it dominates.

It is not clear if the 3 Syrian rebels were killed during the firefight with Filipinos. Syrian government forces also provided fire support to prevent the rebels from closing in the UN facility.

Peacekeeping history

Fiji started deploying to Golan last year to replace troops of Croatia and Japan, which already decided to pull out as the internal conflict in Syria continues to deteriorate. Peacekeepers in Golan are tasked to monitor the 1974 ceasefire between Israel and Syria

While the Fijians are new in Golan, they have a long experience in peacekeeping operations in the "Middle East, notably with UNIFIL in Lebanon, with UNAMI in Iraq, and with the Multinational Force in Sinai," according to the Fiji government.

The Philippines has been deploying to Golan since 2009 and has occupied high-level positions in the UNDOF Command.

Singha in fact succeeded Filipino Natalio Ecarma III, now a defense undersecretary who was present in the war room in Manila that approved movements of the Filipino troops in Golan.

Before the standoff, the Philippines decided to pull out the peacekeepers when their tour of duty ends in October.

THEY MADE THE RIGHT DECISION | Palace reiterates support for Filipino peacekeepers in Golan Heights

From InterAksyon (Sep 5): THEY MADE THE RIGHT DECISION | Palace reiterates support for Filipino peacekeepers in Golan Heights

File photo of Filipino peacekeepers in Golan Heights.

Malacanang on Friday reiterated its support for the Filipino peacekeepers in Golan Heights, saying they made the "right decision" to escape from the clutches of Syrian rebels and defy the order of the commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) to stand down.

"What we had in the situation on the ground in the Golan Heights was that there was a third party non-state that intervened, meaning the Syrian rebels. And so the rules of engagement changed in the sense that while the peacekeepers are not supposed to take any offensive operation, they were attacked and so they would have to defend themselves," presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a briefing aired over state-run Radyo ng Bayan.

"This is a situation that was apparent and was obvious in the situation between the Syrian rebels and Philippine troops. We are very certain that our Philippine troops, our Filipino peacekeepers, made the right decision," he said.

"They (Filipino troops) were running low on ammunition. It was not something imaginable for our Armed Forces, our peacekeepers, to surrender themselves. And so we stand by our Filipino peacekeepers. They did the right decision," Lacierda added.

Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singha, UNDOF head, earlier accused the Filipino troops of being unprofessional.

He said the Filipino peacekeepers "broke the chain of command and UN orders" even as he denied giving the stand down order.