Friday, September 19, 2014

‘Peace dividends changes lives’

From the Visayan Daily Star (Sep 20): ‘Peace dividends changes lives’

Undersecretary Maria Cleofe Gettie Sandoval of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process, said yesterday that the “peace dividends”, from the agreement between the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa Pilipinas-Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade and the government, are now changing the lives of the families and kin of former combatants.

In a statement issued by OPPAP, Sandoval said “We see how peace impacts in the lives of families and individuals”. She cited the employment of 95 former rebels belonging to the RPA-ABB, now known as KAPATIRAN, as forest guards, through the DENR-PAMANA partnership in the implementation of National Greening Program in Negros and Panay.
These Bantay Gubat employees patrol forests for timber poachers and illegal loggers, she added.
The RPM-P-RPA-ABB signed a peace agreement with the government in Salvador Benedicto, Negros Occidental in year 2000. The signing of the closure agreement is now imminent, Sandoval said.
In both the RPM-P-RPA-ABB and the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army peace tracks, Sandoval also reported that scholarships under the Commission on Higher Education Study Grant Program and health insurance coverage by PhilHealth, have also ensured that families of former combatants as well as immediate community members, have basic social protection benefits.
In Negros Occidental, former rebels belonging to the New People’s Army, who surrendered to the government, also availed of the Negros Occidental Comprehensive Health Care Program, military records show.
Sandoval acknowledged the commitment of RPM-P-RPA-ABB and CPLA to the peace process. He said “We are now seeing communities reaping the benefits of peace through the different community development projects, employment opportunities and livelihood support under Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan.”
Peace is a shared responsibility and through sustaining partnerships, the responsibility to preserve its gains is cemented, Sandoval said, but admitted that there is still much that needs to be done.

DOJ rejects suspension of arrest warrants vs Nur, Kato

From the Philippine Star (Sep 20): DOJ rejects suspension of arrest warrants vs Nur, Kato

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has rejected the request of the House of Representatives to move for the suspension of the arrest warrants against Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman Nur Misuari and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) chief Umbra Kato to allow them to join public hearings on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said she finds the proposal of the congressional panel tasked to scrutinize the BBL “not legally defensible.”

“My position is that it is not feasible. We are the prosecutors and we want the warrants implemented immediately,” she said.

De Lima pointed out Misuari or Kato or their defense lawyers should move for the suspension of the arrest warrants – not the DOJ.

But De Lima still expressed reservations on the proposal.

“I don’t know if we already have a precedent on suspension of warrant of arrest. It’s not a simple issue,” she said.

De Lima suggested that getting the side of the MNLF in the review of the draft BBL could be achieved even without the presence of Misuari and Kato.

“There could be other ways for the House committee to get the side of MNLF. Does Nur Misuari really have to appear? Would a representative who will articulate the position of MNLF not suffice?” she asked.

Panel chairman Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez earlier said the presence of Misuari and Kato in the congressional hearings would greatly help the lawmakers in fine-tuning the BBL.

He said Misuari specifically could help make the BBL compatible with the 1996 peace agreement with the MNLF that was brokered by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Rodriguez added they would ask Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to issue safe conduct passes to the two rebel leaders for their travel to and from Manila.

He said they have already invited Misuari and Kato and details are being finalized for their attendance in the congressional hearing.

Rodriguez said Congress would hold a series of public consultations in Mindanao and Sulu to get the pulse of the people in the affected areas.

Misuari and 83 of his followers are facing charges of rebellion and violation of international humanitarian law over the three-week siege in Zamboanga City last year that left hundreds of people killed and thousands homeless.

Kato, on the other hand, is being hunted for the attacks in the villages of North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte in 2008 that left over 40 dead and thousands homeless.

Kato led the BIFF as a breakaway group from the MILF. He vowed to pursue all means to derail the peace process between the government and the MILF and establish an independent Islamic state.

BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama yesterday said they rejected the offer to participate in the congressional hearings on the BBL.

“We cannot join in any peace process that falls short of our bid for an independent Moro state,” Mama said over dxMS in Cotabato City.

“We better keep on fighting the military in the field than engage in any hearing on that draft BBL. That is purely an initiative of the MILF and the government,” Mama said in Filipino.

“We can only tell Congressman Rodriguez thanks for the invitation. None from the BIFF can join the hearings,” he said.

MNLF's Sema wants Misuari in Bangsamoro law talks

From ABS-CBN (Sep 18): MNLF's Sema wants Misuari in Bangsamoro law talks

Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman and former Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema is hopeful that the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will be able to achieve their objective on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which is now in the hands of Congress.

However, Sema expressed concern on how the BBL can be harmonized with the previous agreements signed by the government with the MNLF in 1976 and 1996.

"But given the proper forum, we will be able to help. We are also for peace and after implementing the peace agreement that we have signed. Our only worry is how we can jibe, how we can harmonize these agreements for example 1976, 1996 and the Comprehensive Agreement," he said.

He added that they are still hoping that the MILF as well as the government will continue talking to them after their last meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and discuss how the parties can come up with one version of political solution on the problem in Mindanao.

Meanwhile, Sema only grinned when he was asked if he would welcome an invitation from Congress for the public hearings and consultations on the BBL.

"We will see, we will try to assess it..., how we can contribute," Sema said.

He said, however, that he is in favor of inviting MNLF founder Nur Misuari to Congress' hearings, but only if the government would be able to convince Misuari to do so following his declaration of independence last year.

Sema said it would be a good move if Misuari would be heard in Congress.

BIFF rejects invite to Bangsamoro law congressional hearing

From the Philippine Star (Sep 19): BIFF rejects invite to Bangsamoro law congressional hearing

The outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on Friday again rejected invitations to participate in congressional hearings on the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

“We cannot join in any peace process that falls short of our bid for an independent Moro state,” the group’s spokesman, Abu Misry Mama, announced over Catholic station dxMS in Cotabato City.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the 75-member House committee now working on the proposed law, earlier said they want the BIFF’s reclusive chieftain, Imam Ameril Ombra Kato and Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front to participate in the BBL deliberations.

The draft BBL, once enacted into law and ratified via a plebiscite, will pave the way for the replacement of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with a new, more politically empowered Bangsamoro self-governing entity based on the March 27, 2014 final peace compact between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Kato, now debilitated as a result of a hypertensive stroke in 2011, started as chief of the MILF’s 105th Base Command, but was booted out in 2010 due to insubordination and other offenses.

“We better keep on fighting the military in the field than engage in any hearing on that draft BBL. That is purely an initiative of the MILF and the government,” Mama said.

Kato, who studied Islamic theology in Saudia Arabia in the 1970s as a scholar of then President Ferdinand Marcos, had issued a communiqué reaffirming their group’s firm stand against the GPH-MILF peace initiative.

“We can only tell Congressman Rodriguez thanks for the invitation. None from the BIFF can join the hearings,” Mama said.

Peace adviser shuts door on Misuari, Kato factions

From the Manila Times (Sep 19): Peace adviser shuts door on Misuari, Kato factions

Public hearings on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) can do without Muslim rebel leaders Nur Misuari and Ameril Umbra Kato.

Secretary Teresita Deles, also Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, on Thursday night cited orders for the arrest of Misuari, founding chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and Kato, the leader of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Deles, however, said she still believes that “discussion [on the proposed BBL] should be as inclusive as possible.”

Meanwhile, she added, they had given their views on the BBL, as well as on the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which was signed between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in March this year.

For me, whether they are able to [join the discussion does not matter because] you already know what their views are. Hindi naman nila tinatago yan [They are open about it]. They [Misuari and Kato] want independence. The BBL will not be able to give them independence. The BBL is about autonomy,” Deles said.

When asked if the presence of the two rebel leaders will be helpful to the passage of the proposed law, she replied, “It all depends on what you want.”

“But Misuari wants independence. How much clearer do you need to get with his position? The same thing with the BIFF. They separated from the MILF because they did not like it when the MILF agreed to negotiate autonomy [with the Philippine government],” Deles said.

She, however, disclosed that the government is in touch with some senior leaders of the MNLF who are willing to participate in the process, apparently referring to a faction of the MNLF that has distanced itself from Misuari.

“As far as Misuari’s position is concerned, there are many who are talking on his behalf,” Deles said.

She pointed to a statement of Habib Mujahab Hashim, MNLF chairman for the Islamic Command Council, who said the MNLF Misuari faction will not participate in the process even if invited.

But, Deles said, if anyone from the Misuari faction is willing to join in the process, he will not be stopped.

Aquino: West Philippine Sea ‘aggression a global threat’

From the Manila Times (Sep 20): Aquino: West Philippine Sea ‘aggression a global threat’

Escalating tension in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) brought about by the “emerging pattern of aggression” by some claimant countries threatens not only regional security but even the global community, according to President Benigno Aquino 3rd.

Speaking at a forum organized by the French Institute for International Relations in Paris on Thursday, Aquino stopped short of naming China, but the allusion was unmistakable.

“The Philippines has consistently expressed its concern on rising tensions in our part of the world, due to maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea. As has been reported by international news agencies the world over, there is an emerging pattern of aggression bent on establishing new realities at sea and in the air,” the President said.

According to him, such “aggression” endangers not only those who lay claim over some territories in the area but other countries outside the Asian region as well.

“These violations of international law pose a danger not only to claimant countries, but also to the entire international community, since freedom of navigation and unimpeded lawful commerce are threatened,” Aquino said.

The President, who is on the third leg of his European trip, praised the support of the European Union to the Philippine position for a peaceful resolution of sea disputes. He maintained that the international community stands to gain from regained peace in the disputed waters.

“The international community as a whole stands to gain when the rule of law is upheld, for only through such legal mechanisms can a truly just and stable world order be ensured,” Aquino said.

“I believe that I share this idea with the European Union authorities and heads of government I have had the honor of meeting, who have manifested their support for the peaceful resolution of disputes based on the rule of law,” he added.

Earlier this week, the EU called on China and other countries with claims in the West Philippine Sea to abide by internationally recognized laws, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

At a joint news conference last Tuesday with Aquino in Brussels, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU supports all peaceful avenues to resolve territorial rows.

The commission is the EU’s executive body and represents the interests of Europe as a whole. It has its headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, with offices in Luxembourg.

The EU, on the other hand, is a politico-economic union of 28 member-states that are primarily located in Europe.

Barroso said a peaceful settlement is the best way to resolve the maritime row between the Philippines and China. Beijing has been aggressively backing its claim to the islets in the disputed waters, based on its nine-dash line territorial principle.

Manila has filed several complaints against Beijing’s reclamation activities in Burgos (Gaven) Reef, Kennan (Chigua) Reef and Calderon (Cuarteron) Reef on the Kalayaan islands in the Spratlys. China has brushed aside the protests, insisting that the reefs are part of its territory.

In his Paris speech, Aquino highlighted Manila’s twin approaches to resolving conflict–by promoting the crafting of a binding Code of Conduct among claimant countries; and arbitration, pertaining to the “memorial” filed by the Philippine government against China’s nine-dash line policy.

He invited other claimant countries “to join us, to accelerate the resolution of this very long-standing dispute, which has lately caused much tension in our region.”

“Asia, Europe and the rest of the world need to work together to ensure a stable environment and a brighter future,” Aquino said. “I believe that a reinvigorated Philippines-France relationship can contribute greatly to achieving this endeavor.”

Military vows to sustain drive vs. NPAs

From the Manila Bulletin (Sep 19): Military vows to sustain drive vs. NPAs

The military vowed to sustain efforts and initiatives to weaken and neutralize communist insurgents in Western Visayas.

“We will sustain the grounds gained by our internal peace and security operations,” said Major General Rey Leonardo Guerrero, newly installed commander of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division (3ID).

Guerrero said he will continue the programs of his predecessor, Major Aurelio Bladed, to reduce the strength of New People’s Army (NPA) in Western Visayas as well as in two provinces in Central Visayas.  During Baladad’s tenure, 68 NPA rebels were neutralized.

It was also during Baladad’s term that Negros Oriental province was declared as a conflict-manageable area.

The 3ID is pushing to replicate the conflict-manageable declaration in Negros Occidental province, where communist insurgency remains to be a problem.

Capiz and Iloilo provinces are also priority areas in terms of clearing communist insurgency.

Guerrero reiterated that the key in defeating communist insurgency is public-private partnership.

“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,” Guerrero said.

Meanwhile, a 21-year-old rebel who joined the communist movement as a teenager surrendered earlier this week.

1st Lieutenant Leo Francisco, chief of the 3ID’s 31st Civil Military Operation, only identified the former rebel as “Eric” of Maayon town, Capiz.

Eric served as assistant medical officer of the Southern Eastern Committee of the NPA in Panay Island.

The BIFF-ISIS connection and social media

From Rappler (Sep 19): The BIFF-ISIS connection and social media

Abu Misry Mama, BIFF spokesperson says, 'There was also a time that they directly communicated with Abu Bkr al-Baghdadi,' the self-proclaimed head of state of ISIS

NOT ISLAM'S VOICE. An Indonesian journalist holds flowers as she sits in front of a banner during a protest against the killing of journalists by the Islamic State (ISIS) militant group, in Jakarta, Indonesia, September 5, 2014.

NOT ISLAM'S VOICE. An Indonesian journalist holds flowers as she sits in front of a banner during a protest against the killing of journalists by the Islamic State (ISIS) militant group, in Jakarta, Indonesia, September 5, 2014.

Using the Internet through social networking sites, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters claim it is in constant communication and has formed an alliance with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Abu Misry Mama, spokesperson of the BIFF, said they also used mobile phones in their first set of talks for an alliance with ISIS in July 2014.

Mama said BIFF vice chairman for political affairs Sheikh Ismail Abu Bakr and the group’s Islamic Supreme Council chair who was identified only as "Kuti" directly communicated with ISIS.

“There was also a time that they directly communicated with Abu Bkr al-Baghdadi,” Mama said. Al-Baghdadi is the self-proclaimed “caliph” or head of state of ISIS. He has also been claiming that he is a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.

“In the alliance, we have agreed that we are brothers under the same sky. That if one finger is hurt the entire body will feel the pain,” Mama said.

Training in the Middle East?

But this alliance, according to Mama, does not mean they have sent members to join the training and fighting in the Middle East.

“There is no truth to the reports that we have sent fighters to Syria and Iraq. We do not need to train there because our training grounds in Mindanao are enough already,” Mama said.

Earlier, former president Fidel V. Ramos disclosed in a TV interview that around 100 Filipino Muslims infiltrated Iraq to train as militants.

“In fact, there are also no foreigners in our camps to train us because we can train on our own,” Mama said, brushing off allegations by the military that the BIFF is coddling members of the Jemaah Islamiyah. (READ: Senior Abu Sayyaf leader swears oath to ISIS)

Military sources claimed that Malaysian bomber Zulkifli Bin Hir, who is more commonly known as Marwan, is hiding in BIFF territory in Maguindanao.

He was reported earlier to have been killed in an airstrike, but military officers said Marwan was seen again somewhere in Central Mindanao.

On Facebook

Similar to al-Qaeda, ISIS, and JI that use social media to recruit fighters, the BIFF has also stepped up its campaign on the Internet.

Several Facebook accounts claiming to belong to members of the BIFF surfaced, with pictures of masked men and women raising their index fingers, some of them carrying automatic rifles.

One of the accounts that claimed to belong to Abu Maida'n posted photos and videos of BIFF gatherings and even their military operations.

The Maida'n account also posted the video of men garbed in soldiers' uniforms who pummeled and peppered with bullets a man believed to be the uncle-in-law of suspected bomber Abdul Basit Usman.

And most recently, a "new committee" called the Union Overseas-Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement has been creating a buzz among BIFF supporters on the Internet.


A source in the BIFF said members of this committee are overseas Filipino workers who expressed support for the creation of an Islamic state in Mindanao and volunteered to carry its cause online.

With ISIS now known as one of the richest armed groups in the world, the BIFF denied they are receiving foreign funding for their operations.

“If we will ask them for money they might send us millions but we are not asking for any,” Mama said.

The BIFF said their funding comes from "donations" from “supportive businessmen and politicians.”

“They believe that we are fighting the right war that is why they support us financially,” Mama said.

Aside from the funds from businessmen and politicians, Mama said civilians in the communities are also "donating" money and even food for the rebels. He however refused to call this taxation buta "charity contribution” by the communities to “fund the jihad.”

“For example, if you till the soil and you harvest 10 sacks you give one sack to the mujahideens,” Mama said.

Judicial process

And with the reports of ISIS forces cutting hands and beheading people in Iraq and Syria, Mama said it is possible it would also happen in their area but that they would be strictly guided by Islamic principles.

“You cannot just cut hands and heads because you wanted to. It is being done as part of a judicial process. Your hands will only be cut if you steal and the beheading is only done to those who killed people as a crime,” Mama said.

This “implementation of justice,” Mama said, is part of due process under the Shariah system. “It is just like any ordinary criminal justice system. The only difference is that the penalties are stiffer,” Mama added.

Mama said one of their original leaders and a member of the central committee was expelled for “dishonoring the due process of law.”

In September 2013, two men were found dead near a rice field in Midsayap, North Cotabato. One of the bodies recovered was that of 31-year-old Ricarte Dionio who was also beheaded by members of the BIFF.

The military said the men killed were ordinary farmers who were taken as hostages of the rebels, while the BIFF claimed that both men died in an actual encounter.

Mama said Dionio was a policeman but explained that the beheading was inappropriate and was a violation of BIFF rules.

He said former BIFF vice chairman for political affairs Muhammad Ali Tambako, who ordered the beheading, was found guilty of committing the transgression and was immediately kicked out of the BIFF.

“The man was a legitimate target but the beheading was unnecessary. What was worse was that the man was beheaded even if he was already dead,” Mama said.

He said the order of Tambako was disrespect for a man who bravely fought in a gun battle. “We do not want that to happen again,” Mama said.

But people in the communities, especially those who oppose the BIFF, continue to fear that similar incidents would happen in the future.

Terror organization

The military and the local government vehemently condemned the atrocities and even labeled the BIFF as a terror organization.

The BIFF, led by former 105th Base commander Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato, splintered from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front after serious disagreements on the conduct of the peace negotiations with government.

Given present progress on the peace process, the government and the MILF have repeatedly appealed to the BIFF to give peace a chance and to be included in the new political entity that will be crafted.

An autonomous state under the Philippine government, the BIFF explained, is a big compromise, given the original claim for Bangsamoro independence. (READ: Philippines condemns, vows to help 'thwart' ISIS)

"What we wanted is an independent Islamic state. We do not care if it is as small as a barangay as long as it is ours," Mama said.

7ID, may bagong pinuno ng Civil Military Operations

From the Philippine Information Agency (Sep 18): 7ID, may bagong pinuno ng Civil Military Operations (7ID, has new head of Civil Military Operations)

FORT MAGSAYSAY, Nueva Ecija -- Opisyal nang naupo si Colonel Wilfredo Villahermosa bilang bagong pinuno ng Civil Military Operations ng Army 7th Infantry Division (7ID) kapalit ni Lieutenant Colonel Eugenio Batara Jr. na bagong kumander ng 3rd Infantry Battalion.

Sa kanyang mensahe sa katatapos na turnover ceremony, pinasalamatan at pinuri ni 7ID Commander Major General Glorioso Miranda ang mga napagtagumpayang operasyon ni Batara saka hinimok na pag-igihin pa ang pagsusumikap at magagawa sa bagong panunungkulan.

Kanya ring hinihimok ang mga kumander, opisyal, at mga kasundaluhan ng mga battalion nasa ilalim ng 7ID na ipakita ang kakayahan at pakikipag-ugnayan sa iba’t ibang mga stakeholders upang sama-samang mapagtagumpayan ang kapayapaan, kaayusan , at kaunlaran ng mga nasasakupang lugar.

Miyembro ng Philippine Military Academy Class of 1990, si Villahermosa ay nanilbihang pinuno ng Bravo Company ng 11th Infantry Battalion ng 3rd Infantry Division, 8th Military Intelligence Battalion ng 8th Infantry Division; at 42nd Infantry Battalion ng 9th Infantry Division.

Army, Kiwanis, Langilan tribe hold medical, dental mission in Kapalong

From the Philippine Information Agency (Sep 19): Army, Kiwanis, Langilan tribe hold medical, dental mission in  Kapalong

As part of the Peace and Development Outreach Program (PDOP), the military, together with a civic organization and tribal leaders, conducted yesterday (September 18) Medical and Dental Mission in Kapalong.

The 1003rd Infantry Brigade, 60th Infantry Battalion, Kiwanis Golden Club of Tagum and the Langilan tribe provided yesterday medical and dental service the 400 residents of Sitio Kapatagan, Brgy. Gupitan, Kapalong.

Aside from the medical and dental services, the children also received new pair of slippers and school supplies.

Capt. Jose Napoleon Gamos, information officer of the 1003rd brigade, revealed that during the mission, some of the residents expressed their issues and concerns to their commander, Col. Harold Cabreros.

Capt. Gamos said that the residents requested water system, seedlings and farm to market roads.

“Col. Cabreros tasked the unit (60th IB) to follow up the concerns of the residents,” he added.

In a text message, Capt. Gamos said that LTC Roberto Bunagan, battalion commander of 60th IB, confirmed that immediately after the mandate, they gave requests and communication letters to the appropriate government agencies.

Army pursuing NPAs in North Cotabato mountains

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): Army pursuing NPAs in North Cotabato mountains

MAGPET, North Cotabato -– The military here has deployed more troops and additional buffer force to contain abuses by communist guerrillas, an Army colonel Friday said.

Colonel Nilo Vinluan, chief of the 57th Infantry Battalion, said a wounded New Peoples Army (NPA) commander is being kept by his men in the hinterlands of Magpet, North Cotabato.

“That is why they have been massing in the area and while there they collect revolutionary taxes from farmers,” Vinluan said.

Vinluan said his men are still pursuing about 100 NPA guerrillas in the borders of Magpet and Arakan, both in North Cotabato, a known bailiwick of communist rebels operating near the country’s highest peak.

Vinluan said the rebels were the same group who attacked in May the police headquarters in President Roxas, also in North Cotabato.

“They are there, they are making noise, we will continue running after them,” Vinluan told reporters.

Three policemen belong to the quick reaction team of the North Cotabato police office were hurt when a roadside bomb set off by NPAs in Barangay Bagumbayan, Magpet.

The police were responding to reports the NPAs are massing in Barangay Bagumbayan. A 30-minute fire fight ensued and the rebels fled to the hinterlands of Magpet.

Meanwhile, police here released seven persons invited for questioning after they were sighted near the spot where a roadside bomb went off and wounded three policemen.

Inspector Raelan Mamon, Magpet police chief, said the seven suspects were also seen close to the spot where suspected NPA rebels clashed with government forces in sitio (sub-village) Natutungan and Bagumbayan.

The suspects, James Villareal, Ibrahim Bintayao, 48; Gloria Bintayao, 47; Jovannie Andaya, 23; Richard Icling, 39; Jesreal Andaya, 20; and Jerwin Andaya, 19 all residents of Purok Singko, Barangay Noa, Magpet, North Cotabato.

Vinluan said they were invited, not arrested, to shed light on their suspicious presence in the area.Mamon said they were negative of powder burns.

Police responded to reports that the NPA were forcing villagers to pay revolutionary taxes. Two bombs were set off by the guerrillas that wounded three cops.

Vinluan and Mamon could not say whether the rebels also suffered fatalities.

Cops, soldiers play active role anew

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): Cops, soldiers play active role anew

Police Inspector Joenel Moratalla, a member of Task Force Mayon, carefully carried a child and handed him over to a soldier in the military truck as the two helped facilitate the evacuation of residents in Matnog village here.

Moratalla and his men, in partnership with soldiers under the 901st Infantry Brigade, evacuated the villagers here after the provincial government of Albay enforced forced evacuation of the people living within the six-kilometer-radius permanent danger zone and 7-8-km-radius extended danger zone.

After the evacuation of threatened villagers, their role now is to patrol within the classified danger zones of Mayon volcano to prevent residents from venturing into the restricted areas.

Since his graduation from the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) in 2008, Moratalla has always been given this assignment of securing the evacuees and preventing them from going back to their homes.

Every time there is a disaster, policemen and soldiers are always at the forefront as they man for 24 hours “no man’s land” zones of the Mayon volcano.

Albay Governor Joey Sarte Salceda ordered no-human activity within the danger zones as Mayon volcano's restiveness intensified and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology has warned that the volcano may explode anytime.

Jocelyn Alaurin, 35, also of Barangay Matnog and a mother of two children -- the younger being six months old, said that for more than a week now they have been experiencing earth tremors with rumbling sounds.

“We can’t sleep well here since Mayon volcano started to eject glowing volcanic materials. Though, it’s hard to stay in evacuation site, we have to go to safe ground for our safety,” she said.

At least 7,575 families or 36,119 people have been evacuated by the government forces in various evacuation camps of the provincial government.

The town of Camalig has the highest number of evacuees, with 2,286 or 11,875 people; followed by Daraga, with 1,869 families or 7,476 persons; Guinobatan, 1,144 families or 5,933 persons; Malilipot, 916 families or 4,763 people; Tabaco City, 767 families or 2,988 persons and Ligao City, 593 families or 3,084 people.

Ed Laguerta, Phivolcs chief resident volcanologist in Bicol, said the Mayon volcano’s unrest has been intensifying since alert level 3 was hoisted on Monday.

This means that magma is at the crater and that hazardous eruption is possible within weeks.

A temporary slowdown, however, was experienced during the latest 24-hour observation period wherein Mayon Volcano’s seismic network recorded only 22 volcanic earthquakes and 70 rockfall events.

As a result of Typhoon “Mario,” rain clouds covered the summit, preventing visual observation.

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) flux was measured at an average of 757 tons per day on Sept. 17 although SO2 emission rates peaked at 2,360 tons/day on Sept. 6.

Ground deformation data showed inflationary changes in the edifice from February 2014 based on precise leveling surveys on the 3rd week of August 2014, and edifice inflation from January 2012 baselines based on continuous tilt measurement.

“All the above data indicate that the volcano is exhibiting relatively high unrest due to the movement of potentially eruptible magma,” Laguerta said.

Army troops seize big NPA camp in Iloilo

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): Army troops seize big NPA camp in Iloilo

Army soldiers under the 82nd Infantry “Bantay-Laya” Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army have seized a big camp allegedly of the New People’s Army on Wednesday after a brief firefight in Barangay Igcabugao in Igbaras, Iloilo.

Lt. Col. Aldwine Almase, Commanding Officer of 82IB, said that his troops were conducting community security operations in said village when they were fired upon by undetermined number of lawless armed elements believed to be members of Southern Front, Komiteng Rehiyonal - Panay (SF, KR-P) of the CPP-NPA, a media release said Friday.

The Army troops resorted to fire back and a fire fight ensued for five (5) minutes before the rebels were forced to withdraw to different directions.

There is no reported casualty from the government forces. The troops scoured the scene of encounter and saw blood stains along the NPA’s route of withdrawal believed to be those of the wounded fleeing rebels.

After the firefight, the residents provided information to the troops that enabled them to track the location of the NPA camp.

The camp which has an estimated area of 700 square meters can accommodate around 100 personnel. It has three kitchens, numerous foxholes, makeshifts intended for training instructions and meetings, and a firing range.

The troops recovered training paraphernalia, wires of improvised explosive device (IED) or landmine and personal belongings.

Prior to the encounter, the troops received reports from the residents about the presence of lawless armed elements and were complaining that these NPA rebels were asking for money and food supplies from the civilians.

Colonel Erick Uchida, Commander of 301st Brigade based in Dingle, Iloilo was quoted as saying that “This is a big blow to the NPA. NPA camps are being used to assemble improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and where the rebels stage their atrocious plans and activities.”

Uchida added that “Our troops saw wounded NPA members while they were disorganized and withdrew to different directions. But we have alerted our medical team in any time that those wounded NPA members would seek for medical assistance. We call on those rebels to come out, lay down their arms peacefully and be given proper medical attention. They are being assured that their human rights will be respected”.

Government troops are now conducting follow-on operations to ensure the security and safety of the civilians and to run after the fleeing lawless elements.

Meanwhile, Major General Rey Leonardo Guerrero, Commander of 3ID instructed the troops in the field to strictly follow the rule of law and respect for human rights while conducting follow-on operations in the area.

Guerrero appreciated the valuable information from the residents. He said “We acted upon the call of the people to preserve the peace and security in their community. The communities are fed up with the NPAs who constantly ask for financial support and provisions.”

Guerrero also stressed, “We reiterate our call for peace with the people. It is high time for the CPP-NPA to listen to this call of the people by laying down their arms, end the armed struggle and return to mainstream of society.”

“Armed struggle will not solve our problems. Let us instead work together through “Bayanihan” to end this conflict and help our country in attaining just and lasting peace,” added Guerrero.

Man caught in possession of bomb-making materials in Zambo Sur charged

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): Man caught in possession of bomb-making materials in Zambo Sur charged

The police have filed criminal charges against a man found in possession of bomb-making components before the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office in the province of Zamboanga del Sur, a top police official reported Friday.

Charged was Joel Sumagop, 36, a resident Purok 3, Barangay Saad, Dumingag, Zamboanga del Sur.

Zamboanga del Sur police director Senior Supt. Sofronio Ecaldre said Sumagop was charged for violations of Republic Act 10591 otherwise known as Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act with P100,000 recommended bail and R.A. 9516 with no bail recommended.

R.A. 9516 is otherwise known as an act further amending the provisions of President Decree No. 1866, as amended, entitled “Codifying the laws on illegal/unlawful possession, manufacture, dealing in, acquisition or disposition of firearms, ammunition or explosives or instruments used in the manufacture of firearms, ammunition or explosives, and imposing stiffer penalties for certain violations thereof, and for relevant purposes.”

Sumagop was arrested by combined police and military forces around 4:45 p.m. Tuesday in Barangay Saad, Dumingag, Zamboanga del Sur.

The arresting team confiscated from Sumagop’s possession 30 pieces blasting caps; seven arming devices; 50 meters electrical wire; 18 dry cell batteries; one improvised explosive device (IED) component; 765 rounds of live ammunition for AK-47 rifle; medical supplies; foodstuff; toiletries; and, other personal belongings.

Ecaldre said that the suspect is temporarily detained at the Dumingag Police Station.

PNP trains Sulu cops on intelligence

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): PNP trains Sulu cops on intelligence
The Philippine National Police (PNP) is conducting a 45-day training on intelligence for selected policemen in the province of Sulu.

The training started Wednesday and is being conducted at the headquarters of the Sulu Police Provincial Office (SPPO) in Asturias, Jolo, Sulu.

The conduct of the training on intelligence is being spearheaded by Senior Supt. Romeo Ver, whose team arrived in Jolo Wednesday and paid courtesy to Sulu Go. Abdusakur Tan, II and Vice-Gov. Abdusakur Tan.

Gov. Tan said Friday he fully supports the conduct of the training citing it will enhance the capability of policemen assigned in the 19 towns of the province.

The SPPO headed by Senior Supt. Abraham Orbita with the support of the provincial government had been active in various community civic actions in different towns of the province.

Recently, the SPPO conducted an orientation program in accordance with the PNP P.A.T.R.O.L. Plan 2030.

P.A.T.R.O.L. stands for “Peace and Order Agenda for Transformation and upholding of the Rule-of-Law.

AFP deploys various HADR assets to augment 'Mario' relief efforts in Metro Manila

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): AFP deploys various HADR assets to augment 'Mario' relief efforts in Metro Manila

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) ordered the deployment of its various humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) assets to help in the ongoing relief efforts of Metro Manila areas severely affected by floods and rains spawned by Tropical Storm "Mario" Friday.

AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Gregorio Pio P. Catapang is monitoring the developments with the help of "Battle Staff Alpha", military public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.

The Joint Task Force-National Capital Region, under Brig. Gen. Manuel S. Gonzales, deployed six M-35 trucks, eight disaster response trailers with rubber boats each, and additional five rubber boats to Araneta Avenue, Tullahan, and Dinadaanan in Quezon City; Malabon and in Marikina to assist local authorities in the rescue efforts.

The 525th Engineering Battalion also deployed one M-35 truck and one rubber boat to Tullahan, while the 525th Water Search and Rescue Battalion deployed one KM-450 and one rubber boat to Nangka, Marikina.

Two Civil Military Operations Battalions, each with two KM-450 trucks, were deployed in Parang and Tumana in Marikina City to assist in evacuation and transport assistance operations in the area.

The 505th Search and Rescue Group of the Philippine Air Force also alerted one Sokol, one Huey, and two Sikorsky helicopters for the conduct of aerial survey and rescue over Metro Manila.

The Disaster Response Units from the General Headquarters-Headquarters Service Command, the Philippine Air Force, Philippine Navy, and AFP-Medical Center were also alerted for deployment Friday.

“We will continue to monitor the situation in areas affected by Tropical Storm Mario nationwide. Our Unified Commands were also alerted to conduct the necessary disaster response operations in their areas of responsibility,” Catapang said.

“Rest assured that the AFP will be on its toes in assisting our national government in its efforts to aid storm victims,” he said.

Filipino peacekeepers in Golan Heights now homeward bound

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): Filipino peacekeepers in Golan Heights now homeward bound

Filipino peacekeepers, who figured in a firefight with Syrian rebels last August, are now homeward bound after completing their tour-of-duty in the Golan Heights as part of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).

Led by 7th Philippine Contingent to Golan Heights commander Lt. Col. Ted Damusmog, the 339 members of the unit will arrive in two batches.

The first batch of 244 peacekeepers are due Friday while while the remaining 85 will arrive on Sept. 21.

Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief, said that these personnel will be subjected to standard medical examinations upon arrival.

He added that the former will also conduct a courtesy call to AFP commander-in-chief and President Benigno S. Aquino III and to the House of Representatives when they arrive.

A motorcade is also being prepared for their homecoming.

The 7th Philippine Contingent to Golan Heights figured in a stand-off and a fire-fight with Al-Qaeda-affiliated Syrian rebels after the latter attempted to take the Filipino-occupied Positions 68 and 69 in the Syrian side of Golan Heights.

The Filipinos exhibited their bravery and commitment when they stood their ground even after the rebels succeeded in taking over the positions held by Fijian peacekeepers, taking 45 Fiji nationals as hostages.

A firefight erupted when the rebels advanced and fired upon peacekeepers at Position 68, while peacekeepers in Position 69 successfully repositioned to a more secure location with the help of UNDOF’s quick reaction force.

The remaining peacekeepers, running low on ammunition, eventually repositioned on foot at their headquarters in Camp Faouar on Aug. 30, finally ending the stand-off.

Due to the escalating violence in the Syrian side of Golan Heights, all peacekeepers were repositioned in the Israeli-side of the mission area.

Because of this repositioning, UNDOF deemed it practical that the Philippine contingent be repatriated earlier than expected.

Zagala said these personnel, with their families, will be given a heroes' welcome as they exhibited courage, bravery and commitment, while in the face of overwhelming threat.

"The AFP’s leadership commends the peacekeepers for showing resolve and determination in fulfilling our country’s commitment to their mission of preserving the integrity of the line of separation between Syria and Israel," he concluded.

PHIBLEX 2015 to take place in Luzon

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): PHIBLEX 2015 to take place in Luzon

Luzon, including the province of Palawan will be the focus of this year's Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX).

The annual exercise between Filipino and US Marines will take place between Sept. 29 to Oct. 10.

PHIBLEX increases the teamwork between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the US Marine air-ground task force, and improves the bilateral response to regional issues, humanitarian disasters and maritime-security needs within the Asia-Pacific region, a US Embassy in Manila statement said Friday.

Philippine Navy (PN) and Marine Corps alongside US Marines and sailors of 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and Commander, Task Force 76 will participate in this 31st iteration of PHIBLEX.

It will focus on the enhancement of the Philippine Navy and Marine Corps’ amphibious operations capacity.

US Marines and sailors arrived Friday to begin preparations for follow-on forces and the civil-military operations they will conduct to benefit the Filipino people living near the training areas.

These benefits include providing free medical and dental treatment to local citizens while completing engineering and construction projects that will provide additional classrooms and necessities to the community.

Approximately 3,500 US service members based in Okinawa, Japan, and the United States, as well as 1,200 Philippine sailors and Marines, will work shoulder-to-shoulder conducting a command post exercise; field training exercises, which include small arms and artillery live-fire training; amphibious operations; ship-to-shore movement; combined arms training; civil-military operations; and humanitarian and civic assistance projects.

The focus of the command post exercise being conducted during PHIBLEX this year will increase the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ capability to conduct planning and effective execution of bilateral maritime security and territorial defense operations.

The field training exercises will provide the Philippine and US Marine units multiple opportunities to continue to improve their skills while sharing best practices and enhancing an already high level of cohesion.

Additionally, Philippine and US forces will conduct a series of humanitarian and civic assistance projects, including engineering civic action projects that will improve local infrastructure, and cooperative health engagements to share medical best practices and assist the local Filipino medical community with treating patients.

Bilateral Philippine-US military training opportunities such as PHIBLEX 15 fortify the strong foundation of interoperability and enrich the relationship we have across a range of military operations — from disaster relief, to complex expeditionary maneuvers.

FOCUS | Pinoy 'Warrior Peacekeepers': More than 50 years building a sterling, battle-scarred record

From InterAksyon (Sep 19): FOCUS | Pinoy 'Warrior Peacekeepers': More than 50 years building a sterling, battle-scarred record

After nearly two decades on the frontlines against Muslim insurgents in the Philippines' violence-plagued south, Army Captain Teodoro Nicor is looking forward to guarding a war zone abroad.

Nicor is training with hundreds of other battle-hardened troops to join a United Nations' peacekeeping mission overseas, continuing a tradition that began more than 50 years ago when Filipino soldiers went to the Congo.

"We are very excited," said Nicor, 39. "There is fear but we have prepared really well for this."

The Philippines participation in the UN's blue helmet brigades came under the spotlight last month when 75 soldiers fended off an attack by Al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebels in the Golan Heights.

While the incident made world headlines and prompted the UN to withdraw its peacekeeping force from the Syrian side of the territory, training for Nicor and his colleagues is very much focused on charm offensives.

At a military base dedicated solely to UN peacekeeping training, Nicor last week led a seven-vehicle convoy through a mock war zone to deliver supplies when they were stopped by "civilians" desperate for food.

With the rifle slung on his back pointed to the ground, he sought out the group's leader and offered a handshake while his men in blue helmets and bulletproof vests stood on guard behind him.

"My friend, good morning," a smiling Nicor said.

Angry, repeated demands for food ensued, with Nicor slowly defusing the situation through calm negotiations while maintaining a friendly demeanour.

Warrior peacekeepers

Colonel Roberto Ancan, commander of the training camp, said Filipinos brought a unique mix to the UN's peacekeeping missions with their internationally renowned friendliness and battlefield experience.

"We wave, we smile, we shake hands, we greet good morning, good afternoon and good evening and in the local language as well," said Ancan, himself a former peacekeeper in Timor Leste.

He said the Filipinos had a term for themselves that reflected their unique qualities: "warrior peacekeepers".

The warrior element was on full display in the Golan Heights stand-off, after the rebels surrounded the Filipinos at their outposts and demanded their weapons.

The rebels had just launched a similar assault against 45 Fijian peacekeepers, who surrendered and were taken hostage.

In what proved to be a highly controversial move, the Filipinos defied an order from their UN commander, an Indian, to also surrender, and eventually escaped after four days. The Fijians were released after two weeks.

The Philippines lodged a formal complaint against the UN commander for issuing the surrender order, as President Benigno Aquino heaped praise on his troops.

"Every Filipino soldier there, from the privates to the colonel, showed cleverness and expertise," Aquino said.

The trainees at the base, in the farming community of Capas about three hours' drive from Manila, said they were not surprised that their compatriots did not surrender.

"Our guns are like our wives, we don't give them up," Nicor said.

Battle hardened

Nicor speaks with the experience of having spent most of his career in the southern Philippines, where Muslim rebels and communist guerrillas have been waging two of Asia's longest insurgencies.

He is the leader of a battalion whose members were selected to join the UN efforts because of their success battling the Muslim rebels, who have been fighting since the 1970s for an independent homeland.

Nicor and the other 330 soldiers in training were due to replace the Golan Heights crew next month.

However Aquino decided to end the Philippine presence in the Golan, contested by Syria and Israel, due to the rising security threats.

The troops were part of the UN force monitoring a 1974 ceasefire in the Golan Heights, where Israel seized 1,200 square kilometers in 1967.

More than 100 troops serving with a peacekeeping force in Liberia were also recently pulled out because of fears they may contract Ebola.

This will leave only about 150 Filipino troops wearing the UN's blue helmets in Haiti, plus a handful of observers in the Ivory Coast, India and Pakistan.

Before Aquino decided to withdraw from the Golan Heights and Liberia, the Philippines had more than 600 troops abroad with the UN, making it one of Asia's biggest contributors to the global peacekeeping missions.

However the government and military chiefs insist the commitment to the UN is as strong as ever, and Filipinos will continue to be deployed overseas for many years to come.

"The Philippines remains committed to peacekeeping engagements because we are determined to promote international security and stability," military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala said.

While Nicor and the other training troops will not go to the Golan, they will remain on standby for the next UN appeal to guard a global hotspot, according to Ancan, their commander.

Lucrative missions

The soldiers themselves are keen to head overseas, as joining a UN peacekeeping mission can be lucrative and often lead to promotions on return.

The Philippines has one of Asia's poorest and most ill-equipped militaries, with a soldier's salary ranging from just 16,000 pesos ($364) to 60,000 pesos ($1,365) a month.

Peacekeepers get a $900 (39,500-peso) monthly allowance from the UN, on top of their regular salary.

One of the trainees at Capas, Corporal Mynald Cartaciano, 33, said he wanted to build a house for his wife and two babies.

"I want to save up for my family, for my children," he said.