Monday, December 29, 2014

NICA: No threats to Pope Francis

From the Philippine Star (Dec 29): NICA: No threats to Pope Francis

Authorities have not monitored any security threat to Pope Francis when he visits the Philippines next month, an official said yesterday.

National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) Assistant Regional Director 8 Eustacio Bacabac reported the assessment during a conference of government security sectors on the Papal Visit 2015.

Bacabac said NICA believes the New People’s Army (NPA), one of the domestic threats, would not make any move against the Pope.

“(The insurgents), however, had been monitored lobbying to include some of their supporters in the roster of typhoon victims joining the breakfast with the Pope,” he said.

He said that the insurgents “are focused mainly on (agitating) people to go against the Aquino administration.”

He spoke during the three-day Advocacy and Consultative Forum and Target Hardening seminar at Eastern Visayas police regional office in Camp Campetic, Palo, Leyte last Dec. 26 to 28.

The government said the NPA wants to get sympathy from Francis, the world’s most influential personality, through its activists and left-leaning militant groups.

Based on NICA’s latest evaluation of regional threats, NPA Eastern Visayas Regional Party Committee had slightly decreased membership from 636 in 2013 to 499 in 2014.
The number of NPA-influenced barangays has also decreased from 76 in 2013 to 34 in 2014, NICA’s agents have reported.

Bacabac attributed this development to the efforts of the Army and local governments to declare several provinces in Eastern Visayas as Manageable Conflict-Affected and Development-Ready Areas.

Undersecretary Felizardo Serapio Jr. of the Office of the Executive Secretary - Law Enforcement and Security and Integratio

n Office said government authorities should not take these as reasons to relax.

“We have to join hands in all our efforts of monitoring and securing the Pope,” he said.

Quoting an old adage, Serapio, also Philippine Center on Transnational Crime (PCTC) executive director, said: “A terrorist needs to be lucky once, we have to be lucky every time.”

He was in town yesterday to discuss the most recent trends of terrorism to the local secretariat, government security sectors, various volunteer groups and multipliers.

New Eastern Visayas police director Chief Superintendent Asher Dolina said the government will use its full resources in securing Francis, including other VIPs arriving in Leyte.
“I appeal to everyone to do everything for the Pope’s security,” he said.

Police are holding seminars, orientations, security planning and site inspections in close coordination with the Vatican Secretariat and government agencies like the Presidential Security Group, Armed Forces, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), and Civil Security Police Office (CSPO), he added.

Dolina said the Eastern Visayas Explosives and Ordnance Disposal has been conducting “bomb awareness” seminars for policemen, volunteer groups and village officials in Leyte, for them to easily identify possible bomb threats in the field and in crowds.

At least four experienced police sub-commanders have been assigned to supervise the Pope’s engagements in Leyte, he added.

Dolina said troops have been deployed in DZR Airport, en route, Bishop’s Palace and Palo Cathedral.

Army Scout Rangers are securing mountains and hills in adjacent towns such as Carigara, Abuyog, Burauen, Palompon and Ormoc, he added.

Dolina said clients in hotels and lodging houses are being screened and vehicles entering their premises carefully checked. Hotel staff and security guards are also being briefed on the modus of terrorists, whether groups or individuals, he added.
The regional police estimated that around 50,000 men in uniform and 25,000 volunteers and emergency responders are ready for deployment in various locations.

Non-uniformed intelligence officers will blend into the crowd expected to be in the millions.

Police and the military will also put on standby an undetermined number of sea patrol fast boats, helicopters, tanks, Navy vessels, and rubber boats to surround the airport facing the Pacific Ocean.

Bomb experts and police with bomb-sniffing dogs will also be deployed in checkpoints, as well as water stations, medical teams and radio communicators.

Government snipers will be deployed in high-rise buildings.

Next week, more security forces from neighboring regions, along with their respective resources, are expected to arrive in Tacloban City to reinforce the local security groups, police said.

As early as Jan. 15, or two days before the papal visit in Leyte, police will regulate the movement of vehicles going in and out of Tacloban City and Palo town.

Only vehicles of the security convoy of the Pope and selected dignitaries will be allowed to move en route to its destinations – from the airport to Palo town.

No public and private vehicles will be allowed to roam around unless they have a valid car pass. Motorists from Luzon to Mindanao and vice versa are advised to use the Samar – Diit – Sta. Fe – Alang-alang – Carigara routes and Samar – Babatngon – Sta. Fe road and vice versa to avoid heavy traffic.

Two days after his arrival in the Philippines on Jan. 15, Francis will fly to Tacloban City and Palo town in Leyte, according to the Vatican secretariat.

Tacloban City and Palo were the most devastated areas when Typhoon Yolanda ravaged the Visayas on Nov. 8, 2013.

In Leyte, Francis will celebrate Mass, host a luncheon and comfort typhoon survivors.

No to Tiamzons' release for fresh talks with NDF – Palace

From Rappler (Dec 29): No to Tiamzons' release for fresh talks with NDF – Palace

'Our emphasis is always – no preconditions when it comes to talks,' says presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda

For Malacañang, releasing top rebel leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon is not an option in resuming formal negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda on Monday, December 29, reiterated the government's stand that it will not accept any preconditions when it comes to talks with the CPP.

Lacierda said the Tiamzons would have to face criminal cases that have been filed against them.

“Our emphasis is always – no preconditions when it comes to talks. We have said that before. We have always said that when we come to talks with either party – NDF (National Democratic Front) or MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front). There are no preconditions with the talks. This is something we have said time and time again,” Lacierda said in a media briefing Monday, December 29.

Ongoing informal talks between the CPP and the government have renewed hopes for formal negotiations between both parties to resume. (READ: Gov't, CPP consult in Surigao del Sur NPA base; Communist Party confirms talks with PH government)

The CPP wants the government to release top rebel leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon before it agrees to return to the negotiating table, the Netherlands-based CPP founding chairman Jose Ma Sison said in an interview.

The NDF, the CPP's political wing, is demanding the release of the Tiamzons because they are supposed to be covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).

The Tiamzons, alleged leaders of the CPP's armed wing, the New People's Army, were arrested in March.

But Alex Padilla, the government chief negotiator in talks with the NDF during that time, said the couple was not covered by JASIG since the verification process for the mechanism scheduled in July 2012 failed due to a corrupted file, preventing CPP members using aliases to be covered by immunity.

The government's refusal to release NDF consultants were among the reasons talks between both parties collapsed in 2013.

Other reasons include the government's refusal to terminate programs that the CPP opposed, including the Conditional Cash Transfer program and the military's Oplan Bayanihan counter-insurgency campaign, and the NDF's refusal to agree to a ceasefire.


The government declared a month-long unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels during the holiday season but the CPP-NPA-NDF only declared certain dates for the ceasefire.

Lacierda branded this as part of the CPP's strategy to keep its members.

"This is strategic for them because when the rebels go down and take a break, some of them don't want to go up anymore. So that's why their ceasefire only lasts for days," Lacierda said.

Chief Peace Adviser Teresita Deles earlier said both sides need to to agree to terms that are "doable and timebound" to prevent another collapse of the ongoing talks.

Observers would just have to wait for the official announcement on who would replace Padilla, now Philhealth president and CEO, as the government's chief negotiator. Lacierda refused to confirm if retired General Emmanuel Bautista is indeed being eyed for the post.

"I think those who wage war are those who have the most to learn and the most to invest in peace. But, you know, again, we don’t know yet...I have no information."

There is still no word as to whether President Benigno Aquino III would have a meeting with Sison, Lacierda said, when asked.

Negotiators broached the idea of a meeting between Aquino and Sison after the President's meeting with MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim in 2011 became instrumental in jumpstarting talks with Muslim rebels, which resulted in a peace agreement signed in March 2014.

The surprise meeting was held in secret in Japan and was not announced to the media.

The CPP is waging Asia's longest running insurgency.

Blast rocks Zamboanga City

From Rappler (Dec 30): Blast rocks Zamboanga City

Another blast occurs at Tomas Claudio Street – the site of twin explosions that injured a bomb squad member in November

Just hours after a powerful earthquake shook Zamboanga City, an explosion rocked the city's downtown Monday night, December 29.

The blast occurred along Tomas Claudio Street 8:50 pm Sunday, Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle "Beng" Climaco said in a Facebook post.

"The public is also urged to remain calm but vigilant in the light of the Tomas Claudio blast 8:50 tonight. Investigation of the incident is ongoing. PNP (Philippine National Police) and AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) authorities are in control of the situation," Climaco said.

The site of the explosion was the same location where two improvised explosive devices went off in a massage parlor on November 9, injuring a bomb squad member who responded to the incident.

There were no reported casualties as of 10 pm Monday.

Hours before the incident, a magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck 200 kilometers northwest of Zamboanga City.

No damage or casualty was reported.

Army denies media reports, says no bombing in Maguindanao town

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Dec 30): Army denies media reports, says no bombing in Maguindanao town

The 6th Infantry Division has strongly denied Monday media reports of a bomb explosion in the province of Maguindanao in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, an army spokeswoman, said no explosion occurred in Shariff Aguak town. She said the bombing that allegedly took place in the village of Timbangan was reported by the Cotabato City station of radio network and picked by a national newspaper.

The radio station also attributed the news of the bombing to Petinglay. It went on to report that that the explosion was possibly the handiwork of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and also quoted the group’s spokesman Abu Misry Mama denying involvement in the bombing.

It further reported that the army’s bomb squad recovered no fragments of the explosive and that the bombing had caused tension among the villagers.

“There is no bombing or explosion and the news of the radio station was simply erroneous, but it was also picked by the national newspaper whose writer did not even bother to verify whether it was true or not,” Petinglay told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

It was not immediately known if other journalists also picked up the fabricated reports.

Philippine rebels ambush army officer, 2 others

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Dec 29): Philippine rebels ambush army officer, 2 others

Communist insurgents killed an army officer and one soldier, including a pro-government militia in an ambush Monday in Compostela Valley province in southern Philippines, officials said.

Officials said the trio - First Lieutenant Ronald Bautista, Private First Class Albert Amor and militiaman Renel Baluca - were travelling on a motorcycle when New People’s Army fighters attacked them in the village called Candinuyan in Mabini town.

The Eastern Mindanao Command strongly condemned the killings which occurred while both sides are observing a cease-fire.

Lieutenant Genera Aurelio Baladad, chief of the Eastern Mindanao Command, vowed to exert efforts to bring to justice the perpetrators of the attack.

He said the soldiers were in civilian clothes and unarmed, and on their way to visit their families when the rebels ambushed them.

“We sympathize with the bereaved families of our slain personnel. It is so sad to note that they were killed while on their way to their families who missed them during Christmas as they were tasked to ensure a peaceful yuletide celebration in Candinuyan. We will exert all efforts to bring to justice those responsible for this merciless and cowardly crime,” Baladad said.

He said the rebels even stripped the dead of their clothes and belongings before escaping in the hinterlands with the victims’ motorcycle.

The military has declared a month-long unilateral truce on December 18 to allow soldiers to be with their family during the yuletide season. The NPA also announced its own truce, but both sides have been accusing each other of violating the cease-fire.

“Our truce was reciprocated by the NPAs with violence. Their piece-meal cease-fire is only a smoke screen of their true intention and a blatant disregard of the communities' aspiration for a peaceful celebration of the holiday,” Baladad said.

There was no immediate statement from the NPA which has been waging a separatist war for many decades now.

2 more Navy "power" choppers now in PHL

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 29): 2 more Navy "power" choppers now in PHL
The last two AgustaWestland AW-109E "Power" helicopters, out of the five ordered by the Philippine Navy (PN), have arrived in the country Sunday.

This was confirmed by Navy spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo in a message to the PNA Monday.

"They (AW-109 airframes) have arrived yesterday (Sunday). Being assembled today," he said.

He did not give specifics on when and how the airframes arrived.

But PN public affairs office chief Lt. Cmdr. Marineth Domingo said that the AW-109 airframes were transported by cargo aircraft to Ninoy Aquino International Airport, in Pasay Sunday.

She added that the aircraft and its components are now being assembled at a facility she did not identify for security and safety reasons.

Earlier, the PN said that the two AW-109s will be tentatively delivered Monday and commissioned on Jan. 16, 2015 after testing.

The latest delivery is part of the five helicopters contracted by the Department of National Defense (DND) with AgustaWestland in 2013 worth Php1.33 billion.

The AW-109Es will be armed with machine guns, 20mm cannons and possibly, with air-to-ground rockets.

The AW-109 "Power" helicopter is a three-ton class eight-seat helicopter powered by two Pratt and Whitney PW206C engines.

The spacious cabin is designed to be fitted with a number of modular equipment packages for quick and easy conversion between roles.

The aircraft’s safety features include a fully separated fuel system, dual hydraulic boost system, dual electrical systems and redundant lubrication and cooling systems for the main transmission and engines.

The AW-109 has established itself as the world’s best selling light-twin helicopter for maritime missions.

Over 550 AW-109 "Power" and AW-109 light utility helicopters have been ordered for commercial, parapublic and military applications by customers in almost 50 countries.

Rebels gun down 3 unarmed soldiers in Compostela Valley town

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 29): Rebels gun down 3 unarmed soldiers in Compostela Valley town

Three unarmed soldiers were treacherously shot and killed by New People's Army (NPA) fighters at Mabini town, Compostela Valley province on Monday morning.

10th Infantry Division spokesperson 1st Lt. Vergel Lacambra said that two of the soldiers were from the 71st Infantry Battalion while the other is a militiaman assigned to the unit.

All three in civilian clothes and aboard a motorcycle, headed for Barangay Anitapan for their Christmas break, when gunned down by eight rebels around 9:45 a.m. at Sitio Barigyan, Barangay Candinuyan in Mabini town.

Responding troops from 71st Infantry Battalion said the fatalities sustained multiple gunshot wounds.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been observing the month-long suspension of military operations since midnight of Dec. 19 and has consequently shifted to community services until the end of the truce midnight Jan. 19, 2015.

On the other hand, the rebels declared a truce on Dec. 24, 25 and 26 and 31; January 1, 2015 and during Pope Francis' visit on January 15-19, 2015.

“The continued banditry attacks disproves the sugar-coated statements of the Communist Party of the Philippines-NPA. They claim that they are pursuing peace but their actions clearly contradict what they are saying,” 10th Infantry Agila Division commander Major Gen. Eduardo M. Año said.

“We sympathize with the bereaved families of the slain soldiers and will exert all efforts to bring to justice those responsible for this merciless, treacherous crime,” he added.

The families of the soldiers are yet to be informed of the incident.

No precondition for resumption of peace talks with communist rebels, says Palace

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 29): No precondition for resumption of peace talks with communist rebels, says Palace

The Palace on Monday reiterated that the government will not consider any precondition for the resumption of peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

“Our emphasis is always -- walang preconditions when it comes to talks.
We have said that before. We have always said that when we come to talks with either party -- NDF or MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) -- there are no preconditions with the talks. This is something we have said time and time again,” Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said in a press briefing in Malacañang.

Lacierda was responding to a question on whether the government would consider CPP founder Jose Maria Sison’s request to release Benito and Wilma Tiamzon before the peace talks resume.

He explained that there is a pending criminal case against Benito Tiamzon and his release is out of the question.

Benito Tiamzon is one of the top leaders of the CPP-NPA-NDF, while his spouse, Wilma, is the group’s Secretary General. Both were arrested in Carcar, Cebu last March 22.

Malacañang said at that time their arrest was not covered by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantee, signed with the CPP-NDF in 1995.

“Now, there is a possibility of a resumption of talks. What (Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process) Secretary Ging Deles has always emphasized is, ‘Let’s have a resumption of talks where it is doable and time-bound; and there are certain issues that we need to clarify further,’” Lacierda said.

PHL maritime patrols told to be extra observant for leads on missing AirAsia plane

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 29): PHL maritime patrols told to be extra observant for leads on missing AirAsia plane

Military units conducting maritime patrols in Philippine territorial waters were ordered to be more extra observant and report any unusual sightings that may provide possible leads in locating the missing AirAsia Flight QZ8501.

"Most specifically, the Philippine Navy and Philippine Air Force have been alerted and are placing on standby two C-130s, two Fokker planes, one Islander and the frigate, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16)," Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said.

He added that AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang also placed these units on on-call status and directed them to stand ready to provide assistance when needed.

AirAsia Flight QZ8501 which took off from Surabaya, Indonesia and headed for Singapore lost contact with air traffic control at 7:24 a.m. Dec. 28.

The aircraft was carrying 162 people and crewmen aboard when it disappeared.

NPAs kill 2 soldiers, 1 CAFGU in ComVal; violate Christmas truce

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 29): NPAs kill 2 soldiers, 1 CAFGU in ComVal; violate Christmas truce

Two army soldiers from the 71st Infantry Battalion and one member of the Civilian Auxiliary Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) were killed by the New People’s Army (NPA) in Sitio Barigyan, Barangay Candinuyan, Mabini, Compostela Valley Province Monday morning.

While the identity of the casualties were put on hold, the 10th Infantry Agila Division of the Philippine Army said the three were in civilian clothes on board one motorcycle on their way to Barangay Anitapan for a Christmas break when they were reportedly stopped and waylaid by eight NPA rebels.

The 10th ID strongly condemned such treacherous attack by NPA rebels who murdered unarmed soldiers.

Lt. Vergel U. Lacambra, the Chief of the 10th ID Public Affairs Office, revealed that the responding troops from 71st IB found the three soldiers with multiple gunshot wounds in their body and were all unconscious upon their arrival at the scene.

“The AFP has been observing the month-long Suspension of Military Operations (SOMO) since December 18 and has consequently shifted to community services.” Lacambra said.

While the PA declared a unilateral SOMO inclusive from December 18 to January 5, 2015, the Communist Party of the Philippines/National Democratic Front/NPA (CPP/NDF/NPA) declared a ceasefire during the holidays and the upcoming visit of Pope Francis. The truce will cover Dec. 24, 2014 to Dec. 26, 2014; Dec. 31, 2014 to Jan. 1, 2015; and Jan. 15, 2015 to Jan. 19, 2015.

The NPA also ordered its fighters to desist from carrying out offensive operations against the police and the military, as well as the government’s paramilitary groups. The party marked its 46th founding anniversary on December 26.

But the army lambasted the actions of the NPA with the abduction of ComVal Provincial Rehabilitation Center Jail Warden Jose Mervin Coquilla last December 23 followed by the killing of the three government troopers.

“The continued banditry attacks disprove the sugar-coated statements of the CPP-NPA. They claim that they are pursuing peace but their actions clearly contradict what they are saying,” said 10th Infantry Agila Division Commander Major General Eduardo M. Año.

“We sympathize with the bereaved families of the slain soldiers and will exert all efforts to bring to justice those responsible for this merciless, treacherous crime,” General Año said. The families of the soldiers are yet to be informed of the incident.