Thursday, January 1, 2015

MILF: YEARENDER: MILF: From revolutionary group to political entity

Posted to the MILF Website (Dec 30): YEARENDER: MILF: From revolutionary group to political entity

CAMP DARAPANAN, Maguindanao, Philippines –This year will be remembered  for the signing of a peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Muslims, Christians and Lumad communities are optimistic the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB), signed on March 27 will usher lasting peace in Southern Mindanao, where Muslim rebels have been fighting for self-rule since the early 70s.

This year was also when the MILF began its conversion from a revolutionary organization into a political entity in a bid to pursue its peace and development goals through governance.

From Dec. 23 to 25, the MILF had the symbolic launching of its United Bangsamoro Justice Party at its Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat. Thousands of MILF members and supporters joined the activity and pledged allegiance to the party.

MILF chief Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim said they would field candidates for elective positions in the planned Bangsamoro government in 2016.

The enabling measure for the creation of the Bangsamoro entity, the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, is expected to be passed into law early next year.

The bill, once enacted and ratified via a plebiscite, will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with the MILF-led Bangsamoro entity.
Bangsamoro gov’t

The MILF is confident the Bangsamoro government can address peace and security concerns in the region.

Muhaquer Iqbal, chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, said the Bangsamoro government would need the support of all sectors to succeed.
He said the MILF would cease to exist as a revolutionary organization once the Bangsamoro government is in place.

“It will become a diplomatic socio-economic and political arm of the Bangsamoro people that will continue to struggle for peace and development and the full realization of their aspiration for self-governance in the context of the right-to-self determination doctrine,” Iqbal said.

17 years of negotiations

He said the government-MILF peace efforts could be considered as Asia’s longest peace process, given the time spent on negotiations and in addressing the challenges and constraints both parties met along the way.

Peace talks between the government and the MILF started on Jan. 7, 1997, about three months after the MNLF’s Nur Misuari and former President Fidel Ramos forged a final peace accord, which the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) helped broker.

Several member-countries of the OIC, a bloc of more than 50 Muslim states, including petroleum-exporting nations in the Middle East and North Africa, have also been helping push the peace efforts forward.

The government-MILF ceasefire is being monitored with the help of the International Monitoring Team, which is composed of military personnel from Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Libya, and non-uniformed conflict resolution experts from Norway, Japan and the European Union.

MILF: Editorial - The year to watch

Editorial posted to the MILF Website (Jan 2): Editorial - The year to watch

2015 is the year of reckoning vis-à-vis the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) Its fate is hanging in the balance. We should watch how this year unfolds itself and how Congress shapes the destiny of this proposed law.
If we recall, the BBL has passed through rigid scrutiny and rigorous process involving not only the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), the Peace Panels of the government and the MILF but also the Office the President (OP) and the BTC-MILF. The scrutiny did not end there but President Benigno Aquino III personally read through the document. Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and President Aquino also met to thresh out the six remaining unresolved issues as a result of these multi-tiered engagements that finally led to an “agreed version of the BBL”. This version was formally signed by the 14 Commissioners of the BTC, and submitted to President Aquino through the OP. On September 10, last year, the same version, certified as urgent bill, was transmitted during a ceremony in Malacañang Palace to Congress by President Aquino through Speaker Sonny Belmonte and Senate President Franklin Drilon.

To this day, the MILF has never wavered in believing in the sincerity and commitment of the Aquino Administration to deliver. That commitment has been made consistently and on almost countless occasions. Specifically, the commitment was and still is: “We will not sign an agreement that we cannot implement.” This is the reason that the GPH Peace Panel --- the MILF understands the wisdom --- saw to it that all the provisions of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) do not violate the Constitution. This is also the reason that the MILF consistently maintains that the Moro Question or Problem, which the two Parties agreed to solve right at the outset of their peace negotiation in 1997, cannot be addressed through the confines of the current Constitution, which is too restrictive and shallow. Besides, the issue is not a legal question but political in nature; hence, the BTC is also mandated to proposed amendments to the Constitution to ensure that the agenda of the talks will be fully settled.

Similarly, we also believe that Congress, the Supreme Court, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP), the business community, the Church, and everybody are one with the government in establishing peace in Mindanao. They want a genuine peaceful settlement of this armed conflict. They want a peaceful and progressive Philippines.

The key to this bright future, WE BELIEVE, is for Congress to pass a good BBL. The BBL is not an ordinary legislation. The BBL, as noted above, was crafted by the BTC and had passed through multi-layered engagements with the letter and spirit of the FAB and CAB taken into full account. These two historic documents did not come so easily; they came into being after 17 long years of harsh and prolonged negotiations, interspersed with three major wars and almost countless number of bloody confrontations between government and MILF forces.

It is for this reason that we appeal for the unqualified support for the passage of a good BBL in Congress. Its passage is good for everybody, not only for the Bangsamoro people, but also for all inhabitants of Mindanao and this country. It is also good for business and the international community.

CPP/NPA: CAFGU sa IBC Batching Plant nadis-armahan

NPA propaganda statement posted to the CPP Website (Dec 26): CAFGU sa IBC Batching Plant nadis-armahan
Andrea Guerrero
NPA Southwest Negros Front Operations Command (Armando Sumayang Jr. Command)
Kadungan sa gintigayon nga pagsunog sg New People’s Army (NPA) idalum sg Armando Sumayang, Jr. Command sa 3 ka heavy equipments sg International Builders Corporation (IBC) sadtong Disyembre 14, 2014, 8:15 sg gab-i sa Sityo Tau-angan, Brgy.Gil Montilla, Sipalay City, nadis-armahan sg isa ka squad sg NPA si CAA Efren Baton Solanoy, isa ka aktibong katapu sg Civilian Armed Forces Geograhical Unit Active Auxiliary (CAA) sa idalum sg 12th IB PA.

Sa tuman nga pagkasorpresa, madasig nga nakuha sa iya ang isa ka M14 Assault Rifle nga may Serial number 887978, 9 ka magazine nga may 110 ka bala sg M14, 1 military backpack, 2 ka set sg camouflage uniforms, meat can kag ID niya.

Si Solanoy upod ang wala ginhingadlan nga isa pa ka gwardya, nagaserbe nga gwardya sa batching plant sg amo nga construction firm.

Suno sa mga operatiba sg NPA, gin-ako ni CAA Solanoy nga siya ang nagpalupok sa mga bata nga nagapangtipon sg nagakausik nga mga semento, gamit ang iya M14. Dugang pa niya, mando kuno ni Oscar Montilla nga Mayor sg Sipalay City nga palukpan ang sin-o man nga magpalapit sa amo nga planta.

Ang pamangkot, sin-o ang nagasweldo sa mga CAFGU nga ini? Ang pumuluyo bala sg Sipalay ukon ang IBC? Samtang, ang mga mangunguma nga nagademanda sg libre nga serbisyo sosyal kag subsidyo sa panguma, halos wala gani ginasapak.

Indi katingalahan nga ang mga burukratikong kapitalista katulad ni Oscar Montilla ang maggamit sg mersenaryong AFP kag CAFGU para magproteksyon sa iya mga kasahi nga agalon mayduta kag komprador burgesya, bilang kabahin sg ila ekonomiya nga rekurso, ilabe na sa panahon sg eleksyon.

Ikaduha, indi man malipod nga si Oscar Montilla paagi sa iya tuo nga kamot kag dummy nga si Sandy Sumugat, ang may kaugalingon nga construction firm. Kag suno pa sa pila ka masaligan nga istorya, ekwipo sg Syudad ang ila ginagamit sa ila pribadong kontruksyon.

Ginapanawagan ang mga CAFGU sa pag-untat na sa inyo pagserbisyo. Magluwas nga ginagamit lamang kamo nga paon sa panahon sg operasyon militar, ginagamit pa kamo nga mga pribadong goons sg mga katulad nanday Montilla kag Alfonso Tan sg IBC. Magbalik na lang kamo sa inyo matawhay nga pagpangabuhi kag magpanguma. Andam ang rebolusyonaryong kahublagan makig-abyan sa mga aktibo kag nagapalahuway na nga mga CAFGU.

Makigbuligay sa CPP-NPA-NDF agud maangkon ang matuod nga kauswagan kag kalinong.

CPP/NDF: Interview with Prof. Jose Maria Sison on New Year’s Day 2015

Propaganda interview posted to the CPP Website (Jan 1): Interview with Prof. Jose Maria Sison on New Year’s Day 2015
Prof. Jose Maria Sison
Chief Political Consultant
NDFP National Democratic Front of the Philippines
By Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Niko Dizon (ND): Happy New Year sir! I read your Q&A with the NDCP executive course students

Prof Jose Maria Siso (JMS): Happy 2015 and best wishes!

ND: I was struck by your answers because one, some of the policies you mentioned if you would become president are the same policies being followed now by government.

JMS: The general titles of the policies that I have mentioned and proposed are indeed similar to those used by the GPH and are used as subjects for the agenda of the peace negotiations. But the GPH and NDFP differ in substantiating the titles or subjects. For instance, the NDFP points out under the rubric of national sovereignty and independence the need to do away with unequal treaties, agreements and arrangements with foreign powers. Under the rubric of economic development, the NDFP stresses Filipino-owned industrialization and genuine land reform. The differences in the substantiation of policies is subject to negotiations and consensus for the benefit of the Filipino people.

ND: And also, you mentioned the need to strengthen the nation’s military to defend itself.

JMS: The assumption for this statement is hypothetical and is used by the interviewer to draw what I think is best for the country and people under conditions that I become president. The essential premise is that there is already a just and lasting peace agreement which requires the GPH and NDFP to cooperate in defending national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Nevertheless, the NDFP has always upheld, defended and promoted the national sovereignty of the people and the territorial integrity of the Philippines.

ND: You also have a scathing description of President Aquino and Sec. Deles. But they are the two main decision makers in any peace nego for the government. How then is a resumption of the talks with the two of them playing key roles, possible?

JMS: So long as there is yet no peace agreement, not even a resumption of formal talks between the GPH and NDFP negotiating panels, you can expect that certain circumstances can arise now and then which motivate one side to make scathing remarks against the other side or both side to exchange scathing remarks. Aquino and Deles also make scathing remarks against the NDFP, CPP or NPA now and then. At any rate, any word war is much lighter than the civil war or armed conflict that has necessitated the peace negotiations.

It is not always the case that I make scathing remarks. Right now, Deles is making scathing remarks in the press against the NPA for launching certain tactical offensives within the time scale of the unilateral SOMO of the AFP. But the CPP, NPA and NDFP are bound only by its own unilateral ceasefire declaration which has ceasefire dates different from those of the AFP unilateral ceasefire. When the ceasefire dates of the NPA and AFP coincide, the NPA has not made any tactical offensive and has even gone to the extent of releasing its prisoners of war in contrast to the GPH hoarding 14 NDFP consultants and 500 other political prisoners on multiplied charges of rebellion and common crimes.

The mix up and multiplication of charges of rebellion and common crimes are in violation of the Hernandez political offense doctrine and the basic right against being put in jeopardy of being punished twice or so many times for one and the same alleged crime of seeking the overthrow of the GPH or the Manila government. I say the Manila government to emphasize the fact that the revolutionary movement is building in the countryside a new government in the form of the local organs of political power.

BIFF denies hand in Mlang blast as second victim dies

From InterAksyon (Jan 2): BIFF denies hand in Mlang blast as second victim dies

The Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Front denied any involvement in the New Year’s Eve bombing at the public market of Mlang, North Cotabato, which killed two persons and wounded dozens of others.

Wala kaming kinalaman (We have nothing to do with it,)” BIFF spokesman Abu Misrie Mama said, dismissing allegations that the blast, which ripped through a crowd of last-minute shoppers Tuesday afternoon, was set off by a new recruit of their group.

The explosion killed Zenaida Suelo, 48, and Kristine Salo, 28
Of the 36 injured, 19 remain confined in hospitals.

However, Mlang Mayor Joselito Pinol maintained that the BIFF, a breakaway faction from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, citing what he said was the confession of an arrested suspect in the November 23 bombing of a billiard hall in the same town, in which three teenagers died and more than 20 other persons were wounded. 

Authorities have arrested a suspect in the earlier blast -- Abdul Aziz Glang of Derecho Subdivision, Poblacion A, Mlang -- and are looking at the possibility the December 31 bombing was an offshoot of this.

Superintendent Danilo Peralta, North Cotabato police director, said it was clear the New Year's Eve bombers intended to kill and maim as many people as they could.

Another 33 persons were wounded in the explosion that ripped through a crowd of last-minute shoppers at fruit stalls Tuesday afternoon. Although some of the injured have been discharged from hospitals, at least three of the wounded were in critical condition.

North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Mendoza visited a number of the hospitalized victims of the bombing to offer help and assure them that all efforts are being done to get the perpetrators.

Government militias ambushed in Zamboanga City

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Jan 1): Government militias ambushed in Zamboanga City

A government militia was shot and wounded by 5 armed men in an attack on a village in Zamboanga City in southern Philippines, police said Thursday.

Police said the gunmen escaped after shooting Kamar Hajan, 29, who was hit in the back. His companion, Jamud Goiwin, 29, also a militiaman, was unhurt from the ambush which took place on December 30.

The two militias were traveling on a motorcycle in the village of Landang Laum when the gunmen attacked. Troops, from the Task Force Zamboanga, responded to the shootings, but did not catch up with the ambushers.

Police said several M16 bullet casings were recovered in the area.

Hajan was rushed to hospital and police said it is still investigating the motive of the attack. No individual or group claimed responsibility for the ambush.

Rebels should stop targeting unarmed soldiers if they are interested in peace talks

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 2): Rebels should stop targeting unarmed soldiers if they are interested in peace talks

If the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) is really interested in pursuing peace talks with the government, their fighters should stop mounting attacks against unarmed soldiers and militiamen, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said Friday.

"While the CPP-NPA-NDF is floating an idea of resuming peace talks with the government, their armed wing has continuously mounted senseless attacks against unarmed members of the security forces during the government declared unilateral suspension of offensive military operations (SOMO) during the Yuletide Season," said AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc.

He was referring to the case of 1st Lt. Ronald Bautista, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 2011, who was traveling on a civilian motorcycle with two military personnel when NPA fighters blocked their path and murdered them in cold blood at around 9:45 a.m. on Dec. 29, 2014 in Barangay Candinuyan village, Mabini, Compostela Valley.

Among the victims of the murderous attack were Pfc. Albert Amor and militiaman Renel Baluca.

Bautista and his men came from a hinterland village of Anitapan where his platoon was deployed for community outreach activities during the Yuletide Season.

He was enroute to Davao City where he was supposed to board a plane bound for his home province in Bohol.

"If they are indeed sincere in pursuing peace, they must stop committing crimes such as murdering off-duty soldiers," Cabunoc said.

AFP says number of rebel fighters steadily decreasing due to 'Bayanihan'

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 2): AFP says number of rebel fighters steadily decreasing due to 'Bayanihan'

Thanks to the successful implementation of its Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) "Bayanihan", the Armed Forces of the Philippine (AFP) announced that the number of New People's Army (NPA) fighters has been steadily decreasing.

IPSP "Bayanihan" was first implemented in 2010. It is the military strategy which seeks to erode rebel influence in the countryside by community development projects coupled with security operations.

"We have dealt a big blow against the NPA as their strength decreased to about 3,200 NPA remnants this year. This is due to the intensified focused military operations that resulted to the neutralization of 90 members who were killed in clashes, 106 who were arrested and filed with cases and 521 others who voluntarily surrendered to government forces," said AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc.

He said that the reduction in rebel strength is also associated with the current leadership crisis within the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-Communist Party of the Philippines) following the capture of their national and regional leaders to include Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, Eugenia Magpantay-Topacio, Agathon Topacio and Arnold Jaramillo.

"They are also considering going back to the negotiating table, which the AFP supports because it is in line with our IPSP 'Bayanihan' that calls for winning peace and for the CPP-NPA to abandon the armed struggle," he added.

With the intensified stakeholder’s engagement program through the active involvement of local chief executives from the provincial down to the barangay levels, Cabunoc said, the AFP has effectively facilitated the delivery of public services to the people by facilitating the consultations in the local level so that all social issues would be taken cared of.

Gregorio Del Pilar frigates to provide Filipino naval officers, enlisted with necessary experience in handling more modern ships

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 2): Gregorio Del Pilar frigates to provide Filipino naval officers, enlisted with necessary experience in handling more modern ships

Aside from providing the country its first step in improving its maritime situational awareness capabilities, the two Gregorio Del Pilar class frigates, now in service, will provide Filipino naval officers and enlisted personnel the necessary experience and training to handle the projected strategic sealift vessels (SSVs) and missile-armed ships which will soon be coming to service.

This was stressed by Philippine Navy vice commander Rear Admiral Caesar Taccad in a briefing on the PN's ongoing modernization programs.

The PN acquired the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15) in May 2011 while its sister ship, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz followed suit in May 2012.

The BRP Gregorio Del Pilar was commissioned in December 2011 while BRP Ramon Alcaraz was activated on December 2013.

"Likewise, with these two vessels, our naval operators will have a new avenue for training and equipment that will prepare them for the procurement of modern equipment. Moreover, the shift in focus from internal security to territorial defense, as one of key drivers in our naval strategy, will now be realized," Taccad stressed.

The first SSV is expected to be delivered and in service by the second quarter of 2016.

The contract price for the two SSVs is Php4 billion.

"The first unit is expected to be delivered on the 2nd quarter of 2016 and the second unit on the 2nd quarter of 2017," Taccad earlier said.

"These ships can be used for military and non-military operations such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, sealift, logistics, rescue operations or as a floating government center platform," the PN vice commander said.

He added that the SSVs carries a crew of 126 officers and enlisted personnel. It can also transport a battalion of troops (500 soldiers) and their equipment.Indonesian shipbuilder PT PAL confirmed Friday that it has signed the contract to supply two strategic sealifts vessel to the Philippine Navy.

The Department of National Defense (DND) and Indonesian ship builder PT Pal signed the contract for the SSVs last July.

"The SSV is an integral part of the PN's Service Force (logistic) and is needed to accomplish the Navy's missions in different areas," the Navy earlier said.

The ships are estimated to weigh around 7,300 gross register tons.

The SSVs will be also used to improve the PN's transport and lift capabilities.

As this develops, a ranking Navy official expressed confidence that the contract for its two missile-armed frigates and two anti-submarine helicopters will be signed and awarded to qualified proponents early this 2015.

This was announced by chief of naval staff for logistic, Capt. Alberto Carlos.

He added that this because both assets will be working in tandem together, giving the PN a much needed punch in securing the country's vast territorial waters.

Carlos said he expects these assets to be delivered within three to four years as building brand-new ships and helicopters is a lengthy process.

The country is allocating Php18-billion for its two missile-armed frigates which can also perform anti-air, anti-submarine, and anti-surface missions.

While another Php5.4 billion is allocated for the two anti-submarine helicopters.

Both projects are undergoing bidding as of this posting.

Mayor accuses BIFF as group behind Cotabato blast

From GMA News (Jan 2): Mayor accuses BIFF as group behind Cotabato blast

Mlang town Mayor Joselito Pinol has accused the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter as the group behind the recent blast at the entrance of the public market that killed two people and injured 33 other innocent individuals on News Year's Eve.

"I have concrete [pieces] of evidence that could pinpoint the BIFF was behind the blasts that happened in the town...,” Pinol said.

But in text message to reporters, Abu Misry Mama, BIFF spokesperson denied the mayor's allegations.

“We don’t have hand on it but we know where the bomb came from,” said Mama in another text message.

An initial investigation indicated an improvised explosive device (IED) was used in the attack.

Police have taken into custody at least one person who they suspect may have been behind the explosion.

The person, who was not named, is also being probed for a similar explosion in Mlang last November.

But  Cotabato provincial police chief Senior Superintendent Danilo Peralta told dzBB radio early Friday did not comment on reports suggesting BIFF members were behind the attack.

However, Mayor Pinol said the suspected bomber arrested in Mlang on Tuesday afternoon, identified as Abdul Aziz Glang was a member of the Alkhobar group and allegedly affiliated with the BIFF group.

He said Glang was arrested due to his alleged participation in the November 23 blast that took place at the billiard hall near the town plaza, which killed three teenagers and hurt 24 others.

Pinol is also considering the possibility the attack in the marketplace could be in retaliation of the arrest of the BIFF member.

“We are looking into that angle but we have other angles too,” Pinol added.

The mayor also denied allegations that there was no presence of police operatives in the public market.

“We have roving policemen. We even sanitized the area with our K9 team,” Pinol stressed.

“Though we accept that there were lapses in our security. Kay kung walang lapses hindi sana tayo na bomba,” He said over dxND Radyo Bida in Kidapawan City.

The mayor said this year the LGU will invest more in security measures to ensure that no more bombings will happen in Mlang.

Pinol expressed dismay on the national government for not sending a team to conduct an investigation on the twin blasts that hit the town in 2014.

“We call on the national government to act on our concern by sending a special team to look into this matter,” Mayor Pinol said.

MILF gun turnover set in Jan.

From the Manila Standard Today (Dec 31): MILF gun turnover set in Jan.

Chairman Mohagher Iqbail of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will lead a “goodwill” symbolic turnover of firearms to the national government in January 2015.

“It’s almost systems go for the decommissioning of assorted serviceable MILF firearms to the government, initially totaling close to 100  high-powered and medium-powered firearms,” he said in a statement.

He said giving up arms “is one of the draft measures agreed upon by the Maguindanao-based MILF and the government in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed last March 27 which seeks to bring to a close 17 years of negotiations... to end a decades-old armed conflict in the southern area of Mindanao, the country’s second largest island region, while granting Muslim areas greater political autonomy.”

Iqbal said the process “will see the MILF turn over firearms to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and decommission its armed wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces”.

He said a regional police force is expected to be responsible for public security while reducing the presence of military troops, and help disband private armies upon the passage of the Bangsamo Basic Law (BBL) to phase out the 25-year-old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and replace it with the proposed Bangsamoro political entity now under the scrutiny of Congress as presented by President Benigno Aquino III.

“This is a part of our ultimate sacrifice, to ensure peace and order in  conflict-stricken  Southern Philippines where many, including innocent civilians, have lost their lives,” Iqbal told media.

According to Teresita Quintos-Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, a number of firearms will still remain in MILF possession but she has declined to elaborate.

Earlier talks noted that demmissioning is premised on 35 percent of MNLF  weapons after Congress passed the BBL and ratified by plebescite; 35 percent with the start of the Bansamoro police; and 30 percent before the signing of the Exit Agreement on condition that panels along with the Third Party Monitoring Team and Facilitator certify that the commitments have been satisfied.

Iqbal told the media that the MILF has formed its political party for the national polls in two years even as the Bangsamoro Transition Authority gets in place for a required period “after which all powers will then be transferred to the new Bangsamoro government whose officials will be selected by the region’s electors in 2016.”

The Philippine Navy’s Submarine Quest

From The Diplomat (Dec 31): The Philippine Navy’s Submarine Quest (By

How realistic are plans for the Philippines to acquire submarines?

During a modernization briefing on December 17, Philippine Navy (PN) vice-chief Rear Admiral Caesar Taccad revealed future plans to acquire at least three submarines, as part of a follow-up to the ongoing 15-year P90-billion Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization program.

The South China Sea disputes are no doubt a key motivation, when the rear-admiral remarked that “the events in the West Philippine Sea actually gave some urgency on the acquisition,” referring to the overall PN plan to purchase new assets, including a ten-year timeline for submarine purchase.

The PN’s 15-year Strategic Development Plan, revolving around the “Philippine Fleet Desired Force Mix” envisages a surface, sub-surface and aerial assets including major “big-ticket items” such as six anti-air warfare-oriented frigates, 12 corvettes optimized for anti-submarine warfare (ASW), 18 offshore patrol vessels, three submarines, three mine countermeasures vessels, up to four Strategic Support Vessels (SSVs), up to eight Amphibious Maritime Patrol Aircraft, and 18 naval helicopters equipped for ASW. Not counting a significant number of coastal patrol assets, fleet auxiliaries and other aerial support platforms.

If all purchase options are to be exercised, a sustained long-term funding commitment is required. In May 2012, the PN authorities remarked that the upgrade will cost P500 billion ($11.1 billion). It is not certain whether the plan can survive the incumbent Aquino administration, which has thus far demonstrated zeal in propelling modest but nonetheless significant acquisitions (within available fiscal means), including two new-build SSVs and two former U.S. Coast Guard cutters.

Prioritizing the South China Sea

Among the assets desired, submarines would be ideal sea denial assets to deter China’s moves against Manila’s South China Sea interests. But assuming China is the foremost adversary in mind, the submarine acquisition will not necessarily be a game changer.
Still, while three submarines cannot plausibly alter the naval balance of power in the contested waters, they may potentially complicate Chinese naval planning. Also facing significant force asymmetry with China, Vietnam’s submarine purchase in 2009 was undertaken with a similar approach.

The only question is whether sea denial alone is sufficient. Manila needs to do more than just ensure continuous access to its garrisoned Spratlys features for resupply and reinforcements. In the event of hostilities, the Philippines would need to have the capability to recapture features seized by adversarial forces. The Philippine maritime services, which collectively include the Navy, Coast Guard, National Police, and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, face a more immediate challenge of unfriendly coast guard-type actions backed by naval surface forces in Philippine-claimed waters. What these services need are more surface assets possessing high endurance and good seakeeping qualities to allow the projection and sustainment of Philippine maritime presence in where it matters most.

In an operating scenario where contending parties endeavor to maintain a visible naval presence to assert sovereignty in disputed waters, submarines have less utility.
Remaining surfaced simply contradicts the submarine’s basic design ethos, which is to stay invisible and hidden until the opportune moment comes to surprise the enemy, fire the sub’s weapons, and scoot away unscathed.

In peacetime, submarines do have a role in intelligence gathering. A submarine is useful for closely monitoring hostile activities in disputed areas where surface forces are unable to do so, as seen in the case of Vietnamese vessels being blocked by the China Coast Guard from getting too near the HYSY981 oil rig off the Paracel Islands in May 2014.

That said, submarines serve mainly a wartime sea denial role, yet their peacetime utility besides deterrence would be limited. Funding constraints would circumscribe the present purchases to priority platforms such as surface assets. The PN authorities are well aware of this. Taccad made this point clearly. Not only did he recognize that submarines “take a lot of gestation period” but he also remarked that the first capability to be acquired will be “what we can afford and yet cover a large space and this will be the patrol vessels. These are low-tech equipment, and low-cost. You can have more and cover a large space.”

Insurmountable Cost Issues?

Indeed, unlike surface assets, submarines are more expensive to acquire when one has to consider not just boats but the entire package of training, infrastructure, spares, maintenance, repair and overhaul – all necessitating long-term investments underpinned by political will and fiscal commitments. But it is important to note that these problems are not insurmountable.

In May 2012, a report published by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) wrote that the Philippines requires, amongst various modern air and naval assets, “an affordable force of four to six mini-submarines” for credible defense against growing Chinese belligerence in the South China Sea. There are indeed cheaper options on the market if full-sized diesel-electric submarines displacing over 1,000-3,000 tons submerged are beyond reach. Coastal submarines displacing 1,000 tons or less submerged, for instance the SMX-23 built by French DCNS, are available for cost-constrained navies. After all, due to initial budget constraints Vietnam first operated North Korean-built mini-submarines in the 1990s before finally acquiring the larger, vastly superior Kilo class.

Second-hand boats could be another possible, cost-effective pathway for the PN to acquire and accumulate sufficient know-how before purchasing newer boats. Singapore first acquired the 1960s-era ex-Swedish Sjöormen-class boats for training before acquiring the newer Västergotland-class and lately, Type-218SG boats to be designed and constructed in Germany. This is an example of an incremental strategy taking into account prevailing fiscal, human capital, and other resource constraints.

Finally, Manila may offset some of the expenses by seeking external ancillary assistance, for example agreements analogous to the Indonesia-Singapore and Singapore-Vietnam submarine rescue pacts. On the whole, though, even with external help, submarine acquisition remains a costly, operationally, and technically challenging enterprise that warrants prudent, long-term measures.

A Phased Submarine Plan?

In fact, back in December 1999, then PN Vice Admiral Luisito Fernandez revealed that the navy created a “core group” to evaluate submarine acquisition by 2010. This announcement came about a year after the Second Mischief Reef Incident with China. But the AFP was then preoccupied with counter-insurgency operations in the Mindanao region. As a result, the land forces received the lion’s share of limited defense funding. Not only was submarine acquisition by 2010 impossible, the bulk of the antiquated Philippine Fleet continued its downward slide into disrepair without major revitalization efforts.

But the context today and in the foreseeable future is different. Manila at present has a long PN upgrade wish list but recognizes funding constraints. In recent years, Philippine defense and naval planners had revealed policy thinking that indicated firm commitment to the submarine quest.

In August 2011, Aquino noted that the PN was exploring the possibility of submarine procurement. At the time, then PN chief Vice Admiral Alexander Pama expressed caution, calling the plan “a complicated matter” and pointed out that “we don’t want to commit a mistake by jumping into something. As I said, we don’t want to buy something which eventually we cannot chew and swallow.” He said the PN would look into the practicality of purchasing submarines.

Even though a lump-sum P500 billion for the PN upgrade is unavailable, it is misleading to call current ongoing acquisitions an ad-hoc effort. The initial phase comprises a combination of new-build and second-hand purchases, such as the AW109 helicopters and cutters which enter service in 2013-15. Successive tranches of funding would sustain follow-on phases, such as a P75 billion AFP modernization program in May 2013 that prioritizes a navy upgrade envisaging two brand-new frigates, two ASW-capable helicopters, and three coastal patrol vessels by 2017.

In October 2013, then commander of the Northern Luzon Command Major General Gregorio Pio Catapang reiterated the desire for three submarines as part of the “Philippine Fleet Desired Force Mix.” Catapang stressed the need for military procurements to adhere to national strategic or operational requirements, as opposed to an expedient approach driven by external military aid. In his current capacity as AFP chief of staff, Catapang recently noted the need for the armed forces to become reoriented to external defense. The comment adds impetus to the submarine commitment.

Manila’s submarine acquisition is not meant to be mere symbolism. Operational thought has been devoted to conceiving a force size capable of sustainable deployment. If it is impossible to purchase three submarines, Taccad mentioned, the PN would settle for two, so that one boat is deployable while the other is undergoing routine maintenance. The alternative to acquiring submarines, he also noted, would be missile-armed frigates, referring to the new frigates as well as the potential retrofit of missiles on board the existing pair of cutters to serve as a deterrent and backup for patrols against foreign harassment.

ASW First, Submarines Next?

Judging from what has transpired, a phased submarine plan appears to be in the works. The December 17 revelation of having established a submarine office in 2013, plausibly a follow-up to the “core group” created in 1999, represents the first modest step forward.

It is clear that the PN has been paying attention to the submarine and ASW sector, which is logical in view of the regional submarine proliferation. The PN is keen to first acquire an ASW capability in the interim before finally acquiring submarines. This step, together with possible future ASW joint training with close allies who have submarines, would in the near-term give the Filipinos more insights on undersea warfare.

In fact, the push for ASW capabilities runs alongside the longer-term project for submarines, as part of the PN’s “Active Archipelagic Defense Strategy.” On several occasions since 2013, the PN has expressed its intent to develop an ASW capability in the long term, in particular shipboard and helicopter ASW. Unprecedented (albeit still modest) efforts were made to realize this. In the first half of 2014, the PN announced its aim of acquiring two ASW helicopters, having allocated P5.4 billion to fund the purchase. This was followed up by an invite to bid for the program, which is part of the Medium-Term Development Capability Plan (MTDCP) 2013-2017. It was further augmented in late September 2014 when Manila issued another “invitation to bid” document to purchase a pair of ASW helicopters.

Where surface ASW is concerned, the PN is slated to receive a decommissioned, ex-ROK Navy Pohang-class corvette by end of 2014, with Philippine defense authorities saying that there is a good chance that the ship would be delivered with all combat systems intact, including ASW capabilities such as hull-mounted submarine-hunting sonar, torpedo tubes, and depth charge racks. Local efforts are also underway to develop ASW capabilities for the PN, for example Project Ilalim (Filipino for “under”) conducted by the Naval Research and Development Center to study and develop indigenous sonar systems for the PN.

These efforts to acquire an ASW capability, which is financially and technically more feasible to accomplish in the shorter term, would presage the PN’s eventual acquisition of an undersea capability. For the funding-constrained PN, this represents a logical approach, albeit an incremental one, towards eventually attaining a submarine capability. After all, acquiring ASW knowhow is a crucial first step towards gaining an undersea capability.

Learning from Other Regional Submarine Aspirants?

While skeptics may be tempted to dismiss this recent Philippine move to acquire submarines, Manila’s plan is no mere pipe dream. The PN is actually taking a deliberate approach in incremental phases to systematically induct submarines as part of the overall modernization effort. This pathway is no different from some other regional navies which had sought to build submarine capabilities from scratch.

The Indo-Pacific maritime region is in fact resplendent with national examples, besides Singapore and Vietnam, on how to start from low-base and implement long-term, phased submarine capacity-building efforts. For instance, despite having missed the chance to purchase second-hand German Type-206 submarines, Thailand created a shore-based submarine training center, equipped with a full-size replica of submarine command and control room, to kick-start training and accumulation of basic undersea warfare expertise. Bangladesh, having sent officers abroad for submarine training before it recently decided to purchase submarines, is another instructive example.

These examples would not have gone unnoticed by Philippine defense and naval planners. Indeed, ongoing Philippine efforts may well have already taken lessons from these examples. As such, while Manila’s submarine acquisition plan will take time to materialize, it is important not to underestimate its resolve.

If anything, the recent disclosure of having taking steps to establish a submarine capability ought to provide a major morale boost to the AFP and send a strong message to potential adversaries. Given sufficient political will and a well-conceived long-term strategy, Manila has the ability to overcome the hurdles it will face in the submarine acquisition process.

[Koh Swee Lean Collin is associate research fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, a constituent unit of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies based in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.]

OIC not backing MNLF bid for independence

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 1): OIC not backing MNLF bid for independence

Any individual or group among local Muslims still aiming for independence of Mindanao, or parts thereof, cannot count on the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

The OIC made this clear through a clear-cut pronouncement from Ambassador Sayyed Kaseem El-Masry, a frequent visitor to the Philippines, in relation to the “Question of Muslims in Southern Philippines.”

El-Masry, the special envoy for peace for the Philippines of OIC Secretary General Iyad Ameen Madani even raised his voice and scolded two leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) during a meeting of representatives of the MNLF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) recently in Makati City.

The 57-member states OIC brokered the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and its implementation, the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) signed by the Philippine government and the MNLF.

It was the OIC which convinced the MNLF to scale down its bid for independence to autonomy.

A reliable source told the Manila Bulletin that two senior leaders of the MNLF informed El-Masry of plans to return to the struggle for independence.

“With the mention of independence, Ambassador El-Masry obviously got irked, even mad,” the source said, who asked the two MNLF leaders’ name and group affiliations be not mentioned either.

The source said El-Masry made it clear to the MNLF leaders, in the presence of MILF representatives during the second meeting for the Bangsamoro Coordination Forum (BCF) in November 13 this year, that he did not like what he heard and the OIC will not support the struggle for independence of the Bangsamoro people.

“You already chose autonomy,” El-Masry reportedly said.

It could be recalled that MNLF founding Chairman Nur P. Misuari declared what he dubbed as the “Bangsamoro Republik” on August 12, 2013, covering the whole of Mindanao, and North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak, both under the Federation of Malaysia.

Misuari declared himself president of the “United Federated States of Bangsamoro Republik.”

Another MNLF faction, the Islamic Command Council (ICC) headed by Habib Mujahab Hashim, supports Misuari’s reversion to independence through peaceful, democratic means.

The MNLF faction chaired by former Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin G. Sema is sticking with autonomy.

Sulu Sultanate to continue peaceful effort to regain Sabah ownership

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 1): Sulu Sultanate to continue peaceful effort to regain Sabah ownership

The Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo (SSNB) will continue its efforts this year to regain ownership of resources-rich Sabah through peaceful means.

Sultan Esmail Kiram II relayed this to the Manila Bulletin on Wednesday on New Year’s Eve.

“We will continue our effort to regain the ownership of Sabah from Malaysia through peaceful means in the coming year,” he said from Jolo, Sulu.

He reiterated that he has no plans to repeat what happened in February 2013 that resulted in a bloody confrontation between the Royal Security Force (RSF) and Malaysian military and police in Kampung Tanduo, Lahad Datu, Sabah.

“Why are you going to resort to violence or fighting when the place is yours? he asked.
Kiram II also recalled that in his meeting in Malaysia before the Sabah standoff occurred, he was assured by a Malaysian general that he is recognized as a sultan by the Malaysian government.

In 2014, the sultan’s Ruma Bichara (Council of Advisers) revealed plans to file a case with the Court of London over Sabah as well as to renew the case filed with the United Nations’ International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Kiram II, younger brother of the late Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, who brought domestic and international attention to the then dormant Sabah claim in 2013, said that as the sultan, he will not abandon the claim but will pursue it without resorting to violence.

It could be recalled that around 235 RSF men led by Rajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, the current sultan’s younger brother, sailed from Tawi-Tawi in Mindanao to Sabah to stake their ancient claim on the island.

When the rajah muda and his men were discovered encamped in Kampung Tanduo, a coastal village, Malaysian authorities asked them to leave and go back to the Philippines.

After three weeks of standoff, fighting broke out on March 1, 2013 followed by an all-out offensive on March 5 by the Malaysian forces, backed by jet fighters, helicopter gunships, and artillery barrage against the poorly-armed Moro warriors from Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan.

Many died from both sides. Most of the rajah muda’s men either gave up or were captured while others decided to sail back to Tawi-Tawi, but were discovered at sea by Philippine Navy men and were apprehended.

BIFF blamed for Cotabato blast

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 1): BIFF blamed for Cotabato blast

Police authorities blamed the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) for the bombing Wednesday of a public market in M’lang, North Cotabato which left four people dead and more than 30 others injured.

Chief Supt. Lester Camba, Police Regional Office-12 director, said the attack was in retaliation to the arrest of suspected BIFF member Abdulazis Glang in M’lang town last December 30.

Glang, who was allegedly involved in previous bombing incidents in several parts of Central Mindanao, was nabbed by operatives of Regional Special Investigation and Detection Team led by Supt. Maximo Sebastian.

“The arrested suspect is a key BIFF leader whose arrest was considered a big blow to the separatist group,” Camba said.

Camba directed Senior Supt. Roberto Badian, deputy regional director for operations, to supervise the investigation of the incident while Senior Supt. Roque Alcantara, chief of the regional intelligence division, was tasked to conduct pursuit operations against the suspects.

Senior Supt. Danilo Peralta, Cotabato provincial police director, said stringent security measures were undertaken in public places around the province following the recent explosion.

“Additional policemen have been deployed in public places to thwart terror attacks,” Peralta said.

Authorities tagged members of the BIFF, a breakaway Moro rebel group, as behind the atrocities in Central Mindanao in an effort to derail the peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Government and MILF peace negotiators forged an agreement that will pave the way for the establishment of a Bangsamoro government entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao which was widely marred with corruption and irregularities since its inception following the enactment of the Organic Act in 1989.

Slain officer helped parents sell rice cakes to support studies

From the Philippine Star (Jan 2): Slain officer helped parents sell rice cakes to support studies

1Lt. Ronald Bautista

1Lt. Ronald Bautista, the young officer who was killed in an ambush by communist rebels in Compostela Valley last December 29, almost failed to get a diploma.

A son of a chainsaw operator and a housewife, Ronald had to help his parents sell rice cakes to make both ends meet.

The small business only earned about P100 per day, an amount that had to be stretched to provide the needs of Ronald and his seven siblings.

Ronald, then a high school student at the Nabuad National High School in Bohol, had to make do with a P3 daily allowance.

“He (Ronald) could only afford to buy bread. He just drank water from the artesian well,” Ronald’s father Eulogio was quoted by Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc as saying.

Eulogio could not speak fluent Filipino so The STAR asked him questions through Cabunoc.

But money problems did not dampen Ronald’s determination to finish his studies and to help his parents.

Known to his loved ones as “Onad,” Ronald had to juggle his studies and preparing rice cakes, which required hours of manual labor.

He had to double his efforts. He was aware that financial constraints would make it hard for his parents to send him to college. He knew that he had to finish his studies so he could help his family with its financial difficulties. Failure was clearly not an option for him.

Ronald’s efforts paid off as he finished high school in 2003.

His financial woes, however, remained while he was studying agricultural engineering at the Central Mindanao University in Bukidnon.

Ronald started treading the path towards military service when he was convinced to take the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) entrance exam in 2006.

His uncle, Reynaldo Sidon, informed him about the perks of being a PMA cavalier like scholarship and allowances. Reynaldo’s nephew, Clemente, is a member of PMA class 2010 and is now an Army lieutenant.

It was a win-win solution for Ronald. If he enters the academy, he would not have to worry about his tuition and he would be able to send some money home.

As a cadet, Ronald saved his allowances and gave it to his parents, who then used them to support the studies of his other siblings. Thanks to his being frugal, Ronald was able to help his brother Gelo finish his computer studies in Bohol.

Ronald may be hard on himself but he was generous to his family. The young lieutenant had wanted to act as Santa Claus in a New Year’s Eve reunion held in Nabanga, Bohol.

"At about 6 a.m. on December 29, he called his mom to tell that he will bring gifts for his parents and each of his seven siblings," Eulogio was quoted by Cabunoc as saying.
"He was very generous and kind to all of us," he added.

The reunion pushed through but it wasn’t a happy one. In fact, it was the saddest one for the Bautista family.

"We did not expect that he (Ronald) he will come home in a coffin during our reunion," Eulogio said.

Ronald was one of the government troopers killed in an attack staged by the New People’s Army (NPA) in Mabini Compostela Valley last December 29.

Bautista, Pfc. Albert Amor and government militia man Renel Baluc were on board a motorcycle when rebels blocked their path and shot them dead along the road in Barangay Candinuyan at around 9:45 a.m.

Officials said Bautista and his companions may have caught the ire of the NPA because they were involved in community development activities.

Eulogio and his wife Chona were harvesting rice when they heard about the sad news. Despite the loss, Ronald’s parents are consoled by the fact that their son lived a brief yet meaningful life.

“We are honored to have a faithful soldier in our family who readily offers personal sacrifices in the service of others," Eulogio said.

ASG’s kidnapping activities remain major concern — AFP

From the Daily Tribune (Jan 2): ASG’s kidnapping activities remain major concern — AFP

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) remains concerned over the kidnapping activities of the Abu Sayyaf Group despite the continuing all-out law enforcement operation which resulted to either release or rescue of some hostages and neutralization of terrorists.

Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, AFP-Public Affairs Office chief, said that the focused and intelligence-driven combat operations against the ASG in 2014 have resulted in the neutralization of at least 69 terrorists.

The military placed the strength of the Abu Sayyaf at 423 from its peak of 1,270 in 2000. However, the latest AFP estimate is not far or even higher from the 400 released in 2010 or before the military launched its internal peace and security plan “Bayanihan.”

According to Cabunoc, the military also recorded a decrease in the number of atrocities blamed to the Abu Sayyaf from 190 in 2011 or when IPSP “Bayanihan” was implemented to just 72 in 2014.

He said at least 36 firearms were also seized from the ASG during combat operation.

“However, their kidnapping activities remain a major concern,” said Cabunoc.

Last November, the military’s Joint Task Groups Sulu and Basilan launched all-out law enforcement operations against the Abu Sayyaf in an attempt to defeat the terrorist group once and for all and free other hostages.

The focused operations against the ASG have resulted in the release and rescue of some hostages, including Swiss Lorenzo Vinciguerra, who fought his way out of ASG captivity last month in the outskirts of Sulu.

Vinciguerra was wounded but found his way to government security forces pursuing the ASG. His Dutch companion, Ewold Horn, remains under Abu Sayyaf captivity.
The two birdwatchers were snatched in Tawi-Tawi in February 2012.

“The AFP has recovered six hostages including two Germans and a Swiss national and as of today only seven — three foreigners and four Filipinos, kidnap victims remain in the hands of the ASG,” said Cabunoc.

Germans Stefan Viktor Okonek, 71, and Herike Diesen, 55, were released by the ASG last October.

“While the AFP continues its operations against the ASG, it is also encouraging all stakeholders including the local leaders and communities to support its whole-of-nation approach in solving the ASG problem by addressing its root causes,” he added.

Despite ceasefire truce, AFP junior officer slain in NPA ambush in ComVal

From the Daily Tribune (Jan 2): Despite ceasefire truce, AFP junior officer slain in NPA ambush in ComVal

The military junior officer, who was killed in a recent ambush staged by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Compostela Valley province, was supposed to see his family in a reunion in his hometown in Bohol but was felled by communist bullets.

Lt. Ronald Bautista, a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 2011, was allowed to have New Year’s break and was scheduled on fly to Bohol from Davao City when he, and two other government troops, were waylaid in Mabini town Dec. 29.

“He was returning home to reunite with his family during Christmas truce but enemy bullets claimed his life,” said Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, Public Affairs Office chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The two other troops were also killed, they were Pfc. Albert Amor and civilian armed auxiliary member Renel Baluca.

Cabunoc said that the three, all members of the Army’s 71st Infantry Battalion (IB), had just came down from the hinterland of Mabini town to take their New Year’s break when they were “murdered in cold blood” by the NPA.

Cabunoc said Bautista was expected by his family in Nabanga, Bohol after calling his mother, Chona, informing her he is coming home for a reunion, bringing gifts for his parents and seven siblings.

Eulogio Bautista, father of the slain junior officer, said they were devastated upon hearing news about his son’s death.

“We were both devastated. We did not expect that he will come home in a coffin during our reunion,” said the elder Bautista.

The elder Bautista said that his son is the first PMA graduate in their hometown.
Cabunoc said that the ambush against Bautista’s group was among the attacks launched by the NPAs while the military was observing suspension of offensive military operation (SOMO) in celebration of the Yuletide season.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines strongly condemns the series of atrocities committed by the New People’s Army during the period of government-declared SOMO,” Cabunoc said.

The government has declared a unilateral ceasefire starting Dec. 18 up to Jan. 19.
The Communist Party of the Philippines-NPA reciprocated the government move by declaring an interrupted ceasefire on Dec. 24 to Dec. 26; Dec. 31 to Jan. 1 and on Jan. 15 to 19, or during the visit of Pope Francis in the country.

“Records show that the NPA has reciprocated the government’s gesture of peace with acts of violence during the period of SOMO,” Cabunoc said.

Aside from the ambush in Mabini, Compostela Valley, the military also blamed the NPAs in atrocities in Panabo, Davao City where they abducted Provincial Jail Waden Marvin Coquilla, and the burning of privately-owned heavy equipment in Camarines Norte.

Reds free hostages ahead of papal visit

From the Manila Standard Today (Jan 2): Reds free hostages ahead of papal visit

THE New People’s Army will release the three remaining “prisoners of war” in Surigao del Norte before the Jan. 15 visit of Pope Francis, a negotiator for the communist rebels said Thursday.

“The CPP wanted to focus on the anniversary and the peace consultations [so] they decided to defer the release of the three prisoners. They will be released eventually, before the papal visit,” said National Democratic Front negotiating panel spokesman Fidel Agcaoili.

The three prisoners--PO1 Democrito Bondoc Polvorosa and Marichel Unclara Contemplo of Alegria and PO1 Junrie Amper of Malimono--were abducted by NPA rebels in November.

Earlier, NDF spokesman for Mindanao Jorge Madlos blamed the military and police for the delay.

“Only the three Surigao del Norte police officers were not released because the military and the police, despite of the government’s declaration of ceasefire, still continued their military operations in Surigao del Norte up to this day,” Madlos said.

“I am apologizing to the families of the policemen that they were not released as expected. This is because the military and police have been violating the government’s declared ceasefire,” said Madlos, also known as Ka Oris.

Earlier, the Aquino administration condemned the “pointless violence” of members of the NPA over the holiday season that left two soldiers and a militiaman dead.

Presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles said the NPA responded to the government’s month-long unilateral ceasefire with “acts of senseless violence.”

The government earlier declared a month-long unilateral ceasefire from Dec. 19 to Jan. 19 and the CPP reciprocated with a staggered truce covering Dec. 24 to 26; Dec. 31 to Jan. 1, 2015; and Jan. 15 to 19.

Deles noted that on Dec. 22, NPA rebels torched heavy equipment used for the construction of a bridge in Paracale, Camarines Norte as well as a civilian vehicle in Agusan del Sur.

“Both acts were committed in retaliation for the civilians’ refusal to give in to their extortion,” Deles said.

On Dec. 23, NPA members abducted Compostela Valley jail warden Jose Mervin Gementiza Coquilla in Panabo City, Davao del Norte.

On Dec. 29, Deles said the NPA shot dead at point blank range soldiers Ronald Bautista and Albert Amor and militiaman Renel Baluca—all unarmed and in civilian clothes who were on their way to spend the holidays with their families.

“We strongly condemn the pointless violence exercised by the CPP-NPA-NDF. If they are truly serious in their call for the resumption of peace negotiations with government, we challenge them to walk their talk and stop harassing development projects, civilians and unarmed soldiers on holiday,” Deles said.

CPP founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison earlier announced the expected resumption of formal peace talks in January—a move that would revive the negotiations that have been stalled for close to three years.

Another North Cotabato blast victim dies, 33 others remain in hospital

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 1): Another North Cotabato blast victim dies, 33 others remain in hospital
The M'lang public market bombing on Wednesday claimed the life of another victim who died before dawn on New Year's Day at a government hospital in Kidapawan City.

Zenaida Suelo, 41, of Barangay Malayan, this town, succumbed to shrapnel injuries in various parts of her body.

Thirty-three other blast victims remain in different hospitals in M'lang and Kidapawan City.

Mayor Joselito Pinol said investigation is still ongoing and police authorities remain clueless on the identities of the suspects.

Supt. Danilo Peralta, North Cotabato police director, said the clear motive was simply to kill and maim people in the midst of preparations for the New Year.

He said investigators are also looking at the possible connection between the arrest of a man believed to have been involved in the Nov. 23 bombing that left three dead and 22 others wounded at a billiard hall near the town plaza and last Wednesday's bombing.

Police agents arrested Abdul Aziz Glang of Derecho Subdivision, Poblacion A, M'lang, North Cotabato following a buy-bust operation.

Army and bomb experts continue to scour the blast site to determine the composition of the explosive.

Reynaldo Suenas, a market vendor and one of those who rushed the wounded to the hospital, said many of those he carried to the vehicle were wounded with folded nails.

"In fact, some of the wounds I saw formed a letter 'u' indicating the shrapnel s were made of nails," he said in the vernacular.

Mayor Pinol urged the residents to remain vigilant, saying the town is again put to a test.

He also called on village officials to help the police identify the bombing suspects to give justice to the victims.