Wednesday, January 7, 2015

DFA: DFA Launches Digital Pamphlet “Ang West Philippine Sea: Isang Sipat”

From the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (Jan 7): DFA Launches Digital Pamphlet “Ang West Philippine Sea: Isang Sipat”

  The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) launched today, January 07, the digital version of the pamphlet, “Ang West Philippine Sea: Isang Sipat.”

“Ang West Philippine Sea: Isang Sipat” was jointly developed by the DFA and the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) to serve as an accessible and comprehensible resource material on the West Philippine Sea. It presents the issues in a question-and-answer format and is written in the national language to further facilitate understanding by ordinary Filipinos.

“The current focus on the maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea has made it clear that we need to foster the ‘archipelagic consciousness’  among our people. By understanding the fundamental link between our maritime heritage and our identities as Filipinos, we build the unshakeable will to defend our maritime domain. That is the purpose of this pamphlet and all the other public diplomacy efforts we have been undertaking,” DFA Spokesperson Charles C. Jose stated.    

“Ang West Philippine Sea: Isang Sipat,” is downloadable from and posted on the DFA official Facebook page. Printed copies will be distributed to all Philippine Foreign Service Posts and Regional Consular Offices for their dissemination.END

[Note: Go to the following URL for a PDF version of the pamphlet:]

AFP to go on red alert for Pope's visit

From ABS-CBN (Jan 8): AFP to go on red alert for Pope's visit

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will be on red alert nationwide beginning Saturday ahead of the visit of Pope Francis.

A red alert means all soldiers will be stationed at their posts and ready to be tapped if an emergency arises. Leaves and passes will be revoked.

Around 100 snipers will be stationed in several areas, AFP chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said.

“Imagine the Pope going to Roxas Boulevard, just count the buildings there,” he said.
He added: “We don’t want to give the enemies of the state the chance to take advantage of the situation.”

This does not mean there is already a threat to the Pope, he said.

“Not necessarily. There are many activities. By our count, it’s about 44 separate activities,” he added.

Around 7,000 soldiers and 5,000 reservists will be tapped to secure Pope Francis’ visit, which begins on January 15. The number will be increased to 10,000 soldiers and 7,000 reservists if there is a need.

The military deployment will strengthen the 20,000 personnel to be deployed by the Philippine National Police.

At the moment, the only challenge he sees surfacing is the temperament of the crowd.

Asked on the possibility of a stampede, he said: “Yes of course. In Wowowee, there was a stampede,” he said, referring to the now defunct TV variety show.

Security threats prompt dusk-to-dawn curfew extension in Esszone until Jan 25

From the Star Online (Jan 8): Security threats prompt dusk-to-dawn curfew extension in Esszone until Jan 25

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman speaking during a press conference in Kota Kinabalu on Thursday.

KOTA KINABALU: The dawn-to-dusk sea curfew has been extended in eastern Sabah due to a wide range of security threats including the possibility of attacks on isolated police bases. 
Disclosing this, Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman said they received intelligence reports claiming that extremist elements were planning to attack isolated police bases in the east coast of the state. 
“These are among the information we received and we are taking precautionary steps to counter any such threats,” he told reporters after the police monthly gathering at the Kepayan state police headquarters on Thursday.
According to Jalaluddin, they have also received information that cross-border kidnap for ransom groups and other criminal elements were hiding in islands close to Sabah waters, waiting for an opportunity to strike. 
“Our intelligence information also indicated that there were plans to bomb gas and police stations among other key facilities,” he said in announcing the extension of the 7pm- to-5am sea curfew from Jan 11 (Friday) to 25. 
However, Jalaluddin said they were still verifying these intelligence reports and were maintaining a high alert in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone) that covers 10 districts from northern Kudat to southeastern Tawau. 
He said the curfew, which started since July 19 last year, and came into effect after three consecutive kidnappings in Lahad Datu, Semporna and Kunak was to ensure the safety of people in Sabah, as well as to prevent cross-border crimes. 
“We have also received requests from fishermen, tour operators and even tourists to continue the curfew as they felt safer with its implementation,” Jalaluddin explained.

Sabah cop abducted by suspected Abu Sayyaf ill with malaria – report

From GMA News (Jan 8): Sabah cop abducted by suspected Abu Sayyaf ill with malaria – report

A policeman abducted in Sabah by suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen and brought to Mindanao last year is said to be ill with malaria, a Malaysian news site reported Thursday.
Marine Police personnel Konst Zakiah Aleip is believed to be in an Abu Sayyaf jungle hideout in Jolo, Malaysia's The Star Online reported.
“He appears to be suffering from malaria. I am told he also complained of diarrhea,” the report quoted anti-kidnapping activist Prof. Octavio Dinampo as saying.
Zakiah was abducted July 12 last year, following an attack on a Marine Police unit at Pulau Mabul off Semporna district.
His colleague Kpl Ab Rajah Jamuan was killed during the incident.
Dinampo, a lecturer at Mindanao State University, also said the abductors have so far been unable to bring in a doctor to treat Zakiah, 26.
He also said Zakiah had been moved at least twice over the past several weeks.
On the other hand, the report said Zakiah’s wife Sharifah Erna Berson declined to comment on the condition of her husband.

After botched negotiations, police minimising contact between kidnapped cop and wife

From the Malay Mail Online (Jan 8): After botched negotiations, police minimising contact between kidnapped cop and wife

The Malaysian authorities are now biding their time in the rescue of kidnapped marine cop Kons Zakiah Aliep, Sabah police said today, after a failed attempt last month.

 State police commissioner Datuk Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman said negotiations for the simultaneous release of Zakiah and Kunak-based fish breeder Chan Sai Chuin hit a snag when Philippines security forces launched an operation targeting the groups on the Southern Philippine island of Jolo.

 “Kons Zakiah, being held by another group, was taken further into hiding, or else we would have brought him back with Chan last month,” said Jalaluddin.

The 32-year-old Perak born Chan was kidnapped by armed terrorists from his fish farm in Kunak on June 16 and was released after a six-month ordeal on December 11.

Zakiah was abducted while on duty at Mabul Water Bungalows Resort on Mabul island, off Semporna district, on July 12 last year. His colleague, Kol Ab Rajah Jamuan was killed during the attack.

Jalaluddin said the authorities are waiting for the situation in Jolo to normalise before making their next move to secure Zakiah’s release.

 “We have to be sure he is kept safe, as the KFR (kidnap-for-ransom) groups are feeling threatened by Philippine army and security and we do not want to endanger his life. This is why its taking more time,” he said.

Jalaluddin told reporters that police have changed their approach slightly by minimising contact between 26-year-old Zakiah and his captors and his wife, Sharifah Erna Benson recently.

 “There has been too much interference from other groups and we don’t want other groups to take advantage, or else we get cheated. It is better to be silent and then quietly retrieve him.

 “So meanwhile we have minimised communication between them (Zakiah and his wife),” he said, adding that the couple last spoke to each other in December. It was earlier reported that captors would repeatedly harass Chan and Zakiah’s wife for ransom, or they would behead them.

Meanwhile, news portal The Star Online reported that Zakiah may be facing serious health problems under his captors in Jolo.

Quoting Anti-kidnapping activist Prof Octavio Dinampo, it was reported that Zakiah was suffering from malaria and has been bedridden for about five days without seeing a doctor.

The report said no doctor would visit the Abu Sayyaf hideouts and Zakiah had been moved at least twice over the past several weeks to avoid detection by Philippine security forces.

Security tight in Sharif Aguak amid attacks on Ampatuan clan

From the Philippine Star (Jan 7): Security tight in Sharif Aguak amid attacks on Ampatuan clan

The police and military on Thursday imposed tighter security in the surroundings of Sharif Aguak to prevent the recurring gun attacks on houses of Ampatuan clan members at the center of the municipality.

Captain Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said their commander, Major Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, had ordered military units in Sharif Aguak and nearby towns to help the provincial police guard the municipality to forestall a repeat of the incidents.

Gunmen shot with M-16 assault rifles the houses of the acting mayor of Sharif Aguak and his father early this week, causing tension in the municipality.

There are politicians in Sharif Aguak who are locked in deep-seated political intramurals.

Local police and military officials said a bystander named Ali Dimaludin was hit by a stray bullet in the latest shooting incident. He was immediately rushed to a hospital by responding policemen and barangay officials.

Two groups reportedly crawled near the houses of Akmad Ampatuan, former mayor of Salibo town in northwest of Maguindanao, and his son, Marop, the acting mayor of Shariff Aguak, and opened fire with assault rifles.

Gan goes to Army’s 2nd ID; Santos quits

From the Manila Standard Today (Jan 8): Gan goes to Army’s 2nd ID; Santos quits

President Benigno Aquino III has promoted the chief of the Civil Relations Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to take the helm of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division.

Outgoing CRS chief Brigadier General Romeo Gan, a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) “Matikas” Class 1983, will replace Major General Rodelio Santos who is retiring.

Gan was appointed CRS chief in May 2014.

The Army division of which he is set to lead is considered by military men as the “anti-coup” unit having seen action in previous coup attempts.

The division headquarters is based at Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal and it is under the Southern Luzon Command currently led by Major General Ricardo Visaya, also a Matikas member.

On Friday, Gan will assume command earlier than expected on February 13 because Santos opted to relinquish his position a month before his mandatory retirement schedule for reaching the age of 56.

Meanwhile, the Board of Generals (BOG) led by AFP Chief of Staff General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. has recommended to the President the appointment of Brig. General Joselito Kakilala as  CRS chief.

Kakilala, a member of PMA “Maharlika” Class 1984, is currently chief of the AFP’s Office of the Strategic Studies and Strategy Management (OSSSM) attached to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Programs (J5).

Army gaining ground as number of NPAs decline in Davao region

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 7): Army gaining ground as number of NPAs decline in Davao region

The Philippine Army (PA), particularly the 10th Infantry Division (10th ID), is now gaining ground in its peace and development operations (PDOP) in Davao region as it noted the drastic decline in  the number of symphatizers and combatants of the New People’s Army (NPA).

This was the claim made by the 10th ID during the regular AFP-PNP press conference yesterday at the Royal Mandaya Hotel here.

“The number of NPA bandits in this part of the country has significantly dwindled with the killing of 39 and the arrest of 21 others during the law enforcement operations,” said 10th ID commander Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año in a statement read to the media by Lt. Col. Llewellyn Binasoy, civil military operations chief.

Año was referring to the general accomplishments of the 10th ID in 2014.

A total of 77 high-powered firearms and 128 improvised bombs were also confiscated by the army from the NPAs in 2014, the report added.

The decline of the NPA forces in Davao region was also attributed to the number of rebels who surrendered to authorities.

Año said that, last, year a total of 142 rebels yielded to authorities, the latest recorded is on December 9 last year when 39 former rebels turned over their firearms to the army.

“All of the former rebels were given the chance for a better and peaceful life under the government’s comprehensive local integration program where they received P50,000 each in livelihood assistance,” he pointed out.

Año also emphasized in the statement that the strength of the NPAs in terms of membership was significantly stripped down from 1,019 with 1,352 firearms to 993 with 1,321 from the 3rd quarter to 4th quarter of 2014.

“The CPP-NPA-NDF in the region is suffering a leadership crisis with the arrest of their well-experienced and ranking leaders. This is the reason why they are trying to recruit out-of-school youths and college students to fill the gaps,” Año added.

Among the arrested NPA leaders he named in the statement are Felix Armodia, Roy Erecre, Dominiciano Muya and Jordan Donillo.

The general also lauded the support of the civilian populace in the area in gaining such achievements.

“Civilian tipsters are instrumental to our focused-military operations. People who are victims of extortion by the NPA bandits have collaborated with us in pinpointing jungle hideouts, and most importantly, in identifying notorious bandits who mingle with plain civilians,” he said.

MNLF faction backs MILF on BBL passage

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 7): MNLF faction backs MILF on BBL passage

One of the three factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has formalized its commitment of support to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in its bid for the passage and implementation of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Datu Abul Khayr Alonto, MNLF faction chairman, and MILF chieftain Hadji Murad Ebrahim signed an official communiqué Monday, affirming their common desire for the establishment of the Bangsamoro autonomous political entity sought under the BBL, which is due for deliberation by the 16th Congress upon resumption of its sessions this month.

The symbolic signing ceremony was held at the MILF’s Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao where Alonto and more than 50 fellow key MNLF leaders were received by the MILF central committee led by Ebrahim and First Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar.

Through the communiqué, the MNLF’s Alonto group reiterated its “full support to the full implementation” of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement (FAB), the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and its annexes that the MILF and the government signed prior to the crafting of the BBL, which translates into legal language such peace agreements.

The MILF “central committee fully appreciates and welcomes wholeheartedly the gesture and manifestation of support of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under the leadership of Brother Datu Abul Khayr D. Alonto,” Ebrahim, for his part, said in the communiqué.

“Both parties mutually agree to continue working together to foster strong Unity, Solidarity and Brotherhood as one Bangsamoro People, anchored on the Principles of what they fought for in order to attain freedom with Justice for the Bangsamoro, in line with their inalienable and inherent right to self-determination, Insha-Allah,” the joint statement said.

Alonto and his companions, including members of the MNLF pioneer Top 90 group and four succeeding batches alongside Bangsa Bae (female supporters), travelled from the two Lanao provinces, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and the Zamboanga peninsula for the event.

Noorulhayat “Baby” Alonto, wife of the MNLF faction chair, said most of the MILF comrade-guests Monday belonged to the Lam Alif Directorate, which she described as “the group that led Muslim youth activism in the ‘60s that made them earn the name ‘Blackshirts’ and from where the core group of the FF90 were recruited.”

“Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God), the two fronts agree to unite and work together on the prompt passage and implementation of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL),” the female Alonto told the Bulletin.

House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr. assured last week his chamber’s passage of the BBL by the first quarter of this year, even as he urged President Aquino to ask support from his allies in the Senate to adopt the peace measure for presidential signature “on or before March 30” and the holding of plebiscite for the Bangsamoro region “on or before June 30.”

The BBL passage will effectively abolish the 25-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and put in place the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) that would carry out thrusts for the ratification of the law and subsequent establishment of the Bangsamoro parliament entity.

The referendum will cover the electorates of the proposed Bangsamoro territories, which include the whole of ARMM (comprising Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan), the cities of Cotabato and Isabela, six towns in Lanao del Norte and 39 villages in six towns of North Cotabato.

'Walang batayan': PH hits China in Filipino FAQs on sea row

From Rappler (Jan 8): 'Walang batayan': PH hits China in Filipino FAQs on sea row

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs releases a Filipino primer on the maritime dispute 'to facilitate understanding by ordinary Filipinos'

FILIPINO PRIMER. The DFA launches a digital pamphlet on the West Philippine Sea to explain the maritime dispute to ordinary Filipinos. Screenshot of West Philippine Sea: Isang Sipat
FILIPINO PRIMER. The DFA launches a digital pamphlet on the West Philippine Sea to explain the maritime dispute to ordinary Filipinos. Screenshot of West Philippine Sea: Isang Sipat

“Ano ang batayan ng Tsina sa inaangkin nitong nine-dash line?” (What is China’s basis for its 9-dash line claim?)

This is just one of the questions the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) asks and answers in a new primer on the South China Sea dispute tailor-made for one crucial audience: the Filipino masses.

The DFA launched on Wednesday, January 7, what it called a digital pamphlet titled “Ang West Philippine Sea: Isang Sipat” (The West Philippine Sea: An Overview), a 4-page explainer written purely in Filipino. (See full primer below.)

The department said in a statement that the pamphlet aims “to serve as an accessible and comprehensible resource material” on the West Philippine Sea (WPS), the term Manila uses to refer to parts of the South China Sea that it claims.

The Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO) helped the DFA develop the primer.

DFA Spokesperson Charles Jose explained that the pamphlet was written “to further facilitate understanding by ordinary Filipinos.”

“The current focus on the maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea has made it clear that we need to foster the ‘archipelagic consciousness’ among our people,” Jose said.

“By understanding the fundamental link between our maritime heritage and our identities as Filipinos, we build the unshakeable will to defend our maritime domain.
That is the purpose of this pamphlet and all the other public diplomacy efforts we have been undertaking,” the spokesperson added.

In the pamphlet, the Philippines again accuses China of violating international law, questions the legal basis of China’s 9-dash line claim, and seeks support for its historic arbitration case against Beijing. (READ: Rough seas: Will PH 'lawfare' work vs China?)

The following are the 8 questions the primer addresses:
  1. Nasaan ang Karagatang Kanlurang Pilipinas o West Philippine Sea at bakit ito mahalaga sa akin bilang Pilipino? (Where is the West Philippine Sea, and why does it matter to me as a Filipino?)
  2. Anu-ano ang karapatang pandagat o maritime entitlements ng isang bansang tulad ng Pilipinas? (What are the maritime entitlements of a country like the Philippines?)
  3. Bakit may alitan kaugnay ng West Philippine Sea/South China Sea? (Why is there a dispute over the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea?)
  4. Ano ang inaangkin ng Pilipinas sa South China Sea at ano ang batayan nito? (What is the Philippines claiming in the South China Sea, and on what basis?)
  5. Ano ang batayan ng Tsina sa inaangkin nitong nine-dash line? (What is China’s basis for its 9-dash line claim?)
  6. Ano ang karapatan ng Pilipinas sa ilalim ng batas pandaigdig na nilalabag ng Tsina? (What are the Philippines’ rights under the international law that China is violating?)
  7. Mayroon bang batas pandaigdig na nakasasaklaw sa alitan ng South China Sea? (Is there an international law that covers the South China Sea dispute?)
  8. Bakit naghain ng kasong arbitrasyon ang Pilipinas laban sa Tsina? (Why did the Philippines file an arbitration case against China?)
The explainer includes maps and illustrations, and short descriptions of the maritime features the Philippines claims like Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas (Ayungin) Shoal, using their Philippine names.

The pamphlet is just the latest effort of the DFA to use information and education to promote the Philippines’ maritime claims, and Manila’s historic arbitration case against Beijing. China has its own media offensive, and releases its own position paper with question-and-answer explainers.

Jose recently told Rappler that the DFA is planning to include the West Philippine Sea in the elementary and high school curriculum, as the department continues its nationwide information drive on the issue.

EXPLAINING FEATURES. A screenshot of the DFA primer explaining the maritime features the Philippines claims. Courtesy: DFA, PCDSPO
EXPLAINING FEATURES. A screenshot of the DFA primer explaining the maritime features the Philippines claims. Courtesy: DFA, PCDSPO
The South China Sea is hotly disputed as it is a major shipping route, fishing ground, and is believed to hold vast deposits of oil and gas. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also claim parts of the strategic sea.

Why care about the West PH Sea?

Before going into legal arguments and jargon, the DFA took pains to explain why ordinary Filipinos should care about the dispute.

Ang West Philippine Sea: Isang Sipat stated that the West Philippine Sea holds marine resources like corals, fish and oil that affect the Philippines’ economic growth, and environmental, energy and food security.

“Isang sentro ng yamang heolohiko (geological resources) ang karagatan sa kanluran at timog-kanluran ng Pilipinas. Napagtibay na ng agham na may malaking bukal ng langis, gas, at iba pang yamang mineral ang bansa, lalo pa sa bahaging Palawan/Pampang Recto (Recto Bank) ng WPS,” the primer stated.

(The sea in the south and southwest of the Philippines is a center of geological resources. Science showed that the country has a wealth of oil, gas, and other mineral riches, especially in the area of Palawan/Recto Bank of WPS.)

The primer then explained the different maritime entitlements under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the treaty the Philippines uses to question China’s expansive sea claims. Both the Philippines and China are parties to UNCLOS.

These entitlements include the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which provides a state the exclusive right to explore and exploit natural resources like fish and oil 200 nautical miles from its baselines.

The primer said that instead of abiding by UNCLOS, China insists on using its 9-dash line to assert “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea.

It stated that the line overlaps with 80% of the Philippines’ EEZ and continental shelf, and those of Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

Walang batayan sa UNCLOS ang nine-dash line ng Tsina at hindi nakatutulong sa adhikain ng mga bansa na bigyan ng solusyong pangmatagalan at makabuluhan ang sapawan sa mga sonang pandagat,” the primer stated.

MARITIME ENTITLEMENTS. A screenshot of the DFA primer explaining the maritime entitlements under the law of the sea treaty. Courtesy: DFA, PCDSPO
MARITIME ENTITLEMENTS. A screenshot of the DFA primer explaining the maritime entitlements under the law of the sea treaty. Courtesy: DFA, PCDSPO
(China’s 9-dash line has no basis in UNCLOS, and it does not help the objective of nations to find a durable and meaningful resolution to maritime disputes.)

Why support arbitration?

The DFA also sought to explain its legal strategy of going to arbitration, which drew both support and criticism as legal and foreign policy experts debate on the implications of the Philippines’ move against Asia’s rising superpower.

The primer though said that many scholars support the Philippines’ tack of using international law to resolve the dispute.

It added that influential countries like the US, Japan, India, Australia, the European Union and the G7 bloc gave statements of support for the Philippine position.

“Patunay ang mga pagpapahayag na ito ng suporta na kahit maraming bansa ang hindi nagpapakita ng pagkiling sa mga isyung panteritoryo, sumusuporta pa rin sila sa pangkalahatang direksiyon ng polisiya ng Pilipinas sa usaping WPS.”

(These statements of support are proof that while many nations do not have a position on territorial issues, they support the general direction of the Philippine policy on the WPS.).

The DFA urged ordinary Filipinos to also support the move.

“Sa anumang alitan, pinakamainam na solusyon ang nakabase sa katuwiran, na siyang pagdedesisyunan ng isang partidong walang kinikilingan. Bago mahuli ang lahat, nagpasya ang Pilipinas na harapin sa hukuman ang Tsina, upang ipagtanggol at pangalagaan ang karapatan nito at ng mga susunod na salinlahi ng Pilipino.”

(In any argument, the best solution is one based on reason, that an impartial party will decide on. Before it’s too late, the Philippines decided to face China in court to defend and protect its rights, and the rights of the next generations of Filipinos.)

'China to finish construction of airstrip in West PH Sea this year'

From Rappler (Jan 8): 'China to finish construction of airstrip in West PH Sea this year'

A Chinese airstrip in the West Philippine Sea will dramatically change the security situation because it will allow Chinese assets to stay longer in the area

China's reclamation activities in Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef off the coast of Palawan in the West Philippine Sea, aimed at turning the rocky sandbar into an artificial island, are "maybe about 50% complete," Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr said.

"We continue to monitor what's happening in the West Philippine Sea. We know that there is still ongoing reclamation in the area and we are just awaiting decision of the [international tribunal] on whether the memorial that we filed was favorable to us," Catapang told reporters on Wednesday, January 7.

"It (artificial island) is alarming in the sense that it could be used for other purposes other than for peaceful use," Catapang added.

While the AFP chief said the military has yet to confirm if it is an airstrip China is building in the reclaimed land that he said appears to be 2 kilometers long, two Rappler sources whose tasks include monitoring the West Philippine Sea said there is no doubt that it is an airstrip.

"Matatapos nila siguro 'yan ngayong taon. Mabilis sila (They will likely finish that this year. They're fast," said one of the sources. Both sources refused to be named because they are not authorized to issue public statements on the topic.

Security analysis group IHS Jane in November 2014 was the first to draw international attention to the construction of a possible airstrip and a harbor in Kagitingan Reef by showing sattelite imagery of the reclaimed land. It said the reclamation spans 3 kilometers long and up to 300 meters wide.

The Philippines claims the reef as part of the Kalayaan Group of Islands (Spratlys) with a central government based in nearby Pag-asa (Tithu) island – the second largest island in the Spratlys and is occupied by a small Filipino community.

Command base

A Chinese airstrip will dramatically change the security situation in the West Philippine Sea, where 6 countries including Philippines and China have overlapping claims.

"That will be used as a command base," said the source, who noted the fast-paced reclamation work.

“The reclamation activities are massive. It’s not in accordance with the Code of Conduct,” another source added.

An airstrip will allow Chinese planes including even fighter jets to land in the artificial island and get very near the country, a scenario that is very concerning, the sources said. Harbors can also host tankers and other sea vessels.

It will also mean China can stay longer in the area. "Noon masyado malayo ang China. Kaunti ang loitering time nila. (China used to be far away. It meant shorter loitering time.) With an airstrip, they can stay [longer]," the source said.

Chinese ships have stopped harassing Philippine ships since the reclamation activities began, noted one of the sources with a sarcastic laugh. "It is perhaps because they already got what they wanted," the source added.

Chinese ships harassed a Philippine Navy resupply mission to the Ayungin ((Second Thomas) Shoal in March last year, a day before the Philippines filed its pleading against China before an international tribunal. In 2012, Chinese ships occupied Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal after a Philippine ship withdrew from a tense standoff.

Scarborough is outside the Spratlys, located just 124 nautical miles off the coast of Zambales in Luzon. It has been serving as the forward operating base for Chinese ships, depriving Filipinos of their fishing grounds.

Kagitingan is also just one several reefs that China has been reclaiming inside the Kalayaan Group of Islands but it is the only one that could host an airstrip. The other areas include the Mabini (Johnson South) Reef, the McKennan (Hughes) Reef, the Cuateron Reef, and the Gavin Reef.

The Department of Foreign Affairs sent China a series of note verbale to protest the reclamation activities.

PH suspends development of bases

While China continues its reclamation activities, the Philippines suspended development of existing military facilities in the West Philippine Sea pending the resolution of the international arbitration case filed against China.

Among the suspended developments are the runway in Pag-Asa Island and the Naval Forces West detachment in Oyster Bay, Palawan located at the mouth of the West Philippine Sea.

The supposed development of the bases is part of the Philippine military's modest P90-billion modernization program to achieve what it calls “credible deterrence” against maritime intruders.

One of the weakest in Asia, the AFP is acquiring a squadron of fighter jets, two brand new frigates, air surveillance radars and other assets for the protection of the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippines also signed a new military-to-military agreement with treaty ally US – the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) – in the hope that increased US military presence in the country could deter China.

The Supreme Court has yet to decide on the constitutionality of the agreement, however.

NPA rebels demand pull out of troops in Surigao province

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot Site (Jan 7): NPA rebels demand pull out of troops in Surigao province

Communist rebels have demanded the immediate pull out of troops in the southern Philippine province of Surigao to allow the safe release of three police officers being held as prisoners of war by the New People’s Army.

The rebels also asked Governor Sol Matugas to order the military to withdraw its forces so rebels can free PO3 Democrito Polvorosa, PO1 Marichel Contemplo and PO1 Junrie Amper, who were taken captive last year. The NPA is also holding Compostela Valley provincial jail warden Jose Coquilla.

Matugas wrote a letter to Brig. Gen. Jonathan Ponce, commander of the 402nd Infantry Brigade, and asked him to suspend the so-called Community Organizing for Peace and Development (COPD) program of the military to allow the NPA to free all three hostages.

Ponce, in his reply to Matugas’ letter, said troops are currently observing a unilateral cease-fire and would not do anything that would put the lives of the policemen in jeopardy.

He said all military units under him are religiously observing the provisions of the Suspension of Military Operations (SOMO) as set forth by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Under the SOMO, troops are prohibited from conducting deliberate offensive and combat operations. But soldiers continue to maintain checkpoints and patrol villages to protect civilian communities from lawless elements.

Ponce said he cannot withdraw troops in the province, but he ordered battalion commanders for the temporary suspension of Peace and Development Outreach Program and Community-Based Peace and Development efforts to pave way for the immediate release of the hostages.

“In view of the said provisions, the demand of the NPA to pull out our troops conducting COPD and the conduct of checkpoints cannot be granted. I will not allow the total pull out of troops in the area.”

“On the other hand, I ordered my battalion commanders for the temporary suspension of Peace and Development Outreach Program and Community-Based Peace and Development efforts to pave way for the immediate release of the kidnapped victims,” Ponce said.

Hesaid security patrols is aimed to protect civilian communities, government establishments, investment facilities, and vital structures, including military camps, detachments, patrol bases, installations and outposts against armed groups. He said the checkpoints also serve to prevent the illegal transport of weapons or explosives by civilians and rebel groups.

The NPA  - which is fighting for a separate state in the country - recently released Pvts. Marnel Cinches and Jerrel Yurong in Bukidnon province in northern Mindanao due to humanitarian reason following their capture in August last year in Impasug-ong town; and also Pfc. Alvin Ricarte and Cpl. Benjamin Samano in Compostela Valley province.

Police investigate killing of barangay official in Basilan

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 8): Police investigate killing of barangay official in Basilan

The police are conducting a thorough investigation to unmask and arrest the suspects behind the killing of a barangay official in the municipality of Ungkaya Pukan, this province.

Senior Insp. Allan Benasing, Ungkaya Pukan police chief, identified the slain official as Hadji Adnin Amlain, a barangay councilor of Danapah, Al-Barka town.

Benasing said the victim was driving motorcycle when tailed and fatally shot by the suspects around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in Barangay Cabangalan, Ungkaya Pukan town.

He added that the victim was on his way home at the time of the incident.

Benasing said that all possible motives are being looked into in a bid to establish the suspects’ identities.

Cayetano urges MILF to help gov’t fight terrorism in Mindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 7): Cayetano urges MILF to help gov’t fight terrorism in Mindanao

Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano urged the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Wednesday to prove their sincerity to achieve lasting peace in Mindanao by helping the government fight terrorism in the region.

Cayetano made the appeal as the Senate conducts a series of public hearings on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) provided for in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed by the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the MILF last year.

”The MILF should prove that they are on the side of the government. My request to them is to help in apprehending and fighting all the elements of terrorism in Mindanao like the BIFF and Abu Sayyaf Group,” Cayetano said in a Senate media interview.

Cayetano emphasized that the peace agreement with the MILF will be useless if the attacks being perpetrated by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group will continue in Mindanao.

”What’s the point if they (MILF) will lead but the elements of terrorism and illegal activities will continue to flourish in Mindanao?,” Cayetano asked.

The BIFF is a new group of radical armed Muslims advocating independence. The Abu Sayyaf members have been engaged in extortion, kidnap-for-ransom, and series of attacks in the towns and military detachments in Mindanao.

Cayetano said there is a need to study carefully the creation of the Bangsamoro political entity to make sure that all the people in Mindanao will benefit from the peace agreement.

”My apprehension is that if we have already peace deal with the MILF, the BIFF will regain strength. The purpose of compromise and agreement is to have lasting peace. But if the peace is for the leaders only, and the fighters will transfer to other armed groups, we will not achieve peace,” Cayetano said.

He said more time is needed for the Senate to scrutinize the proposed BBL under the Senate Committee on Local Government headed by Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

”I’m hoping that everybody should have an open mind to hasten our consultation,” Cayetano said.

Cayetano said the BBL is one of the priority measures the Senate will tackle in the first quarter of 2015.

Military pursuing ASG bandits who abducted 7-year-old boy in Sulu

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 8): Military pursuing ASG bandits who abducted 7-year-old boy in Sulu

Units from the Western Mindanao Command are now pursuing the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits who abducted a seven-year-old boy at Barangay Asturias, Jolo, Sulu in the night-time of Jan. 6.

Reports forwarded Wednesday by Capt. Rowena Muyuela, Western Mindanao Command spokesperson, said the incident took place at 6 p.m.

She identified the victim as Eljon Marzo, a student of Notre Dame of Jolo and son of Maimbung town treasurer Jun Marzo.

Eljon was playing outside their house when he was forcibly taken by the suspects onboard a motorcycle, after which they fled towards Barangay Anuling, Patikul, Sulu.

Initial investigation identified one of the abductors as ASG sub-leader Namyel Ahajari alias "Gapas".

Pursuit operations are now ongoing as of this posting.

The Philippine Navy Is Rusting Away

From the War is Boring blog (Jan 5): The Philippine Navy Is Rusting Away

Manila has to make up for decades of neglect

In December 2014, the Philippine Navy announced plans for a major overhaul of its beleaguered force. It’s about time. The archipelago’s sailing force is made up of half-century-old antiques—and is falling apart.
Under the new proposal, Manila expects to spend $2 billion over the next 15 years on new warships, submarines, helicopters and more. The primary focus of these purchases is to help bolster the country’s claims in the South China Sea against Chinese intrusions.
“The events in the West Philippine Sea actually gave some urgency on the acquisition,” Philippine Navy Rear Adm. Caesar Taccad told reporters at the event, according to Reuters.
And Beijing’s increasingly aggressive attitude in the region came as a “surprise” to Manila, says Eric Wertheim, a naval expert and the author of the U.S. Naval Institute’s authoritative Combat Fleets of the World.
Three years ago, Manila and Beijing squared off in the disputed Scarborough Shoal over illegal fishing.
In a relatively humiliating turn of events, unarmed Chinese “marine surveillance” ships prevented the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar from entering the area to arrest the offending fishermen.
At the time, the 3,000-ton, former United States Coast Guard cutter was the largest ship in the Philippine arsenal. Manila currently has two of these Hamilton-class ships, which “represent the bulk of sea-based combat power for the Philippine Navy,” according to a statement from the American embassy.
Unfortunately, the Philippines’ naval forces are still “hopeless outclassed” by the People’s Liberation Army Navy even with these ships, Wertheim says. Manila’s museum navy “is in dire need of modernization.”
Above—The Philippine Navy’s corvette BRP Emilio Jacinto. At top—the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar. Navy photos
The country will have to overcome “decades of neglect” if it wants to build a force that might actually challenge the PLAN, Wertheim adds. After World War II, the Philippines relied heavily on the U.S. to provide security against larger countries in the neighborhood.
But Manila also has a complicated colonial past with Washington. After the Cold War ended, Philippine authorities decided it was time for American forces to finally leave the country.
“There’s lots of history there,” Wertheim says of this complex relationship between the two countries.
In the decades that followed, the southeast Asian nation’s forces focused their energies—and their budgets—on dealing with insurgents and terrorists.
By 2000, many of the Philippines’ largest ships were practically museum pieces. The flagship BRP Rajah Humabon—a 1,500-ton destroyer escort—was a World War II veteran and more than 50 years old at that point.
Seven years earlier, the Philippine Navy even pulled Rajah Humabon from service because the ship was in such poor condition. The Cavite Dockyard eventually restored the ship to active duty—out of necessity.
Manila’s naval forces also included more than a dozen other World War II-era mine-sweepers and landing ships. Navy personnel stripped the mine hunters of any specialized gear and used them purely to safeguard the country’s sea borders.
With the exception of some domestically produced patrol craft, the newer ships were all hand-me-downs from the United States, United Kingdom and South Korea.
After the 9/11 attacks, Washington was more than happy to help Philippine troops and sailors in their counterterrorism efforts. The Pentagon approved a program to “improve the tactical effectiveness and operational reach of the Philippines’ Navy” in 2011.
But the only watercraft included in the aid package were tiny Zodiac boats, according to documents War Is Boring received through the Freedom of Information Act.
Commandos used these inflatable rubber craft to sneak into rebel strongholds and patrol close to shorelines. While ideal for those missions, the boats—each with a single outboard motor—are useless for enforcing maritime boundaries.
Today, the Philippine Navy lacks the ships to adequately police most of its territory, and has no long-range patrol aircraft like the American P-3 Orion to help fill in any gaps.
Manila even deliberately grounded the BRP Sierra Madre in the Second Thomas Shoal—another contested area of the South China Sea—to try and make up for these shortcomings. In 1945, the former U.S. Navy landing ship fought the Japanese at Okinawa, but now the vessel serves as a rusting base for Philippine marines.
So the Philippines’ “most pressing requirement … is to monitor what’s going on,” Wertheim says. The country encompasses more than 7,000 individual islands across some 300,000 square miles of the Pacific.
Manila has bought shore-based radars to keep watch over the seas. And Gregorio Del Pilar and her sister ship Ramon Alcaraz—along with their new AW-109 light helicopters—are important tools to deter any Chinese ships that might turn up.

Philippine navy AW-109 helicopter. Fabrizio Capenti/Wikimedia photo
But these vessels were also first launched half a century ago, and lack many modern weapons and sensors. The Hamilton-class cutters have a single 76-millimeter main gun, and several automatic cannons and machine guns.
“We’re not talking modern ships” and Manila still has an “all gun navy,” Wertheim points out.
A lack of long-range weapons, including missiles, limits the ability of these vessels to compete against more modern Chinese frigates and corvettes.
In January, Philippine Navy officials declared both ships would get some type of deadly anti-ship missile in the future, according to the Manila-based social news site Rappler. But the spokesman offered no timeline for when the refits would begin.
Despite the elaborate plans, Manila’s sailing branch could be hedging its bets against the country’s political and economic instability. The Philippines is about to enter a heated election season before it chooses a new president next year.
Philippine authorities have been trying to buy an assortment of new ships for years. Three years ago, plans to buy Italian frigates and corvettes fell through.
Naval upgrades have been a problem for the Philippine Navy in the past, too. Between 2005 and 2007, Manila tried and failed three separate times to find a company who could refurbish the Emilio Jacinto-class ships, according to an official review.
These corvettes were among Manila’s newest ships. The British Royal Navy first bought the ships for its Hong Kong Squadron in the early 1980s.
Philippine authorities also hired the Propmech Corporation to improve the speed and range of two former South Korean gunboats. By 2007, the program was dragging on because Propmech simply couldn’t finish the work.
And Manila might also just be overestimating the kind of ships its current forces can operate. The Philippine Navy has even established a naming convention for three potential aircraft carriers, according to a study guide for officer cadets at De La Salle University.
That’s ludicrously optimistic.
In the end, the ships might not arrive soon enough to deter Beijing’s expansion in the South China Sea—or at all. But should Manila complete this modernization project, the country’s Navy will likely see the most significant influx of new ships since the 1990s.
If the vessels do make it into service, it’ll help bring the force into the 21st century—or at least “the latter part of the 20th century,” Wertheim says.

Military to get P7-B upgrades this year

From the Philippine Star (Jan 7): Military to get P7-B upgrades this year

The military is set to receive 67 upgrade projects this year, including several air assets and drones.

Data obtained by The STAR from the Department of National Defense (DND) showed that the upgrade projects have a total budget of P7.04 billion.

The Army and general headquarters will get 18 projects each, the Navy 16 and the Air Force 13. Two projects will be for the government arsenal.

Officials said 18 of the 67 projects are classified items that cannot be bared to the public.

The Air Force will get six units of close air support aircraft worth P4.97 billion, eight units of combat helicopters worth P4.8 billion, eight attack helicopters worth P3.44 billion, two lead-in fighter trainer jets worth P3.16 billion, one medium-lift aircraft worth P1.76 billion and two light-lift aircraft worth P813 million.

Other Air Force projects due for delivery include jet munitions worth P2.24 billion, basing support system radar worth P825.52 million, basing support for long-range patrol aircraft worth P187 million, search and rescue basing worth P149 million, basing support system for lead-in fighter trainer jets worth P135.99 million and a flight simulator worth P252,400.

The Navy projects include the Marine Forces Imagery and Targeting Support System or drones worth P684.23 million.

It will involve the acquisition of surveillance equipment to boost Marines’ security and search and rescue operations.

The package will include six sets of drones or small unmanned aerial vehicle sub-system, nine sets of target acquisition device sub-systems, 12 kits of tactical sensor integration sub-systems and integrated logistics support.

Other Navy projects to be delivered include two naval helicopters worth P847.51 million, naval base logistics support worth P500 million, six units of 155mm howitzer and 120 rounds of ammunition worth P191.12 million, 10 units of small amphibian vehicles worth P96.69 million, 330 units of personal role radios worth P86 million, 720 units of 40mm grenade launchers worth P66.24 million, 120 units of 7.62mm designated marksman rifles worth P66 million, 85 units of 7.62mm sniper rifles worth P50 million, 20 units of 60mm mortars worth P66 million and 10 units of 81mm mortars worth P33.35 million.

The Army will get 44,080 units of force protection equipment worth P1.76 billion; 4,464 units of night fighting systems worth P1.12 billion, 520 Manpack radios with a total amount of P652.8 million, 28 armored vehicles worth P882 million, 12,657 units of assault rifles acquired through negotiated bidding worth P486.06 million and 10,965 units of assault rifles purchased through public bidding worth P453.28 million.

Other deliveries are 1,446 units of 2-5W hand-held radios worth P430.8 million, 60 field ambulances worth P312 million, thermal imaging device worth P240 million, six units of howitzers with 120 rounds of ammunition worth P247.5 million, 60 units of 50W AV configuration radio worth P144 million, tactical engagement simulation system worth P138.4 million, 54 units of 60mm mortar worth P106.9 million and CAFGU active auxiliary communication system worth P50.78 million.

General headquarters projects are 686 light utility vehicles worth P1.86 billion, military engineering equipment worth P607 million, Armed Forces medical and dental equipment upgrade worth P109 million, first forward medics equipment worth P31.9 million, enhanced data generation system worth P20 million and Camp Bautista hospital equipment worth P9.5 million.

P600B needed for AFP modernization —Defense Usec.

From the GMA News (Jan 7): P600B needed for AFP modernization —Defense Usec.

A Defense official on Wednesday disclosed that the military needs at least P600 billion for the modernization of the country's armed forces.
In a press conference, Defense Undersecretary Fernando Manalo, chairman of the Department of Defense's bids and awards committee, said that the figure should be the least amount that the government should pour in its armed forces to reach the "credible deterrence" expected of an equipped armed forces. 
He explained that the basis of his estimate is the 1995 AFP Modernization Program under Republic Act (RA) 7898, which said that the military should have been allocated with P331 billion for its modernization program. 
However, only P33 billion was given to AFP.
"To implement the first, second, and third horizon of the modernization program... dapat doble noong pondo na ibinigay noong 1995 dahil sa inflation after 15 years, so it should cost at least P600 billion," he said. 
Under the revised AFP modernization program under Republic Act 10349, the government should allot P90.86 billion to the AFP from 2014 to 2017. 
Out of this amount, the lion's share worth P44.9 billion will go to the Philippine Air Force for 11 different projects. This includes the procurement of air defense surveillance radar, long-range patrol aircraft, combat utility helicopter, flight stimulator, and close air support aircraft among others. 
The Philippine Navy will have the second largest share with P29.46 billion for 10 projects including the acquisition of frigates, helicopters, multi-purpose attack craft, amphibious assault vehicle, and standard weapon system among others. 
The Philippine Army will have an allocation amounting to P9.5 billion for nine projects, while the AFP general headquarters will have about P7 billion for three programs. 
The Army is set to procure rocket launcher light, night fighting system, and thermal imaging device. 
Last year, the AFP set aside P13.4 billion for its revised modernization program. This year it will allocate P31.1 billion, while it is set to allot P27.76 billion and P18.6 billion for 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Manalo said that the humanitarian assistance and disaster response and the security of the West Philippine Sea will be the focus for this year's procurements, while the internal security operations will take the back seat. 
While the amendment to the modernization law was passed in 2012, President Benigno Aquino II has yet to sign the Revised AFP Modernization Program, which was submitted last year, Manalo said. 
The effect, according the the undersecretary, is that the program may be bid out but pending an award.
"May go signal na from the Department of Budget and Management to continue implementation but we cannot proceed from implementing," he said. 
"May prosesong sinusundan at importante ang due diligence at dapat talaga ma-scrutinize ang mga project," he added. 

PNoy says papal security needs more improvement - Roxas

From InterAksyon (Jan 7): PNoy says papal security needs more improvement - Roxas

President Benigno Aquino III has critiqued the security plan for the papal visit and noted it still needs improvement with little more than a week to go before Pope Francis arrives in the country, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II said Wednesday.

Roxas, in an interview following his traditional New Year’s call at Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame, said the security plan was presented at a lengthy meeting between Aquino and various government agencies Tuesday.

This included a joint presentation by the National Security Agency, the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency and the intelligence units of the PNP and Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“Yesterday we had a four-hour session led by the President,” Roxas said, without disclosing details. “He went over the proposed security plans for each part of the Pope’s visit and critiqued them."

"We still have to iron out and fortify a few things,” Roxas acknowledged, adding that the PNP and other concerned agencies would continue to polish the security measures for the Pope and the people expected to flock to him during his January 15-19 visit.

“We are doing everything to make sure the Pope is safe. Also, the security of the people is equally important,” Roxas said.

In a separate interview, acting PNP chief, Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, said they have not monitored any specific threats against the Pope.

“There is none. He’s well-loved by everybody,” Espina told reporters.

However, he added they would not be complacent.

“Even if there are no threats of course we always have to assume the presence of threats so we could prepare,” Espina said.

The PNP will deploy 25,000 personnel for the papal visit.

The AFP, on the other hand, will field 7,000 troops and 5,000 reservists.

Bigger budget for AFP modernization mulled

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 7): Bigger budget for AFP modernization mulled

A bigger budget for the Armed Forces of the Philippines is being considered for the second phase of its modernization after 2017.

“There is an estimate. It’s much higher than P90 billion,” said Fernando Manalo, the defense undersecretary for Finance, Munitions, Installations and Materiel, on Wednesday.

The second phase for military modernization is called by defense officials as “second horizon.”

The first horizon is between 2014 and 2017 where they are spending about P90 billion to buy assets for humanitarian assistance and disaster response, internal security operations and territorial defense.

There are 33 projects for the first phase which is currently implemented. It includes armored personnel carriers, lead-in fighter jets, frigates and amphibious vehicles.

The second horizon is between 2018 and 2023 while the third horizon will be from 2024 to 2028.

Manalo did not say what kind of assets would be acquired for the second phase, but hinted that it would be for disaster response and territorial defense in connection with the Philippines-China territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea.

AFP alarmed on China’s reclamation in West PHL Sea

From Ang Malaya (Jan 7): AFP alarmed on China’s reclamation in West PHL Sea

Armed Forces of the Philippines is alarmed with the ongoing reclamation in West Philippine Sea being done by Chinese government. AFP Chief-of-Staff General Gregorio Pio Catapang said one reclamation work in the territory is fifty percent completed.

“It’s alarming in the sense that it could be used for purposes other than peaceful use,” General Catapang says as quoted by Philippine News Agency.

The project’s specification is not yet confirmed, but with its length it can accommodate an airfield.

“We continue to monitor what’s happening in the West Philippine Sea, we are appraised on the situation. We know there is still ongoing reclamation,” the General added.

NDFP declares ceasefire in Surigao Norte for safe release of policemen

From MindaNews (Jan 7): NDFP declares ceasefire in Surigao Norte for safe release of policemen

To “pave way for the safe and orderly release” of the three policemen snatched by New People’s Army (NPA), the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) has declared a 13-day ceasefire in Sirogap del Norte.

Ka Maria Malaya, spokesperson of NDFP-Northeastern Mindanao Region, said in a letter sent to MindaNews Tuesday that the local ceasefire would take effect on the same day until January 19.

But this local ceasefire, Malaya said, would only take effect once all operating units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit and paramilitary units completely cease all their offensive military operations, which include the Community Organizing for Peace and Development (COPD) and other such operations.

This local ceasefire, she said, covers four towns in Surigao del Norte – Claver, Bacuag, Alegria, and Gigaquit – and in the municipality of Kitcharao in Agusan del Norte.

“This is a supplemental ceasefire to the 10-day ceasefire declared by the NDFP at the national level,” Malaya said.

She said this local ceasefire has been declared to avoid potential encounter between the NPA custodial forces and operating units of the AFP, PNP and CAFGU.

She added that this would also provide security and safety for the families of the “prisoners of war,” members of the Third Party Facilitators and others who will attend the actual release of PO1 Democrito Bondoc Polvorosa and PO1 Marichel Unclara Contemplo of the Alegria Police Station, and PO1 Junrie Amper of Malimono Police Station.

The NPA snatched Amper on Nov. 12 and Polvorosa and Contemplo on Nov. 16 last year.

In its separate letter, the NDFP-North Eastern Mindanao has also issued an order of release for the three captives.

“Heeding the request of the family and loved ones of the POWs, the NDFP-NEMR deemed it necessary not to proceed with the preliminary investigation and trial proper, and thus ordered their immediate release,” Malaya said.

She, however, did not disclose where and when will the policemen be freed.

“This local ceasefire declaration and the eventual release of the prisoners of war in Surigao del Norte form part of the confidence building measures of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines for the resumption of the peace talks,” Malaya said.

“In compliance with this unilateral ceasefire declaration, all units of the New People’s Army (NPA) have been ordered to cease all their offensive action against the AFP, PNP, CAFGU and other paramilitary troops,” she added.

The government earlier declared a month-long unilateral ceasefire from Dec. 19 to Jan. 19.

The CPP-NDF-NPA reciprocated with a staggered truce covering Dec. 24 to 26; Dec. 31 to Jan. 1; and Jan. 15 to 19.

But the communists accused that despite the AFP’s Suspension of Military Operation (SOMO) and the PNP’s Suspension of Police Operation (SOPO), there are still violations committed, foremost of which is the COPD.

Malaya said that should the government forces “remain adamant in their position, and in effect in jeopardize the security of the NPA custodial force and the POWs themselves, the NDF-NEMR shall have no other recourse but to cancel the release.”

Of the nine original captives, only the three policemen from Surigao del Norte have remained in the hands of the NPA, according to Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos, spokesperson of NDF-Mindanao.

Madlos told MindaNews during the 46th CPP anniversary celebration on December 26 in Marihatag, Surigao del Sur that military operations in Surigao del Norte continued despite the SOMO declaration, thus preventing the release of the remaining captives.

He said government forces were still deployed in Claver, Gigaquit, Bacuag, Placer, Tubod and Alegria towns and some parts of Agusan del Norte.

Abu Sayyaf snatches 9-year-old boy in Jolo, Sulu—police report

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 7): Abu Sayyaf snatches 9-year-old boy in Jolo, Sulu—police report
Abu Sayyaf gunmen snatched yet another victim on Tuesday afternoon – this time a child in downtown Jolo – as soldiers were hunting them down in Sulu’s hinterlands.

Senior Supt. Noel Armilla, officer-in-charge of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao police office, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone that a 9-year-old boy “was taken by two unidentified suspects riding on a motorcycle” around 5 p.m.

Armilla said the boy, identified as Eljon Esteven Marzo, a third grader at the Notre Dame of Jolo, was buying some items from a sari-sari (variety) store in Sitio Barrio in Barangay (the village of) Asturias when kidnapped.

The kidnappers reportedly fled in the direction of Indanan town.

“Upon receiving the information, elements of the Indanan and Jolo police offices, and the military gave a chase up to the vicinity of Indanan and the adjacent area of Patikul, but (they) lost track of the fleeing abductors aboard a single motorcycle,” Armilla said.

Col. Alan Arrojado, commander of the Joint Task Group Sulu, described the victim as a nephew of a government official.

According to Arrojado, the military believes the kidnappers are members of the Abu Sayyaf.

The military has heightened military operation against the bandit group in Sulu since late 2014 and deployed hundreds of fresh troops on the island-province.

But the Abu Sayyaf appears to be defiant as ever, even with the large-scale military operation launched against it.

On December 30, Abu Sayyaf bandits even ambushed a platoon of Scout Rangers in Patikul town.

Arrojado said none of the soldiers were harmed in the ambush perpetrated by “neophyte” Abu Sayyaf members – composed mainly of “sons of slain Abu Sayyaf gunmen.”

A week before the ambush, the Abu Sayyaf also attempted to set off an explosion in Jolo.

Government security forces foiled what could have been another bloody day in Sulu with the discovery of the powerful improvised explosive device at the park there, Arrojado said.

He said the improvised explosive device could be part of the Abu Sayyaf’s efforts to divert the military’s attention from the operation it has been conducting in the hinterlands of the province – which were aimed at freeing the remaining Abu Sayyaf captives and to diminish the bandit group’s capability.

As of Wednesday (Jan. 7), several foreign hostages were still in Abu Sayyaf captivity. They included European birdwatcher Ewold Horn, Chinese national Yahong Tan, and Malaysian Kons Zakiah Aleip.