Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Photo: Joint Task Force Pope

From the Manila Standard Today (Jan 15):

Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Catapang (2nd from right) join civilians, students and reservists, who formed part of the Joint Task Force Pope to help secure the safety of Pope Francis during his visit in the country. MANNY PALMERO

Photo: Warships

From the Manila Standard Today (Jan 15): Photo: Warships

Two Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels dock at the Manila South Harbor for a routine port of call on January 14, 2015. JS Takanami is a lead destroyer equipped with Sea Sparrow Missile, 5-inch/54-caliber gun, anti-ship missiles, torpedoes among other weapons.  JS Ohnami is second-class destroyer vessel. DANNY PATA

3 construction firm workers rescued hours after abduction in Basilan

From InterAksyon (Jan 15): 3 construction firm workers rescued hours after abduction in Basilan

ISABELA CITY, Basilan -- Three employees of a construction firm undertaking a government project were rescued hours after gunmen seized them Thursday in the town of Akbar.

The identities of the rescued workers, employees of C & J construction firm based in Isabela City, were not immediately available. Two of them were dump trucks drivers.

The victims were seized around 8:35 a.m. Thursday in Barangay Caddayan, by gunmen police said were led by a “Commander Bullet.”

The firm’s owner, engineer Muctar Muarip, said extortion appeared to be the reason for the kidnapping, citing an earlier demand for protection money from Commander Bullet.

Muarip said the gunmen shot the tires of the dump trucks before seizing his workers.

Muslims rally in Philippines to protest attacks on Islam

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Jan 15): Muslims rally in Philippines to protest attacks on Islam


Muslims in the Philippines protest defamation and profanity against Islam. (Photos by Najib Zacaria and Mark Navales)

MARAWI CITY - Thousands of Muslims in the Philippines marched around Marawi City to protest what they described as double standard practices of the Western media against Muslims.

Just recently, a huge group of Muslims here held a similar rally dubbed as “no apology march” that coincided with the global condemnation of the Charlie Hebdo attack by two French brothers. The attack killed a dozen journalists working for the satirical weekly magazine, including several civilians and a policeman.

The attack was triggered by the satirical and profanity against the Prophet Muhammad also drew widespread condemnation from Muslims and non-Muslims around the world.

Omar-Ali Mangondato Sharief, the event’s lead organizer of the January 14 rally, said the march here was not to sow hatred, but to assert the rights and educate non-Muslims about Islam, and also as a respond to its misconceptions.

“We also appeal to the world humanity to address the root cause of this issue which is religious intolerance and the lack of respect to religions,” he said.

The marchers were also angered by the recent pronouncement by Charlie Hebdo that it would feature Prophet Muhammad in their new edition after the January 7 attack.

“This is ridiculous. They never learned from that incident and this could further infuriate the almost 2 billion devout Muslims around the world,” said student Muhammad Nurkhan, who joined the protest.

Agakhan Sharief, chairman of the Bangsamoro National Movement for Peace and Development, explained that for them, the Issue is not only on freedom of expression, but on the violations of the Islamic teaching. He said Charlie Hebdo did not only commit blasphemy, but idolatry and pornography as well, in their cartoon depictions of Prophet Muhammad.

“They can write, speak against our religion, but not in an obscene manner or creating images for our Prophet, which is forbidden in Islam,” Sharief said.

Speakers from various sectors also gave fiery and emotional messages and at the same time appealed to the Western media to stop insulting Islam and respect other religions.

The protesters also burned a huge replica of the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a photo of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that they accused as behind the demoralization of Islam.

Many of the protesters were chanting “Allahu Akbar” or God is Great, while others shouted “We will not apologize,” in reaction to calls by the West on Muslims to apologize for the attack on the magazine.

The marchers said they will again hold a protest rally if the attacks on Islam by the Western media continue.

Security ‘nightmare’ for Philippine papal visit

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 14): Security ‘nightmare’ for Philippine papal visit

Philippine troops are facing a security “nightmare” during Pope Francis’s visit starting Thursday, with potential stampedes, Islamic militants and lone-wolf assailants all concerns.

Nearly 40,000 soldiers and police are being deployed to protect the pontiff during his five-day trip to the Philippines, a majority Catholic nation where attempts have been made to kill visiting popes twice before.

“For this year, this will be the greatest security nightmare that we can have,” Philippine military chief General Gregorio Catapang said as he readied his troops for the pontiff’s arrival.

Authorities have stated the huge crowds of devout Catholics are their main worry, with up to six million people expected for a mass in Manila on Sunday.

Giant throngs are also expected along his motorcade routes in the capital, while a one-day trip to typhoon-devastated communities in the central Philippines will pose its own problems.

In a nationally televised address on Monday, President Benigno Aquino pleaded with his countrymen planning to join the crowds to remain calm and avoid creating a stampede that could endanger the pope.

“I ask you, do you want history to record that a tragedy involving the pope happened in the Philippines,” Aquino said.

Aside from a crowd potentially crushing the pope, Aquino also warned that blocking his motorcade would make him an easy target for an assailant.

The president referred to the threat of “terrorism” and an assassination attempt on John Paul II at the Vatican in 1981, as he called on all Filipinos to help protect Francis in the Philippines.

Adding to the concerns, the 78-year-old pontiff has insisted he will not travel in a bullet-proof “popemobile” so can he be closer to his flock.

Highlighting the priority Aquino has placed on security, he personally led a late-night dry run on Tuesday of the motorcade journey that the pope will make from the airport after he arrives — with thousands of police lining the roads.

Assassination plots

There have also been two attempts or plots to kill pontiffs visiting in the Philippines that Aquino did not refer to in his televised address.

On the first-ever papal visit to the Philippines in 1970, Bolivian painter Benjamin Mendoza donned a priest’s fake cassock and swung a knife at Pope Paul VI as he arrived at Manila airport.

Paul VI was wounded but continued his trip without disclosing his injury.

Then, one week before John Paul II’s visit in 1995, police uncovered a plot by foreign Islamist extremists to kill him by bombing his Manila motorcade route.

They then planned to set off explosives on 11 US jetliners over the Pacific Ocean that they hoped would kill thousands.

The plot was detected only because bomb-making material caused smoke at the apartment that was being used to store the explosives.

Pakistani Ramzi Yousef, who carried out the 1993 World Trade Center bombings in the United States, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of Al-Qaeda’s most senior figures who planned the September 11, 2001 attacks, were among those involved in the plot.

Aside from foreign extremists, Philippine security forces have for decades struggled to contain local Islamic militants with links to Al-Qaeda.

The most well-known, the Abu Sayyaf, operates mostly on southern islands populated by the nation’s Muslim minority many hundreds of kilometers (miles) from Manila.

But it is accused of carrying out the Philippines’ deadliest terrorist attack, the bombing of a ferry in Manila in 2004 that killed more than 100 people.

Senior Abu Sayyaf senior leader Khair Mundos, who was on the US government’s most wanted list, was also arrested while living at an apartment near the Manila airport just seven months ago.

While the government has insisted no specific plots have been detected against the pope, he is undoubtedly a tempting target for Filipino Islamic militants, according to Rommel Banlaoi, director of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, a Manila think-tank.

“For violent groups opposed to the rule of the Catholic Church, attacking the pope is like a trophy, a major accomplishment,” Banlaoi told AFP.

“The most challenging threat would come from a lone-wolf attack. It is easier to monitor bad elements coming from identified violent groups.”

Still, Banlaoi said Philippine security forces had proved it could secure visits by popes and US presidents.

China defends sea reclamation

From the Philippine Star (Jan 14): China defends sea reclamation


China has defended its ongoing reclamation in the West Philippine Sea that is at least 50 percent completed.

“China asserts indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and the affiliate waters. China’s action on the Nansha Islands is entirely within China’s sovereignty,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said in a press conference last Monday.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines said China apparently wants to prove before the world body that the area it occupies could sustain human habitation and economic life to back its stand that its maritime claim is valid and binding to other states under ITLOS.

The STAR obtained aerial photographs showing that China has completed its reclamation of Mabini Reef.

Security officials said it is just a matter of time before military and civilian personnel would be deployed in Mabini Reef.

These former obscure reefs are part of the Kalayaan Island Group based on Presidential Decree 1596 issued in 1978.

Massive construction developments in the form of buildings, port and helipad were also monitored over Burgos (Gaven) Reef, Kennar (Chigua) Reef and Calderon (Cuarteron) Reef. China has transformed them into man-made islets.

Military tags BIFF in NGCP tower bombing

From the Philippine Star (Jan 14): Military tags BIFF in NGCP tower bombing

The military is certain the brigand Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) was behind the bombing Tuesday night of a transmission tower of the National Grid Corporation (NGCP) in nearby Barangay Galakit in Pagalungan, Maguindanao.

The toppling of NGCP's Tower 26 in Barangay Galakit caused more than two hours of power outage in Maguindanao, in parts of North Cotabato and in all of the 37 barangays in Cotabato City.

Lt. Col. Audie Edralin, commanding officer of the Army’s 7th Infantry Battalion, confirmed on Wednesday morning that gunmen toppled down the tower number 26 of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, at Barangay Galakit using improvised explosives fashioned from mortar rounds and incendiary powders.

Edralin said the tower, carrying high-tension cables connecting the affected areas to hydro-electric plants in Lanao del Sur and in Bukidnon, is located at a rice field near a national highway straddling through Pagalungan and neighboring North Cotabato towns.

"After receiving information that there was a loud explosion in the area, we dispatched a team to investigate and it was found out the tower was indeed bombed," he said.  
Local officials and barangay leaders said there are indications that the outlawed BIFF was behind the attack.    

The BIFF warned last week to intensify its harassment of peasant communities and military installations in Central Mindanao in retaliation for the Army’s takeover on January 4, after two days of ground and artillery offensives, of its stronghold in Barangay Midpantakan in Gen. S.K. Pendatun, Maguindanao.     

Captain Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the 7th IB and local members of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit in Pagalungan and North Cotabato’s Pikit and Kabacan towns have been directed to conduct patrols in surroundings of steel power pylons along thoroughfares and in remote barangays.    

“We also call on the public to be vigilant. We need the support of the general public in securing these facilities,” Petinglay said.

Mortar found in N. Cotabato

From the Philippine Star (Jan 14): Mortar (projectile) found in N. Cotabato

NORTH COTABATO, Philippines - Patrolling policemen on Tuesday found in a strategic spot in Midsayap town a live 81-millimeter mortar projectile and improvised contraptions needed to set it off from a distance.

Residents of Midsayap, near the Liguasan Delta where the brigand Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) operates, will celebrate their patronal fiesta on Saturday.

The yearly Santo NiƱo feast in Midsayap is traditionally capped with street dancing parades and various cultural activities attracting thousands of local spectators and tourists from nearby towns in the province.

Superintendent Reinante Delos Santos, chief of the Midsayap municipal police, said the mortar round, which has an effective blast radius of 30 to 120 meters, was found at a vacant lot at the center of Barangay Poblacion 7.

“Bomb experts immediately disposed the explosive off,” he said.

Delos Santos said probers have initially theorized that the explosive and its blasting mechanism were left at the spot where it was found, to be assembled later for a supposed bomb attack somewhere in Midsayap.

The presence of the bomb materials in Barangay Poblacion 7 in east of Midsayap was discovered two days after soldiers and policemen defused a roadside bomb found by a peasant along a street straddling through a busy area in the town proper of North Cotabato’s Pikit municipality.

Jailed ‘rebel’ leader faces more raps

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jan 14): Jailed ‘rebel’ leader faces more raps

Army Col. Jon Aying, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, yesterday said that detained rebel leader Rogelio Posadas is facing more charges this time for robbery-in-band and homicide.

Posadas, who is the secretary of the Northern Negros Front- Komiteng Rehiyonal Negros, said the robbery-in-band and homicide charges filed against him and several others, were in connection with the raid on a detachment in Toboso and the killing of its detachment commander.
The alleged rebel leader was intercepted and arrested Friday last week at a checkpoint in Brgy. Punao, San Carlos City. He has a pending arrest warrant for murder, in connection with the death of Army 1Lt. Archie Polenzo, Aying said.
Posadas has been transferred from the Cadiz City police lock-up cell to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology detention jail in Bacolod Cityy.
The 303rd Infantry Brigade and the police have been criticized and lambasted by progressive groups in Negros Occidental for filing what they claim to be trumped-up charges against activists.
In the past several years, several alleged leaders of the CPP-NPA in Negros Occidental were arrested, but later freed from jail, after posting bail.
Aying, however, said he is confident that Posadas may not be freed from jail, because they have a strong case against the detained rebel leader, backed up by testimonies of former rebels.
In July last year, Abraham Villanueva, alias Tikboy, who was alleged by the military and police to be the secretary of the KR-Negros South West Front, was also intercepted at a police checkpoint in Brgy. Dancalan, Ilog.

Muslims in Mindanao city march against Charlie Hebdo

From Rappler (Jan 14): Muslims in Mindanao city march against Charlie Hebdo

Local politicians, teenaged students and women with veils covering their faces pack the main square in Marawi in the southern Philippines, some raising their fists in the air as a Charlie Hebdo poster was burnt

Filipino Muslim students, religious and community leaders stage a protest in Marawi City in southern Philippines on January 14, 2015. Around 1,500 people protested in one of the Philippines' main Muslim-majority cities on January 14 against the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo's caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, police said. AFP PHOTO / MARK NAVALES
Filipino Muslim students, religious and community leaders stage a protest in Marawi City in southern Philippines on January 14, 2015. Around 1,500 people protested in one of the Philippines' main Muslim-majority cities on January 14 against the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo's caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, police said. AFP PHOTO / MARK NAVALES

Around 1,500 people protested in one of the Philippines' main Muslim-majority cities on Wednesday, January 14, against the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo's caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, police said.

Local politicians, teenaged students and women with veils covering their faces packed the main square in Marawi in the southern Philippines, some raising their fists in the air as a Charlie Hebdo poster was burnt.

"What had happened in France, the Charlie Hebdo killing, is a moral lesson for the world to respect any kind of religion, especially the religion of Islam," organizers said in a statement released during the 3-hour rally.

"Freedom of expression does not extend to insulting the noble and the greatest prophet of Allah."

A group calling itself "Boses ng Masa," or Voice of the Masses organised the rally, which attracted about 1,500 people, Marawi police officer Esmail Biso told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

He said non-government organizations and a local school owner were behind the group.

Twelve people including 8 Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and journalists and two police officers were killed last week after Islamist militants struck the magazine's Paris office, in an attack that has sparked outrage worldwide.

The attacks triggered giant rallies in support of Charlie Hebdo's victims and the right to publish images of Mohammed, which is deemed blasphemous for Muslims.

The protest in the Philippines was one of first reported worldwide since the violence to express outrage at Charlie Hebdo.

The protesters carried streamers in with the words "You are Charlie" written in French, in response to the "I am Charlie" cry of those who condemned the attack.

One of the streamers read: "France must apologize," while another read: "You mock our prophet, now you want an apology?"

Muslims are a minority in the predominantly Catholic Philippines, with most living in remote southern regions they regard as their ancestral homeland.

The nation's biggest Muslim rebel group signed a peace deal with the government in 2013, ending decades of fighting for an independent state.

However, other Islamic militant groups operate in the south, some of whom have had backing from Al-Qaeda or pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

Photo: Marawi march

From MindaNews (Jan 14): Photo: Marawi march


Moro women joined hundreds of Moro people in their “No Apology March” in Marawi City on Sunday, January 11 to protest what they describe as western media’s “double standard” in the coverage of the post-Charlie Hebdo killings in France. The Bangsamoro National Movement For Peace and Development (BNMPD)  says Islam should not be demonized. Another march has been scheduled for Wednesday, January 14. Photo courtesy of Najib Alyhar Zacaria

Photo: Toppled Tower

From MindaNews (Jul 14): Photo: Toppled Tower

Soldiers check out Tower 26 of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) transmission line located in Brgy. Galakit, Pagalungan, Maguindanao, which was toppled allegedly by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) Tuesday night (13 Jan 2015), causing blackouts in Maguindanao and North Cotabato. An improvised explosive device (IED) was planted on its steel foundation. MindaNews photo by Ferdinandh Cabrera

Sultan who led Sabah invasion dies

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Jan 14): Sultan who led Sabah invasion dies

An heir to the throne of the Sultanate of Sulu – who led a foiled invasion in Sabah in Malaysia - has died from a heart attack in his small home in the southern Philippine province of Tawi-Tawi, reports said on Wednesday.

It said Raja Muda Azzimudie Kiram, 74, died in the village of Tubig Indanan, but none of his family and relatives, and even the Filipino government have made a statement about his sudden demise. The news of his death spread like wild fire in Malaysia and were carried by many newspapers there.

Kiram was the younger brother of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, who also died from a lingering illness at age 75 in October 2013, at the height of the fighting between their loyal forces and Malaysian soldiers. The young Kiram, tagging about 200 loyal followers, many of them armed with automatic weapons, landed in Sabah’s Lahad Datu town to reclaim the former territory, but many from his group were slain in the fighting with Kiram nearly killed until his daring escape back to the Philippines.

The Aquino government tried to resolve the problems peacefully with Malaysia and persuaded Kiram’s group to return home following weeks of standoff with Kuala Lumpur, but it failed. Sultan Muhammad Fuad Abdulla Kiram I and Sultan Esmail Kiram were also involved in the negotiations with the Philippine government.

Malaysia also put Sultan Jamalul and his brother on its wanted list and branded them as terrorists for intruding into Sabah and killing and decapitating 10 policemen and soldiers in separate clashes on the island.

Kiram’s group was sent to Sabah by Sultan Kiram to negotiate for his recognition, but Malaysia wanted to deal directly with another sultan, Esmail Kiram.  Both Esmail and Fuad are receiving so-called cession money from Kuala Lumpur worth over P70,000 annually. But there are also dozens of other sultans claiming to be the real heir to the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo.

Members of the Royal Security Force of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo have repeatedly warned the Aquino administration that violence may erupt in southern Philippines if President Benigno Aquino fails to support their long-standing historical claim on the island of Sabah which is now part of Malaysia.

The Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo continues to lay claim to Sabah. It obtained Sabah from Brunei as a gift for helping put down a rebellion on the Borneo Island. The British leased Sabah and transferred control over the territory to Malaysia after the end of World War II.

But the Sulu Sultanate said it had merely leased North Borneo in 1878 to the British North Borneo Company for an annual payment of 5,000 Malayan dollars then, which was increased to 5,300 Malayan dollars in 1903.

The Sultanate of Sulu was founded in 1457 and is believed to exist as a sovereign nation for at least 442 years. It stretches from a part of the island of Mindanao in the east, to Sabah, in the west and south, and to Palawan, in the north. North Borneo was annexed by Malaysia in 1963 following a referendum organised by the Cobbold Commission in 1962, the people of Sabah voted overwhelmingly to join Malaysia.

Malaysia continues to pay an annual stipend of 5,300 ringgits to the Sulu sultanate on the basis of the sultanate ceding the Borneo state.

Police identify two slain victims in Capiz blast

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 13): Police identify two slain victims in Capiz blast

The Capiz Police Provincial Office (CPPO) in the province of Capiz has already identified the two slain victims in Monday's powerful explosion in Pontevedra, Capiz.

CPPO provincial director S/Supt Ulysses Caton said the body of 37-year-old victim Jorjan Develos, was cut in halves following the powerful blast past noontime Monday just outside of the Hontiveros Memorial School in Brgy. Lantangan, 16 kilometes away from Pontevedra town proper.

Initial investigation jointly made by the Pontevedra PNP and CPPO, believed that the explosion happened after Develos reportedly got something from his pocket when the metallic object suddenly fell to the ground and exploded.

Investigators said it was unfortunate that minor pupils were playing while others were eating their lunch when the fateful incident happened.

Apart from Develos, a Grade 1 pupil identified as Czarina Rose Demayo y Palaan , seven years old and a resident of Sitio Rosario, Brgy. Lantangan, also perished during the incident.

Meanwhile, Pontevedra PNP’s public information officer SPO4 Ernie Bornales said that of the injured victims, four minors had been seriously injured prompting the management of the town to have them transferred to a hospital in Roxas City for further medical treatment from shrapnel wounds they sustained in the different parts of their bodies.

He said eight others who suffered minor injuries are presently confined at the Bailan District Hospital while the remaining three others have been declared outpatients by hospital authorities after they were given appropriate medical treatment.

Bornales confirmed it was indeed a fragmentation grenade which exploded but experts from the Army and Air Force’s Explosive Ordnance units have yet to determine what type of fragmentation grenade had exploded in yesterday's bloody blast.

The Pontevedra PNP delved deeper into the case as they could not presently determine why Develos possessed such powerful explosive as well as well as the possible motive for his presence in the school vicinity.

Bornales said Develos, who hailed from Brgy. Tuburan in the adjoining Maayon town, was seen to have alighted from the tricycle past noontime yesterday and walked his way toward the school when bystanders suddenly heard the deafening explosion which rocked the locality that later saw two people dead and scores, mostly minor pupils were injured.

Explosion damages government-owned heavy equipment in Basilan

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14): Explosion damages government-owned heavy equipment in Basilan

Government authorities here believed that the Abu Sayyaf brigands were behind the grenade explosion at a project site in the boundaries of Lamitan City and Tipo-Tipo town in this province.

At the same time, they believed that extortion is most likely the motive behind the incident that took place around 9 p.m. Tuesday in the boundaries of Barangay Parangbasak, Lamitan City and Bohebaca, Tipo-Tipo town.

Eng’r. Nasser Abdulgani, Provincial Engineer’s officer-in-charge, said Monday that no one was either killed or injured in the grenade explosion except for heavy equipment--road roller--that was damaged.

Abdulgani said their personnel, who were undertaking a farm-to-market-road project, were inside the sleeping quarters when the incident occurred.

Abdulgani disclosed that they have received a text message earlier from the Abu Sayyaf brigands demanding P900,000 protection money “as one time bill.”

7 NPA rebels yield in South Cotabato

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14): 7 NPA rebels yield in South Cotabato

Seven members of a New People’s Army (NPA) unit operating in the hinterlands of South Cotabato province have surrendered to government troops following a series of negotiations.

Lt. Col. Ronald Jess Alcudia, commander of the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion (IB), said Wednesday the rebels yielded to their peace and development teams during their immersions last week in various upland villages in T’boli and Lake Sebu towns.

He said four of the returnees, whose identities were withheld for security reasons, were residents of T’boli while the three others were from Lake Sebu.

“This is an indication that the socio-economic situation in these areas have been improving and these rebels themselves were convinced that it’s time to lay down their firearms,” he said in a radio interview.

Alcudia said the surrender of the seven rebels also showed that the national governments services and programs already reached the remotest areas and local residents are well informed about them.

He credited the accomplishment to the continuing efforts of their peace and development to bring the government closer to the people through the provision of various basic services.

The 27th IB intensified late last year its peace and development activities in various remote communities in the municipalities of Lake Sebu and T’boli to counter the reported recruitment activities of NPA in the area.

The teams specifically launched service missions and community information campaigns in collaboration with the local government units (LGUs).

Alcudia said the rebels have been reportedly luring tribal residents to join their ranks by promising them regular salaries and other monetary benefits.

He said several former NPA recruits who surrendered last year confirmed that rebel leaders had promised monetary benefits that never materialized.

“These returnees were victims of that scheme. They are not hard core communists. They’re just people who have needs and were eventually duped,” he said.

Meantime, the Army official said they are working for the inclusion of the seven returnees into the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP).

CLIP, which is formerly known as the Social Integration Program (SIP), is being implemented by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process in coordination with the LGUs.

The program reintegrates former rebels into the social mainstream and uplifts their socio-economic conditions to enable them to become active partners in the local development.

“We’re also coordinating with concerned LGUs for the provision of initial livelihood assistance to these returnees,” he added.

Phil. Army on standby for Papal visit

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14): Phil. Army on standby for Papal visit

FORT MAGSAYSAY, Palayan City, Nueva Ecija -- Some 500 soldiers comprising a full battalion have been put on standby by military authorities inside this sprawling reservation to serve as emergency augmentation for troopers providing security to visiting Pope Francis.

Maj. Gen. Glorioso Miranda, 7th ID commander, said the battalion-size augmentation troop can be dispatched anytime even as the whole reservation has been out on “red alert” for the five-day Papal visit starting today.

“We have a full contingent of one battalion ready to move anytime when the need arises,” Miranda said,

Miranda also said that the entire 6,000-strong soldier population inside the reservation have been under strict orders not to go out unless they have a special mission.

He said all leaves have been suspended to ensure that there is a maximum number of troops on duty.

Earlier, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff, Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, Jr. said that the red alert status was raised in all military camps to ensure that “no enemy of the state” can take advantage of the country’s preparations for the papal visit.

Army Capt. Mark Anthony Ruelos, chief of the 7th ID’s public affairs office, said that Miranda has instructed subordinate officials on constant accounting of troops to make sure they are all present unless they are on official mission.

400 troops from Southern Luzon Command to secure Pope Francis in Tacloban City

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 13): 400 troops from Southern Luzon Command to secure Pope Francis in Tacloban City

The Southern Luzon Command will be deploying 400 soldiers to augment the security cordon for Pope Francis in Tacloban City.

Major Angelo Guzman, Southern Luzon Command spokesman, said the troopers will be flown to Tacloban City via Air Force C-130 cargo planes by Tuesday and Wednesday.

He said these soldiers will reinforce the security cordon for Pope Francis' visit on Saturday (Jan. 17) to the "Yolanda" ravaged community.

The soldiers are from Army units in Southern Tagalog and Bicol Regions, Guzman said.

A patrol ship from Naval Forces Southern Luzon will be pre-positioned at Matnog Port while additional UH-1H helicopters will also be deployed in Legazpi City to guard security and safety of people who are travelling to see Pope Francis during his visit to the country.

“We expect influx of commuters especially at Matnog Port and we hope nothing untoward happens,” said Southern Luzon Command head Major Gen. Ricardo R. Visaya.

He added that the pre-positioning of naval and air assets to Bicol will enable the military to react immediately to any eventuality.

Earlier, Visaya directed all units to beef up security measures along national roads and major ports in the region in coordination with the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Coast Guard to ensure safe passage of people traveling for the Papal visit on Jan. 15-19.

“We are preparing well for the security of the Pope, pilgrims and devotees as well as for those who just want to see him so that all undertakings shall go unhampered,” he said.

8 new officers, 239 enlisted troopers join 5th Infantry Division

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 13): 8 new officers, 239 enlisted troopers join 5th Infantry Division

Eight new officers and 239 enlisted personnel formally joined the Isabela-based 5th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army on Monday.

The officers are new graduates of the Officers Preparatory Course Class 61-2014 while the enlisted personnel recently finished the Candidate Soldiers Course Class 358 and 359-2014 cross-trained with Jungle Warfare Mountain Operation Course.

Capt. Randy Sta. Maria, 5th Infantry Division spokesperson, said that these personnel were given a warm welcome and send-off ceremonies at their Gamu, Isabela headquarters.

Major Gen. Lysander A. Suerte, 5th Infantry Division commander, presided over the ceremony and saw to it that the new soldiers are all in high spirits as they embarked on their new assignments with the various field units of 5th Infantry Division in Region 2, Cordillera Administrative Region, and some provinces in Mindanao.

After enduring a tough military training and spending time with their loved ones during the holiday season, Suerte reminded the new officers and soldiers that their paramount duty is to carry out their given responsibilities as protectors of the people with dignity and pride as disciplined and responsible soldiers.

“You are now ready to face the real world of your chosen profession. You have finally passed the tests in your training, but you have yet to face the real tests of patriotism and service in the career that you have chosen. As you climb aboard your respective vehicles to report to the battlefield, may our Almighty God bless you and keep you safe in your trip,” he added.

The send-off Ceremony for deploying troops is one of the most cherished customs and traditions of the Philippine Army where blessings to the troops are accorded as they embark on their first assignment in the field to respond to the noble calling of soldiery.

Papal security contingent in NCR now 100 percent operational

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 13): Papal security contingent in NCR now 100 percent operational

With the arrival of Pope Francis just two days away, Joint Task Force-National Capital Region deputy commander Col. Vic Tomas on Tuesday announced that the NCR security contingent for the papal visit is now 100 percent operational.

Military troops tasked to secure Pope Francis in his Metro Manila activities are placed at 6,264 troops and 44 K-9s.

This number is included in the 17,000 regulars and reservists mobilized to secure the Pontiff in his Jan. 15 to 19 visit to the Philippines.

This is aside from the 25,000 Philippine National Police activated for the papal visit.

"JTF-NCR is 100 percent operational, capable, and all our committed forces are now ready. This does not include reserves and follow on forces. We can deploy anytime to support the PNP," Tomas said in Filipino.

He also said that his troops on Tuesday conducted exercises on civil disturbance and crowd control to make themselves sharp.

Tomas expressed hope that the papal visit will be concluded without any untoward incidents.

Non-Catholic troops also happy to serve as Pope Francis' security contingent

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 13): Non-Catholic troops also happy to serve as Pope Francis' security contingent

Even non-Catholic soldiers, tasked to secure Pope Francis during his Jan. 15 to 19 visit to the Philippines, have expressed their joy for being chosen to provide security for the Pontiff.

Among them is Capt. Erwin Dumaghan, 35, a Protestant, and a member of the 8th Philippine Contingent to the Golan Heights which was supposed to relieve the 7th PCGH which was ordered withdrawn due to intensifying conflict in the area.

“Religion will not be a barrier in our service as part of the security detail of the Pope,” Dumaghan, who has been in the service for 11 years, said.

Meanwhile, 1st Lt. Bahnarin Camsa, 33, a Muslim from Cotabato City, also believes that religion will not be a problem among soldiers who were tasked to secure the papal visit.

“It is an honor just the same to be part of the Pope’s security. I just hope that Pope Francis will inspire all Filipinos to join us in the path to peace,” Camsa stressed.

The former was assigned twice as security detail of President Benigno S. Aquino III during his visit to Masbate City and Zamboanga City.

Dumaghan and Camsa were also assigned to the contingent that secured the Feast of the Black Nazarene last Jan. 9.

In that religious event, crowd control was top priority.

As the ranking spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church, many people, especially the devout, look to Pope Francis for spiritual guidance and inspiration.

Another member of Pope Francis' security contingent, Major Rodelio Villamor, 34, a native of Dagupan City, Pangasinan, said the Pontiff's visit is huge blessing for the country.

“This is a huge blessing for us as Catholics. It is an honor to be part of our Holy Father’s security,” he said.

Villamor was recently assigned to provide security for the Feast of the Black Nazarene last Jan. 9.

From Quirino Grandstand at the Rizal Park to Quiapo Church, he witnessed the dangers that comes with controlling millions of people gathering in an event.

Villamor also said that the Pope’s visit has its own challenges.

“The security of Pope Francis is very challenging, but this will be a fulfilling experience as a Catholic, to know that our Holy Father recognizes his followers in the Philippines,” Villamor, a devout Catholic and father of two, said.

Organizers of the visit have estimated that about six million people are coming to see Pope Francis.

AFPMC head ordered re-installed

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14): AFPMC head ordered re-installed

For lack of evidence, Armed Forces Medical Center (AFPMC) commanding officer Brig. Gen. Normando T. Sta. Ana was ordered re-installed to his post effective Jan. 12.

Sta. Ana and four other staff officers were temporarily relieved on Oct. 14, 2014 after a certain Renato Villafuerte filed an irregularities complaint against him and the other officers in August.

AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Gregorio Pio P. Catapang Jr.promptly ordered the conduct of a thorough investigation on the complaints filed against Sta. Ana and the four other staff officers of the AFPMC.

After thorough investigation, the complaints against the aforementioned officers were dismissed for lack of evidence to support the allegations and because nobody testified to substantiate the complaints.

Villafuerte was later found to be a fictitious person.

"Rest assured that the AFP is committed to improve the medical services for its soldiers and enhance the systems in the hospitals," Catapang concluded.

2ID beefs up Pope’s security; dispatches two battalions

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14): 2ID beefs up Pope’s security; dispatches two battalions

The 2nd Infantry (Jungle Fighter) Division, Philippine Army stationed at Camp Gen. Mateo Capinpin in this municipality deployed two battalions to augment the security forces for the Papal visit on January 15 to 19, 2015.

A battalion led by Lt Col Eric D Guevarra , PA will serve as augmentation to the Joint Task Force “Francis” which will help secure the visit of Pope in Tacloban.

“I am elated to be chosen to lead the 2ID contingent to conduct security operations and assist in the maintenance of peace and order to ensure the safety and successful visit of Pope Francis in Tacloban on January 17,” said Lt Col Guevarra.

A send-off ceremony for the troops was held at the Division Grandstand, Camp Gen Mateo Capinpin, Tanay, Rizal on January 12, 2015 by Brigadier General Joselito M Reyes, Assistant Division Commander, 2ID, PA.

In his message, BGen Reyes urged the troops to maintain a high state of discipline and be patient when dealing with civilians during crowd control operations. He reminded the troops that the security of the Pope and safety of all devotees is paramount.

Likewise, another battalion led by Col Jose Augusto V. Villareal will also support the security requirement of Task Force NCR in ensuring peace and order during Pope’s engagement in different areas in Metro Manila.

Meanwhile, at Camp Guillermo Nakar in Lucena City, four companies or around 400 soldiers from the Southern Luzon Command will be flown to Tacloban City on Jan 13 and 14 to augment security requirements for Pope Francis’ visit there.

The soldiers are from Army units in Southern Tagalog and Bicol Regions. They will be transported by C-130 planes of the Philippine Air Force.

A Navy vessel from Naval Forces Southern Luzon will be prepositioned at Matnog Port while additional UH-1H helicopters will be prepositioned in Legazpi City to guard security and safety of people who are travelling to see Pope Francis during his visit to the country.

“We expect influx of commuters especially at Matnog port and we hope nothing untoward happens,” said SOLCOM Chief Major General Ricardo R. Visaya. He also said the prepositioning of naval and air assets to Bicol will enable the military to react immediately to any eventuality.

Earlier, SOLCOM directed all units to beef up security measures along national roads and major ports in the region in coordination with the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Coast Guard to ensure safe passage of people travelling for the Papal visit on January 15-19.

“We are preparing well for the security of the Pope, pilgrims and devotees as well as for those who just want to see him so that all undertakings shall go unhampered,” said Major General Visaya.

Peace group defends Pres. Aquino’s peace policies

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14): Peace group defends Pres. Aquino’s peace policies
A peace advocacy group, together with the Department of Education (DepEd) National Employees Union on Wednesday defended President Benigno S. Aquino’s policies on the comprehensive peace process as “very clear” amid criticism that the government has no clear cut policies to end the decades old armed conflict between communists guerrillas and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

At the same time, however, the Yes for Peace-Bayanihan para sa Kapayapaan, Kaunlaran at Kasaganahan (KKK) and the DepEd National Employees Union asked why do government negotiators readily submit to the National Democratic Front of the Philippines’s insistence in holding the talks halfway across the world beyond the reach of the ultimate principals of both parties – the sovereign Filipino people.

Ernesto A. Alcanzare, lead organizer of the Yes For Peace-Bayanihan para sa KKK and Lawyer Domingo B. Alidon, president of the DepED National Employees Union, made the statement in wake of an article written by former Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front spokesman Satur Ocampo stating that the Chief Executive has no clear policies on the quest to end the decades old armed conflicts between the armed rebel group and the government military forces.

In an open letter to Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles, Alcanzare and Alidon responded to a column entitled “Can GPH-NDFP peace talks gain ground in 2015?” written by former Congressman and NDF spokesman Satur C. Ocampo early this month at a mjor national daily newspaper.

In his article, Ocampo suggested that President Aquino’s February 2011 peace initiative dissolved into mutual rancor because he had no clear policies “to pave the way ahead to address the root causes of the armed conflicts”.

“To our minds, the President’s policies are very clear as embodied by the three principles underlying the comprehensive peace process and the six paths to peace stipulated in President Fidel V. Ramos’ Executive Order No.125 that were reiterated by President Gloria Macapagal – Arroyo’s Executive Order No.3.

Upon your advice, this was adopted in toto by President Aquino as his policy not clear enough to guide the peace advisers and peace negotiators of the government. If these were not enough, how could 12 formal agreements be signed signed between 1998 to 2004? How could they be reaffirmed by the two peace panels in February 2011?, ” Alcanzare and Alidon said in their joint letter to Secretary Deles.

They also asked Deles why the peace talks are being held halfway across the globe and why they keep on using foreign third party facilitators who cannot understand Filipino language despite the fact that nothing substantial has been achieved for the past 22 years since the Hague Joint Declaration.

“Could we not hold the talks here in the Philippines with objective and non-partisan domestic third party mediators and in the process, educate, encourage and mobilize the people to collectively get involved and participate (Bayanihan) in implementing all programs and projects to be agreed upon as we have been calling for since 1988? If not, why not?,” Alcanzare and Alidon said.

The two peace advocates also said that they are hoping that Secretary Deles will respond to their letter.

They said that so many lives and money have already been wasted in a war being waged in the name of the Filipino people and it is about time that everybody do their share to end this armed conflict.

AFP Chaplain Service offer prayers to ensure successful conclusion of Pope Francis' PHL visit

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14): AFP Chaplain Service offer prayers to ensure successful conclusion of Pope Francis' PHL visit

Aside from preparing intensive security plan, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief-of-staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang on Wednesday has directed the AFP Chaplain Service to dedicate prayers for the successful conclusion of Pope Francis' five-day visit to the country.

The Pontiff's stay in the Philippines will start this Wednesday and will end on Monday.

“Religion is not a barrier among our soldiers and General Catapang has directed our prayer warriors in the Chaplain Service to lead the faithful in asking our Lord for divine assistance,” AFP spokesperson Col. Restituto F. Padilla Jr. said.

Dubbed as "prayer warriors," the multi-faith AFP Chaplain Service will initiate a continuous prayer activity to seek divine assistance during the Pope’s visit in the country.

As part of their daily activities, the prayer warriors will dedicate a "holy hour" every 7 a.m. starting Thursday up to Sunday.

This activity will be conducted in all military camps through the AFP’s chaplains.

In October last year, Catapang also directed the military chaplains to dedicate their daily rosary prayers during the Feast of our Lady of Fatima for the success of the papal visit.

“This is a guidance to all chaplains nationwide at the same time, we also encourage all non-catholic chaplains to offer prayers within their faith for the safety of the Pope and the attending public,” AFP Chaplain Service administrative officer Major Harley Flores said.

He also encouraged all Catholic members of the military to support with their prayers the over 15,000 soldiers who will be deployed to provide area and route security for the papal visit.

Flores is one of the 67 Catholic chaplains of the AFP leading a flock of over 91,067 Catholic military personnel. There are also 20 non-Catholic chaplains composed of Protestants and Muslims.

The AFP Chaplain Service’ mission is to provide spiritual services to the military personnel, especially in conducting religious services for soldiers who were killed in action.

PAF to implement 3 nautical mile 'no-fly zone'

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 14): PAF to implement 3 nautical mile 'no-fly zone'

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) will implement a three nautical mile 'no-fly zone' on areas where Pope Francis will held his activities during his five-day stay in the country.

"We will provide air cover, we will strictly enforce the three nautical miles radius 'no-fly zone'," Air Force spokesperson Lt. Col. Enrico Canaya said.

The "no fly-zone" will be effective Jan. 15 to 19 on all areas where the Pope has activities.

"We are employing different types of aircraft from S-211s, helicopter gunships, and even ground based anti-aircraft guns, for air cover," he added.

He said this is to ensure that the areas declared as no fly zone by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) will be free from intrusions.

Detection and intercept of unidentified aircraft will extend from up to 10 nautical miles and beyond, Canaya said.

When asked what they will do to any aircraft that will violate or enter the 'no-fly zone', There are variety of approaches to that, we can intercept any approaching unidentified aircraft and if need be."

Canaya said that the S-211s are fast-moving aircraft that can be used to intercept unidentified aircraft approaching the "no-fly zone".