Saturday, January 17, 2015

Government acquiring three Full Motion Flight Simulators

From Ang Malaya (Jan 18): Government acquiring three Full Motion Flight Simulators

Three units of Full Motion Flight Simulator now among the equipment Department of National Defense is currently acquiring for the Armed Force of the Philippines. The project has an allocated budget of PhP246.4 million.

These simulators will allow military pilots to have an almost full sensory experience aiding to flight education. It will also enhance proficiency, minimize risks associated with emergency procedure training, reduce accidents, fill up downtimes and save on aircraft operational and maintenance costs – DND enumerates.

This is at least the third time DND initiated the same project. The acquisition will be through open competitive bidding. Pre-bid Conference is scheduled on January 22. Bid Opening is set on February 5.

Duterte demands NPAs to release abducted jail warden

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 18): Duterte demands NPAs to release abducted jail warden

Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte on Saturday afternoon demanded the New People’s Army to release jail warden Jose Mervin Coquilla within 72 hours.

It is almost a month since the jail warden of Compostela Valley Provincial Rehabilitation Center, Jose Mervin Coquilla was snatched by the NPA rebels from his carwash near his residence on December 23, 2014. Coquilla is celebrating his birthday today, January 18.

The mayor's demand follows a meeting with the wife of Coquilla, Lijobeth, who requested Duterte to help in facilitating the release of her husband. Lijobeth met the mayor yesterday at the Ateneo de Davao University after the chief executive forum with students.

It was not the first time that Coquilla's family had appealed to the mayor for help.

On Saturday, Lijobeth had told the mayor she is suffering from cancer and her husband's abduction is affecting her health. She also said that their son resigned from his job because of the family's situation.

The NPAs had accused Coquilla of alleged corruption and covert and overt participation in illegal drugs inside the jail.

This has been denied by the family.

Mindanao’s revolutionary fronts’ common message to Pope Francis: peace

From MindaNews (Jan 18): Mindanao’s revolutionary fronts’ common message to Pope Francis: peace

Peace is the common message of Mindanao’s revolutionary fronts to Pope Francis — from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which signed a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) with the government last year, to the National Democratic Front (NDF) in Mindanao which is awaiting the resumption of peace talks with government.

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim wrote Pope Francis, through Cardinal Quevedo on October 25, 2014 while NDF Mindanao spokesperson Jorge Madlos issued a statement on January 15, hours before the Pope was to land in Manila from Sri Lanka both seeking the intercession of the Pope in support of their respective peace processes.

In the six-paragraph letter of Murad, a copy of which was given to MindaNews, Murad explained that the Bangsamoro people have been “struggling for peace,” that for centuries, they have been fighting in the name of Allah “and for a homeland where we can worship him and live his light in peace;” that after “arduous negotiations” that led to the signing of the CAB and the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic law, “real peace is within reach.”

Murad asked the Pope for his “kind intercession by way of sending us words of wisdom and encouragement to the Christians in this country, especially to journey with us together so that peace shall reign in this part of the globe.”

He also asked the Pope to “bless the effort of Muslims and Christian peacemakers who have struggled together for peace” and to “pray with us that those who embrace the darkness and profit from armed conflict rather than from peace not steal this peace from us.”

“Come to encourage all in the ways of peace. Share with us your joy, as we wish to share with you our peace,” Murad wrote the Pope.

In his first public statement at the reception for him in Malacanang on Friday, January 16, the Pope said the Philippines, like its Asian neighbors, “faces the challenge of building on solid foundations a modern society – a society respectful of authentic human values, protective of our God- given human dignity and rights, and ready to confront new and complex political and ethical questions.”

“As many voices in your nation have pointed out, it is now, more than ever, necessary that political leaders be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good” so they can help preserve the country’s rich human and natural resources and “marshall the moral resources needed to face the demands of the present, and to pass on to coming generations a society of authentic justice, solidarity and peace.”

“Essential to the attainment of these national goals is the moral imperative of ensuring social justice and respect for human dignity,” he said.

The Pope ended his speech by saying “I express my trust that the progress made in bringing peace to the south of the country will result in just solutions in accord with the nation’s founding principles and respectful of the inalienable rights of all, including the indigenous peoples and religious minorities.”

While the MILF has signed a peace agreement with the MILF, the National Democratic Front (NDF) which has its largest camps and number of guerrillas in Mindanao, is awaiting resumption of the peace talks with the Aquino administration which has only 17 months left to the end of its term on June 30, 2016.

Renewed interest for peace

In a statement on January 15, Jorge Madlos, NDF-Mindanao spokesperson, expressed hope that the Pope’s presence could encourage Filipinos to imbibe a “renewed interest in pursuing a peaceful resolution to the current armed conflict, particularly in pushing for the resumption of the peace talks” between GPH and the NDF.

He expressed hope the Pope would listen to the cry of millions of survivors of typhoon Yolanda “who continue to wait for the immediate delivery of social services and rehabilitation” allegedly due to government neglect.

Madlos envisions the Papal visit would inspire Filipinos “to take the fight against human rights violations further.”

The struggle for a free, scientific and mass-oriented education, he said, should gain greater support during the Papal visit and at the same time, that “the clamor for the defense of the genuine right to self-determination of the Lumad and Moro peoples to find greater voice and reverberate throughout the archipelago against national oppression and social chauvinism.

He urged the public to bring before the Pope’s attention the “sorry state of the environment in the country, particularly in Mindanao, which is currently ravaged by the wanton and unhampered plunder of natural resources by large-scale mining, rapidly depleting non-renewable resources and aggravating global warming, which contributes to climate change.”

The Pope is expected to issue an Encyclical on Climate Change soon.

Madlos said the NDFP in Mindanao “enjoins the Filipino masses to unite and stand before Pope Francis to affirm his pro-people and pro-poor stance to further the cause of the people’s democratic revolution against the fetters of feudalism, bureaucrat-capitalism and imperialism.”

Pope’s message on peace a “clarion call” to work harder; memorable for MILF, Muslims

From MindaNews (Jan 18): Pope’s message on peace a “clarion call” to work harder; memorable for MILF, Muslims

Pope Francis’ message on the Bangsamoro peace process is “a clarion call” to everyone to work even harder, “collectively harnessing the power of hope and perseverance,  to overcome all obstacles and push national consensus towards a just and peaceful settlement of the armed conflict that has divided our people for too long,” Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles said.

Deles said the Bangsamoro peace process is “again newly-blessed” with the words of Pope Francis. She declined to answer MindaNews’ query why President Aquino said nothing about the peace process at the reception for Pope Francis in Malacanang on Friday morning.

Pope Francis, on the other hand, ended his speech by saying, “I express my trust that the progress made in bringing peace to the south of the country will result in just solutions in accord with the nation’s founding principles and respectful of the inalienable rights of all, including the indigenous peoples and religious minorities.”

Deles said the Pope’s words of encouragement and blessing, which came just a few days after 14 of 18 surviving members of the 1986 Constitutional Commission (ConCom) that drafted the 1987 Constitution issued a statement of support for the Bangsamoro, came “at a critical time as Congress enters the final, difficult stages of deliberation of the proposed Bangsamoro basic law.”

The framers of the Constitution declared in a statement dated January 9 but released on January 12 that “Bangsamoro is about the development of people, not about the constitutionality of words,” and that “reason tells us that a Bangsamoro Autonomous Region can close the centuries- old gap between law and justice and that we are on the cusp of a historic opportunity to make it happen.”

“We ask for continuing papal prayer, blessing, and hope as we continue to strengthen dialogue and forge partnerships towards a peace where no one will be left behind,” Deles said.

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said the Pope’s message on the peace process “would be long remembered by the MILF in particular and the Bangsamoro people in general.”

For MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal, the Pope’s visit “is a journey with many good meanings.”

“We Muslims also greet him with all sincerity and hope that his blessing of the peace process reverberates in the hears and minds of everyone, paving the way for the resolution of the Moro Question in Mindanao,” Iqbal said.

Patricia Sarenas, chair of the Mindanao Coalition of Development NGOs (Mincode) and the nationwide Coalition of Development NGOs (CODE-NGOs) said of the Pope’s message: “We should see Pope Francis’ words as a challenge to stand up unafraid to speak for truth, justice and peace, to raise our voices and demand an end to all the conflicts in Mindanao that have resulted in senseless loss of lives and properties and have created a world of anger and violence for us and our children.  This is a challenge for every one concerned to fast track the work for the establishment of the Bangsamoro.  And as well, for us to do something about the many issues that confront us today – pernicious and dehumanizing poverty, rampant corruption, weak and irresponsive and irresponsible governance, degraded environment, violence of all forms.”

Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr., OMI former President of the Notre Dame University and head of the Independent Fact-Finding Mission in the early days of the GPH-MILF peace negotiations until the Estrada administration’s “all-out war” against the MILF in 2000, said of the Pope’s message; “I fully agree.. and we really work for just solutions that include ALL .. particularly the IPs (Indigenous Peoples) and religious minorities…..!”

Lawyer Benedicto Bacani, founding director of the Cotabato City-based Institute for Autonomy and Governance said the Pope’s message is a “big boost to the Mindanoa peace process but we must note that the Pope envisions a peace process that is inclusive and with due regard to the inalienable rights of IPs and the Christian minority (in the Bangsamoro area).

Mary Ann Arnado of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus is disappointed with the President’s silence on the peace process.

“It’s disappointing that PNoy did not mention anything on peace and the Bagnsamoro in his speech. That could have been the opportunity for government to rally the support of the highly influential Catholic Church,” she said, adding she is grateful Pope Francis talked about the peace process.

Aveen Acuna-Gulo of the IPDev, a group that works with indigenous peoples in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the core territory of the future Bangsamoro, said she is “happy to hear (Pope Francis) mention IPs in the contest of the peace process.”

Sister Maria Arnold Noel, SPPS of the Mindanao Solidarity Network in Manila, said she was happy that at least the Pope mentioned Peace in Mindanao.”

“Let’s listen to the interfaith on January 18,” she said. The Pope is scheduled to meet with leaders from other faiths on January 18 at the University of Sto. Tomas, prior to the Pope’s meeting with the youth.

Terror threat against Pope Francis in the PH

From Rappler (Jan 17): Terror threat against Pope Francis in the PH

Was the Philippine government justified in shutting down cell networks that can trigger explosives?

Is the Philippine government right to ask telecommunication companies Globe and Smart to block cellphone signals over the entire Metro Manila (affecting about 12 million people) during the visit of Pope Francis?

It all depends on how you view the security threat.

Exactly 20 years ago this month, I was covering the 1995 visit of Pope John Paul II to the Philippines. Events from that time determined much of the investigative work I’ve done as a journalist.

Fast forward 6 years later about 2 weeks after the September 11 attacks. I was sitting in CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta wading through 251 videotapes from Osama bin Laden’s private collection looking for connections to Southeast Asia.

Al-Qaeda used these for motivational propaganda to woo potential recruits. The bulk were how-to videos on the basics of chemical weaponry, urban guerrilla warfare, assassinations, hostage-taking, and other terrorist tactics.

The tapes spanned nearly a decade and chronicled the interests and growth of al-Qaeda. All of them were recorded before the 9/11 attacks, except for one, a recording of news reports from different media organizations after the planes crashed into the World Trade Center.

Like he did with 9/11, bin Laden monitored the news to see how al-Qaeda operatives and plots were doing around the world – and to get an idea of how much the authorities knew. I skimmed taped news coverages of the Middle East, the USS Cole bombing in 2000, Chechnya and so many more.

It was nearly 2 in the morning when I picked up tape 106 on the al-Qaeda registry. I pressed the PLAY button and began watching news coverage of Pope John Paul II’s visit to the Philippines in 1995. Then I froze because I heard my voice and watched my own report.

I tried to picture bin Laden watching me, and it was chilling. Did he laugh at my naiveté? Was he relieved at the simplistic picture my reports created?

Few had any idea then about the terrorist plot to assassinate the Pope, much less another plot the terrorists refered to as Bojinka. Scheduled two weeks after the Pope plot, it would detonate bombs for mid-air explosions on 11 US airplanes. If successful, it would’ve killed more people than the 9/11 attacks.

It’s no coincidence that every single major al-Qaeda plot from 1993 to 2003 had some link to the Philippines: the attack on the World Trade Center in 1993; the 1995 Manila plot to bomb 11 US airplanes over Asia; the 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa; the attack on the US naval destroyer, the USS Cole, in 2000; the 9/11 attacks in 2001; the plot to truck-bomb US embassies and Western interests in Southeast Asia in 2002; the Bali blasts later that year, and the JW Marriott Hotel attack in Jakarta in 2003.

What held them together? Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks and his nephew, Ramzi Yousef, who tried and failed to bring down the World Trade Center in 1993. In the mid-90’s, they lived in the Philippines, had Filipina girlfriends, and tested many elements of terror plots which would appear again and again in al-Qaeda plots.

Until his arrest in 2003, Mohammed powered al-Qaeda’s drive as a learning organization: he funneled the tactics and lessons they learned in the Philippines into al-Qaeda’s training camps and continued to try to perfect them over the years. Some examples I can’t forget:
  • The shoe-bomber: first tested by Yousef in the Philippines in a successful mid-air explosion on Philippine Airlines in 1994. Mohammed had his recruit, Richard Reid (nicknamed the shoe-bomber) try it again in 2001.
  • Cyanide: discussions in the Philippines to use cyanide for terror attacks with the Abu Sayyaf resurfaces again in the early 2000’s in Great Britain.
  • Attacks on nuclear reactors: plots discovered in the Philippines would resurface again in 2002.
  • Liquid bombs: tested 3 times in the Philippines in 1994, including how to get the bombs’ elements through airport security. It would resurface again in 2006 during the London liquid bombs plot – a later version of Bojinka.
The blueprint

And then there was 9/11.

When I saw the plane crash into the first building, it triggered a memory. I quickly sifted through Philippine intelligence documents I kept in a box in the closet and pulled out an interrogation report from January 1995 of a Pakistani pilot named Abdul Hakim Murad, a pilot trained in the United States.

He told his Filipino interrogators about a suicide mission involving planes: “he will board any American commercial aircraft pretending to be an ordinary passenger … There will be no bomb or any explosive that he will use in its execution. It is simply a [suicide] mission that he is very much willing to execute.” Among the targets he named: the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The Philippine police shared that report with the FBI, a story I broke for CNN days after 9/11. In succeeding years, officials around the world began to refer to that plot discovered in the Philippines as “the blueprint” for 9/11.

Given the little we knew in 1995, I couldn’t help but worry the same thing could be happening today during the visit of Pope Francis.

Changed landscape

The threat landscape has changed: in the decade after 9/11, authorities around the world captured or killed al-Qaeda’s top and middle-rank leaders, but the cells below continued to grow and mutate. What was once a centralized group is now a decentralized global social movement spreading a virulent ideology.

Since then these threat groups have harnessed the power of the Internet and social media, spreading the ideology without boundaries of time and space. They’ve gained traction in Southeast Asia, helping funnel fighters to the new battleground in Syria.

ISIS, or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, began as al-Qaeda in Iraq but was, at one point, disowned by al-Qaeda for its brutal tactics. Regardless, al-Qaeda’s same ideology runs through its networks, and ISIS leverages off the oil revenues in lands it has seized.

Another al-Qaeda affiliate, AQAP or al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, claimed responsibility for the massacre of 12 people in Paris over cartoons in satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. That sparked a global reaction of solidarity with the victims. This happened just a week before Pope Francis landed in Manila on January 15.

On Friday, January 16, the Pope’s second day in the Philippines, counter-terrorism operations sparked the arrest of more than 20 suspected Islamist militants across Belgium, France and Germany, pushing Europe into high alert. Police in UK are warned an attack against them is “highly likely.” On the same day, Indonesian anti-terror police killed a suspected Islamist militant accused of deadly attacks against policemen. (On January 6, Indonesian authorities went on heightened alert after a security warning from the United States and a travel advice message form Australia.)
Authorities around the world worry about “lone wolves,” people who are radicalized and carry out attacks on their own. I see them as part of the social networks that powered al-Qaeda, both online and in the real world. This is the logical evolution of the threat, and I wrote a book about it in 2011.

World dominion

Let’s be clear. This is not about religion. Former Philippine immigration commissioner Andrea Domingo told me: “Their goal is world dominion, and they are using religion as the battle cry.”

What Pakistan’s former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, told me decades before her death formed my paradigm for analyzing al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden: “He was able to tap different youths in different regions on different issues by pegging it all as a war between Islam and the West, but in fact, he was damaging the regional conflicts for his own agenda, which was to topple important Muslim countries and seize power for himself.”

Remember the brothers behind the Boston bombings? They were radicalized on the Internet, pushed to violence by Anwar al-Awlaki from AQAP – the same group that claimed responsibility for sending another set of brothers against Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

In the Philippines, this is how the threat has evolved: in the 90's, JI or Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda's arm in Southeast Asia, set up training camps with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF. After 9/11, the MILF distanced itself and by 2005, it had severed its relations. However, the more extreme elements splintered away from the MILF after it closed a deal with the Philippine government for peace. Now known as the BIFF or the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, it's a loose group incorporating, at times, former JI members and members of the Abu Sayyaf who have joined what some here call the black flag movement (which may or may not link them to ISIS fighters, who also use the black flag).

Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence & Terrorism Research and author of Inside al-Qaeda, said the threat today against Pope Francis could come from sub-groups of the BIFF. Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma said, "Our security agencies are considering every possible source of threat or danger."

Rob Wainwright, the head of Europol, told the BBC: “We’re dealing with multiple thousands of potential terrorists” who are “working in a self-radicalised way very often, not necessarily under any command and control structure.”

So was the Philippine government justified in shutting down cell networks that can trigger explosives? Yes, it’s a logical move in a country that’s still discovering how vestiges of the al-Qaeda network have evolved.

This documentary, outlining global terror links to the Philippines, was aired on September 11, 2006. It is posted with permission from ABS-CBN.

[Video report: 911 PH CONNECTION]

BCDA to sell 7 properties

From the Philippine Star (Jan 17): BCDA to sell 7 properties

State-run Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) is seeking bids from interested firms for the sale of seven properties with a total value of P115.357 million in Metro Manila.

In an invitation posted on its website, the BCDA said it “is inviting interested bidders to bid for the sale of the properties on an “as-is, where-is’ basis.”

The properties for sale and their respective minimum bid prices are as follows: 165-square meter (sqm) Kalayaan Villa in Fort Bonifacio (P4.950 million); 225-sqm Summit Housing in Fort Bonifacio (P5.063 million); 96 sqm Lot 12515-E in East of C5 (Circumferential 5) Road (P1.776 million); 262 sqm Lot 3 in East of C5 Road (P4.847 million); 438 sqm Lot 2A and 2B in East of C5 Road (P8.103 million); 976 sqm Lot 12509-B in East of C5 Road (P18.056 million); and 4,040 sqm Lot 2 and Lot 25-E-3 in East of C5 Road (P72.562 million).

Interested bidders may purchase the Terms of Reference (TOR) for the subject bidding at the BCDA Corporate Center in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City until Feb. 15, for a non-refundable fee of P10,000.

The TOR may also be viewed by checking the BCDA website at
The properties are not being sold as one lot so, interested firms may opt to bid for any or all of the properties.

A pre-bid conference for the properties is set to be held on January 23, at the BCDA Corporate Center.

The BCDA was created by Republic Act 7227 to transform former US military bases into alternative productive civilian use.

It engages in public-private partnerships to push forward vital public infrastructure such as tollways, airports, seaports, as well as major real estate developments.

Since its creation in 1992 until August 2014, the BCDA has generated P62.778  billion from the disposition of former Metro Manila camps.

Of the said amount, P26.962 billion is for the account of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The BCDA Group is composed of the BCDA Management & Holdings Inc., the Clark Development Corp., the Clark International Airport Corp., the Poro Point Management Corp., the John Hay Management Corp. the Bataan Technology Park Inc. and the North Luzon Railways Corp.

Another Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier

From the Center of International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) (Jan 16): Another Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier (by Ian Sundstrom)


As part of a broader project of land reclamation, beginning in November China started efforts to develop Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands. As of late November the reef had been built up to 3,000 meters long and between two and three hundred wide. This makes it large enough, in the assessment of analysts with IHS Jane’s and the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, to argue that China’s first airstrip in the Spratly Islands might be under development. China already has a growing airfield on Woody Island in the Paracels a several hundred miles north, and this would not be the first airstrip in the Spratly Islands; Taiwan, the Philippines, and Malaysia all have airstrips of their own. If a runway is truly planned for Fiery Cross Reef, what does this mean for the region’s security environment?

Given the distances involved, and the PLA’s relatively limited aerial refueling capabilities, Chinese forces stationed on or operating near the Spratly Islands cannot currently count on sustained air coverage from mainland China. The USCC report notes that an airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef would allow the PLA to project air power much further out to sea than current possible. Initially, an airstrip would allow for aerial replenishment of the small garrison on Fiery Cross Reef. The airstrip could also almost immediately be used for emergency landings or refueling, both of PLA aircraft and any civilian aircraft in distress.  The PLAN or PLAAF could also deploy ISR assets, most probably unmanned, increasing PLA situational awareness for minimal footprint. This idea is supported by a statement made by Jin Zhirui, an instructor at the Air Force Command School.

The airstrip would additionally enable parts or stores to be flown to the reef and then dispatched to local PLAN vessels via helicopter. This is, for example, an advantage that the island of Bahrain provides for US Navy operations in the Persian Gulf and Diego Garcia provides in the Indian Ocean. In fact, Andrew Erickson speculates development may lead to an island twice the size of Diego Garcia. This would partly address the PLAN’s deficiency in replenishment ships and allow quick turnaround for critical repair parts to maintain vessels at sea even in the face of inevitable equipment breakdown. These uses for an airstrip are relatively benign compared with how the airstrip could develop.

If the reef is expanded sufficiently it could serve as a platform for permanent basing of PLA combat aircraft which would alter the military balance of the region.  China would be able to sustainably project air power further into the South China Sea than currently possible. The reef – or to use the potentially loaded term island, as it would realistically be – would also serve as an unsinkable adjunct to the Liaoning (CV-16). David Shlapak argues that Liaoning will significantly improve Chinese combat capabilities in the South China Sea; an island airstrip would do the same and would not have to return to the mainland for maintenance. The island could also support larger aircraft with heavier payloads than the PLAN’s carrier. Candidates for basing on Fiery Cross Reef include the J-10 air superiority fighter with a roughly 600nm operational radius, J-11 air superiority fighter with a 700nm radius, or the JH-7 attack aircraft with a 900nm range. All are capable of carrying anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles with varying degrees of capability. A 3,000 meter runway could also support aerial refueling aircraft or the H-6 bomber, further increasing the PLA’s options for aerial patrols and strikes. 

 Approximate ranges of PLA aircraft from Fiery Cross Reef. Adapted from the map included with the USCC Report cited earlier.
Approximate ranges of PLA aircraft from Fiery Cross Reef. Adapted from the map included with the USCC Report cited earlier.

The satellite imagery of the reclamation work originally published by IHS Jane’s also shows work progressing on a port facility. The progress to date on the port does not give a concrete indication of its final size or depth, but even a rudimentary logistics base would give the PLAN greater sustainability for operations in the area. While the airstrip would allow parts and stores delivery to PLAN vessels, pier facilities would allow more intensive repairs to be conducted in theatre, further extending the staying time of ships in the area. The port could also facilitate the permanent or rotational stationing of China Coast Guard vessels or small combatants like the Houbei-class fast attack craft, giving Beijing a more durable maritime presence.

If development of the reef plays out as current evidence indicates, it would alter the military situation by allowing Chinese aircraft and ships to more sustainably project power further from mainland China. This affects regional navies’ contingency plans for conflict in the South China Sea. They have to anticipate that Chinese maritime operations will have near-continuous air coverage throughout the area. The construction of an airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef also impacts US Navy planning for any possible conflict with China as it extends China’s A2/AD umbrella several hundred miles. Deploying air and surface search radars to the reef alongside air superiority and maritime strike aircraft would add another layer of defense capability that the US Navy or Air Force would have to account for. It is too early to say how the developments on Fiery Cross Reef will unfold, but the development of an airstrip and port facility on Fiery Cross Reef would yield significant operational benefits for Chinese forces in the South China Sea and complicate matters for Taiwan, the Philippines, and Malaysia in their disputes with China over ownership of the Spratly Islands.

[Ian Sundstrom is a surface warfare officer in the United States Navy and holds a master’s degree in war studies from King’s College London. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent those of the United States Department of Defense.]

MILF: Photo - Untitled (Group of MILF rebels in uniform)

Just posted to the MILF Facebook page (Jan 17): Photo: Untitled (Group of MILF rebels in uniform)

MILF: TASBIKKA issues statement of unconditional support for BBL

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 17): TASBIKKA issues statement of unconditional support for BBL

The Tabang Ako Siyap ko Bangsa Iranun Ko Kalilintad Ago Kapamagayon (TASBIKKA) issued an statement of unconditional support to the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). The statement states as follows: 
The crafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law was the result of a long and arduous process and a step closer to achieving genuine peace in Mindanao.

The Bangsamoro Basic Law is anchored basically on the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro (FAB) and a product of long and grueling negotiations between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front aimed at achieving political settlement of the Moro Question;

Indeed, the FAB, and now, the BBL, has opened great opportunities to end the decades of conflict in Mindanao.

The last thing we want is to backslide from this achievement. If the true spirit of the Bangsamoro Basic Law will be weakened or even destroyed in the course of the legislative deliberations in Congress, it could lead not only to a step back from peace,  but worse, it could lead us all back to zero.

Our call is to ENHANCE the BBL, rather than trimming it down nor lessening its substance and weakening its spirit.

Our call is for unconditional support to the BBL.

We firmly believe that there are no victors in war, only losers. We need peace instead of a continuing war. In peace, there is always victory, in war there are always victims. The cost of war must be translated into benefits for the Mindanao people.  The Bangsamoro and the people in the Philippines and the entire world will share the peace dividends with an enhanced and enacted BBL.

The BBL has 58 executive powers and these must be enhanced rather than lessened. This is the best expression of giving genuine autonomy to the upcoming new political entity Bangsamoro.  It needs the executive influence and dynamism to correct historical injustices and finally set up all the requirements for the economic and political empowerment of the Bangsamoro and its core territory.

Give the Bangsamoro the freedom to fully take into their hands the fulfillment of every Bangsamoros’ dream: the end of poverty and the start of their self-determination.

Article XII of BBL provides fiscal autonomy for the purpose of attaining higher form of economic self-sufficiency and genuine development. Is it rational and legitimate to break the cycle of economic and finance dependency from the central government so that the Bangsamoro region will stand on its own and be economically self-sufficient?  Is it not right for them to beg and be always at the mercy of the central governments in terms of economic benefits and financial budgets?

Rather than look at it as demeaning the power of national government and its agencies like COA and DBM, look at it as a question of bestowing local power and self-rule to the Bangsamoro to manage, handle, develop, allocate and utilize their own local resources and, revenues towards self-sufficiency and development for the Bangsamoro and its people. 

It is sufficient enough that these are all under the guidance of the national government and there is the Intergovernmental Fiscal Policy Board that will assess, monitor and guide the implementation of Bangsamoro’s fiscal autonomy.  

There is, therefore, no basis for being fearful or anxious about giving fiscal autonomy to the Bangsamoro as stipulated in BBL. This provision will help the Bangsamoro people break the cycle of mendicancy, dependency and poverty and will give them a chance to chart their own economic prosperity and development.

The BBL constitutes ample basic rights provided in Article IX of the mutually agreed modified draft. This is a significant provision of the draft that clearly recognizes not only the rights of the Bangsamoro people but the rights of the indigenous ieoples, the women, the workers, the youth and other marginalized sectors of society. 

Furthermore, under the BBL, indigenous peoples (IP’s) have been bestowed with rights to choose their own identity and have embraced even the rights of their fusaka inged (ancestral domain), justice system, political structures and the right to equitable share of revenues and resources from their ancestral lands.  Even these basic rights given by the indigenous peoples in the said Article could be enhanced and further advanced.

The IP’s are allotted seat/s in the Bangsamoro Parliaments as well as representations in the cabinet. 

The victims of injustice, the marginalized people and other sectors of society are provided with basic rights and some of these are enshrined in the Philippine 1986 Constitution.

There is no room to reduce these basic rights, but there are wide and plenty of rooms to enhance and increase further those basic and fundamental rights provided in the Article IX draft.

Hence, we officers, members and constituents of TASBIKKA categorically express our unconditional and unequivocal support to the BANGSAMORO BASIC LAW in its entirety.

We oppose any effort to trim, weaken or dilute its spirit and substance, or any of its provisions, which we believe will result to a backlash in the process to peace.

We urge members of the House of Senate and the House of Representatives to respect the provisions of the BBL and ignore efforts from anti-peace personalities to weaken the BBL.

We urge all members of both Houses to approve the BBL in its entirety and make a historical step towards achieving lasting peace in Mindanao.

The statement was signed by Abdulmaguid T. Salic, Chairman of the Board of Directors.

CPP/NPA: Video -- Surigao Norte POWs

Propaganda video posted to the CPP Website (Jan 17): Video: Surigao Norte POWs

Produced by the New People's Army, Northeastern Mindanao Region

Statements from Prisoners of War

PO1 Marichel U. Contemplo and PO1 Democrito B. Polvorosa
PNP-Alegrio, Surigao del Norte

PO1 Junrie Amper
PNP-Malinono, Surigao del Norte

Groups march to Mendiola as Aquino fetes Francis

From the Business Mirror (Jan 16): Groups march to Mendiola as Aquino fetes Francis

YOUTH activists marched alongside other people’s organizations on Friday morning to tell Pope Francis about the real state of the nation.
Members of the League of Filipino Students (LFS), Anakbayan, Student Christian Movement of the Philippines, Kabataang Artista Para sa Tunay na Kalayaan and Kabataan Party-list group marched to the historic bridge while President Aquino and Pope Francis were meeting in Malacañang.
The pope paid a courtesy call on Mr. Aquino as he started the first full day of his visit to the country, which has a large Roman Catholic majority. LFS said the protest was intended to reveal to His Holiness the real face of poverty and oppression in the country, and reminded “the paranoid Aquino administration of the problems it’s trying sweep under the rug.”
Charlotte Velasco, who speaks in behalf of LFS, said “the poor suffer under a system riddled with corruption, oppression and greed perpetuated by the Aquino administration. The paranoid regime employs overkill efforts to hide this truth from the pope, so we have gathered together and braved the streets to dispel them.”
“The pork-barrel chief Aquino will surely not listen to Pope Francis’s remarks regarding the dismal Typhoon Yolanda relief. The anti-poor President will probably shun the pope’s calls for land for the tillers, decent jobs, accessible education and clean government,” she continued.
LFS maintained that the youth and the people’s struggles will not be forestalled by the regime’s overkill security for the papal visit.
Velasco added they want Pope Francis, who is known to be vocal on social issues like education, as an ally in their fight for accessible and affordable quality education.
“If Aquino thinks that our fight for education will be suspended due to the papal visit, then he’s wrong. The Filipino people has found an ally in Pope Francis and we want him to join us in our crusade for better social services, respect for human rights and justice for all,” she continued.
LFS also denounced President Aquino’s apparent hypocrisy as he received the pope and denounced the National Police for its violent dispersal of peasants belonging to Kasama-Southern Tagalog, who marched from Baclaran to greet the pope.
“Once apprised of the Aquino administration’s negligence in helping the disaster victims and its policy of putting more financial burdens on the people through higher train fares, increased water rates and the impending hikes in power rates, Pope Francis would certainly sport a grim frown in his meeting with Aquino,” Velasco stressed.
“Pope Francis should notice how Aquino ordered the putting up of metal fences, concrete barriers and the deployment of up to 50,000 policemen and soldiers to discourage the urban poor from seeing Pope Francis. He would then figure out that they’re not there for his protection and that there is indeed a great divide between the regime and the poor in the country,” she argued.
LFS urged the youth and other sectors of society to welcome the Pope’s visit not only in faith but also in action. 
“We hope that Pope Francis’s statements will inspire more Filipinos to combat the corrupt and oppressive Aquino administration and join the progressive movement for genuine social change,” Velasco added.

Mactan airport body gives go signal to contractor for Php800M PAF facilities replication

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 16): Mactan airport body gives go signal to contractor for Php800M PAF facilities replication

The Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority (MCIAA) has given the go signal for the Php800-million replication of Philippine Air Force (PAF) facilities in another area of Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base.

In a Jan. 12 notice, MCIAA General Manager Nigel Paul Villarete directed Pamatong Grandby Joint Venture to mobilize its equipment within this month.

The replication project involves the construction of PAF facilities in another part of the base to pave the way for the MCIA new Terminal 2 (T2) project.

PAF facilities to be constructed include a military hospital and offices.

Villarete said the project was estimated to cost Php800 million but Pamatong Grandby submitted a bid of Php670 million and won.

The MCIAA will shoulder the cost of the replication project. It issued a notice of award to Pamatong Grandby last Dec. 29.

PAF used to own more than 250 hectares of land within Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base.

But when the MCIAA Charter was passed during the administration of then President Fidel V. Ramos, more than 100 hectares were transferred to the MCIAA.

In early 2000, MCIAA allocated Php60 million to relocate PAF facilities but the project did not materialize.

Louie Ferrer, president of GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corp. (GMCAC), said the replication project should be completed “the soonest possible time” as the construction of the MCIA T2 is supposed to start in the first quarter of this year.

GMCAC won the Php17.5-billion contract to construct Terminal 2 and rehabilitate the existing terminal.

It also won the contract to operate and manage the airport terminal for 25 years.

4ID “Diamond” Division honors Butuan City Mayor Amante

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 17): 4ID “Diamond” Division honors Butuan City Mayor Amante

The 4th Infantry “Diamond” Division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines gave full military honors to Butuan City mayor Ferdinand M. Amante, Jr. as chairman of the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) in an appropriate ceremony held at Camp Bancasi, headquarters of the 402nd Brigade in Brgy. Bancasi this city, Friday morning.

The honor rites was attended by the Commanding General of the 4thID Major General Oscar T. Lactao, Brig. Gen. Jonathan G. Ponce, Commanding Officer of the 402nd Brigade, PCSupt. David Y. Ombao and the other members of the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) Caraga. Top officials from the headquarters of the 4th ID, PA who accompanied Maj. Gen, Lactao and Army officials here in the region and their counterparts from the Philippine National Police also attended the honor rites.

Mayor Amante was afforded full military honors which Maj. Gen. Lactao explained during the press conference, is by the military tradition, an honor afforded to the commander-in-chief, which is the President. The Mayor was given the honor as the alter-ego of the President as far as peace and security is concerned being the chairman of the Regional Peace and Order Council here in the Caraga region.

In his message for the occasion, Lactao said that the AFP and the PNP can only “do so much in this part of Mindanao, including the Islands of the province of Dinagat. We will not be successful (with our campaigns) here in the Caraga area without the support of our local government counterparts here,” Lactao said.

According to him, the military are undertaking peace and development projects in the conflict-affected areas of the Caraga region to bring the most needed government basic services in these areas even to the far-flung barangays.

Lactao said peace is a shared responsibility and along with development can be achieved by the political will of the local leaders.

He cited Mayor Amante for formulation means, a measure of convergence in order to address and tackle the problem of insurgency here.

He also challenged everybody present in the said forum to continue working for peace and development.

The honor rites was followed by the RPOC conference chaired by Mayor Amante and the press conference as its culmination.

Kidnap-for-ransom-group leader falls in Zamboanga Sibugay

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 17): Kidnap-for-ransom-group leader falls in Zamboanga Sibugay

The police arrested a suspected sub-leader of a kidnap-for-ransom-group (KFRG) implicated in the kidnappings of two foreigners and three Filipinos here in the region, an official announced Saturday.

Senior Supt. Roberto Roy Bahian, Zamboanga Sibugay police director, identified the arrested suspect as Ayub Enriques, the alleged sub-leader of the dreaded Barahama Alih KFRG based in the province.

Bahian said that Enriques was arrested around 9:20 a.m. Friday at his residence in Barangay Tenan, Ipil, the capital town of Zamboanga Sibugay province.

Bahian said Enriques has two standing warrants of arrest for murders issued by a court in Ipil dated April 17, 2012 and June 9, 2014.

Bahian said Enriques was implicated in the December 5, 2011 kidnapping of Australian national Warren Richard Rodwell. He was released on March 23, 2013.

He said that Enriques was also involved in the kidnapping of a young Chinese businessman, Li Pei Zhei, in Kabasalan, Zamboanga Sibugay on September 11, 2014. Li was freed on December 3, 2014.

He said that Enriques was also implicated in the kidnapping of Reynaldo Drapeza, and Joel Indino Jr. of Zamboanga Sibugay and Marie Chris Cuartocruz of this city.

Enriques, after his arrest was taken to the Zamboanga Sibugay Provincial Hospital for medical examination and to police headquarters booking procedure pending turn-over to the court authorities.

PAF sends 9 military helicopters for Papal security

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 17): PAF sends 9 military helicopters for Papal security

The Armed Forces of the Philippines sent nine helicopters to help provide security to Pope Francis and pilgrims coming from Mindanao, Luzon and the Visayas regions during the Papal visit here on Saturday, a Philippine Air Force (PAF) official told the PNA after the Pope left Tacloban City early Saturday afternoon.

Major Glen Cabalquinto, spokesman of the Philippine Air Force 1st Air Division, said they had deployed nine helicopters to augment security measures for the apostolic and state visit of Pope Francis in this typhoon-ravaged province of Leyte.

“The Philippine Air Force's 1st Air Division deployed nine air assets to provide highest security measures to the Pontiff and tens of thousands of people and pilgrims from across the country attending the historic event in the land,” he said.

Cabalquinto, a helicopter pilot and veteran of natural disaster response operations, said that aside from nine choppers, an air ambulance from Philippine Navy was also stationed at the Tactical Operations Group 8 to augment the government’s sea and land assets for security and contingency measures here.

Gen. Romeo Fajardo, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council and Office of Civil Defense deputy administrator, had earlier directed all government forces during the Regional DRRMC meeting held at Department of Health office to ensure the safety of Pope Francis and the pilgrims.

“Let’s protect the Pope and the people,” Fajardo said.

However, though the PNP Region 8 police officers assured a peaceful visit of the Pontiff here, unfortunately two persons -- a policeman and an ex-soldier -- were killed on the eve of Pope Francis' visit in a bloody shootout while simulation exercises were being done here.

A policeman assigned in Eastern Samar and deployed to Palo, Leyte, to provide security was gunned down in the town by an ex-soldier who grabbed his service firearms while conducting an inspection.

The suspect immediately fled after the incident but two policemen and buddies of the victim ran after him and gunned him down.

The PNP regional command in Region 8 withheld the identities of the slain ex-soldier and the policeman.

Muslim leaders laud Pope's stance on Mindanao peace process

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 17): Muslim leaders laud Pope's stance on Mindanao peace process

Muslim local officials in Mindanao lauded Saturday the statement of Pope Francis on the government peace process in southern Philippines.

The Argentinian Pontiff who is on his five-day visit in the Philippines, acknowledged the ongoing peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in a speech inside Malacanang Palace on Friday.

"In a particular way, I express my trust that the progress made in bringing peace to the south of the country will result in just solutions, in accord with the nation’s founding principles and respectful of the inalienable rights of all, including the indigenous peoples and religious minorities," Pope Francis said.

A staunch supporter of the GPH-MILF peace process, Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), considered the Papal comments as a recognition and a "vote of confidence" to the efforts of the government and the MILF to find lasting solution to the Mindanao problem.

Hataman said the recognition came from no less than the highest leader of the Catholic Church who is known for his advocacy in resolving conflicts around the globe.

"I note with pleasure ‎that last March, an agreement was signed to end long years of tension in the Philippines," Pope Francis added in his speech, referring to the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro in March last year.

In a statement, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles said the Pope's comment on the peace process was a blessing.

“The Pope’s statement regarding the peace process is a both a blessing and a tacit indication that the Mindanao peace process is indeed a good showcase of multinational peace-building initiative,” she said.

‎Deles said she was confident the Pope’s pastoral stand on the Mindanao peace process will inspire stakeholders to work harder for progress and tranquility in the south.

Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu described the Pope's comments as "kind words" for the people of Mindanao.

He said he hoped it will motivate the local Muslim, Christian and Lumad communities to continue living harmoniously regardless of what religion they practice.

“We must also draw inspiration from the Pope’s examples of religious tolerance and utmost respect for other faiths,” Mangudadatu told reporters in a phone interview.

Mangudadatu said the recognition by Pope Francis of the peace efforts of President Benigno Aquino III and the local communities will help the attainment of genuine peace in the island as well as the country.

Pope express trust in Bangsamoro peace process

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 16): Pope express trust in Bangsamoro peace process

Pope Francis, currently on a five-day state and pastoral visit to the Philippines, noted the Bangsamoro peace process and commended efforts in peace-making during his first public statement given in Malacañang on Friday, January 16.

"In a particular way, I express my trust that the progress made in bringing peace to the south of the country will result in just solutions in accord with the nation’s founding principles and respectful of the inalienable rights of all, including the indigenous peoples and religious minorities," the pontiff said.

This is the second time that Pope Francis cited the Bangsamoro peace process in a public statement. Prior to leaving the Vatican City for his trip to Sri Lanka this week, the pontiff addressed the diplomatic corps and noted the peace agreement between the Government of the Philippines and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as among the examples of dialogues used to bridge differences.

"I note with pleasure ‎that last March an agreement was signed to end long years of tension in the Philippines," Pope Francis said.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles described the pope's statement as a "blessing" for the peace process and expressed ‎her gratitude for the Pope's "trust that our national efforts to make peace in Mindanao will result in a just and inclusive peace - one that will be durable and lasting."

Deles also noted that the Pope's "words of encouragement and blessing, which follows the recent, enlightening statement of the surviving framers of the 1987 Constitution, come at a critical time as Congress enters the final, difficult stages of deliberation of the proposed Bangsamoro basic law."

Both chambers of Congress are in the process of conducting the last leg of public hearings ‎on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, the legal iteration of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), prior to deliberations. The CAB, the peace agreement signed in March 27, 2014 by the GPH and MILF successfully ended more than 17 years of negotiations and decades of armed conflict.

In light of expected challenges in the roadmap towards the establishment of the Bangsamoro, the political entity that will be entrenched upon the passage of the BBL and the conduct of a plebiscite in the envisioned core territory.

Deles said that "we receive the papal message as a clarion call to all persons of good will to work even harder, collectively harnessing the power of hope and perseverance, to overcome all obstacles and push national consensus towards a just and peaceful settlement of the armed conflict that has divided our people for too long."

"We ask for continuing papal prayer, blessing, and hope as we continue to strengthen dialogue and forge partnerships towards a peace where no one will be left behind," she added.

WestMinCom holds traditional New Year’s Call

From the Zamboanga Today Online (Jan 16): WestMinCom holds traditional New Year’s Call

The chief of the military’s Western Mindanao Command has lauded the efforts of key personnel and line units during the traditional New Years Call at the Officers Club, Headquarters WestMinCom, Calarian, Zamboanga City.
Lieutenant General Rustico O. Guerrero, WestMinCom commander, said the year 2014 has been a challenging year as they have faced obstacles and conflicts but they have also scored victories of their own.
“Coming out from the year 2013, highlighted by the Lahad Datu and Zamboanga crises that tested our resolve as an organization, we have made progress by continuing our efforts toward a stabilized operating environment,? Guerrero said.
Guerrero as Team WestMinCom garnered the rating of Best among the Unified Commands in the AFP for the year 2014.
During the traditional New Year’s Call gathering last Monday, Guerrero led in welcoming the commanders of the Joint Task Forces, ground units and operational control units, to include the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) and the International Monitoring Team (IMT), Sergeants Major, First Sergeants, Civilian Employees, and Media personalities.
Guerrero encouraged key personnel and line units to put more efforts in achieving internal security and confronting all the challenges.

Peace talks urged to continue

From the Mindanao Newsbits section of the Manila Bulletin (Jan 16): Peace talks urged to continue

Camp Rafael C. Rodriguez, Butuan City – Some top officials of Police Regional Office 13 (PRO-13) are hoping that the peace talks with the Philippine government and Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) will push through so that the elusive peace be largely attained.

However, some field commanders are hesitant to the resumption of peace talks. Police officials in the field and majority of the commanders of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said many peace talks already took place but none had materialized instead more alleged violations are committed by the communist movement.

They cited the series of abductions of military and police personnel and burning of various equipments from the rural businesses, particularly those in the construction and agricultural industries.

Harsh security sees nuns detained over papal visit in Tacloban

Posted to Rappler (Jan 16): Harsh security sees nuns detained over papal visit in Tacloban (by Philip Bader UCAN)

Sisters questioned, accused of militancy before being released

TACLOBAN, Philippines – Officers from the Philippine National Police on Thursday, January 15, detained a delegation of nuns from Mindanao en route to San Jose district in Tacloban, accusing them of being covert members of a militant organization.

Sister Noemi Delaga speaks at a press conference on Friday in Tacloban, January 16, 2015. Photo by Vincent Go
Sister Noemi Delaga speaks at a press conference on Friday in Tacloban, January 16, 2015. Photo by Vincent Go
The nuns from the Sisters Association of Mindanao (SAMIN) were visiting Tanauan, just outside Palo in Leyte province, to deliver relief aid before attending a vigil and welcoming ceremony for Pope Francis in San Jose, one of the districts hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013.

“We were stopped and held up for an hour while police peppered us with questions and accusations,” Sr Noemi Degala, executive secretary of SAMIN, said in a press statement.

Among the accusations, the statement added, was that the sisters were members of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Sr Evangelina Labanda, one of the nuns detained and questioned, said the Archdiocese of Palo was well briefed on the group’s humanitarian activities in Leyte province, and specifically in Tacloban.

“Even before our coming, the archdiocese had already acknowledged the legitimacy of our organization,” she said at a press conference at the Kawaksi Retreat Center in San Jose district on Friday, January 16.

She added that the group had official identification papers and car passes required for travel in Tacloban during the papal visit.

Attempts to reach police officials in Tanauan for comment on Friday were unsuccessful.

Hermenio Coloma Jr, secretary at the Presidential Communications Operations Office, told that he “will refer the report to the Philippines National Police for comment”.

“SAMIN is very much active... and recognized by the priests, by the authorities of the Church,” Sr Degala said.

“We have been very active with Church issues. We have been very active with social issues, and where the Church should stand on them,” she added.

Pope Francis is expected to arrive in Tacloban on Saturday morning, January 17, where he will celebrate Mass at the airport before traveling to nearby Palo.

There, he will have lunch with 30 representatives of Yolanda (Haiyan) survivors before blessing the Pope Francis Center for the Poor and meeting a group of priests, nuns, seminarians and families of Yolanda survivors at Palo cathedral.

Security ahead of the visit has been tight. About 35,000 PNP officers and 12,500 military personnel have been added to the existing police force in Tacloban to provide security for the pope’s visit.

Residents living in multi-story structures along the pope’s processional route between the airport and Palo have been advised not to enter the upper floors during the procession.

Cesar Ronda lives in a two-story house on San Jose Airport Road, along which the papal procession will pass, and says that police have warned him about using his balcony.

To accommodate family members who have flown in from the United States to see the pope, he has constructed a three-foot stage in his front yard.

“[Security] is very strict. We are constructing the platform because we cannot use our terrace, the balcony of our own house,” he said on Thursday.

Sr Degala described the security restrictions in Tacloban as “overburdening” but said the treatment of the SAMIN sisters went well beyond what was acceptable.

“The militarized security conditions have been widely reported in the media, but this brazen harassment of religious sisters takes the cake,” Sr Degala said.

“We are not armed communist revolutionaries, and we are most certainly not terrorists.”

[Philip Bader is the editor-in-chief of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN). UCAN, the leading independent Catholic news source in Asia, is Rappler's partner in covering the Pope's Philippine trip in January.]

MILF, Muslim scholars to meet with Pope on Sunday

From the Business World (Jan 16): MILF, Muslim scholars to meet with Pope on Sunday

AN ISLAMIST group that struck a peace agreement with the Philippine government has sent a delegation to meet with Pope Francis, who is in the country, to discuss religion and other related issues on Sunday.

On Friday, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) sent a delegation led by Abu Hurraira Udasan, Grand Mufti of the Philippines, and other Muslim scholars, the group’s spokesperson Ghadzali Jafaar said.

“Religious issues will most likely be the topic of concern... But there is really no set agenda on what will be discussed but we are glad that this meeting will happen,” Mr. Jafaar told BusinessWorld in a phone interview.

Grand Muftis are the highest official of Islamic law who can issue fatwas, or a religious opinion, in the interpretation of the Koran.

Mr. Jafaar said that Grand Mufti Udasan will be accompanied by at least three more Muslim scholars when he meets with the Catholic leader on Sunday, sometime before or after the publicly held mass to be conducted by Pope Francis at the Quirino Grandstand in the Luneta area.

On Friday, Pope Francis had a private lunch with other religious leaders at the Apostolic Nunciature, which serves as his official residence while in Manila.

Mr. Jafaar said that the meeting was supposed to take place day but said that due to constraints in the Pope’s schedule, the meeting had to be postponed to Sunday.

The MILF official, however, refused to comment if the Bangsamoro Basic Law will be discussed during the meet and if they will seek for support in its passage in Congress.

The BBL is under deliberation in both chambers of the Philippine Congress, with its passage and enactment into law eyed sometime this year by its proponents.

Detainees write letters to Pope Francis for their release

In Tagum City, political detainees in the Davao Region are joining their fellow detainees in other parts of the country in the appeal for their release through letters addressed to the pontiff.

There are 35 documented political prisoners in various provinces within the region based on records of the group Karapatan-Southern Mindanao Region.

The detainees are also staging a hunger strike from the Pope’s arrival last January 15 to his departure on the 19th as part of their appeal for intervention in their cases.

Among those listed as a political detainee is Dominiciano D. Muya, a staff and agriculturist of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, who was allegedly arrested illegally in October last year here in Tagum city.

In his letter, Mr. Muya said his “detention and the slow pace of justice proceedings in our country” are violations of his human rights.

“(Mr.) Muya is just one of the 491 political prisoners in the country who actively worked in different people’s organization to fill in for the government’s failure to provide basic social services to Filipinos,” said Hanimay I. Suazo of Karapatan-SMR.

Meanwhile, Fe Salino, secretary general of Samahan ng mga Ex-detainee Laban sa Detention-SMR (SELDA), is hopeful that Pope Francis will see “the real situation of human rights in the country” during his visit.

Pope Francis endorses Mindanao peace process

From Rappler (Jan 16): Pope Francis endorses Mindanao peace process

'I express my trust that [this] will result in just solutions in accord with the nation's founding principles and respectful of the inalienable rights of all'

DIALOGUE. His Holiness Pope Francis gives the Apostolic Blessing during the General Audience of senior Government Officials and members of the Diplomatic Corps at the Rizal Hall of the Malacañan Palace for the State Visit and Apostolic Journey to the Republic of the Philippines on Friday, January 16, 2015. Photo by Benhur Arcayan /Malacañang Photo Bureau

DIALOGUE. His Holiness Pope Francis gives the Apostolic Blessing during the General Audience of senior Government Officials and members of the Diplomatic Corps at the Rizal Hall of the Malacañan Palace for the State Visit and Apostolic Journey to the Republic of the Philippines on Friday, January 16, 2015. Photo by Benhur Arcayan /Malacañang Photo Bureau
Since embarking on a two-nation Asian tour this week, Pope Francis has endorsed the ongoing peace process in Mindanao twice.
Addressing about 450 guests at the Malacañang Palace Friday, January 16, Pope Francis commended the "praiseworthy efforts to promote dialogue and cooperation" between followers of different religions in the Philippines.
"In a particular way, I express my trust that the progress made in bringing peace to the south of the country will result in just solutions in accord with the nation's founding principles and respectful of the inalienable rights of all, including the indigenous peoples and religious minorities," Francis said in his first speech in the Philippines.
Francis has made a mark in being a peacemaker after his decision to make a surprise stop at the West Bank went viral. He also brought this message of peace to Sri Lanka.
In the Philippines, Muslim leaders welcomed Francis as he is scheduled to meet with leaders of different religions during his trip.
His comments on the peace process in southern Philippines come at a time when Congress is deliberating a proposed law that seeks to install an autonomous government in the south that will have greater fiscal and political powers than the current one in place.
The establishment of a new region – to be called the Bangsamoro – is aimed at ending more than 4 decades of war in Mindanao.
Before leaving for Sri Lanka on Monday, Francis also cited the gains made in resolving conflict in Mindanao.
“I note with pleasure that last March an agreement was signed to end long years of tension in the Philippines,” Francis told told members of the Vatican diplomatic corps.
The signing of a peace deal between the government and the Philippines' largest organized armed group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in March 2014 has raised hopes for lasting peace in Mindanao.
MILF leaders invited the Pope to visit Cotabato City through a letter sent to Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, but there was not enough time for the Pope to do so.
In the letter, the MILF asked the Pope to mention the peace process during his visit.
"Of course, we thank him for the endorsement. We also thank Cardinal Quevedo for bringing the letter to the Pope," said MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal.
The Bangsamoro bill faces rough-sailing in Congress, with a number of lawmakers raising questions over the constitutionality of installing a parliamentary form of regional government in the south.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, a constitutional expert, is set to hold two committee meetings focusing on the constitutionality of the bill. Meanwhile, the surviving framers of the Constitution have expressed their support for the proposed law.
The proposed law needs to be passed in a plebisicite before the new autonomous region can be installed.
Aside from the constitutionality of the proposed autonomous region, some of the persistent questions that have been raised include issues on how inclusive the new region will be, especially in terms of territory, indigenous peoples, justice, and religion.