Friday, January 23, 2015

No threats against Pope Francis visit, AFP maintains

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 23): No threats against Pope Francis visit, AFP maintains

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Friday is standing pat on its claim that there were no security threats during Pope Francis' recently concluded visit last Jan. 15 to 19.

Col. Restituto Padilla, AFP spokesman, made the statement on Friday after reports came out claiming that military intelligence detected an ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) plot against the Pontiff.

He said their security evaluations have not uncovered any evidence of such when completing their preparations for Pope Francis arrival.

"We were unable to confirm that information," Padilla said in Filipino.

The Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam Race to South China Sea Defense Modernization

From The Diplomat (Jan 23): The Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam Race to South China Sea Defense Modernization

Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam are all striving to bolster their maritime capabilities

The Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam Race to South China Sea Defense Modernization
Image Credit: Flickr/ Official U.S. Navy Page

The Philippines

In December 2014 President Benigno Aquino enacted the 2015 General Appropriations Act, approving governmental expenditure of Pesos (P) 2.6 trillion ($59 billion).

On December 17, Rear Admiral Caesar Taccad, head of the Philippine Navy’s weapons systems, announced that as part of his country’s 15-year P90 billion force modernization program, P39 billion ($885 million) would be allocated for the procurement of three guided missile fast attack craft, two guided missile stealth frigates, and two anti-submarine helicopters. The admiral also indicated that the Philippines was planning to acquire three submarines in future.

Admiral Taccad reported that France, South Korea, and Spain had submitted tenders for the frigates. Shipyards in Taiwan, India, Spain, France, and South Korea were in the running to provide the three multi-purpose missile attack craft, while Indonesia and Italy submitted bids to provide the two helicopters.

According to Admiral Taccad, “The events in the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea) actually gave some urgency on the acquisition.”

Five days later, the Philippines took possession of two AgustaWestland AW109 Power maritime helicopters. This particular model is capable of operating from small ships at sea and performing a variety of naval missions such as surface surveillance, search and rescue, economic zone protection, and maritime security.

On December 23, Captain Alberto Carlos, Chief of Naval Staff for Logistics, revealed that AgustaWestland was the sole eligible bidder for the two anti-submarine helicopters. AgustaWestland offered to sell its AW159 Wildcat, helicopters that can operate from stealth frigates.

On January 9, the Department of National Defense was allocated P 144.5 billion ($3.3 billion) in funding. On the same day, the Philippines signed a contract with the U.S. Navy for the purchase of two used C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft. This will bring the total number of mission-ready C-130s to five.

Finance for this purchase is being assisted by $20 million in U.S. foreign military financing plus $35.6 million from the Philippines. The Hercules are expected to be delivered next year.  The new Hercules transport craft will enhance the ability of the Philippines to deploy forces quickly for territorial defense and humanitarian operations.


In October 2014, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that Malaysia’s defense budget would be increased to $5.4 billion in 2015, a hike of ten percent.  At the same time, the defense procurement and research budgets were increased by six percent to over $1 billion. This increase in defense funding, however, did not include the replacement of aging major weapons platforms such as MiG-29 jet fighters.

Malaysia’s increased defense spending was designed to meet two concerns: security threats from the southern Philippines and Chinese assertiveness in the seas around James Shoal. For example, defense funds will be used to relocate 19 light combat fighter planes to Labuan island. The airstrip at Labuan will also see the basing of the US Navy’s P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft on a case-by-case basis.

It is significant within this context that the Chief of the Royal Malaysian Navy, Admiral Aziz Jaafar, revealed in his New Year address on January 7, the navy had requested $2.86 billion in funding under the 11th Malaysia Plan, 2016-2020.

These funds, if approved, would be used primarily for the procurement of eight guided missile corvettes and six anti-submarine helicopters as well as for the acquisition of small craft and the replacement of obsolescent torpedo and missile systems on navy ships.


Vietnam was involved in an intense round of defense diplomacy in December 2014-January 2015 involving naval port visits, defense dialogues, and the exchange of high-level delegations involving four regional states in addition to Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Two Republic of Korea warships, destroyer Choe Yeong (DDH 981) and combat support ship Cheonji (AOE 57), visited Ho Chi Minh City for a four-day goodwill port visit from December 3-6. The warships were embarked on an international voyage to 12 countries and a Vietnamese naval cadet was included in the tour.

In early December, Vietnam hosted two military delegations, one from Indonesia and the other from Cambodia. Brigadier General Haryoko Sukarto, Chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces’ Centre for Strategic Studies, held working-level discussions with the Institute for Military Strategy. Sukarto also met with Deputy Minister of National Defense Senior Lt. Gen. Nguyen Chi Vinh on December 1. General Vinh requested that the two sides work out a specific plan of action for future cooperation, including stepping up the exchange of delegations. He also suggested that their bilateral defense dialogue be upgraded to deputy minister level.

Immediately after Sukarto’s visit, Vietnam hosted General Nieng Phat, Cambodia’s Minister of State for Defense, from December 4-5. General Phat met with General Vinh and Defense Minister General Phung Quang Thanh. Vinh and Phat reached agreement on future cooperation in education and training, research and sharing information, personnel exchanges, and consulting each other in multilateral forums. Both sides agreed to establish an annual dialogue mechanism on defense policies at deputy minister level as soon as possible.

On January 8, Vietnam’s Ministry of National Defense hosted the third annual defense cooperation meeting with the United Kingdom’s Defense Ministry’s Defense Working Group. The U.K. delegation announced that it would increase its English-language program for Vietnamese military personnel by 300 percent commencing in March and fund two Vietnamese senior officers to attend a training course the Defense Academy at Shrivenham. The two sides also greed to cooperate in three new areas: exchange of bathymetric data, geospatial interaction, and cyber security.

More substantial defense cooperation emerged in Vietnam’s relations with Russia, India and the United States.


On December 4, the Admiralty Shipyards in St. Petersburg, Russia and Vietnamese officials signed a technical acceptance agreement for the official turn over of the third of six Project 636.1 advanced Kilo-class submarines to Vietnam. The new submarine, named HQ 183 Hai Phong, is currently being transported to Cam Ranh Bay and is expected to arrive at the end of this month.

The fourth Kilo-class submarine, HQ 185 Da Nang, is currently undergoing sea trials, while the fifth submarine, HQ 186 Khanh Hoa, was launched on December 20. Construction on the sixth submarine, HQ 187 Ba Ria-Vung Tau, commenced in late May 2014 and is expected to be delivered in 2016.

Vietnam’s ambassador to the Russian Federation told Interfax, a non-government Russian news agency, “Although the U.S. lifted part of its embargo on the sale of weapons and ammunition to Vietnam last month, Russia is still our priority partner in this sector.”


India’s Chief of Army Staff General Dalbir Singh Suhag visited Vietnam from December 17-20. This was the first visit by an Indian chief of staff since 2007 when the two countries raised their relations to a strategic partnership. General Suhag and his counterpart, Lt. General Nguyen Quoc Khanh, deputy chief of the general staff, reviewed recent defense cooperation activities and agreed on a future plan of cooperation comprising exchanges of delegations, education and training, information exchanges and peacekeeping operations.

In January, India hosted Vietnam for their Ninth Defense Dialogue at deputy minister level. Defense Secretary Shri R. K. Mathur represented India and Deputy Minister for National Defense Senior Lt. General Nguyen Chi Vinh represented Vietnam.

General Vinh was quoted by the Indian media as stating, “Because of very drastic change in regional security, it has set the need for a closer cooperation between our two countries. Mostly in terms of strategic partnership.”

Vinh declined to comment in public on whether or not India should play a role in resolving territorial disputes in the South China Sea. He did observe, however,
“Other nations must be respectful over the issue of sovereignty. We won’t retreat over sovereignty… (although) we believe differences must be resolved through international laws in a peaceful manner… The international community sees a new and powerful India which is peaceful in nature and can contribute to regional peace and stability.”
The two sides reached agreement to continue to cooperate on regional strategic security issues in multilateral forums such as the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ASEAN Regional Forum and the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus. (ADMM Plus). India and Vietnam currently co-chair the ADMM Plus Expert Working Group on Humanitarian Mine Action.

Mathur and Vinh also agreed that future defense cooperation priorities would include exchanges of delegations, education and training, naval exchanges, advanced technology, defense industry and information technology. Mathur offered India’s assistance in Vietnam’s preparations for United Nations peacekeeping missions.

In an interview with The Economic Times General Vinh elaborated on future defense cooperation:
“Another field of cooperation is the defense hardware industry. There are possibilities of cooperation in shipbuilding, weapons system modernization and research and application of hi-tech defense systems. A new field of cooperation is hi-tech and information technology cooperation.”
General Vinh announced that the first phase of the Indian-funded Center for Information Technology and English Language at the Defense Ministry’s University of Telecommunications had been completed. Mathur and Vinh agreed to initiate the second phase during the second quarter of 2015 with the goal of developing the center into a major software hub in central Vietnam.

Mathur and Vinh also discussed operationalizing India’s offer of the $100 million line of credit. In December, prior to Vinh’s visit, NDTV reported that the Garden Reach Ship Builders and Engineers (GRSE), a Defense Public Sector unit, would supply at least four patrol vessels to Vietnam. It quoted the chairman and managing director of GRSE as saying that “Vietnam needs at least seven more such ships and GRSE is expected to get the order for the rest of the ships as well.”

During Vinh’s visit the Indian media issued conflicting reports. Official Indian sources were quoted as stating, “Vietnam has agreed to buy four patrol vessels for its Navy… but is yet to formally identify the shipyard it wants them from.” General Vinh was quoted as stating, “Vietnam is yet to decide on the number of vessels to be bought but said it was not just four.”

Before leaving New Delhi, General Vinh paid courtesy calls on National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Army Chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag.

Vietnam-United States

On December 24, the new American ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius, gave an interview to Tuoi Tre newspaper. Osius was asked what weapons the U.S. was prepared to sell Vietnam now that it had partially lifted its arms embargo. Ambassador Osius responded, “[I]n the area of maritime security, we can have the fullest possible cooperation and security. It’s really up to the Vietnamese government to decide what weapons are most appropriate for its strategic challenges.”

Ambassador Osius then went on to reveal that he had heard the Vietnamese government was “thinking very deeply and carefully about what weapons are most appropriate and we will be very respectful of the decisions that the government of Vietnam makes about which weapons are the most appropriate one for its situation.”

On January 19, General Vincent Brooks, commander of the U.S. Army Pacific, paid a working visit to Vietnam for discussions with his counterpart Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Vietnam People’s Army (VPA). The two sides reviewed progress under the 2011 Memorandum of Understanding on bilateral defense cooperation. They also set priorities for the future including cooperation in humanitarian assistance, search and rescue, military medicine, and sharing of experiences on U.N. peacekeeping.

Before departing, General Brooks met with General Do Ba Ty, chief of staff of the VPA.  General Ty suggested that Vietnam and the United States step up the exchange of delegations at all levels and enhance collaboration in sharing information, maritime search and rescue, salvage operations at sea, and English language training. He also raised a perennial request for further U.S. assistance in “overcoming post-war consequences” such as dioxin poisoning from Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

The day after General Brooks left Hanoi, Patrick Dewar, the executive vice president of Lockheed Martin International, visited Hanoi and met with Senior Lt. Gen. Truong Quang Khanh, Deputy Minister of National Defense. General Khanh expressed his appreciation for Lockheed Martin’s role in cooperating with Vietnam in the field of information technology. No further details were reported.

There has been considerable speculation that Vietnam is interested in procuring maritime surveillance aircraft and other technology related to maritime domain awareness. Lockheed Martin produced the P-3 Orion which is now being phased out by the United States, Australia, and other countries.

The developments of the past two months indicate that Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have all given priority to modernizing their naval forces. Malaysia seeks to replace outdated platforms and weapons systems to keep pace with the introduction of new military technologies, platforms, and weapon systems into the region. The Philippines is starting from a lower base and seeks to acquire the capacity for territorial defense, especially in its maritime domain.

Vietnam’s force modernization program has been underway since the mid-1990s and is now maturing with the acquisition of six advanced Kilo-class submarines. Vietnam also pursues a robust program of defense cooperation with neighboring states as well as major powers to enhance its political and diplomatic leverage. A possible guide to Vietnam’s next phase of force modernization might be revealed when its postponed new Defense White Paper is finally released.

Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam also seek to enhance their capacity for maritime security to meet South China Sea contingencies.

NPA docs found in Sagada school

From the Sun Star-Baguio (Jan 23): NPA docs found in Sagada school

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – Subversive documents believed to be owned by the New People’s Army was found by the pupils in a Sagada school.

Police said 6th grade children from the Tanulong Elementary School, in Tanulong, Sagada, found the documents January 15.

The said documents were inserted at the door of their classroom.

The documents contains two sets of Ang Bayan pamphlets discussing the corruption of the Government in relation to typhoon Yolanda and the presence of the US Military in the Philippines; one page of Bagong Hukbong Bayan, justifying the recent ambush of the 54th IB last November 30, 2014; and two pages of reading materials with title, Negosyo Ti Enerhiya, Didigra Ti Cordillera and Bantay Gubat, Bantay Salakay.

Residents in the area claimed they were placed by members of the NPA during the previous night to early dawn.

According to police reports, the documents left by the NPA’s reflect their weakening supremacy. They also tried to confuse the public by claiming that the Peace Zone is a misnomer and counter-revolutionary and what made matters worse is that the rebels are using the innocent children of Tanulong Elementary School as channels to advance their cause, a clear violation of the Declaration of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It can be recalled that members of the 54th IB PA on board a military truck and Elf Canter, proceeding towards Bontoc, Mt. Province after conducting a Youth Leadership Summit at the Sagada National High School were ambushed at Pegew, Antadao, also in Sagada, Mt. Province on November 30, 2014 by the members of the NPA under the command of Leonardo Pacsi killing two of the soldiers who are both natives of Mt. Province.

Previously, the local council passed a resolution during their regular session condemning the NPA brutal attack against the government troops by staging an indignation rally.

Defence Ministry upgrades assets in Sabah to counter militancy

From the Rakyat Post (Jan 23): Defence Ministry upgrades assets in Sabah to counter militancy

Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein inspecting a Nuri helicopter equipped with a Gatling gun at the Labuan Air Base today. — TRP pic by Hamzah Nazari

LABUAN, Jan 23, 2015 :

Malaysia’s armed forces are strengthening their presence on Sabah’s east coast to counter illegal activities and the rising danger of militancy there, most recently from Islamic State (IS), said Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein.

Hishammuddin is making his rounds of the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) zone over the course of three days to inspect new assets and upgrades that are being deployed in the area, as well as to show the local population of the government’s commitment to defend them.

Although the situation was under control, Hishammuddin said preventative measures were needed to ensure that things did not get out of hand.

“Regarding the threat of IS, we must pay attention to the expanding influence of this group as there are elements of Darul Islam militants in Sabah’s east coast.

“Intelligence reports show that there are small groups of them intent on making the Sabah east coast a place to spread their ideologies which are in line with IS.

“Additionally, there are armed groups from southern Philippines, such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Abu Sayyaf, which have stated openly their support for IS and declared their loyalty to IS,” said Hishammuddin.

He said the MNLF, lead by Nur Misuari and the Sulu Royal Army, which is fighting to form an Islamic government in southern Philippines territories and wanted to claim Sabah, was also using the IS model.

“This threat becomes more complex because there exists a network between Malaysian, Indonesian and Philippine militants to form a Southeast Asia IS group which is known as Katiban Nusantara Lid Daulah Islamiah.

“This combination, if it happens, will increase their abilities in bomb-making, logistics, funding as well as weapons and warfare training,” said Hishammuddin.

Referring to such threats and the Lahad Datu incident in 2012, he said it was necessary for the government and his ministry to take a multitude of initiatives in spite of the challenging economic situation as it would also have an effect on agriculture, tourism, production, education and administration, among others.

He said such threats would affect not only Malaysia, but also Indonesia and the Philippines as well.

“If we can work together and not duplicate our preparations, it will be a win-win situation,” he said, pointing out that leveraging on its relationships with Indonesia and Philippines would overcome Malaysia’s current economic shortcomings.

He pointed out that although the recent budget cuts did not bite into development expenditures, Malaysia would find creative solutions to minimise the cost of upgrading its defences.

Among the steps to be taken include using decommissioned oil rigs as offshore bases and using helicopters from Brunei and arming them with Gatling guns to defend Sabah and Brunei.

Hishammuddin said he was also meeting local leaders as it was important for them to understand that the efforts being undertaken were for their benefit and required their cooperation.

Update: 2 dead, 53 hurt in Zamboanga City blast

From ABS-CBN (Jan 23): 3rd Update: 2 dead, 53 hurt in Zamboanga City blast

[Video report: Zaboanga City Mayor Believes Abu Sayyaf Behind Deadly Bus Terminal Bombing ]

Abu Sayyaf tagged in explosion

ZAMBOANGA CITY (3rd UPDATE) - An explosion rocked Barangay Guiwan, Zamboanga City on Friday afternoon, leaving at least 2 people dead and 52 others injured, Mayor Beng Climaco said.

Initial reports said the explosion hit a Kia car parked in front of a videoke bar near a bus terminal, located along the Maria Clara Lobregat Highway, past 3 p.m.

One of those who died in the blast has been identified as Reynaldo Tan.

A policeman was reportedly among those injured in the blast.

The victims have been brought to different hospitals in the city.

Police and members of the bomb squad are in the area to investigate the incident.
Authorities said Zamboanga City has been receiving threats from lawless elements following the intensified operations of the military against the Abu Sayyaf Group.

The city was recently placed under red alert after a foiled jailbreak at the city jail involving the group of Abu Sayyaf leader Furuji Indama.

Speaking to ANC's "Top Story," Climaco said the Abu Sayyaf Group could be behind the explosion.

Climaco said the blast could be part of a plot by the terrorist group to break 57 of their "high-value" comrades out of the city jail.

"We have received notices (from the intelligence community) that they are going to be rescued by their comrades, who are ready to die," she said.

The mayor is seeking the help of the national government to transfer the 57 Abu Sayyaf members from the city jail.

"One of the most urgent concerns that the city of Zamboanga is facing right now is the immediate transfer of these 57 high-value Abu Sayyaf members in our city jail that are posing a threat because of the rescue and have responded through diversionary tactics."

"We want them to be removed out of the city immediately because we don't want to be a magnet and a target of future or present problems that we're having," she said.

The Abu Sayyaf, a loose band of a few hundred militants founded with seed money from Al Qaeda, has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history.

These have included the bombing of a ferry in Manila in 2004 in which more than 100 people died, and repeated kidnappings of foreigners in the southern Philippines who are usually ransomed off for huge amounts.

Many foreign governments warn their citizens against travelling to the southern Philippine areas, including Zamboanga, which are regarded as strongholds for the Abu Sayyaf and other Islamic militants.

The Abu Sayyaf claims it is fighting to establish an independent Islamic homeland in the Muslim populated south of the mainly Catholic Philippines.

Zamboanga was attacked by another armed group loyal to former Moro rebel leader Nur Misuari in September 2013.

The attack triggered three weeks of street battles that left more than 240 people dead and large parts of the city of nearly one million in smoldering ruins.

During the fighting, in which the rebels also used civilians as human shields, about 10,000 homes were destroyed by fires, forcing 116,000 to flee.

Investment in Bangsamoro region breaks record ahead of entity’s creation

From the Business World (Jan 22): Investment in Bangsamoro region breaks record ahead of entity’s creation

INVESTMENT in the war-torn, impoverished southern provinces of the Philippines has grown ahead of the anticipated creation of the Bangsamoro political entity, according to government trade authorities, with the last year’s figure reaching an “unprecedented” P3.867 billion.

However, the proposed creation of the political entity may be incidental to this economic expansion, which Regional Board of Investments (RBOI) Chairman Ishak V. Mastura said took place because of improving security.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal -- who helped broker a peace deal between the government and the armed group -- said that “when a good law is passed in the Congress and implemented on the ground, it will create an atmosphere of peace.”

“And when there is peace, the business community will be attracted,” he added at the sidelines of a House of Representatives hearing on the proposed law for the entity’s creation.

Currently being deliberated by both chambers of Congress, the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) was submitted in September 2014, six months after the March signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. The peace agreement brought an end, at least, to the group’s 36-year belligerency.

MILF was a breakaway group of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF); the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) broke off from MILF in 2008 after the Supreme Court nullified the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, an attempt by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to create a Bangsamoro domain.

Once the bill is approved, a plebiscite will be called to put its ratification into vote. This will be held in the present-day ARMM, and in six municipalities in Lanao del Norte, 39 barangays in Cotabato, the cities of Cotabato and Isabela (the capital of Basilan), and government units that petitioned for inclusion in the plebiscite.

The draft BBL has provided the entity devolved governing powers, and it will be governed by a ministerial and parliamentary system with a higher political and fiscal autonomy from the central government.

While it is entitled to an annual block grant from the central government, fiscal autonomy is hoped to be achieved by allowing the region to retain a greater share of local revenues. From a 60-40 scheme, Bangsamoro’s share has been expanded to 75-25.

American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham) Senior Advisor John D. Forbes noted that “Bangsamoro’s first and largest investor opportunity is in agribusiness, as there are extensive undeveloped lands.”

“Light manufacturing is the next opportunity if the new authority can keep wages and other labor costs low to compete with Vietnam and Cambodia, which more developed provinces in the country cannot,” Mr. Forbes added in a text message.

Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) President Gregorio S. Navarro, meanwhile, described the Bangsamoro area as “a very resource-rich region with fertile soil, abundant forest and fish stock -- and yes, plenty of mineral resources.”


For 2015, investment in the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is expected by the RBOI to reach at least P1 billion, exceeding the P700-million target it set.

The southernmost province of Tawi-Tawi alone is expected to contribute P800 million of the expected investment -- a copper-nickel mining project in the capital of Panglima Sugala and an oil depot are slated for approval, Mr. Mastura said in a phone interview.

Other prospects include biomass power generation and investments in banana, oil palm, and buckwheat plantations, mostly in mainland Mindanao.

For RBOI, the year 2014, however, was “unprecedented” after investments worth P3.867 billion poured into the region -- a huge 276% jump from the previous figure of P1.46 billion posted in 2013 (the region previously broke the P1-billion mark only with the previous record of P1.6 billion for 2011).

Although most investment prospects were agricultural, RBOI said in an e-mailed statement that biomass power generation accounted for 46% of this figure (nickel mining and agriculture accounted for 31% and 19%, respectively).

The top three investments for the year were: Lamsan Power Corp.’s P921-million biomass power plant in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao; Al Mujahidun Agro-Resources and Development, Inc.’s (AMARDI) P570-million cavendish banana plantation taking up 500 hectares of land in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, and; SR Languyan Mining Corp.’s P520-million nickel ore mining and quarrying operation in Languyan, Tawi-Tawi.

The latest to be approved for the year was Pax Libera Mining, Inc.’s P495-million project in Languyan, Tawi-Tawi.

Investments in mining came despite RBOI’s policy of disallowing income tax holidays or fiscal incentives to businesses engaging in extractive industries.

“The regional government wants to avail of the full rents and revenue-generating potential of such investments in the extractive industry,” RBOI said in its statement. These investments led to the creation of 3,433 jobs during the year. ARMM’s economic growth also accelerated to 3.6% in 2013, from 1.1% in 2012.

Mr. Mastura noted that Tawi-Tawi benefits from its proximity to neighboring Malaysia, while Basilan is affected by the collapse of the rubber industry and Sulu by continued local fighting.

Mr. Mastura said that the region is expected to sustain gains in the economy, if not the accelerated growth it had during the past couple of years, as long as the peace and order situation continues to improve.

For this growth to be sustained, Mr. Forbes said that “substantial early successes are possible in these sectors with proper policies.”


For Department of Trade and Industry Export Marketing Bureau (DTI-EMB) Director Senen M. Perlada, the Bangsamoro region may benefit from the trend towards the development of halal.

Although he did not name specific companies that have expressed interest in the South’s halal prospects, Mr. Perlada said in an interview that the sovereign wealth fund of the United Arab Emirates had looked into expanding into the production of halal products, diversifying as a global decrease in oil prices hurts oil-dependent producing countries.

Mr. Perlada also noted that countries like India, Pakistan and China are emerging markets with large Muslim populations. However, he was unable to provide figures on how much halal-related investment could possibly contribute to the South’s economy, admitting the country has only started building up the industry.

But to illustrate the potential earnings of the industry, he cited Thailand -- a mostly Buddhist country -- which earns $73 billion in halal exports.

Mr. Perlada said that the Zamboanga City economic zone could serve as a hub for facilities that will ensure that every step of the production process would be compliant with the standards of halal.

To be sure, Bangsamoro was not the sole factor that led to the talks of a halal industry. Mr. Perlada noted that tapping into the Muslim market -- with a consumer base of more than 2 billion worldwide -- has been a global trend. Not only can a halal hub in the South venture into food production, Mr. Perlada said it could also possibly pave the way for Islamic finance and even tourism.

Mr. Mastura, however, nixed the significance of the role the halal industry may play in the economic future of Bangsamoro, saying that for now, it remains far from reality.

“Every then and now, the issue comes up. But it’s pure propaganda -- nothing’s happened,” Mr. Mastura said. “If our focus is market-based and not on action, that will not come from the market.”

The difference with Malaysia, a major halal industry player, was that it established standards governing what constitutes halal.

Asked if the creation of the Bangsamoro entity could address the problem, Mr. Mastura said that formulating standards was not the problem but the compliance and regulation.

Mr. Perlada noted that the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos’ (NCMF) current mandate to regulate halal may be duplicated in the BBL.


Besides the common questions over its constitutionality, the draft BBL had been put to test for hang-ups over some unclear delineations of agency jurisdictions, as well as provisions that some stakeholders said would result in limiting investment in the region.

For one, the BBL draft provided for preferential rights for “qualified citizens who are bona fide inhabitants of the Bangsamoro” over exploration, development and utilization of natural resources, including fossil fuels and uranium.

Messrs. Mastura and Perlada both said that this should not hinder investment in the area, because it is a customary practice for locals to strike up partnerships or joint ventures with outsider investors.

For one, Mr. Mastura said locals already enjoy preferential rights under the Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the 1988 law that currently governs the special region.

However, “nobody has ever exercised that,” he added. What mattered, Mr. Mastura said, was that the investors have “social acceptability.”

Mr. Perlada, for his part, noted that even Middle Eastern states observe similar customs; an investor hailing from a similar culture would be a plus for local partners.

“It is unusual for businesses to be stand-alone. They have to have a local partner,” Mr. Perlada said.

Mr. Mastura said that, in general, the anticipated creation of the entity would not necessarily affect the mood of investors, considering that the whole of Mindanao had experienced an influx of investment.

“The stepping point here is peace and order. All other concerns are beside the point, be it bureaucracy or regulation. It’s as if investors don’t really care -- I’m a lawyer and I tend to caution them,” said Mr. Mastura.

“If the situation on the ground is alright, they have a local partner and there’s peace... there may be instability in policy, but if there’s no adversary on the ground... we can work with whatever policies are there,” he added.

Asked about this, Mr. Iqbal said: “That is part of the whole equation, meaning: if there’s a good law, there is good governance, there are good leaders, and then the security sector is well taken care of, then this all will emerge.”

For their part, Messrs. Forbes and Navarro said that they have yet to hear of any specific objections from members of AmCham and MAP.

“Security should not deter investors in areas where investors can work with progressive local leaders,” Mr. Forbes said in a text message.

Mr. Navarro, whose group has been asked to help assist in training future Bangsamoro administrators, said: “I think the Bangsamoro can learn from the past experience and study well what policies, rules, and regulations worked and did not work, to enable it to craft investment policies and incentives that will encourage inclusive economic growth.”

If anything, it might be stiff competition from established ports like Davao City and Cagayan de Oro City that might affect the flow of investment into the region, still beset with infrastructure lack that has only begun to be addressed.

“Road and seaport infrastructure should be enhanced,” said Mr. Forbes.

Mr. Mastura, for one, said that Basilan could use the push that enhanced connections with Davao City would bring.

The largest city in Mindanao, found on the opposite side of the island in the southeast, has benefited along with General Santos City due south from enhanced trade with neighboring Indonesia, said Mr. Perlada.

Asked if investors in ARMM tend to be the big enough players who could take risks to enter the scene, Mr. Mastura said instead that these businesses tend to be the ones that know very well what investing in the region entails.

“Those who are investing have long been here, who know what are the problems, who know to put in a lot of money despite the lack of advantage of Davao. For one... they don’t have competitors here, and [they have] raw materials,” said Mr. Mastura.

MILF: “YES FOR BBL MOVEMENT” holds rally in front of congress

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 23): “YES FOR BBL MOVEMENT” holds rally in front of congress

An alliance of Metro Manila-based groups comprising Moros and Christians calling itself as ‘YES FOR BBL MOVEMENT’ gathered in front of the House of Representatives, Quezon City on January 20 and urged lawmakers to fast track the passage of  House Bill No. 4994 or the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
The “YES FOR BBL MOVEMENT”, is a coalition of different non-government organizations, religious groups, youth and women sectors that are urging for the immediate passage of the BBL.

Mahdie Amella, Chairman of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) said that BBL is the best compromise formula in resolving the decades-old conflict and attaining genuine peace and development in Mindanao and the country as well.
“There will be no peace in the country if there is no peace in Mindanao.” Amella said.

“It is high time for the president to utilize its political and executive power by harnessing a majority if not unanimous votes for enactment of BBL. Amella added.”

In her speech, Julikha Piang Alim, Vice chairwoman of UMMAHAT, a women organization in Maharlika, Taguig City said that whether they (congressmen and congresswomen) like it or not, their terms as lawmakers shall end by 2016.

Their positions are temporary hence it is right time for them to leave a legacy to their people especially the Moros who had been struggling for their right to self-determination the past more than forty years.

She added that as a mother and leader who witnessed the impact of wars for many years, she appeals to Congress for the speedy deliberations and enactment of the BBL. 

“We (women) are appealing and calling the attention of our representatives in congress to please pass the BBL because it is a significant legislation that can resolve the seemingly endless conflict in Mindanao.” she added.

The rally was primarily aimed at letting the lawmakers know and feel that even people in the metropolis are supportive to the passage of the Bangsamoro law that will not only end the conflict but shall also open the gateway to inclusivity, equality, harmony, progress and development in the Moro homeland.“yes-for-bbl-movement”-holds-rally-in-front-of-congress

MILF: DB eyes Camp Abubakar as storage facility for MILF weapons

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 23): DB eyes Camp Abubakar as storage facility for MILF weapons

The Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) is eyeing Camp Abubakar As-Sique, erstwhile main camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as storage facility for the Moro front’s weapons. The IDB is tasked to oversee the process of decommissioning the MILF forces and weapons under the normalization process agreed between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the MILF.
Under the normalization process, MILF firearms shall be handed to IDP gradually which will in turn store them in a well-protected and secured facility.

Last January 20, the IDB headed by Turkish Ambassador Haydar Berk, conducted a site inspection inside the camp, now known as Camp Iranun.  Ambassaddor Berk was briefed by Col. Arnel dela Vega, 603IB commander.

Berk was accompanied by his vice chairman, Gen. Jan Erik Wilhelmsen of Norway, other Norwegians, Brunei delegates and GPH and MILF local experts.

Dela Vega said Camp Iranun is conducive for both the MILF and GPH, with various kinds of activities that can be performed there, now also accessible, and with the various peace-driven initiatives conducted by the military in the surroundings for a decade now.

“It’s the best option since the place has historical relevance for the MILF. Until now it is a sentimental place. The home of their former leader and founder, Salamat Hashim, is still preserved in the thickly forested site inside the camp,” Dela Vega stressed.

The Joint Security Peace Team (JSPT) composed of 1,400 men coming from the police and the Army, and Moro Islamic Liberation Front combatants will secure the facility. The GPH and the MILF will be represented evenly in the composite team with 700 men each.

The Camp Iranun compound is also eyed as training ground for the composite team who will complete the Joint Security Peace Team.

CPP: Video - Panawagan sang PKP Panay sa ika46 nga anibersaryo

Propaganda video posted to the CPP Website (Jan 21): Panawagan sang PKP Panay sa ika46 nga anibersaryo

Panawagan sang PKP Panay sa ika46 nga anibersaryo sang Partido Komunista sang Pilipinas

CPP/Ang Bayan: Video - Dismantle and end Privatization!

Propaganda video posted to the CPP Website (Jan 22): Video -- Dismantle and end Privatization!

The Filipino people suffer from ever heavier burdens due to the series of hikes in fees and expenses. The huge MRT and LRT fare hikes, the water rate hike and the impending power rate hike are but the latest burdens to be heaped anew by the US-Aquino regime on the Filipino people’s shoulders. They come on top of the already spiralling costs of education, medical care, communications, housing and other social services and infrastructure.

The higher fees and costs now confronting the people are the result of close to three decades of the privatization and deregulation of key social infrastructure. Enterprises that used to be state-owned and run by the government, funded by public funds and declared to be serving the “social interest” are now run by a handful of big comprador bourgeoisie and their foreign big capitalist partners in the name of profit without any obligation whatsoever to protect the people’s interests.

In exchange for credit, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other imperialist agencies imposed on the Philippines at the close of the 1980s the policies of privatization and deregulation—meaning the removal of state controls on services and utilities to give way to big foreign capitalist and bourgeois comprador investment and management. They took advantage of the Filipino people’s anger at the bureaucrat capitalist Marcos dictatorship and its minions who enriched themselves by running state enterprises in order to make privatization palatable to the public.

Another drone found off Cagayan

From the Philippine Star (Jan 23): Another drone found off Cagayan

Police officers check a drone recovered off Santa Ana town in Cagayan yesterday.  RAYMUND CATINDIG 

Another drone believed to be owned by the US Navy was found by fishermen off Sta. Ana, Cagayan Wednesday.

The 3.5-meter drone was similar to the one found earlier in Masbate, which the US embassy said was an aerial target of the US Navy.

The embassy said the BQM-74E aerial target did not carry weapons and was not used for surveillance.

It said it was being used by surface ships and aircraft during a military exercise held in Guam.

“It was meant to help train sailors in a realistic environment that provides the best possible training,” the US embassy said.

Sta. Ana police chief Senior Inspector Darwin Urani said the miniature plane with star markings on both wings was turned over to them by the fishermen.

Jackson Orteza, 37, said he found the drone floating off Barangay Tangatan at around 11:20 a.m.

Drone fished in waters off Cagayan

From GMA News (Jan 23):

Three fishermen who went out to sea on Wednesday recovered a drone in waters off Sta. Ana town in Cagayan, local police from the province said on Friday.
According to a report from the Sta. Ana police station, the fishermen identified as Jackson Orteza, Joland Rabor and Ryan Genelba recovered the drone around 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
Orteza described the as orange in color, with the label Aerial Target Drone BQM-74F.
He added that it was more or less 3.5 meters in length wand had star markings on both sides and on its wings.
The drone is currently under the custody of the Sta. Ana police station in Cagayan for further investigation.
Last January 4, the local police of Quezon province also recovered a drone owned and operated by the US Navy.
There was also a similar drone recovered off the coast of Masbate province by San Jacinto town police back in 2013.
The US Embassy said previously that the drone was unarmed and not sued for surveillance purposes. 

1 dead, 48 hurt in Zamboanga car bomb explosion (w/ photos)

From Rappler (Jan 23): 1 dead, 48 hurt in Zamboanga car bomb explosion (w/ photos)

(UPDATED) Most of the victims are owners or drivers of the vehicles parked near the exploding car and passersby who were going to and from a nearby terminal

FRIDAY EXPLOSION: A bomb explodes in a car parked in a disco bar in Zamboanga City. Photo by Richard Falcatan/Rappler
FRIDAY EXPLOSION: A bomb explodes in a car parked in a disco bar in Zamboanga City. Photo by Richard Falcatan/Rappler
(4th Update) – At least one was killed and 48 were wounded after a car exploded at the parking lot of a disco bar in Zamboanga City Friday afternoon, January 23, the police and the military confirmed.
"An explosion occurred at Fantasy Bar fronting the Guiwan Bus Terminal in Barangay Guiwan, Zamboanga City," according to a police situation report.
The Twitter account of the Zamboanga City government identified the fatality as barangay Talabaan resident Reynaldo Tan, 39.
zambocitygovt @zambocitygovt
Latest count: 48 wounded, 1 dead in the recent Zambo blast
The bomb exploded in a red car, according to Captain Rowena Muyuela of the military's Zamboanga-based Western Mindanao Command.
Eyewitnesses said after the car exploded, the nearby vehicles were set on fire.
CLEARING UP. An explosives expert leaves the scene after clearing the area of secondary explosives near a bus terminal in Guiwan, Zamboanga City. Photo by Charlie Saceda/Rappler
CLEARING UP. An explosives expert leaves the scene after clearing the area of secondary explosives near a bus terminal in Guiwan, Zamboanga City. Photo by Charlie Saceda/Rappler
Most of the victims were owners or drivers of the vehicles at the parking lot and of tricycles parked nearby. Since the site is near a terminal, some passersby were also wounded.
The victims were brought to the Zamboanga Peninsula Medical Hospital, said Muyuela.
The military's Task Group Zamboanga is now in the area to investigate.
VICTIMS. Red Cross team attend to wounded victims near the bus terminal in Guiwan, Zamboanga City. Photo by Charle Saceda/Rappler
VICTIMS. Red Cross team attend to wounded victims near the bus terminal in Guiwan, Zamboanga City. Photo by Charle Saceda/Rappler

UPDATE: Powerful blast kills 1, injures 48 in Zamboanga City

From MindaNews (Jan 23): UPDATE: Powerful blast kills 1, injures 48 in Zamboanga City

A person was killed while the wounded climbed to 48 from the earlier 33 reported in a suspected car bomb explosion Friday in this city, officials said.

Citing initial investigation, Senior Supt. Angelito Casimiro, Zamboanga City police director, said the bomb exploded shortly after 3 p.m. near the bus terminal in Barangay Guiwan.

Zamboanga City explosion

Ordnance experts conduct a post-blast investigation in Zamboanga City on Friday, 23 January 2015. MindaNews contributed photo by Charlie Saceda

One of the wounded victims is a policeman detailed at the bus terminal while the others include residents staying nearby and passengers bound for the other parts of the region.

Dr. Rodelin agbulos, City Health Officer, said the blast wounded 48 people, two of them still in critical condition.

Senior Police Officer 3 Brasim Abilani, who is also detailed at the bus terminal, said they saw a car was burning, followed suddenly by a strong explosion.

Abilani said the car was parked in front of a pub house located across the terminal that caters to buses of the Rural Transit Management, Incorporated (RTMI) plying from this city to other parts of the region.

The explosion also destroyed a car and a tricycle, and shattered the glass windows of nearby establishments.

Police and military forces immediately cordoned the highway and diverted traffic towards this city’s east coast to pave way for the post-blast investigation.

Col. Andrelino Colina, Task Force Zamboanga chief, said they have yet to determine the type of explosive used, noting that explosive ordnance demolition personnel are still sifting through the blast site.

RTMI Manager Efren Dela Cruz said they have suspended the trips from this city starting 3 p.m. as the highway was closed and the frontage of the terminal building was also destroyed.

Dela Cruz said they will resume trips at 6 p.m., but the embarkation point is at the RTMI motorpool in Barangay Divisoria.

Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar has urged the public to remain calm but vigilant, stressing that the police and military remain in control of the situation.

Salazar urged the police and military to hasten the post-blast investigation to be able to re-open the highway.

“We have to go back to normalcy as soon as possible,” Salazar said.

She mobilized the local government resources to provide assistance to the victims taken to the different hospitals.

Vietnam joins Philippines in war of words against China island building

From Thanh Nien News (Jan 23): Vietnam joins Philippines in war of words against China island building

One of the two Vietnam Russian-built missile-guided frigates is seen docked at a bay in Manila November 25, 2014. Vietnam last November showed off its two most powerful warships in the first-ever port call to the Philippines but an official said it was not trying to challenge China's superior naval forces amid tension in the East Sea. Photo credit: Reuters
Vietnam has joined the Philippines in condemning China’s attempts to build islands in the East Sea in what analysts say could be yet another futile verbal effort to stop Beijing.
“Vietnam resolutely opposes China’s illegal construction projects that jeopardize the status quo on the Truong Sa Archipelago,” Pham Thu Hang, deputy foreign ministry spokeswoman, said at a press briefing Thursday, using the Vietnamese name for the Spratly islands.
“We demand that China immediately stop such reclamation work and not repeat similar wrongful actions,” she said, reiterating that Hanoi has indisputable sovereignty over the Spratly and Hoang Sa (Paracel) island chains in the East Sea, also known as the South China Sea.
Since August, after withdrawing from Vietnamese waters the infamous oil rig that bedeviled Sino-Vietnamese ties, China has continued to pursue a number of land reclamation works around small islands in the Spratlys.
The Philippines has since last year accused Beijing of reclamation work in the Cuarteron, Johnson, Johnson South and Gaven reefs also in the Spratlys.
On Thursday Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario repeated a warning that Beijing was reclaiming land around isolated reefs to turn them into islands which could hold fortified positions or even airstrips, AFP reported.
It quoted del Rosario as saying that the Chinese actions in the Spratly islands would impact freedom to navigate the strategic mineral-rich waters through which large volumes of the world's trade pass.
China routinely outlines the scope of its territorial claims through maps featuring a so-called nine-dash line -- a demarcation that includes about 90 percent of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer East Sea.
But these maps have been emphatically rejected by international experts and fly in the face of competing claims by four members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) -- Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.
Analysts say the latest statements by Vietnam and the Philippines are just verbal barbs with China showing no signs of backing down from its expansive claims to the East Sea.
“If Vietnam and the Philippines don't complain it will give the impression they are giving in to China,” Dennis McCornac, a professor at Loyola University in Baltimore (Maryland), told Thanh Nien News.
“Thus, the verbal barbs are more for show than anything else and what is more important are diplomatic efforts on all sides to address the issue.”
‘Diplomatic dressing without any meat’
Del Rosario said Thursday that he would raise the issue at an upcoming meeting of AEAN foreign ministers in Malaysia and push for countries involved in the dispute to adhere to a code of conduct to not increase tensions in the maritime region.
"I will re-emphasize this and invite the concern of the ASEAN states because it is a threat to all of us," AFP quoted him as saying.
But skeptics say no one in ASEAN besides Vietnam and the Philippines would take up the gauntlet to confront China. Even host Malaysia, which has overlapping claims, is expected not to make the issue a priority at the forthcoming meeting.
It is in this context that, as ASEAN chair, Malaysia is likely to be buffeted by strong diplomatic crosswinds from China and the US as well as its respective supporters in ASEAN, according Mark Valencia, a Hawaii-based analyst.
“It will be interesting to see whether Malaysia bends and, if so, which way. It must find a ‘Goldilocks’ position - not too fast for China and its ASEAN supporters, but not too slow for the Philippines and Vietnam (and the US),” Valencia said.
“Even if it opts to make no progress at all rather than antagonize China or the US, stresses and strains within ASEAN may lead to more intra-ASEAN quarrelling and enhanced cleavages. This would weaken ASEAN's centrality in regional affairs.”
For the US, which has always tried to reassure Asia that it is a vocal critic of China’s claim to the East Sea, the best it can do is to merely wage wars of words against Beijing.
Zach Abuza, an analyst based in Washington, noted “very little tangible” coming out of the recent US-Philippines security dialogue.
“There were no new pledges of aid and assistance, no weapons transfers, no new policies or programs. It was very diplomatic dressing without any meat,” Abuza told Thanh Nien News.
“The US might have been concerned about the rapid reclamation on the five Philippine claimed features, but it doesn't seem to be willing to do anything to stop it. That leaves the Philippines with nothing else but their legal and diplomatic strategy.
“My feeling is that this is a year of consolidation for China in the [East Sea].”

AgSur joint Peace and Security Coordinating Committee meeting held with one aim: Peace and Development

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 22): AgSur joint Peace and Security Coordinating Committee meeting held with one aim: Peace and Development

PROSPERIDAD, Agusan del Sur - The first Joint Peace and Security Coordinating Committee meeting was held here Wednesday in order to discuss plans and programs that will address the peace and development issues and should be given attention by the local government of Agusan del Sur, the army and the police.

According to 4th Infantry Division Commander Gen. Oscar Lactao, the presence of the army in anyplace of the country is not to combat the Filipino people but to install peace and harmony at the area, while the national and local government units will focus on development while implementing government programs and projects needed by the people.

“We, in the military really appreciate the efforts, partnership and cooperation by the people in Agusan del Sur under the leadership of Gov. Adolph Edward Plaza. During our courtesy call with Gov. Plaza a while ago, we really appreciate the programs and projects that the provincial government has designed for Agusan del Sur. No wonder that from number 31 poorest of the poor 10 years ago, you are now I think number 75 in the rank. Therefore, we in the military, are inspired to work with you in order to attain lasting peace and development. If it is needed, we are willing to add more personnel to work with you,” Gen. Lactao said.

Gov. Plaza on his message said the provincial government is giving weight to the development of the upland areas. Plaza said his administration is focusing on the harmonization of local and national resources in order to fast track access to upland areas especially that tremendous damages were inflected by the recent typhoon Seniang.

“We have already started implementing our programs in the upland areas. Roads and bridges were already constructed and repaired through the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan or the PAMANA program of the national government in order to have easy access to farmers bringing down their products to the market. But of course, I admit on the slow implementation of the program called the Upland Sustainable Agri-forestry and Development (USAD) because along the way, we are encountering complex problems like the tenurial instruments,” Gov. Plaza said.

Gov. Plaza added that since every municipality has different needs that must be addressed by the national government, programs must also be specific to the needs of the locals so that they will surely serve the purpose.

“We have observed that many national programs do not pass the local government, and we want to emphasize that it will not harmonize the implementation. Also, we want to let all stakeholders in the government that local plans should be given recognition so that implementation of programs and projects will surely address the needs of the local people specially in the hinterlands,” Gov. Plaza added.

Gov. Plaza also stressed that all economic programs must be included when talking of peace and order so that both programs will be synchronized to address local issues, concerns and needs.

“As we target to reduce poverty incidence by six percent per year, we need your support in maintaining peace and order in order to realize our dreams of economic prosperity and peace,” Gov. Plaza said.

Mati to hold Youth Leadership Summit

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 21): Mati to hold Youth Leadership Summit

The City Government of Mati and the 28th Infantry Battalion, 10th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army will hold the second Youth Leadership Summit (YLS) for the Out-of School-Youth (OSY) in the City on February 6-8, 2015.

This gathering intends to produce the common youth agenda leading to the creation of a youth movement that will shape the future of their society towards peace and sustainable development. YLS  also aims to create awareness on the role and responsibilities of the youth in nation building and promote a positive and healthy self-image, critical thinking, love of country, social responsibility and the spirit of volunteerism among the youth.

The Youth For Peace Movement (YFPM) of the 1st YLS was organized way back in 2012. This inspires to push for the second round with the theme “Panaghiusa sa Kabataan, Kaabag sa Kalinaw ug Kalamboan”, to refresh and continue what had been started since members of the first batch are now mostly married already while some have moved to other places for good.

The summit will draw its participants from the twenty six (26) barangays of the City.  Each barangay is required to send at least five (5) participants preferably aspiring youth leaders especially that special Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) election is set to roll on the 21st of the same month per COMELEC Resolution No. 9905.

In this four-day activity containing a series of lectures and interactive discussions focusing on leadership and the role of the youth in nation building, the youth will also be educated on how they can help address the problem of insurgency. On the other hand, issues concerning environmental protection, drug abuse, human rights and spiritual values will supplement their formative encounter.
This activity will inculcate positive values, attitudes and behavior that will ultimately develop a character based leadership among our youth. It will also foster unity of different communities and youth groups leading to synergy and commitment to community development. It will further enable the youth to discover, affirm and further use their inherent leadership attributes that will later create a positive impact to the society.

Gov’t troops, ASGs exchange fire in Sumisip, Basilan

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 22): Gov’t troops, ASGs exchange fire in Sumisip, Basilan

ISABELA CITY, Basilan, Jan 22 (PIA) – Government troops under the 104th Infantry (Sultan) Brigade clashed with the Abu Sayyaf Groups (ASGs) at different times on Tuesday (January 20) in Sumisip, Basilan Province.

Acting Civil Military Operations Officer ILt Sally Christine Ma Magno (AGS) Philippine Army (PA) reported that the military encountered some 25 ASGs under sub-leader Juhaibel Alamsirul alias Abu Kik at around 11 a.m. on Tuesday at the vicinity of sitio Penas, Barangay Pamantsaken in Sumisip.

The firefight lasted for about 15 minutes, after which the enemy withdrew towards the north direction near Barangay Baiwas of the same municipality.

Initial military report stated that one ASG Yusof Sandatan was seriously wounded, while there were no casualties on the government side.

Operating elements of 104th Brigade are currently clearing the area, known as an ASG stronghold in Sumisip.

At 12:55 p.m. of same day, while clearing the area of Pamantsaken-Baiwas, the troops were met by sniper fires from the ASG. They conducted counter-sniping operations and managed to inch their way, clearing the enemy area.          

As the troops continued clearing the area, another encounter with the ASGs took place at about 1:38 p.m. This time the combined group under ASG sub-leader Radzmil Janatul alias Khubayb and ASG sub-leader Juhaibel Alamsirul alias Abu Kik with more or less 50 members engaged the military in a two-hour firefight at the vicinity of Sitio Crossing at Barangay Baiwas.

The troops effectively conducted fire and maneuver and the employment of close air and indirect fire support, forcing the enemy to withdraw towards the west direction. One ASG fighter was killed and three others wounded in said encounter. The names of enemy casualties are still being verified. Government soldiers, on the other hand, did not suffer any casualties.

In addition, operating troops were able to recover and neutralize an IED left by the enemies at the old school building in Baiwas. Accordingly, spent shells from the enemy 40mm M203 Grenade Launchers and other assorted high-powered firearms were also recovered by the troops. 

Magno said these ASGs based in Sumisip were responsible for the death of 64IB troopers in November 2014 who were then securing the construction of the Basilan Circumferential Road (BCR).

Moreover, the Joint Task Force ZAMBASULTA of the Western Mindanao Command reported that military troops scoured two abandoned ASG encampments in said barangay.

RADM Reynaldo L Yoma (AFP) said per report from the Joint Task Group Basilan, the encampments can accommodate more or less 100 persons. An Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was also recovered in one of the encampments.

Yoma said the AFP together with the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Local Government Units (LGUs) are continuously intensifying the conduct of law enforcement operations in order to defeat these lawless elements that continuously initiate atrocities in the province of Basilan and its neighboring areas.

Philippine Peacekeeping Contingent proud and happy to serve Pope Francis

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 22): Philippine Peacekeeping Contingent proud and happy to serve Pope Francis

The 7th Philippine Peacekeeping Contingent to Golan Heights (7th PCGH) tasked to help secure Pope Francis in his four-day visit to the Philippines was proud and happy to rendered service to the pontiff.

“We are very proud and happy that we have rendered service to the reigning Pope of the Catholic Church and the absolute sovereign of the Vatican City,” said Capt. Rogecel L. Labajo, action officer of 7th PCGH in a phone interview with Philippine Information Agency (PIA).

Early in September last year, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio P. Catapang Jr. announced that the 7th PCGH would form part of the two battalions that would help secure the Pope during his visit to Manila on Jan. 15-19, 2015.

Catapang said that their exposure and experience in peacekeeping operations in Syria had prepared them for the papal visit in the country.

Meanwhile, Capt. Labajo, who is a native of Pagadian, said the 7th PCGH contingent, which is composed of 333 soldiers, was assigned in the different areas and his 33-man team was assigned at the Apostolic Nunciature along Taft Avenue, Manila - the place serves as residence of the Holy Father’s ambassador.

"Wala kami tulog sulod sa lima ka managsunod-sunod nga gabii tungod kay amo gibantayan pag-ayo ang Santo Papa (We had no sleep in five successive nights just to secure the pontiff),” Labajo said, referring to the five-day stay of the pope at the Apostolic Nunciature.

“Karon nga mipauli na si Pope Fancis makahigayon na gyud mi ug pahulay (Now that Pope Francis is home, we can take time to rest),” Labajo said.

Labajo said his team was assigned at the gate of the Apostolic Nunciature to augment the Presidential Security Group. “The successful state visit of Pope Francis is the ‘victory of all Filipinos’ saying that the pontiff was not harmed by anybody unlike the visit of Pope Paul VI in 1970 and Pope John Paul II in 1995 were there were attempts from terrorists to assassinate them.

When asked about his reaction on the commendation of the Senators on Tuesday to the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and other government agencies for “successfully securing” Pope Francis during his five-day visit to the country, Labajo said “we are happy that they were impressed on our performance.”

“As members of the Philippine Army, it is our duty and obligation not only to secure the community but the Pope as well because if something bad happens to him, it will destroy the good image of our country,” Labajo concluded.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. thanked and gave a salute to uniformed personnel for a job well done and for displaying dedication, hard work, patience and determination ensuring the safety of Pope Francis in the country.

3 rebel weapons seized after rebel clash in Surigao Del Norte

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 23): 3 rebel weapons seized after rebel clash in Surigao Del Norte

Troopers from the 30th Infantry Battalion have recovered three high-powered firearms following an encounter with New People's Army (NPA) fighters in Sitio Brazil, Mat-i, Surigao City, Surigao Del Norte Thursday morning.

Major Ezra Balagtey, Eastern Mindanao Command spokesperson, said the firefight with the rebels took place at 10 a.m.

Troopers were responding to an information on the presence of armed group in the area when they were fired upon by about 15 NPAs that triggered a fifteen minute fire fight.

The NPAs scampered to different directions leaving one M-16 rifle, one M-653 baby Armalite rifle and an M-203 grenade launcher after the encounter.

In a separate incident, patrolling troops of the 1st Special Forces Company figured in a brief skirmish in Imbayao, Malaybalay, Bukidnon Thursday afternoon.

No casualty was reported in both encounters.

Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, Eastern Mindanao Command head,reiterated his directive to subordinate units after the lifting of the suspension of military operations to step up security operations to protect the communities.

"Let us continue to protect the communities from NPAs aggression and ensure safety of the people and the delivery of basic services to the communities will not be hampered." Baladad said.

He further lauded the prompt action of troops and the community.

Zambo City mayor seeks transfer of ASG detainees

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 23): Zambo City mayor seeks transfer of ASG detainees

Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar has requested the national government to transfer the suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) from the local detention facility to Manila owing to security risks.

Salazar’s request, which came after the foiled escape plan of the ASG members on Monday, was coursed through Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas, II.

Chief Insp. Julius Arro, Zamboanga City Reformatory Center (ZCRC) warden, disclosed there are 56 suspected ASG members who are detained at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP)-administered ZCRC.

Among the suspected ASG detainees are Benzar Indama and Musang Indama, both relatives of Basilan-based ASG leader Furuji Indama.

Musang is facing charges in court for the crimes of murder and multiple frustrated murders while Benzar is charged with murder and kidnapping.

Salazar said she believes the transfer of the high profile inmates to a more secure detention facility in Manila will reduce the security risks at the ZCRC.

Salazar said the transfer will also help minimize the trauma of the residents in the aftermath of the 21-day siege in September 2013.

The security forces in this city have been placed on heightened alert following the foiled escape plan of the ASG members.

The escape plan was uncovered when the BJMP personnel confiscated three caliber .45 pistols with 140 rounds of ammunition concealed at the bottom of two home-made concrete charcoal stoves that were delivered to a suspected ASG member detained at the ZCRC.

Army unearths remains of two NPA liquidation victims in Leyte

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 23): Army unearths remains of two NPA liquidation victims in Leyte

After 30 years of searching, 43-year-old Bartolome Custodio found the remains of his father Lolieto in a shallow grave discovered on the outskirts of this town today.

He can still recall how a group of armed rebels forcibly took his 38-year-old father away while farming in Mag-aso village in La Paz, Leyte.

“They forcibly asked my father to go with them because the rebels believed that he’s involved in military intelligence,” Bartolome recalled. He was 13 when the abduction happened.

In a shallow grave in the middle of coconut and abaca plantation, the Philippine Army and Philippine National Police formally exhumed the skeleton with feet still tied up and skull with blindfold cloth.

Few meters away, authorities also unearthed the remains of Necostrates Novio from San Antonio village of this town. Necostrates’ son Reynaldo, 59 broke out into tears when he saw the same shirt worn by his father in August 1984.

Reynaldo recalled that his father was abducted while hiking to a nearby village to join a fiesta celebration more than three decades ago.

“I know that remains belong to my father. It’s the same shirt and pants he wore when I last saw him. We have been searching for him for 30 years. We even joined CAFGU (Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit) so we could easily find him,” he told reporters.

Sr. Insp. John C. Ilao, Philippine National Police regional medico legal officer said they will conduct an autopsy to find out the real cause of deaths of Novio and Custodio.

“We will conduct a thorough investigation before turning over the skeleton to the family. We will see any signs of trauma by studying bones if it got hit by bullets or pointed objects,” the police official said.

San Vicente village believed as one of the armed rebels’ killing fields in 1980s is about 20 kilometers away from the town center, traversing a long stretch of bumpy and hilly road.

The army held the formal exhumation in the presence of local government officials, police scene of the crime operatives, Commission on Human Rights, and religious sector.

Col. Dinoh Dolina, commander of Philippine Army’s 802nd Brigade based in Ormoc City said they have been encouraging villagers to report possible burial place New People’s Army summary killing victims.

“We have been working with communities to help families find the bodies of their love ones. These people need closure while those executed should be given a decent burial,” Dolina said.

The military believed that the NPA liquidated 300 individuals in Leyte. In 2006, at least 67 remains of summary killing victims were dug up in Inopacan, Leyte.