Friday, February 27, 2015

Pemberton prosecutors in row among themselves

From the Daily Tribune (Feb 28): Pemberton prosecutors in row among themselves

Private prosecutors are crying foul over moves of public prosecutors led by Olongapo City Prosecutor Emilie Fe de los Santos to block efforts to present evidence against US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton during a pre-trial hearing.

Lawyer Harry Roque who represents the family of transgender Jennifer Laude, whose registered name is Jeffrey, wanted to include in the list of prosecution witnesses the commanding officer of the Pemberton’s unit as well as the American officers in possession of the accused’s service records and who facilitated the training at the Marine boot camp he attended.

Pemberton is facing criminal charges for the killing of Laude last October in Olongapo City.

Roque was not present during the hearing since he was at a conference on the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) dispute at the Harvard Law School. The manifestation was submitted to the court by another member of the team, lawyer Romel Bagares.

De los Santos openly opposed the move.

In the arraignment hearing last Feb. 23, the fiscal also tried to prevent Bagares from adding additional names to the list of prosecution witnesses before the Olongapo regional trial court Branch 74.

“We cannot understand why she should do that. As the public prosecutor, she should cooperate with the private prosecutors in ensuring that justice is served in this case,” Bagares lamented.

Another private lawyer, Virgie Suarez also questioned such gesture by De los Santos.
“We wanted to have all corners covered. We did not expect that to come from her, since we are supposed to be on the same side,” she noted.

Roque said they have tried several times to reach an agreement with the fiscal on how they can work together on the case.

“But she has refused to talk to us in the most unprofessional way imaginable. She is making it easier for the defense by doing the latter’s work,” he stressed.

“We are constrained to bring this matter to the public’s attention because the public prosecutor herself is blocking cooperative efforts between us to obtain justice for the victim,” Roque added.

De los Santos has publicly declared that she will not allow private prosecutors any leeway in the presentation of the evidence for the criminal aspect of the case.

AFP failure to deny rebels supplies comes under fire

From the Manila Times (Feb 28): AFP failure to deny rebels supplies comes under fire

A lawmaker has questioned failure of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to cut supply lines of armed groups in Mindanao in southern Philippines despite the military knowing about existing enemy camps and their locations.

Sen. Francis Escudero on Friday noted that even before the government started peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the AFP had pinpointed not only the locations of the camps but also the routes used by the rebels to move supplies.

“One of the basic requirements in any conflict is tracing and cutting the supply lines of the enemy but why is it during the conflict with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), MILF and even the Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters (BIFF) we never heard anything about the interception of firearms, munitions and bombs by our security forces?” Escudero asked.

The senator wondered why the military and the police in areas of conflict in Mindanao have not resolved the problem despite having access to right equipment and intelligence capability.

Escudero raised the question after Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief peace negotiator, recently disclosed that his group has sourced weapons from the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Iqbal, a television interview, said the MILF used to have two other sources of firearms–smugglers and its own gun factory.

He, however, added that they do not have the factory anymore, citing the MILF signing a peace agreement with the government last year.

Iqbal said they bought firearms from the AFP and the PNP only during the Arroyo administration.

Escudero said while he is not interested in looking at involvement of military and police officers in the alleged sale of weapons to the rebel groups because it would divert the attention of Congress from the real issue, the AFP and the PNP should start focusing on finding ways to stop entry of firearms and other equipment into the lairs of armed groups.

According to the senator, the Mamasapano clash that led to the killing of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) men is a clear indication that the MILF and private armed groups have a huge supply cache or a steady supply of guns, ammunition and other needed equipment that could enable them to go head-to-head with government security forces.

Escudero said the PNP-SAF men involved in Oplan Exodus, which was launched to capture Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, were not able to sustain the fight that lasted for more than 10 hours because they ran out of bullets, giving the MILF, BIFF and other armed groups the advantage.

The lawmaker pointed out that if these groups lacked a steady supply of ammunition, they would not have the courage to face the police commandos who entered their area.

Escudero said the AFP lacks focus in its campaign against the private armed groups in the country because military chief Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. only ordered an all-out offensive against the BIFF after it was reported that the group also joined the MILF in slaughtering the SAF commandos.

He added that the offensive should have been carried out earlier, considering that the BIFF has no existing ceasefire agreement with the government.

Because the group is responsible for launching attacks against civilians and government security forces in Mindanao, Escudero said, it is only right for the BIFF to be listed as terrorist.

The Justice department, the senator added, should start the process to have the BIFF classified as a terrorist organization because in that way the MILF could help the government go after the BIFF.

“Why is the government taking so long to classify the BIFF as a terrorist group? Dahil ba iniisip natin [Is it because] sometime in the future kakausapin din natin sila [we will also talk to them]?” Escudero also asked.

New Mindanao war begins

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 28): New Mindanao war begins

Thousands of civilians flee as military, BIFF start all-out offensive

Thousands of residents of Datu Unsay in Maguindanao started evacuating early yesterday morning after fighting started between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Last Wednesday, AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang declared an all-out offensive against the BIFF to protect communities from the Muslim rebels. In response, BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama said yesterday that they will also launch their own all-out offensive against the military in various parts of Mindanao.

The fighting started shortly after around 80 heavily armed BIFF men, led by Commander Karialan and Kadafy Abdulatip, set up a blockade at a vital portion of the Cotabato-General Santos National Highway, particularly in Sitio Quarry, Barangay Iganagampong in Datu Unsay at around 9 a.m. yesterday. The BIFF harassed residents, who were forced to flee, the report added.

After receiving reports about the BIFF blockade, members of the 45th Infantry Brigade and 2nd Mechanized Company of the Army were deployed to conduct clearing operations in the area. However, the government troops were met by gun fires from the BIFF side at the national highway in Maitumaig, Datu Unsay.

Misry Mama had earlier said that, “Kung papasok sila, magkabakbakan talaga. Kung hindi sila mag-offensive kami ang mag-atake mga ilang araw mula ngayon (If they enter our area, there will be a gunfight. If they will not launch offensives, we will attack them in a few days).”

As of press time, no casualty has been reported but thousands of residents have already evacuated. But sources reported that a military tank was immobilized after it was hit by a rocket fired from 90RR launcher.

Fleeing residents said they saw at least six BIFF members killed and several others wounded during the clash.

No casualties were reported on the side of the government forces.

The Cotabato-General Santos Highway was declared cleared to commuters at around 1 p.m. yesterday, but authorities remain on alert following the BIFF declaration of its own offensive.

“The highway is already passable at past 1 p.m. and commuters were already allowed to pass. The army and police forces are now securing the area,” said Senior Superintendent Rodelio Jocson, Maguindanao police director.

Despite the lull, Jocson said other evacuees are still in the national highway as they fear the BIFF might return and harass them in their villages.

Misry Mama had warned civilians near military detachments and installations to immediately leave.

“Kailangan na nila umalis kasi 100 percent gagawa kami ng pag-atake anytime (They have to leave because 100 percent we will launch offensives anytime),” he added.


Despite the clashes, the military is taking “extra care” to avoid collateral damage on civilian communities, Deputy Presidential Spokeswoman Abigail Valte said.

“They do take extreme care to make sure that civilians are not harmed in these operations,” Valte said in a Palace press briefing.

Valte said the government has established evacuation centers for families displaced by the fighting between the military and the rebels in the south.

“Part of the deployment of troops would be to assure the safety of civilians. We have, yes indeed, gotten reports that there are evacuations or at least families are moving to avoid fighting. We do make sure that these families make it to a safe place, or at least in their perception what is a safe place,” Valte said.


Meanwhile, the Department of Education (DepEd) in Region 12 called on the military and the BIFF to spare the children and local schools from their conflict.

Dr. Allan Farnazo, DepEd Region 12 director, issued the call as the military and the BIFF declared all-out offensive against each other.

He said both parties should exert efforts to make sure that school children and local schools will not be affected by their operations.

Mindanao clashes heat up

From the Manila Standard Today (Feb 28): Mindanao clashes heat up

FIGHTING intensified in Central Mindanao on Friday morning as 300 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters attacked a military column and caused the burning of an armored vehicle at Datu Unsay town in North Cotabato.

Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Col. Restituto Padilla said the fighting erupted after a military convoy was fired upon by the BIFF rebels, forcing the troops to retaliate and sparking a battle that was still raging at press time.

Caption: In harm’s way. Government troops rush to reinforce
comrades who were attacked by Bangsamoro Islamic
Freedom Fighters at Datu Unsay, Maguindanao on Friday.
The Cotabato-General Santos national highway was
temporarily closed due to the on-going battle. OMAR MANGORSI

A passing private Starex Van were also fired upon by the rebels but no one was hurt, Padilla said.

The flow of commerce along the national highway linking Maguindanao and Cotabato provinces was also stopped because the battle.

Padilla said the BIFF rebels were led by Commander Bungos, the same rebel leader who figured in the slaying of 44 Special Action Force commandos in Mamasapano last January 25.

“Our troops are pursuing the BIFF contingent under Commander Bungos who reportedly laid improvised explosive devices and landmines along the highway,” Padilla said.

He said the fighting has affected the towns of Sharrif Aguak, Shariff Saydona, Datu Unsay and Mamasapano and has forced civilians to evacuate. The fighting first erupted in Barangay Bagan in Guindulungan town and spilled-over to Shariff Aguak.

Reports said the BIFF rebels who were overwhelmed by the military’s firepower and sought shelter at nearby camps of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Malacañang, meanwhile, said the government is ready to provide assistance to families affected by the ongoing military campaign against rebels in Mindanao.

“We have gotten reports that there are evacuations, or at least families are moving to avoid fighting. We do make sure that these families make it to a safe place,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said during the daily press briefing in Malacañang on Friday.

“It has happened in the past that we have opened evacuation centers for them. We do provide support and assistance,” added Valte.

She said government troops were deployed in Mindanao to go after lawless elements, including the BIFF, one of the rebel groups implicated in the Mamasapano massacre.
Valte said that “extreme care” is being undertaken “to make sure that civilians are not harmed in these operations.”

At the same time, the regional office of the Department of Education called on the military and the BIFF to spare the children and local schools from their conflict.

Dr. Allan Farnazo, DepEd Region 12 director, said both parties should exert efforts to make sure that school children and local schools will not be affected by their operations.

The official said that women and children are the most vulnerable and suffer the most when conflicts arise in their communities.

He said it could be seen in the latest conflict in parts of Pikit, North Cotabato between the BIFF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Around 2,500 pupils and students were earlier reported displaced by the clashes that affected 10 villages of Pikit.

“I hope both parties will put premium in their minds that women and children should always be spared from any conflict,” he said.

Farnazo said they should make sure that classes in schools will not be disrupted and used in any way for their operations.

He said the International Humanitarian Law and several other United Nations conventions specifically prohibit the use of schools for any purpose in armed conflicts.

“Schools should not be used as meeting places, operations base and command centers,” the official said.

Farnazo said both parties should instead regard schools in the entire region as “zones of peace.”

DepEd-12 declared all schools in the region in late 2013 as peace zones in a bid to protect pupils and students in from conflicts and various forms of violence.

The declaration was aimed to establish all local private and public schools as neutral grounds in case armed conflicts would occur in any locality within the region.

Such declaration was mainly an offshoot of a memorandum earlier issued by the DepEd central office that enjoined schools “in areas with armed conflict and/or peace and order problems” to post banners identifying them as peace zones.

The banners are printed with the message: “This school is a zone of peace, huwag po kaming idamay sa mga kaguluhan (please spare us from conflicts).”

DepEd records showed that the region has a total of 1,707 pre-schools, 1,692 public elementary and 402 secondary or high schools.

Gov't troops, BIFF clash anew in Maguindanao

From the Philippine Star (Feb 27): Gov't troops, BIFF clash anew in Maguindanao

Members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. File photo

Heavy fighting between soldiers and members of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) erupted anew on Friday in five areas in Datu Saudi and Datu Unsay towns.

Different groups of BIFF bandits were quick to block stretches of the Cotabato-General Santos Highway that straddles through the two towns to divert the attention of Army and Marine combatants pursuing extremists reportedly coddling foreign-trained bomber Abdul Basit Usman.

Usman, an ethnic Maguindanaon, was a cohort of the slain Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan.

The hostilities in Datu Saudi and Datu Unsay, both in the second district of Maguindanao, erupted when BIFF gunmen opened fire at patrolling soldiers, dispatched to verify reported sightings by Moro villagers of gunmen converging in different areas, as if preparing for attacks.

Officials of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division said the “calibrated police action” against the BIFF in the two towns was coordinated with the joint ceasefire committee of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in keeping with all security protocols crafted bilaterally by the GPH and MILF panels.

The BIFF, led by radical foreign-trained clerics, some of them with links to Al-Qaeda is not covered by the July 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between the government and the MILF.

The military-BIFF firefights forced hundreds of Moro families to evacuate to safer areas, bringing with them their valuables and farm animals.

Battle-hardened combatants of the 6th Marine Battalion from coastal towns in Sultan Kudarat province, backed by V-300 combat vehicles, are helping Army units neutralize the criminal BIFF forces holding out in the two towns.

Evacuees have confirmed that six BIFF gunmen were killed in the initial encounters.

The 6th ID's spokesperson Army Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, however, said they cannot confirm the number of BIFF fatalities.

"We have been receiving persistent feedback from villagers that the group indeed suffered fatalities but we don't have actual enemy `body count' that we can use as basis for confirmation," Petinglay said.

Four wounded bandits, all adolescents, were also seen being carried by companions away from the scene just as Army artillery units started pounding their positions with mortars.

Local officials gathered the evacuees in makeshift evacuation sites and public school campuses far from the barangays where government forces and BIFF members have been trading shots since past 10:00 a.m. Friday.

Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said he directed the ARMM’s Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Response Team (HEART) to dispatch workers to Datu Saudi and Datu Unsay to attend to the needs of evacuees.

The HEART is comprised of volunteers from the ARMM’s health, social welfare and public works departments.

Hataman said hundreds of poor Moro families were dislocated by the ensuing firefights between soldiers and the BIFF.

MILF tells fighters: Give way to gov’t troops hunting down BIFF

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 26): MILF tells fighters: Give way to gov’t troops hunting down BIFF

Moro rebel group also pledges to help AFP locate Usman

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Thursday told its fighters to stay away from the military’s all-out offensive against members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the group’s chair, Ebrahim Murad, relayed his directive to all field commanders after Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. ordered an all-out offensive against the BIFF, which was also involved in the clash that killed 44 Special Action Force commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, last month.

“The directive is clear—for our men to stay aside and give way to the military’s operation,” Iqbal said.

“Our only concern and appeal to the military is to ensure the safety of the civilians,” he added.

Iqbal said the government’s coordinating committee on cessation of hostilities coordinated with them through their counterpart the all-out-offensive.

Iqbal expressed confidence the military action would not affect their men on the ground.

At the same time, Iqbal assured the Philippine government the MILF would help the military by providing information about the whereabouts of Jemaah Islamiyah bomb expert Basit Usman.

Usman managed to escape when SAF commandos arrived in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, for a law enforcement operation against Zulkifli bin Hir, the Malaysian bomb terrorist known as Marwan.

Marwan was killed in that operation.

Aside from the 44 policemen, at least 18 MILF rebels and five civilians were also killed in the Mamasapano fighting.

NPA rebels burn backhoe owned by Camarines Sur town LGU

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 27): NPA rebels burn backhoe owned by Camarines Sur town LGU

New People's Army (NPA) rebels burned the backhoe owned by the local government unit (LGU) of Baao town in Camarines Sur being used by municipal employees working on a project in Sitio Alsum, Barangay Buluang, Baao Thursday morning.

Equipment operator Mariano Castillo, a resident of Barangay San Francisco in the same town, said the burning of the backhoe occurred at about 8:10 a.m. while he was working on the project.

Castillo said two armed NPA members suddenly arrived, told him to stop working and got the key to the heavy equipment from him.

The rebels poured gasoline into the engine of the backhoe and set it on fire, he said.

After the incident, the rebels immediately fled the area towards an unknown direction, leaving Castillo unharmed.

He immediately reported the incident to the police.

Authorities believe the NPA was asking for revolutionary tax from the local government unit which, in turn, rejected the demand.

Army claims NPA weakening in Sorsogon

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 27): Army claims NPA weakening in Sorsogon

The strength of the rebel group New People’s Army (NPA) in Sorsogon province is down to only 45 regular members with just 20 firearms, the Philippine Army said in a briefing during the City Peace and Order Council meeting on Tuesday at the City Function Hall.

Lt. Col. Beerjenson Aquino, commanding officer of the 31st Infantry Battalion based at Barangay Anog, Juban, said the NPA-Sorsogon’s Komite Probinsyal (KomProb) remains under the command of Andres Hubilla alias Ka Magno.

It is divided into two guerrilla fronts, the Larangan 1 and Larangan 2.

Larangan 1, under a certain Alias Omie/Omeng, has 23 full-time members with 13 firearms and covers the municipalities of Casiguran, Prieto-Diaz, Gubat, Bulusan, Barcelona, Sta. Magdalena and this city, Aquino said.

Larangan 2, meanwhile, has 19 regulars with merely seven firearms under Arnel Estiller alias Ariston/Mando and has jurisdiction over the towns of Juban, Magallanes, Bulan, Irosin, Matnog, Donsol, Pilar and Castilla.

He said the figures showed that the rebel’s force in the province continues to weaken.

Aquino said around 33 barangays are classified as “affected barangays” while 144, or 33 percent, of the 541 barangays in the province are considered as “threatened.”

Based on the military’s definition, a barangay is considered “affected” if the rebel group has already established a support organization in the area while a threatened barangay is one which the rebels have been frequently visiting but have not yet established a mass base, according to Major Romeo Jimenea, executive officer of the 31st IB.

According to Aquino, the local NPA command conducted several violent activities last year, including eight liquidations.

The Army commander also blamed the rebel group for another eight killings during the first two months of this year alone, including the shooting death of former police Senior Inspector Augurio Coranez in Bacon district.

As indicated in the report, the towns of Barcelona, Bulusan, Gubat, Casiguran and Magallanes had the most number of activities conducted by the rebels.

Aquino said the NPA might initiate some tactical moves to highlight its founding anniversary slated on March 29.

7 more trooper slightly hurt as military pursues ASG in Sulu

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 27): 7 more trooper slightly hurt as military pursues ASG in Sulu

Ongoing law enforcement operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) has resulted in the slight wounding of seven soldiers in Sitio Bauno Bautong, Barangay Buhanginan, Patikul town, Sulu Friday.

The firefight took place after troops from Joint Task Group Sulu, which is commanded by Col. Allan Arrojado, encountered more or less 300 ASG bandits led by Radullan Sajiron.

Sources said that at least six bandits were reported killed in the encounter although this report is still to be validated.

"The AFP has continuously pursued the Abu Sayyaf bandits and their Jemaah Islamiyah associates in Sulu province after the series of encounters in the past two days," AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said.

He added that the firefight is still on-going as of this posting.

"Our troops on the ground reported seven slightly wounded soldiers due to a 40mm shrapnel," Cabunoc added.

Heavy casualties were seen on the enemy side but they were carried away by their comrades.

The group of Radullan Sahiron is believed to be holding some of the hostages.

(Update) Soldiers slain, wounded in Ilocos Sur ambush identified

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 27): (Update) Soldiers slain, wounded in Ilocos Sur ambush identified

The Tarlac City-based Northern Luzon Command on Friday has identified the troopers killed and wounded during the New People's Army (NPA) ambush in Barangay Legleg, Quirino town, Ilocos Sur Thursday night.

Capt. Gina Daet, Northern Luzon Command spokesperson, identified the fatalities as Cpl. Elmer T. Lacandile, Cpl. Jan-jie P. Dela Cruz, Pfc. Rene Gil B. Ocampo, Pfc. Jomark Villanueva and Pfc. Charlynder E. Ramos, all members of the 81st Infantry Battalion.

The wounded were identitified as Pfc. Jayson G. Gongora, Pfc. Lester King A. Ancheta, Pfc Alvin A. Mariñas, Pfc. Danilo C. Pascua Jr., and Pfc. Roaldo C. Olipas.

These losses were incurred after a band of 30 lawless elements ambushed a KM-450 truck carrying the soldiers and operatives of the police around 7 p.m.

The security forces were headed for home after conducting law enforcement operations when attacked by the suspects.

Lt. Col. Jason Bajet, 81st Infantry Battalion commander, said the bandits took positions near civilian houses at the roadside.

"The NPA bandits used the civilians as human shields in that particular encounter. My troops tried their best to avoid civilian casualties by controlling their fire," he added.

Bajet said his men immediately dismounted their trucks to suppress the enemy while retrieving the casualties inside the kill zone.

The troops were able to call for reinforcements and civilian ambulances but these were fired upon by the bandits upon their arrival at around 10 p.m., forcing the drivers to turn back towards a safer location.

The soldiers treated their wounded comrade using their issued combat life saver kits and individual first aid kits.

"I commend my combat medics for their expertise in giving first aid to the wounded soldiers. They were able to save those who sustained injuries in this firefight," Bajet said.

The casualties were finally retrieved early morning Friday.

Two UH-1H "Huey" helicopters were sent to collect all the casualties from the encounter site.

Update: Military engages 60 BIFF men in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 27): Update: Military engages 60 BIFF men in Maguindanao

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) announced that its units in Maguindanao have engaged an estimated 60 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) members in Barangay Iginagampong, Datu Unsay town Friday morning.

AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said the bandits were led by one "Cmdr. Bongos".

He added that the encounter took place around 8 a.m.

No casualties were reported, he added.

The encounter stemmed from BIFF attempts to occupy a part of Tacurong-Cotabato Highway and strafed passing military and civilian vehicles.

"Soldiers were sent to confront the bandits, triggering a three-hour running gun battle that lasted until past noon," Cabunoc said.

No casualties were recorded on both sides but the soldiers spotted enemy casualties being dragged by their companions as they fled towards the marshland.

The troops seized improvised bombs left by the bandits. Pursuit operations are on-going.

NPA fighter killed in Tagum City encounter

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 27): NPA fighter killed in Tagum City encounter

Troopers from the Army's 46th Infantry Battalion have successfully foiled an ambush attempt by New People's Army (NPA) fighters n Barangay San Agustin, Tagum City, Davao Del Norte, killing a rebel in the clash Friday morning.

10th Infantry Division spokesperson 1st Lt. Vergel Lacambra said the incident took place at 9:30 a.m.

Involved in the botched ambush attempt were 10 NPA rebels.

Lacambra said the troopers had just attended a stakeholder's meeting from Tagum City and were traversing San Agustin-Magdum road when a roadside landmine was detonated by NPA bandits.

Heavy firefight ensued as troops swiftly maneuvered and returned fire against the NPAs occupying vantage positions.

The firefight lasted for 30 minutes where one unidentified NPA rebel was killed.

Three soldiers sustained minor wounds and were immediately brought to Davao Regional Hospital and are now under stable condition.

Meanwhile, Major Gen. Eduardo M. Año, 10th Infantry Division commander, blasted the NPA rebels for deliberately putting the civilian-commuters and passers-by at risk by planting landmine along roads frequently used by the public.

"The continued use of landmine by the CPP-NPA is a clear violation of the comprehensive agreement on respect for human rights and international humanitarian law to which they are signatory," he added.

Año also lauded the tactical proficiency of the troops who successfully thwarted the ambush and seized one unexploded landmine.

The 46th Infantry Battalion is now coordinating with local officials and the Philippine National Police for the identification of the slain rebel.

Norway supports peace process, takes active role in the decommissioning process

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 27): Norway supports peace process, takes active role in the decommissioning process
"Norway remains fully committed to support efforts and keep the path of peace in the Philippines on track. I commend the efforts of the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to undertake the decommissioning process.

The decommissioning is an important component of the whole normalization process as laid out in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro," said Ambassador of Norway to the Philippines Erik Førner.

The Norwegian government takes active role to contribute to the decommissioning of MILF weapons and combatants through the following:
-- Deployment of Norway’s expert as vice-chair for the establishment of the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) in the person of retired Brigadier General Jan Erik Wilhelmsen. He was previously involved in peacekeeping operations in Barbados, Central Sudan, El Salvador, Honduras, Nepal, Nigeria, and Yugoslavia;
-- Deployment of additional experts in the IDB Headquarters; and
-- Deployment of additional experts in the IDB-verification and monitoring assistance teams (VMAT) that will take charge of the security of the assembly and processing areas and/or the arms storage area for the decommissioning process.

"Lasting peace is fundamental in bringing development and stability in Mindanao, for the benefit of the entire population of the Philippines. The alternative to peace is continued conflict. Armed conflicts not only takes lives; it also creates and intensifies poverty. It is our wish that the Philippines overcomes the Mamasapano tragedy and unite to support the peaceful resolution of the armed conflict in Mindanao," said Ambassador Forner.

Norway has for several years been a part of the International Monitoring Team supervising the ceasefire in Mindanao.

It is also the third-party facilitator of peace talks between the Philippine Government and the communist movement.

US, PHL conducts bilateral air patrol aboard P-8A

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 27): US, PHL conducts bilateral air patrol aboard P-8A
In line with American efforts to strengthen maritime partnership in the Pacific, US Navy Patrol Squadron 45 (VP-45) invited Philippine Navy and Air Force personnel to a bilateral air patrol mission last Feb. 17.

This was announced by the US Embassy in Manila in a statement Friday.

The air patrol was conducted aboard a US Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft.

VP-45 is on temporary rotational detachment to the Clark Air Base in support of US Commander 7th Fleet’s mission to strengthen maritime partnerships in the Pacific Region.

The P-8A conducts anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, and shipping interdiction, along with an electronic signals intelligence role.

This involves carrying torpedoes, depth charges, SLAM-ER missiles, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and other weapons.

It is able to drop and monitor sonobuoys. It is designed to operate in conjunction with the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton broad area maritime surveillance unmanned aerial vehicle.

10 more ASG killed in Friday's fighting in Sulu

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): 10 more ASG killed in Friday's fighting in Sulu

In Friday's ongoing pursuit operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Patikul, Sulu, another 10 of the bandits were killed while another eight were wounded Friday.

This was disclosed by Western Mindanao Command spokesperson Capt. Rowena Muyuela.

Meanwhile, another 10 soldiers were wounded.

Friday's encounter took place at 12: 15 p.m. when troopers from the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion clashed with ASG members led by Radulan Sahiron at the vicinity of Sitio Baunoh Butang, Barangay Buhanginan, Patikul town, Sulu.

A fierce firefight took place causing casualties among the bandits, prompting the ASG to retreat.

While this was going on, elements from 14th Scout Ranger Reconnaissance Company engaged the retreating ASGs at 12: 25 p.m.

At this point, "A" Battery from the 8th Field Artillery Battalion then started shelling the bandits while aircraft from Tactical Operations Squadron Jolo pounded ASG positions.

As of this posting, units from the 35th Infantry Battalion and 14th Light Armor Company are now conducting blocking and checkpoint operations in the area.

In the ongoing operations, 10 ASGs were killed while another eight were wounded.

While all wounded government troopers were safely evacuated to the Kutang Heneral Teodulfo Bautista in Sulu for treatment.

Tribal groups decry military, NPA presence in provinces

From the Mindanao Times (Feb 27): Tribal groups decry military, NPA presence in provinces

COMPLAINTS from various tribal groups against both the military and New People’s Army operating in Agusan, Kapalong, and Talaingod will be forwarded in a report to DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said.
Duterte, Regional Peace and Order Council chair, was present in a dialogue Wednesday night between the civic society groups, the military, and IPs, who were protesting both the operations of the AFP’s EastMinCom and the NPA, saying it disrupted peace and order, and livelihood in their areas.
Among the allegations made by datus against the military included forced confessions of being NPA members, tagging, and operating near schools and the barangay halls.
“The military are not allowed to use schools and barangay halls as living areas. But you cannot tell them to not use it for purposes like meetings and other official gatherings,” said Duterte, but added as RPOC chair he would always be “on alert” to future complaints of army personnel using barangay halls and schools as living areas.
Duterte did not oblige however to one request to totally pull out troops in those areas.
“It is their duty to be stationed there. We cannot tell them where they should be stationed,” said Duterte about the military.
However, while the event was also an avenue to “protest militarization” in the said areas, the lumads said NPA operations were affecting their livelihood as they would be pulled out to join protests in the city or other areas, as well as constant fear of fire fight.
Duterte said the military should ensure the safety of civilians should they have to engage in fighting with the military.
“You also cannot tell them [NPA] to stop because their fight is cause-oriented,” he said, and he can only “reason” with them on certain issues.
Duterte stressed to the lumad groups however that being educated on their rights was also fundamental in ensuring their safety between the military and NPA.
“Your children in the farms who do not have education, bring them here. I plan to put up a dormitory where they can stay while away from home,” he said.
He added the lumad groups should also be open to having investors develop their farm land.
“Find businesses you trust and use the land now,” he said.
The mayor previously offered to NPA members in Paquibato District to allow palm oil developers to buy land in the area in exchange for prioritizing them in employment.
He said they only had to “hide” their weapons and not demand a revolutionary tax, however, he said his proposal was rejected.

PH, France to 'intensify' anti-terror cooperation

From Rappler (Feb 26): PH, France to 'intensify' anti-terror cooperation

(UPDATED) 'We have decided to intensify our cooperation in the fight against terrorism because terrorism can strike everywhere. We can exchange information,' says French President Francois Hollande

COOPERATION. President Benigno Aquino III and French President Francois Hollande shake hands after witnessing the signing of various agreements between their countries. Photo by Dennis Sabangan/EPA

COOPERATION. President Benigno Aquino III and French President Francois Hollande shake hands after witnessing the signing of various agreements between their countries. Photo by Dennis Sabangan/EPA
The Philippines and France have agreed to step up their cooperation in the fight against terrorism as their leaders called on the international community to close their ranks against the scourge.
President Benigno Aquino III and French President Francois Hollande made the call on Thursday, February 26, in the wake of of growing concerns over "lone wolves" – terrorists who act on their own and do not associate themselves with particular groups.

"We…agreed to intensify the call on the international community to work together in order to fight terrorism in all its forms, as a common scourge to mankind," Aquino said in a statement at his joint news conference with Hollande, who arrived in Manila that day for a two-day state visit.

Hollande said that he initiated the topic with Aquino during their bilateral meeting.

"We have decided to intensify our cooperation in the fight against terrorism because terrorism can strike everywhere. We can exchange information. We can monitor certain individuals. We can act in such a way as to eradicate the causes of terrorism," Hollande said.

The French leader added, "President Aquino and I are in a complete agreement on the fight against terrorism."

Hollande's state visit comes in the wake of the deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly publication, in Paris.

Aquino also stressed the importance of intelligence sharing. "A common problem between France and the Philippines is the presence of terrorists that are not organized or not falling into previously organized groups that somehow somebody has intelligence on," Aquino said.

"The worry in our case is we call them 'lone wolf;' somebody who comes in, who is not in the database of anybody, who has been radicalized sometimes by the Internet and doing these nefarious deeds," he added.

He said in view of this, "exchanges of intelligence, exchanges of best practices [have] been discussed between France and ourselves to fortify our respective countries with regards to terrorism."


In his toast at the state dinner in honor of Hollande, Aquino said their countries have a "brotherhood pledged to protecting the principles that serve as the firm foundation of our nations: the belief in the democratic way of life, the pursuit of justice and the preservation of one’s rights, and the promotion of the rule of law."

"Thus, I could not help but be appalled when I heard of the tragedy that struck the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. Such savagery should have no place in this world, and my countrymen and I are in full support of the people of France, as you uphold human dignity and work to protect the blessings of democracy," he said.

Aquino added that the Philippines will rally behind France in its efforts against terrorism, and its other global acvodacies.

"Whether in denying haven to those who seek to undermine freedom and justice through extremist means, in fighting for peace and order, or in building a world that is more resilient and more inclusive, your efforts truly reflect your deep commitment to the principles that we share," he said.

The Philippine leader added, "I assure you: I am one with you in treading this path towards a better, more sustainable future for both our peoples and the wider community of nations."

The Philippines itself is battling to rid the country of foreign terrorists in the Philippines who have been in the country for decades.

On January 25, a manhunt for top Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir (alias Marwan) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, resulted in the death of 65 people, including 44 elite cops.

Pemberton murder trial starts March 23 – court

From Rappler (Jul 27): Pemberton murder trial starts March 23 – court

US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, accused of killing Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude, makes an unexpected appearance at the pre-trial conference in Olongapo City

FIRST PUBLIC APPEARANCE. US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton appears in an Olongapo court over the alleged murder of transgender Filipino Jennifer Laude on December 19, 2014. Photo courtesy of Marilou Laude

FIRST PUBLIC APPEARANCE. US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton appears in an Olongapo court over the alleged murder of transgender Filipino Jennifer Laude on December 19, 2014. Photo courtesy of Marilou Laude

The murder trial of US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, accused of murdering Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude, has been set on March 23.

Olongapo City RTC Branch 74 Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde announced the trial date on Friday, February 26, after the pre-trial conference which was attended by Pemberton.

The 19-year-old Pemberton's presence at the pre-trial conference, which included the stipulation of facts and the identification of witnesses, was unexpected as the court had granted his motion to let his lawyer represent him in court for the duration of the trial except when his presence is needed.

Laude family counsel Virgie Suarez told reporters after the pre-trial conference that they were surprised when they saw Pemberton, but said it was good he was there.

"It's good that he attended and he heard all the stipulation of facts," Suarez said.

Plea bargaining was not discussed at the pre-trial conference as Laude’s family had already manifested their position not to agree or allow plea bargaining.

Pemberton was arraigned on February 23 but did not enter a plea, prompting the court to plead not guilty on his behalf.

Days before his arraignment, the Department of Justice junked the appeal of Pemberton to overturn the finding of probable cause against him for the crime of murder.

Pemberton had appealed the DOJ's January 27 dismissal of his plea to downgrade his crime from murder to homicide.

Both the prosecution and defense had agreed on a two-day continuous trial, set every Monday and Tuesday, from March 23 until September 22, 2015.

Pemberton is an active US marine who participated in the Philippines-US joint military exercises last year.

He was charged with killing Laude, whom he met and allegedly murdered on October 11, 2014, while he was on shore leave.

The two met at the Ambyanz Nightlife Bar along Magsaysay Drive in Olongapo Central District and later entered the nearby Celzone Lodge where hotel employees later found Laude dead in a toilet.

8,600 in evacuation centers due to clashes in North Cotabato

From Rappler (Jul 27): 8,600 in evacuation centers due to clashes in North Cotabato

The social welfare department has provided food packs worth P265,370 to thousands of families in 8 evacuation centers

Most of the families affected by clashes between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in North Cotabato have fled to 8 evacuation centers, according to the social welfare department.

As of Wednesday, February 25, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported 1,820 families or 9,100 persons being affected by the clashes that broke out reportedly because of rido or clan wars between commanders.

Of this number, 1,733 families or 8,665 persons are in 8 evacuation centers.

This is lower than figures earlier cited by Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr as he ordered the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) to "conduct all-out offensive operations" against the BIFF.

The order took effect Wednesday. (READ: AFP orders all-out war vs BIFF)

DSWD Assistant Secretary and spokesperson Javier Jimenez said in a press conference Friday, February 27, that other families may have sought temporary shelters elsewhere, or with relatives and friends.

The department and the local government unit (LGU) have both provided family food packs worth P265,370 ($6,019.32)* and P175,000 ($3,969.4), respectively. About 45,000 family food packs from DSWD’s Region XII office are also ready for distribution.

"Patuloy yung pag-provide ng DSWD ng family food packs at tumutulong [kami] doon sa management ng evacuation centers na [pinamamahalaan] ng LGU," Jimenez added. (DSWD continues to provide family food packs, and we also help in the LGU's management of evacuation centers.)

The BIFF has presence in the boundaries of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and North Cotabato. It is the breakaway group of the MILF, which is engaged in peace talks with the government.

In the execution of the AFP order, Catapang reminded unit commanders to properly coordinate operations "within the framework of the ceasefire mechanisms."

Explosion hits Basilan church

From Rappler (Feb 27): Explosion hits Basilan church

No property damage or casualties have been reported

BLAST SITE. Authorities secure the site of an explosion in Lamitan City, Basilan, on February 28. Photo by Richard Falcatan

BLAST SITE. Authorities secure the site of an explosion in Lamitan City, Basilan, on February 28. Photo by Richard Falcatan
An explosion rocked Lamitan City, Basilan, in front of St Peter Catholic Church, on Friday February 28, at around 9:25 pm. The explosion is believed to have been caused by an improvised explosive device (IED).

Authorities are still investigating the motive behind the blast.

No property damage or casualties have been reported. Local law enforcement responded to the blast and are securing the scene of the explosion.
"This incident makes me feel sad and caught me by surprise," said Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad.

He added, "Let us not drag religion to let it appear that there is tension between Muslims and Catholics. This is the work of evil people and let us not be carried by our emotions."

US flies most advanced surveillance plane from PH

From InterAksyon (Feb 27): US flies most advanced surveillance plane from PH

A US P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft (Reuters/US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Daniel J. Meshel/Handout)

The United States has begun flying its most advanced surveillance aircraft, the P-8A Poseidon, out of the Philippines for patrols over the South China Sea, the US Navy said on Thursday, acknowledging the flights for the first time.

The United States, the Philippines' oldest and closest ally, has promised to share "real time" information on what is happening in Philippine waters as China steps up its activities in the South China Sea.

China claims most of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.

The US Navy said in a statement it demonstrated the capabilities of P-8A in both littoral and open ocean environments, explaining the aircraft's multi-mission sensors to Philippine forces.

"It was a remarkable opportunity to work alongside the members of the Filipino armed forces," said US Navy Lieutenant Matthew Pool, Combat Air Crew 4 patrol plane commander.

"Sharing this aircraft's capabilities with our allies only strengthens our bonds."

The United States says it does not take sides in disputes between China and other South China Sea claimants and it calls on them to negotiate a formal maritime Code of Conduct.

The Unites States has also called for a freeze on provocative acts in the sea but China rejects US involvement in the dispute.

China accuses the United States of emboldening claimants such as the Philippines and Vietnam with its military "pivot" back to Asia.

The P-8A was deployed in the Philippines for three weeks until Feb. 21, making more than 180 flight hours over the South China Sea, the US Navy said.

Armed Forces spokesman Colonel Restituto Padilla said the US Navy has been operating P-3C Orions since 2012 from Philippine bases under a bilateral security agreement that sees US forces rotate through the Philippines.

He said P-8A aircraft replaced the Orions on the rotations last year but the allies had made no announcement of its flights.

"We expect more surveillance planes to be deployed in the Philippines, increasing the frequency of rotation," Padilla said.

Thousands flee, highway closed as Army, BIFF clash in Maguindanao

From InterAksyon (Feb 27): Thousands flee, highway closed as Army, BIFF clash in Maguindanao

Military armed vehicles in Maguindanao (file)

DATU SAUDI AMPATUAN, Maguindanao -- An ongoing clash between the Army and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Maguindanao has sent thousands of residents fleeing their homes and shut down the highway passing through part of the province.

“There was massive evacuation of civilians,” Captain Joann Petinglay, spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division, said, although she explained that residents began evacuating early Friday after sighting BIFF fighters in Barangay Kitango, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, well before the rebels engaged troops of the 45th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Maytumaig, Datu Unsay town around 9:30 a.m.

The running gun battle continues to rage as of this posting near the stretch of highway between Crossing Salbo in Datu Saudi Ampatuan up to the Datu Unsay town hall.

Road closed

Because of the heavy fighting, the road from Dalican in Datu Odin Sinsuat town up to the provincial capital Shariff Aguak has been closed to traffic, with armored personnel carriers and artillery positioned beside the highway.

Petinglay confirmed that armored vehicles of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade have been deployed along the highway between Talayan and Datu Saudi Ampatuan.

[Video report]

What went before

Friday's hostilities comes on the heels of last week's clashes between the BIFF and Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters in Pkiti, North Cotabato and Pagalungan, Maguindanao that drove up to 30,000 persons from their homes.

The Army later entered the fray on the side of the MILF, with whom government has signed a peace treaty.

The BIFF broke away from the MILF a few years back after disagreeing with the direction peace talks were heading.

Last year, the MILF and the government signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro to end decades of fighting, but the peace pact and the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which would create a new autonomous homeland in Mindanao, have been put under question by the January 25 Mamasapano incident.

A Special Action Force mission to get Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias "Marwan," who is said to have been killed, turned into a disaster when a clash broke out between the police commandos and the MILF.

The fighting left 44 SAF commandos, 18 MILF fighters and at least five civilians dead.

Troops, BIFF clash in Maguindanao

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Feb 27): Troops, BIFF clash in Maguindanao

Government forces clashed Friday with BIFF rebels in the province of Maguindanao in the restive Muslim autonomous region in southern Philippines, but there were no immediate reports of casualties on both sides.

The fighting erupted in the town of Datu Unsay, a known stronghold of the Ampatuan political clan which is opposed to Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu.

Mangudadatu, who also belongs to a powerful political clan, accused his rival as among those involved in the brutal killings of 44 police commandos on January 25 during a secret anti-terror operation that took down Malaysian bomber Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan in Mamasapano town.

Police tagged the BIFF and Moro Islamic Liberation Front members and armed civilians as behind the killings of the Special Action Force commandos in Tukanalipao village, a known stronghold of the MILF, which signed a peace deal with Manila last year.

The Western Mindanao Command and 6th Infantry Division did not release any information on the progress of the new offensive ordered by Philippine military chief General Gregorio Catapang against the BIFF, a breakaway group from the larger MILF now fighting for Muslim independence in the troubled region.

But Abu Misry Mama, a spokesman for the BIFF, said they are ready to face the military offensive and even dared army and police commanders to come and get them.

The MILF has joined the military in the hunt for BIFF members as part of the peace agreement.

Some BIFF and MILF commanders had previously clashed in North Cotabato and Maguindanao not because of the renewed government offensive, but due to old grudge and territorial claims and control over vast tracts of land in the provinces.

Despite the fighting among its commanders, most of the BIFF and MILF members are relatives and have defended each other or fought side by side against government forces.

The military and police authorities have previously accused the MILF of coddling Zulkifli and Abdulbasit Usman, a former member of the rebel group, and other Malaysian and Indonesian members of the Jemaah Islamiya. But the MILF has strongly denied this allegation.

Zulkifli was killed by police commandos inside a thatched hut deep inside the territory of the MILF 105th Base Command. His hideout was recently burned down, but authorities could not say who was behind it.

Police commandos were on their way to re-join more than 300 SAF members deployed near the village after killing Zulkifli and cutting off his finger for DNA analysis when MILF forces, aided by BIFF ambushed them that sparked daylong clashes.

The MILF recently surrendered to the military – at least 16 weapons, mostly automatic rifles, including two machine guns – inside the headquarters of the 6th Infantry Division in Maguindanao. The weapons were then handed over to the police, but SAF sources claimed the guns had been cannibalized and that many of its parts were either taken out or replaced with defective mechanism.

But a Catholic priest Father Eliseo Mercado alleged that the MILF surrendered the weapons in exchange for money, an accusation that the rebel group strongly denied.

Mohagher Iqbal, an MILF vice chairman and chief peace negotiator of the group, said the handover of the weapons was a gesture of their sincerity to the peace process. He also denied media reports quoting him as saying that renewed hostilities may breakout in the restive region if the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law or BBL is rejected by Congress.

Lawmakers shelved the BBL until investigations into the deadly clashes between SAF and MILF is completed. The BBL is important in crafting a new Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao.

At least 18 MILF and five BIFF were killed in the fierce fighting that the Aquino government claimed was a mis-encounter. Muslim human rights groups also claimed that 7 civilians were also killed by the police, but this could not be independently confirmed.

The Mamasapano clash drew widespread condemnation and is now threatening not only the peace process, but the presidency of Aquino as public outcry for his weak leadership continues to mount.

Lawmakers also joined the police in demanding the surrender of MILF rebels involved in the killing of SAF commandos. But the MILF said it will not surrender those that took part in the clashes

Coverage Limited for Next Day or Two

I have picked up some sort of intestinal flu bug that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Coverage of Philippine news sites for the next day or so may be limited depending how I feel.

Best regards,
Retired Analyst

US: China is expanding its South China Sea outposts

From the Stars & Stripes (Feb 26): US: China is expanding its South China Sea outposts


A Chinese vessel, top center, is used to expand structures and land on the Johnson Reef, called Mabini by the Philippines and Chigua by China, at the Spratly Islands at South China Sea, Philippines, on Feb. 25, 2014. The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs released the image on Thursday, May 15, 2014. Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs
China is expanding its outposts in the South China Sea to include stationing for ships and potential airfields as part of its "aggressive" effort to exert sovereignty, the U.S. intelligence chief said Thursday.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was speaking at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on worldwide threats. His comments underscore U.S. concern over land reclamation activities that could fuel tensions between China and its neighbors over disputed islands and reefs.
"Although China is looking for stable ties with the United States it's more willing to accept bilateral and regional tensions in pursuit of its interests, particularly on maritime sovereignty issues," Clapper said. He described China's claims traced by a so-called nine-dash line — a rough boundary covering more than 80 percent of the South China Sea — as "exorbitant."
The U.S. is not a claimant of territory in the South China Sea but does claim a national interest in the peaceful resolution of the disputes in a region crucial for world trade. China says its territorial claims have a historical basis and objects to what it consider U.S. meddling.
Sen. John McCain, the committee's Republican chairman, displayed commercial satellite imagery showing expansion of the Chinese-occupied Gaven Reef in the Spratly Islands in the past year. He said China's expansion could allow it to employ weaponry, including anti-air and other capabilities.
Clapper said China was still in a construction phase so it was unclear what weaponry or forces it might deploy there. He said such Chinese activities in the past year-and-a-half, combined with oil drilling near disputed islands that caused conflict with Vietnam, was a "worrying trend."
The Center for Strategic and International Studies last week said Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan have over the years modified existing land masses in the South China Sea, and the Philippines is planning to upgrade an airport and pier on an island it occupies. But among the claimants, China is unusual in how it has been "dramatically changing the size and structure of physical land features," the think tank said.
China has had a troop and supply garrison at Gaven Reef since 2003, but it began significant construction there last year, building a new artificial island, more than 18 acres in size. The main building on the new island appears to have an anti-aircraft tower, the center said.

MILF: MILF wants justice for slain members, civilians in Mamasapano

Posted to the MILF Website (Feb 27): MILF wants justice for slain members, civilians in Mamasapano

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) through MILF Chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal also wanted justice for 18 of its fighters and five civilians perished during the Mamasapano clash between their combatants  and members of Special Action Force (SAF) last Jan. 25.

 “Justice should not only be on the part of government troops, but also in the Bangsamoro,” he said.

Iqbal also said Muslims and Indonesians can travel freely from Davao del Sur to Indonesia and vice versa without a visa, and it was hard to determine who is a foreign terrorist.

“The Indonesians are our brothers, especially for the Muslims because they are also Malay,” he said. “We are only according them the Bangsamoro hospitality. We don’t know what they are doing.”

His statement came about amid reports that an Indonesian was among those killed with the MILF in Mamasapano.

“The MILF has no links with the terrorist groups like the Jemaah Islamiyah,” he said.

Chairman Iqbal stressed that the ‘misencounter’ between the SAF and the MILF was a result of lack of proper coordination.

“It is not easy to prove unless there is an incident. We were the ones attacked in 2001, 2003 and 2008. What happened here (Mamasapano) was there was no coordination.

The last encounter between MILF and military was in 2011 in Al Barka. No coordination also when the military are pursuing the Abu Sayyaf. Since then, there was no encounter except for the Jan. 25, 2015 incident. We need coordination there”, Iqbal said.

“MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad has not yet issued any statement on the Mamasapano shootout as the MILF Special Investigative Committee is conducting its own investigation so that similar incident shall not happen again in the future”, Iqbal continued saying.

“It is for internal purpose so that we will know the truth and to prevent what happened on January 25,” he further said. “We will issue an executive report after we have completed the investigation”, Iqbal further said.

MILF: A time for sobriety, courage, and unity

Posted to the MILF Website (Feb 27): A time for sobriety, courage, and unity

A time for sobriety, courage, and unity

Below is a press release dated February 25 issued by business organizations affirming support to President Benigno Aquino III and the GPH-MILF Peace Process:

We, the undersigned business organizations, express our utmost respect and sympathies for the families of the gallant policemen of the PNP Special Action Force, as we extend our sympathies to the families of our brother Muslim Filipinos and the innocent civilians who perished as a result of the tragic encounter at Mamasapano, Maguindanao. We join the Filipino people in our grief over this tragedy and in the call for truth and accountability over this incident.

In the midst of national mourning, certain sectors and political players have openly called for all-out war in Mindanao, branded our brother and sister Muslim Filipinos as terrorists, cast doubt on the Bangsamoro Peace Process and the sincerity of the negotiators, and vigorously demanded the resignation of the President.

As members of the Philippine business community we do not and will not support such calls. WE CALL INSTEAD FOR SOBRIETY, COURAGE, AND UNITY. The Philippines has achieved much under the stewardship of President Aquino and his government: The administration’s credible campaign to restore integrity and good governance has gained traction and the respect not only of Philippine business but also the international investment community. Our conduct of international diplomacy and our insistence on the settlement of disputes through the rule of law have gained for our country unprecedented admiration and respect in the community of nations. From being Asia’s perpetual laggard in the last decade, we are now among the region’s fastest growing countries and our rapidly expanding economy is now the envy of our neighbors. Once ignored by international investors and tourists, we have re-established ourselves as an attractive business and leisure destination. From a people cynical and lethargic at our lack of progress and purpose, Filipinos are once again vigilant and assertive in national discourse.

We must not allow political manipulation to take advantage of legitimate emotion and grief to the point of trumping reason and endangering the gains we have made over the last few years. Rather than foster division among ourselves, we must channel our energies and efforts towards unity, reconciliation, and a genuine search for the truth, fully insulated from selfish political agendas.

We reaffirm our support for the Aquino administration and the Bangsamoro Peace Process. There is no other answer to the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people but total and lasting peace. It is in this context that we appeal to the Aquino administration and all parties involved to put the peace process back on track at the earliest time possible.

We fully realise, however, that the facts surrounding Mamasapano must still be satisfactorily established and justice must be dispensed where it is due. We therefore appeal to all the parties conducting inquiries— the PNP, the AFP, the MILF, the DOJ and both houses of Congress— to complete their inquiries at the earliest time possible and render their reports to the nation. Whether these inquiries will lead to clear conclusions and the satisfactory dispensation of justice, or simply add even more to the prevailing anger and confusion, only time will tell.

It, however, seems inevitable that President Aquino, as Commander-in-Chief, ultimately will have no choice but to render a full accounting on Mamasapano to the Filipino people. Let the chips fall where they may, but too much is at stake for silence to be invoked for the protection of old friends and allies. Only with a full and satisfactory accounting will justice be possible, and only after justice has been satisfied can the peace process get back on track based on the trust and confidence that is needed of both parties.

At a critical juncture in our history, we have a golden opportunity to preserve our gains and use them as a platform to put the country on an irreversible path towards inclusive development and political maturity. We cannot afford to squander 56 months of institutionalizing reforms, weeding out corruption, and solidifying our economic and social foundations.

Let us move forward with sobriety and courage as one united Filipino nation in search of Justice and Peace.

Cagayan de Oro Chamber of Commerce and Industry Foundation, Inc.
Employers Confederation of the Philippines
Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines
Makati Business Club
Management Association of the Philippines
Mindanao Business Council
Philippine Business for Social Progress