Thursday, April 2, 2015

Three soldiers hurt in Maguindanao blast

From GMA News (Apr 2): Three soldiers hurt in Maguindanao blast

At least three soldiers of the Army’s 2nd Mechanized Brigade were injured following an explosion in a government building in Pagatin, Datu Salibo, Maguindanao on Tuesday.

According to Army 6th Infantry Division spokesperson Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, the explosion was caused by a 40 mm grenade launcher around 9 p.m. that day.

The grenade exploded in the kitchen area of the Social Welfare department building resulting in shrapnel scattering in the room and injuring the soldiers.

The injured soldiers have been rushed to the nearest Army medical facility where they were given immediate medical attention.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Wahhabi threat to Southeast Asia

Opinion piece by Dennis Ignatius in the Malaysia Insider (Mar 30): The Wahhabi threat to Southeast Asia

The domino theory revisited

When I joined the foreign ministry in 1972, a major foreign policy concern in the region was that Southeast Asian nations would soon fall like dominoes to militant communism supported and abetted by the People’s Republic of China. Fortunately, the dominoes held.

Today, the old domino theory may well be applicable to a new danger: Islamic extremism.

The new frontier of Islamic extremism

Violent jihadi groups drawing inspiration and support from al-Qaeda and Isis have sprouted in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Armed attacks, suicide bombers, beheadings and violence against innocent civilians have made the news.

Young Southeast Asian Muslims are also gravitating to the battlefields of Syria and Iraq to join some of the most violent and extremist jihadi groups. The Jakarta Globe, for example, recently reported that more than 500 Indonesians have joined the ranks of Isis. Militants from Indonesia and Malaysia fighting in Syria have reportedly even formed a military unit for Malay-speaking Isis fighters – Katibah Nusantara Lid Daulah Islamiyyah (Malay Archipelago Unit for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and have participated in suicide missions.

According to some experts, jihadi groups in the region are using the Syrian war to create a pool of combat-trained and indoctrinated recruits for eventual deployment at home. Local security forces have responded by rounding up Isis militants and sympathisers.

Just as worrying, religious extremism is now reaching alarming levels within Muslim societies with profound political and security implications for the entire region.

Once moderate Malaysia, for example, is awash in an acrimonious and polarising debate about the imposition of Shariah law that could drive the country to the brink of chaos. Muslims and others who speak out against Shariah are threatened, intimidated and harassed. The inspector-general of police, no less, has warned that even questioning Shariah law might provoke an Isis attack! The very fact that a constitutionally secular and democratic nation like Malaysia is even having a discussion about amputating limbs, beheading, stoning, and even crucifixion is mind-boggling, and telling.

While militant groups and hot-button issues like Shariah law have understandably drawn significant attention, more fundamental questions about the causes of Islamic extremism in the region have not been adequately examined. Why is the culture of intolerance, hate and violence that permeates so much of the Middle East now being manifested in Southeast Asia? What has caused this rising tide of Islamic extremism that is now threatening to overwhelm the region’s fragile democracies, stymieing nation-building agendas and fraying already tenuous inter-communal relationships?

The Wahhabi factor

Clearly, this growing extremism is not happening in a vacuum and neither are its roots entirely home grown. Security experts increasingly point to the Wahhabi ideology that is being aggressively exported by Saudi Arabia as the single biggest cause of extremism in the region.

Wahhabism, the official religion of Saudi Arabia, is an exceptionally virulent, narrow and militant interpretation of Islam based on the teachings of an austere 18th-century preacher and scholar, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792). Over time, it has morphed into an all-encompassing politico-religious theology that considers all other faith groups deviant, has no tolerance for other cultures, no respect for human rights, no love for democracy and an abiding distaste of Western values.  It is harsh, puritanical, unforgiving and violent.

The ultimate goal of Wahhabism is one global community with one creed (Wahhabism) ruled by one Khalifah (ruler), presumably the House of Saud. It makes for a grand strategy not just for hegemony in the Middle East but for global domination.

Over the last few decades, Saudi Arabia has spent more than US$100 billion (RM368 billion) exporting Wahhabism to all corners of the globe. Thousands of mosques, seminaries, universities, schools and community centres have been built, while thousands of preachers, teachers and activists have been educated, trained and dispatched across the world along with Wahhabi-approved textbooks and other literature.

The Saudi-Wahhabi nexus has such a stranglehold on Sunni religious discourse that its views now predominate. The House of Saud has also deftly used its unique position within Islam as Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to leverage strategic influence, respect and power over the global Islamic community.

The Saudi-based, Saudi-funded Muslim World League (MWL), founded in 1962, is one of the principal channels of Wahhabi infiltration, influence and control. It actively promotes Wahhabi doctrines, theology and practices on a global scale. The MWL has more than 56 offices and centres on five continents. No surprise, therefore, that Wahhabism has emerged as a major, if entirely negative, force in the world today.

Wahhabism also provides the theological underpinning for almost every violent jihadi group, is behind much of the impetus to replace secular democratic institutions with fundamentalist Islamic ones and is the main driving force behind the radicalisation of young Muslims in the world today.

Unquestionably, the Saudi-Wahhabi nexus has become the greatest single threat to peace and stability in the world today.

And it is now casting a long shadow over Southeast Asia as decades of Wahhabi infiltration, indoctrination and influence come to boil.

Southeast Asia: the next battleground?

Most of Southeast Asia’s radical groups – certainly groups like Jemmah Islamiyah, Abu Sayyaf, Laskar Jihad, Kumpulun Mujahidin Malaysia and Jemmah Salafiyah – have ties to the Saudi-Wahhabi nexus as did the 9/11 terrorists. Saudi organisations like the International Islamic Relief Organization (once headed by Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law) have been implicated in funding a number of these jihadi groups as well, prompting the US Treasury to declare some of its branches terrorist entities.

Over the years, Saudi Arabia has also built up a significant cadre of Wahhabi trained academics, preachers and teachers across the region. Many of them are now in the forefront of movements and lobby groups agitating for greater Islamisation, demanding the imposition of Sharia law, pushing for stricter controls on other faiths, and working behind the scenes to influence official policy and shape public opinion. What is unfolding is nothing less than the gradual “Saudisation” of Southeast Asia.

Urgent and decisive response needed

Southeast Asian governments have clearly been far too complacent and have failed to adequately respond to the mushrooming Wahhabi threat both from without and from within. They appear to be in a state of denial about the magnitude of the problem, responding with half-hearted measures to address the more immediate threat posed by militant groups while leaving the Saudi-Wahhabi infrastructure of extremism intact. They are too intimidated by Saudi Arabia’s religious credentials and too mesmerised by its wealth for their own good.

Worse still, negligence has often been compounded by complicity with some political leaders exploiting religion for their own purposes. It is no secret, for example, that in Malaysia a dangerous political game is being played with the Shariah issue despite the enormous damage it is doing. And in Brunei, the sultan has sought to outmanoeuvre the Islamists, as well as consolidate his own position, by pre-emptively declaring an Islamic state replete with Shariah law and restrictions on other religious groups. Only time will tell whether such a strategy will assuage the extremists or merely feed their appetite.

There is now a real danger that unless Southeast Asian governments act quickly and decisively, the region could end up a zone of violence, instability and stagnation instead of the vibrant and stable community they have spent many years developing.

Here are some urgent steps that should be considered in addition to security measures against jihadi groups:

1. Begin an honest conversation with the Saudis about the damage that Wahhabism is doing to their societies.

2. Work with the international community to identify and dismantle the entire infrastructure of extremism (the institutions, the organisations and groups, the schools and madrasas, the funding, the dissemination of extremist literature).

3. Reaffirm commitment to pluralism and democracy and aggressively incorporate its values into the political, educational, social and legal fabric of society.

Urgent action now might just give the many Muslim moderates in the region – like the Group of 25, Sisters in Islam and the Islamic Renaissance Front in Malaysia – the space and the time they need to reclaim the middle ground and reassert the essentially moderate, peaceful and tolerant nature of their faith before the dominoes fall to the extremists. – March 30, 2015.

* Dennis Ignatius is a retired Malaysian diplomat. He served in London, Beijing and Washington and was ambassador to Chile and Argentina, and High Commissioner to Canada.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

MILF: AFP, MILF launch construction of concrete foot bridge at Mamasapano

Posted to the MILF Website (Apr 2): AFP, MILF launch construction of concrete foot bridge at Mamasapano

AFP, MILF launch construction of concrete foot bridge at Mamasapano

The Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AF) Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, Von Al Haq, Spokesman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front-Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (MILF-BIAF) and Atty. Laisa Alamia, Executive Secretary of the Office of Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Regiona in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) launched on March 31, the construction of a concrete footbridge at Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao, scene of the January 25 bloody clash that killed 44 members of the PNP-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF), 17 MILF combatants and 3 civilians.

The P10 million worth project is being initiated by the Office of Gov. Mujiv Hataman and his public works secretary, Hadji Emil Sadain out of the ARMM’s savings.

Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad and Toks Ebrahim of the MILF also joined in the symbolic launching of the project, in the presence Mamasapano Mayor Benzar Ampatuan and local residents.

Al-Haq, in his brief statement said they are grateful to the ARMM government for having embarked on various infrastructure projects needed to address poverty and underdevelopment in Barangay Tukanalipao and surrounding villages. 

He said the “MILF will not disengage from its diplomatic dealings with government despite the "Mamasapano incident," which hogged the headlines and challenged the group's compact with Malacañang.”

Also present in the activity were Major Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan of the Army's 6th Infantry Division, Col. Melquiades Feliciano of the 601st Brigade, officials of the ARMM regional police office and Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. of the government’s ceasefire committee, which helps enforce all interim GPH-MILF security agreements in flashpoint areas in Mindanao.

Before the launching, Gen. Catapang urged local folks to put closure to the Mamasapano fiasco.

Atty.Alamia, lauded Catapang and Abad's involvement in the launching of the concrete footbridge  saying it can help convince local villages that President Benigno Aquino III will not let the Mamasapano incident affect the almost 2 decades peace negotiations. 

Maguindanao Provincial Engineer Abdulrahman Asim represented the Office of Provincial Governor Esmail Mangudadatu.

US Ship Blue Ridge rescues five Filipinos: What happened next was amazing

From Ang Malaya (Apr 2): US Ship Blue Ridge rescues five Filipinos: What happened next was amazing

Filipino fishermen from Itbayat, Batanes who were rescued at sea by United States Navy sailors last March 25 have finally made their way home.

Sailors aboard the command ship of the US Seventh Fleet, USS Blue Ridge assisted the Filipinos who were found adrift for four days and three nights after their fishing boat’s engine broke.

US Navy found them dehydrated and malnourished. Onboard the USS Blue Ridge, the five Filipinos were provided first aid, showers and change of clothes.

After days onboard the US Navy ship, March 30, they were turned over to Philippine Embassy in Japan. “After clearing Japanese Immigration, the stranded Filipinos experienced their first meal and their first night on land after their rescue. They underwent further medical tests to ensure that they continue to be in good health and they were provided additional clothing as protection from the cold spring weather,” the embassy in Japan said.

“While in Tokyo, they also took the opportunity to experience Hanami or cherry blossom season and visit the Franciscan Chapel, a Catholic church in Roppongi, for thanksgiving,” the embassy further said.

On March 31, the Filipino fishermen departed Japan to finally travel back home.

Their rescue, travel to Japan, stay in Tokyo and travel back to the Philippines showed how Philippines, United States and Japan actively cooperate in any situation.

Kin of slain gang leader warn of BIFF revenge plot

From the Philippine Star (Apr 2): Kin of slain gang leader warn of BIFF revenge plot

Relatives of slain gang leader "Bisaya" warned of a plot by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters to avenge his death last Sunday in an encounter with soldiers.

Bisaya, whose real name is Yusoph Abisali, was feared by folks in Maguindanao's adjoining  Mamasapano, Sharif Aguak, Datu Unsay, Salibo, Sharif Saidona and Datu Piang towns for personally beheading captives and Moro villagers convicted by the BIFF's illegal kangaroo Sharia courts.

Two other ranking BIFF commanders, siblings Norodin and Salahudin Indong, were also killed by combined combatants of the Army's 34th Infantry Battalion and the 1st Mechanized Brigade during Sunday's skirmishes in secluded barangays in Datu Saudi, Salibo and Datu Unsay towns.

Four soldiers perished while six others were wounded in the ensuing firefights.

Bisaya's ruthlessness first became news when he decapitated a farmer using a machete in a farming village in Midsayap, North Cotabato which the BIFF raided and plundered last year.

"The BIFF is planning to avenge his death," Bisaya's cousin, a 35-year-old peasant who asked to be identified only as Tasil, said in the Maguindanaon vernacular.

Another relative, Sindatuh, also a farmer, said Bisaya was groomed by his men and other BIFF commanders to become the group's chieftain in case its founder, the ailing Imam Ameril Ombra Kato, passes away.

Kato, who had studied Islamic theology in Saudi Arabia in the late 1970s as a scholar of then President Ferdinand Marcos, has been immobile since late 2011 after suffering a hypertensive stroke that left half of his body paralyzed.

The only constraint Bisaya would have faced had he outlived Kato were criticisms that he did not have characteristics typical of an Imam.

The issue has been raised against him by many preachers and radical jihadists in the BIFF when he was still alive, apparently to block his assumption as their leader in the event of their sick figurehead's demise.

"That was what the extremists in the BIFF did not like with Commander Bisaya. Most of those who liked him were ordinary guerillas on the ground," said a town councilor.

Bisaya became so charismatic among fanatical BIFF members when he killed with a pistol two off-duty soldiers while emerging from a Catholic church in the town proper of Datu Piang in a daring attack last year.

He had also executed three other soldiers out on a weekend pass in one attack after another in the past 10 months.

A local official, who is a member of a municipal peace and order council in an impoverished Maguindanao town where the BIFF and the military are locked in a face-off since March 1, said the outlawed group is bent on retaliating for the deaths of Bisaya and the Indong siblings.

The Indongs were both younger brothers of Imam Karialan, also a cleric, who helped Kato establish the BIFF in July 2010.

Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang had said last Tuesday,  while in Barangay Tukanalipao in west of Mamasapano, that the military will continue to hunt down the remaining forces of the BIFF on a calibrated, small-scale commando-style operations by Army Rangers to prevent collateral damages and dislocation of villagers.

The 26 military-BIFF encounters in adjoining towns in the second district of Maguindanao in the past four weeks had forced almost 130,000 Moro villagers to abandon their homes and relocate to squalid evacuation centers inside school campuses and government buildings in safer areas.

The evacuees had been surviving on food and water rations being supplied by the office of Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the provincial government of Maguindanao, through its emergency and disaster response group led by Lynette Estandarte.

Catapang told residents of Mamasapano, during Tuesday's launching of an ARMM-funded concrete footbridge project in Barangay Tukanalipao in west of the municipality, that evacuees can start returning to their homes since the government's all out law enforcement campaign against the BIFF had been deescalated.

The BIFF, which coddled slain Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir and his ethnic Maguindanaon cohort, foreign-trained bomber Abdul Basit Usman, now at large, was feared for imposing a brutal Taliban-style justice system in areas it once controlled.

The group was also implicated in recent deadly bombings of public places, buses and commercial establishments in Central Mindanao in months past.
Combined Army and Marine units took over seven BIFF enclaves in the province in the past four weeks in operations that involved some 3,000 soldiers.

Abu Sayyaf member killed, scores wounded as firefight erupts in Sulu

From InterAksyon (Apr 2): Abu Sayyaf member killed, scores wounded as firefight erupts in Sulu

Marines killed a member of the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group when firefight erupted Thursday afternoon in Sitio Poncho Kan Sahiron, Barangay Danag, Patikul, Sulu, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brigadier General Joselito Kakilala said.

As of posting, he said firefight was still ongoing, which started around 4 p.m.

A platoon led by a certain First Lieutenant Pagulayan of the 22nd Marine Company of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 2 (MBLT2) encountered more or less 80 Abu Sayyaf bandits led by their sub-commander Hairulah Asbang.

“We’ve no casualty on the Marine side. Our soldiers killed and recovered the body of the bandits. The bandits were withdrawing with them their wounded,” Kakilala said.

Also recovered from the dead bandit was a Baby Armalite, an M16 rifle, and a link ammo of a light machine gun.

MBLT2 commander Lt. Col. Hernani Abayon Jr. deployed more troops to pursue the bandits.

Diplomatic Access: The Philippines

From The Diplomat (Apr 1): Diplomatic Access: The Philippines

Philippine Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. on the South China Sea disputes, the rebalance to Asia, and more.

 Diplomatic Access: The Philippines

[For spring 2015, The Diplomat presents “Diplomatic Access,” a series of exclusive interviews with ambassadors from the Asia-Pacific region. By talking to these diplomats, we’ll give readers a sense of each country’s perspective on various regional economic and security trends — from TPP to the Silk Road Economic Belt; from the South China Sea disputes to the Islamic State. Check out the whole series to date here.]

In this interview, His Excellency Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., Ambassador of the Philippines to the U.S., discusses the South China Sea, U.S.-Philippines relations, and the Bangsamoro peace deal.

The Diplomat: From the Philippines’ perspective, what are the greatest threats to regional security?

Amb. Cuisia: From our perspective, the security threats facing the region include the tensions in the Korean peninsula, human trafficking and non-traditional threats such as cyber-terrorism and climate change.

In the case of the Philippines, the tensions in the South China Sea resulting from the actions taken by our northern neighbor is a major international issue. China has been undertaking massive reclamations in a number of reefs, such as the Johnson, McKennan, Hughes, Cuarteron and Gaven Reefs. China’s actions are advancing its nine-dash line position, which is an expansive claim in contravention of both the 2002 ASEAN Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea. China’s unilateral activities are not contributing to the de-escalation of tensions in the region.

What are the best ways of addressing these threats?

In the case of the tensions in the Korean Peninsula, there’s not much that the Philippines can do about it.

We are looking to the major powers to try to settle this issue. In terms of human trafficking, we have undertaken quite a number of measures to ensure that we guard against such a threat by enacting laws that protect our children and women. On cyber-terrorism, we are closely working with the United States in confronting this threat. For climate change, we expect the major countries like the U.S. and China to exert more efforts in addressing this global challenge.

When it comes to the maritime dispute, we have attempted to resolve the matter through diplomatic means many times but we have not been successful.  This is the reason we decided to bring the matter before the Arbitral Tribunal in accordance with UNCLOS. What we want is a fair, peaceful and durable solution to this problem.

That case will continue to move forward this year, with oral arguments in July.  What does the Philippines hope to gain from this case?

We hope to receive a favorable decision from the Arbitral Tribunal that will direct China to respect our sovereign rights over our Exclusive Economic Zone, continental shelf, contiguous zone and territorial sea in the West Philippine Sea in accordance with international law, especially UNCLOS. We hope that this will result in the clarification of our maritime entitlements. Beyond that, we hope that we can move forward in further enhancing our relations with China.

The Philippines will host the APEC summit later this year. Does Manila have any specific goals for what it wants to accomplish as the APEC host?

The Philippines will be hosting APEC for the second time since our hosting in 1996. Among our goals as host of APEC 2015 are accelerating regional economic integration within the Asia-Pacific countries; promoting human capital development; improving the regulatory environment; strengthening economic and technical cooperation; advancing resilience and sustainability; and mainstreaming small, micro, and medium-scale enterprises.  We look forward to working together with other member economies to ensure a successful summit in November.

It’s been almost a year since the U.S. and the Philippines signed an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. What progress has been made under the new agreement, and what issues still need to be worked out?

The agreement, which we also call EDCA, was signed shortly before the visit of President Barack Obama to the Philippines in April of last year. We believe this agreement, which was the outcome of almost a year of negotiations, will strengthen further the relationship between Manila and Washington. We are convinced this agreement will enhance our maritime security and our maritime domain awareness and at the same time enhance the inter-operability between our two militaries. It will also enable us to accelerate the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The EDCA will also enable the U.S. to strengthen its forward deployment capabilities in Asia by allowing the prepositioning of supplies, equipment and even personnel. The agreement would allow the U.S. to provide humanitarian assistance in the event of natural calamities. We believe that this agreement will provide mutual benefits to both our countries.

Shortly after the EDCA was signed, some cause-oriented groups who question the constitutionality of the agreement or who are not convinced of its merits filed a suit before our Supreme Court. The High Tribunal had already heard the arguments. I am hopeful that after the Supreme Court deliberates on the case, the mutuality of benefits that is characteristic of the agreement will be brought to fore and a favorable ruling will be made on the constitutionality of the accord.

Last year, Manila reached a breakthrough agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. What does that mean for the Philippines as a country?

After so many decades of conflict, we were finally able to forge an agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. This is indeed a major accomplishment of President Aquino. We believe that this agreement will lead to a new era where peace and development can reign in Mindanao.

The next step after the signing of the peace agreement is the passage by Congress of a basic law that would create the Bangsamoro entity. We hope this will happen by the end of this year. This will then go through a plebiscite that will be conducted in May 2016. We hope to get the people to ratify this law. The culmination of the peace process will provide the Government and the private sector the opportunity to focus on initiatives that will maximize the potentials of Mindanao, the largest island of the Philippines. Peace is the missing link to harness the full potential of Mindanao and to achieve economic development and inclusive growth in the entire country.

Solon moves to raise troopers’ P240 combat pay

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 2): Solon moves to raise troopers’ P240 combat pay

Did you know that the Special Action Force (SAF) commandos who were sent on that deadly mission in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, received only P240 in combat pay a month?

This has moved a member of Congress to file a bill raising the combat duty allowance of police and military personnel deployed to conflict areas by up to half of their monthly salary.

Cebu City Rep. Gabriel Luis R. Quisumbing, vice chair of the committee on national defense and security, has filed House Bill No. 5455 increasing the combat pay of commissioned and noncommissioned Philippine National Police personnel.

In addition, the bill will also provide a mission allowance to PNP and Armed Forces of the Philippines personnel “exposed to adversity, combat situations and hazards unusual to peacekeeping.”

Under the bill, the monthly combat pay of P240 will be raised to 25 percent of a service man’s base pay. The mission allowance will be 50 percent of the base pay.

Quisumbing is seeking quick passage of the measure, citing Section 5, Article XVI, of the Constitution which provides that professionalism in the Armed Forces and adequate remuneration and benefits for its members shall be a prime concern of the state.

Quisumbing said the dire situation of policemen like the SAF 44 and military personnel assigned to critical areas was “lamentable” and should be corrected immediately.

“With the risk inherent in such missions, PNP troops receive only measly salaries, allowances and benefits in exchange for the dangers they face in fulfilling their duty,” Quisumbing said.

PMA accepts 350 new cadets in a reception

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 2): PMA accepts 350 new cadets in a reception

The Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in a reception ceremony on April 1, welcomed 270 male and 80 female or 350 incoming cadets to compose PMA Class of 2019.

In an interview, Army Major Fara Candelaria, PMA Information Officer, said 270 male and 80 female cadets took oath at the Sun Dial area and was received at the Borromeo Field.

The reception marked the beginning of their military career, a journey in selfless service to God, country and people, Candelaria said.

In the ceremony, the incoming cadets were received by the Class of 2017, who will serve as their squad leaders and mentors during the New Cadet Training (NCT), their first two months of initial training in the premier military school in Asia.

The NCT include three courses - Basic Cadet Training, Basic Military Training and the Physical Training.

These are necessary in preparing the Class of 2019 for their incorporation and integration to the Cadet Corp Armed Forces of the Philippines (CCAFP) as bonafide members.

These cadets who went through and passed a four-day Pre-Cadetship Orientation and Training at the AFP Medical Center, V Luna, Quezon City, will be briefed about the basic regulations and on what to expect inside the Academy.

On March 15, 2015, 172 cadets graduated from the premiere military institution comprising the ‘Sundalong Isinilang na may Angking Galing at Lakas, Handang Ipaglaban ang Bayan’ (SINAGLAHI) Class of 2015 with Army 2nd Lt. Arwi Chiday Martinez, topping the class.

Army’s 9ID, parishioners celebrate Holy Walk

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 2): Army’s 9ID, parishioners celebrate Holy Walk
Rev. Fr. and Captain Juan Jerome C. Daluro, chaplain of the 9th Infantry Division, Philippine Army, on Tuesday led the annual Holy Walk of the military unit.

The activity was attended by soldiers of the division and parishioners of the St. Martin of Tours Parish, to where the 9ID belongs.

From the Christ the King Parish in Barangay Palestina in Pili town, the Holy Walk ended in Barangay Tinangis where the faithful erected a giant Cross carried by the soldiers and parishioners during the walk.

The Holy Walk is part of the enactment of the sacrifices suffered by the Jesus Christ to redeem mankind from its sins.

This is being done by the Army soldiers and the civilian populace every Lenten week as part of the activities of the Catholic Church.

Army in Eastern Visayas on heightened alert this Holy Week

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 2): Army in Eastern Visayas on heightened alert this Holy Week

The military has placed the entire Eastern Visayas region under heightened alert during the long vacation following the observation of the Holy Week.

All the army line units in the areas are given the discretion to elevate the alert status of their units depending on the developing and emerging situation in the respective areas of responsibility.

Army Unit Commanders were reminded to maintain security in vital installations, economic key points as well as places of convergence and ensure high state of operational readiness to deter criminal activities and thwart any hostile actions that may be launched by threat groups.

Capt. Andrew Linao, assistant public affairs chief of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division based in this city, said the unit deployed soldiers who will join the police teams in supervising checkpoints, while other soldiers will also be assigned to secure crowd-heavy places like terminals and churches.

The military and police in the region has also increased its presence in place of convergence and established assistant desks in key establishments as expected to cause influx of people in the churches, transport terminals and other public places.

“We will be securing hot spots especially tourist spots like beaches and other places that we need to secure and will continue to intensify the campaign against loose firearms, illegal discharge of firearms, and campaign against criminal gangs,” Linao said.

Meanwhile, the military has collaborated with various private agencies for the deployment of marshals at bus terminals and bus stops for the security of the traveling public.

“We have actually joined forces with the members of the PNP, security guards of establishments in the city and towns, for peaceful and orderly celebration of the Holy Week,” he added.

To recall, military units in insurgency-affected areas were also alerted against possible rebel-initiated hostilities in connection with the 46th founding anniversary of the New People’s Army last Palm Sunday, March 29.

Based on historically data, the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines is known to launch armed hostilities and offensive actions to highlight celebrations of significant events in the underground movement.

Police, military tighten Holy Week security in Zambo Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 2): Police, military tighten Holy Week security in Zambo Sur

PAGADIAN CITY, Zamboanga del Sur – The police in coordination with the Army’s 53rd Infantry Battalion have tightened the security measures to ensure the protection of the catholic faithful during the Holy Week activities.

Supt. Glenn Dulawan, city police chief, said that he assigned policemen at churches, including the Sto. Niño Cathedral, that are the centers of the religious activities from Maundy Thursday until Easter Sunday.

The other churches that are center of the religious activities aside from the Cathedral are the parish Church of San Jose, Balangasan, and San Pedro.

Dulawan said the detailed policemen are backed by Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team.

Dulawan said that soldiers were also deployed in the different areas of this city.

He said policemen and EOD team were deployed at the Integrated Bus Terminal to ensure the safety of the passengers from and to the neighboring cities of Cotabato, Dipolog, Iligan, Ozamis, and Zamboanga.

He said they did not discount the possibility of spill over of incidents since there were on-going law enforcement operations in the neighboring provinces although this city was relatively peaceful.

He also warned against the conduct of gambling activities such as clandestine cockfight citing Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are for religious activities and not for gambling.

Meanwhile, Senior Supt. Sofronio Ecladre, provincial police director, said checkpoints were also established along the highways leading to this province.

Ecaldre said the setting of checkpoints was in anticipation of any diversionary tactics the lawless elements might initiate since they were continuously being pursued in the nearby provinces.

Police foil alleged BIFF bomb plot in Cotabato City

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 2): Police foil alleged BIFF bomb plot in Cotabato City

Alert civilians and policemen foiled a bombing attempt here on Maundy Thursday, authorities said.

Superintendent Rolen Balquin, Cotabato City police director, said acting on tips from civilians, military and police bomb experts found a UK 72-type grenade along Sinsuat Avenue at about 12:15 p.m. Thursday.

Balquin said the fragmentation grenade was found at a roadside between the Al-Nor Convention Center and Cotabato Regional and Medical Center (CRMC) which was separated by Sinsuat Avenue.

While the police were trying to safely recover the grenade, members of the bomb disposal team found a suspicious bag across the street.

When checked, it contained a 60mm mortar improvised explosive device.

"It was really meant to kill or injure people, the IED has mobile phone as triggering device," he told reporters.

Balquin said explosives could be intended for other populated areas in the city but its couriers hesitated to push the plot after they noticed police checkpoints nearby.

He said experts first found the grenade near the exit gate of Al Nor Convention Center and was safely recovered.

As the members of the bomb disposal team was searching the vicinity, a bag was found suspiciously abandoned across the street where the grenade was earlier found, specifically near the concrete wall of CRMC.

He said the presence of soldiers and policemen along populated areas could have forced the bombers to abandon the explosives.

Balquin said police and military authorities have been alerted since March 26 as the city observes the Holy Week activities.

No one has claimed responsibility but a bomb expert said the IED was has the signature of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) or similar to those recovered by government forces in BIFF camps in Maguinanao.

Gov't peace and security initiatives gaining ground in Eastern Mindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 2): Gov't peace and security initiatives gaining ground in Eastern Mindanao

The government's peace and security initiative in Eastern Mindanao area has significantly gained momentum in the first quarter of 2015.

Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad, Eastern Mindanao Command chief, said that they have accounted for a six percent or 116 reduction in NPA strength during the first quarter of 2015.

In its latest assessment, the EMC said that it has recorded a total of 72 encounters with rebel forces since the lifting of the Suspension of Military Operations on Jan. 19.

This resulted in the confiscation of 155 firearms, the killing of 36 New People's bandits and their displacement from their 50 encampments during the first three months of the year.

"While we are pursuing these bandits in their lairs to uphold the right of the communities for a peaceful environment, our door is always open for those who want to surrender. For this quarter a total of 36 NPAs decided to return to the folds of the law. These enlightened brothers and sisters will be enrolled in the Comprehensive Local Integration Program," Baladad said.

He also reported that troops in EMC are also involved in the different socio-economic endeavors to resolve issues that breed insurgency in the countryside.

"Through our subordinate units, we have conducted 30 medical missions in the whole Eastmincom AOR, benefitting about 8,000 patients, mostly indigenous people. We have also facilitated the distribution of livelihood development assistance in South Cotabato and Sarangani Provinces, while assisting grass roots cooperatives in Davao Sur," Baladad said.

"Further, the Army engineers are in the forefront of building barangay roads in Kapalong and Talaingod in Davao Norte," the EMC chief further reported.

EMC chief condemns NPA senseless attacks on civilians

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 2): EMC chief condemns NPA senseless attacks on civilians
Eastern Mindanao Command head Lt. Gen. Aurelio Baladad strongly condemns the New People's Army (NPA)'s wanton acts of violence against civilians.

He made this statement after the NPA bandits admitted to the "mistaken" ambush of Gov. Maria Angelica Amante Matba on March 25, 2015 in Nasipit, Agusan Del Sur.

Matba was on her way to Barangay Camagong of the same town for the turnover of a school building.

The attacks against Matba's group was staged due to the latter's failure to coordinate with them, the rebels claimed.

"That is such a flimsy and trivial alibi. First of all, government officials do not have to coordinate with the bandit group to deliver services to the people in the countryside. Second, the NPAs staged their terroristic act on a busy road, to the detriment of the safety of civilians passing by. This is a clear violation of the International Humanitarian Law. Their actions and their words are contradicting." Baladad said.

In another incident, the NPA liquidated a helpless woman in Dominga, Calinan, Davao City last March 28.

"This is how the NPA define justice - by killing people who are suspected to be informants," the EMC chief stressed.

Meanwhile, Baladad directed all units to closely coordinate with the Philippine National Police to ensure the safety of government agencies as they deliver development projects in the country side.

"Let us not allow these NPA bandits to hinder our efforts to uphold the right of the community to enjoy an environment conducive for development," he concluded.

NPA fighter killed, trooper wounded in Sorsogon clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 2): NPA fighter killed, trooper wounded in Sorsogon clash

The Southern Luzon Command said that a New People's Army (NPA) fighter was killed while a trooper from the 903rd Infantry Brigade was wounded during a clash in Barangay Tagas, Magallanes, Sorsogon Thursday morning.

Col. Cesar M. Idio, 903rd Infantry Brigade commander, reported that a platoon from the 31st Infantry Battalion was conducting routine combat patrol when they encountered 10 heavily armed rebels who fired on them, triggering a 35-minute firefight starting at 5:30 a.m.

"An NPA rebel was killed while the troops also recovered two M-16 rifles, an IED (improvised explosive device) and five backpacks at the encounter site. More troops are poured in the area for pursuit operations," Idio said.

The wounded soldier is in stable condition and is now at the Sorsogon Doctors Hospital, he added.

The encounter was a result of relentless military operations in Southern Luzon targeting NPA guerrilla bases.

3 killed, 6 wounded in NPA ambush in Surigao Del Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 2): 3 killed, 6 wounded in NPA ambush in Surigao Del Sur

Three persons, including two soldiers from the 41st Division Reconnaissance Company and 4th Field Artillery Battalion were killed after they were ambushed by New People's Army (NPA) rebels in Sitio Ban-as, Barangay Mahayag, San Miguel town, Surigao Del Sur Wednesday night.

The attack took place 9 p.m.

Aside from the two soldiers killed, a civilian also died in the NPA attack which also wounded one civilian and five troopers.

Capt. Jasper Gacayan, 401st Infantry Brigade spokesperson, said the troopers were aboard a military truck passing the area when the NPAs detonated an improvised explosive device.

Not contented, the rebels continued firing on the injured troopers before making their escape.

Pursuit operations are still ongoing as of this posting.

2 ASG terrorists killed in Sulu fighting on Maundy Thursday

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 2): 2 ASG terrorists killed in Sulu fighting on Maundy Thursday

The war on terror continues without letup even on holidays as government forces killed two terrorists in a clash with an 80-member Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Patikul, Sulu at 4 p.m. on Maundy Thursday, a military report said.

Troops from the 22nd Marine Company of the Marine Battalion Landing Team (MBLT) were alerted by civilians about the presence of heavily-armed ASG terrorists led by Hairulah Asbang in Sitio Poncho Kan Sahiron, Barangay Danag, Patikul, Sulu, the military said.

The ASG terrorists were unaware that the military knew about their presence. They were surprised when they saw government forces in the area. Fighting immediately ensued.

During the gun battle, two ASG terrorists were killed who were left behind by their comrades who fled hastily.

The troops recovered one M-16 assault rifle and one Baby Armalite rifle from the dead terrorists.

The Marines did not suffer any casualty.

Pursuit operation has been launched against the group of Hairulah Asbang.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has scored heavily against the ASG during the last quarter of 2014, killing 27 terrorists, wounding 38 others and rescuing six hostages.

During the same period, the AFP also captured 27 ASG camps in Sulu and recovered 17 high-powered firearms.

The AFP has been relentless in its war on terror, particularly in Sulu and Basilan.

Even during the Holy Week, government forces deployed in these two southern islands continued their combat patrols to pre-empt any surprise attacks by ASG terrorists.

3 killed by NPA in Surigao del Sur ambush, says AFP

From GMA News (Apr 2): 3 killed by NPA in Surigao del Sur ambush, says AFP

Two soldiers and a civilian were killed while another seven were injured in an ambush allegedly perpetrated by the New People’s Army in Surigao del Sur Wednesday night, the military said Thursday,

According to the Army, its convoy of four vehicles was ambushed by the NPA in Sityo Ban-as, Barangay Mahayag, San Miguel, Surigao Del Sur around 9 p.m.

The NPA allegedly used an improvised explosive device (IED) fashioned as a landmine and opened fire on the Army convoy, resulting in two soldiers killed and five injured.

A civilian was killed while another was injured as they were caught in the crossfire between the two groups.

The Army strongly condemned the use of landmines, citing the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law prohibiting the usage of these.

PNP, AFP praise confirmation of Marwan's death

From ABS-CBN (Apr 2): PNP, AFP praise confirmation of Marwan's death

Philippine security officials on Thursday hailed the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's confirmation that a senior Malaysian militant with a $5-million reward on his head was killed in a January raid in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that also left 44 police commandos dead.

In a statement, the FBI said that after a thorough review of forensic data and information obtained from Philippine law enforcement partners, the bureau "has assessed that terrorism subject, Zulkifli Abdhir, also known as 'Marwan,' is deceased and has been removed from the FBI's list of Most Wanted Terrorists."

"We have got our man and (the operation) was a success," Philippine National Police spokesman Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo said in response to the FBI confirmation.

"We are glad we can finally erase all doubts about this death. We are now assured that the notorious terrorist has been neutralized," said Philippine military spokesman Brigadier General Joselito Kakilala.

The FBI confirmation provides some validation for the botched raid that plunged President Benigno Aquino's administration into crisis and jeopardized efforts to end a decades-long Muslim separatist insurgency.

Zulkifli was a top militant in the Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) which is suspected of carrying out the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings which killed 202 people.

The raid claimed the lives of 44 members of the Philippine police Special Action Force (SAF) who were attacked by Muslim gunmen after they raided Zulkifli's hideout on January 25.

The SAF commandos were sent to the troubled southern island of Mindanao get Zulkifli and a senior Filipino militant leader Abdul Basit Usman, who escaped.

The high death toll caused Aquino's approval rating to tumble to its lowest level since he took office in 2010 and prompted questions about the nature of US-Philippines cooperation on military and anti-terror operations.

Man killed in Bukidnon grenade blast

From ABS-CBN (Apr 2): Man killed in Bukidnon grenade blast

One person was killed while another was injured in a grenade explosion in Talakag, Bukidnon early Thursday.

Two grenades were believed to have been simultaneously thrown under a house rented by a certain Reylan Hustohan in Barangay 5.

Hustohan was killed while his live-in partner was injured in the incident.

Hustohan worked as a security guard of a banana plantation in the area.

Talakag police said about two or three suspects are involved in the explosion.

Mortars fired to drive away BIFF

ABS-CBN (Apr 2): Mortars fired to drive away BIFF

As Christians all over the world celebrated Holy Thursday, the sound of mortars from government forces were heard today in the town of Datu Saudi Ampatuan.

Datu Saudi Ampatuan Mayor Samsudin Dimaukom said they are used to the sound of the military artilleries.

He said that when government troops fire their cannons, this means enemies hiding in the outskirts have been sighted.

Although Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief General Gregorio Catapang halted the all-out offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), focused military operations are now being conducted in the area.

This means not more than one brigade will be operating against the BIFF.

A military source said officials are still going after some BIFF commanders and do not want them to regroup, which is why mortars are being fired where BIFF members are sighted.

Mayor Freddie Mangudadatu said he is disturbed with the thought that mortar shellings are happening while Christians are observing lent.

"Sana itigil na lang. Ang mga Muslim nirerespeto natin ang Semana Santa kaya sana matigil na," he said.

He called on the government troops and the BIFF to stop the fighting first.

Meanwhile, a hand grenade was thrown at a military outpost in Datu Salibo town in Maguindanao.

According to the local police, three soldiers were slightly hit with splinters in the incident.

Authorities also recovered two hand grenades along Sinsuat Avenue.

The bomb squad has safely recovered the explosives.

2 soldiers wounded in Sarangani gun battles

From Rappler (Apr 2): 2 soldiers wounded in Sarangani gun battles

Communist rebels and government troops in the South engage in a firefight for the fourth time in 3 days

OFFENSIVE. A file photo of communist guerrillas. File photo by Karlos Manlupig/Rappler

OFFENSIVE. A file photo of communist guerrillas. File photo by Karlos Manlupig/Rappler

Two members of the Philippine Army were wounded Wednesday evening, April 1, as gun battles continue to rage between the military and the New People’s Army (NPA) in Sarangani.

Lieutenant Colonel Ronnie Babac, commanding officer of the 73rd Infantry Battalion, said the government troopers under his command, were hurt when an undetermined number of NPA guerrillas fired at a patrolling team of soldiers running after the rebels.

It was the fourth time in 3 days that government troops and the NPAs engaged each other in a continuing battle.

On March 30, a platoon of soldiers first engaged a band of about 30 rebels in Little Baguio in Malita, Davao Occidental.

The firefight, which began at 6:50 am, lasted for 50 minutes. A military report said there were no casualties on the government side.

The NPA rebels were reportedly led by a certain Kumander Dong.

Another encounter took place at 2 p.m. as soldiers continue to run after the retreating rebels.

Then in the morning of March 31, a firefight also took place between another team of soldiers and another group of NPA rebels in Upper Suyan, Malapatan in Sarangani.

Reports said the latest gunfight where 2 government soldiers were wounded happened in Barangay Pag-asa in Alabel, Sarangani.

The series of firefight between the government and the rebels came just days after the 46th founding anniversary of the communist-led NPA.

Series of encounters

The encounters also came after a series of rebel setbacks that saw one of its top cadres perished in a military raid in February.

Tolentino Bariquit, a.k.a. Kumander Brigol, and five others were slain in a military raid last February 16. 

Brigol was tagged as the secretary of Front 71 although sources from the underground said he was the deputy secretary of the oldest guerilla front of the NPAs in the Socsksargen area (Region 12). 

The NPAs have been waging a Maoist-inspired guerrilla war since March 29, 1969. It is considered as Asia’s longest-running insurgency movement.

Babac said the NPAs in Sarangani have been put in the defensive as the military continue to hunt them down. 

“They have been deceiving the Lumads into joining them,” he said.

Babac however said more rebels are now turning themselves into the folds of the law.

IN PHOTOS: Brand new plane boosts Air Force typhoon relief capacity

From Rappler (Apr 2): IN PHOTOS: Brand new plane boosts Air Force typhoon relief capacity

The brand new C295 of the Philippine Air Force is ready for deployment

BRAND NEW: The Philippine Air Force receives the first of its 3 brand new C295 transport planes

BRAND NEW: The Philippine Air Force receives the first of its 3 brand new C295 transport planes

The brand new transport plane of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) is ready for deployment in time for Typhoon Chedeng (Maysak) that is expected to make landfall Saturday evening, April 4, according to spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Enrico Canaya.

"It can transport HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster relief) requirements like rescue teams, medical teams, and relief goods depending on what is needed," Canaya said.

OPEN RAMP DOOR: C295 allows easier loading and unloading because of the rear ramp door

OPEN RAMP DOOR: C295 allows easier loading and unloading because of the rear ramp door

The PAF formally received on Monday, March 30, the first of 3 brand new C295s from Spanish firm Airbus Military.

The medium lift-fixed wing aircraft is the equivalent of the F-27 Fokker transport aircraft in the existing inventory of the PAF. But unlike the Fokker, the C295 has an open ramp at the backside to allow for easier loading and unloading of passengers and cargoes.
"It's like a C-130 with lesser payload," Canaya said.
The military would have preferred the C130s but the budget allocation can only afford medium lift aircraft.
TOUR FOR TOP SECURITY OFFICERS: Air Force chief Lieutenant General Jeffrey Delgado (in blue) tours Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin (in white) and AFP chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr (in green)
TOUR FOR TOP SECURITY OFFICERS: Air Force chief Lieutenant General Jeffrey Delgado (in blue) tours Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin (in white) and AFP chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr (in green)
The need for more cargo planes was recognized after the back-to-back disasters of 2013 – the Zamboanga siege, the Bohol earthquake, and Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). The military only has 3 operational C130 cargo planes.
In the aftermath of Yolanda, the Philippines relied on cargo planes provided by foreign militaries to transport relief goods into the typhoon-ravaged island provinces and evacuate people out of these areas.
The C295 can carry up to 71 passengers, 50 paratroops, 24 stretchers with 5 to 7 attendants or up to about 20,000 pounds of cargos. It is also capable of short field landing and takeoff.
The delivery of 2 more units is scheduled next year although the military is hoping for an earlier delivery. 

FBI confirms with finality: Marwan is dead; removed from most wanted list

From InterAksyon (Apr 2): FBI confirms with finality: Marwan is dead; removed from most wanted list

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation has sent word confirming the death of the Malaysia terrorism subject Zulkifli Abdhir also known as Marwan.

On Thursday, News5 received a message from FBI's Joshua S. Campbell citing the following information supplied by David Bowdich, Assistant Director in Charge, FBI Los Angeles Field Office:

"After a thorough review of forensic data and information obtained from our Philippine law enforcement partners, the FBI has assessed that terrorism subject, Zulkifli Abdhir, also known as "Marwan," is deceased and has been removed from the FBI's list of Most Wanted Terrorists.

"The FBI's case against Abdhir is one of many investigations the FBI has conducted in cooperation with our Philippine counterparts. Once again, the men and women of the FBI express sincere condolences to the brave officers of the Special Action Force who lost their lives while attempting to apprehend this dangerous fugitive.

"The FBI's partnership with the Philippine National Police is among the strongest in the world, and we will continue to work in close cooperation with them to identify, disrupt, and dismantle terrorist networks."