Friday, April 10, 2015

US, Japan reiterate commitment as Philippines’ strategic partners

From Ang Malaya (Apr 10): US, Japan reiterate commitment as Philippines’ strategic partners

Known to be World War II opposing forces, United States and Japan express commitment to stand with Philippines in preserving peace and stability in the region as strategic partners. US Ambassador Philip Goldberg and Japanese Ambassador Kazuhide Ishikawa – during the commemoration of Araw ng Kagitingan, April 9 at Mt. Samat shrine in Bataan – both reminisced how former enemies turned into strategic partners.

“We all remember and never forget what happened here. Defeated in World War II, Japan has built up a free and democratic nation that upholds human rights and respects the rule of law,” the Japanese Ambassador said.

“Seventy years ago, we were enemies. Now, we are friends, close friends. May this friendship be forever.”

“Our cooperation in maritime security issues based upon the rule of law is a good example. Just this January, two defense ministers signed a memorandum of defense cooperation and exchange in Tokyo,” Ambassador Ishikawa said.

While Ambassador Goldberg said “make no mistake, as President Obama said last year during his visit to Manila, ‘our commitment to the Philippines under our Mutual Defense Treaty is ironclad.’ In good times and bad, we stand together, shoulder to shoulder.”

“Yesterday’s enemies are today’s allies and strategic partners—yet another legacy of the sacrifice and heroism of US and Filipino soldiers so long ago,” the American top diplomat noted.

China Says It's a Robust Force for Peace in South China Sea

From ABC News (Apr 10): China Says It's a Robust Force for Peace in South China Sea

China said Friday it only seeks peace in the South China Sea, rejecting comments by President Barack Obama that Beijing is using its muscle to intimidate neighbors in a region where U.S. officials say China also is aggressively creating artificial land to bolster its position.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that China advocated talks to resolve tensions between rival claimants to the strategic waters and island groups that sit astride some of the world's busiest shipping lanes, rich fishing grounds and potentially huge mineral reserves.
"I think you will agree with me that China has been a robust force for the preservation and promotion of peace and stability in the South China Sea," Hua said.
Obama said Thursday that the U.S. is concerned that China is not abiding by international norms and is using its "sheer size and muscle" to bully smaller claimants such as the Philippines and Vietnam.
"We think this can be solved diplomatically, but just because the Philippines or Vietnam are not as large as China doesn't mean that they can just be elbowed aside," Obama told reporters while on a visit to Jamaica.
Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also claim all or parts of the South China Sea.
In an apparent reference to the U.S., Hua said: "I think everybody can clearly see who has the biggest size and muscle in the world." She added that, "We hope the U.S. can ... genuinely play a positive, constructive and responsible role in promoting peace and stability in the South China Sea and the region."
The U.S. has increasingly expressed concern about continuing Chinese construction that artificially adds land to the reefs and islands it controls in the region, projects documented by aerial photos and eyewitness accounts.
U.S. military officials have said they could be aimed at hosting military facilities as part of an "aggressive" effort to exert sovereignty there.
Hua said Thursday that such work was mainly for peaceful civilian purposes such as aiding fishermen, but also served to "meet necessary demands" for defense. She also reiterated China's stance that its sovereignty over the area gives it the right to carry out whatever work it deems worthy, but that such activities are not directed at any third parties.
China says it wants a code of conduct between the parties to avoid conflicts in the South China Sea, but says the U.S. and other countries without direct claims in the region should stay on the sidelines.
While the U.S. says it takes no position on sovereignty issues, its mutual-defense treaty with the Philippines could draw it into a confrontation with China in the event of a military crisis.
Washington also strongly insists on freedom of navigation through the South China Sea and the presence of the U.S. Navy in the area is a source of constant frustration for Beijing.
On a visit to Tokyo Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the U.S. advocated that "no changes in the status quo are made coercively and that territorial disputes, which are long-standing, are not militarized."

Dismissed PMA cadet Cudia passes UP Law entrance exams

From GMA News (Apr 10): Dismissed PMA cadet Cudia passes UP Law entrance exams

His dream of becoming a military officer might have been snatched from him, but dismissed Philippine Military Academy cadet Aldrin Cudia might in a few years' time become a lawyer.

The Public Attorney's Office on Friday confirmed that Cudia passed the University of the Philippines Law Aptitude Examination (LAE) for school year 2015-2016.

The PAO is representing Cudia in his legal battle to overturn a PMA decision to dismiss him for lying about why he came late to class.

PAO chief Persida Acosta said even without a diploma to present, Cudia was still allowed by UP to take the test.

"Kasi may transcript siya na may note na (naka) indefinite leave siya," Acosta told GMA News Online.

Persida said this makes Cudia's admission to UP Law "provisional."

The results of the UP LAE can be viewed here.

In February, the Supreme Court had already turned down Cudia's petition against his dismissal.

The ruling, however, has yet to become final, as a motion for reconsideration later filed by Cudia is yet pending.

In its ruling last February, the SC found Cudia guilty of "quibbling" which constitutes "lying," when he explained that he and his previous "class" were "dismissed" a bit late, causing his tardiness for his next class.

The SC defined quibbling as a situation where a person creates a false impression to his listener by "cleverly wording what he says, omitting facts or telling a partial truth."

The SC said Cudia was considered to have "quibbled" because "by no stretch of imagination can four constitute a 'class.'" Cudia claimed he was with three other classmates when they were supposedly dismissed late by their previous class.

The SC said the PMA did not violate Cudia's right to due process when it enforced its rules on discipline, including the Honor Code, for lying.

The high tribunal said the case is "subsumed under (the PMA's) academic freedom" because the establishment of rules governing university-student relations, particularly those pertaining to student discipline, may be regarded as vital, not merely to the smooth and efficient operation of the institution, but to its very survival."

But in its MR, Cudia asked the high tribunal to "take a second hard look" at the facts and circumstances of his case, and clarified that it respects the PMA's academic freedom and does not "seek to deprive" the school of its rights.

In February 2014, the PMA Honor Committee found Cudia guilty of lying about his reason for being late for a class, a violation that led to his dismissal from the academy.

The PMA, the PMA Honor Committee of 2014 and the PMA Cadet Review and Appeals Board, through the Office of the Solicitor General, filed their consolidated comment last June 17, 2014. The comment was countered by Filipina in a reply on July 14 and later adopted by Renato Cudia.

Cudia did not march with the Siklab Diwa batch during the PMA’s graduation rites in Baguio City last year since his appeal was still pending before the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the PMA at the time.

Cudia’s classmates ostracized him after he opted to stay in the PMA even after the Honor Committee recommended his dismissal.

His family, however, has claimed there were irregularities on how the committee voted on his case and asked President Benigno Aquino III to overturn the decision.

Cudia's family insisted that the PMA Honor Committee should have acquitted the cadet because one of its members had originally voted in his favor. Under PMA rules, an accused can be acquitted with just one "not guilty" vote.

De Lima: Nothing wrong with US intel, medical assistance in Mamasapano op

From GMA News (Apr 10): De Lima: Nothing wrong with US intel, medical assistance in Mamasapano op

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Friday said she saw nothing wrong in the US involvement in the government operation last January 25 in Maguindanao that led to the death of more than 60 people, including 44 elite policemen.
In an interview, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said there was no "Constitutional or legal transgression" when the US military extended intelligence information and medical assistance to members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force conducting Oplan Exodus.
"And even if there is information that there was presence of several personnel in the command post, per se I don’t see any transgression," she added.
"We all know that we’re all engaged in the global war against terrorism. And therefore the cooperation between and among sovereign states is key, very crucial in terms of combatting terrorism," De Lima added.
De Lima said that under the Constitution, only the following acts are prohibited: "The establishment of military bases without concurrence of the Senate, the bringing in of nuclear weapons, and intervention in the affairs of the state as a sovereign state.

PHL needs 'all the help we can get'
The Justice secretary stressed that the Philippines "needs all the help we can" to secure the "largely unguarded coastal frontiers in the south." De Lima said there could be no transgression as long as the Philippine government retains absolute control in security operations.
De Lima said in February that looking into reports of US military involvement in the Mamasapano clash is "unavoidable".
More than 60 people, including 44 elite policemen, were killed in the police operation to arrest high-profile terrorist targets that led to a day-long clash with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has an existing peace agreement with the government.

Also involved in the clash were members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters splinter group and other armed groups.
In a February 5 report, the Manila Times, quoting unnamed sources, said the firefight erupted while American troops—after the US government supposedly paid the MILF—were fetching the terrorist targets from the rebel group.
In a Senate inquiry on the clash, relieved Special Action Force chief Director Getulio Napeñas said there were six US soldiers at the SAF command post in Maguindanao during the January 25 implementation of the operation to arrest wanted terrorists Zulikfli bin Hir alias Marwan, Malaysian bomb maker Amin Baco, and Filipino bomb maker Basit Usman.
He also said that the US troops provided the intelligence on Marwan who was killed during the operation. Napeñas, however, said that these US soldiers did not participate in the actual combat.
On Wednesday's hearing at the House of Representatives, Napeñas said these six US soldiers belonged to the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) which was conducting joint military exercises with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

JSOTF-P, which is based in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City, has been training and assisting Philippine counterterrorism forces in the Philippines since 2002.
Napeñas said the US military also supplied the comprehensive map of the target area in Barangay Tukanalipao in Mamasapano town just three days before the implementation of Oplan Exodus.
Napeñas said he requested a chopper from the US military for the evacuation of the injured SAF troopers on the same day of the encounter and not prior to the implementation of the operation.

The Makabayan-bloc at the House of Representatives has pointed at these as proof that the US had "direct and unlawful intervention and supervision" in the operation. 

China Says Construction in Contested Waters Is for Maritime Purposes

From the New York Times (Apr 9): China Says Construction in Contested Waters Is for Maritime Purposes

A satellite image from March 17 shows work on an emerging artificial island at Mischief Reef in the South China Sea. Credit Center for Strategic and International Studies, via Digital Globe        

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman on Thursday defended China’s island-building work in contested waters in the South China Sea, saying the infrastructure the nation was constructing around reefs, rocks and shoals was within China’s sovereign rights and would help ships in the event of typhoons.

The spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said at a regularly scheduled news conference in Beijing that the construction work was being used for maritime purposes and not aimed at making claims at the expense of other nations. China says large sections of the South China Sea are its territory, including the waters containing the Spratly and Paracel Islands, despite competing claims from Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and other nations.
“China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and adjacent waters,” Ms. Hua said, using the Chinese name for the Spratly Islands.
Ms. Hua said on Thursday that China was building “civil functioning facilities such as typhoon shelters, navigation aids, search-and-rescue centers, marine meteorological forecasting stations, fishing services and civil administration offices.” She said the projects would “provide necessary services to China and its neighboring countries, as well as international vessels sailing in the South China Sea.”
“Such constructions are within China’s sovereignty and are fair, reasonable, lawful and do not affect nor target any country, and are beyond reproach,” she said.
She added that the islands would also be used for China’s military defense but did not give details.
Ms. Hua’s comments were consistent with previous official statements by China in defense of its island-building projects, which emerged in the last year as another source of tension in the region. The area is believed to be rich in oil and gas and, perhaps more important, vital to regional shipping and maritime navigation.
In early 2014, countries in Southeast Asia began raising alarms publicly about China’s construction work in the Spratly archipelago. The Philippines filed protests to China against projects at two reefs, and the Philippine president said in June that he was alarmed by the movements of ships that could be engaged in island-building at two other sites. In May, the United States defense secretary at the time, Chuck Hagel, scolded China for its activities at multiple sites in the South China Sea while at a security conference in Singapore.
Ms. Hua made her statements after news organizations reported on photographs released by a research group based in Washington that showed ambitious construction projects around the contested Mischief Reef.

Solon says Mamasapano incident 'overdramatized' to disrupt Philippines peace process, weaken PNoy endorsement

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 10): Solon says Mamasapano incident 'overdramatized' to disrupt Philippines peace process, weaken PNoy endorsement

The Mamasapano incident is simply a police operation gone wrong due to poor planning and poor execution by the ground commander but being overdramatized by various political forces and special interest groups to disrupt the proposed creation ofan autonomous Bangsamoro sub-state and undermine President Benigno S. Aquino's accomplishments to weaken his endorsement power in 2016.

This was pointed out on Friday by Iloilo City Congressman Jerry Trenas as he lamented that even the sacrifices and the heroism of the 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos is now being questioned because of the overlapping and redundant probes on the Mamasapano incident.

"It is very unfortunate that there are now issues coming out that tend to question the sacrifices made by our 44 fallen SAF commandos. There are claims that some of the rebels were unarmed and were sleeping when they were killed by the SAF. There are now stories about SAF firing the first shot towards the position of the MILF and therefore they should be blamed for violating the ceasefire," Trenas lamented.

"This Mamasapano issue has become so muddled that even the heroic deeds of our fallen heroes are now being torpedoed to serve the political and personal interests of some political and oligarchic interests," he added.

The Visayan solon said that the Mamasapano investigation is no longer a quest for truth and justice but a ploy to maintain the status quo in Mindanao.

He noted that the creation of the Bangsamoro juridical entity through the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is apparently seen as a threat to certain business and oligarchic interests in the region because this would allow "new players" to do business in areas that they practically control, economically and politically.

Trenas said it is also obvious that continuing attempts to drag President Aquino into the Mamasapano mess is a propaganda spin to override the many accomplishments of his administration and weaken his endorsement power in 2016.

"I simply cannot understand why people keep on trying to blame the President for what happened in Mamasapano when his only role was to give the order for the arrest and the neutralization of known international terrorists? How can he be faulted for a police operation that simply went out of control obviously because the man who was assigned to do job messed up?" Trenas pointed out.

ASG death toll in Patikul encounter rises to 9

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 10): ASG death toll in Patikul encounter rises to 9

The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Friday announced that the number of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits killed in a fierce engagement in Patikul town, Sulu climbed to nine from 6 reported Thursday.

The number of wounded brigands also soared to 14 or four higher than the 10 reported April 9.

AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said such information was based on the updated report by field units who conducted clearing operations in the encounter site.

“Nine Abu Sayyaf members were killed and 14 others were wounded during the firefight,” Cabunoc said in Filipino.

Earlier, the AFP revealed that six members of the local terrorist group died in the firefight, which ensued at around 10:30 a.m.Thursday.

Two soldiers were killed and 15 others, including two officers, were also hurt during the gun-battle.

Members of the Army’s 32nd Infantry Battalion were conducting patrols when they spotted about 250 Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the vicinity of Sitio Nangka in Barangay Gata.

Cabunoc said ASG sub-leader Radullan Sahiron, who has been included in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s list of most wanted terrorists, was spotted during the encounter.

He said Sahiron has been separated from his group after the military fired artillery shells at the ASG positions.

Cabunoc claimed to have received reports that Sahiron’s companions are now looking for him.

The United States has offered USD 1-million reward for any information that would lead to his arrest.

Gov't knows MILF execs' use of aliases, allowed for security purposes – Palace

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 10): Gov't knows MILF execs' use of aliases, allowed for security purposes – Palace

A Palace official on Friday said the government is not worried if members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are using aliases while negotiating for the peace process.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte, in a briefing, said that “the real names of the MILF negotiators are of course known to the Philippine government.

”In fact, they possess Philippine passports as issued by the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs),” she said.

Valte explained that “when the peace process started in 1997, the MILF negotiators like previous rebel group negotiators — notably from the NDF (National Democratic Front), the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front), the CPLA (Cordillera People’s Liberation Army)— they were allowed the courtesy to continue using their aliases that they used as underground.”

This, she pointed out, is “a matter of personal security.”

”So, at least for us, the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) should be discussed on the basis of the merits of the law itself, or of the draft bill itself, and not other attendant issues that may be related but perhaps are not really at the core of the main points or the core points of the BBL draft itself,” she said.

Valte said they do not consider any deception on the part of the MILF officials when the latter used pseudo names.

”There’s no deception on their part because they made their real names known to government,” she said.

The Palace official said statements supporting or against the BBL and the peace process in general is but natural since “you cannot stop people from voicing out their fears.”

”What we are here to do is to open the discussion on the merits of the BBL and to continue to explain the position of government as to why we think that this is a real solution to the conflict that is happening in Mindanao,” she said.

Relatively, Valte said the recently convened National Peace Council, which held their initial meeting last April 6, does not need any Executive Order (EO) for it to be legal.

She explained that it was formed by private individuals and groups following the encouragement of President Benigno Aquino III for private sector participation but stressed that it is not being funded by the government.

”We have no hand in the selection, we have no hand in anything else. These community leaders and private individuals have agreed to form this Council, again, which will not supplant Congress in any way to be able to contribute to the national discussion on BBL,” she said.

Valte said all questions regarding the group has to be addressed to its officials because the government has nothing to do with the Council.

”My understanding is that at the end of their work, they will submit a document. I don’t know if it’s a report, their recommendations, but they’re really supposed to sit down and to discuss the merits and how the bill can be improved, and I think that is their end-goal: to make recommendations,” she said.

Extortion eyed in foiled bus bombing in Sultan Kudarat

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 10): Extortion eyed in foiled bus bombing in Sultan Kudarat

Police are eyeing extortion as behind the recovery of several explosives inside a passenger bus in Tacurong City in Sutan Kudarat province before noon on Thursday.

Supt. Junny Buenacosa, Tacurong City police chief, said Friday the incident could have been meant to “warn and scare” the owners of Yellow Bus Line Inc. (YBL), which owns the bus unit where the explosives were found.

He clarified that the recovered explosives did not have triggering devices, making them incapable of exploding.

“Based on our initial assessment, it appears that the company was the only target. This could be a part of an extortion activity,” he said in a radio interview.

Police operatives recovered the explosives at around 11:40 a.m. Thursday inside YBL deluxe bus unit 9208 that was en route to Isulan town in Sultan Kudarat.

The bus had just left the Tacurong City transport terminal and was traversing a portion of the national highway in Barangay EJC Montilla when it was stopped by policemen for inspection.

Buenacosa said the operatives found an abandoned package inside the bus that contained two live 60mm mortar shells, a rocket-propelled grenade “warhead” and a non-electric blasting cap attached to a detonating cord.

Citing a technical analysis made by the Army’s explosives ordnance disposal unit, he said the planted explosives were not meant to inflict damage as they lack any triggering component or device.

The official said that based on their initial investigation, the explosives were left by three men who boarded the bus near the Tacurong City public market.

He said the three suspects hurriedly alighted from the bus shortly after it left the Tacurong City terminal where it made a brief stopover.

Buenacosa acknowledged that they were able to find the explosives based on a tip from a “concerned resident.”

He said the informant gave descriptions of the suspects and none of them appeared to be among the four bus passengers that they invited for questioning.

As to suspects, Buenacosa said they are still determining their identities and their possible groups or affiliations.

But he said they don’t discount the possibility that the incident could be a handiwork of breakaway rebel faction Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Authorities had intensified their monitoring against possible retaliatory attacks by the BIFF as a result of the all-out offensive earlier launched by the Armed Forces of the Philippines against their forces in Maguindanao.

“Our investigation is still ongoing so we can’t make any conclusion yet regarding the suspects. We’ve been also coordinating with the YBL management to shed more light on the extortion angle,” he said.

Olimpio Par, operations manager of the Koronadal City-based YBL, initially declared that they have not received any recent extortion demands or threats from any group.

He assured that the company will cooperate with the police with regards to the ongoing investigation.

The company has also adopted various security measures to prevent a similar incident in the future, he added.

Baladad lauds 10th Infantry Division for successful arrest of ranking NPA leader

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 10): Baladad lauds 10th Infantry Division for successful arrest of ranking NPA leader

For their successful arrest of a ranking New People's Army (NPA) leader in Davao City last April 7, Eastern Mindanao Command head Lt. Gen. Aurelio B. Baladad on Friday lauded the officers and enlisted personnel of the Compostela Valley-based 10th Infantry Division.

Baladad expressed his congratulations to the 10th Infantry Division through Major Gen. Eduardo Ano.

Last April 7, joint operatives of the 10th Infantry Division and Philippine National Police arrested NPA leader Vincent Estrada alias Dennis Montecillo/Bords/Brod/Oban during checkpoint operations in Davao City.

The former is the NPA's Head of Regional Instructor’s Bureau of Regional Operational Command (ROC), Southern Mindanao Regional Committee (SMC).

He was arrested by combined operatives of the Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry Division and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) 11 of the PNP at a Task Force Davao checkpoint in Barangay Sirawan, Toril, Davao City at around 9:20 p.m.

Estrada was nabbed while aboard an Isuzu Bighorn (BDV-864) with a certain Zacarias Delos Santos Mancia, Jr.

He was arrested by virtue of warrant of arrest with CC#7610 for the crime of Kidnapping and Serious Illegal Detention filed before Regional Trial Court Branch 3 in Nabunturan, Compostela Valley Province.

Recovered from their possession were a caliber .45 pistol, two fragmentation grenades, one laptop, five cellphones, subversive documents and personal belongings.

Both personalities are now under the custody of CIDG 11.

Año said Estrada's arrest is expected to create a huge vacuum in leadership of the CPP-NPA operating in Davao Region considering the latter is a high-valued cadre which is very difficult for the communist movement to train and replace.

As of April 8, there were 16 NPA killed as a result of encounters with our security forces in Davao region and in parts of North Cotabato and Sarangani Province.

There were also a total of 37 NPA returnees as of this year in said areas.

“This arrest is a major setback on the part of the CPP/NPA in Davao region in addition to previous arrests of members of the NPA bandit group. It is also, a success on the part of the law enforcement and the maintenance of peace in Davao City. With the villagers in the far-flung barangays providing us information about the criminal activities of the NPA such as extortion, harassment, recruitment of lumads and deception activities, we are able to defend the communities from this bandit group,” Baladad said.

Since last year, five top NPA leaders operating in Davao Region were already arrested.

These are Dominiciano Muya, Felix Armodia, Jordan Donillo, Raunil N. Mortejo and Jasmin C. Badilla.

More cops in public places after foiled bombing attempt in Sultan Kudarat

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 10): More cops in public places after foiled bombing attempt in Sultan Kudarat 

Following the foiled bombing attempt at a bus in Tacurong City, police authorities here and in South Cotabato have placed all its units on heightened alert.

"We are on heightened alert, we seek the cooperation of the public," Supt. Nestor Salcedo, Koronadal City PNP chief told DXOM-AM Radyo Bida Koronadal in an interview.

Salcedo said reports have it that two of the three suspects arrested in connection with the foiled bombing attempt at Yellow Bus Line (YBL) unit in Tacurong Wednesday boarded the bus from Koronadal City bus terminal.

All police officers in vacation and on leave have been recalled, Salcedo said.

Police checkpoints have been established in the city's possible terrorists' entry and exit points with more policemen, plainclothes and in civilian attire deployed in bus terminals, public markets and other populated areas in the city.

Salcedo appealed to everyone to be on guard against suspicious looking persons, baggages and things left unattended.

Meanwhile, the management of Yellow Bus Lines Friday assured the riding public security measures are in place to prevent similar incident in the future.

Bernardo Bolanio, YBL assistant operations manager, internal security steps have been applied to ensure the safety of all passengers, drivers and conductors of all YBL units plying the Tacurong-Isulan-Koronadal-Gen. Santos City route.

Bolanio told DXOM-AM Radyo Bida Koronadal that all drivers, conductors, dispatchers and inspectors have been directed not to load or unload passengers in between terminals.

Inspection in all baggages and body search is being conducted before passengers can take on the bus, Bolanio said.

Bolanio said YBL investigation showed that the bus conductor remembered two of the suspects boarded the bus with body number 9208 in Koronadal City while the third suspect who allegedly carried the improvised explosive device (IED) boarded in the loading and unloading area of Tacurong public market.

Bolanio also appealed to local government units to deploy policemen in loading and unloading area outside bus terminals to ensure the safety of commuters.

At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Supt. Junnie Buenacosa, Tacurong City PNP chief, said three men hurriedly disembarked from the YBL bus after it left the terminal bound for Isulan town in Sultan Kudarat.

Suspicious of the acts of three men, the police intelligence agents accosted them and invited for questioning while other police officers chased the bus until it was flagged down at a police checkpoint in Barrio Dos, Tacurong City.

The three denied they carried the bomb. But an inspection conducted on the bus led to the discovery of an IED placed inside a cellophane and fashioned from two 60 mm mortars and live ammunition for rocket grenade launcher.

Buenacosa said the IED has no triggering device thus it will not explode while inside the bus.

He believed it could be intended for Isulan or somewhere else.

He said the three suspects earlier invited for questioning have been released.

Buenacosa also believed the suspects who transported the IED only wanted to threaten the bus firm after it ignored extortion demand from lawless elements.

Joint Bayanihan exercise in Region 1 successful

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 10): Joint Bayanihan exercise in Region 1 successful

Joint forces of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Army (PA) successfully completed a Bayanihan team activity training with a simple graduation ceremony and culmination program held at the grandstand of Camp BGen Oscar M. Florendo, this city on Wednesday.

Of the 103 personnel who completed the special training, 65 are members of the Regional Public Safety Battalion 1 (RPSB1) and 38 are soldiers of the 81st IB.

As part of the peace development initiatives of the PNP and the PA, Police Chief Superintendent Roman Felix in his capacity as Regional Director of the PNP said the joint training is in support of the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) which is expected to sustain peace, security and stability in local communities.

In his message, Major General Glorioso V. Miranda, Commander of the 7th ID, PA who served as guest of honor and speaker underscored the importance of collaboration of both the PNP and the PA to ensure proper response and successful operations. He also emphasized the significant participation of the local government units as prime movers of internal peace and security.

“The key to 'Bayanihan' is the blending of the ingredients in order to form a recipe. The ingredients of the entire recipe cannot be over simplified but the participation of the ingredients of this recipe is very important to attain our common denominator – peace, stability and security,” he said.

Miranda also gave a grade of above average to the graduates and even dared them that an outstanding grade of 100 percent shall be based on the satisfaction rating of the people they serve.

“The final indicator that this training is going to be successful at 100 percent is when the people we are mandated to serve and protect tell us that indeed they are going to be very happy,” he added.

For his part, Felix said Bayanihan is a continuation of the PRO1’s program of “winning the war without firing a single shot.”

The three-week training kick off on March 1, 2015 held at Bio, Tagudin, Ilocos Sur. Successful participants will be deployed as teams in different areas of concern covering the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union and Pangasinan.

Troops thwart ASG bombing plot in Sulu

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 10): Troops thwart ASG bombing plot in Sulu
Government troops have foiled a bombing attempt by a suspected member of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in the province of Sulu, a military official said Friday.

This came after a cellphone-triggered improvised explosive device (IED) was discovered early Friday to have been placed beside a videoke house located 50 meters away from the main gate of the 2nd Marine Brigade Headquarters in Barangay Busbus, Jolo, Sulu.

Capt. Maria Rowena Muyuela, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) information officer, said the IED was discovered after a civilian informed the sentry at the gate that a suspicious baggage was left around 6:10 a.m. Friday by unidentified persons beside the videoke house.

Muyuela said explosive ordnance demolition (EOD) teams of the Marines and Army inspected the area and found the IED.

Muyuela said the EOD teams successfully and safely disrupted the IED around 8:05 a.m. Friday.

She said the EOD teams recovered a tank of a gas stove filled with ammonium nitrate, a nine-volt battery and a cellular phone.

The bombing attempt is viewed as a diversionary tactic since the government troops are continuously pursuing the Abu Sayyaf bandits in the hinterlands of Sulu.

Muyuela said the intensified law enforcement operations continue in a bid to curb illegal activities in the province of Sulu.

Police rescue kidnapped Indian national; four suspects arrested

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 10): Police rescue kidnapped Indian national; four suspects arrested

Kidnapped Indian national Jaspar Singh Malhi was finally rescued by joint operatives on Friday morning in Calinan, Davao City after three days of police operation.

The police also arrested kidnapping mastermind, Jerry Singh, an Indian national; and, four other suspects identified as Noel Onin, Josephine Onas, car driver Kokong Pagalan, and motorcycle driver Julius Ibol. They were arrested at different locations in the city. Four more suspects however remain at-large.

Malhi, 31, and resident of Wellspring Village, Catalunan Pequeño was transported to the city from Sitio Salumay, Marilog on board the Rural Bus with plate number KVV631 when tracked down by police operatives in a checkpoint at Lacson, Calinan.

Malhi was immediately turned over to Davao City Police Office (DCPO) Director Sr. Supt. Vicente Danao, who has been leading the investigation and joint rescue operation. Danao has dispatched DCPO personnel, the first rapid deployment platoon, and Task Force Davao led by P/Chief Inspector Randy Sambalod, P/Sr. Inspector Bankalin Baluan.

The team set up a joint checkpoint at Lacson, Calinan upon receiving information that Malhi will be transported by the suspects to the city proper at about 4:15 a.m.

Malhi was kidnapped on Tuesday morning at Purok 4, Barangay Ula in Tugbok District, Davao City. Malhi was brought to Sitio Tagumpay in Datu Salumay, Marilog District where he was kept by the kidnappers.

It was learned that the kidnappers initially demanded P20 million until it was lowered to P3 million; then P20,000. But this was not confirmed by the police.

In an interview with media, Malhi said he knows Singh because they are in the same money-lending business. He said he borrowed a huge amount of money from Singh that he failed to pay.

During his three-day ordeal, Malhi told reporters he was fed with bread and softdrinks.

Singh and his cohorts were presented to Mayor Rodrigo Duterte yesterday at Grand Men Seng Hotel. Duterte said the suspects will be detained and charges will be filed immediately, including the woman.

US renews accord to fight human trafficking in Samar

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 10): US renews accord to fight human trafficking in Samar

The United States has renewed its commitment to fully assist the Philippine government in its war against human trafficking in Samar provinces.

“Just as the government recognizes that the fight against trafficking requires whole government approach, this summit demonstrates the commitment of the United States against human trafficking,” said Burak Inanc, deputy resident director of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).

“We stand with you,” he told participants of the two-day anti-trafficking in persons summit in the city which ended Thursday.

Rachel Parrish, US embassy human rights and trafficking in persons coordinator, also said that US will continue to join with the country’s efforts to end human trafficking, calling it as modern day slavery.

“We remain ready to support your effort,” Parrish said, even as she recognized that in 2014 US report on trafficking in persons, the Philippines “remained at Tier 2.”

According to the US embassy, the status means that the country “made significant efforts to combat trafficking; however, the country has not yet fully complied with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”

The US embassy, in an earlier statement, said that US funding for the Agency Council Against Trafficking “nearly doubled to the equivalent of approximately USD2.4 million in 2013.”

“We need to do more,” Parrish said, urging the participants to come up with more tools to investigate human trafficking cases and programs to support its victims.

About a hundred advocates, social workers and law enforces joined with other 15 local chief executives coming from areas covered by the 222-kilometer Samar Secondary National Roads Development Project (SNRDP) funded by over USD 214-million grant of the US government through MCC.

The mayors came from the towns of Hinabangan and Paranas in Samar; Borongan City, Maydolong, Balangkayan, Llorente, Hernani, General MacArthur, Sulat, Taft, San Julian, Quinapondan, Salcedo, Mercedes and Guiuan in Eastern Samar.

Organizing the event were non-governmental organization Philippines Against Child Trafficking (PACT) and Millennium Challenge Account-Philippines (MCA-P), which acted as the country’s entity in-charged for managing the implementation of the USD 434-million grant of MCC used to reduce poverty and spur economic growth by opening roads and other community-driven development projects in the Philippines.

Bingle HB Gutierrez, deputy managing director for operation of MCA-P, said their partnership with PACT includes “information, education and communication campaign against trafficking in person which includes a series of community education and training session continuously being carried out in SNRDP areas since 2013 aimed at raising awareness on human trafficking especially in detecting and reporting potential trafficking in persons cases.”

With their partnership, 559 social workers, police officers, teachers and community organizers were trained as educators who in turn, conducted echo training in their respective communities.

The community education sessions have benefited 14,000 individuals in barangays and schools on RA 9208 or Anti-trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, it added.

Maria Salome Ujano, PACT national coordinator, said that solving human trafficking in the Philippines needs “multi-agency efforts” especially if fighting against rich and powerful offenders.

“Psycho-social support to the victims is very important considering the lack in number of social workers in our local government units and counselling is least of their priority,” Ujano said.

Ujano disclosed that aside from poverty, higher incidence of human trafficking can also be attributed to out-migration, too much exposure to internet and materialism, family violence, travel and tourism, lack of knowledge on law and fear of retaliation, among others.

Citing a report from Department of Justice on updates on trafficking in persons convictions through Inter-agency Council Against Trafficking, Ujano said that from 2005 to February 23, 2015, the number of convictions on human trafficking in the Philippines reached 180 while number of persons convicted totaled 202.

During the summit, the mayors signed a statement of commitment to support the country’s anti-trafficking law, which includes passing local ordinances on anti-trafficking in persons, strengthening their anti-trafficking committee, and coming up with program and services for victims of human trafficking like social reintegration.

Officials from the Regional Inter-agency Council Against Trafficking in Persons (RIACAT), Philippine Commission on Women, and Council for the Welfare of Children also discussed on challenges in addressing human trafficking issues faced by local government units, with the presence of Atty. Neil Simon Silva, assistant secretary of Inter-agency Council Against Trafficking, Department of Justice.

In March 2013, the US embassy and PACT signed an agreement to carry out a massive campaign against human trafficking in towns covered by the US-funded road projects in Samar and Eastern Samar provinces.

NPA rebels abandon camp to evade advancing troops in Misamis Occidental

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 10): NPA rebels abandon camp to evade advancing troops in Misamis Occidental

Government forces have discovered a newly abandoned camp of the New People’s Army (NPA) in the hinterlands of Misamis Occidental, a military official said Friday.

Capt. Maria Rowena Muyuela, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) information officer, said the camp was discovered around 8:40 a.m. Thursday in Barangay Hoyohoy, Tangub, Misamis Occidental.

Muyuela said the troops from the Army’s 55th Infantry Battalion and Intelligence Service Group under the Joint Task Force Zampelan (Zamboanga Peninsula and Lanao) were conducting clearing operations when they discovered the NPA encampment.

She said the ground troops reported that the NPA rebels abandoned the camp three days ago as they evaded the advancing government forces.

Muyuela said the NPA rebels have splintered into smaller groups as they evaded the troops.

She said the abandoned camp was the site of a clash last April 6 between government forces and NPA rebels.

The troops have recovered war materials and documents of high-intelligence value the NPA rebels abandoned following a 40-minute firefight.

10 pm curfew, nightclub ban imposed on US troops in PH

From Rappler (Apr 10): 10 pm curfew, nightclub ban imposed on US troops in PH

'Liberty is not authorized in the Philippines,' the spokesman of the US Pacific Command tells Rappler

WAR GAMES. A US soldier looks on as Filipinos fire their rifles in a mock 'assault' scenario as part of the PH-US joint military live fire exercises in May 2014. Photo by Dennis Sabangan/EPA

WAR GAMES. A US soldier looks on as Filipinos fire their rifles in a mock 'assault' scenario as part of the PH-US joint military live fire exercises in May 2014. Photo by Dennis Sabangan/EPA

The nearly 7,000 American soldiers participating in war games in the Philippines this month will have to follow the restrictions imposed on all US servicemen deployed in the country, including a 10 pm curfew and a ban on entering bars and nightclubs.

"Liberty is not authorized in the Philippines," Major Dave Eastburn, spokesman of the Hawaii-based US Pacific Command, told Rappler.
The liberty policy that was adjusted in late 2014 following the death of Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude, allegedly in the hands of US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton, remains in force.
It means the movement of US troops outside official activities will be strictly limited within the vicinity of their respective hotels.

"Liberty is not authorized in the Philippines. Service members participating in, and supporting Balikatan 2015 may only eat in restaurants inside their hotel or within close proximity to their hotel (walking distance) if their hotel does not have a restaurant inside.

Bars and nightclubs are off limits and all participants in Balikatan 2015 must be back in their hotel by 10:00 p.m.

Service members may participate in command sponsored community relations events and ships may authorize events on the pier."

– Major Dave Eastburn, U.S. Pacific Command spokesman
Scrutinizing US presence
Laude's death in October 2014 put US presence in the Philippines under scrutiny, dealing a blow on a new military-to-military agreement that seeks to give the Americans greater leeway in sending more troops and building facilities in the country.
Pemberton was in the Philippines for joint exercises and allegedly committed the crime during a furlough in Olongapo City.
He is currently detained inside Camp Aguinaldo, the Philippine military headquarters, while his murder trial is ongoing.
The national debate over Laude's death has not even died down when another crisis prompted questions on the activities of the US military in the Philippines – the botched operation of the police Special Action Force (SAF) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on January 25.
The Senate report on the SAF operation against terrorists Zulkifli bin Hir or Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman was critical of US involvement in the bloodiest one-day operation in the history of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
"Are there any consequences to working with the US in pursuing its global war on terror? Obviously, in the Mamasapano operation, the consequence of that mission to get Marwan and Usman was the death of a large number of Filipino soldiers and civilians," the report said.
The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed in April 2014 shortly before the visit of US President Barack Obama, was negotiated in the backdrop of the US strategy to rebalance to the Asia Pacific and the Philippines' request for US assistance in its territorial row with China.
EDCA is still pending in the Supreme Court over questions on its constitutionality.
Expanded Balikatan
The Balikatan exercises is the first major activity between the two countries since Laude's death.
Still, both the US and Philippine militaries doubled the number of troops joining the war games this year – 6,656 Americans from 2,500 last year, and 5,023 Filipinos from 3,000 last year.
Balikatan activities are scheduled April 6 to 30 in various areas in the country.
It is held at a time when the US and the Philippines are strongly opposing China's massive reclamation activities in the West Philippines Sea (South China Sea).
The war games are also led by the chief of the military command in charge of the West Philippine Sea. Palawan-based Western Command (WestCom) chief Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez is the exercise director.
Balikatan 2015 will have 3 simultaneous events:
  • Command Post Exercise on maritime security combined with live fire exercise to demonstrate the capability of the AFP National Maneuver Force
  • Field training exercises involving various units of the US and Philippine militaries
  • Humanitarian Civic Assistance events for combined and join civil-military operations
On its 31st iteration, the Philippine-US war games are designed to improve interoperability between the two militaries.

Palace defends Iqbal: No deception in use of alias

From Rappler (Apr 10): Palace defends Iqbal: No deception in use of alias

Malacañang asks lawmakers to scrutinize the Bangsamoro Basic Law based on its merits, and not on the alias issue

PSEUDONYM. Malacañang defends Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief negotiator and Bangsamoro Transition Commission chairman Mohagher Iqbal's use of an alias in signing the peace agreement.

PSEUDONYM. Malacañang defends Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief negotiator and Bangsamoro Transition Commission chairman Mohagher Iqbal's use of an alias in signing the peace agreement.

After Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal admitted he had used an alias in signing a historic peace deal with the Philippine government, Malacañang came to his defense and said there was no “deception” in the act.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a news briefing on Friday, April 10, that the government knew all along Iqbal was using an alias.

“At least on the side of the executive, allow me to say that the real names of the MILF negotiators are of course known to the Philippine government, and in fact, they possess Philippine passports as issued by the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs),” she said.

Valte added: "Yes, that’s quite clear. There’s no deception on their part because they made their real names known to government."

She said in past negotiations, negotiators from the National Democratic Front (NDF), the Moro National Liberation Fron (MNLF), and the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) "were allowed the courtesy to continue using their a matter of personal security.”

Malacañang also said the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the culmination of the peace deal with the MILF, “should be discussed on the basis of the merits of the law itself."

The administration’s defense of Iqbal comes after Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr joined Davao City Representative Karlo Nograles in criticizing Iqbal's use of an alias, saying it “mocks” and “jeopardizes” the peace process.

The controversy over Iqbal's pseudonym started with a Facebook post of former interior secretary Rafael Alunan III, who cited information from an anonymous source that Iqbal and MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim supposedly hold Malaysian passports.

Iqbal responded by releasing a copy of his Philippine passport, but covered the portion showing his real name.

Iqbal has defended his use of various aliases, refusing to divulge his real name. Iqbal argued that using a "nom de guerre (war name)" is common among revolutionary groups, and even heroes.

De Lima: Nothing wrong with alias

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima also saw nothing wrong with Iqbal's use of an alias, and said it is not basis to invalidate the peace agreement between the government and the MILF which Iqbal had signed.

“I don't think it will affect the authenticity or the very legality of the document just because it is signed under a nom de guerre or an alias, because he has already admitted that he used an alias. He can no longer deny such representation. The doctrine of estoppel comes in,” she said.

The DOJ chief added, “He is now in estoppel to deny that it is his signature that he knowingly affixed his signature in the agreement so the validity of the agreement cannot be considered as having been affected.

De Lima echoed the Palace position that it is common practice for rebel leaders to use a nom de guerre when engaging in peace negotiations as a security precaution.

“If we do not allow them the courtesy to continue using such 'nom de guerre' whenever they are involved in a peace process do you think that peace process would continue?" she asked.

She said Article 178 of the Revised Penal Code, which prohibits the use of fictitious names, only applies when the person is using an alias to commit a crime.

De Lima said the Commission on Elections (Comelec), for example, had allowed former president now Manila Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada to use "Erap" – an alias – in his campaigns and in his votes.

The alias issue now threatens to cloud the Senate discussion on the BBL, already imperiled by the January 25 clash between elite cops and Moro rebels in the MILF stronghold of Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Malacañang however, continues to push for the bill.

Peace council 'legal'

Valte also defended the Palace-created Peace Council amid questions on its legality in the absence of an executive order, and emphasized that no public funds will be used for the council.

“Well, in the first place, I don’t know why it would be illegal because it’s a private group that is not being funded by government. They responded to the President’s call to organize themselves, the co-convenors did, and that everything will be done separately and independently," she said.

Valte noted that Aquino "only tasked the two convenors and it was up to them who they would add."

“We have no hand in the selection; we have no hand in anything else. These community leaders and private individuals have agreed to form this council, again, which will not supplant Congress in any way to be able to contribute to the national discussion on BBL.”

Espina, Garbo to assume new PNP posts next week – Roxas

From Rappler (Apr 10): Espina, Garbo to assume new PNP posts next week – Roxas

Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina will be Deputy Chief for Administration, while Deputy Director General Marcelo Garbo Jr will take over as Deputy Chief for Operations

NEW POST. Philippine National Police (PNP) officer-in-charge Director General Leonardo Espina is set to become the PNP Deputy Chief for Administation (DCA). File photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

NEW POST. Philippine National Police (PNP) officer-in-charge Director General Leonardo Espina is set to become the PNP Deputy Chief for Administation (DCA). File photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

The Philippine National Police (PNP)’s two top officials will be assuming their new, higher positions by next week, even as the national police force remains without a chief.

In a chance interview with reporters at the sidelines of a KOMPe forum in Dagupan, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II said Police Deputy Director Generals Leonardo Espina and Marcelo Garbo Jr's new positions in the PNP Command Group “are going to be formalized by next week.”

Espina, who is also PNP Officer-in-Charge, is currently the police force’s number 3, or its Deputy Chief for Operations (DCO).

Garbo, meanwhile, is the Chief of Directorial Staff (TCDS) or the PNP's number 4.

By next week, Espina will officially be Deputy Chief for Administation (DCA) while Garbo will take over as DCO.

DCO. Police Deputy Director General Marcelo Garbo Jr is set to be the PNP's Deputy Chief for Operations. Rappler file photo
DCO. Police Deputy Director General Marcelo Garbo Jr is set to be the PNP's Deputy Chief for Operations. Rappler file photo
The “promotion” of the two generals means a new police official will soon enter the Command Group as TCDS.

Those considered front-runners for the position are Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and Board of Inquiry (BOI) chief Police Director Benjamin Magalong, Directorate for Operations chief Police Director Ricardo Marquez, and Logistics Directorate chief Police Director Juanito Vaño.

Still no chief

Espina and Garbo are currently the only members of the Command Group, which is typically composed of 4 police generals, including the PNP chief and the DCA.

The Command Group was left with gaps following the preventive suspension of former PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima over a graft case, and the retirement of former DCA Deputy Director General Felipe Rojas early December 2014.

Purisima resigned as PNP chief early February 2015, following the backlash of “Oplan Exodus,” a January 25 police operation that claimed the lives of 67 Filipinos, including 44 elite cops.

Espina himself had earlier said not having a full-time or acting PNP chief was affecting the police force administratively. (READ: Why the PNP needs a full-time chief now)

Roxas dodged questions about the President’s delay in appointing a new full-time PNP chief and refused to react to Espina’s previous statements, adding that he “cannot comment on something that’s hearsay.”

Both Espina and Garbo have been interviewed by the President for the position. Other names being floated for PNP chief include Magalong, Marquez, Vaño, and Chief Superintendent Raul Petrasanta who is also a close friend of the Aquino family.

Petrasanta, however, is currently serving a 6-month preventive suspension order over his alleged involvement in anomalous deals as former chief of the PNP’s Firearms and Explosives Office.