Friday, April 24, 2015

US seeks access to Philippine bases as part of Asia pivot

From GMA News (Apr 25): US seeks access to Philippine bases as part of Asia pivot

The United States has asked for access to Philippine military bases in eight locations to rotate troops, aircraft, and ships as Washington shifts its forces to Asia and as China expands its military presence in the South China Sea.
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in a speech in Arizona, has outlined Washington's next phase in its Asia "pivot", deploying its most sophisticated destroyers, bombers and fighters to the region.
The Asia "pivot" has already seen US Marines rotating through the Australian tropical city of Darwin, the country's closest city to Asia, for training.
At least eight locations in the Philippines have been identified as possible sites where US troops, planes and ships will be rotated through a series of military training and exercises, Gen. Gregorio Catapang, military chief, told local television network ABS-CBN.
But, the Americans will have to wait until after the Philippine's Supreme Court makes its rulings on the constitutionality of the military deal, called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, signed last year between Manila and Washington. It may decide later this year.
"If we formalize (now) and they start putting up structures and it's not constitutional, they will have to destroy those structures," Catapang said late on Friday, adding the list was finalized in October during a Mutual Defense Board meeting.
Four of the locations are on the main island of Luzon, where US and Filipino soldiers usually hold exercises, two on the central Cebu island, and two more on the western island of Palawan, near the disputed Spratlys.
China claims most of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, disputed in parts with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, and denies accusations its actions in its own territory are provocative.
Recent satellite images suggest China has made rapid progress in building an airstrip suitable for military use in contested territory in the Spratly islands, which drew concern from the United States and its allies in Asia.
"Once the US rebalance to Asia policy is in full swing, the Philippines expects the Americans to seek more access to military bases on Mindanao island and civilian airstrips on Luzon," said a senior air force official familiar with the arrangements.
"The Americans are interested in Laoag airport and Batanes island, both in the northern part of Luzon," he said, adding US planes had landed on Batanes during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s.
The United States is also interested to return to its two former military bases in Subic and Clark, which they left in 1992 after the Philippines terminated the basing agreement.

MILF: Editorial -- Right to self-determination expressed in BBL

Editorial posted to the MILF Website (Apr 23): Editorial -- Right to self-determination expressed in BBL

In real sense, what is contained in the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is an expression of the right to self-determination (RSD) of the Moros and other inhabitants of the future Bangsamoro entity.

The members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) came from and represented all the inhabitants of the Bangsamoro namely, five Tausog-Sama-Bangingi, three Maranaos, two members of the Indigenous peoples (IPs), two Maguindanao, one Iranon, and one Christian.  Moreover, the BTC was not only constituted as part of agreements between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) particularly the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and its four Annexes, but President Benigno Aquino III also had signed Executive Order No. 120 creating this 15-man Body. Immediately or simultaneously, both Houses of Congress passed their respective Resolutions in support of the FAB and the BTC.

Clearly and without doubt, the BBL is an expression of determination and freewill of all the peoples in the Bangsamoro. Wisdom and prudence, therefore, would tell us that the original text of the BBL, which we described as “Agreed Version”, should be preserved and adopted by Congress (of course, not unmindful of its plenary power over legislation).

Why call it an agreed version, because it had passed through several layers of deliberations and decision-makings: 1) the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) discussed and crafted the BBL, after engaging in hundreds of consultations with various stakeholders; 2) submitted to the Office of the President (OP), which made major revisions; transmitted it back to the BTC; 3) the BTC, overwhelmed by the revisions, elevated it to the GPH and MILF Peace Panels to resolve the issues; 4)  the two peace panels meet for four days in Kuala Lumpur, two times in Manila and another in Davao City for ten days (August 1-10) with practically made no important headways; and from here 5) the Office of the President (OP) and the BTC-MILF Peace panel assumed the discussion. The OP was represented by no less than Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Chief Legal Counsel Ben Caguioa, and three other lawyers, and on the side of the MILF, Mohagher Iqbal, Prof. Abhoud Syed Lingga, Commissioner Raisa Jajurie, and Mike Pasigan.

For two days (August 24 and 25), seven-hour each day, the two sides worked on to resolve  the remaining 53 outstanding issues, which they did but seven which were deemed not in their level to settle. At this juncture, the proposed BBL was submitted to the President for review.

Finally in a meeting between MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and President Aquino in Malacanang in September 2014, every issue was settled, thus the BBL now presented to Congress is described as Agreed Version.  To formalize the document, it was return to the BTC for formal adoption and signatures by the commissioners. However, only one, Johaira Wahab, did not sign it because she had resigned already to take her new post at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Outsiders can help, which we welcome, but not to exercise that RSD in behalf of the peoples of the Bangsamoro. The help can be more welcomed if it is to improve and enhance the BBL.  We look up to Congress to make this final act for peace in Mindanao!

CPP/NDF: NDFP@42 continues to win over the Filipino people to the armed revolution

NDF propaganda statement posted to the CPP Website: NDFP@42 continues to win over the Filipino people to the armed revolution

NDFP National Democratic Front of the Philippines
Spokesperson, NDFP-Eastern Visayas
At this moment in history when the Filipino people are striving to oust the US-Aquino regime, we are all the more happier today in celebrating the 42nd anniversary of the founding of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. The NDFP is the alliance of the clandestine revolutionary organizations of the basic revolutionary forces. It is thus the most consolidated part of the national united front and advances the national-democratic revolution through the people’s war. The NDFP is always open to link up and work with those who may not be ready to join it but are against imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism.

The US-Aquino regime is extremely isolated and vulnerable to ouster through a widescale and broad democratic mass movement. Since 2010, the Filipino people have suffered through the regime’s aggravation of the semifeudal and semicolonial crisis in implementing the neoliberal policies of the US. With Hacienda Luisita as the glaring example, the regime has also worsened poverty and social injustice by refusing to carry out genuine land reform and national industrialization.

Benigno Simeon Aquino III shows his true colors in his sheer puppetry and sell-out of the national sovereignty to US imperialism on whose backing he depends to maintain his sorry regime. Meanwhile, Aquino has brought the rotten, reactionary, bourgeois and anti-masses politics to new lows with the continuing exposures of patronage politics signified by the large-scale corruption of the pork barrel. With ruling class arrogance, Aquino and his ilk think they can do away with the people’s discontent and struggle through continuing human rights violations under the fascist program Oplan Bayanihan.

Removing Aquino will be beneficial to the people and a just punishment for the corrupt, brutal and fascist puppet president of US imperialism and the local exploiting classes of the big landlords and bourgeois compradors. It will throw the reactionary ruling system into further disarray while further strengthening the democratic and revolutionary struggles of the people until they can ultimately seize power.

Like the confrontations of its unlamented predecessors the US-Marcos and US-Estrada regimes, the US-Aquino regime can be challenged and pushed out by various movements, organizations, forces, groups and individuals who are united against Aquino. The democratic forces and organizations are at the forefront, exercising their independence and initiative, while applying united front principles in relating with other forces and groups in the broad alliance of the people.

As a matter of course, the armed revolutionary forces do not participate in the urban struggles of the broad united front of legal forces against the US-Aquino regime. But the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army, NDFP and the organs of democratic power will certainly intensify the armed struggle in the countryside to further weaken the US-Aquino regime and support the ouster movement. The armed revolutionary forces are eager to see the advances and victories of the broad united front against the US-Aquino regime and the establishment of a transition council towards a new Philippine government, which should arrest and punish Aquino and undertake basic reforms.

The struggle to oust the US-Aquino regime will certainly also strengthen the NDFP and give new opportunities to convince many of the patriotic and progressive contents of its 12-point program. In Eastern Visayas, we shall strive to arouse, organize and mobilize as many of the peasants, workers, women, youth and students, church people and other democratic forces as possible for the people’s war. We also call on the NDFP member-organizations in the region to reach out to the military, police and paramilitary elements to convince them of the justness of the revolutionary struggle, to dissuade them from being used against the anti-Aquino broad united front, and to invite them to the revolutionary fold.

Let us salute the NDFP for its continuing revolutionary efforts to win the people to the Philippine revolution. Let us support and fight to advance the people’s war to the new and higher level of strategic stalemate in the coming years!

CPP/NDF/NPA: NPA congratulates Red fighters for exacting revolutionary justice against warlord Mayor Brillantes

NDF/NPA propaganda statement posted to the CPP Website: NPA congratulates Red fighters for exacting revolutionary justice against warlord Mayor Brillantes

NDFP International Information Office
By Rigoberto F. Sanchez
NPA-Southern Mindanao Regional Command
Military spokespersons, specifically that of the 25th Infantry Battalion, downplayed the April 14 armory raid by the New People’s Army in Monkayo, Compostela Valley, as mere retaliatory attacks. The forced display of nonchalance, however, only shows how the 10th Infantry Division-Eastern Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines tries to conceal its complicity with Monkayo Mayor Joselito Brillantes Jr. and the ferocity of its counter-revolutionary Oplan Bayanihan.

The NPA Southern Mindanao Regional Command congratulates officers and fighters under the Comval-North Davao South Agusan Subregional Command for staging the 2-and-½-hour armory raid of the so-called JB Palace or JB Malacanang in Olaycon, Monkayo. The Red fighters also fought it out against the military blocking force in Barangay Banlag, Monkayo, and dispatched sniper teams during the April 14 to April 15 dawn tactical offensive.

The tactical offensive was not a mere retaliation, as AFP spindoctors would like to call it, but an execution of revolutionary justice. Revolutionary justice prevailed despite how well-entrenched and fortified the JB Palace is in Monkayo, where it is flanked and supported by surrounding 25th Infantry Battalion detachments and Brillantes’ private army and goons inside and outside his compound. The heavy defense proved to be worthless in the face of the justness of the NPA’s disarming and confiscation operation against the notorious mayor warlord. The raid produced 74 confiscated firearms as well as the seizure of 1 binocular scope, 36 pieces of rifle grenades, 52 pieces of 40mm ammunition, 800 rounds K3, 500 rounds AK, 5000 rounds of M60, 400 rounds of Ultimax drum, more than 14,000 rounds of assorted ammunition, five VHF radio sets, and a rifle vest.

That a municipal mayor owns the sheer volume of firearms and ammunition is obviously unjustified and is supposedly banned even by the reactionary civilian government. But the 10th Infantry Battalion-East Mindanao Command of the AFP tolerates the arms cache as it supports and colludes with warlord Brillantes and his mining interest in pursuit of the counterrevolutionary Oplan Bayanihan.

The spate of extra-judicial killings in the area has been the handiwork of Brillantes’ goons and private army who are armed to the teeth and are lording over ordinary farmers, residents who eke out a living by cutting logs, and mining workers. Because the reactionary civilian government and the AFP continue to turn a blind eye over the private army build-up of Brillantes, the revolutionary people’s government has made it its mandate and duty to disarm the municipal mayor and execute justice on behalf of the families of the victims of his atrocities.

Immediately after the armory raid, the 10th Infantry Division ordered its Army units to launch operations to recover the NPA’s confiscated firearms on behalf of the warlord mayor. This only proves how military operations, mining and economic interests, and warlordism are essential elements of the AFP’s Oplan Bayanihan. It is clear as day how the AFP only exists to serve its real masters — members of the local ruling classes like Brillantes who hides warlordism under the protective mantle of civilian bureaucracy to further his environmentally destructive mining operations. It is apparent that Oplan Bayanihan has failed miserably, despite its huge resources and support of US imperialism, now that Aquino’s term is fast approaching its end.

The confiscated weapons are intended to equip newly formed additional full fighting NPA platoons to serve the basic masses truly and genuinely. The Red fighters shall run after warlords like Brillantes, serve revolutionary justice, and introduce real development in the countryside.

Many among the ranks of the foot soldiers and ordinary elements of the AFP know that they are serving a corrupt and rotten military but are forced to continue in the service out of economic necessity and survival, and fear of reprisal should they speak against their superiors. The NPA urges them and other forces to support the people’s war. The NPA exhorts the Filipino people to be inspired by the masses in Monkayo who have united and made the NPA’s successful tactical offensive a deserving revolutionary punishment against warlordism, environmental destruction, and exploitation.

CPP/NDF/NPA: NPA seizes 74 firearms in anti-mining, anti-warlord raid in Compostela Valley

NDF/NPA propaganda statement posted to the CPP Website (Apr 17): NPA seizes 74 firearms in anti-mining, anti-warlord raid in Compostela Valley

NDFP International Information Office
NPA Comval-North Davao-South Agusan Subregional Command
Red fighters belonging to the New People’s Army Comval-North Davao-South Agusan Subregional Command raided the mining company owned by warlord Monkayo Mayor Joselito Brillantes Jr. and a military detachment on 14 April 2015 at 10:30pm in Monkayo, Compostela Valley, confiscating 74 high powered and short firearms.

Seized from the mayor’s goons and paramilitary forces were three M60 machine gun, seven M14 rifles, 13 M16 rifles, nine M1 Garand caliber .30 rifles, three baby M16 rifles, one Carbine rifle, two Bushmaster rifles, one Ultimax light macinegun, one M203 rifle, one RPG launcher, one Galil rifle, one AK 200, 11 shotgun rifles, two 9mm pistols, eight .45 caliber pistols, one .38 caliber pistol, and nine KG rifles. Also confiscated during the successful tactical offensive were 14,000 rounds of assorted ammunition, military vests and radios.

The NPA punished Mayor Brillantes for his overt participation in the commission of various crimes against the people in the furtherance of his economic and political interests in Monkayo. Mayor Brillantes has committed serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law for building and maintaining a private armed group in pursuit of mining interests, and in conjunction with the larger armed counterrevolutionary program of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines. His private armed group was organized in collaboration with the regular, intelligence and paramilitary forces of the 25th Infantry Battalion under the 10th Infantry Division – Eastern Mindanao Command (Armed Forces of the Philippines).

Brillantes’ private armed group functions as a security unit for his mining business and is responsible for harassing and perpetuating a reign of terror in the area. Several persons, including ordinary farmers and residents who enter his mining compound, went missing as they were suspected of being victims of extra-judicial killings perpetrated by Mayor Brillantes’ goons. His workers have not received wages for several months now, and have not been receiving social benefits, medical assistance, and other forms of remuneration.

Tuesday’s attack against Mayor Brillantes should serve as a stern warning against other warlord-politicians who deviate from civilian functions and use militarism to advance mining interest and economic gain. This should also serve as a lesson against GRP officials who continue to participate, support and finance the US-Aquino regime’s counter-revolutionary program and anti-people Oplan Bayanihan (fascist counter-revolutionary program).

China, Philippines Spar Over South China Sea Run-Ins

From The Diplomat (Apr 25): China, Philippines Spar Over South China Sea Run-Ins

Manila and Beijing clashed over a series of run-ins between their citizens and militaries in disputed areas.

 China, Philippines Spar Over South China Sea Run-Ins

A Chinese marine surveillance boat. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Bt4wang
China and the Philippines verbally clashed over the South China Sea this week, with Manila accusing China of harassing both fishermen and a military patrol in the disputed maritime region.

On Tuesday, the Philippines said that the Chinese Coast Guard used water cannons on a group of Filipino fishermen at Scarborough Shoal, damaging some of the fishermen’s boats. Hong Lei, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry said the Chinese vessels were performing “guard duty in waters off the Huangyan Island [the Chinese name for Scarborough Shoal] to maintain the normal order of these waters in accordance with the law.” Hong added that Manila should “show earnest respect for China’s territorial sovereignty, step up its regulation and education of the fishermen and stop all actions infringing upon China’s territorial sovereignty, and rights and interests.”

The Philippines effectively lost access to the Scarborough Shoal after a tense standoff between Chinese and Philippines vessels in April 2012. Since then, China’s Coast Guard has maintained tight control over the area, but Philippine fishermen still attempt to reach what they claim as their traditional fishing grounds.

The plot thickened on Thursday, when the Philippines’ fisheries bureau said Chinese Coast Guard officers had robbed Philippine fishermen in a separate incident near Scarborough Shoal on April 11. The fishermen “were threatened and pointed [at] with a gun before the Chinese forcibly took their fishes,” the bureau said in an incident report sent to AFP. The report also indicated that the Chinese sailors destroyed fishing equipment and other materials on the boats.

Asked about those claims, Hong said that the “accusations made by the Philippine side are inconsistent with the fact[s].” He then repeated China’s argument that its vessels in the area “perform guard duties and keep order in waters off the Huangyan Island in accordance with the law.”

In a more serious incident, a Chinese frigate warned away a Philippine Air Force plane while the latter was on a military patrol. A Philippine air force official told Reuters, “An Air Force Fokker plane was challenged by a Chinese frigate near Subi Reef, aiming a powerful light as it flew over the disputed area.” Another officer said that the Chinese vessel also warned the Philippine plane to leave the area in a radio message.

Subi Reef, occupied by China, is one of several disputed islets where Beijing is conducting land reclamation activities. Subi Reef is of particular concern to Manila as it is only 25 km away from Thitu Island, where the Philippines have their only airstrip in the Spratlys.

Hong also waved aside this incident in a press conference, saying China has “verified that the relevant report is not true.” For one thing, Hong said, “There is no such thing of [sic] powerful light warning as mentioned in the report.” But Hong did verify that Chinese soldiers had warned off Philippine aircraft. “[P]lanes from the Philippines have conducted multiple intrusions into the area above waters near China’s islands and reefs over recent days,” Hong said. “The Chinese garrison there took actions in accordance with the law by asking them to leave through radio.”

The rash of run-ins in disputed territories – whether between coast guard and fishermen or, more worryingly, between military vessels and aircraft – serves as a further reminder of the risks of an accident or miscalculation on the ground leading to tragedy and possible armed conflict. For now, however, the war is being waged with words, as each sides airs accusations and counter-accusations.

Footwear companies asked to bid for Army’s boots supply contract

From Business World (Apr 23): Footwear companies asked to bid for Army’s boots supply contract

THE PHILIPPINES’ state-led trading company has asked footwear makers to bid for a contract to supply and deliver over 100,000 boots for the Philippine Army with an approved budget for contract (ABC) worth P134.1 million.

Bidders for the contract to supply the boots, which will be for field use, “shall only be limited to domestically accredited manufacturers of footwear and leather goods with valid Certificate of Accreditation issued by the Board of Investments pursuant to Republic Act 9290, or “Footwear, Leather goods and Tannery Industries Development Act,” The Philippine International Trading Corp. said in its invitation to bid notice published in a newspaper on Thursday.

Prospective bidders should have completed a similar contract referring to a footwear contract “amounting to at least 25% of the ABC of the item being bid for” within the last five years from the date of submission and receipt of bids. Bid documents may be bought starting on April 23.

The pre-bid conference will be on April 30, 1 p.m. at the 5th floor conference room of the National Development Co. (NDC) Building, 116 Tordesillas Street, Salcedo Village, Makati City, 1227. Bids should be submitted at the designated bid box on or before May 15 at 10 a.m. in the NDC Building Lobby.

The winning bidder is required to deliver the 102,029 pairs of boots within “210 days upon receipt of Notice to Proceed” in five tranches.

Within 90 calendar days from the receipt of the notice to proceed, the bidder should deliver 15,000 pairs, the notice said. Within 120 calendar days from the receipt of the notice to proceed, 20,000 additional pairs should be delivered. Within 150 calendar days from the receipt of the notice to proceed, another 20,000 pairs should be delivered. Within 180 calendar days from the receipt of the notice to proceed, 25,000 pairs should be delivered while the remaining 22,029 pairs need to be delivered within 210 calendar days from the receipt of the notice to proceed.

Army investigating Coast Guard member's death

From ABS-CBN (Apr 23): Army investigating Coast Guard member's death

The Philippine Army's 9th Infantry Division is investigating the death of a Coast Guard member who was allegedly killed by a soldier last April 12.

The victim was identified as Vladimir Eduerte, a resident of General Tinio, Nueva Ecija.

His relatives said Eduerte was having a drinking session with some of his friends in Bulan, Sorsogon when their group got into an argument with a group of soldiers.

Eduerte was allegedly shot by one of the soldiers after he tried to stop the argument between the two groups.

According to Eduerte's family, around 10 soldiers were involved in the incident. Two of them are still unidentified.

They urged the military to surrender the soldier who killed Eduerte.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato said they will cooperate with the investigation being carried out by the Philippine National Police (PNP).

"The Philippine Army, particularly the 9th Infantry Division, is looking closely into the matter to determine the circumstances surrounding the incident. We do not condone this act," Detoyato said in a statement.

The official added that the military will facilitate the surrender of 9 military personnel allegedly involved in the incident.

The soldiers will also undergo paraffin test and ballistic examination of their firearms in order to determine who among them shot Eduerte.

If found guilty the Army personnel will be discharged from the service, and will suffer criminal liabilities in court, Detoyato said.

"The Philippine Army does not and will not tolerate any misbehavior committed by our soldier. The soldiers are aware of certain Standard Operating Procedures and Articles of War that we, as soldiers, have to live by whether in combat or while doing administrative duties. Soldiers understand fully well that any infraction thereof has corresponding penalties," he added.

Stop Oplan Bayanihan

From the Sun Star-Davao: Stop Oplan Bayanihan

ORGANIZED groups of indigenous people in Mindanao called on the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFPs) to stop Oplan Bayanihan, claiming the government's anti-insurgency has caused human rights violations against lumads.

Kalumaran secretary general Dulphing Ogan, in a statement sent to Sun.Star Davao, said this was the call of over 500 IP leaders during the 3rd Kalumaran assembly at Almacen in Catalunan Pequeño, Davao City on Friday.

"The assembly seeks to unite the various IP communities in Mindanao in their struggle to defend their ancestral lands from attacks under Oplan Bayanihan," Ogan said.

He also described the Army's Oplan Bayanihan as a tool that "allows foreign mining companies to pillage the natural resources" from what they claimed as their ancestral lands.

"All over Mindanao, wherever there are foreign mining plantations or mining companies, military encampments are always nearby. This results to numerous human rights violations, the perpetrators of which are state forces who to this day remain unpunished," Ogan said.

Bayan Muna Representative Karlos Zarate, who delivered the keynote speech during the conference, said: "In this situation where globalization and capitalism slowly swallow the little remaining dignity of indigenous peoples, it is time that we stand and unite to face our oppressors and assert what is rightful for us."

He also noted that IPs have been the victim of extrajudicial killings especially when they invoke their right to protest against the entry of foreign companies.

Religious group Sisters Association in Mindanao (Samin), meanwhile, supported call of the IPs.

"The plight of our indigenous brothers and sisters are being assaulted ever more fiercely in the face of military harassment, foreign investments, and toothless government policies. Yet in the midst of these grave offenses, the Lumads are also becoming stronger in their unity and assertion in the name of justice and peace," Samin executive secretary sister Noemi Degala said.

Opinion: The reality of recidivism in rehabilitating terrorists

Opinion piece by Amina Rasul in the Business World (Apr 23): The reality of recidivism in rehabilitating terrorists

Last week, the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) hosted the East Asia Summit on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration. Supported by the Singaporean government through the Nanyang Technological University, the summit gathered some 600 delegates (religious leaders and scholars, security and law enforcement officials, psychologists, policy makers, academics and civil society leaders from 30 countries).

In East Asia, Singapore has been at the forefront of strategic thinking on how to address radicalization. As RSIS leaders maintain, “strategic foresight remains the cornerstone of an effective security strategy.”

They added: “The volatile and evolving threat landscape amid an integrated and interconnected world continues to be at the forefront of the security challenge faced by countries all over the world. These global developments have had an appreciable impact on the global security paradigm.

“The emanating impact from the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, the growing uncertainty from ongoing global conflicts and the cascading effects from the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have rendered it more urgent that governments and law enforcement agencies recalibrate efforts undertaken to mitigate the threat of terrorism and extremism, and its resulting impact on society.”

The two-day summit (April 16 and 17) discussed key challenges in securing our communities against terrorism, as well as ongoing efforts at rehabilitation and social reintegration of terror suspects.

I was one of the speakers and shared our experience in organizing Muslim religious leaders and teachers on peace and democracy. While several governments presented groundbreaking work on rehabilitating and reintegrating terrorists, I sadly could not present any current programs by the Philippine government. In matters of reintegration and rehabilitation, NGOs such as Balay Mindanaw have provided the programs for detainees.

Malacañang Undersecretary Nabil Tan, who was one of the Philippine delegates, stepped up to the plate and informed the conferees about the successful integration of Moro National Liberation Front combatants. As for terror detainees, Nabil could only say that the government is developing its program. He believes that the Philippines should have a holistic strategy to rehabilitate detainees, as other countries have done.

I was quite amazed with the Singaporean attempts to rehabilitate and reintegrate terrorists. The government and civil society collaborate on these initiatives, which have actually resulted in successful reintegration. Many of you will question the wisdom of reintegrating terrorists. Until you realize that most of the arrested terrorists are young and ignorant of the realities, lured by the effective communication strategies of terrorist organizations such as ISIL.

At the summit, several speakers stressed that counter-messaging is essential in the fight against terrorism, although finding an effective method has been challenging. According to Dr. Fatris Bakaram (Singapore’s Mufti), Muslims recruited to join terror networks may have fallen for the insidious manipulation and misinterpretation of religious texts. He also pointed out that radicalization could be caused by isolation of minority groups and their neglect by the State, as well as the rejection of the State’s secular culture or political agenda which benefit the majority but not the marginalized.

Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) at the RSIS noted that there were more than 10,000 terrorist-related Facebook accounts, 47,000 Twitter accounts and more than 9,800 Web sites. He stressed that counter-messaging should include “a point-by-point rebuttal of [ISIS’] justifications for using violence,” adding that we should “specifically question, show me in the Koran that this is permitted.”

In the Philippines, my colleague Professor Rommel Banlaoi (Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, or PIPVTR) examined “de-radicalization” efforts in the Philippines. Rommel and his institute conducted a study of Muslim detainees accused of various crimes associated with terrorism (2008). The target of the study was the high-risk detention cell at Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City. This cell is officially called Special Intensive Care Area (SICA). At the time of the study, there were 136 Muslim detainees in SICA. The end state of the study was to find ways on how de-radicalize the Muslim detainees by encouraging them to renounce ideologies that venerate the use of violence and to leave behind violent acts associated with terrorism.

PIPVTR found that most of the detainees claimed to be “victims of harsh circumstances.” Some of them claimed that they were “victims of mistaken identity.” Few of them admitted that they were in prison because they wage jihad or rebellion against the government, but they did not feel “guilty” about it. Existing Philippine government efforts related to de-radicalization and rehabilitation programs have to contend with enormous conceptual and operational challenges particularly in the case of Filipino Muslim detainees’ accused of crimes associated with terrorism. Most of the Muslim detainees joined “terrorist” groups because of circumstantial and behavioral reasons rather than ideological conviction.

Thus, understanding the experiences of Muslim detainees on how they got into their present situation is crucial in convincing them to change their attitudes about political violence and terrorism. Though de-radicalization programs may have resulted in exemplary practices abroad, there is a need to address the problem of recidivism. In Indonesia, for example, there were a few individuals who underwent de-radicalization programs, were released from prison, but only to return to violent activities.

Delegates shared experiences and best practices on rehabilitating and reintegrating terrorists as well as strategies for communities to build resilience to the siren song of the terror cells.

At the end of the two-day summit, a network was launched for the rehabilitation of arrested or detained terrorists: the Strategies on Aftercare and Reintegration (SOAR). The network will focus on three areas: countering radical propaganda (particularly on social media), immunizing communities against extremism, and rehabilitating and reintegrating those who have been radicalized. Managed by the ICPVTR, SOAR will also be a repository of information and resources for de-radicalization.

Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, RSIS’ executive deputy chairman, called for collaboration among those involved in countering violent radical movements such as ISIL. He said, “challenges that we have here cannot be done and solved by only one person and one country”. Ong stressed the need for communication among those working to counter extremism as well as engaging the wider community in such efforts.

[Amina Rasul is a democracy, peace and human rights advocate, and president of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy.]

DA pours in over 300 million worth agri-projects in Lanao Norte

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 24): DA pours in over 300 million worth agri-projects in Lanao Norte

LALA, Lanao del Norte, April 24 (PIA)- Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala has reached out around 4,000 farmers and fisherfolks and other agri-stakeholders  in his 2-day sortie in the province of Lanao del Norte on April 22-23, 2015.

Dubbed as ‘Panagtigum sa Mga Mag-uuma ug Mangingisda uban ni DA Secretary Proceso J. Alcala’ (Convergence of Farmers/Fisherfolks with DA Sec. Proceso J. Alcala), the Secretary in a Forum was able to interact with the farmers and fisherfolks in their clamor for more interventions from the Department.

In his visit, the Department of Agriculture region 10 (DA-10) turned over directly to Kauswagan recipients the interventions of 10 heads of carabao under Arms to Farms Project, specifically to armed-afflicted areas who now returned to mainstream society as they now feel the government’s sincerity to provide them to live a normal and quality of life.

The Secretary also witnessed the ceremonial turn-over of check amounting to P1.8 million to 12 Kumander returnees of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), each to receive P150, 000 for their project.

Interventions turned-over to all town recipients during the two-day visit of Sec. Alcala include goats, carabaos, cattle, animal drawn plow, seedlings (durian, lanzones, rambutan), assorted vegetable seeds, coffee, rice seeds for low and upland areas, OPV corn seeds, laminated sacks, 4WD 90HP farm tractor, rice thresher, hammer mill, and carabao for Arms to Farms Project.

Apart from those interventions mentioned above are Certificates of Award turned-over to town recipients for power tiller and infrastructure. Also, there are four towns to receive thru fund transfer for organic agriculture, bottom-up-budgeting, and other services.  A raffle draw highlighted during cluster visit, with goats, carabao with implements and cattle, awarded to lucky winners drawn.

Interventions from attached agencies- the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), National Dairy Authority (NDA) and the Philippine Crop Insurance Corp. (PCIC) turned over to recipient towns are fishing gears, distribution of fresh milk, and the indemnity checks, respectively.

Its grand total cost of interventions amounted to Php 312,589,438.00.

Activities set in the province

The Secretary and DA-10 regional team were warmly received by the provincial government officials led by Governor Khalid Q. Dimaporo and all local chief executives from the 22 municipalities in the province.

With a theme, “Pakighiusa Alang sa Kalamboan Pang-Agrikultura sa Lanao del Norte,” the 22 municipalities were clustered under three host towns- Matungao, Lala and Kolambugan.

The first leg was at Sultan Macalpang D. Permites Central School gymnasium in Matungao on April 22.  Secretary Alcala and his entourage was warmly received by around 1,200 farmers from Cluster 1  municipalities composed of Linamon, Baloi, Tagoloan, Pantar, Munai, Poona Piagapo and the host town-Matungao. Local chief executives from these municipalities were present too, except Munai.

Town Mayor Aisha Mangotara-Azis of Matungao expressed her gratitude to the good Secretary for taking his time with the farmers, an opportunity for the town’s folks to talk with the Secretary in a forum, hearing his views on the government’s program on agriculture, likewise, the town’s expression of thanks for all the interventions they received on this day.

The second day was loaded with events, started off at Lala- the host town, held in the morning at the municipal gymnasium, with  Cluster 3 municipalities composed of Kapatagan, Salvador, Tubod, Baroy, Sultan Naga Dimaporo (SND), Sapad, Magsaysay, Nunungan and Lala, with around 1,500 participants.

Mayor Allan J. Lim of Lala cited how beautiful and bountiful Lanao del Norte in terms of agriculture, how the government’s technology on agriculture improved the lives of the farmers and fisherfolks. He revealed the recognition received- Lala, as the National Rice Achiever’s Award of the Department of Agriculture, for two consecutive years.

In the afternoon, the Secretary preceded to the Municipal Civic Center in Kolambugan- the host town, for another forum with some 1,100 agi-clientelle. The Cluster 2 municipalities composed of Maigo, Pantao Ragat, Bacolod, Tangkal and Kolambugan. 

On the other hand, Town Mayor Lorenzo V. Maῆigos of Kolambugan, said these interventions they received today would greatly benefit farmers and fisherfolks for more production and harvest.

Sec. Alcala’s last stop was in Kauswagan. He was met by Mayor Rommel C. Arnado and the town’s constituents. 

Mayor Arnado said the Secretary’s visit in Kauswagan was timely in celebration of the town’s Agri-Aqua & Livestock Fair on its 67th Kasikas sa Umahan, this year, falls every month of April.

Meanwhile, Sec. Alcala, stressed some points that the government under the PNoy administration has allotted 30 percent in the Department of Agriculture’s program and services to Mindanao. For Northern Mindanao, DA has reported farmers served of 35,840 in 2014, an increase of 93 percent from its record in 2010 of 18,562 farmers. This refers to project interventions like irrigation and infrastructures, farm-to-market road, farm machineries and equipment, technology and product support services, and barangay/municipal food terminal.

Alcala encouraged farmers and fisherfolks and to all those who availed to share to everyone how the government’s programs and services benefit them.

On his part, Governor Khalid Dimaporo invites everyone from Luzon and Visayas to experience how peace-loving people in Lanao Norte are, and see for themselves the agri-interventions availed, and how PNoy administration looks into Mindanao as potential food granary of the country.

Lanao Norte has an allocation of Php1,115,465.673 for 22 municipalities from DA-10 allocation of Php5,087,279,870, year 2010-2015. We are privileged to have this share, expressed Gov. Dimaporo.

The visit of the Secretary in our province touched our hearts when he stayed overnight here at the MCC Hotel, we really felt his presence in the province when he engaged himself with the farmers and fisherfolks, the first Secretary to have visited and toured around different towns in a limited but spared quality time with the agri folks, said Dimaporo.

BK15 multinational team teaches health workers first responder skills

From DVIDS (Apr 24): BK15 multinational team teaches health workers first responder skills

BK15 multinational team teaches health workers first responder skills

Philippine Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Melisa M. Acosta, Political Service nurse officer and assistant team leader, provides feedback for local health workers during exercise Balikatan’s first responder training course in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines, April 22. U.S. military and Armed Forces of the Philippines training instructors worked shoulder-to-shoulder to train 179 health workers and members of other local agencies to learn skills and techniques to better respond to a mass casualty. This year marks the 31st iteration of the exercise, which is an annual Philippine-U.S. bilateral military training exercise and humanitarian civic assistance engagement. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal/Released)

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines – Health workers attending exercise Balikatan’s First Responder Training Course prepared to put their patient care skills to the test as an announcement echoed throughout the training Coliseum.

“You are in a supermarket in Zamboanga,” said a voice over loudspeaker. “You heard an explosion. Your team is the first to arrive in the area. There are people on the ground, some moaning in pain. There are probably more but only a few for the most part are in one piece. The scene is horrific, and there is a danger of another explosion in a few minutes.”

U.S. military and Armed Forces of the Philippines Cooperative Health Engagement instructors trained 179 health workers in the surrounding communities by having them apply their skills during mass casualty response scenarios April 22.

During the training, the AFP facilitated the course with the U.S. forces assisting. A week prior the U.S. military CHE team prepared their AFP counterparts to lead the instruction for the first responder training course.

“This event is where the new trainers, that we trained last week during the train-the-trainer course, are teaching,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Gary Held, 374th Medical Operations Squadron medical technician and CHE instructor. “They are teaching the exact same subjects that we taught them in going through mass casualty scenarios, stuff that might actually happen here, like overturned buses or an earthquake for instance. The new trainers are running with it, everything that we taught them.”

Together, shoulder-to shoulder, the multinational team trained community members to more effectively respond to a mass casualty occurrence.

“What we are trying to accomplish is that we want those health workers or rescuers to be able to address an emergency situation,” said Philippine Air Force 1st Lt. Catherine Joy E. Abaga, Nurse Corps, 570th Composite Tactical Wing and exercise Balikatan CHE medical coordinator. “We want them to have their own independence in their own units or their own barangay [or village] so they are able to have a group of people who are ready to respond to any situation, such as disasters.”

Abaga explained what U.S. and AFP forces are hoping participants in the training can walk away with.

“We want them to develop the skills, the attitude, and the knowledge to be able to do something for others who are in their barangay to extend immediate help,” Abaga said. “This has been a very productive activity especially for this community because not all of our participants are inclined medically. What we can do is equip them with proper knowledge in addressing the different threats, man-made or natural.”

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Stinson, 15th Medical Operations Squadron independent duty medical technician and CHE instructor, explained his experience working with AFP instructors.

“Working with the Armed Forces of the Philippines has been a great experience,” Stinson said. “I actually learned a few medical techniques here that we don’t use in the U.S. because in the Philippines, they are so resourceful. They can take a cloth and make it into something like an ankle brace, something we may not think of. We have the capability of having medical supplies in the U.S. but being here they may not always have access to those things.”

Abaga also shared her experience in working with U.S. Forces.

“We work with them easily,” Abaga said. “I’ve seen through both the Philippines and our U.S. counterparts that there is enthusiasm in that we’re working for just one thing. Race or nationality didn’t matter at all. What we created was good teamwork.”

This year marks the 31st iteration of the exercise, which is an annual Philippines-U.S. bilateral military training exercise and humanitarian civic assistance engagement.

Ban on GIs’ R&R exposes Olongapo dependence

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 25): Ban on GIs’ R&R exposes Olongapo dependence

THE USS GREEN BAY, one of the United States’ most modern naval vessels, is docked at Alava Pier of the Subic Bay Freeport. It is one of the US ships that arrived in Subic Bay for the annual war games between Filipino and American soldiers. ALLAN MACATUNO/INQUIRER CENTRAL LUZON

THE USS GREEN BAY, one of the United States’ most modern naval vessels, is docked at Alava Pier of the Subic Bay Freeport. It is one of the US ships that arrived in Subic Bay for the annual war games between Filipino and American soldiers. ALLAN MACATUNO/INQUIRER CENTRAL LUZON

OLONGAPO CITYThe city’s business community isn’t happy about liberty (rest and recreation or R&R) restrictions imposed by the United States Pacific Command on American soldiers participating in this year’s Balikatan.

Shops and restaurants outside the Subic Bay Freeport want the US servicemen to be allowed to patronize them.

Maribelle Martinez, a teller at a money exchange outlet here, said her shop used to earn at least P5,000 a day during previous military exercises.

“That’s no longer the case. With no US Marines in the city, we’re not making any profit at all,” she said.

“We don’t understand why the businesses in the city have to suffer from the crime committed by one person,” she said. She was referring to detained US Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton, who is on trial for the murder of transgender woman Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude on Oct. 11, 2014.

No booze

Senior Insp. Julius Jimenez, Olongapo City police station 3 commander, said bars and nightclubs are off limits to US servicemen during the Balikatan as directed by the US Pacific Command.

He said stores are also not allowed to sell liquor to the US soldiers.

He said policemen have been deployed to all entry and exit points in the free port to seek out “suspicious-looking individuals who might be part of the US contingent in the Balikatan.”

“We want to make sure that nobody violates the order from the US Pacific Command,” he added.

Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) chair and administrator Roberto Garcia confirmed this.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, he said: “There’s no shore leave at all for the US Marines. Only those who belong to the US Air Force and the supply ships are allowed to go outside the free port.”

He said some US Navy officers have sought his consent to allow them to hold barbecue parties within the port area where their ships are docked.

“I [agreed] … in consideration of their situation since they are not allowed to go on shore leave,” Garcia said.

Money no more

He said owners of business establishments inside the free port and Olongapo City have lost about $3.5 million in potential revenues due to the liberty ban.

“There are about 6,000 US troops participating in the Balikatan and they are all expected to come back to Subic after their training. But due to the liberty ban, business establishments will not generate revenues from them,” Garcia said.

An owner of a nightclub here, who requested anonymity, said operators of bars and nightclubs on Magsaysay Avenue would ask the US Pacific Command to allow its servicemen to go on shore leave even for just a few hours.

“It’s a huge economic loss for all of us. But we’re helpless because it seems that we can’t do anything about it,” the club owner said.

US, Pinoy troops build classrooms in Capiz

From ABS-CBN (Apr 25): US, Pinoy troops build classrooms in Capiz

CAPIZ -- American and Filipino soldiers under the Balikatan exercises in Panay have finished building a two-classroom school building in a remote village in Tapaz, Capiz.

The project is considered a legacy of the Balikatan exercises.

As a sign of gratitude, students of Don Joaquin Memorial School in Barangay Taft in Tapaz created a mural by putting their handprints on the walls of the classroom.

Aside from the school building, soldiers also held training sessions on disaster response, as part of their humanitarian and civil military operations.
The community was involved in the activities.

Another group of soldiers from the US Pacific Command will be coming over to Capiz in July for a civil assistance program.

Fort Magsaysay looks like a US camp

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 25): Fort Magsaysay looks like a US camp

FORT MAGSAYSAY, Nueva Ecija —Fenced off with barbed wire, secured by uniformed American soldiers, and bristling with tanks, assault guns and trucks, a small compound inside this huge military reservation has become a virtual US military base as Balikatan exercises resumed this week and were expected to last until end of this month.

The compound serves as a depository for arms and equipment that the United States Armed Forces had designed solely for the series of Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises between American and Filipino soldiers under a mutual defense treaty.

Striker Tanks, Howitzer assault guns and other high-powered weapons have been shipped here for the Balikatan exercises that have been expanded from civil military operations and bilateral exercises to a field training exercise, according to Col. Lawrence Mina, commander of the Combined Army Forces.

At the aviation command, American soldiers were busy moving personnel and equipment within the 73,000-hectare military reservation, said Col. Joshua Higgins, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment based in Hawaii.

Higgins said this year’s exercises have no connection with the territorial dispute between China and the Philippines over Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea. “This is purely for the interoperability of our forces,” he said.

Self-loading weapons

Most of the weapons brought here for the war games have advance features, although the Howitzer 47 units, “have not been used by the Army for very long,” according to Capt. Michael Merrill, chief of the US Army mobile public affairs, who added that they can be operated digitally.

“This is self-loading, meaning, (you) can just take it out there and it can digitally [analyze and define the] target data,” Merrill said, describing the weapons that fire 155-millimeter shells within a range of 31 kilometers.

The Howitzers can be slung underneath a VH-47 helicopter and brought to any location, he added.

Filipino soldiers can also test their skills with the mobile gun system (MGS), the Infantry Carry Vehicle, the fire support vehicle and several medical support tanks.

Madi Simpore, a US Striker mechanic, said an MGS provides surveillance and security capabilities. “It can go [out to the combat zone] first to see what’s going on,” he said.

Simpore added that some of the tanks can be loaded with 18 rounds of 105-mm shells and mounted with 15 cal. guns that can fire 500 rounds. It can shoot one round every six seconds, he said.

15 ex-rebels get assistance

From the Visayan Daily Star (Apr 25): 15 ex-rebels get assistance

Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. and Brig. Gen. Jon Aying, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, led the distribution of P750,000 in livelihood assistance to 15 former New People's Army rebels, yesterday.
The group had earlier received P20,000 from the national government and the provincial government of Negros Occidental, from the Department of Interior and Local Government, Provincial Peace Integration and Development Unit action officer Ma. Lina Sanogal said during the orientation for Local Government Unit Partners on Comprehensive Local Integration Program for former NPA members in Talisay City Thursday.
Each of the 15 ex-rebels got P50,000 for the livelihood projects they proposed to the DILG.
In January, the 15 former rebels got P15,000 each from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process, on top of P5,000 they received last year from Negros Occidental provincial government.
DILG provincial officer Maria Joy Maredith Madayag and Sanogal also assisted Maranon and Aying in the distribution of livelihood assistance to former rebels.

MILF response to DOJ report dictated by protocols with the GPH – Iqbal

From GMA News (Apr 24): MILF response to DOJ report dictated by protocols with the GPH – Iqbal

Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said on Thursday that because the MILF's relationship with the Philippine Government was political in nature and not a legal one, the MILF did not automatically have to obey the Justice Department's recommendations in its report on the Mamasapano clash.

“We do recognize that there is an internal legal process of government, and this [the DOJ's investigation into the Mamasapano clash] was one of their legal processes conducted by the Government through the Department of Justice,” Iqbal told GMA News Online on Thursday.

“But as far as the MILF is concerned our relationship with the government is political and we are bound by signed protocols between the government and the MILF.”

The DOJ report had recommended the filing of murder and theft charges against some 90 MILF fighters, BIFF gunmen, and private armed group members.

“It's not a simple question whether we surrender our forces to government or we do not surrender,” Iqbal explained. “Human nature dictates that if you are under attack then the first thing you do is you need to defend yourself.”

Iqbal also said both the MILF and the Government, along with other neutral parties including the International Monitoring Team attempted to put an early stop to the Mamasapano clash. “They were trying really to stop the fighting but it was so difficult to stop because so many had been killed already. It's not simply a case of stopping it outright. Its very difficult,” he added.

Nevertheless, Iqbal said the MILF would study the DOJ report and check with the Philippine Government on ways to settle things in a way beneficial to both parties.

“We are looking at the whole incident and it's political implications since our engagement with Government is political then as far as that report is concerned we would try to discuss that with our counterpart in Government.”

Int’l humanitarian law violation eyed vs MILF

From the Philippine Star (Apr 24): Int’l humanitarian law violation eyed vs MILF

The recommendation to file criminal charges against the 90 Muslim rebels involved in the Mamasapano killing has been deferred in order to look for additional liability of the suspects under international law, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said yesterday.

“I asked the team to reexamine the applicability of the IHL and determine if there could be possible offenses under the IHL for the crimes committed,” De Lima said, referring to International Humanitarian Law.

De Lima said she has ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s special fact-finding team to reconsider their findings on the criminal liability of Moro rebels and private armies in the killing of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) policemen in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last Jan. 25.

The DOJ team has recommended the filing of direct assault with murder and theft against 90 gunmen of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and armed civilians.

In their 225-page report, the probe team did not recommend any charge for violation of Republic Act No. 9851, or the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity.

They said the law is inapplicable in this case, citing the existing ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF.

De Lima did not agree, and cited the possibility of preparing charges under both the Revised Penal Code and RA 9851 as she deferred action on their recommendations.

“The perspective of the team is that the charges should match with the testimony of the eyewitness and that there should be no duplicity. But there is no duplicity when there are elements under the IHL present in other set of evidence,” she pointed out.

De Lima said she told the seven-member team led by Assistant State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera to submit a legal memorandum on this issue after several days.

She said she would await the position of the team before she could order a formal preliminary investigation on the case.

The DOJ report only covers the cases of 35 slain SAF men who belonged to the 55th SAF Company that engaged the MILF and BIFF fighters and armed villagers in the cornfields of Barangay Tukanalipao in Mamasapano.

The cases of the nine other slain police commandos from the 84th SAF Company in Barangay Pidsandawan, as well as five civilians and 18 MILF fighters who were also killed during the clash, would be subject of further investigation by the team that was given two more months to complete the probe.

De Lima also directed the team to investigate further the involvement of US military personnel in the Jan. 25 encounter.

She revealed the key witness “Marathon” mentioned that there were two Caucasian-looking fatalities during the clash between members of the elite SAF and armed men in an attempt to capture Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan.

“The team said that circumstance on what exactly was the participation of the US cannot be ignored,” she stressed.

In its report made public last Wednesday, the DOJ team said the Mamasapano clash “was murder all the way and around when the MILF, BIFF and the (armed civilians) crossed the river over to the cornfield to finish off the dying members of the 55th SAF command, by means of gunshots to the head and other parts of their bodies.”

Zamboanga mayor rejects MNLF plea bargain

From ABS-CBN (Apr 24): Zamboanga mayor rejects MNLF plea bargain
Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazer has rejected the proposed plea bargaining of 235 members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) accused of rebellion and violation of international humanitarian law, in relation to the 2013 Zamboanga siege.

In a press statement on Thursday, Climaco said some of the accused MNLF members are proposing to plead guilty for a lesser crime of sedition, which entails a penalty of only 6 years imprisonment.

Some 145 accused also want to plead guilty for lesser crimes of illegal assembly and illegal use of uniform, which carry a penalty of one month to six months imprisonment, or six years imprisonment, if the accused were armed at the time of the crime.

Climaco said the rebellion case and violation of international humanitarian law carry a heavier penalty of up to 20 years imprisonment.

She added that the proposed plea bargaining is not commensurate to the deaths of policemen, soldiers, and civilians during the three-week crisis, which affected thousands of families.

City officials are now studying legal options and remedies, with the help of top lawyers of the City Legal Office, the Department of Justice, and the city council.

Climaco said she also wants to consult the families of the victims of the siege to get their inputs and opinions on the proposed plea bargaining of the accused MNLF members.

The official assured her constituents that justice will be served to the families of victims and to those who were displaced by the bloody three-week conflict.

MNLF chairman Nur Misuari and some MNLF commanders, including Habier Malik, are among accused in the Zamboanga siege.

They are among seven who are still at large and are subject for arrest.

The arraignment and pre-trial of the case will be done at the Pasig City Regional Trial Court, while testimonies of the witnesses will be received in a separate court in Zamboanga City, pursuant to the resolution of the Supreme Court.

Albay virtually NPA-free, say Salceda, AFP

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 24): Albay virtually NPA-free, say Salceda, AFP

THE military and local government officials have declared the province of Albay as a “manageable conflict area” on Thursday.

The declaration was made by Albay Governor Joey Salceda and Major General Yerson Depayso, commander of the 9th Infantry Division, in the presence of the Armed Forces chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr. and Southern Luzon Command chief Major General Ricardo Visaya at the Bicol University in Legazpi City.

“Although there are still remnants of the insurgents, what’s important here is they have remained few. The message here is that the people have decided that they want peace,” Catapang told reporters.

A “manageable conflict area” is defined by the military as a state where atrocities by insurgents can be immediately contained.

The province of Albay is the third province in Bicol region to be declared as a manageable conflict area after Catanduanes in December 2014 and Camarines Norte in January 2015. A same declaration is being eyed for Camarines Sur next month.

About 40 members of the New People’s Army were thinly dispersed in the outskirts of the province, Visaya said.

Military forces will not be pulled out from the province, he added.

Maguindanao IDPs returning home

From the Manila Times (Apr 23): Maguindanao IDPs returning home

More and more internally displaced persons in Maguindanao are returning home, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said on Thursday.

In its data, the Humanitarian Emergency Action and ARMM-Response Team (HEART) reported that the number of IDPs has gone down to at least 9,000 families from about 20,000 families.

As of April 22, ARMM-HEART said only 9,053 families or 45,265 individuals remain in evacuation centers.

On Wednesday, ARMM-HEART said evacuation centers were closed or destroyed in the towns of Rajah Buayan, Datu Hoffer, Datu Piang, Mamasapano, Talayan, Talitay, Datu Anggal Midtimbang,Datu Odin Sinsuat, at Datu Abdullah Sangki.

As they returned home on their own or with the help of ARMM-HEART, the families returning home received food packs to help them to restart life in their own communities.

Myrna Jo Henry of ARMM-HEART said the total number of remaining IDPs are still in 32 evacuation centers in six municipalities.

These are in Shariff Saydona Mustapha with 1,903 families (9,515 persons); Datu Unsay, 1,191 families (5,955 persons); Shariff Aguak, 685 families (3,425 persons); Datu Salibo, 2,310 families (11,550 persons); Datu Saudi Ampatuan, 2,364 families (11,820 persons); and Guindulungan, 600 families (3,000 persons).

Gov. Esmael Toto Mangudadatu of Maguindanao said the IDPs cannot be compelled to return home because it was only they who can say and decide whether or not it is safe to return home.

HEART said some IDPs prefer to stay in evacuation sites because their houses have been destroyed by military operations.

To date, Gov. Mujiv Hataman of ARMM said the regional government has spent a total of P59.6 million from the Special Purpose Fund of his office.

ARMM HEART expects more IDPs will return to their communities in the coming days.

Massive evacuation in Ma-guindanao’s 13 municipalities started on February 27 when the military launched operations to neutralize the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

More than 150 BIFF were killed and 33 others wounded, according to the military. The Army suffered 10 deaths and 29 wounded during the month-long air, ground and artillery offensives.