Saturday, August 22, 2015

Rescuer found dead

From Tempo (Aug 23): Rescuer found dead

A 36-year-old member of the search and rescue unit of the Philippine Air Force was found dead inside his barracks at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City Thursday, police said yesterday.

The Southern Police District Station 1 identified the victim as Sergeant Ferdinand Maala, an aircraft tow tug driver of the PAF 505th Search and Rescue Group, of Visayas Ave., Quezon City.

Maala’s body was discovered at about 7:20 a.m. by aircraft maintenance officer Capt. Darren Callado, police said.

Initial investigation disclosed that Callado was waking up Maala who was supposed to bring out an aircraft using the tow tug that time. However, after shaking the victim’s body several times, Callado observed Maala was already stiff and cold.

Callado checked Maala’s pulse and tried to revive him but to no avail. He asked assistance from his companions and brought the victim to their hospital where Maala was declared dead on arrival.

SPO2 Joel Landicho, case investigator, disclosed that they are still waiting for the autopsy result to determine the cause of death. However, police believe Maala died from natural causes and there was no foul play involved.

Landicho said the victim was said to have hypertension that could be the possible cause of his death.

Police learned from witnesses that Maala was last seen watching television at about 1:30 a.m. the same day.

MIAA creates special elite security unit

From ABS-CBN (Aug 23): MIAA creates special elite security unit

The Special Reaction Unit (SRU), the elite security force of the Manila International Airport Authority. Photo by Raoul Esperas for ABS-CBN News.

The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) has put an elite security force on alert amid a series of bombing incidents and the increasing threat of terrorism both in the Philippines and abroad.

The MIAA has created a Special Reaction Unit (SRU) of the airport police department in compliance with the International Civil Aviation Organization's (ICAO) requirement that every airport in the world with domestic and international operations must create and train its own security.

The SRU was trailed locally at a training facility of the Philippine Air Force in Pampanga, where they went through rigid physical and physiological exercises.

The members of the elite SRU are also expert marksmen in both automatic rifles and handguns, and can take down aggressors in the aircraft, or at the airport terminal. They are equipped with stun guns for aggressors who need to be disabled immediately.

Each member of the SRU wears a bullet proof vest, a Kevlar helmet, and eye wear protection. They also specialize in close quarter combat.

The SRU is planning to purchase its own drone or unmanned aerial vehicle, which it intends to use in airport surveillance during response situations.

The MIAA has provided them with radio communication and vehicles for quick response during emergency cases.

No ransom paid in release of coast guards - Official

From the Zamboanga Today (Aug 22): No ransom paid in release of coast guards - Official

A top Coast Guard official has denied that ransom was paid in exchange for the release of two Coast Guard personnel in Sulu province last Wednesday.

The statement came after the arrival of Coast Guard personnel SN Rod Pagaling and SN2 Gringo Villarluz at the Western Mindanao Command's Philippine Navy for Western Mindanao Headquarters Majini Pier from Sulu.

Pagaling and Villaruz arrived via a Coast Guard vessel at around 8pm Wednesday, a day after they were reportedly rescued by government troopers from the Abu Sayyaf in Indanan, Sulu.

"Definitely, categorically there is no ransom paid to the captors," said Coast Guard NCR District Commander Joel Garcia during the press conference that followed the arrival.

Garcia however said that a special group known as "Task Force Sagip" was organized for the purpose of negotiating the release of the victims. 

In a separate statement, kidnap victim Pagaling confirmed that they were able to escape from their captors when Scout Rangers stormed the Abu Sayyaf lair where they were being kept.
Four Abu Sayyaf members were immediately killed during the attack by the Scout Rangers.

The two victims were able to escape while the Abu Sayyaf, including their guards engaged the military troopers in a firefight.

Pagaling and Villaruz were brought to Manila where they were reunited with their family and presented to Coast Guard top officials.

Coast Guard chief can’t wait to retire

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 23): Coast Guard chief can’t wait to retire


Philippine Coast Guard commandant Adm. Rodolfo Isorena intends to file for “early” retirement in order to spend “stress-free” time with his family.

In an interview with reporters, Isorena said he was due to retire on Oct. 26 but he asked that it be moved forward to Oct. 2.

“I want to rest, I’ve been through so much stress,” he said.

He said the last straw was the kidnapping of two of his men— SN2 Gringo Villaruz and SN1 Rod Alain Pagaling—by the extremist Abu Sayyaf group in Zamboanga del Norte in May.

But the recovery of Villaruz and Pagaling last Wednesday in Sulu after they managed to escape from their captors during a military operation to rescue them has somewhat boosted his spirits.

“I’m very happy they are safe; I will be leaving without unfinished business,” Isorena said.

“I no longer want to work 24/7. It’s very stressful, especially when you are sleeping at night and then your phone rings during the wee hours. Most likely something bad happened, it means there was an accident. It’s very stressful,” he said.

“Actually, during my incumbency, it was very smooth, except for a few unfortunate incidents like the sinking of the MB Kim Nirvana because of excess passengers,” he said, referring to the sea mishap in Ormoc City last month which left more than 60 people dead.

He expressed confidence in the next PCG chief’s ability to handle the affairs of the agency well, including the major events scheduled in the coming months like the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meetings.

Asked if he planned to run for public office after retiring, Isorena said: “Tatakbo ako sa (I will run at) UP…[Running for public office] never occurred to me. Kung galit ka sa akin, patakbuhin mo ako (If you’ve got something against me, ask me to run).”

Iriberri declares military ‘gender-free’ institution

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 23): Iriberri declares military ‘gender-free’ institution

Maj. Gen. Hernando DCA Iriberri received his third star in a simple donning of rank ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on Monday, March 31. This came after nearly two months that he was named Army chief. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin pinned the rank on Iriberri's shoulders. /OFFICE OF THE ARMY CHIEF PUBLIC AFFAIRS

The 125,000-strong Armed Forces of the Philippines is no longer a “gendered institution” and now provides equal opportunities to female soldiers and even members of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community to succeed as soldiers.

AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri told the Inquirer that gender mainstreaming had put emphasis on the soldiers’ capability to prove their worth in combat and non-combat roles, regardless of gender.

He said the military institution, once a male domain, respected and advocated gender equality in the organization, particularly in terms of rights, responsibilities, opportunities, conditions and treatment.

“We do not judge our soldiers on the basis of their gender but rather, we give importance to their accomplishments, competencies and work ethic,” Iriberri said.

Since the enactment of Republic Act No. 7192, “An Act Promoting the Integration of Women as Full and Equal Partners of Men in Development and Nation-Building And For Other Purposes,” the AFP has accommodated women in its ranks with the entry of female cadets in the Philippine Military Academy in 1993 initially with a quota of 30, Irriberi said.

Section 15 of the act provides that “the state shall pursue appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination of women in the military, police and other similar services, including revising or abolishing policies and practices that restrict women from availing of both combat, security-related or field operations.”

AFP data showed that as of October 2013, there were 1,879 female soldiers in the Philippine Army, 527 of them officers and 1,351 enlisted women.

Iriberri said the AFP had accommodated women in its ranks, with the female cadets initially given a quota of 18 percent.

Since 1993, female PMA cadets have since graduated with the classes of 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000. Arlene de la Cruz, a graduate of Class ’99, holds the distinction of being the first female cadet to graduate at the top of her class.

Iriberri said female cadets undergo basically the same rigid training as their male counterparts to become future officers of the AFP. Likewise, punishment is served equally regardless of gender.

But while the AFP respects gender roles, Iriberri said that cross-dressing or public displays of conduct demeaning to the profession of arms was strictly prohibited.

Of the three major services of the AFP, it is in the Philippine Army and the Marine Corps that women’s engagement in combat is scarce, if not discouraged.

Elite fighting units such as the Scout Rangers, Special Forces, Navy Seals and Marines are usually deployed to fight the communist and Muslim insurgencies and other lawless elements, such as the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

In general, military doctrines, strategies and facilities are all designed for men. The profession of arms was never intended for women when it was first conceived until feminization swept most armed forces of other countries.

In asserting gender equality in the Philippine military, the late AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Arturo Enrile said there should be no issue when it came to soldiers performing their role as protector of the people and the Constitution.

In the book “A Soldier’s Legacy,” which was a tribute to Enrile’s accomplishments as a soldier, the latter said that “bickering and hair-splitting are just a way of clearing the air.”

“For at heart, we are patient, helpful and nurturing people and in times of crisis, we join hands for a common struggle,” Enrile.

Suspected NPA rebels burn heavy equipment in Davao

From ABS-CBN (Aug 23): Suspected NPA rebels burn heavy equipment in Davao

Suspected New People's Army (NPA) rebels burned eight pieces of heavy equipment in four barangays in Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur on Saturday evening.

In Barangay Coronon, a grader and a backhoe were burned, and a crane and a jack hammer were razed in Barangay Tagabuli.

Another back hoe and a dump truck were also burned in Barangay Zone 1, plus two other back hoes in Barangay Darong.

The Armed Forces and police are set to begin clearing operations in the barangays today.

Authorities suspect that the rebels may have placed land mines in the area before leaving last night.

Delivery of PAF attack AW-109E fleet to be completed by 2015

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 23): Delivery of PAF attack AW-109E fleet to be completed by 2015

Philippine Air Force (PAF) commander Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado has said the delivery of its AgustaWestland AW-109E "Power" attack helicopters will be completed before the end of this year.

"We expect six more attack helicopters that will come before the year ends," he added.

The PAF formally commissioned its first two attack AW-109Es last Aug. 17.

Delgado expressed confidence that the remaining six units will be mission-capable before the last quarter of 2015.

The Philippine government signed an eight-unit attack AW-109E order with AgustaWestland in 2013 for PhP3.44 billion.

The PAF chief said that .50 caliber machine gun and 2.74-inch rocket armed AW-109E will complement the existing fleet of MG-520 attack helicopters being used by the military in close-air support missions.

The AW-109E is a three-ton class, eight-seat helicopter powered by two Pratt and Whitney PW206C engines.

The spacious cabin is designed to be fitted with a number of modular equipment packages for quick and easy conversion between roles.

The aircraft’s safety features include a fully separated fuel system, dual hydraulic boost system, dual electrical systems and redundant lubrication and cooling systems for the main transmission and engines.

The AW-109 has established itself as the world’s best selling light-twin helicopter for maritime missions.

Its superior speed, capacity and productivity combined with reliability and ease of maintenance make it the most cost effective maritime helicopter in its class.

For shipboard operations, the aircraft has a reinforced-wheeled landing gear and deck mooring points as well as extensive corrosion protection measures.

The ability to operate from small ships in high sea state enables the AW-109 to perform its mission when many other helicopters would be confined to the ship’s hangar.

Over 550 AW-109 "Power" and AW-109 light utility helicopters have been ordered for commercial, parapublic and military applications by customers in almost 50 countries.

Suspected rebels torch engineering equipment in Davao del Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 23): Suspected rebels torch engineering equipment in Davao del Sur

Government security forces are pursuing a suspected rebel band who torched two heavy road-building equipment at the Davao-General Santos Road, Sta. Cruz town, Davao Del Sur Saturday night.

The military said the incident took place at 9 p.m.

Gutted were a road grader and a pile hammer machine which were being used to widen the Sta. Cruz portion of the road.

Members of the rebels' Southern Mindanao Regional Command, which is known to operate in the area, are being tagged for the arson attack which is believed to be extortion-related.

AFP, NPA step up war on YouTube

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 23): AFP, NPA step up war on YouTube

This soldier is one for the books. Or, for Facebook.

The Armed Forces on Saturday released on YouTube a short video showing the heroism of an Army private who volunteered to be taken captive by communist rebels in Misamis Oriental province to put an end to a gun battle and spare the civilians caught in the crossfire.

It is the military’s answer to the video released more than a month ago by the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in northern Mindanao claiming that the soldier, Pfc. Adonis Jess Lupiba, was their prisoner of war (POW).

The military has produced a video to show the sacrifice that Lupiba made, which is based on the accounts of the villagers of Barangay Alagatan, Gingoog City, where the fighting occurred, said Maj. Gen. Oscar Lactao, commanding general of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division (ID) based in Cagayan de Oro City.

Lactao said the villagers wanted the NPA rebels to release Lupiba.

The 4th ID produced the eight-minute video, which has been distributed to journalists.

In the video, the barangay captain, Emelyn Bucio, and the residents talk about how Lupiba volunteered to be taken by the communist rebels who suddenly attacked the community while the residents and soldiers were playing a game of basketball on July 11.

Two villagers, Helen Mae Helodo, 14, and Leticia Cabrera, 52, were wounded. One soldier was killed and eight others were injured in the attack.

Bucio tearfully recalled how Lupiba shouted at the rebels to stop shooting and take him instead as the villagers cowered in fear.

Laughed, kicked

Bucio said the rebels laughed as they kicked and hit Lupiba as soon as they laid hands on him.

Neri Olano and Gemma Apal said Lupiba was a hero for offering to be captured in exchange for the residents’ safety.

A rebel spokesperson claimed NPA responsibility for the raid and said Lupiba was undergoing an investigation. He said the soldier would be freed once it was proven that he had not committed any serious offense against the rebel movement.

In a statement e-mailed to the Inquirer, Allan Juanito, NPA spokesperson, said the raid was a punitive action against the “psywar and intelligence operations” of the military in the community.

“The reactionary soldiers were playing basketball in the village center when they were raided by the NPA,” Juanito said.

Negotiations for release

Lactao said military operations to rescue Lupiba were continuing even as the AFP was supporting the negotiations initiated by local third-party facilitators for the soldier’s release.

In a statement released on Aug. 20, the communist National Democratic Front-North Central Mindanao Region (NDF-NCMR) said it was “grateful” to the facilitators composed of Christian religious leaders and the local crisis committee of Misamis Oriental for “their assistance to the family of prisoner of war Pfc. Adonis Jess Lupiba.”

“He still is under the custody of a New People’s Army unit since July 11. We are hopeful their efforts would succeed in securing the necessary conditions to effect the safe and orderly release of the POW,” the NDF-NCMR said on its website.

It assailed the rescue operation that the military has launched, saying it was delaying Lupiba’s release.

MILF: Editorial -- ‘Never say die’

Editorial posted to the MILF Website (Aug 22): Editorial -- ‘Never say die’

Many are expressing despair over the state of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

To them, it's chance to pass Congress is not only slim but dims everyday as the month of August is ending and September comes in so fast. In fact, one group including some legal minds have already urged the MILF to give up on pushing for the proposed law. It is a lost case, they argued, and therefore the MILF should disengage. They cited the two substitute bills in the House and the Senate which are far cry from the original BBL.

Similarly, one leader of the other Moro liberation organization had told the MILF that the BBL is a hopeless case to pursue, citing their bad experience with the government. “What they did to us, they will do it to you,” he warned.  Another prominent media practitioner criticized the MILF for trusting the government too much. “There is no more time left for the BBL to pass Congress,” she confidently asserted.

With calmness and patience, the MILF has listened to all these pushing or bashing. While they are not taken as veritable truth, they are not passed on to the other ear either. Any idea has to be treated with respect.  We said to our self: “The day of reckoning is not far away. We will know who is correct and who is wrong. Let us wait for that.”

But the necessary question is. If the MILF is to disengage right now, what are the implications and alternatives? Who will be on the bad side of history? Truth is that many a person criticizes an idea or decision, but he or she has nothing to offer. Often their decision is caused by emotions and not a well-thought-out idea.  

The MILF has its own way of looking at every situation. It does not only examine the positive side but the negative side as well. If there is a threat there is also opportunity. If other people including some so-called intellectuals or academicians often view any given situation one-sidedly, the MILF views it objectively.  Subjectivism is never a good trait in a revolutionary struggle, or rigidity has any place in it.  The fact that the MILF has withstood all the trials and tribulations for more than four decades of incessant struggle attests to its staying power and correctness of its ideological, political, and organizational lines. The leadership may not all be highly educated but when it comes to a revolutionary struggle they can hardly be equaled. The track record of the MILF speaks for itself.

The BBL is not yet dead on track. There is still chance for it to pass Congress. President Benigno Aquino III will deliver; we still believe in this. We also trust the collective wisdom of Congress to pass the proposed law, a good BBL.

On many occasions, the MILF has been in a situation fraught with dangers. But it never gave up; it never said die. No one knows exactly what is in the offing. Only God does.

Senator Marcos: MILF’s version of draft BBL is dead

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 22): Senator Marcos: MILF’s version of draft BBL is dead
bongbong marcos

Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. FILE PHOTO/RYAN LEAGOGO

The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) has no more chance of becoming a law, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said here on Thursday.

Marcos told reporters here that because the BBL crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission led by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has a very slim chance of passing in the Senate since senators had already stopped talking about it.

He claimed the proposed law also had no chance of passing in the House of Representatives.

“The BBL has no chance of passing in the Senate,” he added.

Marcos said he was now pushing for the substitute bill, which “is no longer the BBL,” but would also provide autonomy for the Bangsamoro.

He said the substitute bill, the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, had been submitted for interpellation.

He said senators had told him they wanted to study the substitute bill before tackling it at the Senate.

Marcos said he was open to possible amendments that his fellow senators would propose once the substitute Bangsamoro bill was discussed.

He said so far, he was told that the only area where a debate could occur is on the constitutionality of the form of government that would be implemented in the new autonomous region.

“In the findings of Sen. Miriam’s committee, she said they found it (a parliamentary form of government) unconstitutional, but I have spoken to many constitutionalists and lawyers and in their opinion, is constitutional. This would be up for discussion by the senators,” Marcos said.

He said he believes the substitute proposed law was more inclusive compared to the BBL, which is obviously for the MILF only.

Marcos’ version of the Bangsamoro Basic Law had been assailed by the MILF as it allegedly failed to live up to the provisions of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, a member of the Technical Working Group of the MILF peace panel, said the version of Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. merely repeated the mistake of Republic Act 9054, more known as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) law.

Mohaqher Iqbal, MILF chief negotiator and chair of the BTC, earlier rejected the Marcos version, saying it practically erased the gains of the 17 years of peace negotiations.

Sinarimbo said the Marcos draft sustained the unacceptable status quo, which the parties expressly agreed was unacceptable, this being the first provision of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

“The status quo is the unitary-highly centralized relation between the Manila government and the Bangsamoro/ARMM and which is sought to be remedied by the power sharing agreement of the parties where the central government will have reserved powers, the Bangsamoro will have exclusive powers and both will share in the concurrent powers,” Sinarimbo told the Inquirer.

He said the Marcos version in Sec 21 Art V, the exclusive powers of the Bangsamoro, is subject to the Constitutional and national laws. “In reality, there is no exclusive powers for the Bangsamoro as it is still subordinated to national laws; no real power sharing,” he said.

Sinarimbo also said the Marcos version took back the powers and prerogative already enjoyed by ARMM and therefore makes it even less than ARMM.

“An illustration of this is the authority to create free ports and economic zones are already granted in the Organic Law of ARMM but the Marcos version made this a reserved power that can only be exercised by the central government,” he said.

He also cited the provision on the Shariah law that under the ARMM has jurisdiction over person and family relations, commercial transactions and criminal cases (limited) while under the Marcos version it will only have jurisdiction over person and family relations which is already contained in the Muslim Personal Law issued under the Marcos dictatorship.

Sinarimbo believed the Marcos version would not contribute to resolving the Bangsamoro question, which actually is the ultimate end of the peace agreement and the resultant BBL.

“The Marcos version has also taken out from the (draft) Bangsamoro territory the six municipalities of Lanao del Norte and 39 villages in North Cotabato,” Sinarimbo said.

News of beheadings and raids adds to relatives’ worries

From The Star Online (Aug 22): News of beheadings and raids adds to relatives’ worries

[Video report: Sandakan kidnap: Hostages' families have trust in police]

PETALING JAYA: It has been 100 days since Thien Nyuk Fun and Bernard Then Ted Fen were snatched from a floating restaurant in Sandakan.

Thien, 50, and Then, 39, are being held by Abu Sayyaf gunmen in Jolo, southern Philippines.

The duo’s families are getting even more worried amid recent reports of beheadings and military raids there.

“There is nothing we can do. We hope the government can help us,” said Chung Chin Lung, Thien’s son.
Chung, 31, said his mother has high blood pressure and suffers from other medical conditions too. Her condition is said to be deteriorating rapidly in the jungle and this has caused his grandmother to worry even more.

“My grandmother has lost her appetite. She is very thin now,” said Chung.

Thien, the restaurant manager, and Then, a Sarawakian on holiday, were abducted from the Ocean King Seafood Restaurant on May 14 and taken to Jolo by gunmen who later demanded a ransom.

Desperate for contact: Chan (left) and Chung holding photos of their kidnapped loved ones.

Desperate for contact: Chan (left) and Chung holding photos of their kidnapped loved ones.

The last time their family members had contact with them was at the end of June.

Since then, the police have been handling the case, said Chan Wai See, Then’s wife.

“We have been told that they are being moved from place to place very frequently. The situation in the Philippines is very uncertain,” she said between sobs.

Chan, 40, said her parents-in-law were very worried and called her every day to find out about their son.

“I can’t given them much information and can only try to comfort them,” she said.

Abu Sayyaf beheaded a Filipino village chief on Aug 11 after his family failed to come up with the one million pesos (RM892,000) ransom.

The village chief was kidnapped on May 4 along with two other coast guard personnel.

Families of Sandakan kidnap victims more fearful after rescue attempt sours

From the Malayaia Insider (Aug 22): Families of Sandakan kidnap victims more fearful after rescue attempt sours

The families of two Malaysians kidnapped in Sandakan four months ago fear that time is running out for their loved ones after Filipino forces attempted a rescue of hostages held by gunmen in the southern Philippines, killing 15 militants.

Chan Wai See (left), wife of Bernard Then Ten Fen, and Chung Chin Lung, son of Thien Nyuk Fun, are now worried of the kidnapped pair's safety. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Seth Akmal, August 22, 2015.

Chan Wai See (left), wife of Bernard Then Ten Fen, and Chung Chin Lung, son of Thien Nyuk Fun, are now worried of the kidnapped pair's safety. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Seth Akmal, August 22, 2015.

The desperate families are turning to the Home Ministry, and hope for an appointment with minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to secure the immediate release of Thien Nyuk Fun, 51, and Bernard Then Ted Fen, 39.

Both victims were snatched from a seafood restaurant belonging to Thien at gunpoint on May 14, and are now believed to be held on the remote southern Filipino island of Jolo by the Abu Sayyaf militants.

"The situation in Jolo is volatile currently and we have heard the news of the beheading of a Filipino village chief last week and that Filipino security forces are moving in on their hideouts," Bernard's wife Chan Wai See told The Malaysian Insider.

"And the latest update we have received from the police is that the health of my husband and Madam Thien were getting worse. That has increased our worry."

Bernard is pre-diabetic while Thien has high blood pressure. Their families have previously said that they needed their medication urgently.

AFP reported last week that a Filipino barangay (village) official, Rodolfo Boligao, who had been held hostage by militants since May, was found beheaded on a highway on Jolo island.

He had been captured in May by Abu Sayyaf, the al-Qaeda-linked group in the southern Philippines that has gained notoriety for bombings and kidnapping sprees.

Boligao's handcuffed remains were found with his severed head placed by his side and a piece of paper with his name written on it on top of his body.

The photographs of kidnap victims Thien Nyuk Fun and Bernard Then Ted Fen held by Chung Chin Lung (left) and Chan Wai See. The duo's abduction is one of many incidents in the east coast of Sabah in the last few years. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Seth Akmal, August 22, 2015.

The photographs of kidnap victims Thien Nyuk Fun and Bernard Then Ted Fen held by Chung Chin Lung (left) and Chan Wai See. The duo's abduction is one of many incidents in the east coast of Sabah in the last few years. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Seth Akmal, August 22, 2015.

The Filipino army this week launched an offensive against the militants in a bid to rescue 11 hostages, including the two Malaysians, from the hideouts, killing 15 members of the extremist group. Two hostages - Filipino coastguards - escaped during the gun battle.

Chan, who was with her husband at the restaurant when he was kidnapped, said she was struck with anxiety upon hearing the army's rescue attempt in Jolo, and prayed that her husband and Thien were not one of those killed.

She and Thien's eldest son Chung Chin Lung are concerned that the offensive would not bode well for the safe release of their family members, and are pushing Putrajaya to speed up the process.

"We know the government and the police are doing all they can. But it is now over a 100 days since they were kidnapped and we hope that things will go faster and because of what happened recently, there is an urgency to get them back as quick as we can," the distraught Chan said.

The family, who are from Kuching, are hoping that Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem would also hear them out.

Restaurant still closed

Chung said the families last spoke to the militants, who had called to seek ransom for their release, in the third week of June.

Police, they said, have since asked them to switch off their phones to allow authorities to negotiate with the extremists themselves.

"We have been receiving updates from police about their conditions. And yet, we feel so helpless and with every passing day, it is getting harder for the family. The ordeal has taken a toll on us as we have no information about what is happening.

"But our trust is still with the police, who we believe are doing all they can to bring them back. But we want them to understand the urgency of the matter, given all that has happened since more than a week ago," he added.

Chung said the family's seafood restaurant has been shut since the incident as people were afraid to frequent the area, located only 2.5km from Sandakan town.

"My grandmother (Thien's mother) is also very worried and keeps asking us for updates but we have none to give her," Chung said.

The kidnappings of Bernard and Thien are one episode in a long list of similar incidents in the east coast of Sabah in the last few years.

In November 2013, a Taiwanese man was killed and his wife abducted.

Last year, a police officer was killed and another was kidnapped in a resort off Semporna.

In April last year, a Chinese tourist and Filipino resort worker were kidnapped from a Semporna resort.

Later in June, a Malaysian fish breeder and a Filipino employee were abducted at their fish farm.

In all those incidents, the victims were eventually rescued.

"Looking at these past incidents and the fact that the hostages were eventually rescued, we are hopeful for their (Then and Thien) safe release but we are hoping that it will be done sooner rather than later," Chan added.

Basilan, Sulu to benefit from P329-M infra projects

From the Manila Bulletin (Aug 22): Basilan, Sulu to benefit from P329-M infra projects

Officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) on Thursday announced the start of P329 million worth of seaport expansion and road projects in Basilan and Sulu.

Regional Gov. Mujiv Hataman said the projects were expected to help restore normalcy in the two provinces that has been hounded by terrorism and violence.

Believing that development helps eradicate conflict, Hataman and ARMM Public Works Secretary Engr. Don Mustapha Loong signed the contracts for the projects which were awarded to the winning bidders.

The projects include the expansion and improvement of the seaports in Lamitan City in Basilan and in Jolo town in Sulu. The P194-million undertaking will be implemented by LG Lagascar, Incorporated.

Also signed were contracts for the concreting of a road network in Basilan province worth P135.8 million. It will be undertaken by Santiago, Inc.

To ensure transparency and accountability, Hataman and Loong both urged the public, non government organizations, including the media to keep a close watch on the projects.

“The public should get involved, we are spending government money and public scrutiny is necessary to avoid corruption,” Hataman told reporters. “Even suspicion should not be an issue if government projects are implemented above board.”

He assured that all projects in ARMM were subjected to public bidding in accordance with Government Procurement Reform Act (GPRA) to guarantee efficiency and transparency in project implementation.

Funds for the projects were taken from the ARMM’s 2015 infrastructure subsidy.

The ARMM public works office has also allocated P145.5 million for the repair of Lamitan City seaport while P48.5 million has been set aside for the repair and rehabilitation of Jolo seaport and gateway.

In Basilan, road concreting has started for the P38.8-million Tipo-Tipo-Sangkuyut road, the P27.1-million Sangkuyut-Bohe Suyat road, the P11.6-million Materling-Tong Bato road and the P58.2-million Amaloy-Matata-Bucalao road, all in the town of Ungkaya Pukan.

Hataman assured the people of Basilan that road concreting will continue despite threats from extremist Abu Sayyaf Group which repeatedly attempted, but failed, to disrupt government projects in the island province.

Government forces will help secure private contractors in completing the development projects.

US to boost military presence in Asia-Pacific – Pentagon

From the Manila Bulletin (Aug 23): US to boost military presence in Asia-Pacific – Pentagon

The United States plans to strengthen its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region in the next few years by deploying more of its ships and warplanes, a new Pentagon report said.
The report titled “Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy” said Washington will “maintain the necessary military presence and capabilities to protect US interests and those of allies and partners against potential threats in maritime Asia.”
David Shear, the assistant secretary of defense for Asian-Pacific security affairs, told a Pentagon news conference Friday that the US is strengthening its military capacity in the region to deter conflict and coercion and respond decisively when needed.
“The United States maintains 368,000 military personnel in the Asia-Pacific region,” the report reads. “Over the next five years, the US Navy will increase the number of ships assigned to Pacific Fleet outside of US territory by approximately 30 percent, greatly improving our ability to maintain a more regular and persistent maritime presence in the Pacific. And by 2020, 60 percent of naval and overseas air assets will be home-ported in the Pacific region.”
The report also mentions various territorial and maritime disputes in the South China and East China Seas, involving Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan. “The US government urges States not to  implement unilateral actions that undermine regional stability and trust,” it says.

Off Subject but of Current Interest: AP Analysis: What's different this time in Korean standoff?

Off Subject but of Current Interest from the Associated Press posted to the Philippine Star (Aug 22): AP Analysis: What's different this time in Korean standoff?

A South Korean army soldier walks along the military wire fences on Unification Bridge, which leads to the demilitarized zone, near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday declared his front-line troops in a "quasi-state of war" and ordered them to prepare for battle a day after the most serious confrontation between the rivals in years. AP/Ahn Young-joon

For years, North Korea's litany of threats has been largely dismissed — Seoul, after all, is still not drowning in a "sea of fire," despite Pyongyang's repeated promises to make it so.

As the clock ticks down on a Saturday ultimatum for the South to remove propaganda loudspeakers or face war, however, there's some worry that Pyongyang could finally mean what it says.

So what's different this time?

Partly, it's North Korea's apparent willingness to back up an earlier vow to attack the anti-Pyongyang loudspeakers and also on the specificity of its Saturday deadline.

There was surprise when South Korea's military reported Thursday that North Korea had fired across the border, and was then met by dozens of shells from the South. If the North attacked once, some argue, it may be more likely to back up its newest threat, especially if a very specific deadline is being ignored, as Seoul has indicated it will do.

The new sense of worry also comes from uncertainty about the young, third generation leader now at the helm in the North, Kim Jong Un.

While earlier North Korean leaders — the founder, Kim Il Sung, and his son Kim Jong Il — were seen as masters of brinksmanship, men who knew how to play a dangerous game where threats and provocations were pushed to a straining point, but not to breaking, to extract concessions and aid, Kim Jong Un is seen as lacking the same savvy, experience and, after a series of bloody, high-level government and military purges, the necessary good counsel.

With tens of thousands of troops and military hardware facing off along a border within easy striking range of Seoul's 10 million residents, a nagging uncertainty about what Kim will do makes it harder to ignore threats of war, even if past declarations have often been bombast.

There has been bloodshed in skirmishes in recent decades but the fighting has not escalated. The risk of things getting out of hand seems greater now because South Korea, in the wake of a humiliating exchange in 2010, when a surprise North Korean artillery attack killed four, has instructed its military to hit back much harder if attacked.

Even so, and granting the important caveat that predicting North Korea's behavior in advance is largely a fool's errand, there are still some important signs that tensions may ease.

For the most part, North Korea's authoritarian leadership, while seen by many outsiders as unpredictable, is overwhelmingly consistent on one major point: The Kim family's rule must be protected.

While proud and incredibly sensitive to perceived slights from the outside, and therefore furious over the criticism being piped across the border on the South Korean loudspeakers, Pyongyang is reluctant to do anything to jeopardize the all-powerful position the Kims have enjoyed since founding the country in 1948.

Insults must be answered, of course, in over-the top state media propaganda and in declarations from troops and citizens showcasing a willingness to crush the enemy. But this is largely for the benefit of a domestic audience that cannot be allowed to see Kim Jong Un in anything but a heroic light.

Pushing things to a full military conflict is seen as suicide. The United States stations tens of thousands of troops in South Korea, and both Seoul and Washington far outclass Pyongyang in their weapons' technology and effectiveness. North Korea could do serious damage to Seoul — even rusty artillery, when plentiful and close-by, can be deadly — but a war would eventually destroy the Kim family.

North Korea has constructed face-saving scenarios and turned back from the brink before, and both sides seem to have pulled their punches in the initial conflict, reportedly sending their shells into remote areas.

De-escalation may also be more likely because this standoff comes as 80,000 troops from the United States and South Korea participate in annual summer war games. While North Korea hates the drills and calls them preparation for a northward attack, now is a particularly bad time to start a war.

Iriberri honors wounded soldiers

From the Philippine Star (Aug 22): Iriberri honors wounded soldiers

Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hernado Iriberri personally pinned a medal to the soldiers wounded during the offensive operations against the Abu Sayyaf insurgents. photo

Wounded soldiers received medals and commendation directly from Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hernado Iriberri last Friday.

Iriberri, who made his first visit here, personally pinned a medal to three wounded soldiers confined at the Camp Navarro General Hospital (CNGH).

Two of the soldiers were among the seven army troopers wounded during the offensive operation Wednesday against the Abu Sayyaf group in the mountain of Sitio Marang, Barangay Buanza, Indanan town, Sulu.

“It is difficult to have such medal,” said Iriberri, who later admitted he has not received one in his combat carrier.

At least 15 militants were killed in the assault that led to the rescue of the two Philippine Coast Guard personnel.

The other soldier was a junior officer, who was also wounded in the encounter against a separate group of Abu Sayyaf in Upper Baiwas, Sumisip town, Basilan.

“Seeing the wounded soldiers made me feel proud as they show their dedication in our campaign to bring peace in this area,” Iriberri told the troops during his ‘talk to the men’ on the ground forces.

Iriberri lauded the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) under the leadership of Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero for its successful campaign against the Abu Sayyaf insurgents.

Iriberri expressed optimism about the military’s ongoing campaign of pressuring the Abu Sayyaf group to release the rest of the hostages.

The military believed less than ten are being held captive by the militants in Sulu, who include five foreigners, a town mayor, among others.

K-12 program seen to affect PMA

From the Philippine Star (Aug 22): K-12 program seen to affect PMA

With the implementation of the K-12 program, the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) will have older lieutenants and shorter terms for senior military officers due to mandatory age of retirement. photo

The Philippine Military Academy (PMA) will have older batch of graduates as lieutenants and shorter terms for senior military officers once the K-12 program of the Department of Education (DepEd) takes effect.

Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri said that while there will be no vacuum in the PMA with the implementation of the K-12 program; it will affect the academy in a way.

Iriberri, who was here in Zamboanga City, his first out of town visit outside Metro Manila, said the first effect will be on the graduates of the PMA.

“If that (K-12) will be implemented, we will have older graduates because based on the law, those who will join the PMA are high school graduates,” Iriberri said. “There will be additional two years so the aspiring cadets will be 18 years old.”

He said there will be a minimal effect if cadets joining the PMA are 18 years old at that time.

“Kaya nga lang tatanda ‘yong ating mga kadete at tenyente and later on ang effect niyan sa shorter term ng mga officers or early retirement (because of the mandatory age of retirement),” Iriberri said.

Palace backs US concern vs West PH Sea reclamation

From ABS-CBN (Aug 23): Palace backs US concern vs West PH Sea reclamation

Malacanang on Saturday again expressed concern over China's land reclamation projects in the disputed Spratly islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

In a radio interview, deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said the government has long expressed its concern over said project, including its effect on the environment.

Valte issued this statement following's US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter's comments that the Chinese reclamation works in the disputed sea have created ''a very serious situation.''

"We have always expressed our concern on the reclamation that is being done; and, in fact, that is one of the points that we raised, not just on the matter of the maritime dispute, but also the impact on the environment that the reclamation has in our arbitration case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration," Valte said.

A new Pentagon report said that aside from reclaiming more land in the Spratlys, Beijing is also completing construction of a runway on one of its seven man-made outposts.

The report added that China could potentially use the airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef as an alternative runway for carrier-based planes, allowing the Chinese military to conduct "sustained operations" with aircraft carriers in the area.

Since China's land reclamation efforts began in December 2013, it had reclaimed more than 2,900 acres (1,170 hectares) of land as of June 2015, the report said. U.S. officials had previously put the total at 2,000 acres.

In a statement, China's Foreign Ministry said China had "completed the relevant island and reef area reclamation project" at the end of June.

China had reclaimed 17 times more land in 20 months than the other claimants combined over the past 40 years, accounting for approximately 95 percent of all reclaimed land in the Spratlys, it added.

"China is unilaterally altering the physical status quo in the region, thereby complicating diplomatic initiatives that could lower tensions," said the report.

PHL, Malaysia to hold naval drills

From GMA News (Aug 22): PHL, Malaysia to hold naval drills

The navies of the Philippines and Malaysia will conduct a joint training exercise from Aug. 24-28, Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NFWM), which will host the maritime training activity said Saturday.
According to a press advisory, MTA MALPHI LAUT 18/15, which will be held in the NFWM's area of responsibility "will focus on maritime security and transnational crime." 
The annual exercises, which are hosted alternately by the Philippines and Malaysia, is meant to enhance interoperability and cooperation between the two navies.
This year's training exercise, which will be opened formally at a ceremony at Naval Station Romulo Espaldon in Zamboanga City on Monday morning, is the 18th since the countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Defense Cooperation in 1994.

Photo: Building the future

From The Standard (Aug 22): Photo: Building the future

American soldiers along with their counterparts from the Philippines and Australia work together to repair Bartolome Doria Elementary School in Bohol province as part of the Pacific Angel operation, a multilateral humanitarian assistance civil-military operation, which improves military-to-military partnerships in the Pacific while also providing medical health outreach, civic engineering projects and subject matter exchanges among partner forces. U.S. AIR FORCE / T. Sgt. AARON OELRICH

PH, Malaysia stage naval ‘war games’

From The Standard (Aug 22): PH, Malaysia stage naval ‘war games’
The  Philippine  Navy and its Malaysian counterpart  will  hold bilateral military exercise in a move to  enhance maritime security and boost efforts to  combat transnational crimes affecting the two countries.

Dubbed as “MTA MALPHI LAUT 18/15” the joint exercises will be take place from August 24 to 28  in the Sulu seas and involve ships, aircraft and special units from the two navies, according to Rear Admiral Primitivo Gopo, Commander of Naval Forces Western Mindanao through  Public Affairs Officer  Ensign Ian Ramos.

The bilateral activity, the 18th in a series of naval exercise, will be hosted by the Philippines since the signing of the Defense Cooperation under the Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries in 1994.

The joint naval exercise came in the midst of the unresolved Sabah issue being pursued by the Sultanate of Sulu parallel to Malaysia’s pursuit for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, as a broker  in  the peace accord between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front .

Malaysia has  established a floating naval force  fronting Sulu waters in an   attempt to keep militants from Southern Philippines at bay and provide a buffer zone  for the  expected exodus of refugees from  hostilities in Mindanao.

The Navy said the primary objective of the exercise is to enhance interoperability between the two Navy forces and developed better understanding and cooperation between them.

Army: Don't pay rebels campaign permit fees

From the Visayan Daily Star (Aug 22): Army: Don't pay rebels campaign permit fees

A ranking military official yesterday discouraged candidates in the May 2016 election from paying “permits to win and campaign fees”, usually demanded by the New People's Army during the election period.
The filing of certificates of candidacy for candidates in next year's election is from October 12 to 16.
Col. Francisco Delfin, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, said that giving in to the demands of the NPA means providing more power to those he calls “extortionists"
In previous elections, candidates were forced to pay up to allegedly gain protection from the rebel groups in areas controlled by them.
Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala, Armed Forces Civil Relations chief, in a statement he issued, said that the continuous efforts of the AFP in running after high ranking officials of the NPA makes the impact of the rebel group no longer valuable.
AFP records show that the CPP-NPA allegedly demands P500,000 from a gubernatorial candidates, P300,000 from vice gubernatorial bets, P250,000 from congressional candidates, P200,000 from mayoralty candidates and P100,000 from vice mayoralty candidates.
Through Comelec Resolution No. 9981, promulgated on August 18, the poll body scheduled the election period from January 10 to June 8 next year.
The election is set on May 9 on the same year.

S. Cotabato militiaman who killed 2 colleagues arrested

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 22): S. Cotabato militiaman who killed 2 colleagues arrested

Police have arrested a militiaman who executed two of his comrades and wounded another inside a para-military detachment in Barangay Palo, Tampakan, South Cotabato Thursday.

Senior Inspector Sherwin Maglana, Tampakan police chief, said joint Tampakan PNP and Koronadal City PNP arrested the suspect, Mark Anthony Aradaza, 28, resident of Barangay San Isidro, Tampakan, South Cotabato.

Maglana said the police received a tip about the presence of Aradaza in Barangay Topland, Koronadal City. After confirming the report, an operation was quickly conducted.

Maglana said a sizable force was formed because Aradaza was armed with M-14 issued to him as member of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) which he also used in executing two companions.

Armed with an arrest warrant, the lawmen swooped down on the suspect's hideout and arrested him.

On Thursday night, Aradaza shot dead Frankly Viloria, 23 and Mark Macul, 26. Another companion, Camilo de Claro, was wounded.

All the victims belonged to 72nd Civilian Armed Auxiliary/CAFGU under the supervision of the 27th Infantry Battalion.

Aradaza refused to issue statement. He is now detained at Tampakan PNP holding cell while charges of multiple murder and frustrated murder are being prepared against him.

Misuari, MNLF 'willing to talk peace' with gov’t

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 22): Misuari, MNLF 'willing to talk peace' with gov’t

GENERAL SANTOS CITY -- The Moro National Liberation Front's (MNLF) fugitive founding chair Nur Misuari is reportedly “very much willing” to engage in formal negotiations with the national government to resolve various issues, among them the implementation of the 1996 peace agreement.

Johnny Siao, chair of the MNLF Misuari faction's national border command based in this city, said that based on their latest communication, the rebel leader signified his intention to participate in a planned tripartite review for the peace process.

But he said the government should also reciprocate such move by dropping the rebellion charges that had been filed against Misuari in connection with the Zamboanga City siege in Sept. 2013.

"His (Misuari) tag as a terrorist should be dropped first before we start talking," he said in an interview.

Siao claimed that Misuari did not plan and led the Zamboanga City crisis and that it only escalated due to supposed erroneous interventions made by authorities and local politicians.

Citing results of the MNLF central committee's recent meeting held in Jolo, Sulu, he said they agreed to seek more engagements with the influential Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to address Misuari's case.

For the review process, he said they will also negotiate for the participation of OIC members Indonesia and Malaysia.

Ustadz Pendi Colano, a member of the MNLF central committee representing the Selatan Kutawato group, reiterated that they remain committed to the 1996 peace accord with the national government despite the past setbacks.

He said they continue to abide by the peace process and hopeful that the pending issues can still be resolved amicably and without the use of arms or violence.

"We are for peace. We believe that is also the stand of President Benigno S. Aquino III," he said.

Colano said the MNLF at-large is no longer a threat to national security and should be treated as such by the government, especially the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

He said their members have successfully reintegrated with the mainstream society after the forging of the peace agreement.

"We're already in the mainstream of the society and are now living simple lives. We don’t want to engage in war anymore," he added.

Zambo cops organize trackers to arrest bombing suspects

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 22): Zambo cops organize trackers to arrest bombing suspects

The Zamboanga City Police Office (ZCPO) has organized tracker teams to arrest the other suspects behind the Jan. 23 bombing in this city.

This was disclosed by Senior Supt. Angelito Casimiro, ZCPO director, since three of the four suspects remain at large and the court has issued arrest warrants against them.

Still at large are: Aldamer Sahibuddin; Nidz Asmad alias Nidz Ahamad and Midel Isnaji; and, Muammar Askali, alias Abu Ramy.

The other suspect, Babylin Muallam, who carries the aliases of Babylin Jul Ismael and Hadja Baby Lin Julpa Jul, was arrested by the police last Aug. 13 in Barangay Campo Islam, 4.50 kilometers west of City Hall.

Casimiro said they have already information as to the whereabouts of the three other suspects.

All of the four suspects are charged with double murder and multiple frustrated murders.

Casimiro disclosed the suspects, who are scot-free, remain a threat to the security of this city.

Two people were killed while 54 others were wounded in the Jan. 23 bomb blast in Barangay Guiwan, 3.40 kilometers east of City Hall.

The bomb was placed in a car that was left parked in front of a bar.

Illegal fisher killed in Zamboanga Del Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 22): Illegal fisher killed in Zamboanga Del Sur

A suspected illegal fisher was shot and killed by troopers of the 53rd Infantry Battalion and V. Sagun Municipal Police Station after the former's group fired on government security forces off Igat Island, Margosatubig, Zamboanga Del Sur Friday afternoon.

The incident took place at 3 p.m., said Lt. Col. Audie Mongao, 1st Infantry Division spokesperson.

He added that police and military units, along with members of the V. Sagun Bantay-Dagat, were conducting law enforcement operations in the vicinity, in wake of illegal fishing complaints, when they spotted armed men aboard a "tari-tari" motorized fishing boat.

At this point, the suspects in the fishing boat fired on government security forces, prompting the latter to return fire, killing one of the illegal fishers.

The "tari-tari" then tried to escape but were quickly intercepted, resulting in the capture of four suspects and confiscation of an M-1 Garand rifle, 16 rounds of ammunition and the fishing boat.

Army units looking into shootout reports between rival political groups in Lanao Del Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 22): Army units looking into shootout reports between rival political groups in Lanao Del Sur

Units of the 1st Infantry Division, together with the local police, are now investigating the reported shootout between two rival political groups at the vicinity of Barangay East Poblacion and Punod District, Pantar town, Lanao Del Sur Friday.

Fortunately, no casualties were reported in the 4 a.m. engagement between the reported followers of Pantar Vice Mayor Mangondaya Tago and Mayor Mohammad Exchan Gabriel Limbona.

Reports forwarded by Lt. Col. Audie Mongao, 1st Infantry Division public affairs office chief, said Tago's followers "harassed" supporters of Limbona, triggering a hour-long exchange of fire.

The incident motive was triggered by "political rivalry," Mongao said.