Friday, December 18, 2015

Editorial: Talks needed if the Bangsamoro bill is to be saved

Editorial posted to Tempo (Dec 19): Talks needed if the Bangsamoro bill is to be saved

An official of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Moro group that negotiated and forged an agreement with the Aquino administration for the establishment of the Bangsamoro Entity in Mindanao, urged the government the other day to ensure that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) now pending in Congress “will not come out different from the original BBL.”

It seems that to this day, the MILF leaders are holding on to their expectation that the BBL – which is based on the MILF’s agreement several months ago with an administration peace panel — will still make it through Congress, as is. They are not ready to accept any amendment, any change in the bill that was originally submitted to Congress by the Aquino administration.

During the series of hearings in both in the Senate and the House of Representatives, many provisions of the original BBL were deemed unconstitutional. The Senate replaced the BBL with an entirely new draft. Even in the House, the congressmen have shown a great reluctance to act on the bill, absenting themselves from plenary sessions so that there has not been a quorum when the bill was scheduled.

In a meeting in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, last Saturday, MILF leaders attributed the slow progress of the BBL in Congress to (1) “lack of political will” by the Aquino administration and (2) disunity in the ranks of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the parent organization of the MILF. The meeting was specifically called to encourage the separate MNLF groups to unite, so that the government would see that the Moro leaders are solidly behind the BBL.

Those pushing for the BBL, however, should understand that it is not likely to pass without amendments. Uniting the MNLF and getting it to stand solidly beside the MILF and insist on the original BBL will not improve the situation.

It will only harden positions all around.

An effort must be made to get both sides back to the negotiating table. The alternative is much too difficult to contemplate.

MILF: Rebels are ‘sick, tired’ of war

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 19): MILF: Rebels are ‘sick, tired’ of war

Solon says fate of BBL is best left for next administration to decide

KORONADAL CITY—The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is “sick and tired” of war and is not likely to revive the violent struggle to attain self-rule for the Moro people, according to the guerrilla group’s chief peace negotiator.

The MILF statement, made by Mohagher Iqbal, came as legislators have all but given up on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the heart of a peace agreement between the Aquino administration and the MILF, which seeks to create a new autonomous region that would give more powers and a bigger degree of self-rule to the Moro people.

According to one member of the House, Rep. Win Gatchalian (Valenzuela, Nationalist People’s Coalition), the fate of BBL is best left for the next administration to decide.

“The next administration might have a different view about the BBL, which hangs in the balance up to now,” said Gatchalian, a senatorial candidate, in a statement.

“It is in this light that the BBL should be left for the next administration to decide for continuity,” he added.

Unlike the MILF, which keeps its optimism over BBL, Gatchalian said he doubts the proposed law can be passed in January, owing to the “lack of material time.”

“We have barely five months to go before the May 9 elections and this will definitely have a bearing on the enthusiasm of lawmakers in approving the BBL before Congress goes on recess in February,” he added.

“From where I stand, it would be best to let the next administration decide on the fate of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. I believe that this is the politically correct thing to do,” Gatchalian said.

Iqbal said MILF would continue to cling to peace even if BBL fails to pass Congress.

“War is not an option. We are sick and tired of engaging the government in fire fight,” Iqbal said in a phone interview.

Iqbal said the option for MILF is to continue negotiating with the government for the passage of the proposed law, which he described as the “only vehicle to attain long lasting peace in Mindanao.”

Earlier, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chair of the Senate local government committee, said he considers BBL to be dead although Senate President Franklin Drilon gave assurances it would pass in the Senate in January.

Sessions for both chambers of Congress will resume on Jan. 18.

Iqbal said the failure of the proposed law to pass Congress before lawmakers take a break for the Yuletide season did not mean it was already dead.

“The MILF is 100 percent optimistic that BBL will become a law. We need to go to the usual process but we are hopeful for the best,” he said.

Iqbal said the MILF is open to amendments “because we know we cannot get the 100 percent support of lawmakers” on some of BBL’s provisions. 

Aerial bombing forces NPAs to flee

From the Manila Bulletin (Dec 19): Aerial bombing forces NPAs to flee

Camp Bancasi, Butuan City – Attack helicopters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) struck rebel positions Thursday that allowed military ground troops to pre-empt a rebel attack on a highland lumad village located near the the Diwata Range on the border of Surigao del Sur and Agusan del Sur, military reports said.

Helicopters from the Tactical Operations Group (TOG) of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) unleased a rocket assault on an undetermined number of New People’s Army (NPA) insurgents that allowed government troops to gain the upper hand in a six-hour gunbattle in Barangay Diatagon, Lianga town in Surigao del Sur.

According to Col. Rey Pasco, commanding officer of the Fourth Civil Military Operations (4th CMO), the heavy gunfight started at 2 a.m. and lasted for six hours until the NPA rebels fled to nearby Diwata range. The fleeing insurgents were reported to have carried away with them their slain and wounded colleagues.

The group, which attacked the village, reportedly included fighters from the Sub-Regional Sentro De Grabidad, Sub Regional Committee-South Land, Guerrilla Front Committee 19-A and Front Committee 19-B of the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines)-NPA North Eastern Mindanao Regional Committee (NEMRC).
The timely intervention of the military’s ground and air forces came after the villages, themselves, reported the alleged plan of the NPAs to burn houses in the lumad villages located at Kilometer 9 and Sitio Han-ayan in Barangay Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

“The rebels planned to stage atrocities with the objective of preventing the lumad evacuees in Tandag City (Surigao del Sur) from returning to their homes and in order to generate another issue and to further blame it to the government who are currently securing the area,” claimed Pasco.

After receipt of the information, elements of Alpha Company, led by Lt. Karl Jan S. Devaras of the Army’s 75th Infantry Battalion, (75th IB) immediately proceeded to the reported area and engaged the rebels in a fierce firefight.

One Army soldier was wounded in the initial heavy gunfight and was immediately evacuated to a hospital in Surigao del Sur for medical treatment, he said.

Before the end of Thursday, Lt. Col. Haron S. Akaz, commanding officer of the 75th IB, had already sent reinforcements to Han-ayan to beef up Alpha Company and prevent more atrocities that could be committed by the rebels against the lumads.

As of press time, wide pursuit and clearing operations were still ongoing in Han-ayan area, a field report added.

AFP clarifies: Holiday truce only covers operations vs. NPA

From GMA News (Dec 19): AFP clarifies: Holiday truce only covers operations vs. NPA

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Saturday clarified that law enforcement operations of the Philippine National Police that it supports are not covered by the government's ceasefire during the holidays.

"The Armed Forces of the Philippines abides by the suspension of military operation (SOMO) declared by His Excellency President Benigno Aquino III against the New People’s Army (NPA)," the AFP said in a statement.

The ceasefire will start 12:01 a.m. of Dec. 23, 2015 until 11:59 p.m. of January 3, 2016.

The AFP said that the unilateral declaration of SOMO, as recommended by the Department of National Defense, only covers military operations against the NPA.

"It does not cover law enforcement operations conducted by the Philippine National Police that the AFP supports against other threat groups and wanted personalities," the military added.

The AFP added that the SOMO will allow soldiers to spend Christmas and New Year with their families.

"The AFP hopes that NPA members would use this time of peace to reflect. We call on them to surrender, abandon the armed struggle and ultimately return to the fold of law," it said.

The CPP earlier declared a 12-day Christmas truce from 12:01 a.m. of Dec. 23, 2015 until 11:59 of Jan. 3, 2016.

Opinion: Sea change in the military

Posted to the Get Real column of pro-military Solita Collas-Monsod in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 19): Sea change in the military

The Armed Forces of the Philippines is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. Let’s face it: It has had a checkered past, with its reputation at the lowest point during the Marcos martial law years because of the human rights abuses it perpetrated at that time. It has taken a long time for the organization to outlive that reputation, especially since the side effects of the power that corrupted it continued to pop up, maybe 10 years or so ago, like the “tradition” that gave generals “pabaon” for their retirement, the eye-winking that accompanied abuses in procurement, etc.

All these eclipsed completely the good performance it has turned in, such as its performance during World War II, and subsequently with the United Nations peacekeeping forces, starting from the Korean War up to the present day, the humanitarian help it has extended to disaster-stricken Filipinos, and its keeping at bay those who believe that armed conflict will lead to the achievement of their goals.

But a sea change has occurred within the military, starting maybe six years ago—a transformation, as it were. Actually, it began much earlier, when Lt. Gen. Cristolito Balaoing, superintendent of the Philippine Military Academy, started the ball rolling with a transformation roadmap for the PMA that would ensure the best officers possible being fed into the AFP. The virus spread, slowly, and the AFP and all its components (Army, Navy, Air Force) now have transformation roadmaps that clearly define where they want to be by 2028, and how they would get there. These roadmaps are based on capability building, a professionalization of its ranks, and the involvement of stakeholders in its initiatives.

The goal? By 2018, a world-class professional organization that is a source of national pride, whose mission is to protect the Filipino people and to secure the sovereignty of the state and the integrity of its national territory.

But these transformation roadmaps really grew out of the game-changing plan (they call it a “paradigm shift”) of the AFP, called the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP). You can see where the game change is when the military says it aims at “winning the peace” instead of just defeating the enemy. It is a broader concept based on two strategic approaches: the Whole of Nation Approach and the People-Centered Security/Human Security Approach.

The first approach essentially says that everybody is involved (multi-stakeholders). The second approach is based on a broader security framework—human security, centered on people, not just national security.

From all that, it becomes obvious that the military has chosen to put itself on the side of human rights/international humanitarian law and the rule of law, and the involvement of all stakeholders. Good choice.

With these as parameters, the IPSP then aims to adhere to the primacy of the peace process, and support peace-building activities such as reconstruction and rehabilitation of conflict-afflicted areas; it aims to focus military operations only on the armed components of insurgent groups; it aims to support community-based peace and development efforts, including construction of basic social infrastructure. And lastly, it will carry out security sector reform, which is where the transformation roadmaps come in.

It is a game-changer, all right, involving consultations with the various stakeholders starting from the barangay, thus assuring transparency, adherence to human rights, and treating the Filipino people as the end, not just the means, for victory.

No wonder the “enemy” is shaking in its boots, and hitting the military with all its might. But the “enemy” is going to have a hard time keeping the loyalty of the people when the AFP is beating it at its own game.

Unfortunately, however, there seems to be a marked disinclination to accept the improvements in the military, and a marked inclination to freeze it in its martial-law image. As in the lumad story, where “militarization” is the villain.

Let’s get other points of view.

Here’s the military version of the story: Regions X to XIII, all in Eastern Mindanao, constitute the last bastion of the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front in the Philippines. But it is also where most of the indigenous peoples (IPs) are located: Almost 50 percent of the population of this area is made up of IPs—44 percent in Regions X and XII, 51 percent in Region XI, 49.8 percent in Region XIII. It is estimated that 74 percent of the NPA are lumad. No wonder then that 90 percent of the guerrilla bases are in the ancestral domains of the lumad communities. Did you know that the CPP celebrates its anniversaries on Dec. 26 in either Agusan or Surigao, with local government officials in attendance? That’s right: smack in the middle of the Christmas season ceasefire. Convenient?

So, it seems that in the military vs. NPA encounters in the area, all of a sudden, the encounter is reported as military vs. lumad—a half-truth, of course. It also is obvious, that the lumad are not one homogenous grouping: They have different ideologies.

The AFP is bringing the IPSP Bayanihan to this area, with barangay consultations, peace caravans to bring the government to the people, and of course security. It has identified the needs in these areas, the interventions that are necessary, and who should supply them. Of course, if it succeeds, the hold of the NPA on the lumad is weakened. And it seems it is succeeding, because the reactions of their opponents are approaching hysteria.

Congratulations to the AFP on its anniversary, and “may the Force be with you.”

Political prisoner Serrano rushed to hospital due to heart attack

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 17): Political prisoner Serrano rushed to hospital due to heart attack

Political detainee Eduardo Serrano was rushed to the hospital last Dec. 16 after suffering a heart attack.

Doctors from the Health Alliance for Human Rights (HAHR) urged the courts that he be allowed to stay at the Heart Center of the Philippines where he is currently confined at its Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. He is set to undergo angioplasty.

Serrano, consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) is still under detention despite being acquitted by two Regional Trial Courts on charges of murder and frustrated murder.
He has been detained for 11 years.

Last Nov. 26, the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (QCRTC) Branch 100 acquitted Serrano of multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder after the prosecution.

Then, a month before that, the Quezon City Regional Trial Branch 98 also acquitted Serrano from another set of murder and multiple murder charges.

QCRTC Branch 98 Judge Marilou Runes-Tamang ordered the immediate release of political prisoner Eduardo Serrano because he was not the accused Rogelio Villanueva.

“The representatives of the State miserably failed its primary duty to identify the identity of the accused at the cost of horror of Serrano being prosecuted for 11 bygone years,” the court said.

Serrano, a consultant for the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) for the peace process, was illegally arrested on May 2, 2004 based on warrants against a certain Rogelio Villanueva.

The court said Serrano was illegally arrested, his name was inserted in the Commitment Order and as one of the aliases of accused Villanueva and was charged without the benefit of preliminary investigation.

“How can this court continue to bestow upon the person of Serrano the suffering of varied monikers of Rogelio Villanueva for the crimes that the latter allegedly committed? When in fact, from the records of the case, there was not a single affidavit submitted by the prosecution that Serrano is the same person as Rogelio Villanueva,” the court said, adding that even testimonies of witnesses failed to show the link between Serrano and Villanueva.

He is facing two more charges before the QCRTC Branch 97 and 215 for kidnapping and multiple frustrated murder.

Human rights group Karapatan called for his immediate release for being an elderly and ailing political prisoner.

MILF: Passing the buck on BBL ‘not good’

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 18): MILF: Passing the buck on BBL ‘not good’

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Thursday said “it was not good” to pass on to President Benigno Aquino III’s successor and the next Congress the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), after Congress adjourned for the year without any clarity as to the future of one of Mr. Aquino’s centerpiece programs.

“It is not good to pass the buck to the next Congress or President. That is to leave the fate of the BBL to chance. That is in effect shedding off responsibility. It should be passed now, not later,” the MILF said on its official website,

The group warned of possible radicalization in Mindanao, stressing it was not a “figment of the imagination,” although the Islamic State “has not taken root” yet in Mindanao.

“It is real—there is an ongoing recruitment of youths by still unknown groups or personalities. This calls not only for vigilance but, more importantly, for a reliable partner of government it can work with to combat this impending menace,” the MILF said.

The MILF said that having the BBL would give it, its allies, as well as factions of the Moro National Liberation Front, “leverage” to address the radicalization of young Moros that could pose a new security threat to the country.

Despite the BBL’s stalling in Congress, the peace process continues on the ground, however, with the government and the MILF concluding the 44th regular meeting of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and the 23rd Tripartite meeting with the International Monitoring Team (IMT) led by Malaysia.

A statement from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) said the two-day meeting resolved “all the outstanding issues and concerns” involving the ceasefire mechanism between government and the MILF.

With the passage of the proposed BBL that would create a new Bangsamoro region still pending, the peace agreement between the government and the MILF has yet to be fully sealed.

Which is why the CCCH and IMT still play principal roles in ensuring that violence between government and MILF forces do not break out, after the ceasefire between the two parties had been tested time and again.

After a relatively long period without a clash, the ceasefire mechanism was tested, even questioned, in the aftermath of the Mamasapano massacre in January.

The incident triggered anti-Muslim sentiments anew and hampered the passage of the BBL in Congress.

“Both parties have also reaffirmed their shared commitment to strengthen and further enhance their security and ceasefire functions in order to bolster confidence building measures. The body also highlighted the crafting of a new set of ceasefire mechanisms to solve emerging issues vis–√†–vis the maintenance of the ceasefire agreement,” the Opapp said.

Beijing conducts war games in disputed South China Sea

From the Daily Tribune (Dec 19): Beijing conducts war games in disputed South China Sea

China’s military conducted war games in the disputed South China Sea this week, an official newspaper yesterday said, as tensions simmer over the Asian superpower’s island-building in the region.

China insists it has sovereignty over virtually all of the resource-rich South China Sea, conflicting with the various claims of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

Warships, submarines, early warning aircraft and fighter jets were deployed in exercises that occurred over a “range of several thousand kilometers,” the People’s Liberation Army Daily said.

They were split into red and blue teams that practiced deflecting anti-ship missile attacks and scenarios that included one of an accidental strike on a third-party commercial ship, it added.

“Only by experiencing a variety of difficult situations can one not panic in the midst of war and win,” the paper quoted Li Xiaoyan, deputy chief of staff of the South China Sea fleet and commander of the red team, as saying.

China periodically announces such exercises in the South China Sea, as it tries to demonstrate it is being transparent about its military deployments.

On Sunday, the Defense Ministry said the navy had recently carried out drills in the South China Sea. It was not clear if the exercises referred to by the newspaper and these drills were the same.

The US Pacific Fleet Commander has earlier warned of a possible arms race in the disputed South China Sea which could engulf the region, as nations become increasingly tempted to use military force to settle territorial spats.

Last week, the US deployed for the first time a P-8 Poseidon spy plane in Singapore, with local diplomats saying the decision was likely aimed at sending a message to China about Washington’s resolve to oppose what they describe as Beijing’s aggressive regional policy.

The US is critical of China building artificial islands in the disputed sea, and has flown B-52 bombers and sailed a guided-missile destroyer near some of the constructions in recent months.

Washington angered Beijing in October when a US warship sailed close to artificial islets that China is building out into military bases, in what the US called a “freedom of navigation” exercise.

Washington has said China’s transformation of the geographical features in the Spratly Islands poses a threat to freedom of navigation in the critical area.

Slain rebel leader of SPARU

From the Visayan Daily Star (Dec 19): Slain rebel leader of SPARU

The suspected New People's Army rebel killed in a recent encounter with combined troops of 79IB and government militiamen in Brgy. Camalanda-an, Cauayan, turned out to be a leader of the Special Partisan Unit (SPARU) of the NPA in southern Negros, Lt. Col. Harold Anthony Pascua, 79th Infantry Battalion commander, said yesterday.

Pascua said the victim, Tata Sarona was responsible for the liquidation of former CAFGU member Rene Villar in Brgy. Camalanda-an, and two other CAFGU members in barangays Poblacion and Camindangan, all in Cauayan.

The 79IB also recovered an M-14 assault rifle from the encounter site in Brgy. Camalanda-an, Cauayan, aside from the cadaver of Sarona, that was left behind by his fleeing comrades.

Pascua also claimed that Sarona, a resident of Brgy. Inayawan, Cauayan, was also linked to the killing of a policeman and was among those who participated in the raid of an Army detachment in Toboso town.

Recently, the 79IB figured in four armed skirmishes with suspected New People's Army rebels in Cauayan, Candoni and Hinobaan, that resulted in the killing of two other rebels and an Army soldier, and the capture of another NPA member, who was released later.

Col. Francisco Delfin, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, said the series of encounters in southern Negros took place due to information from the populace about the presence of rebels in their areas.

On Dec. 23, the NPA will start observing its 12-day suspension of military operations until Jan. 3 next year, as announced by the Communist Party of the Philippines, that will mark its 47th founding anniversary on Dec. 26.

U.S. Navy commander warns of possible South China Sea arms race

From Reuters (Dec 15): U.S. Navy commander warns of possible South China Sea arms race

The U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander has warned of a possible arms race in the disputed South China Sea which could engulf the region, as nations become increasingly tempted to use military force to settle territorial spats instead of international law.
Commander Admiral Scott Swift urged nations, like China, to seek arbitration to settle maritime disputes.

"My concern is that after many decades of peace and prosperity, we may be seeing the leading edge of a return of "might makes it right" to the region," Swift said on Monday in a speech in Hawaii, according to a copy seen by Reuters.

"Claimants and non-claimants alike are transferring larger shares of national wealth to develop more capable naval forces beyond what is needed merely for self defence," Swift said.

Asked about Swift's comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: "Certain countries are exaggerating tensions in the South China Sea region, which is in reality to create confusion and meddle in the South China Sea. China is resolutely opposed to this."

China's Defence Ministry said certain countries were conducting "a big show of force" in the South China Sea.

"At the same time, (they are) wantonly expressing remarks to create tensions, in an attempt to sow confusion and muddy the waters," the ministry said in a faxed statement to Reuters.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of world trade ships every year, a fifth of it heading to and from U.S. ports.

Beijing is building seven man-made islands on reefs in the Spratly Islands, including a 3,000-metre-long (10,000-foot) airstrip on one of the sites, according to satellite imagery of the area.

"Even now, ships and aircraft operating nearby these features, in accordance with international law are subject to superfluous warnings that threaten routine commercial and military operations," Swift said, speaking at the Cooperative Strategy Forum to naval commanders from Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries.

A Chinese naval fleet is currently visiting Hawaii, including a destroyer and a frigate, according to China's Defence Ministry.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan also claim parts of the South China Sea.


In October, the U.S. guided missile destroyer Lassen sailed close to one of China's man-made islands, drawing an angry rebuke from China and a shadowing patrol.

But the U.S. Navy is unlikely to carry out another patrol within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-built islands in the South China Sea this year as officials had initially suggested, U.S. defence officials say.

Australia's Defence Department said one of its aircraft was involved in "a routine maritime patrol" over the South China Sea from Nov. 25 to Dec. 4. The BBC reported the aircraft was "exercising international freedom of navigation rights".

"There is no problem with freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea," Hong said when asked about the Australian patrol.

"Countries outside the region should respect other country's sovereignty and not deliberately complicate the issue."

China has been building up its civilian infrastructure in the South China Sea, and over the weekend, opened its first school there, on Woody Island in the Paracels, state media said.

In a challenge to China's island building programme, Manila has asked the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague to affirm its right to areas within 200 nautical miles of its coastline, under the terms of a U.N. convention.

"The Arbitration Tribunal's case between the Philippines and China could become the latest opportunity to demonstrate lawful access to regional prosperity for all nations," Swift said.

Beijing so far has rejected the court's jurisdiction and has boycotted the hearing. Rulings are supposed to be binding on member countries, which include China. But the tribunal has no powers of enforcement and its verdicts have sometimes been ignored.

The People's Daily, the official newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party, on Tuesday described the arbitration case as a "farce" designed to rip territory from China it has had sovereignty over since ancient times.

Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet Admiral Scott Swift sits in front of a large poster of an Australian Navy frigate as he listens to a question during a media conference at the 2015 Pacific International Maratime Exposition in Sydney, Australia, October 6, 2015. REUTERS/David Gray

The alleged ongoing land reclamation by China at Subi Reef is seen from Pagasa Island, known internationally as Thitu Island, in the Spratlys group of islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, Philippines, in this May 11, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Ritchie B. Tongo/Pool/Files

The alleged ongoing land reclamation by China on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, Philippines, is seen in this aerial file photo taken though a glass window of a Philippine military plane on May 11, 2015. REUTERS/Ritchie B. Tongo/Pool/Files

Vietnam builds military muscle to face off vs China

From InterAksyon (Dec 17): Vietnam builds military muscle to face off vs China

Vietnam’s military is steeling itself for conflict with China as it accelerates a decade-long modernization drive, Hanoi's biggest arms buildup since the height of the Vietnam War.

The ruling Communist Party's goal is to deter its giant northern neighbor as tensions rise over the disputed South China Sea, and if that fails, to be able to defend itself on all fronts, senior officers and people close to them told Reuters.

Vietnam's strategy has moved beyond contingency planning. Key units have been placed on "high combat readiness" -- an alert posture to fend off a sudden attack - including its elite Division 308, which guards the mountainous north.

The two countries fought a bloody border war in 1979. The likely flashpoint this time is in the South China Sea, where they have rival claims in the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos.

"We don't want to have a conflict with China and we must put faith in our policy of diplomacy," one senior Vietnamese government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters. "But we know we must be ready for the worst."

Most significantly, Hanoi is creating a naval deterrent largely from scratch with the purchase of six advanced Kilo-class submarines from Russia.

In recent months, the first of those submarines have started patrolling the South China Sea, Vietnamese and foreign military officials said, the first confirmation the vessels have been in the strategic waterway.

Division 308

Militarily, the tensions are palpable northwest of Hanoi at the headquarters of Division 308, Vietnam's most elite military unit, where senior army officers talk repeatedly about "high combat readiness."

The phrase is on billboards beneath images of missiles and portraits of Vietnam's late revolutionary founder, Ho Chi Minh, and its legendary military hero, General Vo Nguyen Giap.

Perched between Vietnam's craggy northern mountains and the ancient rice paddies of the Red River Delta, 308 is Vietnam's oldest division and still effectively guards the northern approaches to Hanoi.

Reflecting deep-set official sensibilities towards offending Beijing, one senior officer, Colonel Le Van Hai, said he could not talk about China. But Vietnam was ready to repel any foreign force, he told Reuters during a rare visit by a foreign reporter.

"Combat readiness is the top priority of the division, of the Ministry of Defense and the country. We can deal with any sudden or unexpected situation ... We are ready," he said.

"High combat readiness", along with references to the "new situation," increasingly feature in lectures by senior officers during visits to military bases and in publications of the People's Army of Vietnam. The phrases also surface in talks with foreign military delegations, diplomats said.

"When Vietnam refers to the 'new situation,' they are using coded language to refer to the rising likelihood of an armed confrontation or clash with China, particularly in the South China Sea," said Carl Thayer, a professor at Australia's Defense Force Academy in Canberra who has studied Vietnam's military since the late 1960s.

While ramping up combat readiness, Hanoi's once-reclusive generals are reaching out to a broad range of strategic partners. Russia and India are the main source of advanced weapons, training and intelligence cooperation. Hanoi is also building ties with the United States and its Japanese, Australian and Filipino allies, as well as Europe and Israel.

The outreach covers weapons purchases, ship visits and intelligence sharing but will have its limits. Hanoi shuns formal military alliances under a staunchly independent foreign policy.

Vietnam is seeking more Russian jet fighter-bombers and is in talks with European and US arms manufacturers to buy fighter and maritime patrol planes and unarmed surveillance drones, sources have told Reuters. It has also recently upgraded and expanded air defenses, including obtaining early warning surveillance radars from Israel and advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile batteries from Russia.

Indeed, increases in Vietnam's military spending have outstripped its South East Asian neighbors over the last decade, according to estimates by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

"They are not doing this for national day parades ... they are building real military capabilities," said Tim Huxley, a regional security expert at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Singapore.


While communist parties rule both Vietnam and China and share political bonds, the two countries have a history marked by armed conflict and long periods of lingering mistrust.

Fresh academic research has revealed how the Sino-Vietnamese war in 1979 was more intense than is widely known, rumbling on into the mid-1980s. The two sides then clashed at sea in 1988 when China occupied its first holdings in the Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea - a defeat still acutely felt in Hanoi.

China also took full control of another South China Sea island chain, the Paracels, after a naval showdown with then South Vietnam in 1974. Hanoi still protests China's occupation.

More recently, China's placement of an oil rig in disputed waters for 10 weeks in the middle of last year sparked anti-Chinese riots across Vietnam.

The rig's placement on Vietnam's continental shelf 80 nautical miles from its coast was a game-changer, officials in Hanoi privately said, hardening suspicions about Chinese President Xi Jinping among political and military leaders.

Hanoi dispatched dozens of Vietnamese civilian vessels to confront the 70 coastguard and naval warships China sent to protect the oil rig in mid-2014.

"It was a reminder to all of us just how dangerous the South China Sea has become," said one retired US naval officer.

For its part, China's military strategists have long been frustrated at the two dozen military outposts that Hanoi has fortified across the Spratlys since losing the Paracels in 1974, Chinese analysts say. China is building three air strips on man-made islands it is building on reefs in the Spratlys that it took from Vietnamese forces in 1988.

A statement to Reuters from China's Defense Ministry said the two militaries had close, friendly relations and China was willing to work hard with Vietnam for regional peace.

"Both sides have frank exchanges of view on the South China Sea ... both sides should look for a basic, lasting solution both sides can accept," the statement said.

China's historic claim to most of the South China Sea, expressed on maps as a nine-dash line, overlaps the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. Taiwan also has claims in the area.

Some $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes through the waterway every year, including most of the oil imported by China, Japan and South Korea.

'Psychological uncertainty'

The importance to China of protecting its submarine base on Hainan Island - the projected home of its future nuclear armed submarine fleet - could be another flashpoint. Beijing also has jet fighters and many of its best warships stationed around Hainan Island. This South Sea Fleet is close to Vietnam's northern coast and its vital deep water access channels to the South China Sea and beyond.

Vietnamese generals make clear to foreign visitors they know their limitations. Two decades of double-digit increases in defense budgets have given China a vastly larger and better equipped navy, air force and army.

Foreign military envoys say they struggle to gauge Vietnam's actual capabilities and how well they are integrating complex new weapons. They are given little access beyond Hanoi's gilded staterooms.

Vietnamese military strategists talk of creating a "minimal credible deterrent" -- raising the costs of any Chinese move against Vietnam, whether it is a naval confrontation or an attack across the 1,400-kilometer (875-mile) northern land border.

If conflict did break out, Hanoi could target Chinese-flagged merchant container and oil ships in the South China Sea, said Thayer, who said he was told this by Vietnamese strategists.

The aim would be not to defeat China's superior forces but "to inflict sufficient damage and psychological uncertainty to cause Lloyd's insurance rates to skyrocket and for foreign investors to panic", Thayer said in a paper presented to a Singapore conference last month.

Vietnam's foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Photo: COMPOSTELA Valley Province governor Arturo Uy pins merit medals to wounded soldiers

Photo posted to the Mindanao Times (Dec 17): Photo: COMPOSTELA Valley Province governor Arturo Uy pins merit medals to wounded soldiers

COMPOSTELA Valley Province governor Arturo Uy pins merit medals to wounded soldiers at the Metro Davao Medical and Research Center and Camp Panacan Station Hospital yesterday. The four were among the 14 soldiers wounded after an improvised IED exploded in Mabini, Compostela Valley last December 12. Four were killed in the incident. BING GONZALES

Aquino declares state of national calamity

From CNN Philippines (Dec 18): Aquino declares state of national calamity

President Benigno Aquino III declared a state of national calamity on Friday (December 18) under Proclamation No. 1186 to hasten rescue, recovery, relief, and rehabilitation efforts in the aftermath of Typhoon Nona.

The proclamation cited the "widespread destruction, substantial damage, and deaths in several ares, including the provinces of Albay, Northern Samar, Oriental Mindoro, Romblon and Sorsogon."

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) recommended the declaration of the state of national calamity pursuant to Republic Act No. 10121, or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management act of 2010.

The NDRRMC on Friday reported that 17 people died and 20 suffered injuries due to the typhoon. The typhoon affected over 114,000 families in Northern Samar and over 30,000 families in Albay, the report claimed.

“This declaration will, among others, effectively control the prices of basic goods and commodities for the affected areas and afford the government ample latitude to utilize appropriate funds for rescue, recovery, relief, and rehabilitation efforts of, and to continue to provide basic services to, affected populations, in accordance with the law,” the proclamation added.

According to the NDRRMC, more than 13,000 houses were damaged and the estimated total cost of damage in infrastructure and agriculture amounts to over P935 million.

The state of national calamity will remain in effect until lifted by President Aquino.

Task group formed to investigate Zambo explosion

From CNN Philippines (Dec 18): Task group formed to investigate Zambo explosion

Zamboanga City (CNN Philippines) — An investigating task group was organized to further look into the Thursday explosion that rocked a fishing company in Zamboanga City late Thursday night (December 17).

Investigating Task Group YL was organized to further determine the motive and the suspects behind the explosion at the fishing company which injured at least three persons.

The task group is headed by Sr. Supt. Debolb Sinas, Deputy Regional Director for Operations for Police Regional Office-9.

Meanwhile, Zamboanga City Police Office Spokesperson Chief Insp. Joel Tuttuh said that police believe that an internal problem among employees of the YL fishing company is the motive behind the explosion which injured two of their security guards.

It was earlier reported that a package, purportedly containing the improvised explosive device had been thrown at the gate of the fishing company seconds before the explosion.

Officials of the fishing company denied having received extortion threats.

No suspects have been identified as of this time.

Former NPA rebels get PHP1.17-million ‘cash gifts’

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 18): Former NPA rebels get PHP1.17-million ‘cash gifts’

Eighteen former rebels of the New People’s Army (NPA) here received a total of PHP 1.17 million in “cash gifts” for their livelihood endeavor, a military official said Friday.

Capt. Norman Tagros, spokesperson of the Army’s 8th Infantry Battalion, said that each rebel returnee received PHP 65,000 during a simple ceremony here last Tuesday.

Tagros said that the livelihood assistance was part of the government’s Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) extended to former NPA rebels who surrender to the government.

He said that the 18 former NPA rebels who became CLIP beneficiaries were members of the Indigenous Peoples or Lumads of the Umayamnen, Higaonon, and Talaandig tribes of Bukidnon.

One of the beneficiaries, Jonathan Nacar, a former NPA guerilla of the North Central Mindanao Regional Committee, has expressed gratitude for the government’s support.

Nacar received an additional PHP 52,000 under the military’s “Guns for Peace” program as remuneration of the AK-47 rifle that he turned over to the government.

During the turnover last Tuesday, Nacar said that he now believed the government’s promises and efforts to help the communist rebels live a normal life through its various programs.

“I really made the right decision when I decided to surrender. Our families, together with the other former NPA rebels are happy as well of the government’s assistance,” Nacar said.

Lt. Col. Lennon G. Babilonia, commanding officer of the Army’s 8IB, said he was glad that finally, “our brothers were given their livelihood assistance, just in time for the Christmas season this year.”

Tagros said that the CLIP is jointly implemented by government stakeholders that include the Department of Local and Interior Government (DILG), provincial government, the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Army, and the Provincial Social Welfare Department.

Police on heightened alert in Cotabato provinces to thwart terror attempts

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 18): Police on heightened alert in Cotabato provinces to thwart terror attempts

Police authorities in North Cotabato and South Cotabato have been placed on heightened alert following reports of possible terror attacks during the Holiday Season.

Senior Supt. Jose Briones, South Cotabato police provincial director, said all police units in South Cotabato’s 10 municipalities and Koronadal City have been placed on red alert status.

With this, Briones said vacation leave of police personnel was suspended for the whole month of December and a few days after New Year's Day.

He said uniformed police officers and civilian law enforcers have been deployed in densely populated areas to thwart any attempt to disrupt the revelries, including petty crimes.

“Police presence is a deterrent but we also need the cooperation of everyone,” Briones told DXOM-AM Radyo Bida.

He said police officers are now deployed in public areas like bus terminals, public markets and churches. Mobile police choke points were also established in the borders of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Saranggani provinces to prevent lawless elements from coming over the province.

In North Cotabato, Senior Supt. Alexander Tagum, provincial police director, admitted his area of coverage was included in areas in Mindanao where terror threat exists.

“But we are doing our best, with the people’s support, evil will not prosper in the province,” he said in a radio interview.

Earlier, Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista admitted receiving information from the National Intelligence Coordination Agency (NICA) where it said Kidapawan City was among the areas in the southern part of the country where terror alert has been raised.

Evangelista said police had been on alert even before the NICA report and it only confirmed earlier information about security threats.

Presiding over the Kidapawan City peace and order council meeting early this week, Evangelista revealed that communist guerillas have intensified its extortion activities, sending extortion demand letters to some business owners in the city.

Aside from the New Peoples' Army (NPA), the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Al-Khobar extortion gang, robbers, carnappers and bombers remain as the leading threats to security of North Cotabato and Kidapawan City, according to Tagum.

According to NICA report, threats were at alert level 3 in the towns of Aleosan, Kabacan, Midsayap, Kabacan and Kidapawan City. These towns are situated near the borders of North Cotabato and Maguindanao.

With or without NICA intelligence reports, Evangelista has directed the police and the Public Safety Division of the local government to intensify security measures. He also directed Kidapawan City director Superintendent John Miridel Calinga to deploy more police personnel in public places and employ the participation of police “force multipliers.”

“Vigilance is the key to everybody’s safety,” said Tagum whose unit had recently arrested suspected bombers and extortion gangs who were also engaged in illegal drug trade.

In South Cotabato, Briones also reminded the public to take personal safety measures while transacting business with Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) as crimes against property, including hold-up and robbery, normally rise during the month of December.

The military’s 57th Infantry Battalion is helping the local police in North Cotabato in maintaining law and order so the Christmas celebration will be peaceful. In South Cotabato, the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion is giving police back-up personnel and resources.

Both provinces have experienced terror attacks in the past mostly carried out by extortion gangs preying on bus firms and multinational companies.

President Aquino approves holiday truce with communist rebels

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 18): President Aquino approves holiday truce with communist rebels

President Benigno S. Aquino III has approved the recommendation of the Department of National Defense for the unilateral declaration of the Suspension of Military Operations (SOMO) against the New People’s Army (NPA) for the Christmas and New Year holidays.

The SOMO will commence at 12:01 a.m. of December 23, 2015 and would end at 11:59 p.m. of January 3, 2016, Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. said on Friday.

Last Dec. 15, the defense department recommended that President Aquino approve a SOMO against communist insurgents.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has already declared a 12-day holiday ceasefire in support of calls to resume the stalled peace talks with the government.

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) said the truce would take effect from Dec. 23, 2015 to Jan. 3, 2016. The NDFP negotiates with the government on behalf of the CPP and its political arm, the NPA.

The ceasefire order was issued in solidarity with the Filipino people’s traditional celebrations of Christmas and New Year holidays, the NDFP said.

The ceasefire will also allow its forces to carry out mass assemblies and public demonstrations to mark the 47th anniversary of the CPP and celebrate revolutionary victories of the past year, it said, adding that the move is also in support of efforts of peace advocates to foster the resumption of the peace negotiations between the government and the NDFP.

Road projects in Sulu connect farmers to markets

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 18): Road projects in Sulu connect farmers to markets

Farmers in Patikul town in Sulu province now have a faster and more efficient way of transporting their products.

“The recently completed farm-to-market road projects improved the mobility of people, goods, and services, and we are very positive that this project would increase agricultural trade and productivity in our community,” Luvisminda Hayudini, Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator of Patikul, said.

The PHP8 million and PHP15.6 million road projects in barangays Tanduh Bagua and Langhub were constructed as a result of the collaborative efforts of government agencies and civil society organizations through the Bottom-up Budgeting process.

“Bago nagawa ang mga kalsada, kailangan pang maglakad ng kilu-kilometro papunta sa town center, at pinapasan pa ng mga farmers ang mga produkto dahil hindi makapasok ang mga sasakyan dito,” Hayudini added. (Before the roads wereconstructed, people going to the town center had to walk several kilometers and farmers had to carry their agricultural produce on their shoulders because it isdifficult for transport vehicles to traverse in the area.)

The municipal planning and development coordinator also said that the roads substantially lessened the travel time and transport cost of bringing agricultural goodsto the market.

Meanwhile, residents in the two barangays committed to maintain the roads as these will spur social and economic development in their community.

AFP condemns NPA ambush of military relief convoy in Samar

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 18): AFP condemns NPA ambush of military relief convoy in Samar

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) strongly condemns the unprovoked New People's Army (NPA) attack against a military relief convoy for typhoon 'Nona' victims in Pinabacdao, Samar which left two soldiers wounded on Friday morning.

"The AFP strongly condemns the ambush done by the NPA against Army troops of 546 Engineering Battalion with 81st Division Reconnaissance Company involved in HADR operations that transpired in Pinabacdao, Samar at 7:30 a.m. today, December 18. Two of our soldiers were wounded in the incident," AFP spokesperson Col. Restituto Padilla said.

He added these troopers were headed for Tacloban City to gather more relief goods for typhoon victims.

Accompanying these soldiers in their relief mission were two female staff of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) who were headed to their base at OCD Region 8.

Padilla said the attack was conducted by a still unidentified number of NPA fighters while the military convoy was passing through the boundary between Barangays Madalunot and Pahug in Pinabacdao, resulting in the wounding of two soldiers.

"This clearly shows the NPA’s disregard to the plight of our brothers and sisters in Samar who were devastated by the onslaught of storm 'Nona'. This is also a clear indication that the NPAs continuously and deliberately conduct atrocities against our troops and public servants who are only doing their job to alleviate the suffering experienced by storm victims in Visayas," Padilla pointed out.

"Rest assured that this attack will not hamper our ongoing HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster relief) operations for the victims of 'Nona' who are in need of our help. We will continue with our relief and assistance operations for the victims of the typhoon," he added.

2 soldiers hurt in Samar ambush

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 18): 2 soldiers hurt in Samar ambush

Two military men were wounded in a New People's Army (NPA)-instigated ambush in Pinabacdao, Samar on Friday morning.

Senior Insp. Mark Nalda, Eastern Visayas Regional Police Office spokesperson, identified the wounded troopers as Pfc. Roel Dalaota, 27, assigned at the 546th Engineering Battalion and a resident of Barangay Calabugao, Impasugong, Bukidnon; and Pfc. Jay Sercado, 24, single, assigned at the 83rd Reconnaissance Company and of Barangay Tominamos, Sta. Rita, Samar.

Both soldiers were with a military convoy composed of two 6x6 trucks when some 10 New NPA bandits fired at them at about 7:30 a.m., triggering a 45-minute gun battle.

The two soldiers were wounded while the rebels sustained an undetermined number of casualties, Nalda said.

The victims were brought to Tacloban City for medical treatment.

Pursuit operations are now being conducted against the rebel group.

PHL to receive second grant from US aid agency

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 18): PHL to receive second grant from US aid agency

A United States aid agency has unanimously re-selected the Philippines to receive a second grant in recognition of the country’s continuing efforts to improve its policies on good governance.

The formal re-selection of the Philippines by the Millennium Challenge Corporation on Dec. 16 will succeed the first grant or compact of USD 434 million which will expire at the end of May 2016.

“The re-selection of the Philippines for a second compact is a recognition of President Aquino’s firm and continuing commitment to good governance,” Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Cuisia said in a statement on Friday.

MCC is an independent American aid agency created by the US Congress in 2004 that supports developing countries address human rights, poverty and corruption through good governance.

Approved in 2010, the first grant provided the Philippines with USD 262 million for the Secondary National Roads Development Project to improve access to markets and services for farmers, fishermen and small businessmen; USD 120 million for poverty reducing activities; and USD 54.3 million for the computerization and streamlining of business processes of the Bureau of Internal Revenue to bolster tax collection and reduce corruption under the Revenue Administration Reform Project.

Cuisia said Manila’s re-selection came after the recent release of the latest MCC scorecard where the country passed 12 out of 20 indicators such as Trade Policy, Land Rights Access, Rule of Law and the “must-pass” indicators of Control of Corruption and Democratic Rights, both of which are considered “hard hurdles.”

“This is a strong vote of confidence by the MCC Board that will have important implications for maintaining investors’ confidence in the Philippine economy and will complement the great strides we have made in the economic front,” he added.

“I expect that the reforms and good governance that the Philippines has embraced under President Aquino will be sustainable even after June 30, 2016 because these have been institutionalized and the Filipino people will continue to be vigilant.”

Cuisia said a Philippine Core Team is currently developing proposals on possible investment areas that will be sent to the MCC for approval.

Projects are expected to focus on “constraints” that have so far been identified by the MCC, particularly on government coordination and implementation capacity, high costs of transport logistics, cost of electricity, and land and market failures.

Cuisia said he hopes all project proposals could be finalized before a new government is inaugurated in June 2016, the time when President Aquino ends his six-year presidency.

Military HADR missions in Samar to continue despite NPA ambush

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 18): Military HADR missions in Samar to continue despite NPA ambush

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will continue its humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) missions despite a rebel ambush of a military relief column in Pinabacdao town, Samar which resulted in the wounding of two soldiers on Friday morning.

"We will continue with our relief and assistance operations for the victims of the typhoon," AFP spokesperson Col. Restituto Padilla said.

He added that the NPA attack will not hamper ongoing HADR operations for typhoon "Nona" victims who are in need of AFP assistance.

Earlier, the military condemned the rebels for ambushing military units conducting HADR operations in typhoon- battered Eastern Samar which wounded two troopers at around 7:20 a.m. Friday.

Units affected by the NPA attack are the 546th Engineering Battalion and the 83rd Division Reconnaissance Company.

The military column conducting HADR operations consists of three trucks (one M-35, one Mignon and one-mini dump truck) and headed by 1st Lt. Fritz F. Perez with two civilians from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

These personnel were on their way back to the Office of the Civil Defense-Region 8 in Tacloban City after transporting relief goods to individuals severely affected by "Nona" in Eastern Visayas.

Padilla said the group was fired upon by an undetermined number of NPA rebels in the boundary between Barangays Madalunot and Pahug in Pinabacdao town, triggering a 15-minute firefight which resulted in the wounding of two soldiers and undetermined casualties to the rebels as they withdrew in different directions.

"This clearly shows the NPA’s disregard to the plight of our brothers and sisters in Samar who were devastated by the onslaught of storm 'Nona'. This is also a clear indication that the NPAs continuously and deliberately conduct atrocities against our troops and public servants who are only doing their job to alleviate the suffering experienced by storm victims in the Visayas," he added.

From NPA to entrepreneur

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 18): From NPA to entrepreneur

KIAMBA, Sarangani - Lazaro Balabala, a 40-year old Tboli, never dreamed of becoming an insurgent.
He used to work as a farmer. His family owned a parcel of land which they used to live and toil for farming until it was unjustly seized from them by another family.

With a  promise to  recover their land, a member of an armed group persuaded him to join the Communist Party of the Philippines– People’s Army.

Balabala  soon underwent a series of trainings on tactics, techniques and procedures of combat as he became a member of Squad Dos, Platoon 2 of Front 73.

But, cliché as it is, life was never easy in the mountains. There were chronic shortages of food. They never had decent sleep because of actual and possible encounters with the government troops.

Then and there, he started to miss his family until he learned of his father’s death due to sickness which prompted him to leave the group. He asked for permission to go back home and mourn for his loss but his comrades did not concede to his request.

It was on May 3, 2013 when he managed to escape and return to his family. Nearly five months into a choking siege and insurgency, he was officially surrendered to the 73rd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army and attained emancipation.

Balabala received financial assistance after he had undergone proper documentation and procedure to qualify him for the Comprehensive Local Integration Program for Former Rebels (CLIP-FR).

CLIP-FR is a subcomponent of Sulong Kapayapaan of Sulong Sarangani, the provincial government’s poverty reduction program espoused by Governor Steve Chiongbian Solon, Vice Governor Jinkee Pacquiao and members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

Balabala is one of 86 former rebels in the province who received cash assistance amounting to Php65,000 each from the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) since 2011.

On the other hand, the local government gives a minimum of P5,000 to P10,000 to those who fail to qualify for CLIP, subject to guidelines.

Through Joint Memorandum Circular no. 2014-01, CLIP’s implementation was institutionalized under the flagship of the DILG.

Balabala underwent livelihood skills training and psychosocial intervention thru the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office.

The local government assisted the Philippine National Police in coordination with the Armed Forces of the Philippines in providing security to the former rebels and their family.

While being employed as a part-time foreman in a rice mill, Balabala now enjoys his own business opportunities. He is engaged in abaca production where he harvests about 50 kilograms every four months and earns P60 per kilogram.

He is also into cultivating a pawned piece of land with 60 coconut trees earning P2,200 every quarter of the year.

CLIP-FR allowed him to start life anew like other regular members of the NPA who have expressed the desire to abandon armed struggle and become productive members of the society.

Balabala now enjoys his newly renovated house thru the assistance given which included purchase of kitchen wares with his present wife and five children.

Balabala is one of the many that the provincial government is trying to help. His story serves as an attestation that there is hope amidst hardships.