Tuesday, November 22, 2016

US, Philippines armed forces release joint statement

From Update.Ph (Nov 22): US, Philippines armed forces release joint statement

Below is the Joint Statement of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and United States Pacific Command after the Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) meeting held today at AFP headquarters in Camp Emilio Aguinaldo.

The Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) met on 22 November 2016 at the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines at Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

The successful completion of the MDB-SEB ensures continued, robust relations between the U.S. and Philippine militaries.

This highlights the enduring commitment of both countries to the U.S.-Philippine alliance.
We look forward to continued, close cooperation in areas central to both our national and security interests including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, counterterrorism, cyber security, and maritime security.

The board was jointly presided by co-chairs General Ricardo R. Visaya, Chief of Staff, Armed Forces of the Philippines and Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr., Commander, U.S. Pacific Command.

They were joined and supported by various standing committees and participating agencies of both governments.


8th ID, AGAPE conduct series of 'Bayanihan' activities in E. Samar

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 23): 8th ID, AGAPE conduct series of 'Bayanihan' activities in E. Samar

The Catbalogan-based 8th Infantry Division, together with partner government agencies and nongovernmental organizations, has intensified its "bayanihan" activities in its areas of operation in an effort to help bring development and end socioeconomic problems in the countryside.

Commander of the 8th Infantry Division, Brig. Gen. Raul Farnacio, in a statement Wednesday, said the division, in partnership with the AGAPE Rural Health Program, provided basic services in Agsaman, Poblacion and Cagmanaba, all in Jipapad town, Eastern Samar.

These services included medical and dental assistance, free medicine, free haircuts, film-viewing and the distribution of slippers, clothes and reading glasses to marginalized persons in these communities.

The NGO, AGAPE, consists of Christian volunteers from Asia and the US whose mission is to help those who could not afford to meet their medication and basic needs.

The people of Jipapad benefited from 1,078 medical check-ups with free medicine; 78 tooth extractions; 30 haircuts; 330 reading glasses; and 340 pairs of slippers.

“This is the time to be united in our desire to address the poverty problem of the region. Let’s help build a peaceful and developed Eastern Visayas," Farnacio added.


AFP conducts medical, dental mission in support of PHL NCC celebrations

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 23): AFP conducts medical, dental mission in support of PHL NCC celebrations

In line with its community development mission, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) conducted a medical and dental mission Tuesday as part of the country's observance of National Children's Congress (NCC).

“The AFP supports these kinds of activities for the youth. It is important that we give recognition to our children and encourage quality education and learning to all our Filipino youth,” said AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya.

Marginalized children are the primary beneficiaries of the AFP medical and dental mission which was held at the AFP Theater in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

The five-day event culminated in an “Araw ng Kabataan” which gathered 900 children beneficiaries of the "Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program" of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) across the 87 provinces of the Philippines, and also 200 participants from partner organizations, and sponsors.

NCC in the Philippines started on Nov. 18 and ended on the 22nd. The lead agency for the week-long celebration is the DSWD under Secretary Judy Taguiwalo

“We hope that through the medical and dental mission, the AFP will be able to show its unwavering support to other government organizations such as the DSWD in advancing the welfare of the youth and in making them ready to lead the country in the future,” Visaya said.

This year's NCC has the theme “Isulong: Kalidad na edukasyon para sa lahat ng bata.”

The annual activity aims to engage the youth with different activities to pool exemplary "Pantawid Pamilya" children beneficiaries and equip them with the essential knowledge on the program and to support children’s rights as well.


AFP, PNP ink MOA to intensify anti-illegal drug campaign in Caraga

From the Philippine Information Agency (Nov 23): AFP, PNP ink MOA to intensify anti-illegal drug campaign in Caraga

During the regular Joint Peace and Security Coordinating Committee (JPSCC) - Region 13 meeting held at the Police Regional Office-13 here, the 4th Infantry (Diamond) Division, Philippine Army (PA) and Philippine National Police (PNP) signed on Monday the memorandum of agreement (MOA) for collaboration procedures on anti-illegal drug operations in Caraga region.

The said MOA is aimed to attain the following objectives: carry out President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to stop and eliminate drugs within three to six months; enhance coordination/cooperation between the PNP and AFP in case build-up and investigation of suspected persons involved in illegal drugs; minimize the ingress and egress of high value targets and illegal drug paraphernalia; and synchronize effort of government and strengthen its position in bringing target drug personalities and offenders to justice among others.

Based on the MOA, the PNP takes the lead role in any operation on implementation of Pulis at Sundalo: Kabalikat Laban sa Droga Project known as “Double Barrel,” and takes the lead role in the investigation/processing of scene of the crime; and other law enforcement operations against illegal drugs.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Army shall provide support to law enforcement operations; assist the PNP in the implementation of Project Double Barrel which include the execution of the five stages of Project TokHang – collection and validation of information stage, coordination stage, house to house visitation stage, processing and documentation stage, and monitoring and evaluation stage.

“The 4ID, Philippine Army shall maximize its efforts and extend full cooperation and support to the PNP in all phases of operations of the project to ensure that Caraga region will be able to sustain peace and order and soon become a drug-free region,” underlined MGen. Benjamin R. Madrigal Jr., 4ID commander.


U.S. Embassy in the Philippines inaugurates health facilities in Samar

From the Philippine Information Agency (Nov 23): U.S. Embassy in the Philippines inaugurates health facilities in Samar

The U.S. Embassy in the Philippines’ United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Office of Health Deputy Chief Bryn Sakagawa led the inauguration of the newly constructed birthing and Tuberculosis Directly Observed Treatment Short-Course (TB-DOTS) facilities in Calbiga Rural Health Unit in Samar.

Samar Provincial Board Member Fe Arcales extended her gratitude on behalf of Samar citizens.

“This facility will increase access to health programs and boost the morale of health personnel,” she said.

Additionally USAID provided medical equipment and communication materials on family planning, maternal and child health, and TB.  The TB-DOTS structures are among 12 health facilities constructed by USAID to restore access to health services across Typhoon Yolanda-affected areas.

To date, the U.S. government has provided $143 million to help the Philippines respond to, and recover from, the devastating effects of Typhoon Yolanda.  “The U.S. government is a partner of the Philippines, including the communities in Leyte and Samar, in making building improvements after Typhoon Yolanda,” said Sakagawa.

USAID is also constructing 310 classrooms, 30 agriculture-fishery support facilities, and more than 1,000 sari-sari stores, and restoring livelihood activities through the provision of equipment and training to 3,000 farmers, 7,000 fishermen and women, and 1,400 micro, small and medium entrepreneurs.

The United States Agency for International Development is the lead U.S. government agency that works to end extreme global poverty and enable resilient, democratic societies to realize their potential. In the Philippines, USAID partners with the national government to create a more stable, prosperous and well-governed nation. (US Embassy Manila)


Patrol car damaged as IED goes off in Maguindanao town

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nov 23): Patrol car damaged as IED goes off in Maguindanao town
SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao—A patrol car of the Datu Odin Sinsuat town police was damaged when an improvised explosive device (IED) went off along the national highway here on Tuesday evening.

None of the patrol car’s passengers were injured in the explosion set off by still unidentified men near the headquarters of the Army’s Mechanized Infantry Brigade in Barangay (village) Satan here.

Inspector Rasul Pandulo, the Maguindanao police spokesperson, said the IED—fashioned from powder explosives and packed with nails—was set off around 9 p.m.

No one has claimed responsibility for the roadside bombing incident, Pandulo said.

In recent days, bombs also went off along the Maguindanao portion of the Cotabato-General Santos City.

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters had owned up to some of the explosions.


Abu Sayyaf attacks Japanese cargo ship in Sulu Sea

From the Manila Times (Nov 22): Abu Sayyaf attacks Japanese cargo ship in Sulu Sea

Suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits attacked a Japanese cargo ship in the Sulu Sea near Tawi-Tawi province, belated reports on Tuesday said.

The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) reported that the bulk carrier Kumiai Shagang thwarted the November 20 attack and continued its voyage from Port Hedland in Australia to Qingdao in China.

The Sulu Sea in the southwestern area of the Philippines is separated from the South China Sea in the northwest by Palawan and from the Celebes Sea in the southeast by the Sulu Archipelago.

The cargo ship is owned by Southern Pacific Holding and managed by Kumiai Senpaku.

According to the regional piracy watchdog ReCAAP, the ship’s crew took anti-piracy measures and successfully prevented boarding by the perpetrators.

It also said that since March this year, there have been 11 incidents in the area and most of these were claimed by the Abu Sayyaf.

At least 44 crew have been abducted this year off Sabah in Malaysia and the Abu Sayyaf is still holding over a dozen kidnapped Malaysian, Indonesian and Vietnamese sailors, including a German boater Jurgen Kantner.

There was no immediate statement from the military’s Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City as to the reported recent attack.


6 Abu Sayyaf men wanted by both Philippines, Malaysia

From Anadolu Agency (Nov 22): 6 Abu Sayyaf men wanted by both Philippines, Malaysia

Men named with 17 others in connection with kidnapping cases in the seas off eastern Sabah, Malaysia

6 Abu Sayyaf men wanted by both Philippines, Malaysia

Philippines authorities have confirmed that six men named by Malaysian authorities on suspicion of orchestrating kidnappings in waters between the two countries are also wanted by Manila.
The men -- suspected of being members of the Daesh-linked Abu Sayyaf -- have been named with 17 others by Kuala Lumpur in connection with kidnapping cases in the seas off eastern Sabah, Malaysia.
“They and 15 others are being pursued by Philippine law enforcement and military authorities in the hinterlands of Sulu and Basilan provinces,” a statement from the Philippines embassy in Kuala Lumpur said Tuesday.
"Philippines authorities welcome any information from their Malaysian counterparts that would lead to the arrest of these wanted individuals."
During a visit to Malaysia in November, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said that he would work closely with Malaysia counterpart Najib Razak to solve kidnapping incidents in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas.
On Monday, the Philippines’ military confirmed that its air and naval forces are scouring the country’s troubled south after two more Indonesian fishermen were kidnapped off eastern Malaysia.
According to reports, the abduction was carried out by Abu Sayyaf members on a speedboat who later fled the scene.
The Abu Sayyaf is believed to be holding around 17 foreigners -- including five Malaysians -- and several Filipinos on the island of Sulu.
The military has blamed the group for the recent abduction of six sailors from a Vietnamese-flagged vessel off nearby Basilan island as well as a German man -- whose partner was shot dead -- from a yacht off Sulu.
Police and military reports released in the Philippines late last month stated that the Abu Sayyaf had shifted its priorities from abducting foreigners and businesspeople on the mainland to foreign-flagged tugboats and their crews -- many of them Malaysian and Indonesian nationals -- in local shipping lanes.
The reports also revealed that the group made around 353 million pesos ($7.3 million) from kidnap-for-ransom activities in the first six months of this year.
Since 1991, the group -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortions in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.
It is one of two militant groups in the south who have pledged allegiance to Daesh, prompting fears during the stalling of a peace process between the government and the country's one-time largest Moro rebel group that it could make inroads in a region torn by decades of armed conflict.

German hostage pleads for help

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nov 23): German hostage pleads for help

Sayyaf bandits on Tuesday briefly circulated a video online, showing German hostage Juergen Kantner pleading for help.

In the video, which circulated briefly on Facebook, Kantner pleaded with the Philippine and German governments to help raise his ransom.

The voice of Abu Sayyaf spokesperson Muammar Askali, also known as Abu Rami, could be heard in the background, ordering Kantner to speak.

“I need your help,” Kantner said. “From the Philippine government and German government to bring P500,000.”
P5-M ransom
But the bandits quickly corrected him, saying the ransom was P5 million.

Askali also asked the captive to write his name and address, saying, “We will give him a chance to contact his family, but we observed he is not giving us the correct details.”

He said Kantner earlier claimed he was Kantner Jurgen, who worked in Heizung Gaver.

“He said he was never kidnapped, and that he was not the person kidnapped in Somalia in 2008,” Askali said, referring to an earlier report by Agence France-Presse that said Kantner was kidnapped by Somali pirates in 2008.

Juergen Kantner in Abu Sayyaf video
Juergen Kantner in Abu Sayyaf video

“We hate lying. If we found this German citizen lying to us, we will not have second thoughts about hurting him. We monitor online news,” Askali warned.
Message for German gov’t
Addressing the German government, Askali said: “We hold your citizen captive and it is permitted in Islam to take his blood and life.”

The Abu Sayyaf said it would call local and foreign news organizations to announce the deadline for the ransom.

Kantner and his wife, Sabine Merz, were abducted on Nov. 5, when the Abu Sayyaf chanced upon them onboard their yacht, cruising the waters of Tanjong Luuk Pisuk in Sabah.

Askali earlier claimed they killed Merz when she tried to shoot them when they reached the waters of Tawi-Tawi.

On Nov. 6, villagers reported finding the body of a woman lying beside a shotgun on board a light blue yacht with the German flag off Laparan Island in Sulu, said Maj. Filemon Tan Jr. spokesperson for the Western Mindanao Command.

Tan said the body had gunshot wounds and bruises.

He said the passports of Kantner and Merz were found on the yacht. The picture in Merz’s passport appeared to match the dead woman, he said.


Forget Trump and China, piracy in the Sulu Sea is a fresh threat to Asia trade

From CNBC (Nov 22): Forget Trump and China, piracy in the Sulu Sea is a fresh threat to Asia trade

Southeast Asia is grappling with rampant maritime piracy that, if left unchecked, could threaten trade and bolster terror networks in the region.
This year has seen a growing number of hijackings in the Sulu Sea, located between the Philippines and the island of Borneo. Around $40 billion worth of cargo passes through the area annually, with around $700-800 million in Indonesian coal exports going to the Philippines.

Philippine marines keep a look out for pirates in the Sulu Sea.
H. Christoph / ullstein bild / Getty Images Philippine marines keep a look out for pirates in the Sulu Sea.
Two German citizens were attacked—one was abducted and the other killed—earlier this month while sailing their yacht near Sabah, a Malaysian state in Borneo. And over the weekend, two Indonesian fishermen were abducted in two separate incidents off Sabah. In October, a South Korean ship was seized, with its captain and Philippine crewmember also taken hostage.
Militant group Abu Sayyaf is believed to be responsible for the violence, according to the Philippine military.

Based in the southern Philippine province of Mindanao, Abu Sayyaf has increasingly taken to maritime kidnappings for ransom payments, which brought in nearly $7.3 million so far this year, the Associated Press reported last month, citing a Philippine government report. One of Abu Sayyaf's goals is to establish an independent state based on Shariah law in Mindanao and preserve its ethnic Moro community.

The onslaughts are a mixture of opportunistic and calculated crime, explained Zachary Abuza, a professor specializing in Southeast Asian security issues at the National War College. Abu Sayyaf can score a quick payoff through kidnappings and use the funds to finance broader terror operations, he said.

That modus operandi is symbolic of the wider trends in global piracy. A report by IHS Markit earlier this month found that while the number of piracy attacks around the world have generally decreased, kidnapping had become more common. The seas around the Philippines were the most pirated, followed by Nigeria and India, the report said.
Groups such as Abu Sayyaf are targeting small vessels, such as fishing trawlers or tugboats pulling coal barges that lack security forces, Abuza said, noting that October's hijacking of the large Korean vessel was a rarity.

Earlier this year, Indonesia enforced a moratorium on coal shipments to the Philippines but the resulting economic damage saw Jakarta reverse course. Tugboats and barges remain banned from entering Philippine waters, but larger cargo ships holding capacity of over 500 tonnes are allowed to resume trade since smaller ships were more at risk, the Transportation Ministry said on October 30.
"This (piracy) poses a real problem for regional trade. As the Chinese economy slows down, intra-regional trade becomes all the more urgent ... It also opens a can of legal worms that hasn't been previously been wrestled with in Southeast Asia," Abuza noted.

Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Manila vowed to cooperate to fight the epidemic through measures such as joint maritime and air patrol at the 10th ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting in Laos this past weekend, with Malaysia warning that the Sulu Sea should not become the "new Somalia."

However, none of the three nations are strong at maritime policing or naval capability, Abuza flagged. "The Philippines is by far weakest link in these three and the security situation in Mindanao is deteriorating, not improving."

Moreover, the situation looked set to exacerbate given current politics in the U.S. and Philippines, he added.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and President Rodrigo Duterte are both looking to reduce America's military presence in the Philippines, with Duterte even looking to eject the roughly 100 U.S. special operative forces in Mindanao.


Sulu Army commander promoted, not sacked

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nov 23): Sulu Army commander promoted, not sacked

The Philippine military has dismissed reports that Joint Task Force Sulu Commander Brig. Gen. Arnel de la Vega has been sacked for failing to stop the Abu Sayyaf group from its kidnapping activities despite a massive military operation in the south.

Military spokesperson Col. Edgar Arevalo said De la Vega was in fact taking the spot of Maj. Gen. Rodolfo Santiago, who retired on Monday as commandant of the Command and General Staff College (CGSC) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines after 38 years of service.

De la Vega spent just four months as joint task force head, during which there has been an increase in Abu Sayyaf kidnappings despite a massive military build up to combat the extremist group in the south.

De la Vega was a member of Philippine Military Academy Class ’85 while Santiago belonged to Class ’82.

Santiago also served as the Deputy Commander of the Communications, Electronic and Information Service of the AFP. He was also the Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Civil Military Operations and Chief of Staff of the defunct National Development Support Command.


Capesize Bulk Carrier Attacked by Suspected Militants in Sulu Sea

From gCaptain Daily Newsletter (Nov 22): Capesize Bulk Carrier Attacked by Suspected Militants in Sulu Sea


A Japanese-owned bulk carrier was able to thwart an attack on Sunday in the Sulu Sea off the Philippines marking the latest incident in an area where the Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf has been kidnapping crews for ransom.

According to incident report from the ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre, the Japanese bulk carrier Kumiai Shagang was “attacked by pirates or militants”” on November 20 in Sulu Sea, north of Tawi-Tawi Island in the Philippines. “The bulk carrier thwarted attack by anti- pirates maneuvering, vessel continued voyage from Port Hedland, Australia to Qingdao, China,” the ReCAAP report said.

AIS data on Tuesday showed the 179,000 dwt capesize bulk carrier continuing its voyage to Qingdao.

With this latest attack, ReCAAP has expressed “deep concern” over the uptick in crew abductions since March and the apparent shift towards vessels of larger tonnage.

“The ReCAAP ISC is deeply concerned about the situation of abduction of crew from ships while underway in the Sulu-Celebes Sea and eastern Sabah region. Since March 2016, there has been 11 incidents with nine actual incidents and two attempted incidents occurred in the area. Most of the incidents are claimed by the terrorist group of the Philippines Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). 44 crew were abducted and 11 crew among them are still in captive.

“Since October 2016, the perpetrators have begun to target ships of larger tonnage (Dong Bang Giant 2, Royal 16, Southern Falcon and Kumiai Shagang). Nonetheless, the latest attempted incidents of Southern Falcon and Kumiai Shagang show the vigilance of the crew and effective activation of anti-piracy measures had successfully prevented boarding by the perpetrators.”

In late October, Indonesia resumed some coal shipments to the Philippines following a months-long halt after a string of hijackings by suspected members of Abu Sayyaf, based in the southern Philippines, in which several Indonesian sailors were taken hostage.


ReCAAP: Abu Sayyaf Now Targeting Merchant Ships

From the Maritime Executive (Nov 22): ReCAAP: Abu Sayyaf Now Targeting Merchant Ships


On Monday, the piracy reporting center ReCAAP ISC warned that Abu Sayyaf militants are increasingly targeting larger merchant vessels in the Sulu Sea.

Over the course of this year, Abu Sayyaf has abducted nearly four dozen seafarers. Many of the crew have already been returned to their families, and Philippine media reports suggest that Abu Sayyaf has earned millions in ransom payments for their release – an important source of income for the long-running terrorist organization.

As of November 22, Abu Sayyaf is believed to be holding 22 individuals captive, including two Westerners.

The majority of the kidnapping attacks have targeted slow-moving tugs and trawlers, which are vulnerable due to their slow speed and low freeboard.

However, Abu Sayyaf militants (or attackers suspected of belonging to the group) have recently targeted merchant vessels for the first time, with four boardings or attempted boardings of large ships since the start of October.

Two crewmembers, one Korean and one Philippine national, were abducted from the heavy lift ship Dong Bang Giant 2 off Tawi Tawi on October 20. Six Vietnamese crew members (most of them officers) were taken from the freighter Royal 16 off Basilan on November 11. The chemical tanker Southern Falcon and the bulker Kumiai Shagang both repulsed attackers before they could board; the attempted hijacking of the Shagang occured on November 20, and had not been previously reported.

ReCAAP advises slow moving ships to re-route around the Sulu-Celebes Sea region altogether, and suggests that all other traffic should maintain vigilance and report suspicious vessels to authorities.

Attacks on smaller vessels continue. The captain and chief mate were kidnapped from a Malaysian trawler off Sabah on Saturday, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Indonesian authorities suggested that they had been taken to the Abu Sayyaf stronghold of Sulu.


‘Masses calling for end to ceasefire over military abuses’ - Northern Mindanao Reds

From InterAksyon (Nov 22): ‘Masses calling for end to ceasefire over military abuses’ - Northern Mindanao Reds

The unilateral ceasefires declared by the government and National Democratic Front of the Philippines are in danger of unraveling in Northern Mindanao as communities targeted by military operations call for an end to the suspension of hostilities, communist rebels in the region warned Tuesday.

“The masses are calling for an end to the ceasefire because they continue to be targets of enemy operations,” the New People’s Army North-Central Mindanao Region command said in a statement from its spokesman, Ka Allan Juanito.

The government and the rebels declared their separate ceasefires in August to pave the way for the resumption of formal peace negotiations. However, efforts to forge an indefinite bilateral ceasefire promised by the two sides appear to have hit snags lately, in part over the continued detention of more than 400 political prisoners.

Over the last two months, accusations of military violations of the government ceasefire have also been raised by rebel units, human rights groups and mass organizations, notably in northern and southern Luzon and other regions in Mindanao.

Most of the complaints accuse military units of conducting counterinsurgency operations in the guise of civil-military and so-called “peace and development” projects, although in the Caraga region, two peasant leaders actively involved in anti-mining campaigns have been murdered. There have also been reports of government troops harassing and, in one case in Bulacan, arresting and charging activists in the guise of the anti-drug campaign “Oplan Tokhang.”

In the statement, written in Bisaya, Juanito said units of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division as well as the police’s 13th Regional Public Safety Battalion have been operating in 78 villages in 22 towns and four cities of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon.

As in other regions, Juanito said government forces used “Tokhang,” civic action missions and other pretexts to “search villages, illegally investigate residents and ransack homes,” staying in communities between three days to three weeks, particularly those where, Juanito claimed village councils were “pressured” to “request” military protection.

In some communities where the masses fund the courage to ask the soldiers what their real intentions were since there is supposed to be a ceasefire with the NPA, the soldiers reply: ‘Only (President Rodrigo Duterte) and the NPA have a ceasefire, we don’t care’,” Juanito said.

On November 16, he said, in Barangay Plaridel, Claveria town in Misamis Oriental, farmers whose homes were demolished allegedly to pave the way for the expansion of a plantation of the Del Monte Corp. were offered help by an officer of the 58th Infantry Battalion to reclaim the land.

However, he said, the farmers were taken to the battalion’s headquarters in Barangay Migbanday “and made to sign a logbook essentially indicating their surrender” and “told that they would be assisted to claim the land they farmed and lived on only if they promised the soldiers that they would no longer joil rallies.”

Later, Juanito claimed, the military announced the “surrender” of rebels.

The rebel spokesman acknowledged that “our hands are tied and we can do nothing” against the alleged military harassment of communities because of the ceasefire.

However, he warned, “if the enemy do not stop their operations, there is a great possibility that sooner or later the NPA and the soldiers may be trading bullets.”



Special Forces soldier, 4 BIFF bandits dead in anti-drug operation

From the Philippine Star (Nov 22): Special Forces soldier, 4 BIFF bandits dead in anti-drug operation

Army personnel secured the town center of Talitay while anti-narcotics agents searched for drugs in the house of Mayor Muntasir Sabal early Friday. Facebook/Nhor Gayak/ Brigada FM Cotabato, file

Five people were killed, among them a Special Forces operator, in an encounter Monday between government forces and gunmen coddling followers of Talitay Mayor Muntassir Sabal, who is wanted for alleged involvement in the narcotics trade.
SSgt Giovanni Perez Olimpo, was firing an M-60 machinegun at while standing unprotected on an Australian-made airboat slithering across a marsh when he was hit by bullets in the middle torso.
“He died serving his country, helping the government carry on its anti-narcotics campaign,” said Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Jr., commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.
The 6th ID operates in Maguindanao’s Talitay town, a major transshipment point for shabu.
Barangay officials said four gunmen, identified as Kamir, Bitol, Ubaida and Omar, were killed in the firefight.
The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters was quick to announce that its guerillas were responsible for Olimpo's death.
Local officials in Talitay said there was no truth to claims by the outlawed group, whose commanders are known drug traffickers, that three airboats carrying SF soldiers, each costing more than P2 million, were destroyed in the firefight.
Police intelligence sources said there are rumors spreading that BIFF gunmen are coddling the followers of Sabal, from whose house in Talitay combined police, agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and soldiers found shabu and unlicensed guns last Friday.
President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier tagged Sabal and his brother, Abdulwahab, as “narco-politicians,” both listed in Malacañang roster of drug traffickers in the country.
Abdulwahab has been detained since October in connection with his alleged involvement in the large-scale distribution of shabu in Maguindanao and nearby central Mindanao provinces.
Barangay officials in Talitay, whose mayor, Sabal, has been missing for two months now, said Olimpo was among a team of Army combatants verifying the alleged presence of a makeshift shabu manufacturing facility in a marsh northeast of the municipality.
The 6th ID has been running after drug traffickers in Talitay town since Friday, an extensive operation that started with the search for drugs and firearms at Sabal's house in the town center.
The anti-narcotics operations are closely coordinated with the ceasefire committee of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, according to Tokz Upham, the MILF’s principal ceasefire monitor.
Three BIFF bandits were reportedly wounded in Monday’s skirmishes in Talitay.
One of the wounded bandits was identified as Tasil, who sustained shrapnel wounds when a 40-mm shoulder-fired grenade exploded near where he was.

Japan officials to inspect development projects in Central Mindanao

From the Philippine Star (Nov 22): Japan officials to inspect development projects in Central Mindanao

Japan is a major funder of development projects in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. File photo

Representatives from Japan will tour central Mindanao starting Tuesday to inspect Japanese-funded projects meant to hasten the attainment of lasting peace in the country’s troubled south.
Japan, through its Japanese International Cooperation Agency, is a major benefactor of peace and development programs in the southern Philippines, particularly in underdeveloped provinces in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The ARMM, which covers Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, both in mainland Mindanao, and the islands of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, are common bastions of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front. 
The visiting dignitaries will also visit the humanitarian service center it helped establish here along with the Community and Family Service International.
The CFSI, a partner of JICA, is engaged in humanitarian projects benefiting local marginalized sectors.
In an emailed advisory Monday, the Japanese Embassy in Manila said the visiting team shall also inspect a tilapia culture site in Sultan Mastura town in the first district of Maguindanao.
The inland fish propagation project involves poor ethnic Iranuns, some of them identified with the MILF.
The fish ponds are less than five kilometers west of the Camp Darapanan, the MILF's main enclave, in Maguindanao’s nearby Sultan Kudarat town.
Japan has also been helping push the current government-MILF peace process forward through interventions intended to improve security and stabilize the economy in conflict-affected areas.
JICA also has dozens of ongoing projects designed to hasten the restoration of normalcy in areas where there are MILF camps to give rebels and their families convenient access to schools, to centers of commerce and trade, and to government health and social welfare. 
Japan, in fact, has representatives to the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team, which is helping uphold since 2003 the ceasefire accord between the government and the MILF.
The IMT is comprised of soldiers and policemen from Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, and non-uniformed conflict resolution experts from Japan and Norway.
Monday’s news advisory from the Japanese embassy said the visiting team will also meet the present IMT mission head, Malaysian Army Major Gen. Wira Zamrose.
The Japanese government has been funding vital socio-economic projects in potential conflict flashpoint areas in ARMM for more than two decades now.
It even funded a recent study by the ARMM government on prospective road networks interconnecting the 116 towns in the autonomous region to provincial trading centers as a reference for the reconstruction of conflict-wracked areas into potential agriculture and fishery hubs.
The Japanese visitors are also expected to have a dialogue with officials of the MILF’s economic development outfit, the Bangsamoro Development Agency.

Malaysian involved in kidnap claim baseless – rep

From the Borneo Post (Nov 22): Malaysian involved in kidnap claim baseless – rep

The claim by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman Nur Misuari that a Malaysian was involved in the Sipadan kidnapping in 2000 is baseless, said Senallang assemblyman Datuk Seri Nasir Tun Hj Sakaran.

Nasir said the Abu Sayyaf were identified as suspects of the Sipadan kidnapping at an early stage and no local was involved.

“Perhaps Nur Misuari was seeking fame and therefore made up the story of a Malaysian’s involvement in the kidnapping."

“The allegation is baseless,” Nasir said in response to Tamparuli assemblyman Datuk Wilfred Bumburing who raised the issue when the former was debating the state budget in the State Legislative Assembly sitting here yesterday.

In April 2000, 10 Malaysians and 11 foreigners were kidnapped by armed groups in Sipadan, Sabah.

Nonetheless, Nasir did agree with Bumburing that the people should also join the effort to ensure security in the east coast.

Meanwhile, Sri Tanjong assemblyman Chan Foong Hin pointed out that the fishermen association had recently suggested to station Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCom) personnel on fishing boats, considering that kidnappers have now shifted their target from tourists to fishermen.

Chan also suggested that fishermen be allowed to apply for firearms licence to defend themselves, to which State Assembly Speaker Datuk Syed Abas Syed Ali said the proposal should be directed to ESSCom.

Nasir said ESSCom personnel were now stationed in resorts and tourism spots in Semporna, including Kapalai, Mataking and Singgahmata.

As for fishermen, Nasir said the Automatic Identification System (AIS) device was installed on fishing boats to track their whereabouts.

He said fishermen should also cooperate with the security forces so that their position at sea could be tracked.

In his debate speech, Nasir said ESSCom has greatly strengthened security in the east coast of Sabah.
“Since 2014 till May this year, a total of 15 kidnapping attempts have been thwarted in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZone),” he said.

He also welcomed the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to allow Malaysian security to pursue kidnappers and militants into Philippine waters, saying that the move would bring positive impact to regional security especially to Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia that shared maritime borders.

Nasir added that the next step was to carry out joint operations and trainings by security forces.


Moro group urges Duterte to stop US military exercises as warship arrives in Manila

Posted to the often pro-Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) online publication the Davao Today (Nov 21): Moro group urges Duterte to stop US military exercises as warship arrives in Manila

The arrival of the USS McCampbell ship in Manila last week did not sit well with a Moro rights group that is critical of the US presence in the country.

Bai Ali Indayla, spokesperson of Kawagib Moro Human Rights group said the arrival of the USS Campbell proved that the “unequal treaty” between the Philippines and the U.S continues despite the pronouncements of President Rodrigo Duterte to push for an independent foreign policy.

“We call and challenge President Duterte to be true to his words that he will end US imperialist intervention in the Philippines by junking the Mutual Defense Treaty, Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Cooperation Defense Agreement),” the Moro woman leader said.

In a press release by the US Embassy Manila Information Office, it described the USS McCampbell as a forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer. The ship arrived in Manila on Nov. 18.

“The port visit highlights the strong community and military connections between the Philippines and the United States,” the Embassy said.

“The brief port call will allow McCampbell to replenish supplies as well as give sailors time to rest and relax,” it added.

Filipino-American Petty Officer 1st Class Ambrosio Maddagan said he is excited to show the Filipino heritage and culture to his fellow shipmates.

The visit follows the completion of the training exercise with the Royal Brunei Navy during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2016.

The Embassy said CARAT is a series of annual maritime exercises between the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and the armed forces of nine partner nations to include Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Timor-Leste.

“McCampbell is on patrol with the Carrier Strike Group Five (CSG 5) in the U.S. 7th Fleet to support security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific,” the Embassy said.

‘No more US troops’

During his official visit to Japan, Duterte told the Filipino community there that he may abrogate the executive military agreements with the US in two years.

“I want maybe in the next two years my country freed of the presence of foreign military troops. I want them out. And if I have to revise or abrogate agreements, executive agreements, I will,” Duterte said at the Philippine Economic Forum at the Convention Hall of Prince Park Tower Tokyo Hotel on Oct. 26.

“This will be the last maneuver war games between the US and the Philippine military,” Duterte said.
Duterte also spoke about the withdrawal of US special forces in Mindanao last September.

Duterte, however, clarified that the ties and friendly relations between the US and the Philippines will remain after the election victory of  US President-elect Donald Trump.


During his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, Nov. 19, Duterte again hit US and Western nations for “bullying small nations.”

He said US and other nations “seem to start a war, but are afraid to go to war.”

“They were waging war in so many places in Vietnam, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. And for one single reason that there was a weapon of mass destruction and there was none,” he said.

“They insist (that) if you are allied with them that they follow you. They go to the Korean war, nothing happened. They got defeated,” Duterte said, adding that the Philippines even sent soldiers in both Iraq and Vietnam war.

Stronger ties with China, Russia

Duterte, who also said that he does not want to be a lapdog of any country, met again with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Peru.

During his meeting with Xi in China in October, $24 billion worth of loans and business deals were signed.

Kawagib’s Indayla reminded Duterte of keeping his promise for the country to pursue an independent foreign policy.

Indayla said the framework that the President should work on is how to use the alliances to strengthen the Philippine economy and to build its own industry for the people’s benefit.



Baker Center lecture features international security relations

From the University of Tennessee Daily Beacon (Nov 21): Baker Center lecture features international security relations

On Monday, Nov. 21, the Baker Center held another Global Security Lecture featuring Renato Cruz De Castro, senior professor of International Studies, at De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines.
The lecture, titled “The South China Sea Dispute: US - Philippines - China Security Relations,” was held in the Toyota Auditorium at 5:30 p.m.
In his lecture, De Castro spoke on the geopolitics of the U.S.-Philippine alliance. Historically, these two countries have had strong relations, and the Philippines is one of the oldest Asian alliances as well as a major non-NATO ally.
The Philippines is a small power that relies on the U.S. as an ally over China, because there would be too many territorial disputes between the two neighboring countries. The purpose of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia is to establish a balance of power, which counters China.
The idea of a balance of power as it relates to international relations is the theory that countries make and remake alliances so that not one state is stronger than the other.
These relations are particularly relevant considering China’s maritime expansion efforts in the South China Sea. China is attempting to develop a blue-water navy, allowing its naval force to expand far beyond Chinese borders, and it has also been building artificial islands in the South China Sea for military bases.
“There’s now a growing view in Washington that China’s behavior toward the Philippines is a reflection of how China would be behaving in the future: assertive, militant, and, of course, expansive,” De Castro said.
This conflict is just one in a series of historical territorial disputes between China and neighboring countries, including Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
“We are aware that no amount of resources will enable the Philippines to address the overall strategic imbalance between the Philippines and China,” De Castro said. “So this is where, of course, the (U.S.-Philippine) alliance comes in.”
The alliance is shown through both the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and the Mutual Defense Treaty. EDCA is an agreement that allows the U.S. to rotate troops into the Philippines for extended stays and permits the U.S. to build and operate facilities on Philippine bases for both countries’ forces. Furthermore, the Mutual Defense Treaty states that any attack on the Philippines would be considered an attack on the U.S. However, unlike NATO, the treaty does not require the U.S. to immediately respond.
However, these relations have been strained by Rodrigo Duterte’s Administration. Duterte, the current President of the Philippines who holds anti-American sentiments, has stated in the past he was seeking alliances with Russia and China and was terminating the Philippine-U.S. joint patrols in the South China Sea. After he made these statements, he backtracked, claiming he only sought an economic alliance with China, not a militaristic one.
Krista Wiegand, director of the Global Security Program and who was responsible for inviting De Castro, expressed her thoughts on the importance of understanding these relations.
“Regardless of what President-elect Trump does with his policies, what happens in East Asia and the Pacific with China, Japan, the Philippines, all of those countries, economically, but also militarily, really matters to the U.S.,” Wiegand said. “So it’s really critical for Americans to understand that our relationship with Asia is really important … The U.S. has this really special relationship with the Philippines.”
De Castro earned his doctorate from the University of South Carolina as a Fulbright Scholar in 2001. He has previously held lectures at the National Defense College of the Philippines on International Relations and Security. Currently, he is the U.S.-ASEAN Fulbright Initiative Researcher for the Philippines based in Washington, D.C.
His research interests include the international politics of East Asia, security relations between the U.S. and Philippines, Philippine defense and foreign policies and U.S. defense and foreign policies in East Asia. He has written more than 80 articles on international relations and security, which have been published in scholarly journals across the world, including the Philippines, South Korea, Canada, Malaysia, France, Singapore, Taiwan, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia and the U.S.

Bello: Old, sick, female political prisoners may be pardoned next month

From GMA News (Nov 22): Bello: Old, sick, female political prisoners may be pardoned next month

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Tuesday revealed that President Rodrigo Duterte may grant pardon not only to old and sick political prisoners by December, but also to female ones.

"Very possible may mga mabigyan ng pardon, especially ‘yung mga elderly, ‘yung mga sickly and ‘yung mga babae," Bello said in a press briefing in Malacañang, noting the president's "bias" toward female prisoners.

Bello, the chief government negotiator in the peace talks with the communists, said the communist-led National Democratic Front (NDF) had requested to release around 40 to 50 political prisoners.

He also said that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) showed neither opposition nor concern regarding the release of the detained members of the Left.

"We had very close meeting and discussion with [Defense] Secretary [Delfin] Lorenzana and even Secretary [Hermogenes] Esperon on… our National Security Adviser. We keep constant consultation with them. Wala naman, not a single hint of opposition," Bello said.

Before he left for Peru to attend the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, Duterte announced that the government is preparing clemency to old and sick inmates in time for the Christmas season. 

The President had already granted actor Robin Padilla absolute pardon last week.


In Philippines, villagers get caught in crossfire between military and Abu Sayyaf

From Channel News Asia (Nov 22): In Philippines, villagers get caught in crossfire between military and Abu Sayyaf
   Darwisa Jakiram, the village head of a town in Indanan province on Sulu island, knows the threat posed by the Abu Sayyaf group all too well.
She was once kidnapped by the militants and now suffers from stress and high blood pressure whenever she feels they may be in the area.
“I had just withdrawn a lot of money from an ATM in Jolo and was making my way back to my town when a car pulled up and men grabbed me from the tricycle I was riding,” she said. “I was only kidnapped for a few hours until they had the money they wanted but it was traumatising."

Soldiers in Jolo get ready to go off on a week-long operation to hunt down the Abu Sayyaf. (Photo: Aya Lowe)

Darwisa is now doing her part to ensure others in her community are safe. Her village houses one of the five evacuation centres in the area providing shelter to families who have been displaced by the fighting between the government and extremist groups like Abu Sayyaf.
In times of need, they turn their elementary school into a refugee centre, which at one point housed hundreds of families fleeing from ongoing skirmishes in their own villages.
Darwisa describes her constituents as the victims in the war against terrorism. She has seen first-hand the destruction caused by the ongoing battles between the Philippine military and members of the militant group, whom locals call "soldiers".
“People are scared because of the firefight between the military and extremist groups,” said Darwisa. “They’re scared of getting hit by a stray bullet or being used as a human shield.”
In September, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) reported that more than 4,000 families from at least five towns in Sulu had been affected by the ongoing intensified military campaign against the Abu Sayyaf group in Sulu.
Myrna Jo Henry, information officer of ARMM’s Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team, said most families were displaced and had moved out of their villages to avoid being caught in the crossfire.

Marines from the Philippine military doing morning exercises. (Photo: Aya Lowe)

A Philippine military helicopter flies over Sulu. (Photo: Aya Lowe)

But by moving out, families disrupt their lives - they lose their livelihood and source of income, their children stop going to school and they live in cramped conditions with hundreds of other families.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte intensified his campaign against the militants after the group was blamed for a spate of abductions off the Philippine coast and bombings in Davao City which killed 14 people and injured 67.
In September, he declared a “state of lawlessness” in the area which led to a higher police presence, more checkpoints and military.
Duterte said he wanted the Abu Sayyaf destroyed, adding that it was pointless to talk peace to them because it was not clear whom they were fighting for or what ideology they have. He has taken the fight to the thick jungle areas of Sulu and Basilan islands that are Abu Sayyaf strongholds.
In this cat-and-mouse game, the Abu Sayyaf is constantly on the move around the jungles of Patikul, Indanan and Parang, slipping in and out of villages. The members put civilians in danger by using the homes of their relatives and friends to hide from troops. Many locals take the militants in and lie to passing armed forces personnel, fearing reprisals if they do not comply.

A food vendor in the port area of Tawi Tawi. (Photo: Aya Lowe)

Octavio Dinampo, a teacher who lives in Indanan, who was himself an Abu Sayyaf kidnap victim, said one of the reasons why the group has not been eliminated despite the best efforts of previous administrations is because it uses blood and political ties to evade the authorities.
The military has tried to get the cooperation of the locals, asking for information about Abu Sayyaf members passing through or staying in the villages, but it is hard to gain trust if they are only positioned there temporarily.
“About a third of the Abu Sayyaf are hiding in villages,” he said. “In these villages, they hold the community hostage. I sense that people are silent from fear. The Armed Forces of the Philippines presence only comes and goes and isn’t enough to keep them safe."
According to Macrina Morados, dean at the Institute of Islamic Studies Centre at the University of the Philippines, there have been reports of the Philippine military making villages hostile areas to prevent Abu Sayyaf militants from seeking shelter there.
“Wherever there is a military operation, they will often destroy the crops of the ordinary people because the military thinks that when the Abu Sayyaf reach the area, they use the village as a resting point to refuel and harvest the corn and vegetable,” she said.
The military said its campaign is bearing fruit - the Abu Sayyaf is now on the defensive and hiding out in various villages in Sulu and Basilan. But while the group's activities may be curtailed for now, it is the innocent civilians who continue paying a high price.


PHL, US military officials assure continuous, robust relations

From GMA News (Nov 22): PHL, US military officials assure continuous, robust relations

Philippine and US military officials on Tuesday assured the public of a continuous and robust relations between the two countries following their meeting earlier in the day.

The Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) met on November 22 at the Armed Forces of the Philippines general headquarters at Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

The board was jointly presided by co-chairs General Ricardo R. Visaya, AFP Chief of Staff, and Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., commander, US Pacific Command. They were joined and supported by various standing committees and participating agencies of both governments.

The successful completion of the MDB-SEB ensures continued, robust relations between the US and Philippine militaries, according to a joint press statement read by Col. Edgard Arevalo, Armed Forces of the Philippines Public Affairs Office chief.

It said this highlights the enduring commitment of both countries to the US-Philippine alliance.

“We look forward to continued, close cooperation in areas central to both our national and security interests including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, counterterrorism, cyber security, and maritime security,” it said.

In an interview with reporters, Arevalo said the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was discussed but no new issues came up.

“It was part of the discussion and nothing new has been discussed except those that have been released already earlier,” he said.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said the joint military training will not focus on civic action, and humanitarian and disaster response.

He said he recommended putting “more weight on civic action and engineering projects to benefit a number of civilian communities and the strengthening of the Self-Reliant Defense Program.”

He said Duterte has also given a go-signal for the implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), an executive agreement between the Philippines and the US to advance the implementation of the Mutual Defense Agreement signed in 1951.

He said the President ordered to discontinue assault exercises and some bilateral drills between both forces such as Philippines Amphibious Landing Exercise (Phiblex) and the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT). 


AFP, US Pacific command chiefs weigh future of US-PH military ties

From ABS-CBN (Nov 22): AFP, US Pacific command chiefs weigh future of US-PH military ties

U.S. and Filipino soldiers take part in an urban combat drill during a Philippine-U.S. military exercise in Cavite on Thursday. More than 4,000 American troops joined their Filipino counterparts for a series of military exercises in several provinces scheduled for ten days. Romeo Ranoco, Reuters

The head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines met with the chief of the United States Pacific Command (US Pacom) on Tuesday to discuss the future of military cooperation between the two Pacific allies.

US Pacom chief Admiral Harry Harris was at the AFP headquarters to attend the annual Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) with AFP Chief of Staff Ricardo Visaya.

The annual assembly of the US and Philippine militaries defines the joint activities to be conducted in the coming year.

Among the joint exercises that the MDB-SEB facilitates are the Balikatan, the Philippine-US Amphibious Landing Exercises (Phiblex) and Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), the three major war games between the Philippines and US.

The US and Philippine militaries held its meeting in the wake of President Rodrigo Duterte’s pronouncement that he would decrease the Philippines’ military engagement with its long-time ally.
Neither Visaya nor Harris agreed to be interviewed after the joint meeting.

It remains to be seen how the annual menu of US-Philippine joint exercises will be affected by Duterte's vocal rejection of the US as an ally.

Duterte has at one point declared his "separation" from the US in military affairs, calling out President Barack Obama and the US for its past atrocities in the southern Philippines.

Despite Duterte’s harsh words, Philippine military and security officials have maintained that the alliance and exercises between the US and the Philippines will remain.

A joint statement released after the meeting said the MDB-SEB gathering "highlights the enduring commitment of both countries to the US-Philippine alliance."

“We look forward to continued, close cooperation in areas central to both our national and security interests including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, counter-terrorism, cyber security, and maritime security,” the joint statement read.

Details of what was discussed and the calendar of joint activities have yet to be released.

AFP spokesman, Brigadier General Restituto Padilla, said the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was also discussed during the meeting.

It remains to be seen which exercises will continue, and which ones, if any, will be cancelled or reduced.

The government had earlier said that the US military involvement in the Philippines will focus on counter-terrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster response.


5 die in Maguindanao clashes between gov't forces, outlawed BIFF

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 22): 5 die in Maguindanao clashes between gov't forces, outlawed BIFF

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao -- Government forces pursuing armed followers of a town mayor tagged as narco-politician killed four armed men in a clash late Monday afternoon in the Maguindanao marshland, the military confirmed Tuesday.

The government side, however, suffered one fatality in the firefight between Army Special Forces and outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Among those killed was a soldier, according to Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., commander of the 6th Infantry Division based in Maguindanao.

Galvez said the Army Special Forces were pursuing a group of outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the borders of Sultan Sumagca (formerly Talitay town) and Datu Anggal Midtimbang towns in Maguindanao when an encounter occurred.

He identified the slain soldier as S/Sgt. Giovanni P. Olimpo, a gunner of M-60 machinegun mounted atop a hovercraft. He was hit in his middle torso and expired at Camp Siongco Hospital here.

“He died serving his country, helping the government carry on its anti-narcotics campaign,” Galvez said of Olimpo who was firing at the armed men positioned along the river bank.

Local officials in Sultan Sumagca confirmed to military authorities that four armed men, belonging to BIFF, were also killed in the encounter.

Galvez said the soldiers form part of a unit hunting down armed followers of Mayor Montassir Sabal of Sultan Sumagca, Maguindanao who was tagged by President Duterte as Maguindanao's narco-politician.

The military was convinced that the BIFF has been coddling armed followers of Mayor Sabal in the Maguindanao marshland.

Monday afternoon’s clash was related to the law enforcement operation against Mayor Sabal and two other local officials on Friday.

Colonel Markton Abo, speaking for the 6th ID, said the military and the police are hunting down an undetermined number of Mayor Sabal’s heavily armed followers.

Sabal who has been missing since September, was named by President Rodrigo Duterte as among the Maguindanao’s narco-politicians.

Government forces raided his home in Barangay Poblacion, Sultan Sumagca town but missed him.
Policemen and soldiers, backed by armored personnel carriers and helicopter gunships, arrested on Friday two of Sabal’s armed followers and seized seven huge sachets of "shabu" or methamphetamine hydrochloride and three high powered guns.

Mayor Sabal has not reported to office since September while is brother, Vice Mayor Abdul Wahab Sabal, was arrested for possession of guns and explosives.


Military, police seized marijuana, shabu in Agusan Del Sur, Bukidnon

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 22): Military, police seized marijuana, shabu in Agusan Del Sur, Bukidnon

Combined military and police elements seized two sacks of dried marijuana plants and sachets of "shabu" substance during separate operations in the provinces of Agusan Del Sur and Bukidnon, the military reported Tuesday.

Capt. Patrick Martinez, Army's 4th Infantry Division spokesman, said that the marijuana plants were seized during a raid at the outskirt village of Tagiptip in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon with an estimated value of PhP 300, 000.

No suspect was arrested as they managed to ran away even before the raiding team could arrive in the area.

Martinez said that the marijuana plants, weighing 10 kilograms, reportedly came from the hinterlands of Cabanglasan, Bukidnon and was about to be delivered in Malaybalay City when intercepted by law enforcers in the village of Tagiptip.

Meantime, he said that the illegal “shabu” (methamphetamine hydrochloride) was seized during a buy bust operation in the village of Kapatungan in Trento, Agusan Del Sur.

Martinez identified the suspect in the “shabu” buy bust as Rodel Garrame Fojas, 35, of Trento, Agusan De Sur.

Seized from Fojas was the suspected shabu substance worth PhP 76,000, two pieces aluminum foil, one piece lighter and the PhP 500.00 peso bill as marked money.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal, Army's 4ID commander, congratulated the joint operations and expressed confidence that a strong team work among law enforcers of various units could easily eradicate the proliferation of the illegal drugs in North and Northeastern Mindanao regions.


Bishops-Ulama Conference kicks-off Mindanao Week of Peace

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 22): Bishops-Ulama Conference kicks-off Mindanao Week of Peace 

The Bishop-Ulama Conference (BUC) kicked off Thursday the Mindanao Week of Peace, an annual peace event started by the Peace Advocates of Zamboanga (PAZ) back in 1998.

BUC is an inter-religious group composed of Catholic Bishops, Ulama and Ustadz, members of the Ulama League of the Philippines (ULP), and Protestant bishops and pastors who are members of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP).

Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla, co-convenor of the BUC, said the Mindanao Week of Peace will be celebrated throughout the region from November 24 to December 1 with a theme promoting respect and the protection of life.

Bishop Capalla, who has been convening inter-religious peace initiatives, said peace is not elusive, “it can be achieved by everyone.” “It is hope and prayer of the bishops, pastors and Ulama that during this Mindanao Week of Peace, every group or institution will find a way to reexamine whether or not their respective internal relationships and external projects are life-giving and mutually self-protecting,” he said.

Capalla said several activities have been set out beginning with a Poster Making Contest at the People’s Park on Wednesday but the formal opening is on Thursday with a motorcade from Magsaysay Park to Roxas Avenue organized by the Civil Relations Service (CRS) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

A Peace Village will be open from November 28 to December 1 by Al Qalam group of the Ateneo de Davao University. A symposium will be held at the Brokenshire College on November followed by A Peace Walk spearheaded by the Philippine National Police, University of the Immaculate Conception and the Davao Association of Catholic Schools (DACS) on December 1.

DACS will also hold a two-day Youth Peace Camp in Lomondao, Marilog District. The week will be concluded by the holding of the Youth Confluence for Peace on December 10.

During the Aquino administration the BUC was sidelined in peace activities. Last September, BUC held its 20th anniversary as a comeback participation in peace initiatives.


Davaoeños stand strong versus terrorism

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 22): Davaoeños stand strong versus terrorism

Two months after the September 2 explosion that ripped through the Roxas night market, Davaoeṅos renewed their strong stance against terrorism as the Task Force Davao rolled out “No to terror” advocacy in Davao City.

Davaoeṅos simultaneously wore an anti-terrorism pin that signifies their support to stand against terrorism.

Kent Jason Capute, 34, said he is fully supporting the anti terrorist campaign of the security forces because it is for the safety of the civilians like him. “I want the other people to see that we Davaoeṅos are standing against terrorism and it can never bring us down, through this we will be more vigilant to have a safer city,” said Capute, who was one of those who wore a pin on anti-terrorism signifying support to the campaign.

Task Force Davao commander, Col. Erwin Bernard Neri, said wearing the anti-terror pin is a sign that the Davaoeños stand up and fight against terrorism. “After that incident on September 2, we emphasized that we have to raise the level of awareness and vigilance of the people against terrorism,” Neri said.

He said the pin shows the people of Davao can unite and go against terrorism. “Security forces can’t do this alone, so we need the help of the community,” he added.

Neri also called on the business sector to replicate the pins and put it on their employees to show unity within the city.

Last month, the Task Force Davao conducted an anti-terrorism seminar to the barangay officials to let their constituents know of the things that they need to do.

After the bombing that took 15 lives, the security forces implemented a strict security policy including on checkpoint operation.