Thursday, January 5, 2017

MILF: Muslim Youth Leaders conferred to redirect programs to Peace Building

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Jan 4):  Muslim Youth Leaders conferred to redirect programs to Peace Building

A total of 69 different youth leaders from 20 different Youth Organizations comprising the Union of Muslim Youth Organizations (UMYO) gathered and conferred for Muslim Youth Leaders Peace Conference at Nursalam Hall, Alnor Complex, Cotabato City last January 1, 2017.

The program was also participated by youth leaders from Integrated Muslim Youth Federation (IMYF) of Davao City and Office of Bangsamoro Youth Affairs (OBYA) -ARMM. The activity was branded as "You Turn" with the theme: "Look back the Past, Know the Present, and Prepare for Future."

This was a sequel event for UMYO's anti-radicalism advocacy which was initially dubbed as "The Lines" which was held last November 30, 2016 at Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Complex in the same City.

The conference was illuminated by three (3) guest speakers who led the discussions about proper dealings on radicalism, significance of learning the history, and appreciating the primacy of Peace Process in the societal development.

This You Turn Peace Conference aimed to understand the current radical activities in the global arena and its implications that are suddenly evolved in our country especially in Mindanao.

Furthermore, UMYO strives to redirect the focus of youth to the issues and concerns of Bangsamoro that is more vital for our own development in order to build more beneficial impact to other people without prejudices.

It was highlighted in the program that Islam is a Mercy to all creations. It does not teach any acts of violence and brutality that cause destruction to others. There was also an emphasis given on the virtue of "The Success of One is Success of All, and Failure of One is Failure of All" which ignited the participants to strengthen their unity.

Discussion was started by representative from Jumeyyatul Huffaz bil Filibeen in the person of Sheikh Abdulkahar Musa who talked about definition, forms, origin, and proper dealings on Radicalism.

He defined Radicalism as any act that is too much. Even though a person is intending it as a form of Ibadah (worship), it is still not good for him. He shared that during the time of the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W., he advised his companions not to be extreme (kill civilians, women, animals (except for eating purposes), destroy properties, etc.) to anyone even though they are in a battlefield. There is a need of moderating one's belief for him not to be destroyed by it.

The topic on "Why the History and the primacy of peace process in the Bangsamoro are vital for a sustainable development" was discussed by Hon. Mohagher Iqbal, Chairman of MILF Peace Implementing Panel.

As he said, History is very important; there is no future for those people who don’t know their past. We should know the past to see the present and project what will happen in the future. The purpose of knowing the History is to understand the diversity e.g. cultural diversity and religious belief.

The best way to find peace is to acknowledge that we all have differences, and this diversity should be taken as an opportunity to strengthen us in order to unite as one. Then he mentioned the verse from the Glorious Qur’an in Surah Al-Hujurat verse 13: “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted”.

He also stressed his advice to the youth that we should acknowledge and respect the different beliefs of other groups but we must believe that Islam is a religion of Peace and the success of the on-going peace process is the genuine solution for a just and lasting peace in the Bangsamoro.

Strengthening of brotherhood is also an effective way to achieve our objective for peace. He also emphasized the urgency of educating the people with the true teachings of Islam and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. This will enable them to practice the proper Islamic way of life that will eventually bring about peace to the entire community.

He also encouraged the youth about developing the Bangsamoro area. Due to the results of war, it was marginalized. War as he said is the mother of all poverty; we cannot develop our areas in times of war that is why negotiation is the most civilized way of addressing the conflict this time. Armed struggle is only an option for self-preservation.
A closing message and du'a was delivered by Sheikh Salahuddin Lantong of Markaz Al-Imam Ibn Al-Jazarie Lil Qur’anil Karim. He highlighted the fact that radicalism or extremism can never be part of Islam because Islam is At-Tawassut (moderation).

He also advised the youth not to easily label or judge people such as naming him as Kafir (disbeliever). Islam has its strict criteria with regards to this labelling and Allah is the only One Who has the right to judge His creations. Too much judging and criticizing can even destroy a person.

At the last part of the program, another set of Pledge of Commitment were prepared for UMYO partner organizations and its officers respectively. These signed documents signify one’s commitment to take part in redirecting the focus of youth to help in the realization of the Bangsamoro struggle in order to attain its Right for Self-determination as a genuine means to help other people regardless of religion, race, social status, groups, and nations.

These documents were signed by the heads and representatives of 20 Organizations and 20 UMYO Officers as witnessed and signed by the three resource persons.

MILF: Bangsamoro scholars organize International Youth Forum in Turkey

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Jan 4): Bangsamoro scholars organize International Youth Forum in Turkey

A total of 69 different youth leaders from 20 different Youth Organizations comprising the Union of Muslim Youth Organizations (UMYO) gathered and conferred for Muslim Youth Leaders Peace Conference at Nursalam Hall, Alnor Complex, Cotabato City last January 1, 2017.

MILF: UNYPAD Leaders undergo Training of Trainers

Posted the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website  (Jan 4) UNYPAD Leaders undergo Training of Trainers

Young Moro leaders of the United Youth for Peace and Development (UNYPAD)- Provincial and City chapters underwent Trainers’ Training in its National Office, Purok Pinnen, RH-6, Cotabato City on December 28-30, 2016.

The said training was participated by Davao Oriental, Bukidnon, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao Cluster-1 Provincial Chapters and the newly established chapter of Sultan Mastura municipality, and General Santos City Chapter.

Jake Sabello, Provincial Chairman of Davao Oriental said that after the conduct of the Trainers’ Training they will implement the modules on organizational management, leadership, handling and procedures of meeting, and community organizing in their chapter.

 “I am thankful for the opportunity given to us because aside from the lecture, we also have the chance to visit Al-Balagh Foundation, Jamiat Cotabato, 99.0 Voice FM and perform congregational prayer at the Grand Mosque in Cotabato City”, said Astany Manadog, Chairman of the UNYPAD-Bukidnon Chapter in a vernacular.

Engineer Mohajirin Ali, member of the MILF Peace Implementing Panel Secretariat shared on the “Gains of the GPH-MILF Peace Process”.

Engineer Ali said that the main gains of the peace process are the legacy of former President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III which is the signed agreements; the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, and creation the of Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that congress failed to pass.

“We do hope that the new administration through the leadership of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte will pass the BBL because he understands the clamor of the Bangsamoro People for right to self-determination (RSD)”, he said.

On the other hand, the UNYPAD had also convened a convergence year-end regular meeting attended by all national officers, regional coordinators, and provincial chairmen on December 31, 2016.

Yusoph Lumambas, UNYPAD Secretary-General said that the accomplishments of every chapter, the 2017 concrete action plans based on the important needs of respective chapters and how to support the GPH-MILF peace process were highlighted during the year-end regular meeting.

CPP: Oplan Bayanihan, the US imperialist counter-insurgency scheme as the root cause of the AFP-PNP-CAFGU countless ceasefire violations, must end!

Propaganda statement posted to the Communist Party of the Philippines Website (Jan 1): Oplan Bayanihan, the US imperialist counter-insurgency scheme as the root cause of the AFP-PNP-CAFGU countless ceasefire violations, must end!

The Father Nilo Valerio Chapter (FNVC), the Christians for National Liberation (CNL) chapter in Northern Luzon, and the progressive Christian and Church leaders in Northern Luzon appreciate and congratulate the Duterte administration for the resumption of the formal talks in the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP/GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), being facilitated by the Royal Norwegian Government in Oslo, Norway, which started last year in August, continued in the second round of the peace talks in October, and to be followed by a third round of peace negotiations in Rome, Italy this January 2017.
With the whole revolutionary movement, the FNVC also welcomes the Duterte administration’s policy declaration to leave the military and economic dominance of the United States in the country and to forge closer ties with China and Russia for the promotion of a Philippine independent foreign policy. Duterte’s declaration is supportive of the NDFP’s objective to address the roots of the armed conflict in the peace talks, based on the principles of national sovereignty, democracy and social justice. This encourages the assertion of the Filipino people’s right to national independence and freedom from the dictates and impositions of US imperialism.
However, President Duterte’s declaration for the advancement of an independent foreign policy, fully liberated from US imperialist directives, remains on the level of mere rhetoric if the fascist AFP-PNP commanders continue to implement Oplan Bayanihan and violate unceasingly the unilateral ceasefire declaration of their own commander-in-chief.
Oplan Bayanihan and its PDT (Peace and Development Teams) operations had been and are still being carried out daily with impunity by the AFP, PNP and CAFGU forces throughout the Northern Luzon provinces. Units of the revolutionary people’s government from the various guerrilla fronts all over Northern Luzon report that military tensions are widespread because the AFP, PNP and CAFGU troopers continue to launch base-denial operations targeting the territories of the NPA and the people’s revolutionary government. Combat, intelligence and PDT-civil military operations are being done daily by the 81st IB and the 24th IB of the 7th ID in Abra and in the three (3) provinces of the Ilocos Region – La Union, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte; and by the 77th IB, 50th IB, 17th IB, 54th IB and the 86th IB in the Cordillera provinces of Apayao, Kalinga, Mt. Province, Ifugao and Benguet and in the Cagayan Valley provinces of Cagayan, Isabela, Quirino and Nueva Vizcaya. Furthermore, the innumerable CAFGU detachments are widespread and being maintained every day by said PA battalions in all the Northern Luzon provinces.
According to the Cordillera People’s Democratic Front (CPDF) spokesperson, Comrade Simon “Ka Filiw” Naogsan Sr., in his November 14, 2016, statement, “Since August 20 to date, the CPDF recorded 74 incidents of ceasefire violations committed by units of the 5th IDPA and 7th IDPA and the PNP PRO-Cordillera, RPSB, PPSC and PNP-SAF deployed in the Cordillera provinces. These violations take the form of continuing combat, intelligence, psywar, civil-military operations and CAFGU recruitment which cover 64 barangays in 17 towns of Abra, Ifugao, Kalinga, Mt. Province, uptown Ilocos Sur and the tri-boundary of Ifugao, Benguet and Nueva Vizcaya.”
These are all in violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), one of the five (5) earlier significant agreements signed by the principals of the GPH (during the Ramos and Estrada regimes) and the NDFP. Other violations of the CARHRIHL committed last year, also indicators of the reactionary GPH armed forces’ insubordination to any declaration of their own commander-in-chief, include the following: (1) Joaquin Cadacgan, a farmer of Sitio Se-et, Brgy. Mabaka, Tanudan, Kalinga and suspected as an NPA was shot to death with no apparent reason by elements of the 50th IB last June 9, 2016; (2) Nardy Gunnawa, a hunter from Brgy. Viga, Tanudan was mercilessly slain by operating troops of the same 50th IB last July 2 with the preposterous alibi of an encounter with the NPA; (3) Ariel Diaz, chairperson of the Danggayan Dagiti Mannalon ti Isabela (DAGAMI) was shot dead in his farm in Villa Pereda, Delfin Albano, Isabela last September 7 by three armed men, believed to be from the fascist army; and (4) last September 11, Marcos “Lin-o” Aggalao – 73 years old and a retired NPA red fighter since 2012 due to old age and severe health reasons – was arrested by joint operatives of the 50th IB and PNP-SAF at Sitio Kudkudwi, Brgy, Gawaan, Balbalan, Kalinga and is currently detained at the Provincial Jail in Tabuk City, Kalinga for a trumped up charge on illegal drugs, which the fascist troops planted inside his pocket.
Numerous additional types of the widespread violations by the reactionary AFP-PNP-CAFGU to the CARHRIHL and to the GPH unilateral ceasefire have also been reported by NPA commands and the NDFP organs in the various regions of the country up to Mindanao. Such violations to President Duterte’s unilateral ceasefire declaration would surely shoot up this New Year if Oplan Bayanihan is not ended. Now, it is very clear that despite the Oplan Bayanihan combat, intelligence and PDT operations and the countless ceasefire violations by the reactionary armed forces all over the country, there has been no firefights in the past four months last year mainly because the NPA forces have strictly avoided armed encounters in accordance and full respect to the revolutionary movement’s interim unilateral ceasefire declaration.
Nonetheless, let us not forget that the present Oplan Bayanihan and other AFP operational plans in the past Philippine puppet regimes are historically based on earlier US imperialist counter-insurgency campaigns against the Filipino people through benevolent assimilation and armed pacification in order to fully colonize and make the whole Philippines totally subservient to US imperialism up to the present. In its past counter-insurgency campaigns against the Filipino people from 1899-1913, US imperialism formed and trained “native” constabulary units, which led to the “hamleting of communities” (i.e., tightly controlled zones serving as concentration camps) and the massacres of civilians in their thousands as what happened in Samar and Mindanao (Bud Dajo massacre), and other unreported massacres and killings by US armed pacification units in other parts of the country like the massacre of a dozen of Igorots from the Mainit tribe in Mt. Province, Cordillera. Indeed, such US imperialist COIN campaigns continued through the reactionary Philippine armed forces in the war against the Huks after World War II.
The entire Filipino people have to be reminded of the historical fact that US imperialism has ensured that the whole fascist AFP-PNP of the reactionary government by carrying out its COIN campaigns has become the strong pillar of US military might in the Philippines today. Under the overt and covert directives of US imperialism, numerous killings of workers, peasants, indigenous peoples, Church and media people, lawyers, leaders of sectoral and multi-sectoral people’s organizations and other violations of the people’s basic rights have been committed by the fascist AFP-PNP from the Marcos dictatorship up to the present Duterte regime. The violent dispersals of the rallies of patriotic organizations led by the indigenous peoples in front of Camp Aguinaldo and of the US embassy in October 18 and 19 last year are also actual aftermaths of the fascist AFP-PNP Oplan Bayanihan operations under the covert directives of US imperialism. These violent dispersals are again direct violations of the CARHRIHL.
Thus, if President Duterte, as the GPH commander-in-chief, is really sincere in his unilateral ceasefire declaration and in pursuing the GHP-NDFP peace negotiations, he has to end Oplan Bayanihan and compel all AFP-PNP-CAFGU commands to dismantle their detachments in the far-flung barangays and territories of the NPA and stay in their headquarters and barracks away from these areas. If Oplan Bayanihan is not terminated, more harmful ceasefire violations by the AFP-PNP-CAFGU against the people’s rights will continue and consequently force the CPP-NPA to declare the end of its own interim unilateral ceasefire and reject entering into a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the GPH.
On the other hand, the CNL is very confident that the NDFP negotiation panel is willing to sign with the GPH negotiation panel an interim bilateral ceasefire agreement, only right after President Duterte fulfills his promise to grant amnesty to political prisoners and release them all.
Despite all the above-mentioned violations of the fascist AFP-PNP due to its implementation of the US imperialist-directed Oplan Bayanihan and also owing to the AFP-PNP’s non-compliance of their commander-in-chief’s unilateral ceasefire declaration, the whole Filipino people – most especially the workers, peasants, petty bourgeoisie, national minorities and other democratic classes and sectors of Philippine society – continue to aspire for the end of exploitation and oppression throughout the country. This ever worsening exploitation and oppression, intensifying yearly and affecting the entire Filipino people, is due to the basic problems of US imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism under the class rule of the big bourgeois compradors and big landlords, and being secured and preserved by the reactionary and fascist AFP-PNP. That is why such exploitative and oppressive system of Philippine society can only be overthrown by waging the National Democratic Revolution with a socialist perspective through protracted people’s war. Such causes of the continuing exploitation and oppression of majority of the Filipino people are, in fact, the obstinate roots of the on-going armed conflict. This is the very reason that we, in CNL, absolutely stand up for the armed struggle, that is being waged by the NPA and the armed Filipino masses, because we deem it as necessary, just and legitimate for the Filipino people to liberate themselves and achieve a just and lasting peace.
Nonetheless, the CNL fully supports the on-going peace negotiations between the GPH and the NDFP because we believe that the comprehensive agreements to be reached and signed on social and economic reforms, on political and constitutional reforms and on the end of hostilities and disposition of forces would surely uphold and advance the basic rights, interests and demands of the Filipino people, especially the workers, peasants and national minorities. Accordingly, the CNL considers such comprehensive agreements as essential facets of resolving the causes and roots of the armed conflict.
But, for the Duterte administration’s declaration to advance a Philippine independent foreign policy and for the comprehensive agreements to be attained and signed by the GHP and the NDFP peace negotiation panels, President Duterte himself and the AFP-PNP commanders loyal to him must vigilantly guard against the evil hand of US imperialism and its lapdogs from among the ruling classes of big landlords and big bourgeois compradors and inside the reactionary AFP-PNP with their intent to sabotage the ongoing peace talks or to oust Duterte. Obviously, US imperialism has nothing to lose in case the on-going GPH-NDFP peace negotiations would collapse. The Filipino people know very well that US imperialism wants the Philippines to continue as the US “military pivot to Asia” and to remain semi-colonial and semi-feudal. And as such, economic backwardness, ever dependent on US imported commodities, investments and loans, will persist in our country, thus preventing genuine economic development through national industrialization and land reform.
As proclaimed by NDFP spokesperson Luis Jalandoni, “the NDFP will be a reliable ally to President Duterte” in advancing the latter’s policy declaration to depart from the US military and economic dominance in the country and to forge equal and mutual bilateral relations with other countries. To add more strength to the Duterte administration’s independent foreign policy declaration, the Filipino people are aspiring that President Duterte must end Oplan Bayanihan and compel the AFP-PNP-CAFGU to fully implement the CARHRIHL. And for the Philippines to be liberated from the economic and military intervention of US imperialism, the GPH should terminate all unequal military treaties and agreements like the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), and the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA). The aforesaid demands are the basic aspirations of the Filipino people. And if such aspirations are fulfilled, then we, revolutionary Christians, have to recognize such liberating events as “the hand of the Almighty who puts down the mighty from their thrones and raise up the humble, send away the powerful and the rich empty-handed, and fill the hungry with good things.”

2016 A year of firsts for United States Navy 7th Fleet

From Update.Ph (Jan 5): 2016 A year of firsts for United States Navy 7th Fleet

Upgraded ships, new innovations and technologies, and partnerships were abound for United States Navy 7th Fleet in 2016. Seventh Fleet teamed up with allies and partner nations in more than 110 exercises to exchange information, enhance capabilities and train together throughout 2016. Major exercises included Keen Sword, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, Ssang Yong, and nine different Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) series exercises.

Some key events from 2016:

The 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge kicked off her patrol in February, traveling 13,000 nautical miles across the Indo-Asia-Pacific to strengthen partnerships and promote peace and stability in the region.

The ship visited 10 ports in 7 countries conducting various engagements such as staff talks, sports activities, receptions onboard the ship, community relations events, and much more.

During the patrol, various distinguished visitors came onboard including the Sri Lankan President, Maithripala Sirisena, Indian Minister of Defence, Manohar Parrikar, and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.

Of note, Blue Ridge was the first U.S. ship to visit Sri Lanka in five years and for the 46-year-old ship, it visited India for the first time in 17 years.

After the patrol, the Blue Ridge entered dry dock at Naval Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center (SRF JRMC) to begin its scheduled extended dry-docking selected restricted availability (EDSRA). The ship will receive not only maintenance, but equipment upgrades to enable the ship to carry out its mission in 7th Fleet for many years to come.

In February, 7th Fleet welcomed the USS John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group (JCSCSG), also hailed as the Great Green Fleet. From February to June, the fleet, comprised of approximately 7,000 Sailors, completed routine operations in the South China Sea and made port visits across the Indo-Asia Pacific, highlighting the Navy’s efforts to transform its energy use to increase operational capability. The ship employed a variety of technologies and energy conservation measures, including the use of alternative fuels, ushering in a new era of energy innovation for the U.S. Navy.

In March, JCSSG and other U.S. military forces worked alongside the Republic of Korea armed forces during exercise Foal Eagle. During its four months in 7th Fleet, the JCSSG also conducted passing exercises with the French navy and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and in June, participated in Malabar 2016, a trilateral maritime exercise with the Indian navy, JMSDF, and U.S. Navy.

In that month the JCSCSG also conducted dual carrier operations with the Ronald Reagan Strike Group in the Philippine Sea. The ships and aircraft assigned to both strike groups conducted coordinated operations in international waters demonstrating the unique capability to operate multiple carrier strike groups in close proximity.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) joined 7th Fleet March 3 as a Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD)-capable destroyer, bringing the newest Aegis combat system, Baseline 9.C, to 7th Fleet and the capability to fire all Vertical Launch System (VLS) ordnance, including the newest missiles, RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) and RIM-161 Standard Missile 6 (SM-6). Forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, Barry brought more advanced Link capabilities including Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) to aid interoperability and security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific.

Exercise Keen Sword (KS) is the largest joint, bilateral field training exercise between the U.S. military and the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF). Approximately, 11,000 U.S. military personnel participated in KS 2017 from October to November, including those assigned to U.S. Forces Japan Headquarters, 5th Air Force, U.S. Naval Forces Japan, U.S. Army Japan, III Marine Expeditionary Force and 7th Fleet. The forces conducted training with JSDF counterparts at military installations throughout mainland Japan, Okinawa and in the air and waters surrounding Japan, Guam and Tinian, to increase combat readiness and interoperability within the framework of the U.S.-Japan alliance.

The 11th annual Pacific Partnership mission moved through 7th Fleet from May to September, working alongside one another in six countries to improve disaster response preparedness and enhance relationships in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

Multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), medical, and civil-engineering teams partnered with their counterparts in each country to conduct live search and rescue field training exercises, subject matter expert exchanges, cooperative health engagements and community relations events.

In addition to training for HADR incidents, assets operating in the 7th Fleet AOO were able to respond to real world incidents in the region.

In the aftermath of several devastating earthquakes in Kumamoto, VMM-265 attached to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni April 17-18 with approximately eight Ospreys to provide airlift support at the request of the Government of Japan. Sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines were able to deliver more than 230,000 pounds of relief supplies to Japanese forces operating in remote areas of the quake zone.

In November, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Sampson (DDG 102), operating forward in 7th Fleet under the command of 3rd Fleet, made a historic visit to New Zealand when she participated in the Royal New Zealand Navy’s International Naval Review commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Royal New Zealand Navy, making her the first U.S. Navy ship to visit New Zealand in 30 years.

Sampson’s presence in the Western Pacific allowed the ship to join a U.S. Navy P-3C Orion aircraft supporting New Zealand Kaikoura earthquake recovery efforts, at the request of the New Zealand government.

With continuous upgrades, increased technology and innovation, and the partnerships between U.S. Navy Sailors and civilians and service members from other maritime nations, 7th Fleet has been able to maintain a continuous forward presence in the Indo-Asia Pacific for more than 70 years, fostering maritime security, promoting stability, and preventing conflict. U.S. 7th Fleet Public Affairs

President Duterte to visit Russian anti-submarine destroyer

From Update.Ph (Jan 5): President Duterte to visit Russian anti-submarine destroyer

Malacanang welcomed on Thursday the goodwill visit by two Russian Navy ships in Manila, saying it will boost friendship with the Philippine Navy. “The goodwill visit by the Russian Navy will contribute to the strengthening of friendship with Philippine Navy,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a press briefing.

Abella said President Rodrigo Duterte will visit the Russian Navy vessels on Friday.

“It is also an indication that maritime cooperation can further be enhanced to enable diplomacy and camaraderie,” he added.

The Russian Navy’s anti-submarine destroyer Admiral Tributs and sea tanker Boris Butoma arrived last Tuesday and are now anchored at Manila’s South Harbor for a five-day goodwill visit.

Abella said President Duterte, who is expected to visit Russia this year, has said before that he is open to joint military exercises with Russia.

Last month, Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana visited Russia to explore prospects for military-technical cooperation including possible Philippines-Russia Agreement on Defense Cooperation.

Abella said the joint military exercises with Russian military will depend on the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MOU).

“This will provide a framework regarding the terms of engagement from military to military, visiting students, cultural exchanges and joint military exercises,” Abella said.

National Police getting 4 to 5 new helicopters in 2017

From Update.Ph (Jan 5): National Police getting 4 to 5 new helicopters in 2017

The Philippine National Police (PNP) will be getting 4 to 5 new helicopters this year after the Senate included PhP1 billion for the purchase of said helicopters. “We will be able to purchase four or five this time,” Senator JV Ejercito told CNN Philippines’ The Source. “So at least now the Philippine National Police will have better equipment.”

Senator Ejercito said he was not able to participate in 2017 budget deliberations so he asked Minority Leader Senator Ralph Recto to push for the choppers in his absence, CNN Philippines reports. “I was only requesting for 300 million to purchase two choppers immediately,” said Ejercito. “Because of [Senator Recto’s] prowess he was able to [make it] 1 billion.”

In September last year
, Ejercito said he laments “the fact that the Philippine National Police has no eye in the sky, especially amid the ongoing campaign against illegal drugs.”

He noted that having enough air assets in police operations “is very vital”.

He said will work for the said acquisition in the 2017 national budget. “I will really push for it in their 2017 budget,” he said.

“If we can acquire one or two helicopters for the PNP, that would be very helpful in the war against illegal drugs and in the fight against criminality,” he explained.

Berroya, an Arroyo general, is new LRTA administrator

From Rappler (Jan 5): Berroya, an Arroyo general, is new LRTA administrator

One of the favorite generals of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Reynaldo Berroya is back in harness

Retired police general Reynaldo Berroya is the new administrator of the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA).

LRTA said in a statement on Thursday, January 5, that its board of directors has "unanimously elected" Berroya as LRTA administrator. (READ: LRT2 East, West extension projects to be completed in 2019)

Before being elected as the chief of two state-owned railway systems, Berroya was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte as member of the LRTA board.

The former intelligence chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) has a checkered history in the police force.

Under former president Joseph Estrada, he was named commander of one of the anti-kidnapping units of the now-defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission. But he was sacked for his alleged links to kidnap gangs.

Berroya was sidelined in the PNP throughout the term of his nemesis, former PNP chief and now Senator Panfilo Lacson.

It was former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who resurrected Berroya's career in the PNP. Soon after she assumed power in 2001, she named Berroya as head of the PNP Intelligence Group.

After his retirement from the PNP, he was appointed head of the Land Transportation Office – also by Mrs Arroyo.

In the last May 2017 presidential campaign, Berroya was one of the police generals who backed last year's presidential campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Under the new rules set by the Governance Commission for Government Owned or Controlled Corporations, heads of government–run corporations are chosen from among and by the members of their respected boards. (READ: DOTC to increase LRT1 capacity by 2018)

The LRTA board of directors is composed of 7 ex-officio members from the Cabinet:
  • the transportation secretary (Arthur Tugade) as chairman
  • heads of the Department of Public Works and Highways (Mark Villar), Department of Budget and Management (Benjamin Diokno), Department of Finance (Carlos Dominguez III), National Economic and Development Authority (Ernesto Pernia), Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (Thomas Orbos), and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (Martin Delgra III)
  • two representatives from the private sector as members
Before Berroya's appointment to the LRTA board, he served as general manager of Metro Rail Transit Line 3, chief of the Land Transportation Office, as well as undersecretary for communications at the transportation departmen of previous administrations.

Improvements, reforms

Berroya vowed to institute reforms and improvements in LRTA to "better serve" the riding public.
"I'm committed to support [Transportation] Secretary Arthur Tugade's initiative to improve the conditions of our mass transit system in order to provide a safe, reliable, efficient and convenient travel to our commuters," Berroya said.

LRTA owns LRT Line 1 (LRT1), which runs from Baclaran to Monumento, and LRT Line 2 (LRT2), which runs from Santolan in Marikina to C.M. Recto in Manila.

LRT1 is being operated and maintained by a consortium of Metro Pacific Investments Corporation and Ayala Corporation under the P65-billion LRT1 Cavite Extension public-private partnership (PPP) deal. LRT2 is being operated and maintained by LRTA.

DMCI Holdings Incorporated of construction magnate Isidro Consunji has bagged the deal to build a 3.9-kilometer elevated guideway for the LRT2 East extension from its current end-station in Santolan to Masinag, with a winning bid of P2.27 billion.

Two additional stations will be built by DMCI: Emerald Station in Cainta and Masinag Station at the Masinag Junction in Antipolo – which are expected to be operational by yearend.

Bus burned in Sarangani Province

From Rappler (Jan 5): Bus burned in Sarangani Province

The bus burned belongs to the Yellow Bus Line, and occurs at around 6:50 pm   

According to the military, unidentified armed men burned a bus belonging to the Yellow Bus Line (YBL) at Sitio Linic, Brgy Nalus, in Kiamba town, Sarangani Province at approximately 6:50 pm of Thursday, January 5.

No additional details are currently available, though there is speculation the burning incident was retaliation by the Ansar al Khilafah Philippines (AKP) for the death of its leader Mohammad Jaafar Biwang Maguid, as well as the arrest of his live-in partner and two security escorts at Angel Beach Resort in Brgy Kitagas, Kiamba earlier today.

This is the 14th arson case in southeastern Mindanao.

It is also the fourth against the Yellow Bus Line since November 9, 2016.

Maute Group, Abu Sayyaf may pose threat to Traslacion, Miss U pageant - DILG chief

From InterAksyon (Jan 6): Maute Group, Abu Sayyaf may pose threat to Traslacion, Miss U pageant - DILG chief

Local terror groups could pose a threat to this year’s Traslacion, the annual procession of Manila’s Black Nazarene, on Monday and could continue to do so through the Miss Universe pageant, which the country is hosting later this month, Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno said.

"May mga intelligence reports (na nandito ang Maute Group sa Manila). Kasi mga terrorist groups ito eh, parang ito funded din from outside. Talagang there is this strong possibility na nandito na rin sila (There are intelligence reports. These are terrorist groups, it seems they are funded from outside. There really is a strong possibility that they are here)," Sueno told a press briefing in Malacanang Thursday.

He said there is concern the terrorists may seek to retaliate for the death of Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, alias Commander Tokboy, leader of the Ansar Al-Khilafah Philippines, a small radical group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Maguid was killed early Thursday in Sarangani province.

Despite the possible threat, Sueno said the government has not entertained the possibility of cancelling the religious event on Monday, which is expected to draw up to 18 million devotees this year, because "talagang very deep iyong kanilang faith, iyong belief nila they think they are safe sa practice na ito (there faith is really very deep, their belief that they think they are safe in this practice). You cannot prevent them from exercising their faith."

Meanwhile, National Capital Region police director Chief Superintendent Oscar Albayalde inspected the route the Traslacion will take and voiced concern over the narrow and winding streets, which could throw off authorities’ plans to have the Black Nazarene back in the Quiapo church by 10 p.m. Monday.

Police also inspected the Quirino Grandstand at Luneta Park from where the procession will start.
Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada has suspended classes and government work in the capital city on Monday.

Sueno earns support of MILF in pursuit of remaining fugitives in North Cotabato jailbreak

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 6): Sueno earns support of MILF in pursuit of remaining fugitives in North Cotabato jailbreak

Secretary Ismael D. Sueno of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has secured the support of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the on-going manhunt operation of the remaining fugitives of the North Cotabato District Jail in Barangay Amas, Kidapawan City.

Around one o’clock in the morning of January 4, about 158 inmates escaped when some 100 armed men attacked the said facility. One jail officer and one inmate died during the firefight which lasted for two hours.

Sueno said he has spoken to Gen. Sammy Almanzor, Chief of Staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), who pledged support to the government troops in pursuit of the escapes.

“Gen Almanzor has expressed willingness to run after the escaped inmates and they will coordinate with government troops if the escapees hide or take refuge in their areas of control,” Sec. Sueno said.

Earlier unconfirmed reports say that a Commander Derbi of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) led the attack but Sueno said the local MILF denied having a member by that name.

The DILG Secretary has also sought the support of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to work closely with the police and jail guards as they run after the fugitives.

Earlier today, Sec. Sueno has directed the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) to work closely with the PNP and intensify the manhunt operations of the remaining fugitives at large.

Two out of the 158 fugitives have surrendered to a local official while four were caught by responding policemen and jail guards during round-up operations. Also, six escaped inmates were gunned down and succumbed to their wounds but the rest remain at large.

In response, BJMP Director Serafin Baretto flew to Region XII to check the jail facility and ensure that there will be no repeat of the incident.

North Cotabato City Jail has a population of 1,511 inmates many of which still remains inside the facility despite the armed attack.

Backbone of AKP broken with neutralization of its leader -- PNP

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 5): Backbone of AKP broken with neutralization of its leader -- PNP

The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Thursday evening said that the backbone of the Ansar Al-Khilafa Philippines (AKP) was broken with the neutralization of its leader.

”I strongly believe that we have effectively broken the backbone of the militant Ansar Al-Khilafa Philippines (AKP) with the neutralization of its leader Mohammad Jaafar Maguid alias "Tokboy" and the arrest of three members of his cell,” PNP chief Director General Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa said in a press conference in Camp Crame, Quezon City on Thursday evening.

Maguid was killed and his three men were arrested during a National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA)-initiated police operation launched by the Police Regional Office (PRO)-12 shortly after midnight Thursday morning at Angel Beach Resort, Barangay Kitagas, Kiamba, Sarangani.

Maguid is “No. 1 Most Wanted Person” in Region 12 for the crimes of murder (2 counts), destructive arson, arson robbery with violence and/or intimidation of person, and murder with criminal cases.

The Alabel, Sarangani Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 38 and the Pasig City RTC Branch 271 have earlier issued the warrants of arrest against Maguid.

DILG chief says MILF ready to run after fugitives from Cotabato jail

From GMA News (Jan 4): DILG chief says MILF ready to run after fugitives from Cotabato jail

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has expressed support on the government's efforts to go after the remaining inmates who bolted the North Cotabato District Jail in Kidapawan City, Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno said Wednesday.

Sueno said he has spoken to Gen. Sammy Almanzor, chief of staff of the MILF's Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, who pledged support to the government troops in pursuit of the fugitives.

“Gen Almanzor has expressed willingness to run after the escaped inmates and they will coordinate with  government troops if the escapees hide or take refuge in their areas of control,” Sueno said in a press statement.

He said the MILF also denied reports that a certain Commander Derbi led the attack on the jail facility that resulted in the jailbreak. He said the local MILF denied having a member who goes by that name.

Earlier in the day, Sueno sought the support of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to work closely with the police and jail guards who were running after the fugitives.

He also directed the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) to work closely with the Philippine National Police and intensify the manhunt operations of the remaining fugitives.

BJMP Director Serafin Baretto flew to Region XII to check the jail facility and ensure that there will be no repeat of the incident.

A total of 158 inmates escaped NCDJ when more than a hundred armed men attacked the jail facility around 1 a.m., Wednesday. Jail Officer 1 Excell Ray Vecido was killed in the attack.

As of posting time, six escaped inmates have been killed, two have surrendered, and six have been recaptured.

The Limits of Russia-Philippines Military Relations

From The Diplomat (Jan 5): The Limits of Russia-Philippines Military Relations

Given the sensationalism we have seen, it’s worth keeping some sober realities in mind.

Russian warships are in the Philippines this week (See: “Why Are Russian Warships in the Philippines?”).  These visits are far too often sensationalized in the media and this one is no exception. Nonetheless, the development also provides an opportunity to look more closely at not just the opportunities in the Russia-Philippines defense relationship, but also the limits that exist as well.

Within Southeast Asia, the Philippines has not been a partner for Russia in the past given its traditional, decades-long alliance with the United States as codified by the Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951. But since coming to office last June, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, a self-avowed socialist, has been looking to diversify his country’s ties away from Washington and towards other countries, including Beijing and Moscow (See: “The Limits of Duterte’s US-China Rebalance”).

Moscow, for its part, has been happy to oblige. Russia under Vladimir Putin — ambitious abroad and increasingly isolated from the West — has been looking to boost its presence in the Asia-Pacific, including in Southeast Asia. Though much of this is with traditional partners like Vietnam, the Philippines nonetheless offers opportunities as well (See: “A Vietnam ‘Base’ for Russia?”). Apart from the relationships that can be fostered and deals that can be struck, prying a U.S. ally away from Washington would no doubt constitute an added bonus for Moscow.

Thus far, for all the column inches devoted to the Russia-Philippine defense relationship, we have yet to see the rhetoric from both sides translate to reality. Part of this is because it is still early days. We have not had a summit meeting between Duterte and Putin, even though there have been public and private engagements that have been going on up to the ministerial level. The Philippine president’s expected trip to Russia later this year could catalyze some new deliverables on the defense side.

But it is also testament to the limits inherent in strengthening ties on the defense side relative to some of the other areas in the relationship. Some of these are more technical. Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has been fairly outspoken about these issues after returning from his trip to Moscow last month, whether it be interoperability when it comes to arms or costs with respect to submarines. That is why we have seen a warmer Philippine reception to things like exchanges and engagements rather than defense deals per se so far, and Lorenzana admits publicly that Manila will likely buy some intelligence-related equipment and arms from Russia, but will have to pass on other items being “aggressively” marketed.

Others are more strategic. For all Duterte’s talk about embracing Beijing and Moscow for ideological reasons, he is primarily a domestic-focused president who assesses the significance of individual foreign alignments largely based on how they meet his needs. And while there is a lot that Russia and the Philippines can do since they are starting from a relatively modest base, the fact is that Moscow does not have the same geostrategic significance to Manila as neighboring countries like Malaysia or Indonesia, which Duterte sees as crucial to addressing security issues like piracy, or a similar economic heft relative to China or Japan which can help him realize his domestic goals, including those related to infrastructure development (See: “China and the Philippines Under Duterte: Look Beyond a Voyage”). This is a point his advisers understand well.

Duterte may also become cooler to the idea of a foreign policy rebalance or reverse course altogether depending on how the country’s strategic position abroad as well as his own popularity at home evolves (See: “The Truth About Duterte’s Popularity in the Philippines”). Past Philippine presidents, including Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino III, have been forced to adjust their initial foreign policy approaches in response to regional developments such as China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea. And though Duterte does have strong views, he has also displayed a pragmatic streak in his dealings with major powers, including the United States. His recent praise of president-elect Donald Trump amid his deep-seated anti-Americanism is a case in point, even if the prospects for a Trump-Duterte bromance are often exaggerated (See: “Why the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte Hates America”).

There are limits on the Russian side, too, even though it is clear that Moscow has been far keener to push the envelope than Manila. Though Russian equipment is cheap, there are at times questions about its quality and reliability that will affect how Philippine defense officials evaluate deals relative to other offers they may be looking at.

Russia’s current hostile relationship with the United States as well as its revisionist turn also carries risks of its own, since countries like the Philippines risk being stuck in the middle between two powers dueling over issues that are of little direct concern to them. Vietnam, Russia’s closest Southeast Asian partner which has also sought tighter defense ties with the United States, found this out the hard way when it was caught in a crossfire between the United States and Russia over Moscow’s use of Cam Ranh Bay in March 2015 (See: “US-Vietnam Defense Relations: Problems and Prospects”). Even if Duterte evinced little interest in the nuances of strategic realignment initially, the consequences are already becoming clear to both him and his advisers as rhetoric begins to translate into reality, and he will have no choice but to deal with them.

Russia, too, could find itself embroiled in conflicts of its own in its bid to move too far and too fast with the Philippines. Take the South China Sea issue, for instance. Eduard Mikhailov, deputy commander of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, said in Manila during the visit of the Russian warships this week that Moscow would be interested in joint exercises with other countries, including China and Malaysia, in the South China Sea. But in reality, Russia is neither a claimant nor a major player in the South China Sea, and wading into the disputes among Moscow’s partners would carry with it significant risks, especially should ties among them deteriorate further.

All this is not to dismiss the potential for Russia-Philippines defense relations. Given how little Moscow and Manila were doing before and how much both sides have been rhetorically playing up the potential for closer ties, there is certainly both desire and room for greater cooperation. How much of that will actually materialize, though, will depend not just on the opportunities that exist, but the limits that can be overcome.

(Update) Alert up in GenSan, neighboring areas after killing of Sarangani terror group leader

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 5): (Update) Alert up in GenSan, neighboring areas after killing of Sarangani terror group leader

General Santos -- Authorities placed this city and the neighboring areas under heightened alert following the killing early Thursday of a notorious leader of an armed group sympathetic with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in an operation in Kiamba town in Sarangani Province.
Sr. Supt. Leonardo Suan, Police Regional Office (PRO)-12’s deputy regional director for operations, said they are currently monitoring the movements of the remaining members of the Ansar Al-Khilafah Philippines Group, which had been tagged as behind a string of terror attacks in the area since 2008.

The group’s founder and leader, Mohammad Jaafar Sabewang Maguid alias Tokboy, was killed in an encounter at past midnight at the Angel Beach Resort in Barangay Kitagas, Kiamba.

“We’re closely monitoring if a new leader of the group will emerge,” Suan said in a press conference at the PRO-12 headquarters in Barangay Tambler here.

Officials formally presented Maguid’s three alleged cohorts, one of whom is a female, who were arrested during the operation.

The three were identified as Matahata Dialawe Arboleda, Ismael Sahak alias Mael, and Morhaban Veloso alias Bugoy.

Recovered from the suspects were two Bushmaster M-16 Armalite rifles, two hand grenades, 24 magazine bullets of M-16 Armalite, two bullet bandoliers and a brown envelope containing various documents of the group.

Sr. Supt. Joseph Semillano, Sarangani police director, said their intelligence operatives initially received an information on Wednesday night that Maguid was sighted at the Angel Beach Resort.

He said they immediately informed the other units about the report and embarked on an operation.

The operation involved elements from the PRO-12’s Regional Public Safety Battalion and Regional Intelligence Unit, Sarangani Provincial Police Office, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency and the Army’s 27th Infantry Battlion.

“At 10 minutes after midnight, we were able to neutralize Tokboy,” Semillano said.

The police official said Maguid’s group arrived at the resort Wednesday night aboard a red Toyota Wigo sedan with temporary license plate 12190176 and rented a cottage.

During the operation, he said they were able to arrest the three suspects but Maguid attempted to draw an Armalite rifle and fled.

As the suspect was running towards a dark portion of the beach, Semillano said the operatives fired at him. Maguid sustained three gunshot wounds on his body.

Col. Tyne Banas, commanding officer of the Army’s 1002nd Brigade, said the killing of Maguid is a major blow to his group.

He said it mainly reduced the capability of group, which has an estimated 10 to 15 members, as it lost Maguid’s “network and connections.”

“It’s possible that the group will just disband,” he said.

But Banas said their operations have been continuing against the remaining members of the Ansar Al-Khilafa, which he declared as a “mere ISIS sympathizer".

He said the group was not recognized by the ISIS.

CPP-NPA wants clear picture of the proposed federalism

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 5): CPP-NPA wants clear picture of the proposed federalism

The Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples Army (CPP-NPA) is open to the idea of federalism as proposed by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.

In a press conference here Thursday noon, Concha Araneta-Bocala, consultant of the CPP-NPA for peace talks, said they just wanted a clear picture of the federalism proposal.

"The CPP-NPA is open to the federalism. What we are interested of is the economic agenda of President Duterte whether it will be a presidential, parliamentary or a federal form of government," she said.

Bocala was here for the launching of the Aklan leg of the Kapayapaan, a nationwide peace network.

Malinao Mayor Atty. Ariel Wilbert Ariel Igoy, who is also the president of the League of the Municipalities in Aklan, said that the Kapayapaan is a multi-sectoral movement in quest for a just and lasting peace.

"As it is quite evident that the significance of the on-going peace process has not reached the people who will benefit the most and who should be active stakeholders, there is a need for a systematic and sustainable information and education campaign," said Igoy, who is also head convener of the Kapayapaan Peace Network-Aklan.

"Kapayapaan believes that as Filipinos committed to a just and lasting peace in our country, we must contribute to the development of a strong grassroots, nationwide and broad-based peace constituency and movement that can help get the talks back on its tracks-whether irregular or special. It also aims to draw plans on how we can be a positive force in ensuring its success for the benefit of the people," he added.

Local peace talks pushed in Samar

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 5): Local peace talks pushed in Samar

The Philippine Army based here is pushing for locally-initiated peace talks with rebels in two Samar provinces.

Col. Mario Lacurom, Army 803rd brigade commander, said they are now waiting for initiatives from local officials to allow the reconciliation process.

“Soldiers always hope for peace and resolution of all outstanding issues. We always demand to end the sufferings of the people in Samar,” Lacurom said.

Government troops tag Samar and Northern Samar provinces as stronghold of communist rebels in Eastern Visayas region.

“In our dialogue with local officials in Samar and Northern Samar provinces, they all seemed committed to work for the economic and political development of the two provinces,” Lacurom said.

“We just hope the rebels support also the peace initiatives for it to succeed,” the official added.

The 803rd brigade covers the entire area of Northern Samar and the first legislative district of Samar province.

Killing of AKP leader Maguid, a major blow to terror group -- AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 5): Killing of AKP leader Maguid, a major blow to terror group -- AFP

The military called the neutralization of Ansar Al-Khilafah Philippines (AKP) founding leader Mohammad Jaafar Sabewang Maguid alias "Tokboy" a major blow to the terrorist organization.

This was disclosed by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo during a press briefing Thursday.

He said the killing of Maguid and arrest of three of his companions will definitely dislocate the operations of the group.

The AKP leader was shot and killed in an encounter at around 1 a.m. at the Angel Beach Resort in Barangay Kitagas, Kiamba town, Sarangani.

The terror group had been blamed over a string of terror attacks in Sarangani and the neighboring areas these past years.

Maguid, who bolted from the Sarangani provincial jail in 2010, is facing at least 15 arrest warrants issued by various local courts since 2008.

He is facing multiple counts of murder, attempted murder, frustrated murder, robbery with violence, robbery with homicide, destructive arson and arson, filed at the Regional Trial Court Branches 11 and 38 in Alabel, Sarangani.

Authorities tagged Maguid’s group as behind the planting of an improvised explosive in December at a Christmas display in front of the Kiamba municipal hall.

Joint operatives seized suspected bomb-making materials at his house in Barangay Daliao in Maasim town in October last year.

Army detachment in Zamboanga del Norte attacked, 130 residents evacuated

From Rappler (Jan 4): Army detachment in Zamboanga del Norte attacked, 130 residents evacuated

Authorities believe the attackers were rogue members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)

WAGAN. Zamboanga del Norte Police Provincial Director Edwin B. Wagan. Photo by Gualberto Laput/Rappler

WAGAN. Zamboanga del Norte Police Provincial Director Edwin B. Wagan. Photo by Gualberto Laput/Rappler

At least 130 civilians have evacuated to the government gymnasium in Sirawai town proper, some 300 kilometers west of Dipolog City, after heavily armed men attacked a detachment of the Army's 42nd Infantry Battalion (42IB) in Barangay San Vicente at around 5:00 pm on Tuesday, January 3.

Pursuing soldiers from the 42IB and policemen from the 9th Regional Police Security Battalion and Zamboanga del Norte Police Security Company were still engaged in a running gun battle with the attackers at dawn on January 4.

By mid-morning, Police Chief Inspector Charisse Yabo, Zamboanga del Norte Police Provincial Office (ZNPPO) spokesperson, told Rappler that Army and police forces had already begun clearing operations.

Police Senior Superintendent Edwin B. Wagan, Zamboanga del Norte Police Provincial Director, said that undetermined number of attackers using high powered firearms opened fire at the detachment manned by about 14 Army soldiers.

Wagan said in a report that the soldiers returned fire and defended their position. Sensing that reinforcements from nearby 42IB main camp and policemen were coming, the attackers – identified as members of Yusop Jamaa and Yacob Isnain groups and under the command of a certain Hadji Katin – withdrew towards Barangay Sipakit.

Authorities believe the attackers were rogue members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

There were no reported injuries or deaths on both sides.

Sirawai is part of the Zamboanga del Norte's "triple SB (towns of Sirawai, Sibuco, Siocon and Baliguian) area" where the MILF has maintained a camp with a batallion-size fighters.

Other bandit and kidnap-for-ransom groups also operate in "triple SB area." It is also a favorite escape location for lawless groups from Sulu and Basilan because of its dense forests and, authorities said, its largely sympathetic population.

In 2002, Abu Sayyaf group brought to "triple SB area" their hostages Martin and Grecia Burnham to evade pursuing military units. Army Scout Rangers eventually engaged with the kidnappers, but Martin was hit and died in the firefight while Grecia was wounded in the leg.

Russia warns 'traditional' PH partners: Don't interfere

From Rappler (Jan 5): Russia warns 'traditional' PH partners: Don't interfere

[Video report:  VLOG: Russian vessels, nakadaong sa Maynila]

'I think it's time to get rid of outdated leashes. It's time to get rid of prejudices,' says Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev

SIGN OF FRIENDSHIP. Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev (seated, 1st from left) holds a news conference aboard the Russian anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributs on January 4, 2017. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

SIGN OF FRIENDSHIP. Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev (seated, 1st from left) holds a news conference aboard the Russian anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributs on January 4, 2017. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler
Russia warned the Philippines' "traditional partners" on Wednesday, January 4, against interfering in Manila's improving ties with Moscow.
In a news conference, Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev said, "We will not tolerate any attempt of any third country to interfere in the relations of our two sovereign states, the Philippines and Russia."
"We don't interfere into your relations with your traditional partners, and your traditional partners should respect the interests of the Philippines and Russia," Khovaev added.
The ambassador was responding to a question about his statement on the need to get rid of "outdated leashes," in the context of the Philippines' traditional partnership with the United States.
Khovaev held the news conference aboard the large Russian anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributs, which is in the Philippines for a goodwill visit from Monday to Saturday, January 2 to 7.
(Watch the news conference below)
'Diversify' partners, Philippines urged
President Rodrigo Duterte is seeking better ties with Russia as well as China, while he is moving away from the Philippines' traditional alliance with the US.

The Duterte administration, for one, said the Philippines should stop its subservience to the US, its former colonizer.
On the Philippines' traditional partners, Khovaev said, "I think it's time to get rid of outdated leashes. It's time to get rid of prejudices."
"For the Philippines, there is an objective need to diversify the range of the circle of your foreign partners. We are talking about diversification. It's not a choice between these partners and those ones," the ambassador added.
Along with the Russian vessel Admiral Tributs, the large sea tanker Boris Butoma is docked in Manila until Saturday.
This is the third time a Russian navy vessel has visited the Philippines, the Philippine Navy said.

Russia hits PH papers for 'not reporting' on Russian vessels

From Rappler (Jan 5): Russia hits PH papers for 'not reporting' on Russian vessels

Fact-checking by Rappler shows the Philippines' 3 biggest newspapers reported on the visit of two Russian ships to the Philippines

HITTING NEWSPAPERS. Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev criticizes Philippine newspapers on January 4, 2017, for supposedly not reporting on the visit of two Russian vessels to the Philippines. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

HITTING NEWSPAPERS. Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev criticizes Philippine newspapers on January 4, 2017, for supposedly not reporting on the visit of two Russian vessels to the Philippines. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler
Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev chastised Filipino journalists on Wednesday, January 4, for supposedly failing to report on the visit of two Russian vessels to the Philippines.
Fact-checking by Rappler showed, however, that the Philippines' 3 biggest newspapers reported about Russian anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributs and sea tanker Boris Butoma.
Rappler also published stories on these Russian vessels.
Russia sent Admiral Tributs and Boris Butoma to Manila for a goodwill visit from Monday to Saturday, January 2 to 7.
[Video report: VLOG: Russian vessels, nakadaong sa Maynila
Published on Jan 4, 2017
Two Russian Navy warships – anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributs and sea tanker Boris Butoma docked at the South Harbor in Manila on January 3 for a 4-day goodwill visit. Paterno Esmaquel files this video blog:]
Despite local media reports on the Russian goodwill visit, Khovaev complained in a news conference on Wednesday, "Today I have read all local newspapers, and I was very surprised."
Khovaev claimed that only the Associated Press (AP) and Reuters wrote about the visit of the two Russian vessels to the Philippines.
"No local publication, no local journalist, wrote anything about this port call by a detachment of Russian vessels. I was really surprised," the Russian ambassador said.
"I don't understand why other foreign information agencies…cover these friendly visits, but local mass media keep silent. In my humble view, it looks a bit strange," he said.
Eventually, Filipino reporters refuted Khovaev's statements on the spot, telling him face to face that the Russian vessels have been widely reported. "Even on social media," a reporter said.
A television journalist even handed his smartphone to Khovaev to show local reports about the goodwill visit.
[Video report]
Holding the journalist's smartphone, Khovaev said he was actually referring to newspapers – the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Philippine Star, and the Manila Bulletin. "They only republished the articles of the Associated Press and Reuters," the ambassador said.
Inquirer, Star, Bulletin on Russian vessels
Rappler checked the editions of the Philippines' 3 biggest newspapers on Wednesday, and found that all 3 carried items that mentioned the Russian vessels.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer published the story, "Russia Wants Joint 'War Games' with PH Navy," written by Inquirer reporter Cynthia Balana, with reports from AP and Reuters. (In journalism lingo, this means the story was written by Balana with inputs from wire agencies AP and Reuters.)
The Inquirer story said in the second paragraph that "the Admiral Tributs, an anti-submarine vessel, and a sea tanker, the Boris Butoma, arrived in Manila on Tuesday for a 4-day goodwill visit."
The Philippine Star also published the story, "Russia Eyes Maritime Exercises with PHL vs Terrorism,' written by Star reporter Jaime Laude, with reports from Reuters.
The Star article said in the 3rd paragraph that "Russian anti-submarine vessel Admiral Tributs and sea tanker Boris Butoma arrived late on Tuesday for a 4-day goodwill visit."
Meanwhile, the Manila Bulletin printed the photo of Russian and Philippine contingents showing Admiral Tributs and Boris Butoma to the media.
Russian envoy hits AP, too
While criticizing Philippine media, Khovaev added: "Unfortunately…the coverage by the Associated Press is not really objective. It's not really unbiased."
He pointed out that the AP report quoted a Russian rear admiral as saying that Filipinos "can choose to cooperate with the United States of America or cooperate with Russia."
"But it's not true at all. It's not true. So at least diplomatically speaking, this phrase was taken out of context. In my humble view, it's an example of dishonest journalist," he said.
"So I'm kindly asking you, our Filipino partners and friends, please don't mislead the public. Please refrain from any misinterpretation," the diplomat added.
Khovaev said: "This visit by a detachment of Russian vessels has only one message – a message of partnership and friendship, and nothing else.
"We have nothing to hide from you. We don't have any hidden intention. We have no hidden agenda," he said as President Rodrigo Duterte moves closer to Russia and China, and away from its traditional partner, America. (READ: Russia warns 'traditional' partners: Don't interfere)