Thursday, January 26, 2017

8 of 10 Filipinos want to assert rights in West PHL Sea, Pulse Asia survey reveals

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 27): 8 of 10 Filipinos want to assert rights in West PHL Sea, Pulse Asia survey reveals

As the Duterte administration continues to push for warmer ties with China, the latest survey by Pulse Asia found that majority of Filipinos want the Philippine government to assert its rights in the West Philippine Sea.

Based on the survey of 1,200 people, 84 perent of those asked agreed that the government should uphold its rights in the disputed region as stipulated in the July 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration that ruled in favor of the Philippine claim.

“The country should continue to advocate that all states, including China, must abide by the terms of that ruling,” said Dindo Manhit, President of private think tank Stratbase ADR Institute during the Pulse Asia briefing on Filipinos views on foreign policy at the Fairmont Hotel in Makati City.

“All claimants should avoid any activity that could worsen tensions in the region,” he added.

The survey was conducted from December 6 to 11, 2016, two months after Duterte’s state visit to China.

The same survey found that 47 percent of Filipinos agree that the country’s security relations with the United States remain beneficial.

For their part, China and the Philippines recently announced some USD3.7 billion worth of poverty reduction projects, ostensibly a result of improved commercial ties.

“The Duterte administration can pursue its claim in the West Philippine Sea while still improving the country’s economic partnership with Beijing,” Manhit said, adding that the two are not mutually exclusive.

While pursuing healthier alliances with China, Manhit pointed out that the Philippines should immediately capitalize on the international interest in the arbitration case to garner support for its position.

“In the medium term, we need to make peace and foster a new era of engagement with China. One that is based on mutual respect and the rule of international law.”

Renato de Castro, professor on International Studies at Dela Salle University said he is not surprised when the survey claims that Filipinos favored United States and Japan over China and Russia.

He said it is expected because we have been colonized by the US and Japan and they have already transferred their culture to Filipinos.

Military to continue ops against lawless elements despite North Cotabato incident

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 27): Military to continue ops against lawless elements despite North Cotabato incident

Despite the encounter in Makilala town, North Cotabato which left one New People's Army (NPA) rebel dead and resulted in the capture of three high-powered firearms last weekend, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the military will not stop its operations against lawless elements threatening the citizenry.

He also dismissed talks that the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the defense establishments are out to sabotage the ongoing peace talks with the National Democratic Front.

Lorenzana said the Makilala, North Cotabato clash was initially a police operation as civilians reported that some armed men were harassing businessmen in Barangay Biangan, refusing to give in to their extortion demand.

And when a firefight erupted, these police officers then requested assistance from the nearby 39th Infantry Battalion, that immediately responded and engaged the armed men, killing one.

"It turned out that these armed men were not the usual criminals but members of the NPA. Now, they accuse us of sabotaging the peace process," the DND chief said in Filipino.

But despite this, Lorenzana said they will not stop their operations against lawless elements in the area, adding that it was only incidental that an NPA member was killed in the process.

"They were doing some maybe lawless acts that's why they were reported by the people, so that does not constitute sabotaging the talks. In fact, I would throw back the question to them -- what are they doing there with their firearms in the populated areas so in a way they are the ones sabotaging the peace talks," the DND chief stressed.

Duterte’s Willingness to Sacrifice Hostages to Decimate Abu Sayyaf Similar to His Strategy in His Drug War, Say Critics!

From the Master Herald (Jan 26): Duterte’s Willingness to Sacrifice Hostages to Decimate Abu Sayyaf Similar to His Strategy in His Drug War, Say Critics!

The critics of Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is once again raising a howl on the recent pronouncement of the outspoken Filipino chief executive when he recently said that he is willing to sacrifice hostages just for the military to decimate the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group from Mindanao, the southernmost region of the country.

Last week, Duterte said that the Abu Sayyaf terrorists should not assume that they will be spared if they use hostages as human shields in order to protect themselves from military assaults.

He said that he is actually willing to sacrifice the lives of hostages if the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers remain stubborn and continue with their criminal ways.

The Philippine President said that the hostages can just be considered as collateral damages when the military starts bombing the lair of Abu Sayyaf and other terrorist groups in Mindanao, reports Breitbart.
With such mindset on the war against terror, many of his critics believe that it is also the same ploy used by Duterte on his war against illegal drugs. They believe that the President wanted to rid the streets of illegal drugs and the extra-judicial killings are the collective collateral damage, which the Philippine President also admitted sometime last year.

War on terror

Duterte has launched a new initiative against Abu Sayyaf, a radical jihadist group which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. The concentration of their terror activities is in Mindanao.

Philippine Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año said last week that the military had six months to eradicate the terrorist group completely, admitting that it was a tall order for them from the President.

Duterte had previously vowed to eat Abu Sayyaf terrorists in front of people alive and raw. He has also admitted that he has cousins who fight for the Islamic State, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and other terrorist groups in the area.

The Philippine military issued a report in October estimating that Abu Sayyaf had generated $7.3 million in kidnap-for-ransom activities between January and June of 2016.
While the Philippines has an official policy of not paying ransom to Abu Sayyaf, foreigners have paid to free their relatives, primarily Indonesian nationals.

Intensifying campaign against terrorist groups

Duterte announced his plan to ramp up the campaign against Abu Sayyaf after visiting the wake of a Philippine soldier killed in a Special Forces operation against the terrorist group, leaving behind a three-year-old daughter. The soldier was the nation’s first military loss of 2017.
While announcing the new initiative to eradicate Abu Sayyaf, a spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines clarified that Duterte had not given any orders to disregard loss of hostage lives in operations against the terror group.

The presidential office also clarified that Duterte’s repeated mentions of martial law did not mean he intended to impose it.

Presidential Communications Officer Martin Andanar said that the president has categorically said no to martial law. He even made a pronouncement saying that martial law did not improve the lives of the Filipinos when it was imposed by then President Ferdinand Marcos.
Andanar described the published reports as misreporting and the height of journalistic irresponsibility.

In a statement last week, Duterte said that if he has to declare martial law, he will declare it. But he mentioned that it is not about invasion, insurrection or danger. He said that he will do so to protect the Philippines.

A number of Philippine senators have implored Duterte to leave martial law off the table in the case of Abu Sayyaf.

Duterte has previously stated that he had told his Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts that their forces can blast away as they pursue militants who abduct sailors in waters where the three countries converge and bring their kidnap victims to the southern Philippines, reports

The Philippine President’s latest remarks reflect the alarm and desperation of the Philippines, along with Malaysia and Indonesia, in halting a series of ransom kidnappings primarily by Abu Sayyaf militants and their allies along a busy waterway for regional trade.

Incidentally, a ransom-seeking Abu Sayyaf gunmen freed a South Korean captain and his Filipino crewmen who were abducted three months ago from their cargo ship.

MILF welcomes reopening of Mamasapano probe

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 26): MILF welcomes reopening of Mamasapano probe

Mamasapano, Maguindanao – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) welcomed here yesterday President Duterte’s plan to create a fact finding body to probe thoroughly the bloody clash that left  66 persons dead on January 25, 2015 here.

“It will hopefully pave the way for wider scope of justice, not only for the fallen 44 (members of Special Action Force or SAF) but also for the 17 Moro fighters and five civilians,” a field leader of the MILF said.

The source, who asked not to be named, pointed out that the non-SAF victims in the tragedy were “human beings too” and must similarly get justice.

Relatives of the slain SAF members and three cause-oriented groups picketed in front of the Ombudsman’s office in Quezon City on Wednesday, the second year anniversary of the Mamasapano tragedy to demand the prompt filing of charges against prominent personalities including former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III for his role in the deployment of the police commandos here that resulted in the slaughter of the 44 troopers.

Villagers and resident-civilian, police and military personalities here took exception to the notion that only the SAF 44 fatalities deserve justice, noting that the national government had substantially provided material indemnifications to families of the slain police commandos.

They blamed former President Aquino, former Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Alan Purisima and the SAF leadership for staging the operations against Marwan without coordination with the local police, military and even the MILF as prescribed in the rebel front’s existing peace deals and truce protocols.

Central Mindanao-based peace and human rights groups said the “biggest collateral damage” that Aquino should be asked to answer was the legislation of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which the 16th Congress substantially altered and shelved later as a result of the bungled operation against Marwan.

“Painstaking efforts, time and huge government resources for peace building with the MILF have been wasted in the aftermath of the tragedy. And there’s nobody to blame but Mr. Aquino. The Marwan operation was treachery on his part in relation to the Mindanao peace process,” Moro youth peace advocate Alibai Indaila said.

Supporters of the MILF-GPH peace process from the provincial government of Maguindanao and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said President Duterte should immediately create the fact-finding body.

They said the fact finding body could flesh out President Duterte’s often-repeated desire to correct “historical injustices” among the Bangsamoro people.

Alonto wants Tawi-Tawi as economic free zone

From MindaNews (Jan 26): Alonto wants Tawi-Tawi as economic free zone

Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) chair Abdul Khayr Alonto has vowed that they will develop Tawi-Tawi as an economic free zone that will transform the island into an investment destination with a thriving tourism industry.

Alonto said during “Wednesday’s at Habi at Kape” at the Abreeza of the Ayala Malls that he envisions Tawi-Tawi as the “next Singapore,” a nation branded as one of Asia’s miracle economies.

“What we will be doing here will transform that part of the country – Tawi-Tawi – as the next Singapore. You combine all the islands of Tawi-Tawi alone, it is bigger than the Republic of Singapore,” he said.

Singapore’s land area measures 719.1 square kilometers as compared to Tawi-Tawi’s 1,087.40 sq. km.

“We don’t have the luxury of time and you are lucky guys because we are being managed by an army of senior citizens who are in a hurry, who wants to see change by addressing this problem sooner,” Alonto said.

He said that they plan to do this by coming out with a comprehensive approach in addressing the livelihood and the other socioeconomic constraints of this island province in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that has long suffered from consequences of the armed conflicts.
Alonto said that structural facilities must be put in place to lure in investors.

When asked by reporters if he would also be willing to welcome foreign investors in Tawi-Tawi, he said: “We will be doing that. The economic zone that we are talking about will hopefully establish a real participation of concerned business communities and entities” to take part in the development of Tawi-Tawi province.

Alonto said that there are a lot of opportunities that are opening up for the country following the state visits of President Rodrigo R. Duterte to its Asian neighbors that Mindanao cannot miss out.
He said he is keen on encouraging investors from the Middle East and other Islamic countries to locate in Tawi-Tawi.

Alonto stressed that naval security forces within the territorial waters of ARMM’s three island provinces must be strengthened to protect the civilians and potential investors from the threats like kidnapping and terrorism.

“We are also asking our legislators … to increase the budget of the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] for the establishment and strengthening and enhancing the development of naval station in Tawi-Tawi. The presence of a strong naval station will create that sense of security and peace in the area,” he said.

Alonto added that when there is a semblance of peace in the area, it will encourage businessmen “from both sides of the sea to be active in pursuit of business, legitimate and bigger business while they are safe,” he said.

Alonto, who was one of the founding leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) way back in the 1970s, said that the government has vowed to put an end to the violence in some parts of Mindanao. Alonto said that this administration “will never allow the oppression of the Moro people.”

He encouraged the full engagement of all Mindanao stakeholders as the Moro people cannot do it alone in thwarting terrorism, most especially the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“We have to do it altogether – ensure the full engagement of the nation, particularly those living in Mindanao and those who embrace Mindanao as their home – to act as one family in addressing this problem,” he said.

Mindanao will no longer be a ‘backdoor’ – Alonto

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 26): Mindanao will no longer be a ‘backdoor’ – Alonto

Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) chair Abdul Khayr Alonto said that the island provinces of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) will no longer be a “backdoor” but a gateway of the Philippines to the neighboring countries in Southeast Asia.

Alonto, who also leads one of the factions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), said that they will strive harder to transform the conflict-stricken areas of Mindanao and strengthen its position as a founding member of the economic sub-region Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).

“BIMP-EAGA, in fact, could very well be an instrument to restore Mindanao once again as the gateway of the Philippines to the BIMP-EAGA countries and to the world and to China… Mindanao was the gateway but after all these decades with policies that we imposed on Mindanao, it was referred to as the backdoor. This time, Mindanao is no backdoor and we will work it out as the gateway,” he said.

The ARMM is composed of five provinces – island provinces of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi, which are often referred to as “BASULTA”, Lanao del Sur, and Maguindanao.

Among the efforts that they will do to better prepare Mindanao as the country’s gateway will be to work on improving the connectivity of the island region to the rest of the ASEAN, Alonto said.

Alonto stressed that naval security forces within the territorial waters off the three ARMM island provinces must be strengthened to protect the civilians and potential investors from threats like kidnapping and terrorism.

IGP on why Daesh militants choose Tawau as entry point

From the Borneo Post Online (Jan 26): IGP on why Daesh militants choose Tawau as entry point

The geographical position of Tawau, Sabah which is located in a triangle between Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia is believed to be the main factor why the Daesh militants have chosen the region’s waters as the main route to infiltrate the southern Philippines by sea.

Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said the police were aware of the tendency of the militants to take advantage of the situation and therefore, had increased surveillance and security in Tawau.

He said the police knew they (the militants) used Tawau, Sabah, Pulau Sebatik, Indonesia and the southern Philippines as entry point to join their group in the southern Philippines.

“So, we will place our ‘antenna’ (our members) in the region to cripple their access to the southern Philippines,” he told reporters after a monthly assembly involving departmental heads at the Federal Police Headquarters (Bukit Aman) here yesterday.

Khalid said the militants wanted to take advantage of Tawau’s economic activities and use it to mask their presence by blending in with the locals.

“However, I deny allegations of Sabah being a transit point for the militant group which instead, uses Tawau’s strategic position in the triangle as a transit point,” he added.

He was referring to the police’s recent success in foiling militant attempts to smuggle their members out of the country to join their group in southern Philippines.

In that case, the police detained a 31-year-old Filipino man in Kota Kinabalu and a 27-year-old woman from Selangor.

The couple was planning to travel to Sandakan before sneaking into southern Philippines to join Daesh leader, Dr Mahmud Ahmad, who is now affiliated with Abu Sayyaf leader, Isnilon Hapilon.

It is understood that Mahmud is actively recruiting new members in the southern Philippines, and the IGP said the Malaysian police were aware of this.

“We know he (Mahmud) is influencing local residents, Indonesians and Thais to engage in militant training there (southern Philippines) and we are constantly monitoring all activities.” — Bernama

Gov’t to acquire defense, anti-terror equipment using Chinese grant

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 26): Gov’t to acquire defense, anti-terror equipment using Chinese grant

Defense department bares plan to purchase boats, drones, rifles and bomb disposal robots from China

The Department of National Defense said Thursday, January 26 it is eyeing to acquire fast boats, drones, unmanned remote robots for explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) units and sniper rifles from the Chinese grant worth 100 million yuan (about P720 million) to be given to the Philippine government.

Defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the equipment will be used “in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf Group and other terrorist groups” operating in the country, especially in Mindanao.

MB FILE - Department of National Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, speaks about the Philippine victory against China in the arbitration case over maritime spat during a press conference at the Department of National Defense in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City. (Mark Balmores / MANILA BULLETIN)

MB FILE – Department of National Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana
(Mark Balmores / MANILA BULLETIN)
“We’re looking at the fast boats, drones, unmanned remote robots for bomb disposal units and sniper rifles,” Lorenzana told reporters in a press briefing at the DND headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City. “We asked them to provide us with these equipment base on the grant that they will provide us. Kung ano magkakasya or maabot ng pera na ibibigay nila (whatever we can purchase from that money).”

Lorenzana, at the same time, assured that “there are no strings attached” on the grant provided by the Chinese government and “there is also no need for any papers to be signed with regards to it.”

When asked about the quality of the boats coming from China, Lorenzana said: “We’ll see if the quality of the ship is good. If it’s very good and will answer all our needs we will get it.”

Lorenzana said the grant from China is also meant to support President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

Lorenzana earlier said that aside from the grant, China is also offering the Philippines a $500-million soft loan.

What do pirates want? To steal riches at sea so they can pay for wars on land

From In Homeland Security (Jan 26): What do pirates want? To steal riches at sea so they can pay for wars on land

There were fewer than 200 maritime pirate attacks in 2016, the lowest level in more than 20 years. Total global incidents declined nearly 22 percent from 2015 — and nearly 60 percent from 2010, when Somali piracy captured the world’s attention.

But violent pirate attacks increased in two places: the Celebes and Sulu Seas between the Philippines and East Malaysia, and the Gulf of Guinea off the Nigerian coast. In both places the number of pirate attacks more than doubled last year and were closely linked to rebel movement.

Some piracy hot spots — Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh and Vietnam — all experienced significantly less piracy in 2016 compared to 2015. Even more remarkable has been the virtual elimination of piracy around Somalia, where the Greater Gulf of Aden was for many years the most dangerous area for seafarers (see Figure 1).

These are the new piracy hot spots:

1. Southern Philippines — Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic militant group, regularly targets fishing trawlers and slow-moving tugboats. More recently, higher-profile merchant ships have been the focus of attacks, as kidnapping for ransom has proved lucrative and revenue from payments help fund Abu Sayyaf’s efforts directed against the Indonesian government. The militant group, while small, aims to establish an Islamic state in the southern Philippines.

In October, Abu Sayyaf militants hijacked the 400-foot Dongbang Giant 2 as it crossed the Celebes Sea, kidnapping three sailors. Less than a month later, the same group seized the Royal 16, a Vietnamese bulk carrier, and fled with six of the crew.

This group also kidnaps tourists from resorts on land. In August 2016, a ransom of $1 million was paid to the Abu Sayyaf for the release of Norwegian hostage Kjartan Sekkingstad, while $413,000 more won the release of Filipino Marites Flor.

Despite the Philippine government’s efforts to crush Abu Sayyaf, the Jakarta Post reported the group took in more than $7 million in ransom money to free 20 hostages seized during the first half of 2016.
The militant group used these funds to purchase weapons, ammunition and other supplies to counter a renewed Philippine military offensive — and implement an extensive series of bombings, including one detonated in the home town of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

The Philippine and Indonesian governments announced plans in June to coordinate naval patrols in the Southern Sulu archipelago to curb the maritime threat and cut off Abu Sayyaf’s coffers.

2. West Africa — Niger Delta militants, frustrated by inequitable resource distribution and environmental degradation from oil extraction, bomb oil pipelines in the Delta and target tankers and supply vessels servicing oil fields and platforms in the Gulf of Guinea. In February 2016, pirates hijacked the oil tanker Leon Dias, severely injuring one crew member. Nigerian pirates, many of whom are associated with the militant group MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta), boarded 17 other ships and fired upon nine more during 2016, a significant increase in maritime violence in the area.

Here’s how piracy pays off. These rebels appear to target oil tankers filled with refined petroleum, then siphon the fuel for resale on the black market. Since 2010, these attacks have netted the group an estimated $100 million, which helped procure materiel, pay fighters and support local communities.

Oil revenue accounts for as much as 75 percent of Nigeria’s revenue. Counter-piracy operations are also exceedingly costly and attacks against pipelines, production facilities and transports by similar militant groups in the past cut Nigerian oil production by two-thirds. Renewed violence targeting Nigeria’s energy infrastructure also threatens government revenue by reducing maritime traffic in the region.

Insurgencies last longer than they would without this source of funds

The link between pirates and rebels is reason for concern — our research shows how piracy and civil war occur in many of the same places. Although similar conditions drive both processes, our research suggests piracy can intensify land conflicts by providing rebels with valuable resources.

Social science research demonstrates that militant groups with a consistent revenue stream are better equipped to facilitate and sustain rebellions. Illicit trade in diamonds, narcotics and timber, for example, provides rebel leaders with funds to assemble fighting forces capable of confronting the government. Rebel movements located far from state power centers or concealed within impenetrable terrain are particularly difficult to suppress.

Our research, funded through the Minerva Initiative, suggests piracy similarly increases both conflict intensity and conflict length. Pirate attacks deliver significant revenue that encourages rebellion and motivates militant groups to continue fighting.

The elimination of resources to loot that are accessible to rebels, then, may help reduce violence and shorten conflicts. Without these resources, rebel leaders are more likely to return to the bargaining table to formulate a settlement that averts further large-scale hostilities.

In the Philippines, the Duterte regime appears to see counter-piracy operations as a tool for weakening the Abu Sayyaf. Cutting off this revenue source, together with renewed government offensives on land, may help produce a diplomatic opening to end the long-running civil war.

History shows a vicious cycle between land conflicts and piracy

Political violence in the Philippines and Nigeria today helps create an environment where illicit trade in stolen cargo and kidnapping for ransom yield sizable rewards with a low risk of capture.

The golden age of marine predation in the 17th and 18th centuries was incentivized by similar conditions. Near-constant European warfare produced political instability, war economies, corruption and incessant smuggling — and a thriving piracy trade.

Our research suggests that 21st century counter-piracy operations and conflict resolution efforts on land will be more effective if employed concurrently. Eradicating piracy remains difficult when the conflict continues on land, while resolving civil war is especially challenging when the availability of resources on the high seas motivate perpetual fighting.

[Brandon Prins is professor of political science and Global Security Fellow with the Howard Baker Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Follow him on Twitter @bcprins.
Ursula Daxecker is associate professor of political science at the University of Amsterdam.
Anup Phayal is a postdoctoral research fellow with the Howard Baker Center at the University of Tennessee.]

Foreign militants cross Sabah to Mindanao

From the Manila Times (Jan 27): Foreign militants cross Sabah to Mindanao

Malaysian authorities launched a massive manhunt for a former university lecturer turned militant leader accused of spiriting fighters from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Malaysia into Mindanao to establish an Islamic Caliphate alongside other jihadist and rebel groups in the southern Philippines.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said police were working closely with their counterparts in the Philippines to track down former Universiti Malaya lecturer and militant Dr Mahmud Ahmad, according to Malaysian media reports.

Mahmud was allegedly tasked by the Islamic State to arrange the safe passage of recruits. Khalid said militants may be using the sea route in Tawau in Sabah to cross into southern Philippines.

Tawau is often used for numerous activities, including trade and fishing.

“It is possible that militants would also use the same route to get to southern Philippines as Tawau is located between Indonesia and Philippines. However, Sabah is not a transit point for terrorists. They pass through Tawau not because Sabah is a transit point for militants, but because that route is bustling with economic activity and people travelling about. It is easier for militants to mask their movements when it is busy,” Malaysian newspaper The Star quoted Khalid as saying.

He said that Islamic State is also threatening Malaysian government leaders, including Defense Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hus¬sein and senior members of the Cabinet.

“There are still threats against our leaders, but we are closely monitoring the situation,” Khalid said, quoting fresh intelligence reports. “What is happening in other countries…we don’t want that to happen in Malaysia. We will always take proactive measures when it comes to fighting the IS,” Khalid said.

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered military forces to crush and finish off rebel and jihadist groups tied to the Islamic State.

The military has mobilized thousands of troops in Mindanao to fight the Abu Sayyaf and other allied groups.

Military offensive vs terror groups starts anew in Lanao del Sur town

From ABS-CBN (Jan 27): Military offensive vs terror groups starts anew in Lanao del Sur town

Government forces have begun launching a military offensive against various terror groups in Butig municipality, Lanao del Sur.

Marine Colonel Edgard Arevalo, chief of the AFP's public affairs office, said the military’s Western Mindanao Command had another “major breakthrough” in its intensified campaign against terror groups Abu Sayyaf and Maute, as well as foreign terror factions in the area.

The military on Thursday night launched a surgical air strike against terror groups. Two new FA-50 lead-in jets dropped bombs in Butig, which was followed by an airplane and an attack helicopter.

The operation was launched after the military received information that Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon is in Butig and is now the recognized “emir,” or leader, of the Islamic State group in the Philippines.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday confirmed that the Islamic State now has direct contact to Hapilon for a caliphate in the country.

“Hapilon Isnilon, he moved to Central Mindanao allegedly on the behest of the ISIS people in the Middle East to find out if 'yung Central Mindanao is more conducive to the establishment of an organization because, according to the report, Basilan and Jolo are too small. Madali silang maipit doon, so they are looking for a bigger area,” Lorenzana said in a press briefing Thursday.
“Hijrah” or “Wilayat” is the term used to call the migration of the ISIS group to the center of what they will form as the Islamic State. This is what Hapilon is believed to be doing in Butig.

The Butig government has been monitoring the entry of several armed men from different towns.

“More than 70 heavily armed men ang pumasok galing sa island provinces . . . Ang info, speaking Yakan and Tausug. Nagtutugma lahat ng info ng LGU, pulis, military. Ito na nga ang grupo ni Hapilon,” Butig Mayor Jimmy Pansar said.

Hapilon is reportedly joined by the Maute group, Anzar Kilafa Philippines and members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

The Maute group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and raised a black flag in Butig when they recaptured the town last year.

In a statement, the AFP said the terror groups are “reported to have sustained a major casualty, with a number of them dead or seriously wounded,” after the bomb attack that landed the identified locations of the terror groups.
Troops are now searching the area to see whether they hit Hapilon or he managed to escape.

Abu Sayyaf’s Hapilon scouting Lanao del Sur on IS orders - Lorenzana

From InterAksyon (Jan 27): Abu Sayyaf’s Hapilon scouting Lanao del Sur on IS orders - Lorenzana

Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon is seen swearing allegiance to Islamic State in this image from a video posted on YouTube

The Philippines has received intelligence that shows closer links between domestic militants and Islamic State, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Thursday, adding weight to worries that Middle East extremists are building a network in Southeast Asia.

Intelligence from allies showed a leader of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, which has gained notoriety for piracy and kidnapping, was trying to spread into new areas of the country upon the instruction of Islamic State, Lorenzana said.

"Isnilon Hapilon left his traditional area of operation on Basilan island and went to Lanao del Sur to see the area and find out if it is conducive for them to move there," Lorenzana told a news conference.

Lorenzana did not say which country provided the intelligence but said it included information that Hapilon had made the move to survey the new area "at the behest" of Islamic State.

The army had until recently denied the existence of links between Islamic State and local militants and said the Abu Sayyaf had only pledged allegiance to the network to boost its profile.

The group, which operates in Sulu and Basilan, has kidnapped dozens of foreigners over recent years and beheaded several of them, including two Canadians last year.

The United States has a $5 million bounty on the head of Hapilon for leading the 2001 kidnapping of 20 people, including three Americans, on a resort island. He has been identified as Abu Sayyaf's commander on Basilan.

President Rodrigo Duterte has recently raised the alarm about the prospect of Islamic State "contaminating" the Philippines if driven out of Iraq and Syria.

"They were communicating before but not as much as what they are doing now when ISIS in the Middle East are having trouble retaining their areas," Lorenzana said, referring to contacts between Abu Sayyaf and Islamic State.

Lanao del Sur is a stronghold of a the Maute group, which has also pledged allegiance to Islamic State. Several of its members have been arrested for the September 2, 2016 Davao City bombing in which 14 people were killed.

The military on Thursday dropped bombs and fired shells at rebel positions in the mountains of Lanao del Sur in a bid to flush out Hapilon, Lorenzana said.

Tense Philippine-U.S. Relations Will Surge And Then Fall Under Trump

From Forbes (Jan 24): Tense Philippine-U.S. Relations Will Surge And Then Fall Under Trump

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has flipped his country’s old foreign relations formula on its back since taking office in June by pushing the United States away in favor of China. U.S. President Donald Trump shows early signs of pulling the Philippines back into its fold of friendly Pacific Rim countries, which it never totally left anyway.

Relations will improve for a while. Later they won't.

Duterte, in office since June, has threatened to cancel U.S. military aid after decades of cooperation as he courted aid and investment deals with China. The 72-year-old leader known for all sorts of bold remarks once called U.S. ex-president Barack Obama “son of a whore.” The United States should prepare to leave, he also said last year.

The Philippines and the United States, which colonized the Southeast Asian country for about 50 years through World War II, are expected to pick up their old friendship under Trump. Relations are already getting better.

Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte delivers a speech at the Philippines' Economic Forum in Tokyo on October 26, 2016. (KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images
Trump and Duterte talked by phone in early December, with the U.S. leader implying what his counterpart wanted to hear most: no American interference in the Philippine anti-drug campaign that has left between 5,000 and 6,000 dead from extrajudicial killings. Duterte hotly defends his approach to the illegal drug trade and has bashed people in Europe and the United Nations as well for questioning it. Trump, as part of his America-first ideals, is hardly obligated to take a stand.

“Early indications, especially following the phone call between Trump and Duterte, suggest that the two will be able to establish a working relationship,” says Carl Baker, director of programs at the think tank Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu.

Those indications began at the military level last month before Trump took office.

Joint patrols for Chinese vessels outside Philippine territorial waters will disappear, per an understanding reached last month by militaries from both sides. China will like that. U.S. military personnel had helped the relatively weak Philippine armed forces since 2014 do naval exercises aimed at scouting for Chinese vessels in South China Sea waters that Manila claims.

But other military relations picked up last month when a U.S. Pacific Command admiral met with the Philippine Armed Forces chief of staff agreed to keep up “fairly robust” cooperation on humanitarian aid and counter-terrorism work, Baker says. U.S. advisers have helped Manila since 2002 control restive rebel insurgents in the country’s southern islands. Washington can easily offer aid because it signed a mutual defense treaty with Manila in 1951 and a Visiting Forces Agreement that took effect in 1999.

Duterte also approached Beijing for talks shortly after taking office in June to help ease the South China Sea dispute. China claims most of the 3.5 million-square-km sea that's rich in natural resources and shipping lanes. Chinese vessel movement and islet-building have pushed into Manila’s ocean exclusive economic zone since 2012, causing a showdown in the world court (the Philippines won) before Duterte took office.

But the Philippines is weaker than China militarily. It also needs development aid and investment. China can give that, and armed conflict is unlikely as the two sides are getting along.

China won't like a renewed friendship with the United States under Trump, and therein lies the challenge of bringing the Philippines back into American arms.

To realize U.S. Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson’s comments about blocking Chinese expansion in the contested sea -- a goal aimed not only at helping Manila -- the U.S. government may ask the Philippines to let in more American troops or grant access to nearby waters for military use.

“If Trump's 'America First' is taken to its logical conclusion, then the U.S. will become much more demanding of the Philippines in the future when it comes to military cooperation to address the South China Sea and terrorist threats,” says Jay Batongbacal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at University of the Philippines. Trump, who aims to save American jobs, may offer the Philippines less of a market for its vast population of overseas migrant workers and give the country relatively little American investment.

Duterte would hang tight to his China relations, and why not?

“I think that down the road, U.S.-Philippine relations will be cordial at best, but essentially cold compared to previous years,” Batongbacal says.

Northern Mindanao police director optimistic on 'Oplan Kapayapaan'

From the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Jan 25): Northern Mindanao police director optimistic on 'Oplan Kapayapaan'

CAGAYAN DE ORO. School children participate in marking the 47th founding anniversary of the Army’s 4th Infantry "Diamond" Division at Camp Edilberto Evangelista, Patag, Cagayan de Oro City. This year’s celebration is themed "Kulturang Mindanawon, Paligoonon Alang sa Malinawon ug Malamboong Kaugmaon." (Joey P. Nacalaban)

A NORTHERN Mindanao police official, on Tuesday, January 24, expressed optimism that the new security campaign of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), dubbed "Oplan Kapayapaan," will build on the shortcomings of past security plans.
Police regional director Chief Superintendent Agripino Javier said Oplan Kapayapaan, the Duterte administration’s new counter-insurgency strategy, will take note of the limitations of Oplan Bayanihan.
The Northern Mindanao and Caraga regional offices of the PNP and the 4th Infantry Division (4ID) of the AFP signed a memorandum of agreement Tuesday on Oplan Kapayapaan at Camp Edilberto Evangelista.
The campaign aims to join the forces of the AFP and PNP in Northern Mindanao and the Caraga region in training and operations in combating terrorism in the said areas.
The campaign also taps the capacity of both forces in response to disaster and risk reduction and to criminality.
 "This campaign will help harmonize our actions in some field like for us in the AFP we will help conduct training and community support programs and we invite our counterparts from the PNP. And in turn the PNP has agreed to orient us with the legal aspects of law enforcement. Also, we have seen some areas of convergence where we can improve further," said 4ID Commander Major General Benjamin Madrigal Jr. said.
 In connection to the implications that this memorandum of agreement can give to the ongoing peace talks, the signatories are positive that the campaign plan will further encourage and promote peace instead of hampering it.
 READ: Oplan Kapayapaan’ worries activists
"Through this we hope to strengthen our forces through cooperation, and it is right that we are doing this action because we aim to be preemptive of what might happen.
It is good in our part in the PNP that we had a meeting with the AFP so that we will be oriented of their plans and we will be able to adjust these in our plans," said PRO-Caraga Director Superintendent Rolando Felix.
 The 4ID, meanwhile, has kicked off its 47th year anniversary with a barrio fiesta-themed celebration called "Peaceta sa 4ID" on Tuesday. The campaign for peace and the appreciation for homegrown Mindanaoan products were put on center stage in this celebration
The AFP promotes its campaign for peace and appreciation for homegrown Mindanao products where booths displaying native products were set up at the camp.
These booths were arranged by the division's personnel and its products came from the Division's field areas. This bazaar will be open for visitors from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. until February 5.
Other activities are included in this celebration such as the "5-day Rifle Squad and Disaster Response Operations Challenge" which aimed to assess and improve the performance of the Division's troops in response to disasters.
 Madrigal Jr. said that the celebration of the 4ID is rooted from the peace that is now being experienced in many parts of the country especially in the field areas of the 4ID such as the Northern Mindanao and the Caraga region.
"It is heartwarming to see that the military is transforming into more than the military but also as a tool for the development of the community," said Cagayan de Oro city mayor Oscar Moreno, who came as guest.

Singapore, Philippines and US militaries organise multinational disaster relief exercise

From Channel News Asia (Jan 25): Singapore, Philippines and US militaries organise multinational disaster relief exercise

What happens when an active volcano erupts in the Philippines followed by a Category 5 typhoon striking the same area just five days later?

That was the scenario presented to participants of a multinational drill called Exercise Coordinated Response (EX COORES), as they gathered in Singapore this week to practice real processes in the area of disaster relief. The aim is to strengthen co-operation among militaries during aid and disaster relief operations through a common coordination centre.

In this case, the three-day exercise which started on Monday (Jan 23), was conducted at the Changi Command and Control Centre. It involved about 150 participants from 18 militaries, including that of Singapore, the Philippines, other ASEAN nations like Malaysia Brunei and Thailand as well as the US and China.

"Many of the international militaries that are participating are interested to know how they can get into a country, how they can bring in the military equipment, fly in the airplanes into the country,” said exercise co-director COL Lee Kuan Chung. "So this exercise actually provides them a platform to exchange information, exchange point of contacts so that they are clearer - if the next disaster happens, they do not have to start scrambling."

Non-military groups like the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Red Cross, Red Crescent, and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) were also present on Wednesday (Jan 25) to observe the exercise.

Participants reacted to a mock scenario of double devastation when lava from Mt Mayon destroyed everything within a 10km radius, flowing in the direction of the coastal town of Legazpi. More than half the town was destroyed five days later when a Category 5 typhoon struck, killing 8,000 people and displacing half a million.

The exercise was jointly organised by the Changi Regional HADR Coordination Centre (RHCC), the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the United States’ Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance. It is the first multinational Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) exercise since the launch of the RHCC in September 2014.

"To set up a disaster management centre only when disaster strikes doesn't seem quite effective,” said Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen who observed the exercise. “After we set it up we realised that it was also just a step, and it was equally important to have a network of partners, both military and civilian, who were used to working with each other, so that you can respond very effectively in the first 48 to 72 hours."

When asked if looming political tensions in the region would affect cooperation, the consensus was that there is no place for politics in disaster relief.

"You're there to assist a country which has declared a state of calamity. That's not really the time or place to talk about: 'Hey, we have issues in other areas that we have to talk about'," said exercise co-director Joseph Martin, who is also director of the US Center for Excellence in Disaster Management.
Channel NewsAsia understands that there will be a review after the exercise to determine whether it will continue next year.

Meanwhile, Singapore and the US signed a Memorandum of Understanding to "establish a framework of cooperation" between the US Centre for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance and Singapore's Changi Regional Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Coordination Centre.

The agreement "demonstrates Singapore's and the US' shared intent to foster a strategic partnership and build regional capacity in HADR as affirmed in our enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement," MINDEF said in a news release.

Signed in December 2015, the agreement's aim is to boost defence cooperation between both countries. Besides disaster relief operations, the agreement also covers areas like cyber defence, biosecurity and public communications.

EDCA: US set to build facilities in 3 PH military bases

From Rappler (Jan 26): EDCA: US set to build facilities in 3 PH military bases

President Rodrigo Duterte, who had threatened to scrap the deal, is okay with the plans, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana

TREATY ALLIES. The Philippines and the US are bound to come to each other's aid under the Mutual Defense Treaty. File photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

TREATY ALLIES. The Philippines and the US are bound to come to each other's aid under the Mutual Defense Treaty. File photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

The Philippine defense establishment is expecting the US to start in 2017 construction of facilities in at least 3 military bases, an implementation of the controversial Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed by the previous Aquino administration.

"EDCA is still on and according to the Pentagon, they will start constructing some facilties in the EDCA chosen camps," said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday, January 26.
Lorenzana said President Rodrigo Duterte, who had threatened to scrap the deal, is aware of the plans. "Ang sabi naman niya (What he said was), 'We will honor all agreement that were entered into by the previous government. So okay sa kaniya 'yun (with him)," he said.
Lorenzana said the US is keen to prioritize construction of facilities at the Basa Air Base in Pampanga in Central Luzon.
Next will be the Bautista Air Base in Palawan and the old Lumbia Airport in Cagayan de Oro that is expected to be transformed into a military air base.
Lorenzana said the US is expected to improve the runway and put up facilities for its troops. "Mga imbakan ng gamit nila kung nandito sila (They need storage facilities for their equipment), but they can leave the building (with us when they leave)," he said.
These are 3 of the 5 EDCA locations previously identified by the military. The other two are Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, and the Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.
EDCA was negotiated as the Philippines, under the previous Aquino administration, sought US assistance in defending its maritime territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Under the Duterte administration, Lorenzana said the focus of cooperation had shifted to humanitarian assistance and counter-terrorism, among others.
"We have been waiting for those for the past couple of years. Medyo na-delay lang (It was delayed a bit)," Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana said the US had to wait until after the Philippine Supreme Court junked constitutional questions raised against the agreement. (READ: SC rules PH-US military deal constitutional)

Photo: Soldiers in action

From ABS-CBN (Jan 25): Photo: Soldiers in action

Soldiers in action

Soldiers creep under the vegetation during a war games exercise held by the 4th Infantry Division in Camp Evangelista, Cagayan de Oro City on Tuesday. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is aiming to recruit an additional 10,000 soldiers and will not discriminate against members of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender) community, according to a recent AFP statement.

19 of 23 recovered firearms confirmed as PNP properties

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 26): 19 of 23 recovered firearms confirmed as PNP properties

 At least 19 of the 23 firearms recovered by the police from among the 41 firearms that were reported missing from the armory of Urdaneta City last year were confirmed to be properties of the Philippine National Police (PNP) based on laboratory tests that were conducted.

This was bared on Thursday by Supt. Jackie Candelario, deputy police provincial director for operations who was designated temporarily as officer-in-charge of the Urdaneta City police, when he spoke during the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas (KBP) forum here.

Candelario, who is also information officer of the Pangasinan Police Provincial Office, took over temporarily from the former chief of police, Supt. Marcellano Desamito Jr., who was relieved from his post last week in connection with the missing 41 firearms.

He clarified that Supt. Desamito was transferred temporarily to another assignment to ensure impartial and fair investigation of the case.

In his talk during the forum, Cadelario admitted there were 23 firearms that were already recovered and of these, 19 so far were confirmed to be belonging to the PNP following laboratory examinations.

He said the laboratory tests are still going on as it is now difficult to determine if they are PNP properties because their serial numbers are already defaced.

Those missing firearms include 31 handguns with PNP markings and 10 other handguns that were merely turned over to the Urdaneta City police in the past for safekeeping. These include Peitro Beretta, Glock 99 mm pistols and cal. 38 revolvers.

A task force headed by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) was created by Police Regional Office 1 to investigate and recover the 41 missing firearms.

The missing 41 firearms were uncovered when the National Police Commission (NPC) conducted an inventory late last year on the firearms in the custody of the Urdaneta City police.

Nine personnel of the Urdaneta police, one of whom is a civilian employee, were already relieved from their posts and ordered to report to the Pangasinan PPO headquarters in Lingayen where they are now restricted to quarters pending the completion of the investigation.

Most of the missing firearms that were already recovered were surrendered by different persons, among them businessmen and barangay officials, to whom these were allegedly sold or pawned by members of the police in Urdaneta City.

Cadelario declined to say whether the persons who surrendered some of missing the firearms would be held liable, saying it is the task force which is conducting investigation of the matter that could best answer this.

ASG senior leader Hapilon now in Central Mindanao -- Lorenzana

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 26): ASG senior leader Hapilon now in Central Mindanao -- Lorenzana

Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) senior leader Isnilon Hapilon managed to escape from his Basilan enclave and moved to Central Mindanao at the behest of the terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The move is to test whether Central Mindanao is conducive to the establishment of a "wilayat" or an Islamic State, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday,

Hapilon's breakout, with a small group of loyal followers, took place middle of December, he added.
 Lorenzana said Basilan and Jolo are too small and and they can be easily be trapped there, hence the ASG leader's decision to move out in Central Mindanao where he is now rallying Maute Group members to support ISIS.

As of this posting, Maute Group members are placed at around 100 armed fighters.

"We know he is there so we are conducting operations against them in Lanao Del Sur, near the Butig area, just beside Lake Lanao, we've have been there before with the President sometimes last November or December, so we continue to operate against the ASG," the DND chief added.

He said all of these information are from their intelligence sources.

As this develops, the Western Mindanao Command (WMC)'s 103rd Infantry Brigade under Col. Nixon Fortes scored another major breakthrough in its intensified campaign against the terror groups of ASG, Maute Group and foreign terror groups holed in Butig, Lanao Del Sur.

"The terror groups are reported to have sustained a major casualty with a number of them dead or seriously wounded after a midnight (between the 25th and 26th January 2017) surgical air strike and a well-directed and observed artillery rounds accurately landing in the identified locations of the terror groups," Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo said.

As of this posting, ground troops have established foothold and begun their assault to the same objective of the preliminary attack midnight.

"They are now cautiously advancing to their designated objectives – the location of ASG leader Isnilon Hamilon, his select group, and the Brothers Abdullah, Omar, and Otto Maute, and possibly other foreigners joining their notorious group," he added.

"We will await the validated details of the results of this operation as soon as we get confirmations from our troops now on the ground," Arevalo said.

NPA sabotaging peace efforts, says defense chief

From Malaya Business Insight (Jan 27): NPA sabotaging peace efforts, says defense chief

DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday said it is the New People’s Army and not the Armed Forces which is sabotaging the peace negotiations, by waging atrocities while both sides are observing unilateral ceasefires.
Lorenzana made the statement after the National Democratic Front of the Philippines accused the military of violating the government truce when soldiers engaged NPA rebels in a firefight in Makilala, North Cotabato over the weekend. An NPA rebel was killed.

“No we are not (sabotaging the talks), we are respecting the peace talks. We are not operating against them,” said Lorenzana, referring to offensive military operations against the insurgents.

The government and the communists separately declared unilateral ceasefires in August last year before the resumption of the formal peace negotiations. The two sides are working on a more permanent bilateral ceasefire.

Lorenzana, echoing military officials, said the soldiers merely conducted law enforcement operations in response to an atrocity committed by a group of armed men against a driver of a corporation which is the subject of an extortion effort.

“It turned out that they are not usual criminals but members of the NPA... We will not stop our operations against lawless elements in the area. It turned out that these are NPA rebels,” he said.

Lorenzana noted the rebels were in a populated area in Makilala. 

“They were doing, maybe, lawless acts, that’s why they were reported by the people,” he said of the NPA rebels.

Lorenzana said responding to an atrocity does not does not constitute sabotaging the peace talks. 

“In fact, I would like to throw back the question to them (NPAs). What are they doing there with their firearms in the populated area? So in a way, they are the ones sabotaging the peace talks,” he said.

Lorenzana said that from November to December, NPA rebels burned five buses in his hometown in South Cotabato when the owner refused to heed the extortion demands of the rebels.

NDF: NDFP sees finished CASER draft this year

Propaganda statement posted to the National Democratic Front Website (Jan 25): NDFP sees finished CASER draft this year  

NDFP Media Office
Press release
January 24, 2017

Bilateral talks between the reciprocal working committees on socio-economic reforms (RWC-SER) of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) ended today, with agreements already reached on the Preamble and Declaration of Principles, and common ground found in the Bases, Scope and Applicability (Part II) and Desired Outcomes (Part III). Discussions have also already begun on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (Part IV).

In an interview, NDFP RWC-SER spokesperson Randall Echanis said that with the SER talks proceeding as scheduled so far, they expect to finish the draft Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) within the year. The RWCs of both panels held four working meetings between January 20 and 24.

Talks on SER comprised the bulk of the working meetings in the third round of the peace negotiations held in Rome. In the second round last October, the parties agreed on a common outline consisting of a Preamble and 15 Parts. They proceeded to flesh out their respective drafts upon their return to the Philippines.

The NDFP conducted a series of sectoral consultations in November and a national consultation in December, and exchanged drafts with the GRP in the second half of January. Copies of the drafts were also provided the Royal Norwegian Government which is acting as Third Party Facilitator in the talks.

The NDFP draft describes the Philippine economic situation and the revolutionary organization’s proposed reform solutions, said Echanis. It paints the economic and social suffering of the peasantry and working people in the country. Its premise is that Philippine society is semifeudal and semicolonial and thus needs genuine agrarian reform, national industrialization and a free and independent foreign trade and monetary policy for national development.

While there has already been some consensus, Echanis said that there are many provisions that will be needing greater discussion and resolution in the course of the negotiations. “These cover the most important measures for redistributing assets and income, asserting independent foreign economic policy, providing social services and utilities especially for the country’s poor majority, government support for Filipino farms and enterprises, and ensuring democracy in the economy. These are critical,” he said, “for reversing neoliberalism and developing the national economy for the benefit of the people.”

For the purpose of facilitating the resolution of contentious issues, the RWC-SERs of both parties decided in this round to create bilateral teams composed of three persons each. The bilateral teams will make the necessary recommendations to reconcile the differences in the RWC-SER drafts during formal talks. The first contentious issue on the table to be tackled by the bilateral teams concerns the free distribution of land.

Echanis stressed that should an agreement on socio-economic reforms be signed, the next and more important phase would be the implementation, both jointly and separately. There will be areas of cooperation, but for the most part, the GRP will be enacting, amending or repealing laws as needed to implement the CASER and launch programs within the government framework. The NDFP, on the other hand, will also be implementing the CASER’s provisions through the revolutionary organs of political power in the countryside.

NDF: Closing statement of Prof. Jose Maria Sison, CPP founding chairman and NDFP chief political consultant

Propaganda statement posted to the National Democratic Front Website (Jan 25): Closing statement of Prof. Jose Maria Sison, CPP founding chairman and NDFP chief political consultant

25 January 2017, Rome

Her Excellency Ambassador Elisabeth Slattum, Special Envoy to the Philippine Peace Process
Secretary Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process
Secretary Silvestre H. Bello, Chairperson, GRP Negotiating Panel
Chairperson Fidel Agcaoili of the NDFP Negotiating Panel
Dear Compatriots of the GRP and NDFP Delegations
Esteemed guests and friends,

At this closing ceremony, the GRP and NDFP Negotiating Panels shall sign the Joint Statement which sums up the successful work in the third round of formal negotiations and paves the way for further advance in the fourth round in April.

We of the NDFP express our highest sense of gratitude to the Royal Norwegian Government for consistently facilitating the Philippines peace process and the Italian government for enabling the third round in Rome.

The two Parties can congratulate each other for a successful round of talks, for pushing the further implementation of CARHRIHL, for effecting the exchange of complete drafts of CASER and the CAPCR and for starting the work to unify these drafts.

The period between rounds of formal negotiations is not rest but more intense work of subcommittees of the RWCs on CASER and the respective RWGs on PCR meeting in Manila. We can be confident that as soon as the RWCs on CASER will submit their final drafts for approval by the Negotiating Panels, the RWG’s on PCR will become the RWC’s on PCR and finish their work in a few months’ time.

When the Fourth round of talks comes, the goal of finishing the unified drafts of the CASER and CAPCR shall be in sight. We hope that before the end of 2017, these comprehensive agreements will be ready for approval by the Panels, and soon thereafter by the principals. We can be ready for the founding of the Federal Republic of the Philippines in 2018.

We look forward to the implementation of CARHRIHL, CASER and CAPCR for at least two years before the signing of CAEHDF in 2020. In view of the implementation in full swing, the two Parties shall have the highest confidence in signing the CAEHDF.

Thank you.

NDF: Joint statement on the successful third round of formal talks between the GRP and NDFP in Rome, Italy

Joint statement posted to the National Democratic Front Website (Jan 25): Joint statement on the successful third round of formal talks between the GRP and NDFP in Rome, Italy

 The Negotiating Panels of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), together with their respective delegations of negotiating bodies, consultants, advisors, resource persons, cooperators and staff successfully held the third round of formal talks in Rome City from January 19 to 25, 2017. The third round was facilitated by the Royal Norwegian Government (RNG) in cooperation with the Italian Government.

At the opening ceremonies on January 19, RNG Ambassador to the Philippines Erik Førner and RNG Special Envoy to the Philippine Peace Process Elisabeth Slåttum welcomed the two delegations. They commended the two Parties for their hard work in the second round of the formal talks in Oslo and reiterated the commitment of the RNG of its continuing support to the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.

The opening statements of the two Parties were made by the following: GRP OPAPP Secretary Jesus G. Dureza, NDFP Chief Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison, GRP Negotiating Panel Chairperson Silvestre H. Bello III, NDFP Negotiating Panel Chairperson Fidel V. Agcaoili and RNG Special Envoy Ambassador Elisabeth Slåttum.

In her opening statement, RNG Special Envoy to the Philippine Peace Process, Ambassador Elisabeth Slattum, congratulated both Panels for their commitment in working for peace in the country. She commended the two sides for declaring their respective unilateral indefinite ceasefires. The Ambassador reiterated the RNG’s commitment to be with the two Parties for the duration of the peace negotiations.

The Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Secretary Jesus G. Dureza after thanking the RNG passed on part of his speaking turn to GRP Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr., who expressed his support to the peace process. Sec. Yasay also expressed his admiration for Professor Joma Sison and his elation for having met with him personally.

In his opening statement, Professor Sison expressed his continued declaration that the two Panels can negotiate in a non-adversarial way and overcome any obstacle by addressing the root causes of the armed conflict. He also acknowledged his appreciation for last year’s release of detained NDFP consultants and the expectation for the release of the hundreds of political prisoners. Further, he cited that the concurrent or reciprocal unilateral declarations of ceasefire by the GRP and NDFP can easily be turned into a more stable bilateral ceasefire upon the release of all political prisoners by the GRP in compliance with the CARHRIHL. He likewise expressed NDFP’s concerns on the burial of former President Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani and violation of the CARHRIHL and the ceasefire.

Professor Sison was hopeful that within six months the CASER shall already be ready for signing, while the NDFP views political and constitutional reforms can take good and viable examples from both unitary and federal forms of state. He said that the NDFP can go along with President Duterte’s proposal for a federal form of government provided certain safeguards were put in place like the prohibition of puppetry, dictatorship, graft and corruption, dynasty building and warlordism.

 He pointed out the advantage of having the CASER and CAPCR signed and approved by the principals within the first two years of the Duterte Government is that these agreements shall be implemented for at least two years before the end of said government. If implemented to the satisfaction of the Filipino people and the NDFP, these agreements shall lay the full basis of the Comprehensive Agreement on End of Hostilities and Disposition of Forces as early as 2020-2021.

On the part of the GRP Panel Chairperson, Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III, he expressed the readiness of the Panel to exchange and discuss the Government’s draft agreements on CASER, CAPCR and CAEHDF, through its Working Committee/Groups, and finalize the Supplemental Guidelines for the full operation of the Joint Monitoring Committee of the CARHRIHL as well as the draft agreement on the bilateral ceasefire. Secretary Bello also expressed the readiness of the Panel to discuss and address the issues confronting the talks such as prisoner release, implementation of the reconstructed JASIG list and the amnesty proclamation. He capped his statement by thanking the support of the RNG Third Party Facilitator, and expressed his expectation for a cordial but frank, rigorous but productive discussions.

The NDFP Panel Chairperson, Fidel V. Agcaoili, declared the NDFP Panel’s readiness to push the negotiations forward and even accelerate the process of forging mutually acceptable comprehensive agreements on the most important topics of socio-economic reforms and political and constitutional reforms. He noted however, certain serious obstacles that are needed to be hurdled if mutual trust and confidence are to be maintained so that negotiations can move forward. He repeatedly raised the issue of the release of all the NDFP-listed prisoners, and expressed appreciation for the support of the RNG to the peace talks.

Before going into the first item on the agenda of the third round of formal talks, a delegation from both Parties met to discuss certain outstanding issues and concrete measures to facilitate the peace negotiations. They discussed the issues of release of political prisoners and of socio-economic projects in relation to the Joint Agreement in Support of Socioeconomic Projects of Private Development Organizations and Institutes of March 16, 1998. The Parties discussed the signing of CASER with issues of the amnesty of political prisoners and the signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement.

On Implementation of CARHRIHL and JASIG

The two Parties agreed to strictly comply with the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), the first major agreement signed by the Parties in accordance with the 4-item substantive agenda as provided for in The Hague Joint Declaration.

In this connection, the Joint Monitoring Committee discussed and finalized the Supplemental Guidelines for the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC). (Annex A) The Guidelines were subsequently signed by the respective Panel Chairpersons, Monitoring Committees, Supervising Panel Members and witnessed by the Third Party Facilitator.  These Supplementary Guidelines will guide and fully operationalize the work of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) in its task of monitoring the implementation of, and achieving, the objectives of CARHRIHL in upholding and promoting human rights and international humanitarian law.

These Guidelines supplement the Operational Guidelines for the JMC of 14 February 2004 and the Partial Supplemental Guidelines for the JMC of 24 June 2004 governing the monitoring mechanism of the implementation of the CARHRIHL.

In the first working session of the two negotiating panels, the NDFP raised the following issues regarding the GRP’s implementation of the CARHRIHL and JASIG:

The NDFP panel cited with concern the urgency for the GRP to repeal the remaining repressive Marcos decrees that continue to be used against political prisoners and the people; non-observance of the Hernandez political offense doctrine prohibiting the criminalization of acts in pursuit of one’s political beliefs; the perceived political rehabilitation of Marcos and its implications to the rendering of justice for the Martial Law victims; the incidents of occupying schools, barangay halls, and other civilian structures in the rural communities as part of GRP’s Oplan Bayanihan; and the due process issues in relation to the GRP’s anti-drug campaign.

The NDFP panel also cited the continuing detention of three NDFP consultants promised presidential pardon and the surveillance and harassment of NDFP consultants participating in the ongoing peace talks.

The NDFP panel conveyed that violations of the GRP unilateral ceasefire covering more than 500 barangays were increasingly endangering the peace talks.

The NDFP panel requested for a copy of the official document on Oplan Kapayapaan that replaces the Oplan Bayanihan of the Aquino administration. The GRP Panel clarified that Oplan Kapayapaan is not operational yet, having been submitted to the authorities concerned but not yet approved.

The NDFP Panel Chairperson previously submitted on November 28, 2016 and January 4, 2017 to the GRP documented complaints of ceasefire violations.

The GRP panel responded by giving its assurance that the GRP acknowledges having signed the CARHRIHL and its commitment to comply with its obligations under the said Agreement. If there are any reported violations of the Agreement on the part of the GRP, these should all be put into writing and submitted to the GRP Panel, which will then study these reports and take the appropriate action. The panel stated that there is no conscious policy on the part of GRP to violate the CARHRIHL and JASIG.

The GRP panel assured the NDFP that the aforementioned three NDFP consultants will be released. With regard to the surveillance and harassment of NDFP consultants, the AFP-Peace and Development Office (AFP-PDO) replied that the AFP recognizes the safety and immunity guarantees of the NDFP consultants. With regard to the reported occupation of schools, hospitals and communities, the AFP-PDO replied that AFP troops went into the communities upon the invitation of local government units, escorting civilian agencies delivering services to the communities.

The GRP Panel explained that the internment of the Marcos remains at the Libingan ng mga Bayani was not intended to politically rehabilitate him. With regard to the indemnification of Marcos human rights victims, the GRP pointed out that the President has taken a direct hand at speeding up the processing and ensuring that a significant number would immediately be given their indemnification.
On the other hand, the GRP Panel Chairperson handed to the NDFP Panel Chairperson a copy of the GRP documented complaints on ceasefire violations committed by the NDFP.

On Amnesty and Releases

The NDFP Panel followed-up the status of the amnesty proclamation of all political prisoners (as listed by the NDFP) and reiterated that it is the most expeditious way of releasing them.

The Parties agreed to continue to study the issuance of an amnesty proclamation consequent to the substantial progress of the peace negotiations.

The GRP Panel also committed to facilitate the release of the three remaining NDFP consultants, Eduardo Sarmiento, Emeterio Antalan and Leopoldo Caloza, through presidential clemency, and other legal modes.

The GRP, with the assistance of the defense lawyers, shall expeditiously process the release of all the political prisoners listed by the NDFP starting with the 200 qualified prisoners either through bail, recognizance, pardon or other legal processes in compliance with the CARHRIHL and to allow them to participate in activities and mechanisms of the peace process.

The GRP team committed to file immediately the necessary manifestations in support of the motions for the temporary liberty of the NDFP consultants and staff granted bail and released in August 2016 be extended and remain effective for the duration of the peace negotiations.

Results of the Proceedings of the RWCs-SER

The GRP and NDFP Reciprocal Working Committees on Social and Economic Reforms (RWCs-SER) met on January 20 to 21, and 23 to 24, 2017, together with their respective consultants and resource persons.

The RWCs-SER had exchanged their complete drafts of the CASER more or less ten days before the opening of the third round of formal talks.

The RWCs-SER reaffirmed their April 2004 agreement on the Preamble and the Declaration of Principles (Part I) as the framework of the CASER, provided that the unresolved provisions, including new insertions of the NDFP, will be elevated to the negotiating panels for their resolution.

Discussions on the Bases, Scope and Applicability (Part II) were substantially made and points of agreement were identified. The reaffirmation of Part III entitled Desired Outcomes, which was approved during the second round of talks, was made.

The RWCs-SER also started discussions on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (Part IV). They reached a common understanding on the general features of the agrarian problems in the Philippines.
The RWCs-SER agreed in principle to the free distribution of land to farmers and farm workers as part of the governing frameworks of CASER.

For the purpose of accelerating the negotiation process of the CASER, the RWCs-SER agreed to the creation of bilateral teams to help reconcile contentious provisions in the GRP and NDFP drafts and/or provisions which have no corresponding equivalent in each RWCs’ exchanged drafts. The bilateral teams shall submit to their respective RWCs the necessary recommendations.

The bilateral teams may hold meetings in Metro Manila, Philippines, or in any mutually agreed upon venue in the Philippines, or in any neighboring country.

The Panels and RWCs-SER signed on 25 January 2017 the Ground Rules for the Conduct of the Formal Meetings between the RWCs-SER of the GRP and the NDFP. (Annex B)

In the next round of formal talks, the RWCs-SER shall discuss the remaining items under the Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (Part IV), National Industrialization and Economic Development (Part V), Environmental Protection, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Part VI), and the outputs of the bilateral teams.

Results of the Proceedings of the RWGs-PCR

The Reciprocal Working Groups (RWGs) on Political and Constitutional Reforms (PCR) met twice and formally exchanged full drafts of the tentative Agreement on PCR based on the common outline agreed upon during the last round of talks in October 2016.  This surpassed the earlier expectation that the RWGs would only enflesh the said outline in the third round.

The RWGs assisted by their consultants, staff and observers, ran through their respective drafts highlighting their main points, proposed mechanisms and framework.

They exchanged initial and general views, opinions and comments as well as questions on certain provisions of their drafts.

They exchanged views on the proposal for a federal form of government and the need for certain constitutional guarantees and safeguards demanded by the people.

Thereafter, they exchanged and presented their respective comparative matrices of the drafts.
They also agreed to hold unilateral meetings of the RWGs to rewrite their respective drafts and matrices taking into account the drafts that they have exchanged.

The RWGs acknowledged that the tentative drafts shall be subject to the developments in the crafting of the CASER.

They agreed to meet again during the fourth round of formal talks and work on a common matrix as a reference for discussions.

Meeting of the Ceasefire Committees

The NDFP ceasefire committee (CFC) formally acknowledged receiving the GRP CFC draft “Agreement on an Interim Bilateral Cessation of Hostilities Between the GRP and the NDFP”. It said that it will seriously study the proposal, submit comments and may provide its own updated version of its proposed draft agreement for an interim bilateral ceasefire.

NDFP Panel Chairperson Fidel V. Agcaoili handed a letter addressed to GRP Panel Chairperson Silvestre H. Bello III formally protesting the AFP military operation in Makilala, North Cotabato as a violation of the ongoing ceasefire.

The Parties note that their unilateral indefinite ceasefires remain in place. They note however that there are issues and concerns related thereto.

The two CFCs agreed to meet again during the period on February 22-27, 2017 in The Netherlands simultaneous to the opening of the bank safety deposit box account for safekeeping of the JASIG documents of identification.

Fourth Round of Formal Talks

The Parties agreed to meet for the fourth round of formal talks in Oslo, Norway on April 2-6, 2017. They shall continue to work on strengthening the mechanisms in the implementation of CARHRIHL and the unification of the drafts of CASER and CAPCR.

Expression of Gratitude to RNG

Both Panels reiterated their appreciation and gratitude to the Royal Norwegian Government (RNG) for its unrelenting support to and active facilitation of the peace talks which have allowed both sides to move these forward. They also thanked the RNG for the two international experts that they provided who shared their insights on peace negotiations that the Parties may find useful.

Once more they expressed their gratitude to the RNG for its consistent and substantial facilitation and support for the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations as well as to the Italian government for its cooperation and support.

Signed on the 25th day of January 2017 in the City of Rome, Italy.


Sec. Silvestre H. Bello IIIFidel V. Agcaoili
Chairperson of the GRP Panel
Hernani A. Braganza
Member, GRP Panel
Rene V. Sarmiento
Member, GRP Panel
Angela L. Trinidad
Member, GRP Panel
Sedfrey M. Candelaria
*alternate member, GRP Panel
Chairperson of the NDFP Panel
Julieta S. de Lima
Member, NDFP Panel
Coni K. Ledesma
Member, NDFP Panel
Asterio B. Palima
Member, NDFP Panel
Benito E. Tiamzon
Member, NDFP Panel
Sec. Jesus G. Dureza                                               Prof. Jose Maria Sison
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process     NDFP Chief Political Consultant
Mayor Edgardo D. Pamintuan                                       Luis G. Jalandoni 
Adviser, GRP Panel                                           Senior Adviser, NDFP Panel
Elisabeth Slåttum
Third Party Facilitator
For the Royal Norwegian Government