Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Soldier wounded in Sulu clash

From the Sun Star-Manila (Feb 22): Soldier wounded in Sulu clash 
A SOLDIER was wounded Wednesday in an encounter with suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Sulu.

Western Mindanao Command chief Major General Carlito Galvez Jr. said the 10-minute clash between troops of the 69th Infantry Battalion and at least 20 ASG members started around 8:44 a.m. in Barangay Paligi, Indanan town.

Galvez said the clash occurred while the troops were conducting search and rescue operations of the ASG hostages. Galvez said the Abu Sayyaf bandits were led by a commander Aldin Bagadi.

"Our troops are currently on the ground to pin down the Abu Sayyaf who are on the run and are evading military forces," he said, adding that the wounded soldier was immediately brought to the nearby hospital for treatment.

NPA attempt to burn heavy equipment in Quezon foiled

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 22): NPA attempt to burn heavy equipment in Quezon foiled


A suspected band of New People’s Army rebels tried but failed to destroy heavy construction equipment in Catanauan town in Quezon province shortly before midnight Tuesday, police said Wednesday.

“The communist terrorists tried but the immediate action of our forces thwarted their attempt to commit another violence,” Senior Supt. Rhoderick Armamento, Quezon police provincial director, said.

Report said local police, Army soldiers and firemen went to the Strong Hand Builders batching plant in Barangay (village) Cutucutan, 15 kilometers away from the town proper, around 11 p.m. in response to a phone call from the caretaker of the plant on the arson attempt.

Senior Police Officer 1 Lerma Cabangon, one of the policemen, said they found six gallons of gasoline under a pay-loader equipment and a newly ignited fire to trigger the blaze.

Cabangon said policemen and Army soldiers immediately secured the site and later escorted the transfer of heavy equipment to a safe place.

Reds to release 6 prisoners of war for resumption of talks

From the often pro-Communist Party of the Philippines online publication the Davao Today (Feb 23): Reds to release 6 prisoners of war for resumption of talks

In this file photo taken on August 26, 2016, guerrilla fighters of the New People’s Army prepare their formation at the start of the ceremony for the release of its two captive police officers in a village in Lupon, Davao Oriental. ( file photo)
As a gesture of support on the resumption of peace talks, the National Democratic Front in Mindanao announced Thursday the slated released of the six prisoners of wars who were held captive by the New People’s Army.

In a statement dated February 17, NDF-Mindanao Spokesperson Ka Joaquin Jacinto said that PO2 Jerome Anthony Natividad, Pfc. Edwin Salan, Sgt. Solaiman Calucop, Pfc. Samuel Garay and Cafgu Active Auxiliary Rene Doller and Carl Marc Nucos will be released by the NPA units in their respective regions. The statement was sent to media Thursday midnight.

“The NDFP in Mindanao urges the GRP to heed the call of the Filipino people for the resumption of formal talks with the NDFP, despite the absence of any ceasefire agreement,” Jacinto said.

He said the “Duterte government cannot, at this point, ignore this resounding call to set into motion the possible implementation of genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization.”

“If genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization are carried out to the satisfaction of Filipino peasants, workers and national minorities, millions will surely benefit and significantly improve their lives,” he pointed out.

Even as the NDF would want the peace talks with the government to resume, the communist group emphasized that the termination of its unilateral ceasefire was “necessary” after the government failed to fulfill its promise to release the more than 400 political detainees from their custody.

The NDF-Mindanao bashed also the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police for “deliberately made the situation untenable” after the President Rodrigo Duterte declared an all-out war against the NPA after he unilaterally terminated the peace talks.

Jacinto claimed that in a span of nearly six months, the government troops have occupied hundreds of communities in both cities and the countryside in Mindanao and the rest of the country under the guise of the government’s previous anti-insurgency campaign Oplan Bayanihan and the new security plan Oplan Kapayapaan.

The state security forces’ continued operations under the AFP’s new security plan, according to Jacinto, has “threatened and harassed poor and innocent peasants and Lumad, causing many to flee their villages for fear of being captured, tortured, extra-judicially killed or massacred.”

“In this context, the NPA, in active-defense mode, was only duty-bound to launch offensives against operating AFP/PNP troops in order to defend these communities from state-sponsored atrocities,” Jacinto said.

He further explained that the “continued fighting in the field will remain standard in a protracted civil war, especially when the roots of such a conflict remain unresolved.”

“Under this condition, however, a continuing peace talks between the GRP and the NDFP becomes imperative, which, needless to say, opens doors to find possible genuine solutions to the basic social problems suffered by the people and pave the way to attain just and lasting peace,” he added.

Air Force C-130 aircraft may soon fly for Philippine Food Skyway

From Update.Ph (Feb 23): Air Force C-130 aircraft may soon fly for Philippine Food Skyway

The Philippine Food Skyway Project was endorse by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol said in a statement released in his official networking page. Piñol said this project that will utilize Philippine Air Force C-130 Cargo Transport aircraft is a longtime dream that he has nurtured.

“In a meeting which Speaker Alvarez called in Congress yesterday (February 19) attended by the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, the Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform Rafael Mariano, National Irrigation Administrator Peter Laviña, the Undersecretary of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), Congressman Arthur Yap of Bohol and other agencies involved in food production, the issue of the very high cost of transport of fruits and other high value products was discussed,” Piñol said.

On the said topic, Piñol said Alvarez “proposed the use of Air Force C-130 Cargo Planes to bring Mindanao’s fruits to Metro Manila, Baguio’s vegetables to the Visayas and Mindanao, and the fish from Zamboanga, Basilan, Tawitawi and Sulu to Cebu and Manila.”

“That was when I told Speaker Alvarez that his proposal was what I have long been suggesting to the national government – a concept of moving goods from one island to another in the country using cargo planes which I called the Philippine Food Skyway,” he said.

Piñol said Speaker Alvarez noted the Department of Agriculture does not have to buy the cargo planes as the Philippine Air Force could be directed by President Rody Duterte to undertake the transporting of the products.

“He said he will endorse to President Duterte the immediate implementation of the program, especially since the season of fruits in the Southern Philippines will start in August of this year,” Piñol said.

“With this development, the people of Baguio City will soon have an abundant supply of fresh fruits from Davao and fish and crabs from the Island Provinces,” the Agri chief said. “The people of the South soon will also have plenty of the Cordillera’s fresh vegetables and strawberries.”

Duterte urged to create Bangsamoro transitional justice commission

From InterAksyon (Feb 22): Duterte urged to create Bangsamoro transitional justice commission

The commission is expected to help address deep-rooted grievances of the Bangsamoro people, which President Rodrigo Duterte often talks about   

PEACE FOR MINDANAO. President Rodrigo Duterte frequently mentions historical injustices committed against Muslims in Mindanao. File photo by Simeon Celi Jr/Presidential Photo

PEACE FOR MINDANAO. President Rodrigo Duterte frequently mentions historical injustices committed against Muslims in Mindanao. File photo by Simeon Celi Jr/Presidential Photo
President Rodrigo Duterte, who frequently talks about historical injustices in Mindanao in his speeches, is being urged to create a commission to address deep-rooted grievances of the Bangsamoro people in order to bring about peace in the region.
The government implementing panel for the Bangsamoro peace accord is prioritizing the creation of such a body, called the National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission on the Bangsamoro.
The creation of the commission is among the recommendations by an independent body on how to address grievances of Mindanaoans which have long stood in the way of peace in the region.

Irene Santiago, chairperson of the government implementing panel, said such a commission is necessary for establishing programs on reconciliation and justice.
Muslims of Mindanao cite abuses by Spanish, American, and Japanese colonial governments; land dispossession; forced displacement; and human rights violations by government as among the injustices that cast a shadow on the peace process.

"[The commission] is a priority because most of the recommendations are really the responsibility of that commission so if you want the implementation to go on already then we have that national commission," Santiago told Rappler on Monday, February 20.

She said she will urge President Rodrigo Duterte to either craft an executive order creating the commission or declare his support for a law creating such a body within the year.

"We'd like to do that as soon as possible. One of the things that I found is that healing and reconciliation is a very difficult thing. That's why people don't usually get into it because it's hard. You've had people who have had hurts and relationships that have been so injured for so long," she said.

The Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), the independent body that made the recommendations, suggests a 7-member body.

Aside from a chairperson, there should be 4 sub-committee members, and 2 ex-officio members from civil society.

Bangsamoro monuments, history

TJRC chairperson Mo Bleeker said several of the 90 recommendations made by her group can be implemented "immediately," even before the signing of a basic law for the Bangsamoro region.
Rufa Cagoco-Guiam, lead coordinator of the TJRC Listening Process, said these "low-hanging fruits" include creating landmarks to commemorate sites of atrocities committed in the Bangsamoro region and integrating Bangsamoro history into the curricula of schools all over the country.
"We should be teaching Moro history to the larger Philippine public which is still clueless to what happened in the past to the Bangsamoro people," she said.

Celebrating Mindanao icons of heroism may also help heal the hurt still in the hearts of the Bangsamoro people, said TJRC.

Fight vs extremism
TJRC members said addressing historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro people is critical to stemming the tide of extremism in some parts of Mindanao.
Young Muslims in the region are particularly vulnerable to the siren song of extremist groups both in and outside the country.
"We see the young people, some of them already recruited by international extremist groups. These are borne out of frustrations. When they don't see anything good, they find alternatives," said Guiamel Alim, another TJRC Listening Process coordinator.

Cagoco-Guiam said she has heard of the indoctrination of young Muslims into "extremist thinking" in Lanao del Sur and Zamboanga.
Santiago is confident that Duterte, the first Mindanaoan president, will champion the creation of the national transitional justice commission.

"The focus of his entire campaign has really been to correct historical injustices. No presidential candidate ever before him has spoken about historical injustice so this is the time to do it. I am very sure he's going to want that national commission established as soon as possible," said Santiago.

On Monday, the TJRC submitted its last reports to the government implementing panel and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front panel.

Army lauds ComVal residents' support

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 23): Army lauds ComVal residents' support

The Philippine army lauded the awareness and support the civilian populace in Compostela Valley continue to show and provide to government troopers who are still on high alert following incidents of armed confrontations with the New People’s Army (NPA) in the area the past weeks.

Lt. Col. Davice Christopher G. Mercado, commander of the 71st Infantry Battalion personally expressed gratitude to the residents of a remote village in Maco town after the discovery of an improvised explosive device (IED) that was intentionally planted by the NPAs.

“This is a clear manifestation of the growing concern and awareness among the civilian populace which pre-empted fatalities to the troops as well as civilians residing in that area,” Lt. Col. Mercado said.

Acting on the report of local residents, army personnel from Alpha Company of 71st IB recovered an IED in Purok 4B, Sitio Bombaran, Barangay Elizalde in Maco last February 19.

The residents also reported the presence of NPA rebels and saw the planting of the IED in their community in Purok 4B, Bombaran.

“We also strongly condemn the continued use of landmines by the NPAs which places greater risk to the innocent residents in communities,” Mercado added.

He also assured the residents of Barangay Elizalde and the rest in their area of operation of the army’s continuing efforts to protect the communities from terror and chaos brought by NPA rebels.

Concerned residents reported the presence of New People’s Army (NPA) members who were then planting improvised explosive devices along the barangay road.

The recovered IED weighed six kilograms with 50-meter electric wire and the detonating device, the report of the army said.

The explosive device is now safely defused and under the possession of the operating troops.

As this developed, Brig. General Macairog Alberto, commander of 1001st Brigade pointed out that combat operations of the army are still on-going in some parts of Compostela Valley to track down the armed group responsible in laying the explosives.

“The army is always on high alert and ready to curb any terror plot aimed to destabilize the peace and order situation in our areas of responsibility,” Alberto said.

Gov't troops capture ranking NPA leader in Southern Tagalog

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 23): Gov't troops capture ranking NPA leader in Southern Tagalog

Troopers from the Tanay-based 2nd Infantry Division arrested a ranking New People's Army (NPA) leader allegedly involved in the Jan 29 Pico De Loro raid in Nasugbu, Batangas, during operations Wednesday early morning.

1st Lt. Xy-zon Meneses, 2nd Infantry Division public affairs office chief, in a message Thursday, said Ernesto Samarita alias "Mel", head of the rebels' Southern Tagalog Regional Party Committee finance committee was arrest at 3 a.m. in Barangay Munting Indang, Nasugbu.

Samarita is also the third highest member of the Komiteng Rehiyon Timog Katagalugan and headed the Tactical Center of the 2nd Congress of the Komiteng Sentral held in Mindanao in January 2017.
He is also believed to be an alternate member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Samarita was nabbed in the area after patrolling troops got suspicious of his presence there.

Initially, the suspect tried to escape but was caught by military personnel.

Confiscated from the suspect was a belt bag containg a nine-meter detonating cord and a blasting cap.

Meneses said Samarita initially identified himself as a "Jojo Dimayacyac" of San Pablo, Laguna but this was disproved during subsequent investigations.

NPA rebel surrenders

From the Mindanao Times (Feb 22): NPA rebel surrenders  

AN ALLEGED member of the New People’s Army (NPA) surrendered to the 25th Infantry Battalion and the Monkayo police on Saturday.

Capt. Rhyan Batchar, spokesperson of 10th Infantry Division, said alias Mar sought the assistance of Monkayo Mayor Ramil Gentugaya upon his surrender.

He was said to be a squad leader of NPA’s Pulang Bagani Company (PBC) 8 and resident of Agusan Del Sur. He claimed that constant fear and hardship due to the relentless combat operations of the military forced him to lay down his arms.

Mar also claimed that they were duped into thinking that once they surrender, they will be tortured to death by the military.

“I have proven false the indoctrination of the NPA leaders,” he said. “The soldiers took good care of me.”

He also revealed that some of his comrades are also thinking about surrendering if given the chance.

Alias Mar is now undergoing debriefing and validation for enrolment to the comprehensive local integration program (CLIP) for rebel returnees.

In his statement, Brig. Gen. Macairog Alberto, commander of 1001st Infantry Brigade, appealed to communist rebels to come down and return to their families, and live a productive life rather lead a life of violence.

Defense deputy leads simple rites to commemorate EDSA at LNB

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 22): Defense deputy leads simple rites to commemorate EDSA at LNB

Department of National Defense Undersecretary Cardozo M. Luna led this morning’s wreath laying rites at the Libingan ng mga Bayani to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the People Power Revolution.

Today marks the start of the People Power Commemoration Week (Feb. 22-25), which enjoins all Filipinos to remember and ponder on the principles and values that the peaceful revolution stands for.

It can be recalled that through EDSA, the Filipino nation has gained the respect and admiration of the world with its feats of valor and demonstration of people’s solidarity in transforming a society.

It also restored democratic institutions and ushered in meaningful political, social and economic reforms in the country, which serves as a national inspiration until today.

In his speech, Cardozo emphasized the need to promote national unity in order to face the challenges of nation building.

He said unity and solidarity happened during EDSA, hence the need to perpetuate and propagate the spirit of the historic event.

OPAPP welcomes CPP/NPA/NDF’s call to proceed with the bilateral ceasefire negotiations

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 22): OPAPP welcomes CPP/NPA/NDF’s call to proceed with the bilateral ceasefire negotiations

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus G. Dureza welcomes the CPP/NPA/NDF’s call to proceed with the bilateral ceasefire negotiations.

“We welcome and respect the positive position coming from the leadership of the CPP/NPA/NDF,” Secretary Dureza said in a statement.

He added that “On the part of the Philippine government, we share the same commitment to work for just and lasting peace in the land.”

“When ‘compelling reasons,’ as President Duterte earlier announced, are present, then we in government shall take the next necessary steps,” Secretary Dureza concluded. (OPAPP)

300 Senior reservist officers attend summit to restore ROTC

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22): 300 Senior reservist officers attend summit to restore ROTC

Around 300 senior military reservists commanders gathered at the Armed Forces of the Philippines Commissioned Officers' Club in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City to discuss the proposal to restore the Mandatory Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) Wednesday.

This is in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s approval of the proposed restoration of the mandatory ROTC in Grades 11 and 12 of the country's public and private schools.

“The ROTC is a key component of the AFP’s Reserve Force Development program. Through this summit, we are able to connect the ROTC Corps Commanders with the Senior Reservist Commanders of the AFP to discuss common issues on the ROTC and its role in the Reserve Force," AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said.

Among the speakers were Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian who tackled the restoration of mandatory ROTC, and Retired Navy Capt. Diofonce F. Tuñacao of the Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific who discussed the institutional measures to prevent hazing and corruption in the ROTC.

The summit was anchored on the theme “Building the ROTC as a Strong Foundation of the AFP Reserve Force”.

It also featured focus group discussions and a plenary session where ROTC graduates can interact with reservist commanders of the Brigade-level Ready Reserve Units.

As the summit’s output, a manifesto was signed by the ROTC Corps Commander inking their pledge to actively address hazing and corruption in the ROTC, and to commit themselves to greater participation in nation-building.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines believes it is time to bring back mandatory ROTC in schools to ensure that the youth are shaped with a deep sense of patriotism and love for country,” AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Eduardo Año said.

“The Mandatory ROTC Program will strengthen national security since the country will have trained men and women who can defend their country in times of war and crises; undertake disaster, relief and rescue operations and; assist in socio-economic development,” he added.

Military now targeting ASG kidnapping infrastructure

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22): Military now targeting ASG kidnapping infrastructure

To fully eliminate the Abu Sayyaf Group threat, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is now targeting the infrastructure making up its kidnapping network.

By infrastructure, AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo was referring to the bandit group's spotters, kidnappers, caretakers, financiers and negotiators.

This was demonstrated by the recent neutralization of three ASG spotters in Tawi-Tawi, he added.

Arevalo said efforts are still ongoing to further unravel this infrastructure so that ASG will lost its capacity to generate funds, hereby losing their capability to acquire weapons, equipment, food and support from the communities they are embedded with.

Earlier, the AFP public affairs office chief said no efforts will be spared to rescue ASG captive Juergen Kantner whom the bandits threatened to behead this coming Feb. 26 if their PHP30 million ransom demand are not paid.

He also said that troops on Monday have started conducting intensified operations in a bid to locate and rescue the German captive.

Arevalo declined to give the locations on where the operations are being conducted for security and operational reasons.

The AFP official also said these operations are also aimed at recovery other hostages still in the hands of the terrorist group.

"We are still confident that we will be able to do it, rescue Kantner alive, and we doing all level best to do this," he added.

Kantner was kidnapped by the ASG bandits while his yacht "Rockall" was cruising off Sulu waters last November.

His companion, 56-year-old Sabine Mertz, was shot and killed by the bandits and allegedly raped.

AFP denies destabilization plots against Duterte administration for umpteenth time

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22): AFP denies destabilization plots against Duterte administration for umpteenth time

For the umpteenth time, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday said it is still to monitor any destablization attempts or plots against the Duterte administration.

This was stressed by AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Eduardo Año who said that the military is not keen to participate in such activities.

"So far, we have not monitored any destabilization plot. The AFP's morale is high. The AFP is solid and shall continue to do its mandate of protecting the people and the state," he stressed.

The military's refusal to participate in such unconstitutional activities can be attributed to the fact that all officers and enlisted personnel of the AFP are now feeling the full support of the national leadership, Año added.

"We can feel the full support of the national leadership as we perform our tasks," he said.

Also, the gestures made President Rodrigo Duterte, which include visiting wounded troops in hospital, personally condoling with the families of slain soldiers, and dropping by in faraway camps and bases, despite his hectic schedule, are all appreciated by military personnel from top to the bottom, the AFP chief said.

Año issued this statement despite earlier claims by Presidential Communications Office Secretary Martin Andanar who said that revelations made by SPO3 Arturo Lascañas, claiming he (Lascanas) and other police officers were paid to do vigilante killings in Davao City, are part of this plot.

The AFP added that they may not have yet the information possessed by Andanar but stressed it is ready to respond decisively against such threats.

PAF's FA-50PH force now at 6

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22): PAF's FA-50PH force now at 6

As of Wednesday morning, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) is the proud owner of six brand-new FA-50PH "Fighting Eagle" jet fighters.

This was after FA-50PHs jet aircraft, with tail numbers 005 and 006, landed at Clark Airbase, Pampanga, at 11:15 a.m. and 11:17 a.m., respectively.

PAF spokesperson Col. Antonio Francisco said the jets took from Kaoshung International Airport in Taiwan at 10:05 a.m.

They landed in the Philippines after more than an hour's flight.

With the delivery of the pair, only six more FA-50PHs remain to be delivered to the PAF.

The PAF's 12-plane order from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) is worth PHP18.9 billion.

The FA-50PHs has a top speed of Mach 1.5 or one and a half times the speed of sound and is capable of being fitted air-to-air missiles, including the AIM-9 "Sidewinder" air-to-air and heat-seeking missiles aside from light automatic cannons.

The FA-50PHs will act as the country's interim fighter until the Philippines get enough experience of operating fast jet assets and money to fund the acquisition of more capable fighter aircraft.

The FA-50PH design is largely derived from the F-16 "Fighting Falcon", and they have many similarities: use of a single engine, speed, size, cost, and the range of weapons.

KAI's previous engineering experience in license-producing the KF-16 was a starting point for the development of the FA-50PHs.

The aircraft can carry two pilots in tandem seating. The high-mounted canopy developed by Hankuk Fiber is applied with stretched acrylic, providing the pilots with good visibility, and has been tested to offer the canopy with ballistic protection against four-pound objects impacting at 400 knots.

The altitude limit is 14,600 meters (48,000 feet), and airframe is designed to last 8,000 hours of service.

There are seven internal fuel tanks with capacity of 2,655 liters (701 US gallons), five in the fuselage and two in the wings.

An additional 1,710 liters (452 US gallons) of fuel can be carried in the three external fuel tanks.

Trainer variants have a paint scheme of white and red, and aerobatic variants white, black, and yellow.

The FA-50PHs uses a single General Electric F404-102 turbofan engine license-produced by Samsung Techwin, upgraded with a full authority digital engine control system jointly developed by General Electric and KAI.

The engine consists of three-staged fans, seven axial stage arrangement, and an afterburner.

Its engine produces a maximum of 78.7 kN (17,700 lbf) of thrust with afterburner.

Troops, ASG clash anew; soldier slightly wounded

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22): Troops, ASG clash anew; soldier slightly wounded

Government troops are tracking down a group of Abu Sayyaf bandits dragging along with them their casualties following a firefight in the hinterlands of Sulu.

Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, on Wednesday said the object of pursuit operations is the group of Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Aldin Bagadi based in Indanan town, Sulu.

Galvez said the group of Bagadi figured in a firefight Tuesday in Barangay Paligi, Indanan town with the troops of the Army’s 69th Infantry Battalion.

Galvez said the troops were conducting focused military operations when they clashed against 20 Abu Sayyaf bandits led by Bagadi.

He said the group fled, dragging along with them their slain and injured companions following a 10-minute firefight.

He said a soldier was slightly injured and was taken to a hospital for treatment.

“Our troops are currently on the ground to pin down the Abu Sayyaf bandits who are on the run and are evading military forces,” Galvez said.

“It is obvious that the corridors of the bandits have already been constricted due to their inability to hide in populated areas after the locals themselves resisted their presence within the communities,” he added.

He said the troops of the Joint Task Force Sulu continue to intensify the conduct of focused military operations to contain the ASG and to possibly rescue the hostages in Sulu.

The ASG is still holding captive 27 people, including 21 foreigners, who were separately seized.

The hostages included a Dutch; a German; a Korean; seven Indonesians; five Malaysians; six Vietnamese; and, six Filipinos.

Ex-AFP-PAO chief now heads Army battalion in Mindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22): Ex-AFP-PAO chief now heads Army battalion in Mindanao

A former chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines PubLic Affairs Office (AFP-PAO) now heads the 33rd Infantry Battalion based here and vowed Wednesday he will make the "Makabayan" battalion excel in many aspects.

Lieutenant Colonel Harold M. Cabunoc assumed post as the commanding officer of 33rd Infantry (Makabayan) Battalion on Tuesday, replacing Lieutenant Colonel Ricky P. Bunayog in a Change of Command Ceremony presided over by Brig Gen. Arnel dela Vega, 6th Infantry Division commander at 33IB Headquarters in Barangay Tual, President Quirino, Sultan Kudarat.

Bunayog will serve full time as the assistant chief of staff for operations.

Prior to his assignment as 33rd IB battalion commander, Cabunoc was head of the AFP's special project concerning Indigenous Peoples in Davao region.

Cabunoc resigned as AFP-PAO chief after then Lt. Gen. Hernando Iriberri assumed as AFP chief in July 2015. He assumed his post as the PAO chief of the AFP in October 2014.

Cabunoc told his subordinates the battalion should excel in all military operations, including peace advocacy to tow the line of 6th ID direction.

He said the battalion, under his leadership, must give priority to the peace process in southern Philippines without abandoning its duties of securing and assuring the safety of Filipinos.

Based in President Quirino, the 33rd IB includes in its area of operations the towns of Quirino, Isulan, Lambayong, Tacurong City in Sultan Kudarat province and the towns of Buluan, Datu Paglas, Mangudadatu, Paglat and SK Pendatun.

Communist Party of China donates USD600K infra to Davao City

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22): Communist Party of China donates USD600K infra to Davao City

The Communist Party of China (CPC) donated USD600,000-worth of infrastructure and equipment to Davao City government during the visit of the Party’s Minister of International Department H.E Song Tao on Tuesday.

The Communist Party of China is the founding and ruling political party of the People's Republic of China.

The Chinese delegates donated USD400,000 to Bolton Elementary School for the construction of a school building and USD200,000 for water pump stations in three barangays.

It was Mr. Song’s first visit to the city under the administration of Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.

He said President Rodrigo Duterte’s successful visit to China last year paved the way for a better relationship between the Philippines and China.

He added that the President and Chinese President Xi Jin Ping have discussed about strengthening the cooperation between their countries, including the economic relations.

“Our visit to the Republic of the Philippines including Davao City is to implement the consensus reached between the two heads of state to strengthen our outstanding political mutual trust and cooperation to deliver tangible benefits for the two countries,” he said.

“We come here for friendship and cooperation in various fields through inter-political parties exchanges,” he added.

Meanwhile, City Administrator lawyer Zuleika Lopez thanked the Chinese delegates for visiting the city and their overwhelming assistance to the people of Davao.

“Davao City thanked you in advance for the planned grant to the city in the form of 600,000 USD worth of planned projects,” she said.

Lopez said the generosity of the Chinese government is a step towards the realization of the current administration’s trust on education and the provision of basic needs to every single Davaoeṅo.

Last October, the city’s delegation led by Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte visited Shanghai to discuss possible investments and bilateral cooperation between the two cities.

On Monday, Song and PDP-Laban President Aquilino Pimentel III signed a Memorandum of Understanding for exchanges and cooperation of the two political parties.

Militiaman killed as Army clashes with NPAs in North Cotabato

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22): Militiaman killed as Army clashes with NPAs in North Cotabato

The military is pursuing a band of communist rebels who killed a government militiaman during an encounter in Sitio Boay-boay, Barangay Basak here.

Lt. Silver Belvis, spokesperson of 39th Infantry Battalion identified the casualty as Eliseo Sicao, a member of the militia force under the Army’s 72nd Infantry Battalion stationed in the area.

Belvis said government troopers were conducting a combat patrol operation in the area on Tuesday afternoon when they encountered some 15 rebels belonging to the New Peoples Army (NPA) Guerilla Front 54.

The firefight lasted for an hour and only stopped after the rebels withdrew to a forested section of the village.

Belvis said bloodstains were found on the rebel position after the encounter.

Authorities here raised alert status while pursuit operations are ongoing against the rebels.

The incident was the second encounter between government forces and NPA rebels here in North Cotabato after President Rodrigo Duterte and the NPA separately lifted their respective unilateral ceasefire recently.

Gunmen strafe mayor’s residence in Zambo Norte town

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22): Gunmen strafe mayor’s residence in Zambo Norte town

The police have been ordered to conduct an in-depth investigation over the strafing of a town mayor's house in the province of Zamboanga del Norte.

Senior Supt. Edwin Buenaventura Wagan, Zamboanga del Norte police director, on Wednesday issued the order after he received report that the residence of Siayan Mayor Flora Villarosa was fired upon by gunmen.

Wagan said the initial report he received showed that the incident occurred around 12:55 a.m. Wednesday in Barangay Poblacion, Siayan, Zamboanga del Norte.

Wagan said the gunmen aboard two Sports Utility Vehicles and a motorcycle opened fire as they slowly passed by the residence of the town mayor.

He said no one was either killed or wounded during the attack.

Recovered outside the front gate of Villarosa’s compound were five empty shells from an M16 rifle and two deformed slugs.

Wagan has ordered the police in Siayan town to look into possible motives of the attack and to establish the identities of the gunmen.

USAID turns over hydrological, meteorological map for Iloilo City

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22): USAID turns over hydrological, meteorological map for Iloilo City

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Be Secure Project turned over to the city government Hydrological and Meteorological Map of Iloilo City, Wednesday.

City Planning and Development Office (CPDO) coordinator Jose Roni J. Peñalosa, who accompanied former Environment Secretary and now Be Secure Project Leader Elisea Gozon during the turnover, said the map reflects villages that are vulnerable to climate change-induced hazards such as typhoons, flood, sea-level rise, drought and strong winds.

The analytical map, he said, identified coastal barangays that will experience increased rainfall events for the next years until 2040.

The map likewise showed the increasing temperatures that can be felt by the city’s coastal areas because of the heat coming from the ocean.

The map was gathered in collaboration with the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical Astronomical Service Administration (PAG-ASA) and Manila Observatory that partnered with Be Secure to generate simulations and projections of the climate change, he said.

Peñalosa said the Hydrological and Meteorological Map is not new for Iloilo City. In 2013, the UN Habitat also conducted vulnerability and adaptation assessment for city barangays after Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog sought their assistance in preparing for disasters.

A year after, the UN Habitat turned over to the city government a report showing similar hydro-meteorological data.

Peñalosa said the city’s adaptation measures to flooding has increased as a result of government putting so much investments on re-engineering for drainage and preparing communities to respond to the impacts of flooding.

However, the 2014 report showed that its small efforts on drought made this city vulnerable to drought.

“That’s what makes big investments on construction of deep wells, rainwater harvesting facilities, among others,” he said.

Meanwhile, the updated map, he said, will impact on the planning aspect, especially on how to maximize this city’s resources. It will guide the city government as it currently undertakes preparations to update its Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP), Comprehensive Development Plan, Local Climate Change Action Plan and the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) Plan.

“Hazard data change every now and then because while we do a forecast you can never tell exactly if it will happen or not. What we have today are more recent figures and statistics. These data are very relevant for more appropriate interventions,” Peñalosa added.

The result will be explained in detail to barangay leaders on March 2 during their meeting.

“If this will be communicated to our barangays in a clearer manner, they would be able to really prioritize their spending,” he said.

Region-wide transport strike looms in Northern Mindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22): Region-wide transport strike looms in Northern Mindanao

Transport organizations in Northern Mindanao are preparing to join a planned nationwide transport strike on February 27, a transport leader said Wednesday.

Joe Gabatan of the Solidarity of Transport in Region 10 (STAREX), said that the STAREX would join the local Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON) in the nationwide strike that might last for three days.

He said that all transport organizations in Northern Mindanao that include taxicab drivers and operators, public utility jitneys, passenger buses, and all other public utility transport vehicles would join the mass action here.

Aside from demanding the rollback of the prices of oil, the local transport group would also demand the reconsideration of the phasing out of old public utility vehicles, Gabatan said.

He said that Land Transportation Office (LTO) has earlier pushed for the elimination of the old PUJ, which the drivers and jitney operators are vehemently resisting.

“What would happen to our livelihood, if the old PUJs would be eliminated?” Gabatan asked.

He said that all PUJs, running in the streets and elsewhere in the city of Cagayan De Oro and in Misamis Oriental, would certainly be abolished if the new LTO directive would be implemented.

Gabatan said that the transport group would conduct a city and a region wide information campaign on Saturday to persuade all transport operators and drivers to join the transport strike Monday next week.

The information campaign would also urge the commuters, workers, employees, and students to support the transport stoppage and ask them to stay home during the duration of the strike.

The strike might last for two or three days, depending on the consensus of the transport operators, drivers, and stakeholders that would be known in a scheduled meeting on Saturday, Gabatan said.

Gabatan, however, assured the public that emergency vehicles like ambulances and those engaged in rescue operations would not be affected by the transport strike.

“We would also discourage and disallow any attempt to throw ‘spikes’ and blunt objects on the street that might cause flat tires that might hamper vehicles for emergency transport,” Gabatan said.

He said that the wives and family members of the transport groups in Northern Mindanao had already expressed support of the transport strike after receiving calls and communication that the nationwide transport strike would push through Monday next week.

Air Force combat group nabs NPA leader in Batangas

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22): Air Force combat group nabs NPA leader in Batangas

Members of the 730th Combat Group of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) have arrested a top New People’s Army (NPA) leader while conducting combat patrol operation at Munting Indang Village, Nasugbu town in this province.

In a report Wednesday, Batangas Provincial Police Director Senior Superintendent Leopoldo Cabanag said the high-ranking NPA leader identified as Ernesto Samarita is now under the custody of the Nasugbu Municipal Police Station after the arrest by the PAF combat group the other day.

According to Cabanag, Samarita is the secretary of the Sub-Regional Military Area-Guerilla Unit 3 (SRMA-GU3), Southern Tagalog Regional Party Committee (STRPC).

The rebel leader also sits as an Executive Committee (ExeCom) member of STRPC and heads the Regional Finance Staff, STRPC; and as alternate Central Committee member of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Cabanag said further that Samarita is the 3rd highest ranking person in the “Komiteng Rehiyon Timog Katagalugan” and headed the Tactical Center of the 2nd Congress of the “Komiteng Sentral” held in Mindanao in January 2017.

The Batangas police chief said the air force combat group nabbed Samarita who was carrying a back pack loaded with an improvised explosive device (IED) and initially identified himself as Jojo Dimayacyac.

Woman injured in Basilan ambush

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 22): Woman injured in Basilan ambush

Troops are tracking down the gunmen behind the ambush on Wednesday that injured a woman while her nephew escape unscathed in Basilan province, a top military official said.

Col. Juvymax Uy, newly-installed commander of the Army’s 104th Infantry Brigade, disclosed the incident occurred around 10 a.m. Wednesday in the boundary of Sumisip and Maluso towns.

Uy identified the wounded victim as Satarian Jaber, while her nephew, Ahamad Jaber, emerged from the incident unscathed.

Uy said the Jabers were traversing the Cabcaban-Canas road aboard a motorcycle when waylaid by five unidentified gunmen.

Troops from the Army’s 68th Infantry Battalion, upon receipt of report, rushed to the ambush site and provided first aid to Jaber.

From there, Uy said the troops took the elder Jaber to the hospital in Isabela City, the capital of Basilan province.

He said troops from the Alpha Company of the 68th Infantry Battalion conducted clearing operation to ensure safe passage along the Cabcaban-Canas road that links the town of Sumisip to Maluso.

He said investigation is ongoing while troops are pursuing the ambushers who fled to a forested area.

'China finishing West Philippine Sea buildings that could house missiles'

From ABS-CBN (Feb 22): 'China finishing West Philippine Sea buildings that could house missiles'

Fiery Cross Reef. CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative / Digitalglobe

China, in an early test of U.S. President Donald Trump, has nearly finished building almost two dozen structures on artificial islands in the South China Sea that appear designed to house long-range surface-to-air missiles, two U.S. officials told Reuters.

The development is likely to raise questions about whether and how the United States will respond, given its vows to take a tough line on China in the South China Sea.
China claims almost all the waters, which carry a third of the world's maritime traffic. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims. Trump's administration has called China's island building in the South China Sea illegal.

Building the concrete structures with retractable roofs on Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs, part of the Spratly Islands chain where China already has built military-length airstrips, could be considered a military escalation, the U.S. officials said in recent days, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Subi Reef is the most recent feature to undergo significant reclamation efforts by China. Photo by CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative / DigitalGlobe

"It is not like the Chinese to build anything in the South China Sea just to build it, and these structures resemble others that house SAM batteries, so the logical conclusion is that's what they are for," said a U.S. intelligence official, referring to surface-to-air missiles.

Another official said the structures appeared to be 20 meters (66 feet) long and 10 meters (33 feet) high.

A Pentagon spokesman said the United States remained committed to "non-militarization in the South China Sea" and urged all claimants to take actions consistent with international law.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Wednesday he was aware of the report, though did not say if China was planning on placing missiles on the reefs.

"China carrying out normal construction activities on its own territory, including deploying necessary and appropriate territorial defense facilities, is a normal right under international law for sovereign nations," he told reporters.

In his Senate confirmation hearing last month, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised China's ire when he said Beijing should be denied access to the islands it is building in the South China Sea.

Tillerson subsequently softened his language, and Trump further reduced tensions by pledging to honor the long-standing U.S. "one China" policy in a Feb. 10 telephone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Clouds partially cover under-construction airstrip at Fiery Cross Reef (Kagitingan Reef) in the Spratly Islands in the disputed West Philippine Sea. AFP photo / CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative / Digitalglobe


Greg Poling, a South China Sea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in a December report that China apparently had installed weapons, including anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, on all seven of the islands it has built in the South China Sea.

The officials said the new structures were likely to house surface-to-air missiles that would expand China's air defense umbrella over the islands. They did not give a time line on when they believed China would deploy missiles on the islands.

"It certainly raises the tension," Poling said. "The Chinese have gotten good at these steady increases in their capabilities."

On Tuesday, the Philippines said Southeast Asian countries saw China's installation of weapons in the South China Sea as "very unsettling" and have urged dialogue to stop an escalation of "recent developments."

Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay did not say what provoked the concern but said the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations, or ASEAN, hoped China and the United States would ensure peace and stability.

Mischief Reef. Image by the CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative / DigitalGlobe


The U.S. intelligence official said the structures did not pose a significant military threat to U.S. forces in the region, given their visibility and vulnerability.

Building them appeared to be more of a political test of how the Trump administration would respond, he said.

"The logical response would also be political – something that should not lead to military escalation in a vital strategic area," the official said.

Chas Freeman, a China expert and former assistant secretary of defense, said he was inclined to view such installations as serving a military purpose - bolstering China's claims against those of other nations - rather than a political signal to the United States.

"There is a tendency here in Washington to imagine that it's all about us, but we are not a claimant in the South China Sea," Freeman said. "We are not going to challenge China's possession of any of these land features in my judgment. If that's going to happen, it's going to be done by the Vietnamese, or ... the Filipinos ... or the Malaysians, who are the three counter-claimants of note."

He said it was an "unfortunate, but not (an) unpredictable development."

Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month that China's building of islands and putting military assets on them was "akin to Russia's taking Crimea" from Ukraine.

In his written responses to follow-up questions, he softened his language, saying that in the event of an unspecified "contingency," the United States and its allies "must be capable of limiting China's access to and use of" those islands to pose a threat.

‘Sir TY’ is new Marines chief

From Malaya Business Insight (Feb 22): ‘Sir TY’ is new Marines chief

BRIG. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1985, is the new commandant of the Philippine Marine Corps, replacing Maj. Gen. Andre Costales who reached the mandatory retirement age of 56.

Salamat, outgoing assistant superintendent of the PMA in Baguio City, assumed his new post in rites held at the Marines headquarters in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.

AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said Salamat, who is known to his subordinates as “Sir TY (Thank You),” completed military and academic training in local and foreign schools.

“He is a graduate of the US Ranger. He is one of the pioneers of the US ranger (course),” said Arevalo.

In Mindanao, a seasoned Army intelligence officer has been designated as commander of military forces in Basilan amid ongoing efforts to end the Abu Sayyaf within the first six months of the year.

Col. Juvymax Uy assumed his new post -- commander of the 104th Brigade and concurrent head of the Joint Task Force Basilan -- in rites held at task force’s headquarters in Isabela City last Saturday.

Basilan and Sulu are the main areas of operations of the Abu Sayyaf which is holding 27 foreign and Filipino hostages. The Abu Sayyaf last week threatened to behead German captive at 3 p.m. on February 26 if it does not receive a P30-million ransom payment.

Uy said defeating the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan within the first six months of the year is “a possibility.”

Uy, previously the commander of the AFP’s Task Force Zamboanga, replaced Col. Cirilo Thomas Donato who has been designated as deputy commander of the 1st Infantry Division in Zamboanga del Sur.

Uy, 50, a member of the PMA Class of 1989, is the youngest Army officer to command a brigade.

Salamat headed the 1st Marine Brigade based in Sultan Kudarat. It was in that capacity when he accomplished a major feat against the Ansar Al-Khilafah group, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, in Palimbang town in November 2015.

A joint operation with the police resulted in the killing of four group members, including Indonesian Ibrahim Ali alias Abu Fattah, and the recovery of a cache of firearms and explosives.

Uy, before becoming Task Force Zamboanga commander in January last year, was commander of the Army’s Intelligence Group.

Yasay: Abu Sayyaf 'likely' behind Vietnam freighter attack

From ABS-CBN (Feb 21): Yasay: Abu Sayyaf 'likely' behind Vietnam freighter attack

Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay.

Filipino Islamic militants were likely behind an attack on a Vietnamese cargo ship in which one crew member was killed and six others abducted, Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said Tuesday.

The MV Giang Hai was hit by unknown gunmen Sunday near the southernmost Philippine island of Baguan near the Malaysian coast, in a region notorious for such assaults.

"We can only assume that they were taken by Abu Sayyaf people but this has to be verified," Yasay told a news conference aired live on television, but added that it was "likely".

The waters between Malaysia and the southern Philippines have become increasingly dangerous in recent years as Filipino Muslim extremists have taken to piracy, boarding ships and seizing seamen for ransom.

Maritime officials have warned of an emerging "Somalia-type" situation in the waters if the attacks are not addressed.

READ: Waters off southern PH 'becoming increasingly dangerous'

Prior to the latest incident the military said the Abu Sayyaf -- one of the armed Islamic groups in the area who have pledged allegiance to Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria -- were holding 27 hostages.

They include Filipino, Malaysian, Indonesian, Vietnamese and German hostages, as well as a Dutchman abducted in 2012, according to the military.

Yasay said Vietnam's foreign minister raised the issue at an informal ASEAN ministerial retreat in the Philippines this week.

At least six Vietnamese crew members of another vessel had been abducted in the area in November last year, Yasay said.

The Philippines is planning to ask its defense ally the United States to hold joint exercises in the southern waters, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said earlier this month, while President Rodrigo Duterte has also urged China to launch patrols off the piracy-plagued waters.

READ: Philippines seeks US, China help to combat sea pirates

The International Maritime Bureau said in January the number of maritime kidnappings hit a 10-year high in 2016, with waters off the southern Philippines becoming increasingly dangerous.

Opinion: Jamil Maidan Flores: Smart Counterinsurgency Can Defeat Abu Sayyaf, Other Terror Groups

Opinion piece in the Jakarta Globe (Feb 21): Jamil Maidan Flores: Smart Counterinsurgency Can Defeat Abu Sayyaf, Other Terror Groups

Early in January last year, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana launched a new security strategy that would within six months "significantly reduce" the strength of terrorist groups in the south of the island nation.

These include the Maute Group, which styles itself as the Islamic State in Lanao, and the Maguindanao-based Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. The most fearsome of them all is, of course, the Abu Sayyaf Group, which runs a kidnapping-for-ransom conglomerate in the Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-tawi area.

In mid-January, the newly minted chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Gen. Eduardo Año, ordered the just-installed commander of the Western Mindanao Command, Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez, to "eliminate within six months, the Abu Sayyaf Group."

Late during the month, the military overran the Maute stronghold in the mountain town of Butig, Lanao del Sur. In the fighting for control of the town, artillery and air support for the troops was decisive.

Right at the first salvo, 15 terrorists were killed, including five companions of Isnilon Totoni Hapilon, the overall commander of the Abu Sayyaf, who is recognized by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as its amir in Southeast Asia. Among the five was an Indonesian who bore the alias Mohisen.

Fifty-year-old Hapilon was severely wounded so that he had to be evacuated on a makeshift stretcher and was in dire need of a blood transfusion. Two other foreign terrorists, probably not fighters but advisers, were known to be in Butig during the fighting.

The Amir's Mission

What was Hapilon, a Basilan Island-born Yakan, doing in the mountains of Central Mindanao? And what were those foreign jihadists up to? The word is that ISIS had mandated Hapilon to unite the various terrorist factions into one solid fighting force and to prepare the heartland of Mindanao to become the ISIS headquarters in Southeast Asia.

The authorities give a lot of credence to this report: Defense Secretary Lorenzana recently said he was sure there was already a strong link between ISIS and the local terrorists. Days later President Duterte said ISIS had found its way to the Philippines through an alliance with local terror groups. Hapilon and foreign advisers from ISIS were probably conducting a plenum to firm up that alliance when the military barged on them with big guns blazing.

No doubt the terrorists – the Maute Group and the Abu Sayyaf – suffered an enormous blow in Butig. But they are far from finished. Just two weeks after the Butig clash, a military intelligence officer, Maj. Jerico Mangalus, and a soldier, Cpl. Bryan Libot, were killed in a firefight with Maute Group fighters in Marawi City, the provincial capital of Lanao del Sur.

Meanwhile, the Sulu-based faction of the Abu Sayyaf released a video in which the German hostage, Jürgen Gustav Kantner, appealed to his family and the German government to pay a 30-million peso ($590,000) ransom or else the group would behead him as it did many other kidnapping victims whose families failed to pay up. The Abu Sayyaf's top commander may be gravely wounded but as a terrorist group, it has not been defanged.

Nor are there any guarantees that the terrorists will be crushed in six months' time, not even if the military sends in 51 battalions backed up by artillery and the firepower of FA-50 jet fighters. What, by the way, is behind this obsession with a six-month time frame? It is probably seen as the minimum time span needed to score a knockout on the jihadist movement in the southern Philippines.

In a classic situation of insurgency, the state always feels the need to quickly administer the coup de grâce in order to win. On the other hand, the insurgents understand that they have only to survive and to keep on surviving in order to eventually win. In the case of the southern Philippines, it is possible that in the months ahead the military will notch a few more dramatic triumphs in its campaign against terror but it is also highly probable that the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute Group will still be alive and breathing long after the six-month deadline has passed.

Tools of War
Evidently the Philippine military authorities have done their share of reading the vast body of literature on counterinsurgency. For instance, in October last year, Gen. Año's predecessor, Gen. Ricardo Visaya, told the military establishment: "Let us use all available tools of war in inflicting not just physical destruction, but also in rendering a psychological blow against the Abu Sayyaf. Ensure their isolation from their local support system and make the communities resilient against the influence of terrorists."

But how? He did not say. Since then nothing has been reported about how the military would go about isolating the terrorists from their "local support system." This is worrisome because it may be a sign that the Philippine military is fighting a conventional war when what it needs to do is to wage a smart counterinsurgency campaign – a struggle for hearts and minds and for political legitimacy.

For as long as the terrorists enjoy the support of a mass base – the communities of relatives, friends and supporters who share their origins, grievances and aspirations – somehow they will always be provided with food, material supplies, intelligence, safe havens and comfort.

In the case of the Abu Sayyaf, there is a tight symbiotic relationship between the group and its mass base. In the first half of last year, the group collected a windfall of some $7.3 million in ransom money. The mass base got a good part of that bonanza, which they used to feed their families, maintain their households and send their children to school. Thus the Abu Sayyaf earns political legitimacy in the eyes of the mass base.

You cannot delegitimize the Abu Sayyaf by merely sending 20,000 more soldiers to Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi. Of course, it is auspicious for a counterinsurgency force to have many boots on the ground and to be able to deploy howitzers and South Korean-made combat aircraft, as well as a huge fleet of Navy speedboats in the Sulu Sea. But it is also essential that the main body of this force must be highly trained and disciplined professional soldiers and police who will carefully avoid antagonizing the local population.

It makes no sense – and it is potentially disastrous – to inject into this force a bunch of rogue cops from Manila, many of whom have failed the drug test and are accused of various crimes, including extortion and false arrests. Let us hope President Duterte reconsiders his plan to send these scalawags to fight the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan.

It is vital that this counterinsurgency force must be supplied with accurate intelligence by those who are intimately familiar with the physical and psychosocial terrain in which the terrorists operate. That is how ambuscades are avoided.

Civilian Force

Since this is a war for hearts and minds, the military component must be supported by a civilian force of social workers, political organizers and economic enablers who will plan the long-term economic future of the community while carrying out palliative measures to address the urgent problem of the people's poverty. This is where the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, with its broad mandate to launch and fund development projects, should come in.

For in the ultimate analysis the real enemy is poverty, along with the social and political grievances that it breeds. It is no coincidence that Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi, where the Abu Sayyaf is based, are among the country's poorest provinces.

Another very poor province is Maguindanao, home to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. Certified as the poorest of the poor provinces is Lanao del Sur, bastion of the Maute Group.

Failure to address the grievances of the poor will only prolong a brutal separatist insurgency that makes use of terror tactics and boasts ideological and financial links to international terrorism.

Militiaman killed in North Cotabato clash

From the Sun Star-Manila (Feb 22): Militiaman killed in North Cotabato clash

A MILITIAMAN was killed in a clash between government forces and New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Magpet, North Cotabato, on Tuesday.
Lieutenant Silver Belvis, spokesperson of the 39th infantry battalion, identified the fatality as Eliseo Sicao, a member of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu).
Sicao sustained multiple gunshot wounds, said Belvis.
Sicao was among the militias patrolling in the area of Sitio Buay-buay, Barangay Basak in Magpet town, North Cotabato.
During the conduct of operations, Belvis said around 15 NPA rebels from the Southern Mindanao Regional Command allegedly fired at them.
“Our troops immediately established defensive position which prompted the rebels to withdraw," he said.
Belvis said government troops are currently conducting pursuit operations against the NPA rebels responsible for the incident.

NPA stages ‘lightning checkpoint’ in MisOr

From MindaNews (Feb 21): NPA stages ‘lightning checkpoint’ in MisOr

Around 50 communist rebels staged a “lightning checkpoint” along the Butuan-Cagayan de Oro national highway in Medina town, Misamis Oriental Tuesday morning, stopping all vehicles to look for soldiers and policemen, the military said.

Capt. Peter Sarsagat, acting public affairs officer of the 4th Infantry Division, said the rebels captured no soldiers nor policemen.

He said two platoons of the “Sandatahang Pangpropaganda” of the New People’s Army Guerilla Front 4B set up a checkpoint along the highway in Purok 4, Barangay Pahindong, Medina town.

“The checkpoint lasted for only 30 minutes. They wanted to show their forces,” Sarsagat said.

He said the rebels also talked with Barangay Pahindong Chairman Roel Cabanos and even ate their breakfast at the basketball of the barangay hall.

Sarsagat said the rebels also stopped all vehicles asking those who were wearing military and police uniforms to step down.

The rebels left soon after going to the general direction of Barangay Macopa, also in Medina town, he said.

“Even if the entire event lasted only for 30 minutes, it was enough to put a chill on our tourism industry,” said Misamis Oriental Gov. Yevgeny Emano.

He said the publicity of the rebel presence is enough to drive away the tourists from the province.

The governor said he is now thinking of putting on hold the plans to develop resorts around several waterfalls and beaches in the province.

“So long as there is a shooting war, no tourists will come to the province,” Emano said.

The NPA has a strong presence in Misamis Oriental. The rebels celebrated the 48th foundation anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines in barangay Mananom-Bago, Medina town, Misamis Oriental last Dec. 26, 2016.

Duterte to inaugurate Bangsamoro pact relaunch

From the Sun Star-Manila (Feb 22): Duterte to inaugurate Bangsamoro pact relaunch

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is set to inaugurate the formal launching of the renewed effort to implement the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) in Davao City on Friday.
Presidential Adviser on Peace Process Jesus Dureza said that during Duterte's meeting with select Cabinet members last Monday, he reiterated his strong commitment to pursue "just, lasting, and inclusive peace in the land."
"He will preside over the big event (CAB launch) on Friday in Davao City," Dureza said.
"He also stressed the need for convergence and the coming together of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Moro National Liberation Front (MNLG) and other different factions of the Bangsamoro in a single roadmap for peace," he added.
The Aquino administration and the MILF signed the CAB and its annexes in March 2014. However, the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law was stalled in the last Congress.
In November last year, Duterte signed an executive order reconstituting the 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Committee that will craft an enabling law for the Bangsamoro.
Duterte on February 2 released the names of all BTC members. The commission consists of 11 members from the MILF, seven from the government, and three from the MNLF.
The BTC is expected to submit the draft law to Congress by July for deliberation and ratification.  Dureza said the President is looking forward to a successful crafting of Moro law.
Peace talks with Reds
Meanwhile, Duterte met with leftist Cabinet members namely Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, National Anti-Poverty Commission Secretary Liza Maza, and Agriculture Secretary Rafael Mariano at the Palace last Monday to also discuss the terminated peace talks with the communists.
They were joined by government peace negotiators, Dureza and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.
Dureza said the Chief Executive tackled the directions and possible next steps in peace engagements with the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People'a Army, and the National Democratic Front (CPP/NPA/NDF).
"On the CPP/NPA/NDF, he gave specific instructions on how to deal with the present situation, including possible next steps following the cancellation of peace talks and the unilateral ceasefire declarations," Dureza said.
Duterte ended the peace deal with the communist rebels, after it lifted its unilateral ceasefire.
Malacañang, however, provided four "compelling reasons" that the communist group should comply with, in order for the President to revive the talks.
Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella earlier said the CPP/NPA/NDF should agree to have a bilateral ceasefire with the government in terms of “the so-called revolutionary tax or ‘extortion;’ ambushes on military personnel; burning of property; and provocative and hostile actions.”
Dureza said Duterte is optimistic that talks with the communists and the Bangsamoro people would yield positive results so he could push through with his proposed federal type of government.
"The President instructed that all these different tracks must gather inputs from the different stakeholders to make the reform agenda inclusive, which must eventually lead to the final goal of installing a federal system throughout the country," he said. 

Duterte eyes ‘strategic shift’ in peace process

From MindaNews (Feb 21): Duterte eyes ‘strategic shift’ in peace process

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said that President Rodrigo R. Duterte is eyeing a “strategic shift” under his term in order to address the decades-long insurgency and rebellion in the country.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Duterte, along with Dureza and Labor Secretary and government (GRP) chief peace negotiator Silvestre Bello III, met with Left-leaning cabinet members National Anti-Poverty Commission lead convener Liza Maza, Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, and Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano at Malacañan Palace on Monday night to map out directions and possible steps in the peace process concerning the Communists Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP), Bangsamoro groups, and even the Cordillerans.

Dureza said that the President gave his instructions to the GRP peace panel what approach should be taken in the presentation after the cancellation of peace negotiations with the communists and the termination of the unilateral ceasefire declarations by the GRP and the NPA, the CPP’s armed wing.

“He lamented that the almost 50-year-old insurgency and conflict still continue to this day and vowed to work for a strategic shift during his incumbency,” he said.

Duterte also raised with the cabinet members the current developments in the Bangsamoro peace table and said he will lead the launch of the renewed effort to implement the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on February 24.

He emphasized the need to converge the different Moro groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and other Bangsamoro factions in a single road map for peace for the several Moro rebel groups.

“The President expressed support for the common and continuing aspiration for an Autonomous Region for the Cordillera and called on the people there to unite as one in making a final try at entrenching it as mandated by the Constitution,” Dureza said.

Duterte said that all panels must gather inputs from different stakeholders to make the reform agenda inclusive that “must eventually lead to the final goal of installing a federal system throughout the country.”

Major MNLF faction changes guards

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 21): Major MNLF faction changes guards

A major faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) reorganized its central committee leadership recently by electing a new chairman and four vice chairmen in what was described as an innovative bid to rally the Duterte administration’s thrust for inclusive peace and sustainable development among the Bangsamoro community.

Sharia Court Judge Ali Limbona said the election of the MNLF top officials capped a three days of meetings that started on February 18 in Pagadian City where the front’s central committee also amended its charter to make it more responsive to the times.

The reorganized group is said to be the largest of three MNLF factions. MNLF founding leader Nur Misuari leads his own faction, while incumbent Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Charman Abul Khayr Alonto heads another bloc.

Close to 100 key MNLF leaders constituting the faction’s “expanded” central committee unanimously elected former Sulu Governor and Congressman Yusoph Jikiri as chairman, replacing former Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema, who chaired the group for years, Limbona said.
He said the central committee created four positions for vice chairmen, and subsequently elected to the posts Prof. Sultan Pundoma Sani for military affairs, lawyer Sultan Ferdausi Abbas for external affairs, former regional assemblyman Hatimil Hassan for internal affairs, and Romeo Sema for political affairs.

Limbona, a member of the front’s expanded ruling committee, said outgoing chairman Sema was elected head of the Bangsamoro People’s Congress.

In a press statement, Jikiri said he will try to persuade both neutral and skeptic quarters to rally all initiatives under the Duterte administration that seek to harmonize the government’s peace accords with the MNLF in 1996 and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014 towards an “inclusive” solution to the Moro rebellion.