Thursday, February 23, 2017

Lozanes named 303rd Brigade commander

From the Sun Star-Bacolod (Feb 24): Lozanes named 303rd Brigade commander
COLONEL Eliezer Lozanes will take over as commander of the 303rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army in Barangay Minoyan, Murcia effective March 1.
Current commander Brigadier Geneneral Francisco Delfin will leave for his new assignment as assistant commander of the 3rd Infantry Division based in Jamindan, Capiz.
Lozanes is presently the deputy commander of the 301st Brigade in Dingle, Iloilo. Major General Jon Aying, commander of the 3rd Division, will be the presiding officer of the turn-over rites. 

Muslim convert, 3 charged for Hilongos, Leyte bombings

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 23): Muslim convert, 3 charged for Hilongos, Leyte bombings

Bombing victims in Hilongos, Leyte, get emergency treatment at a local hospital on Dec. 28, 2016. (Photo contributed by Michael Bardos)

Bombing victims in Hilongos, Leyte, get emergency treatment at a local hospital on Dec. 28, 2016. (Photo contributed by Michael Bardos)

A 26-year-old Muslim convert, believed to belong to the terrorist Maute group, was one of the four suspects charged for the twin bombings in Hilongos town, Leyte, that wounded 32 people in December.

The multiple frustrated murder charges against Jake Anthony Macuto, who also goes by his Muslim name Yusuf, and his three unidentified companions were filed at the prosecutor’s office in Leyte, Leyte on Feb. 22, almost two months after the bombings at the Rizal Park rocked the sleepy town of Hilongos on Dec. 28, 2016.

At least 32 persons – 10 of them children – were hurt when two improvised explosive devices (IED) went off while more than 1,000 people were watching an amateur boxing fight in celebration of the town fiesta.

Macuto was identified following an “extensive police and intelligence work” with the help of the witnesses, said Chief Supt. Elmer Beltejar, police director for Eastern Visayas, in a news conference on Thursday.

Macuto, 26, reportedly stayed in Barangay Conception, Hilongos, before staging the bombings.

He was also known to have lived in Cavite and in Lanao del Sur where he could have been recruited to the Maute Group, tagged as the terrorist group with a link with the ISIS or Islamic State.

Police investigation showed that Macuto planted the IED of an 81-mm mortar near the stage. The other IED was located under the water tank.

The same kind of explosives was found by the authorities during the foiled bombing on the United States Embassy in Manila on November 28.

Asked what was the reason for bombing a small town like Hilongos, Belterjar said Macuto might just be on a test mission.

Hilongos, a fourth class town 146 kilometers away from the regional center of Tacloban City, has a Muslim community residing in Barangay Conception. They are mostly traders.

Supt. Allan Cuevillas, head of the special task group created to solve the first bombing in Eastern Visayas in recent years, said some of the local Muslims helped them identify Macuto.

He said Macuto converted under the influence of his mother who worked in the Middle East.

Macuto reportedly conducted some preaching and recruitment activities in the region, notably in Eastern Samar, in 2015, Cuevillas said.

“But we can assure you that there is no cell of the Maute Group in the region,” he said.

Beltejar said that they have been monitoring Muslim converts across Eastern Visayas as they could be recruited by a terrorist group.

“The Muslim converts are the ones who are being tapped by the Maute Group because they are the ones who are more aggressive,” he said.

Beltejar said they learned that new recruits were being paid in exchange for their involvement with the terrorist group.

China Promises Not to Build in Disputed Shoal: Philippines

From News and World Report (Feb 23): China Promises Not to Build in Disputed Shoal: Philippines


China's President Xi Jinping attends a welcoming ceremony for Italian President Sergio Mattarella (not in picture) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China February 22, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee Reuters

Chinese President Xi Jinping has promised his Philippine counterpart that China would not build structures on a rocky outcrop both countries claim in the South China Sea, a Philippine government minister said on Thursday.

Strained ties between the two countries have improved since President Rodrigo Duterte took power in the Philippines in June and began a shift away from traditional ally the United States towards closer relations with China.

China has alarmed some of its neighbors and raised concern in the United States by constructing seven artificial islands on reefs in the South China Sea's Spratly islands, some equipped with air and port facilities for suspected military use.

China denies any hostile intent and says it will maintain freedom of navigation.

Philippine Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay said Xi's pledge was made during a meeting with Duterte in Beijing in October, after the Philippines raised the issue of the disputed shoal in response to U.S. intelligence reports suggesting China was sending dredging ships to the area.

"President Xi has promised President Duterte they will not reclaim and build structures on Scarborough Shoal," Yasay told reporters.

The shoal is northeast of the Spratly islands. China seized it in 2012 and denied Philippine fishermen access.

Yasay was responding to a query about a Reuters report that China was close to completing structures on its manmade islets in the Spratlys that appear designed to house long-range surface-to-air missiles.

China allowed Philippine fishermen to return to the Scarborough Shoal after Duterte's visit.

Yasay said it would be a "game changer" if China broke its promise not to build on the shoal, adding he was confident it would not.

The Philippines would file another protest if it could confirm China was completing missile sites on its manmade islands, he added.

China found Yasay's remarks "baffling and regrettable", and they "do not accord" with the development of China-Philippines relations or the overall stable situation in the South China Sea, a foreign ministry spokesman said.

"We hope Mr Yasay can adhere to the consensus reached by the two countries' heads of state and the common wishes of regional countries, and can speak and act cautiously," the spokesman, Geng Shuang, told a regular briefing.

China started reclaiming the seven features in the Spratly islands immediately after the Philippines filed an arbitration case in the Hague in 2013, questioning its claims to almost the entire South China Sea.

The Philippines won the case in July but Duterte has said he wanted to avoid confrontation with China and saw no need to press it to abide by the ruling.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the strategic waterway, through which about $5 trillion worth of ship-borne goods pass every year. It is also believed to be rich in oil and gas.

How Will the Philippines’ Military Join Duterte’s Drug War?

From The Diplomat (Feb 23): How Will the Philippines’ Military Join Duterte’s Drug War?

Though it is certain to play a role, the specifics remain unclear.

On January 29, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his police chief Ronald dela Rosa announced the temporary suspension of the police’s role in the ongoing war on drugs following the high-profile kidnapping and killing of a South Korean businessman. After seven months and 7,600 deaths in the controversial campaign, some had hoped that this would lead to some soul-searching on the part of the Duterte government.

Instead, old hopes were quickly replaced by new fears. Duterte once again began publicly floating the idea of involving the military in the drug war, sparking worries about what exactly that would mean for civil-military relations in the Philippines and deepening suspicions about his commitment to democracy and human rights.

As with many of Duterte’s other proposals, the transition from rhetoric to reality has been far from smooth. In late January, Duterte suggested to a joint command conference the revival of the Philippine Constabulary (PC), an old law enforcement body that was a major service command of the country’s military along with the army, air force, and navy, before the country moved to a civilian police force in the 1990s after the fall of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Given that the PC had been notorious for its human rights abuses during the Marcos era, it was not surprising that the idea was greeted with some skepticism. Amid this concern, the call for specifics became even louder, with the defense ministry itself requesting that the president issue an executive order to serve as a legal, formal basis for troops to follow.

Since then, security officials have been signaling that the Philippine military will in fact at best play a supporting role as part of what Duterte has called a “narcotics command” headed by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). Most notably, in early February, PDEA director general Isidiro Lapena, the former police chief in Davao where Duterte was mayor for over two decades, said that troops would only be standing by to support PDEA agents in target areas where there are armed groups, rather than carrying out their own patrols and operations.

Though that had eased some worries about the role of the military in the drug war, it still left the question of what exactly a “supporting role” would be, in terms of specifics like numbers and responsibilities.

Over the weekend, we got some additional specifics about what this role would look like. Speaking in Baguio City, where Duterte had attended a military alumni homecoming, Philippine military chief General Eduardo Ano said that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was creating a task force and was ready to operate with the PDEA.

Ano added that the task force, which is yet to be created, would be “battalion size,” with a rather flexible number of up to 5,000 soldiers or as little as 500 depending on the threat. Elaborating on the nature of its role, he said that the focus would not be on independent raids, but assisting the police in going after “high-level drug syndicates,” as well as intelligence support and target packaging as needed.

How exactly all of this plays out, of course, remains to be seen. Ano said that while the military had been in conversation with the police even before Duterte had requested that it play a role in the drug war, it was still awaiting its executive order to formalize its role. That confused more than clarified, as it raised the prospect of the military playing some sort of informal role even before a formal order was issued.

Meanwhile, as this process is unfolding, the suggestion of a “battalion-sized” task force has been questioned by rights groups as well as critics of the president more broadly. For example, former president Fidel Ramos told reporters that small units in several places, rather than a whole battalion, could be sufficient for a successful war on drugs.

As is often the case with Duterte, the path from policy initiation to implementation looks to be a rather long and tortuous one. To his credit, at least on the drug war, the president appears to be realizing this is the case, which explains his decision to extent his ambitious six-month timeline to the end of his presidency.

NDF: NDF-Mindanao to release 6 POWs; AFP, PNP must cease offensive operations

Posted to the National Democratic Front Website (Feb 23): NDF-Mindanao to release 6 POWs; AFP, PNP must cease offensive operations

 Press Statement
23 February 2017

On behalf of the people’s democratic government, the National Democratic Front in Mindanao shall release the six (6) prisoners of war (POW) who were arrested earlier this year and are currently in the custody of the New People’s Army (NPA) in 4 separate regions in the island.

These releases, that will be promptly disclosed soon by the various regions, shall be carried out as a gesture of goodwill for the resumption of the peace talks. These are also in response to the request of the families and loved ones of the POWs, as well as to the call of various concerned sectors in society.

Both the NDF and NPA in Mindanao, acting on the call of the CPP, have already begun the process to facilitate the immediate and safe release of the following 6 POWs: 1. PFC Edwin Salan, captured in Alegria, Surigao del Norte on January 29; 2. Sgt. Solaiman Calucop and 3. Pfc Samuel Garay, captured in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat on February 2; 4. PO2 Jerome Natividad, captured in Talakag, Bukidnon on February 9; and, 5. Paramilitary Rene Doller and 6. Paramilitary Carl Mark Nucos, captured in Lupon, Davao Oriental on February 14.

The actual safe release of these abovementioned POWs however can only be realized if and when the AFP, the PNP and the Local Government Units (LGUs) give their full and undivided cooperation. The NDF-Mindanao, therefore, encourages GRP President Rodrigo Duterte, who himself is a veteran at facilitating POW releases, and the LGUs concerned to direct the AFP to implement a temporary suspension of military operations (SOMO), and the PNP, a suspension of police operations (SOPO), in areas which the NDF in the region concerned will specify and announce soon.

Both the SOMO and the SOPO will help expedite the safe release of the mentioned POWs. Without which, the lives of these POWs and those who will receive them will be put in danger, and, therefore, any manner of prisoner release becomes impossible.

We also encourage the families of the POWs, alongside various groups from the church, the academe, peace advocates and other concerned individuals and aggrupation, to make an appeal before President Duterte, for him to respond to this call positively to ensure that the POWs will be released safely and be once again locked in the embrace of their loved ones.

In earnest reply to the AFP’s dare to “just do it, release them”, the NDF-Mindanao says “yes we will” but only if the AFP, PNP and their troops fully cooperate by way of a SOMO and a SOPO and avoid acts of treachery that will bring harm to the POWs, their loved ones and the third party facilitators. If these conditions are satisfied, the release will push through. The ball is now in the AFP’s hands.#

Ka Joaquin Jacinto

MILF: Editorial -- BTC launching!

Editorial posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Feb 23): Editorial -- BTC launching!

At long last, the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) is going to be launched tomorrow in Davao City. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim led key personalities from government and MILF, respectively, in gracing the occasion. Members of the international community, as well as other sectors of society, are also attending.

As expected, this launching renews hope for the enactment of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which did not happen during the previous administration. This time there is so much time to do it; the Duterte administration is still in the first year of its six-year term; and his political capital is still at its highest mark. His allies control both chambers of Congress.

However, the best time to pass the BBL is during the first two or three years of the president’s term. Thereafter, this political capital is waning. This explains why President Benigno Aquino III failed to pass it during his time. The BBL was presented to Congress only towards the last quarter of 2014, less than two years of his remaining stay in office. Suddenly on January 25, 2015, the game changer exploded like a thunderbolt. Nobody expected it. This was the Mamasapano tragic incident that claimed the lives of 44 police commandoes, 17 MILF combatants, and five civilians. This tragedy provided the last nail that sealed the coffin of the BBL. The bloody incident effectively brought to the surface the biases, hatred, and prejudices of many non-Moros including many politicians, policy-makers, and members of the media. They all ganged up on the Moros, MILF, and BBL, as if the MILF was the aggressor in that bloody firefight.

The role of the BTC is very important. It has to craft and produce a new BBL (but still compliant to the GPH-MILF Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro). Moreover, it has to look for materials from other agreements, say the GRP-MNLF Final Agreement of 1996, R.A. 9054, and Indigenous People’s Rights Act, etc. to enhance and improve the proposed law. But these importations, if we may say, must not produce an incoherent law, because one cannot assemble elements that are not congruent with each other.

But in delivering the BBL, which is a unilateral responsibility of government, there is no mistaking that the president occupies the premier role in terms of power, influence, logistics; followed by Congress, both the Senate and the House; the Office of the President, which is composed of the various departments, offices, and agencies, especially the President Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), etc. The media must also cooperate and push for the BBL vigorously. All other sectors, although their push is also crucial, occupy the seats underneath. The nation must also endorse and ready for the national healing and reconciliation provided for by the enactment of the BBL.

The truth is that the BTC is just a tiny aspect of the OP, and can do not as much. But this is not to say that the BTC will leave some stone unturned. Like the previous BTC, which confronted all opportunities and odds head on, it is expected to repeat the “take-all approach”; or perhaps, even upping the ante. To do that, it has to operate and act as a single entity or body with one mission; i.e., to produce a BBL that is enhanced, improved, and owned by everyone as theirs.

Finally, when the BBL is presented to Congress, this august body should treat it as urgent bill and pass it without delay. More than that, it should enhance and improve it further, not diluting it, because the BBL is intended to solve the Bangsamoro Problem which the two parties patiently and protractedly addressed during their more than 17 years of hard and harsh negotiations. And this problem cannot be solved by passing a law lower than or at par with R.A. 9054 which serves as the law governing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

MILF: TJRC Calls on Peace Panels to Seize the Bangsamoro Opportunity

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Feb 23): TJRC Calls on Peace Panels to Seize the Bangsamoro Opportunity

In a speech delivered during the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission’s (TJRC) launch of two final and supplementary reports on land dispossession and the listening process on February 22, 2017 AT Camp Darapanan, Sultan, Kudarat, Maguindanao, TJRC Chair Mo Bleeker voiced the concerns of the communities that took part in their listening process.

“Over the past four decades, an untold number of people in Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago have experienced immense suffering. They have lost family members; they have been driven from their homes; they have lost their lands and livelihoods. They are poor and they are tired and they want peace now: not words about peace, but actions indicative of peace,” Bleeker explains speaking to an audience that includes the chair of the peace panels, representatives of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the international community, and Listening Process facilitators and community members.

The TJRC reports state the three mutually reinforcing phenomena of violence, impunity, and neglect contributes to the complexity of conflict in the lives of the Bangsamoro. However, as the consultations took place in over 200 communities, the Commission was surprised to find that rather than seeing these conditions as part of the Bangsamoro Problem, the people earnestly recognized the Bangsamoro Opportunity, emphasizing that peace could be made possible with enough political will and ground action by a wider set of stakeholders.

In submitting these reports, the TJRC completes its mandate and hands over its findings to the peace panels whose main task now is to respond constructively to the recommendations forwarded by the Commission. Among the key recommendations of the body is the establishment of an Independent National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission on the Bangsamoro (NTJRCB). This autonomous body shall be responsible for listening to the victims of the conflict, investigate serious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law, and enquire into specific events of the war; contributing to the resolution of outstanding land disputes in conflict-affected areas in the Bangsamoro and address the legacy of land dispossession with concrete measures to provide redress; engaging in the struggle against impunity by promoting accountability and strengthening the rule of law in relation to past and present wrongdoings, including crimes identified under the Rome Statute and under international conventions to which the Philippines is a signatory; promoting healing and reconciliation among the different communities affected by the conflict.

As dealing with the past is a whole of society endeavor, the TJRC likewise hopes that the future of the peace process involves effective collaboration between the government, the MILF, civil society and the Bangsamoro communities.

The first TJRC launch took place in Manila on 20 February 2017.

MILF: UBJP-Western Mindanao holds meeting to strengthen the organization, enhance their line of communication

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Feb 23): UBJP-Western Mindanao holds meeting to strengthen the organization, enhance their line of communication

In a bid to foster unity and achieve broader understanding among Bangsamoro Community leaders, the United Bangsamoro Moro Justice Party (UBJP) held meeting in the villages of Tulungatung and Sangali in Zamboanga City on February 19.

The meeting was also aimed at strengthening the organization and enhancing the line of communication between and among local community leaders in the city.

The meeting was initiated by Hadji Mahmud Estino, UBJP Vice President for Western Mindanao and Moro community leader Hadji Atiola Jamsuri.

Moro community Leaders Imam Akob Asta and Bapah Julsalin Morsalin hosted the meeting. It was facilitated by Mr. Rodolfo (IDOL) Cabrera and Mr. Darwin Isnani from Moro Non- Government Organization.

Heads of different line agencies, Bangsamoro Peace Advocates and Moro community leaders, Officers from Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) and United Youth for Peace and Development (UNYPAD) attended the meeting. They also provided some productive inputs.

In his wrapped-up message, Hadji Estino noted that leaders in communities must ensure the support of their constituents, provide openness in dialogue as well as putting value to everyone’s effort by adopting the practice of consultation and transparency in decision making.

Brother Phix from UNYPAD made a brief statement on the significance of unity stressing that it will strengthen the Bangsamoro aspiration towards Right to Self-Determination.

Brod Phix urged the community leaders to do away with tribalism and selfishness as they weaken the Moro stand particularly on Bangsamoro lingering issues. We are all in the same boat either sailing smoothly or gets sinking on the ocean floor and we will suffer the consequences.

Updates on Bangsamoro peace agreements and other related issues were delivered by Tirso Tahir of BLMI. He appealed to Moro Community leaders to sustain the gains of the painstaking and hard work peace negotiations between the GPH and the MILF.

“By continuing your peace advocacy and responsiveness in peace-building, you can contribute in advancing the Bangsamoro legitimate cause which has been deprived to us until now”, Tahir stressed.

MILF: MILF welcomes plan to create NTJRCB

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Feb 23): MILF welcomes plan to create NTJRCB

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) expressed its appreciation over the plan to create the National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission on the Bangsamoro (NTJRCB).

During the public of launch of reports on February 22 at the MILF’s Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, MILF Peace Implementing Panel Chairman Mohagher Iqbal said that they “truly appreciate and welcome” the statement of GPH Peace Implementing Panel Chairwoman Irene Santiago that the government of President Duterte will soon organize the NTJRCB.

Santiago, who was also present during the event, made the announcement earlier on Monday in Makati City and reiterated the same in the presence of MILF officials led by its Chairman Alhaj Murad Ebrahim.

The creation of the NTJRCB is the foremost recommendation made in the 125-page main Report of the TJRC which was turned over to the GPH and MILF Panels in February 2016 in Malaysia.

Wednesday’s public launch saw another turn-over of additional reports to both Panels by the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC). The two reports were called Land Report and Listening Process Report.

Chairman Ebrahim described the reports as “excellent” and expressed hope that they would serve their purposes.

Ebrahim even said that transitional justice and reconciliation are the “real solutions” to the Mindanao conflict.

“The work of the TJRC is like a doctor diagnosing a grave disease. Dealing with the past does not mean igniting emotions. But we have to know what really happened in the past to truly understand the conflict and cure the disease,” Ebrahim explained on why such a sensitive issue as transitional justice has been pursued by both the MILF and the government.

He said the Reports accomplished by the TJRC should be used in resolving the conflict.

Iqbal made a request to his counterpart in the GPH Panel that the MILF should be given the chance to participate in crafting the text of the executive order or law that would create the NTJRCB.

The TJRC, created by both parties in the Annex on Normalization, is tasked to "undertake a study and recommend to the Panels the appropriate mechanisms to address legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people, correct historical injustices, and address human rights violations and marginalization through land dispossession, towards healing and reconciliation."

It is headed by Dr. Mo Bleeker, special envoy of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. The MILF and GPH each have one nominee to the commission which would last up to the signing of the Exit Agreement.

MILF: UMCCI meets MILF Leadership

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Feb 23): UMCCI meets MILF Leadership

The United Moro Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (UMCCI), a group of young Moro Entrepreneurs in North Cotabato paid courtesy call with the MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in his office at Camp Darapanan, Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao last February 18, 2017.
The purpose of the meeting was to introduce and register the organization as a chamber composed solely of Moro entrepreneurs.

The group was delighted as they were challenged to assert further efforts in developing business economy in the community and strengthen the organization, undertake effective strategies to support the individual’s business among members.

“Some multi-national companies, banking institutions, foreign and local investors are looking for organized Moro entrepreneurs who have a well-established track record as credible business partners in venturing long term development investments in the Bangsamoro”, Chairman Al Haj Murad told the visiting entrepreneurs..

The Moro businessmen who made the courtesy visit were Jabib Guiabar, Datu Manzur Ebrahim, Engr.Halim Sandato, Engr. Royan Royod, Annie Murray-Sandato, Tahir Ampuan, and Toto Laguialaot.

Validation of PAMANA 2013-2014 projects conducted

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 23): Validation of PAMANA 2013-2014 projects conducted

More than P36 million worth of Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) projects of the Department of Agriculture-Regional Field Office 10 (DA-RFO 10) in Kauswagan town, Lanao del Norte was jointly validated by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), DA-RFO 10, Local Government Unit of Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte, Armed Forces of the Philippines 5th Mechanized Brigade, and the Municipal Philippine National Police on 15 February.

PAMANA is a national government program and framework for peace and development. The PAMANA program is implemented in conflict affected areas covered by existing peace agreement. One of its goals is to reduce poverty and vulnerability in conflict-affected areas through sustainable rural development, community infrastructure and focused delivery of social services.

The joint validation of PAMANA projects were conducted in response to the queries made by Pacasirang Batidor who claimed to be a former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Chairman in Poona Piagapo, Lanao del Norte. Batidor requested the DA to locate the P63.5 million worth of PAMANA projects implemented in the year 2013-2014and further questioned the delayed completion of these projects.

In a comprehensive cost and status report that was presented by DA-RFO 10 to Ranolfo Daligdig spokesperson of Batidor it reflects that only P36.5 million is allocated and not P63.5 million.

In addition, Field Operations Division Chief Carlota S. Madriaga emphasized that the process of releasing the fund of the project is through tranching wherein downloading of fund is not on a one-time basis. At least 70% physical accomplishment is required for the release of the second tranche.

MNLF Commander of Barangay Delabayan, Kauswagan, Nazir Manalao, the beneficiary of the projects that was put on question, confirmed that they had received the PAMANA projects and there were no reasons for them to validate further since the project is visible in their barangay.

After the validation, it was sighted that most of the PAMANA projects of 2013-2014 were completed and others are on their final tranche. The LGU committed to complete the remaining projects on April, 2017.

VALOR Battalion welcomes new Commanding Officer

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 24): VALOR Battalion welcomes new Commanding Officer

Fresh from his latest assignment in Minadanao as commanding officer of the 65th Infantry Battalion, Col. Joselito P. Pastrana formally took the reign as the new chief of the 22nd Infantry (Valor) Battalion (CAFGU) based in Barangay Caroyroyan, here.

In a simple but fitting Change of Command ceremony held Monday. February 13 at the 22nd Infantry Battalion, outgoing Col. Michael M. Buhat also officially relinquished his post to assume his new assignment as Chief of the 9th ID Governance and Strategy Management Office.

Maj. Gen. Manolito P. Orense, 9th Infantry Division Commander personally led the Change of Command Ceremony and commended the two officials for their exemplary contribution in the AFP’s campaign to ensure a peaceful society.

“I am confident that Col. Pastrana will be able to lead he battalion with his expertise in management. Joey is a good manager and a good commander.  You don’t need to be a warrior to effectively lead your people. What is important is you have a managerial acumen, initiative, persistence and good relationship with your people,” Orense said in an interview.

Orense personally awarded the Award of the Military Merit Medal to Col. Buhat in recognition of his meritorious and valuable services rendered as Commanding Officer of the Valor Battalion. Under his stint as head of the team, Buhat successfully managed the operational and administrative activities involving the Battalion all over the Bicol Region.

He and his men greatly contributed in the success of the over-all conduct of the internal peace and security operations in the region. He led his men in expediting the reconstruction of the unit’s facilities including the officer’s barracks, communication tower, mess hall, motor pool, multi-purpose and other vital structures and facilities which were damaged when typhoon Nina poured her wrath in the Camarines area.

Pastrana enjoined 22nd IB members to give him the same support that they have extended to Buhat emphasizing the great role of camaraderie and cooperation in the success of their goal towards the attainment of peace in the country.

Although he will be handling the CAFGUs for the first time, Pastrana is confident that they will be able to achieve their fight for a lasting peace with the unconditional support of all the stakeholders.

Prior to his deployment in Mindanao, Pastrana served as  Battalion Commander of of 42nd IB based in Mabalod-balod, Tigaon, Camarines Sur and handled the 9th Civil- Miltary Operations (CMO) Battalion based in Bicol.

Navy foils Abu Sayyaf piracy attempt off Tawi-Tawi

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): Navy foils Abu Sayyaf piracy attempt off Tawi-Tawi

Sea patrols of Naval Forces Western Mindanao foiled another Abu Sayyaf Group attempt to attack a Panamian-flagged merchant vessel passing off Tawi-Tawi waters last Feb. 22.

In a statement Friday, NFWM head Admiral Rene Medina said the attempt took place around 10 a.m.
He added the M/V Dong Hae Star, which was passing the Sulu Sea on its way to Indonesia, transmitted a distress call to Littoral Monitoring Station in Bongao after noticing that suspicious looking speedboats with armed men were pursuing them as they were passing off Pearl Bank in Tawi-Tawi.

More patrol boats were deployed to the area, scaring the bandits, who all then fled to an unknown direction.

Medina said LMS Bongao continue to monitor said vessel while transiting the area even as Navy ships under Joint Task Force Tawi-Tawi continue to patrol the area.

ASG weapon, assorted war materiel seized in Sulu ops

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): ASG weapon, assorted war materiel seized in Sulu ops

As the military intensifies its operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Western Mindanao Command (WMC) operatives have recovered a high-powered firearm and assorted war materiel during clearing operations in Sulu Thursday morning.

Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, WMC spokesperson, in a statement Friday, said the incident took place 9:30 a.m. in Barangay Paligi, Indanan town, of the said province.

Recovered by troops of the 16th Infantry Battalion were an M-16A1 Armalite rifle with eight magazines and 123 rounds of ammunition; two hammocks; a pair of combat boots; and a bandoleer belonging to the bandits.

“The recent seizure only proves that the Abu Sayyaf members are hiding their armaments because their corridors have already been narrowed,” WMC head Major General Carlito G. Galvez, Jr., said.

“They are guising as civilians to evade government forces and civilians who report their whereabouts," he added.

Zamboanga mayor joins call to reactivate militia force

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Feb 23): Zamboanga mayor joins call to reactivate militia force

MAYOR Maria Isabel Climaco-Salazar has joined the snowballing calling of local chief executives all over Mindanao for the return of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) to assist the police and military in the maintenance of peace and security, especially in crime-prone areas.

Salazar said all governors and mayors in Mindanao echoed the call for the return of Cafgu during the meeting of the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) chairpersons and vice-chairpersons Mindanao Cluster last February 15 in Sultan Kudarat.

Salazar, who chairs the RPOC for Zamboanga Peninsula said, for her part, that Zamboanga City needs the Cafgu to help the military secure the national highways, especially the Marangan-Muti stretch in the east coast of the city that has been prone to ambush and strafing incidents.

Last week, eight people were injured when a group of unidentified gunmen ambushed a passenger bus of the Rural Transit Management, Incorporated along the stretch of Marangan-Muti area.

 The incident occurred a day before the RPOC gathering in Sultan Kudarat.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines, however, has yet to assess the necessity of Cafgu’s return as it is under its operational control and supervision.

Grenade explosion kills 1, injures 3 teens

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Feb 22): Grenade explosion kills 1, injures 3 teens

A student died while three of his classmates were injured after playing with a grenade that exploded in a village in Zamboanga del Sur on Wednesday, February 22.
Philippine Army 53rd Infantry Battalion Commander Virgilio Hamos Jr. said the incident happened around 7:20 a.m. in the Comprehensive National High School located in the village of Poblacion, Lakewood, Zamboanga del Sur.
Hamos identified the fatality as Rodulfo Halius, 17. He died while undergoing medical treatment. Wounded were Jonny Daluyon, 13; Alona Fe Cabral, 14; and Treshea Mae Calmonte, 13. They were brought to the Provincial Medical Center in Pagadian City. Hamos said Daluyon is reported to be in critical condition.
 According to investigation, Daluyon brought the m203 cartridge grenade to their school from Mount Serungan, Lakewood. Hamos said Daluyon and his classmates played, tinkered and buried the grenade before they went home Tuesday afternoon.
“As far as the information we received from 53rd Infantry Battalion, the m203 cartridge was brought by a student from Mt. Serungan, February 21, but buried it for safekeeping,” Philippine Army 1st Infantry Tabak Division Public Affairs Office Chief Benedicto Manquiquis said.
 “However they dug out the cartridge and played it again and exploded in front of the school building. The wounded students were brought immediately to the nearby Barangay Baking Health Center but later the four students were evacuated in one of the hospitals in Pagadian City,” he added.
Manquiquis said the M203 cartridge might belong to the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels who were on the run during the encounter with the 53rd Infantry Battalion on February 18 in Lakewood where a 16-year-old child warrior was killed. The body was retrieved by relatives a day after the incident.
“I urged the parents to check the activities of their school children if they are really in school. If they are out of school, the parents should take proper guidance to their children for might be recruited as NPA child warrior or be a member of the lawless elements operating the area,” he said.
He said “recruiting minors to join in an armed group is against the law.”
“In case any civilian who might find an improvised explosive device, unexploded cartridge of any kind of ammunition, we urge them to report immediately to proper authorities to prevent the same occurrence of explosion that may damage lives and properties,” Manquiquis added.

‘Top NPA’ leader apprehended in Southern Tagalog

From the Business Mirror (Feb 23): ‘Top NPA’ leader apprehended in Southern Tagalog

THE military has captured a top leader of the New People’s Army (NPA) accused of large-scale extortions and atrocities in Southern Tagalog, including the raid at the posh Pico de Loro resort in Nasugbu, Batangas.

Major Gen. Rhoderick Parayno, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division (ID), identified the arrested NPA leader as Ernesto Samarita, alias Mel, secretary of the NPA’s Guerilla Unit-3, Southern Tagalog Regional Party Committee and head of the finance committee of the STRPC.

Samarita is believed to be an alternate member of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) Central Committee operating in Cavite, Batangas, Laguna and Central Quezon provinces.

He is the third highest in the NPA’s STRPC and headed the Tactical Center of the Second Congress of the CPP’s Central Committee held in Mindanao only in January.

Parayno said Samarita was arrested by elements of the 730th Combat Group of the Air Force while on combat operation along Barangay Munting Indang in Nasugbu at around 3 a.m. on Tuesday.

“The troops noticed a roll of detonating cord, which is an explosive part or component, protruding from the unzipped part of the belt bag that the subject was wearing,” said Capt. Xy-zon Meneses, information officer of the 2nd ID.

“When asked why he is in a possession of an explosive detonating cord, instead of answering, he turned his back and tried to escape. However, he was ably prevented by the troops,” he said.

Initially, Meneses said Samarita introduced himself as Jojomar Dimayacyac of San Pablo City, Laguna, to Laureano Bauyon, chairman of Barangay Munting Indang. Further verification led to the discovery the arrested person was Samarita.

Samarita yielded about nine meters of detonating cord and blasting cap.

AFP declares Sorsogon ‘development ready’ after containing insurgency

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 23): AFP declares Sorsogon ‘development ready’ after containing insurgency
OSLOB WHALE SHARK/JAN 4,2012: Marine biologist Mario Marababol (left)  of Ocean Care dives to watch the Oslob’s whale sharks.(CDN PHOTO/TONEE DESPOJO)

Beating back the communist insurgency in Sorsogon will be a big boost to its tourism industry. Photo shows the province’s premier travel feature: whale watching. (CDN PHOTO/TONEE DESPOJO)
Armed Forces of the Philippines has announced it has reduced the communist insurgency in Sorsogon to a point that the conflict has become manageable and that the entire province can now welcome bigger development projects to pursue economic progress and eliminate poverty.

The AFP declared the entire Sorsogon as “conflict manageable and development ready” when it came to its counter-insurgency progress, during a ceremony Wednesday.

The ceremony, which was held at the provincial gymnasium, was witnessed by Major General Manolito Orense, commanding officer of Philippine Army’s 9th Infantry Division; Lieutenant Colonel Randy Espino, commander of the 31st Infantry Battalion; and Police Senior Superintendent Ronaldo Cabral, Sorsogon police director, with Sorsogon’s local government officials.

“The declaration of Sorsogon as conflict manageable and development ready is attributed to government forces (who)… have achieved substantial gains against threat groups (CNN or the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front politico-military organizations and other support systems),” said Cabral. He added that the number of rebels in the province has been significantly “reduced.”

According to Cabral, there are 30 armed rebels in the province and that they import fighters from other fronts in their tactical offensives.

Economic development can now take place in Sorsogon, Cabral said.

Sorsogon Governor Robert Lee Rodriguez said the AFP declaration would surely boost tourism in the province.

Sorsogon is the fifth province in Bicol to have gained the AFP declaration after Albay, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte and Catanduanes.

Editorial: Govt is right to set its own conditions for peace talks with Reds

From the Manila Times (Feb 24): Editorial: Govt is right to set its own conditions for peace talks with Reds

THE situation has changed in the on-again, off-again peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), New People’s Army, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF).

In the past, the talks fell through because of the conditions set by the communist side for negotiations to proceed.

At the last reckoning, the talks were abandoned because of the Left’s insistence that government release first some 400 communist rebels in custody.

This was subsequently followed by the decision of the NPA to junk its unilateral ceasefire with the armed forces starting February 10.

To this, and following NPA attacks on AFP patrols and units, President Duterte responded by cancelling peace negotiations that were scheduled to take place on February 22 to 25 in the Netherlands.

Thus, the talks were brought to a standstill.

As third parties and mediators have worked to revive the negotiations, the Philippine government has perceptibly modified its once passive stance in the talks.

Now, government is setting conditions for the resumption of the negotiations. Through presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella, Malacañang has announced four conditions for the communist side to consider, namely:

1) A stop to the collection of revolutionary taxes and extortion activities by the insurgents;

2) A stop to ambushes of government troops by the NPA;

3) A stop to the burning of property by the NPA; and

4) A stop to provocative and hostile actions by communist insurgents.

This new, tough-minded position has been received with great interest across the entire country. It will enjoy wide public support, because local communities and many private businesses have long been complaining about the extortion activities perpetrated by communist insurgents, which have done much damage to economic activities. It is derogation of Philippine sovereignty for certain areas of the country to be subjected to revolutionary taxation. We want to state here our position that the peace negotiations should be earnestly revived and resumed by both sides. We believe further that each side should be prepared to adjust its position for the sake of reaching an agreement and forging a just and lasting peace.

It is evident that talks have stalled because of mutual suspicions of both sides, and the fears of each that it will be disadvantaged by being conciliatory.

We believe the impasse can be broken if both sides will approach the talks with a new perspective, and minus the old, set positions that proved unbridgeable.

Both sides should be wiser from the difficulties and misunderstandings that have occurred. The important thing now is for both sides to keep talking, and work hard to still the guns. It may be a cliché, but talk truly is a bridge.

SAF monument inaugurated in Benguet

From the Sun Star-Baguio (Feb 22): SAF monument inaugurated in Benguet

BAGUIO. SAF battalion commander Superintendent Mario Mayam-es Jr. joins town officials during the unveiling of the SAF monument inside Lepanto National High School, whose three alumni were killed during Mamasapano incident. (Elamae Membrere)

WEEKS after the second anniversary of the tragic Mamasapano incident in Maguindanao, the Special Action Force 2nd Battalion, together with Lepanto National High School, inaugurated a monument honoring the gallant SAF 44 on Tuesday.

Installed inside the mini park of Lepanto National High School, the monument honors three sons of the school who perished in the bloody encounter.

The three are SPO1 Noel Golocan (batch 1998), PO2 Noble Kiangan (batch 2003) and PO1 Angel Kodiamat (batch 2005).

Battalion Commander Superintendent Mario Mayam-es Jr. said they have initiated the building of the monument to pay tribute to the memories and immortalize the heroism of their colleagues and honor the supreme sacrifice they have made.

Survivor PO3 Christopher Lalan, after sharing his testimony, encouraged the young generation to emulate what the brave SAF troops has done for the country.

Relatives of the SAF 44 thanked all those who made the construction of the monument possible in remembering the sacrifices of these fallen heroes and the survivors.

A candle lighting and offering of flowers also concluded the wreath laying ceremony attended by families, relatives, friends and students.

Other survivors present were PO3 Adolfo Andrada, PO3 Solomon Agayso, PO3 Jose Mana-ar, PO3 Anson Pasot, PO3 Ard Dulnuan, and PO3 Dominick Lukingan. Mayam-es, who hails from Bauko, Mountain Province, said the effort is a collaboration of SAF troopers who pitched in for the construction of the monument.

 “Next, we will reach out to Tabdi’s family in La Trinidad, others will follow,” added Mayam-es.

Frustrated murder charges filed in Hilongos bombing

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 23): Frustrated murder charges filed in Hilongos bombing

Camp Kangleon, Palo, Leyte – Police filed multiple frustrated murder charges against the suspect in the bombing in Hilongos, Leyte, that injured 32 people last December 28.

Chief Supt. Elmer C. Beltejar, Eastern Visayas police chief, confirmed on Thursday the filing of the charges against Jake Anthony Macuto, said to be a member of the Maute Group.

Beltejar said three other suspects were charged with Macuto.

A crowd was watching an amateur boxing fight at the Rizal Plaza during the town fiesta when two explosions rocked the place.

Beltejar said an investigating team was still trying to identify Macuto’s three companions.

The police urged the public to report any suspicious persons and items and help the police and other law enforcement agencies by providing information that will lead to the identification and arrest of the suspects.

How civilians are being dragged into Duterte’s war against Abu Sayyaf

From Southeast Asia Globe (Feb 23): How civilians are being dragged into Duterte’s war against Abu Sayyaf

The Duterte regime is boasting of its successes in the fight against Abu Sayyaf extremists, but its tactics may be punishing innocent civilians just as much as the terrorist group

Orders to destroy: Philippine soldiers prepare to carry out a raid on Abu Sayyaf insurgents in Sulu province

Orders to destroy: Philippine soldiers prepare to carry out a raid on Abu Sayyaf insurgents in Sulu province. Photo: AFP/MARK NAVALES

As the propeller plane descended into the Philippine city of Zamboanga, the man in the seat next to mine revealed that his cousin is a member of Abu Sayyaf, the most feared terrorist group in the island nation. “It’s complicated,” he said. “A lot of people around here support them.”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs has received global media coverage – and, indeed, condemnation – but here, in the southernmost region of the country, Duterte is also at war with Abu Sayyaf.

The group, which is blacklisted by the US and responsible for a spate of kidnappings and bomb attacks in the Philippines, is based on two islands in the southernmost waters of the Philippines: Sulu and Basilan.

More than 10,000 government soldiers have been sent to the islands, located south of mainland Mindanao, since Duterte came to power. In September, the outspoken strongman vowed to “destroy” Abu Sayyaf, pledging he would “eat them alive”. Yet amid the tough words, there are concerns that the military operation against Abu Sayyaf is having limited impact and may be harming civilians as much as it hurts Abu Sayyaf.

Sheikh Gustaham Loderson, a Muslim religious leader from Sulu, said it is the people of Sulu who are suffering in the military operation. Speaking from his office in Zamboanga, a stone’s throw from the city’s seafront which looks over a calm expanse of water to Basilan, he told Southeast Asia Globe: “People are suffering because, let’s say during harvest time when there are fruits and coconuts, they want to harvest, but the military is holding operations. They are not allowed to go back [to their land].”

Gustaham, who works as a consultant for NGOs, said the tactics of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) – ordering civilians out of an area where Abu Sayyaf is thought to be operating and then shelling suspected Abu Sayyaf positions – is not effective.

“Abu Sayyaf does not have a permanent camp,” he said. “They just move from place to place. It is not easy for the military to catch them.”

Mark Bidder, head of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Philippines, agreed that it is civilians who are suffering most. “Suddenly they find themselves in the middle of a security operation, the danger of being caught in the crossfire, the trauma of having to flee their homes, the concerns they would have about their own loved ones who they might not be able to contact,” he said.

As of September 2016, approximately 32,000 people had been displaced on Sulu and Basilan by clashes between Abu Sayyaf and the AFP. The Philippine government and NGOs such as the International Committee of the Red Cross are coordinating to provide humanitarian assistance to the internally displaced persons.

“The main plan, why they deployed 10,000 soldiers, was to isolate Abu Sayyaf so they cannot carry out kidnappings,” Gustaham said. “There’s 10,000 soldiers, but there are still kidnappings happening.”

Kidnappings are certainly big business for Abu Sayyaf, whose name means ‘Bearer of the Sword’. A confidential government report, seen by the Associated Press in October, said the group received $7.3m in ransoms in the first six months of last year.

The report also said Abu Sayyaf had changed its kidnapping tactics in recent months. With the influx of soldiers into Sulu and Basilan restricting the group’s movements, the extremists are reported to be favouring the tactic of targeting slow-moving cargo ships.

In November, the group launched a dawn raid on a Vietnamese cargo ship. Ten gunmen boarded the ship from speedboats and seized six hostages. In December, the group demanded $2m for the release of five Malaysian sailors it had been holding on Sulu for five months.

Since President Duterte came to power at the end of June, there have been at least nine reported kidnapping attacks by Abu Sayyaf, with at least 25 people abducted. Sabina Wetch, a German national, was shot dead by the militants in one such raid in November, and her partner, Jürgen Kantner, was taken hostage.

According to Gustaham, though the people of Sulu may disapprove of Abu Sayyaf’s tactics, they are not behind the Philippine military either. “This activity of kidnappings and beheadings, the people do not support that,” he said, “but because of family ties they also keep silent.”

President Rodrigo Duterte (right) shakes hands with a Norwegian hostage who was released by Abu Sayyaf in Sulu in September

Set free: President Rodrigo Duterte (right) shakes hands with a Norwegian hostage who was released by Abu Sayyaf in Sulu in September. Photo: REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr

Abu Sayyaf is a splinter group of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), breaking away in 1991 under its leader Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani because it disagreed with the policy of pursuing greater autonomy, instead wanting to establish an independent Islamic state. In 2016, Abu Sayyaf pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (Isis).

Gustaham said that, though the MNLF and Abu Sayyaf are separate entities, and MNLF has said it supports the Philippine government in the war against Abu Sayyaf, there are still strong family ties between members of the MNLF, civilians and Abu Sayyaf on Sulu.

But there are also concerns that people on Sulu and Basilan are not just staying quiet, but also being driven to join Abu Sayyaf’s ranks.

“The civilian economy is affected,” said Gustaham. “They are working agricultural land, but they cannot do it now [because of military operations]. It will even contribute to the violence, because if people have no jobs and, because of the ransoms, Abu Sayyaf has its own money, then they can [find it easier to] recruit.”

The displacement is exacerbating what is already an insecure situation. The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which includes Sulu and Basilan, is the poorest region in the Philippines, with 56% of the population living in poverty as of December 2015, according to the UN. And Sulu, in particular, is the second-poorest province across the whole of the Philippines, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

According to Bidder, there are concerns that such poverty is feeding into increasing support for Abu Sayyaf, especially among the youth of Sulu and Basilan.

“These are communities that have been frustrated, perhaps, by the lack of progress over the years, particularly in terms of dealing with the age-old issues: challenges of underdevelopment; lack of jobs; lack of opportunities,” he said. “And there is some sense that with the youth, without a concrete hope for a better future, there would perhaps be a tendency of going towards more extreme ways of thinking and acting.”

Many locals also perceive that their area and its people have historically been oppressed. Under the Philippines’ former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, atrocities were allegedly committed against the Muslims of the southern Philippines, including the ‘Jabidah massacre’ – the killing of a number of Muslim army recruits – and the razing of Sulu’s capital, Jolo, by the Philippine Army in 1973. Indeed, it was under Marcos’ dictatorship that the MNLF emerged, and the organisation has fought the Philippine government since the 1970s for greater autonomy but is now engaged in peace negotiations.

Kalma Isnain, executive director at local NGO Integrated Resource Development for Tri-people, said the history of violence in Mindanao, and particularly on Sulu and Basilan, means that recruitment by Abu Sayyaf has become normalized.

Providing relief: the Philippines Red Cross distributes aid packages in Basilan in July 2016. Photo: David Doyle

“The tension is already there, and the children are the ones most affected,” she said. “For the locals it is normal because it is non-stop. These children, they have nothing to do with their lives, so they will join.”

Gustaham agrees, but linked the situation to a general feeling of distrust toward the military in this Muslim region of an overwhelmingly Catholic country. “When you bring Christians to Muslim lands then some people will say it is a crusade,” he said.

The Philippine government, however, maintains it is making progress against Abu Sayyaf. Former AFP chief General Ricardo Visayas – who stepped down in December – submitted a report in November which stated that in the first 100 days of Duterte’s government 94 Abu Sayyaf militants had been killed, arrested or had surrendered. The AFP has also said that Abu Sayyaf currently has 350 active members.

“Key [Abu Sayyaf] leaders Nelson Muktadil, Braun Muktadil and sub-leader Mohammad Said were among the terrorists killed and bodies recovered in intense combat and ensuing search and retrieval operations,” the report said.

But the military has also sustained losses. It has not released figures of the number of soldiers killed in the campaign against Abu Sayyaf, though media reports put the figure at at least 29.

Since his threats of cannibalism in September, Duterte has taken a more conciliatory tone. At the end of November, he said he would be willing to talk to the group, and in December he even wished them a “Merry Christmas”.

In the same month, the Philippines’ Department of Agriculture also said the government and some of the country’s biggest companies were ready to pour investment into Sulu in a bid to alleviate poverty and counter extremism.

In 2017, the people of Sulu and Basilan will be hoping that negotiation and investment will succeed where bullets and shells have thus far failed.

Surge In Offshore Abductions Increases Threat to Supply Chains

From Global Trade (Feb 23): Surge In Offshore Abductions Increases Threat to Supply Chains

Southern Sulu and Northern Celebes Seas Are the Hot Spots

Abductions are disruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuushipments of export cargo and import cargo in international trade.

MORATORIUM ON COAL TRANSPORTS FROM INDONESIA TO THE PHILIPPINES: Ongoing fears of crew abductions call into question security of crews on tankers and cargo ships transiting between Australia and North Asia.

The Philippines-based Islamist extremist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) has been responsible for a surge in offshore abductions in the southern Sulu and northern Celebes Seas over the last 12 months. The group kidnapped more than 50 foreign victims in more than 20 separate attacks during 2016, compared with five known foreign victims in 2015.

The change in kidnapping tactics by the ASG has significantly impacted the number of incidents recorded. Between February and September, ASG kidnappers exclusively targeted local fishing vessels and tugs, exploiting the relative lack of on board security measures to successfully abduct crew members. From October, Control Risks recorded a notable increase in the targeting of general cargo vessels, bulk carriers and chemical tankers.

When compared with February to September, kidnapping rates tripled in frequency between October and December. This surge in maritime attacks is significant and has started to affect regional supply chains.

A temporary moratorium was imposed on coal transports from Indonesia to the Philippines amid ongoing fears of crew abductions, while the security of crew on tankers and cargo ships transiting between Australia and North Asia has also been called into question.

“The regional governments and the shipping industry were understandably quite unprepared for this sudden change in the security environment, and many thought it was a fleeting trend,” said Sebastian Villyn, Maritime Risk Analyst at Control Risks. “However, recent successes have emboldened the kidnapping group, and we can see that it’s impacting the wider supply chain. Some vessels sailing from Australia to East Asia are now rerouting to avoid the area. Indonesia’s moratorium on coal transports to the Philippines has been revised, but continues to apply to vessels of a certain size.”

Editorial: AFP in all-out drive vs Abu Sayyaf, IS cohorts

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 24): Editorial: AFP in all-out drive vs Abu Sayyaf, IS cohorts


So many issues demand the new administration’s attention but it must not lose sight of one problem that lies at the center of peace and development in Mindanao – the jihadist groups trying to establish an Islamic State (IS) base in the southwestern part of the island.

Military sources said the core group is the Abu Sayyaf, which has been joined by dozens of Indonesians, Malaysians, and Arabs from the Middle East. Two weeks ago, the Armed Forces, in an artillery attack followed by gunbattles on the ground, engaged the group in an area near Butig, Lanao del Sur, and one Indonesian was reported killed.

Military operations are now underway in Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, and Sulu, Gen. Eduardo Ano, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said. Fourteen battalions of government troops are engaged in a search-and-destroy campaign. The AFP, he said expects to defeat the Abu Sayyaf in six months.

For years the Abu Sayyaf has carried out its operations in Mindanao, kidnapping many foreigners, holding them for ransom, and beheading them if their families fail to deliver. Only a few days ago, the Abu Sayyaf came out with a video showing a German hostage, vowing to kill him if P30-million ransom is not paid by February 26.

The video showed the German, Jurgen Kantner, pleading for his life, in the same way previous foreign hostages had pleaded for their lives. Two Canadians – John Ridsdel and Robert Hall – were killed in April and June, 2016, seven months after they were kidnapped from a resort island in the Davao Gulf. Their companions – a Filipina and a Norwegian – were freed soon afterwards and police sources said the Abu Sayyaf got P30 million for the Norwegian.

The February 26 deadline is just two days away. We will soon know if the military campaign against the Abu Sayyaf and its jihadist allies from Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Middle East has them on the run after two months of operations. Or shall we have another foreign victim of the Abu Sayyaf, who continue to defy all efforts to eliminate them and are even gaining adherents from various parts of the world?

We continue to hope that the Armed Forces with its 14 battalions will be able to force the Abu Sayyaf and their jihadist cohorts out of their bases in Mindanao. We cannot allow the Philippines to be the next site of Islamic State operations after Syria and Iraq.

COMMENT: Good! Enough? In All Honesty … (2)

Commentary by Patricio P. Diaz posted to the MindaViews section of MindaNews (Feb 23):  COMMENT: Good! Enough? In All Honesty …  (2)

Contrary to the original plan, not all MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front)  factions are represented in the New BTC. In its “Recasting the Bangsamoro Transition Commission”, the BPDR provides: “To be composed of representatives from MILF, MNLF, ARMM, Indigenous Peoples, Sultanates, LGUs and other sectors.” Only the MNLF-Sema group or MNLF Council of the 15 is represented in the New Bangsamoro Transition Commision (BTC) — three of the ten Government appointees. It is not clear if any of the other seven represents the Sultanates.

The MNLF Alonto and Habib Hashim (MNLF Command Council) groups are not represented. Founding Chairman Nur Misuari refused to join the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)-led New BTC; granted by President Duterte, his group will have a separate talk with the Government. This will have worrisome consequences.

Bangsamoro unity will continue to be elusive. Abul Khayr Alonto, acknowledged chair of the MNLF-Alonto group who had been more open than Muslimin Sema in declaring support for the BBL will feel alienated. As the Hashim and other splinter groups still recognize Misuari as the ultimate MNLF leader, Misuari’s refusal to join the New BTC will radically alter the course and fate of the nearly-realized quest for the Bangsamoro – in the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, “Autonomy for the Muslims in Southern Philippines”.

The GPH-MNLF Peace Talks

How will the separate peace talk between the Duterte Government and the Misuari MNLF complicate the fulfillment of the Bangsamoro and put in question Secretary Dureza’s assurance that the New BTC will come up with a Bangsamoro basic law “for a genuine political autonomy for the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao”?

Media reports, citing or quoting statements that can be considered “official”, reveal some relevant situations:

First: The government and MNLF panels led by Nabil Tan and Randolph Parcasio, respectively, have not yet held a formal meeting (MindaNews, 2/10/17: GPH, MILF…; The Philippine Star 2/13/17: Government, MNLF to resume talks ). Only during such meetings will the panels be able to (1) set their timeframe, (2) determine the mode of negotiation, (3) agree on the talking points, and (4) formulate the negotiation guidelines and protocols — in sum, the negotiation agenda.

Second: The MNLF wants to negotiate for the full implementation of the 1996 FPA. This suggests the resumption of the 2007-2016 MNLF-GRP-OIC Tripartite Review called and facilitated by the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (formerly, Conference) of the 1996 FPA.

Third: The MNLF demands will be confined to (1) governance, (2) wealth sharing, and (3) territory — the three issues still unresolved when the Review closed in January 2016. Obviously, the three when resolved will be incorporated with the Review’s 42 consensus points in a draft bill to strengthen the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Relevant Questions

Of the “First”: When will the negotiation agenda be ready? Can the MNLF-Misuari draft bill be submitted to the Congress together with that of the New BTC?

The Congress will be ultimately tasked to consolidate the New BTC and MNLF-Misuari draft bills. Will the legislation on Bangsamoro not be suspended should the two draft bills not be submitted together?

The timeline is for the Bangsamoro basic law to be enacted during the Second Session of the 17th Congress, establish the Bangsamoro Transition Government in July 2018 and have the regular officials of the Bangsamoro elected in the May 2019 election. Will the suspension of or delay in the legislation not upset this timeline at the risk of putting off AGAIN the establishment of the Bangsamoro?    

On the “Second”: Separate from the New BTC, the negotiation will be outside of the mandates of EO 08 and the BPDR. Will it adopt the “Review” mode and procedure? Will the OIC be involved? Will the Tan- and Parcasio-led implementing panels negotiate and draft the proposed amendments to RA No. 9054?   

Of the “Third”: The issues on governance and territory eluded resolution until the end of the seven-year Review. The same issues threatened to scuttle the 1996 FPA; however, President Fidel V. Ramos’ “win-win” solution broke the impasse – a solution that turned unsatisfactory, hence, reviving the issues. Will the issues be put to rest by Duterte? Tan and Parcasio both participated in the Review. Will their experience make the difference?

The MNLF-Misuari draft bill will amend R.A. No. 9054 to strengthen and retain the ARMM; that of the New BTC will abolish it. How can the Congress reconcile the two drafts – one for abolition, changing the presidential-unitary type of government of the autonomy to the ministerial-parliament-asymmetrical; the other, the exact opposite?  Will this not give the legislators the excuse to write a substitute bill the Moros will reject?

The MNLF and MILF 40 years ago were one in negotiating the 1976 Tripoli Agreement for the establishment of the “Autonomy for the Muslims in Southern Philippines” which was granted. Unfortunately, their split due to personal and fundamental differences, to a large extent, stalled the full and genuine implementation of the Autonomy.

Now, the Autonomy, through their separate negotiations with the Philippine government, is about to attain that. Why can’t their leaders – founding Chair Misuari and those of the MILF – set aside their differences, decide between the ARMM and the Bangsamoro as the full and genuine implementation of the “Autonomy for the Muslims in Southern Philippines” and REUNITE?  Their refusal to is most disheartening to see.

(Tomorrow: Not that Simple)

COMMENT: Good! Enough? In All Honesty … (1)

Commentary by Patricio P. Diaz posted to the MindaViews section of MindaNews (Feb 23): COMMENT: Good! Enough? In All Honesty … (1)

President Rodrigo R. Duterte finally ordered the much-awaited release of the names of the 21 members of the New BTC (Bangsamoro Transition Commission) last February 9 – three months and two days after he issued on November 7, 2016 of Executive Order No. 08, s. 2016 that reconstituted the BTC under the Aquino III administration. (MindaNews and OPAPP Website, 2/10/17)

The GPH and MILF implementing panels will launch the New BTC in Davao City in “the last weekend of February”  (the launch has been scheduled for February 24 in Davao City – ed) giving the body four months and three weeks to re-draft the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) into the BEL (Bangsamoro Enabling Law). Set for submission to the 17th Congress in July 2017, the President must have the draft when he delivers his second State of the Nation Address on July 24.

MindaNews and OPAPP quoted Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza stating that the release of the appointment papers “will signal the start of the work to come up with an inclusive Bangsamoro law that will truly reflect and address the clamor for a genuine political autonomy for the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao.”

The “clamor” refers to the political settlement embodied in the FAB (Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro) and its four Annexes that were consolidated into the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro) together with other key agreements signed during the 17-year negotiation (1997-2014) of the Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. BBL or BEL has to be CAB-compliant.

The “work to come up with an inclusive Bangsamoro law” refers to “convergence”, a process of consolidating with the CAB the GRP-MNLF 1996 Final Peace Agreement, R.A. No.9054 and the Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1995 as mandated in Duterte’s Bangsamoro Peace and Development Roadmap (BPDR).

Can the New BTC accomplish its task in four months and three weeks starting March including time for organizing?

Plus Factors

There are favorable circumstances that can be of much help to the New BTC.

Capable New BTC members: The New BTC members must have been chosen for their capability, professionalism and dedication. Six of the eleven MILF members are carry-overs from the first BTC. The five others and all the ten Government appointees are new but they are most dedicated to the Moro and the Minority Cause and they know well the Problem and its roots. All the Moro members must have been active participants in the Moro liberation movement since the 1960’s.

To offset the time-constraint, MILF Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal, still BTC member but no longer its chair, told MindaNews (MN 2/10/17: GPH, MILF peace panels set date for BTC launch but who will take oath?) that the New BTC can have “twice monthly sessions with the rest of the month spent on consultations and committee meetings”; or “they can meet every day if necessary”.

Existing working drafts: It took more than a year for the first BTC to finish Draft BBL. However, it was under an odd situation. Only one Annex was finished when it started drafting. The other three Annexes came in slow sequence and it had to wait for the signing of the CAB to wrap up its work.

This New BTC is not starting from scratch, Iqbal said “there are existing drafts that can be made as the working draft to hasten the process of the final drafting” that, being already CAB-compliant, will be in line with the desire of MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim. (MN 2/10/17: GPH, MILF …)

As we see it, the New BTC’s work can be clear-cut if not simple:

First, restore Draft BBL as closely as possible to the original copy — that which has the imprimatur of President Aquino III and Chairman Murad — by reconciling the 40 percent or so deletion, revision and substitution done by the House and the Senate of the 16th Congress with the provisions the MILF study group had petitioned the two Houses to be restored. The Supreme Court’s November 20, 2016 decision of the petitions against the CAB and the FAB will be most helpful.

Second, examine what provisions of the 1996 FPA, R.A. No. 9054 and IPRA had already been converged with the CAB in Draft BBL. Determine what more are to be converged.

Third, add new provisions derived from public consultations and committee meetings.

Draft BBL had been vetted — it can be safely said — thoroughly for its constitutionality, legality and CAB-compliance for four months by the Office of the President and the GPH-MILF negotiating panels with the assistance of the Secretary of Justice, the Solicitor General and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel (the last two now members of the Supreme Court). It can be assured that with its six lawyer-members, the New BTC can easily safeguard the constitutionality, legality and CAB-compliance in the ensuing BEL.

On these grounds, Secretary Dureza is right in foreseeing that the New BTC will “come up with an inclusive Bangsamoro law that will truly reflect and address the clamor for a genuine political autonomy for the Bangsamoro people in Mindanao”.

Yet, right can go wrong. If the New BTC is the only body that will write the Bangsamoro basic law and the BEL that it will craft is the only bill to be submitted to the Congress, all will be well as assured by Secretary Dureza. But this is not so. The Duterte master plan laid out in the BPDR has evidently been modified.

Tomorrow: “Worrisome Consequences”