Monday, April 17, 2017

Abu Sayyaf had support from civilians in Bohol?

From Malaya Business Insight (Apr 18): Abu Sayyaf had support from civilians in Bohol?

AUTHORITIES are looking into the role played by an elderly couple in the operations of the Abu Sayyaf, particularly in Bohol where the bandit group clashed with government forces last week.

Constantino and Crisenta Petalco, who were in their mid-60s, were among the six civilians reported killed in the April 11 clash. They were residents of Bohol and owned the house were the criminals sought refuge upon arrival in the province on the eve of the clash.

The Abu Sayyaf, whose main activity is kidnapping for ransom, operates in Sulu and Basilan. A source last week said the criminals could be targeting foreign delegates attending an event of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, through acting spokesman Robespierre Bolivar, said the Asean-Hong Kong Free Trade meeting which will be held in Panglao Island in Bohol from today to April 22 will push through despite the clash, “unless any new information dictates otherwise.”

He said   measures are in place  to secure the gathering which will have about 200 confirmed participants.

Bohol Gov. Edgar Chatto assured the Asean delegates the province is safe and that the remnants of the Abu Sayyaf group are contained in the northern part of the province, which is far from the venues for the event.

He said troops from Cebu will augment Bohol security forces to ensure of the safety of the delegates.

Capt. Jojo Mascarenas, civil military operations officer of the Army’s 302nd Brigade, said the investigation led by the PNP seeks to establish the Petalcos’ ties with the Abu Sayyaf and their participation in the encounter.

He said Crisenta is an aunt of Abu Sayyaf member Joselito Melloria, alias Abu Ali, who was also slain in the fighting.

Mascarenas said the couple could have served as the “contact” of the Abu Sayyaf in Bohol. “The Abu Sayyaf would not go to Bohol without a contact... They (couple) slept with the terrorists in the house,” he said.

The military earlier said the Abu Sayyaf members arrived in Bohol on the evening of April 10 to abduct foreign and Filipino tourists. The group was engaged by soldiers in a firefight early morning of April 11.

Officials have said six Abu Sayyaf men were killed, including sub-leader and spokesman Muammar Askali, alias Abu Rami, only to later clarify that two of the fatalities are civilians.
Three soldiers, including a 2Lt. Estelito Saldua, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 2015, and a policeman were killed and another soldier and a policeman were wounded.

Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the AFP public affairs office, said the military was “surprised” there were still civilians in the area at the time of the fighting.

“We believed that there are no longer civilians in the area because they already evacuated,” said Arevalo, adding that military operations should be surgical and should only focus on the targeted personalities.

“What is definite is that Abu Sayyaf members were inside, they stayed in that house where the fighting took place. There have been evacuations immediately following the encounter and the AFP is not in a position to know if there were civilians left at that time,” said Arevalo.

Arevalo also said it was too early to conclude if the two civilians were actually coddlers, or they had been held hostage, or they were killed by the Abu Sayyaf on suspicion they informed authorities of the presence of the Abu Sayyaf in Bohol.

Insp. Lyn Abella, public information officer of the Police Regional Office 7, said the Petalcos were among those evacuated before the firefight but returned home to attend to their farm animals.

Abella said they are also looking at other reports that the Petalcos were taken hostage.

She said government troops are still hunting down at least eight Abu Sayyf men who have taken refuge in the northern part of Bohol.

President Duterte visited Saldua’s wake in San Jose, Batangas and awarded him a Gold Cross Medal.

Duterte also handed financial assistance to the family, and a cellular phone with his contact information.

“Kung may kailangan kayo, maski anong problema na hindi ninyo masolusyunan, tawagan ninyo lang ako (If you need anything, any problem that you cannot solve, just call me),” he told Saldua’s parents Gina and Estelito.

Batangas Gov. Hermilando Mandanas also gave scholarships, up to the college level, to Saldua’s three siblings.

Malacañang condemned the Abu Sayyaf’s beheading of Filipino hostage Noel Besconde on April 13.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Malacañang has also sent its sincerest condolences to the bereaved family of the captain of the fishing vessel FB Ramona, who was seized in December last year.

“We strongly condemn this senseless and cold-blooded murder committed during the Holy Week. Local authorities and our security forces are exhausting all means to locate the captain’s remains, as our troops continue to pursue this bandit group and hold them accountable for their crimes,” Abella said.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año said Besconde’s beheading has motivated soldiers more to deliver “lethal blow” to the lawless group.

Expressing his “extreme indignation” against the Abu Sayyaf for the beheading of Noel Besconde, Año vowed that the military establishment will not rest in the ongoing fight against the Abu Sayyaf.

“While the AFP condemns this gruesome murder of this hapless kidnap victim, it all the more drives our soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines to deliver the lethal blow against this band of terrorists and rescue the remaining kidnap victims,” said Año who targets to defeat the Abu Sayyaf within the first half of this year.

Año reiterated his appeal to the people of Sulu, Basilan and other parts of Mindanao to help the military and other security forces “to put a stop to these criminal and evil acts of the ASG.”

Año has directed Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the military’s Joint Task Force Sulu, to locate the remains of Besconde. “I desire that his body be brought to his mournful family and be accorded a decent burial,” said Año.

Augmentation force

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 17): Augmentation force

Tourism in Bohol is expected to be affected by the encounter between government troops and Abu Sayyaf terrorists. Travel advisories were issued, the latest of which warns Koreans to avoid Bohol. (CDN PHOTO/TONEE DESPOJO)

Tourism in Bohol is expected to be affected by the encounter between government troops and Abu Sayyaf terrorists. Travel advisories were issued, the latest of which warns Koreans to avoid Bohol.

Security beefed up for Asean meetings in Bohol as Korean Consulate issues travel advisory

As the meetings of the trade ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) started in Bohol yesterday and in the face of the encounter between government forces and members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a joint security augmentation force among the police, military and 21 other government agencies numbering around 4,000 was deployed to the province.

This also comes as the Korean Consulate in Cebu issued a special travel advisory urging its citizens to cancel or postpone their trips to Bohol.

Even tour operators have stopped offering island hopping and Bohol day tours since last week’s encounter in Barangay Napo, Inabanga, Bohol.

“That is, in effect, the meaning when we say specific tour services have been canceled,” said Alice Queblatin, president of the Cebu Association of Tour Operations Specialists (Catos).

She was, however, unfazed by the Korean travel advisory, saying now is a lean season for Korean and Japanese tourists.

Travel advisory

The Korean travel advisory read, “Judging that public insecurity caused by the infiltration of terrorist groups could continue for some time in the Island of Bohol, the venue of the Asean summit from April 18 until 22, the Foreign Ministry has made the move to protect nationals of the Republic of Korea there.”

The temporary special travel advisory is tantamount to a travel restriction, but the consulate clarified that it is only recommendatory in nature.

The advisory urges Korean nationals to cancel or postpone their plans to visit Bohol, or to leave the area “unless there are urgent matters to attend to.”

According to Consul and Police Attache Lee Yong-Sang, the number of Korean nationals visiting Bohol during the advisory period has considerably decreased as the consulate received more inquiries about it.

“According to some tourism agencies, Korean travelers (to Bohol) are tending to decrease. And for the Korean Consulate, inquiries regarding cancellation of the trip are coming to us,” Lee told Cebu Daily News.

For now, he said the consulate will continue monitoring the situation.

“The MOFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and the Korean Consulate in Cebu will continue monitoring the security situation in the aforementioned area in the Philippines and then mull over whether the special travel advisory should remain in place,” the advisory further read


Bohol provincial police director Senior Supt. Felipe Natividad Jr. said the augmentation force will be deployed not only on Panglao Island where the Asean meetings are held, but will also be scattered throughout the province.

Some of the teams including the Special Action Force (SAF) will conduct checkpoints in the neighboring towns of Panglao.

“We don’t concentrate just in Panglao Island. Of course there are some delegates who will be visiting other places in Bohol,” Natividad said.

Last Sunday, there were still a lot of local and foreign tourists in Bohol despite the Inabanga encounter.

“Ito (Inabanga incident), only isolated (case). Tapos we were able to subdue,” Natividad added.  (It was an isolated case and we were able to subdue the threat.)

He assured residents and tourists that the government troops would ensure that the Asean meetings in the province would be safe.


Meanwhile, the hunt for the remaining ASG members who entered Sitio Ilaya, Barangay Napo in Inabanga continues.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police recently released a list of the suspected terrorists who remain at large.

They were identified by law enforcers as Joselito “Alih” Milloria, the person who guided the group from Mindanao; and those carrying the names Richard, Asis, Ubayda, Poy, Dah, Saad and Amra.

Four others were killed in the gunfight with government troopers last week.

They were Moumar “Abu Rami” Askali, the leader of the group; Abu Sufyan, the group’s alleged bomb expert; Edimar Isnain, and an unidentified person.

Posters of the alleged terror group members were posted by the Municipality of Inabanga on its Facebook page on Sunday.

“Stay alert and vigilant. Immediately inform authorities whenever you see these persons and other suspicious-looking men in your areas,” read the FB post in Cebuano.

Supt. Lorenzo Batuan, deputy director for operations of the Bohol Provincial Police Office, said government forces remain in the field to locate and arrest the remaining members of the group.

“We continue to look for them,” he said in a phone interview.

The police, Batuan said, are designated to monitor the coastal areas while the Philippine army penetrates the mountains and other areas.

Anyone who knows the whereabouts of the suspects are requested to contact the 302nd Brigade of the AFP hotline through 0905-455-1543.

Last week’s encounter led to the death of five alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf Group, three soldiers, and a police officer.

The casualties on the part of the government were identified as 2nd Lt Estelito Saldua Jr.; Corporal Meljun Cajaban; Sergeant John Dexter Duero; and SPO2 Rey Anthony Nazareno, member of the Special Weapons and Tactics from Calape town.
Another soldier, Corporal Chris Jude Borlas, was wounded and is now at the Tubigon hospital.

Unconfirmed reports

Meanwhile, Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO) director Senior Supt. Eric Noble said they received at least five calls coming from various parts of the province about suspicious people and activities over the weekend.


Noble said that most calls came from Southern Cebu, where there were reports that some members of ASG already landed there.

But none of the reports have been confirmed.

“Okay lang naman yun na magtawag ng police kesa magpost sa social media which creates panic sa mga tao,” Noble said. (It’s okay that they call police about suspicious people or activities in their area instead posting it on social media which creates panic to the public)

Noble reiterated that Cebu is still safe and free from the rebel group

Cops want arrested kidnappers brought to Malaysia

From The Star (Apr 18): Cops want arrested kidnappers brought to Malaysia

Police are hoping their Filipino counterparts will help bring arrested Abu Sayyaf kidnappers to face charges in Malaysia.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said police have received information that several of the wanted kidnappers had been arrested.

“I heard some of them have been arrested in southern Philippines. Now we are looking at whether we can extradite them back to Sabah to face kidnapping charges,” he said after a forum with Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS).

Asked if there were other Abu Sayyaf leaders apart from the elusive Al Habsi Misaya, who is high on the Malaysian police wanted list, he said there were a few more for whom warrants of arrest had been issued.

On whether the death of Muamar Askali @ Abu Rami and the surrender of Abu Sayyaf gunmen would end or reduce cross-border kidnappings, he said: “This is what we are hoping for. We hope that the aggressive military offensive (in southern Philippines) and pressure from our side will stop the kidnappings.”

He said that between 2000 and 2016, about 20 cross-border kidnappings and five attempted kidnappings had occurred, with 90% of the kidnappings carried out by the Muktadil brothers (five killed and one arrested last year) and the Abraham Hamid (who was killed in a shootout off Semporna late last year) group.

The kidnappings involved 33 Malaysians and 31 foreigners, he said. There are 24 hostages in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf but no Malaysians following the release of the five sailors last month.

On another matter, Khalid said 57 Malaysians, who joined the Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria, are planning to return home. He said eight had already come back while the rest were making plans to do so.

“Some of them whose husbands have been killed have married other IS militants. Their children are under the care of other IS militant families,” he told students at the forum.

Khalid said the groups were also using Sabah as a transit point to move to neighbouring countries. Students should be very cautious in accepting views on religion in social media and if approached by such groups, he added.

On the case of former Universiti Malaya student Siti Nor Aishah Atam who was re-arrested under the Security Offences (Special Mea­sures) Act last month, Khalid said she was still deemed as a threat and was constantly in contact with IS militants.

“She intended to go to Syria. Although many people claim she is innocent, we have done our investigations,” he added.

He said she had tried to contact an IS leader in Syria and had attempted to make a false MyKad to facilitate her travel to Syria.

The 29-year-old Siti Nor Aishah was a student of Universiti Malaya lecturer-turned-militant Dr Mahmud Ahmad, who has fled with four others to the southern Philippines.

Philippines goes ahead with ASEAN meet in Bohol after foiling attack

From the Philippine Star (Apr 17): Philippines goes ahead with ASEAN meet in Bohol after foiling attack

More than 200 delegates from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will proceed with a meeting in Bohol this week despite a foiled attack there by the Abu Sayyaf, officials said Monday.
Acting Interior Secretary Catalino Cuy said that Panglao Island in Bohol province could be considered "the most secure place in the country right now." The two-day ASEAN trade meeting on the island starts Wednesday.
Philippine forces, backed by airstrikes and rocket-firing helicopters, killed four of several extremists from the brutal Abu Sayyaf and other Islamic State group-linked groups who traveled far by boat from their jungle bases in southern Sulu province to stage ransom kidnappings and bombings, security officials said.
"Our objective is zero incident up to the final ASEAN meeting," said Cuy, who oversees security for more than 140 meetings that the Philippines will host as it leads the 10-nation regional bloc this year.
Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said all foreign delegates to the meeting, which would focus on a free trade agreement between ASEAN and Hong Kong, have confirmed their attendance. ASEAN member states have not raised any concern over the meetings, Cuy said.
At least 52 meetings, including an annual gathering of ASEAN foreign ministers on Boracay Island in February, have been held without any incident, Cuy said. President Rodrigo Duterte will host nine of his ASEAN counterparts in an annual summit in Manila next week.
Troops and police were hunting down several militants who fled the fighting.

MILF reminds police of need to coordinate on arrests of members

From the Philippine Star (Apr 17): MILF reminds police of need to coordinate on arrests of members

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza (left) and Hadji Murad Ebrahim and Ghazali Jaafar of the MILF at a breakfast meeting in 2016. JOHN UNSON, file

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Monday urged Malacañang to investigate into allegedly unilateral police actions against rebels supposedly covered by agreed government-MILF security protocols.
Among the latest MILF members killed for reportedly resisting arrest is Mohaimen Abo, a younger brother of the group’s first vice chairman, Ghazali Jaafar. Jaafar is also chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).
Abo, also known as Boy Bangsamoro and Ustadz Abo, was charged with kidnap for ransom, murder, frustrated murder and homicide in two courts in central Mindanao.
“We strongly request the Government of the Philippines, particularly the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, to look seriously and urgently into these alarming actions of the Philippine National Police. These police operations might negatively affect the peace process,” said Sammy Al-Mansour, chief of the MILF’s self-styled Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces.
Jaafar had earlier told reporters his brother, shot dead for refusing to yield to policemen who tried to peacefully serve him warrants for his arrest, was a regular member of the MILF.
Senior Superintendent Agustin Tello, director of the Maguindanao provincial police, said the agents who tried to arrest Abo in Sultan Kudarat town last week were forced to neutralize him when he resisted and tried to shoot them with a pistol.
“As in the present alarming situation, the raids of the PNP against BIAF members, if left unabated, may escalate tension and spark violent armed encounters,” Al-Mansour said in a written statement distributed to journalists.
He said law enforcement operations in recognized rebel communities are supposedly a mutual joint initiative of the government and the MILF, based on all security agreements crafted by both sides.
Al-Mansour said efforts to address security issues in areas covered by their 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities are governed by bilateral coordination protocols.
“As a matter of record, when the coordination mechanisms were faithfully observed, peace and order was maintained on the ground. If not, as in the case of the Mamasapano encounter, armed clashes eventually happened and put at risk the gains of the peace process,” he said.
The MILF has blamed lack of coordination by the PNP for the January 25, 2015 “Mamasapano incident” that left 44 personnel of the police’s elite Special Action Force, 17 MILF guerrillas and five villagers dead.
The SAF commandos were killed when they were attacked by armed men, including MILF members, while moving out of Inog-og area in Barangay Pidsandawan in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao after killing wanted Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, most known as Marwan.
A third group, the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, which also operates in areas where there are MILF forces, was also involved in the gunfights that lasted for more than 10 hours.
The MILF said the bloodshed could have been avoided had the PNP coordinated its mission to arrest Marwan right in his hideout, a conflict flashpoint area covered by its interim ceasefire accord with Malacañang.
Al-Mansour asked Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza to look into the issue to forestall adverse implications to the current government-MILF peace process.
Peace talks between the government and the MILF started on January 7, 1997 and, after 17 years of negotiation, reached a deal, the March 27, 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro.
Jaafar leads the BTC — comprised of representatives from the MILF, the Moro National Liberation Front and the government — now drafting a law needed to legitimize the implementation of the accord.
The output of the commission, however, shall be subject to approval by Congress.

AFP yields CPP gave accurate Bohol clash data

From the Daily Tribunen (Apr 18): AFP yields CPP gave accurate Bohol clash data

It turned out that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has more updated intelligence data than the military when it claimed that civilians were among those slain and counted as members of the Abu Sayyaf group during a fierce firefight in Bohol that thwarted a raid of the bandits on a holiday resort.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) yesterday admitted two of those killed in the Bohol clash last week were a local couple, both senior citizens, who own one of the houses where the Abu Sayyaf terrorists were engaged by government forces in Inabanga town.

The CPP was the first to identify the couple as Constancio and Crisente Petalco, residents of Barangay Napo, Inabanga town where the clash between government troops and Abu Sayyaf terrorists erupted last April 11.

Col. Edgard Arevalo, AFP-Public Affairs Office chief, said investigations are now ongoing to determine why the couple remained in the conflict area during the firefight as he claimed the military ordered an evacuation. “It’s too early for us to conclude…if they are members, if they are coddlers, they were held hostaged, or they were actually killed by the Abu Sayyaf on suspicion that they have tipped off their presence to the military and the Philippine National Police (PNP) (these are) the subjects of the ongoing investigation,” Arevalo said.

He stressed that the operation in Inabanga town was “surgical” and focused only on certain areas and targeted personalities.

“It is our belief in the AFP that when we conducted the operation, there were no more civilians left in that area because they have already evacuated,” said Arevalo.

Arevalo, however, admitted that of the six slain in Inabanga, who were tagged earlier as Abu Sayyaf terrorists, only three were positively identified by the military as Abu Sayyaf members.

Capt. Jojo Mascarenas, civil military operations officer of the Army’s 302nd Brigade, said Crisente is an aunt of Joselito Melloria, alias Abu Ali, who allegedly served as guide to the group of ASG sub-leader Muamar Askali, alias Abu Rami.

Askali was among the four positively-identified Abu Sayyaf killed –the two others were a certain Abu Sufyan, one Edimar Isnain, alias Guruh Eddie.

“Accordingly, Cresinta was a relative (aunt) of Joselito Melloria alias Abu Ali who is believed to be the one who guided the other ASG members to the said place,” said Mascarenas.

“Investigation is currently ongoing to determine the involvement of the couple with the terrorist group and their participation during the encounter,” he added.

At the time of the encounter, Mascarenas said that the troops found the Abu Sayyaf terrorists swinging right inside the Petalco’s house while the couple were inside.

Earlier on Friday, the CPP scored the AFP and the PNP for the Bohol encounter, citing the killing of the Petalco couple.

The CPP claimed that the Philippine Air Force dropped nine bombs in Barangays Napo, Calenti and Banahao in Inabanga, forcing at least 1,200 local residents people to evacuate.

“The CPP joins the Filipino people in condemning the overkill military operations conducted by the AFP in Inabanga town which have endangered the lives of civilians,” it said.

The CPP accused the AFP of “spinning fake news stories” after claiming that Abu Sayyaf terrorists traveled 300 kilometers by boat from Sulu to Bohol, unhampered by the whole AFP establishment, then upstream to a place unknown to them with only a general plan to target tourists.

“This story is a typical of the tall tales spun by the US Central Intelligence Agency and their conspirators within the Philippine defense and security establishment,” the CPP said.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana lashed back at the CPP, accusing the communist group of being a fake organization for spreading false information regarding the Bohol clash.

AFP vows anew to wipe out Abus

The AFP added it will not be cowed by the brutal act against innocent people but instead will only motivate the soldiers to destroy the terrorists in reference to the Abu Sayyaf beheading of another captive.

AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año said the beheading of Noel Besconde has only driven government troops to deliver the “lethal blow” against the Abu Sayyaf.

“While the AFP condemns this gruesome murder of this hapless kidnap victim, it all the more drives our soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines to deliver the lethal blow against this band of terrorists and rescue the remaining kidnap victims,” vowed Año.

“This terrorist group is all the more, by its recent barbarism, fueling the desire of the AFP to crush its beastly practice, stop its kidnap-for-ransom activities, and restore peace in Western Mindanao,” he added.

Besconde was beheaded on Maundy Thursday –apparently in retaliation for the killing of four Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Bohol, including sub-leader Muamar Askali, alias Abu Rami.

But Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the AFP’s Joint Task Force Sulu, expressed belief that the ASG beheaded Besconde because he was already sickly and impeded the movement of the Abu Sayyaf.

Sobejana also said that the Abu Sayyaf wanted to get P3 million ransom from the victim’s family but failed.

Besconde was the captain of FB Ramona 2 which was intercepted off Celebes Sea last December. He is the second Abu Sayyaf hostage to be beheaded under the Duterte administration –after German Juergen Gustav Kantner.

Año said that the 125,000-strong AFP will tirelessly pursue the Abu Sayyaf terrorists until they are destroyed as ordered by President Duterte.

“We will never falter. We will not rest even a bit in our conduct of combat, intelligence, and civil-military operations to protect our people. We will exhaust all means-legal and moral— to bring this war against terrorists to conclusion,” said Año.

The AFP chief said he also instructed Sobejana to locate the remains of Besconde for the family to accord him decent burial.

At the same time, Año called on the peace-loving people of Western Mindanao to assit the AFP and stopping the evil ways of the ASG.

“We continue to call on every God-fearing resident of Sulu, Basilan, and other parts of Western Mindanao to help your AFP and other security forces to put a stop to this criminal and evil act of the ASG. They have no place in our civilized society,” said Año.

Relief team in Surigao strafed with bullets

From Tempo (Apr 16): Relief team in Surigao strafed with bullets

A relief team escorted by soldiers was strafed with bullets while on their way to earthquake-ravaged Surigao City.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., disclosed that a platoon under 1st Lt. Ryan Layug, the Civil-Military Operations Officer of the Army’s 30th Infantry Battalion were accompanying the relief team of ABS-CBN Foundation where fired upon by suspected rebels while traversing Barangay Linunggaman, San Francisco, Surigao del Norte Tuesday night.
The attack was in contrast to what the rebels initially announced regarding their proposed ceasefire in Surigao to make relief efforts in the area unhampered.

Major General Benjamin R. Madrigal Jr., the commander of the 4th Infantry Division condemned the latest action by the rebels.

“There is no way we can really trust these terrorists. They have deceived the entire Nation when they fired upon the team that is composed of Army and civilian volunteers who have just delivered relief goods to the earthquake-stricken communities,” Madrigal said.

Madrigal however assured their focus on providing assistance in terms of helping those affected by the strong tremor.

“While we are in the area helping our people to rise up again after they were badly hit by the recent earthquake, the NPA terrorists are also busy in making our people’s lives miserable,” Madrigal said “The NPA’s attack will not deter us to continue our efforts in helping the LGUs to bring back the normal situation in the entire province.”

2nd IBPA, MICO float bogus encounter to give way eco-tourism projects in Masbate

Posted to the periodically pro-CPP Bicol Today (Apr 12): 2nd IBPA, MICO float bogus encounter to give way eco-tourism projects in Masbate

The 2nd IB, PA floated a bogus encounter in So. Bantolinao, Brgy. Amutag, Aroroy, Masbate to get rid residents in the area for eco-tourism projects and casino according to NPA-Jose Rapsing Command (JRC).

According to Ka Del Mar, the intention of the AFP is to get rid the people in the area to give way to the capitalists Stanley Ho, gambling financier, and it’s business partner former senator Bongbong Marcos.

There is a plan to convert the agricultural lands in Bantolinao and Napayawan island in the municipality of Aroroy, Masbate into eco-tourism projects and casino that will result to the loss of farmers’ and fishers’ livelihood and houses.

JRC denied the statement on April 8 of 9th ID, Philippine Army that there was an encounter between the joined forces of 2nd Scout Platoon, 2nd IB,PA and Military Intelligence Company(MICO) against JRC that resulted to the possession of shotgun and KG9.

“That was a false statement of the military officials to cover their real objective on going in the area,” Ka Luz Del Mar said.

JRC stated that the joined forces of 2nd IB, PA and MICO arrived in So. Bantolinao on April 7 at 6:30 am.

The next day, April 8, the armies fired in So. Bantolino and near the island of Napayawan that resulted to terror among the residents.

This was the basis of the 9th ID’s spokesperson in its bogus encounter according to Ka Del Mar.

Aroroy municipality, it’s nearby municipalities and its people have long been under militarization.

Meanwhile, Filmenera Mining Corporation located here is being faced with protests from hundreds of farmers and small-scale miners.

NPA-JRC calls all Masbateños to oust Filmenera Mining Corp and mercenary 2nd IB,PA that are protectors in destroying the environment and livelihood of the Masbateños.

MILF: IMT-Mission 12 pays courtesy call to MILF Leadership

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Apr 17): IMT-Mission 12 pays courtesy call to MILF Leadership

Maj.Gen. Datuk Masrani bin Paiman, Head of Mission of the International Monitoring Team (IMT)-Mission 12, together with his contingent paid a courtesy call to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Leaders, at Camp Darapanan, Sultan kudarat, Maguindanao, April 13, 2017.

Other members of the group  were the, Captain Roslan bin Mohd Yunus RMN-Deputy HoM,  Col. Ayub Khan bin Mohammad Khan RMAF- Chief of Staff,  Supt Abd Latif bin Ibrahim- Chief Operations Officer,  LT Cdr Noorulzaki bin Abdul Rahman RMN- SO Admin/Logistics,  Capt (Dr.) Wan Nuruddin Shah bin Wan Johan- Medical Officer, SSgnt Omar Ali bin Hassan – Close Escort,  Lt Col Abidin bin Timbang – Team Site Leader -1,  Maj. Mhd Nooryasdie bin Yahya – SO2 Ops  IMT HW. 

The visiting contingent was warmly received by MILF Central Committee headed by Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, 1st Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar, 2nd Vice Chairman Ali Solaiman ,  Heads of different committees of the Front and Officers of the General Staff, BIAF, MILF.

The welcome address of Chief of Staff Sammy Al Mansour was read for him by his proxy, General Staff Administrative Officer Toks Ebrahim .

Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim gratefully thanked the Malaysian Government and its people for their continued support to the peace process.

“International Monitoring Team is a factor of peace process that plays very important role in sustaining peace in the ground”, Chairman Ebrahim said.

“Before the establishment of the IMT, the peace process was in a very difficult situation, hostilities continue while the negotiation goes on and even in the midst of signing agreement.  But after establishing the IMT in 2003, number of incidents gradually decreased and there were  zero incidents at times, thus spared the distraction from the ground and negotiation went on smoothly until we were able to sign the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) with the facilitation of the government of Malaysia”, he added.

Chairman Ebrahim, assured the peace keepers of MILF’s utmost cooperation for them to be able to do their role as peace makers.  He mentioned though that some incidents happen.  “In particular, one incident poses challenge that occurred just few days ago, the brother of BTC Chairman Ghazali Jaafar was martyred. The victim was suspected by police for criminal activities.  The raid transpired in a nearby area of Lamsan  factory. Reports say the said operation was executed by elements of RSOG (Regional Special Operations Group). The operation was a violation of the coordination mechanism, of both AHJAG and CCCH.  Any member of the MILF suspected by Government for criminal activities, coordination has to be made with AHJAG and CCCH.”

In his final message, Chairman Alhaj Murad Ebrahim expressed gratitude to the IMT. He admitted however that although there are agreements already signed, still more challenges are foreseen in its implementation.  He also mentioned about the BTC’s effort in working hard for the crafting of inclusive law and coping up for the time table of submitting it within the month of May 2017.

In his message MajGen. Bin Paiman considered their visit as a great honor and privilege, and most importantly with the presence of MILF Chair Al Haj Murad.

Addressing the MILF officials at the presidential table as well as his audience,  MajGen. Bin Paiman considered them as great leaders of the Bangsamoro people. His personal view, he said is that the Bangsamoro people require the MILF leadership, a leadership who have the wisdom, vision, the will and the capacity to make things happen, the political solutions that will bring honor to Islam and to the people especially during this critical time whereby peace is in a real sense is just around the corner.

He also said that the IMT-Mission 12 that he heads now including all his subordinates and staff are fully committed to the peace process and play their role as outlined in the IMT’s mandate.

“We are willing to walk extra miles, together with the Bangsamoro people especially the MILF, in order to allow the peace process to be implemented smoothly and subsequently achieve the desired end state, in shaa Allah”, he stressed.

NDF: Bilateral meetings on CASER, not formal talks

Propaganda statement posted to the National Democratic Front Website (Apr 16): Bilateral meetings on CASER, not formal talks  

“NO FORMAL negotiations between the Negotiating Panels or of the Reciprocal Working Committees on Social and Economic Reforms (RWC-SER) shall be held in the Philippines.”

This was the clarification made by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) RWC-SER member Alan Jazmines after the article “Peace Talks in the Philippines” published in the Manila Bulletin on April 13, 2017, reported that formal peace negotiations between the Philippine Government and the National Democratic Front would be held in the Philippines on April 20, 2017.

Jazmines declared that any formal negotiations between the Negotiating Panels in the country is contrary to the letter and spirit of The Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) with regard to the holding of peace negotiations in a foreign neutral venue.

Jazmines continued. “What will be held in Manila are meetings of bilateral teams to assist the RWC-SER of both parties in clarifying and reconciling certain contentious issues in the NDFP and GRP CASER drafts. Their output will still be submitted to their respective RWCs-SER for approval. It bears stressing that these meetings are not “formal negotiations.”

The Hague Joint Declaration and the Agreement on the Formation, Operationalization and Sequencing of the RWCs mandates the RWCs-SER to draft the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) which would be then submitted to their respective Negotiating Panels for formal negotiations, approval and signing. Another agreement with regard to the ground rules on the formal meetings of the RWC-SER signed during the third round of talks held last January in Rome stipulates that the formal meetings of the RWC-SER shall be held “simultaneous with, and in the same venue as the formal meetings of the negotiating panels.

“We share in the optimism that peace can be achieved once the much-needed social and economic reforms that squarely address the root causes of the armed conflict are genuinely undertaken,” Jazmines concluded.

The 5th round of talks will be held on May 26- June 2, 2017 in Noorwijk aan Zee, The Netherlands and will focus on CASER as the main agenda. ###

Alan Jazmines, Randal Echanes
Members of the NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee on Socio-Economic Reforms
Contact Number: + 63 949 137 7260

2 kidnapping group members nabbed in Zamboanga Sibugay

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Apr 17): 2 kidnapping group members nabbed in Zamboanga Sibugay

COMBINED police and military operatives have arrested in a law enforcement operation two suspected members of a kidnap-for-ransom-group (KFRG) in Zamboanga Sibugay.

Police Regional Office-Zamboanga Peninsula (Western Mindanao) Spokesperson Rogelio Alabata identified the arrested KFRG suspects as Abdurahman Sakilan alias Bobong Sakilan, 28 and Pujik Ismael alias Pujik Sarahento, 21, both residents of Sitio Gangit in the village of Mamagon, Naga, Zamboanga Sibugay.

Alabata said they were arrested in a law enforcement operation by way of serving warrant of arrest around 12 noon Sunday, April 16 in the village of Tiayon, Ipil town.

Alabata said Sakilan has standing warrant of arrest for murder while Sarahento was caught in possession of explosive.

He said Sakilan is listed as high value target drug personality, being a member under Ging-Ging Calon Drug Group that distributes illegal drugs in the towns of Kabasalan and Naga.

He said both Sakilan and Sarahento were also involved in kidnappings, highway robberies, carnapping, extortion and piracy in Zamboanga Sibugay and in this province.

He said they were also involved in the killing of a soldier in Kabasalan town and in the clash against policemen in April last year in Naga town.

He said the arresting team confiscated from the suspects’ possessions a caliber .45 pistol, a hand grenade, 10 heat-sealed plastic sachets of suspected methamphetamine hydrochloride or locally known as "shabu" with an estimate market value of P5,000.

Alabata said the arrest of the two suspects is a result of the intensified operation against most wanted persons and lawless elements in Zamboanga Peninsula.

8 hurt in Tacurong twin explosions

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 17): 8 hurt in Tacurong twin explosions

Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat (Google maps)
Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat (Google maps)

At least eight persons, mostly police officers, were injured in separate bombing incidents here at about 7 p.m. Monday, police said.

Senior Supt. Raul Supiter, Sultan Kudarat provincial police director, said the first explosion occurred inside the rest room of Dragon Gasoline Station located at the corner of national highway and New Isabela Street.

Another improvised bomb planted near the gas station’s signage went off while scene of the crime operatives were conducting an investigation.

“While police and bomb experts were investigating, another explosion occurred that injured police officers and soldiers as well as civilians,” he said.

Another improvised explosive device was found near St. John Learning Center in Barangay New Isabela, about 100 meters away.

The gasoline station was filled with people as a convenience store and resto bar are located beside it.

Supiter identified the injured as bomb disposal team members S/Sgt. Ipil Presaldo, S/Sgt. Menzo Salsalito Manoy, SPO2 Jasper Garcia, PO1 Martin San Pedro, PO1 Eleazar Sustiguer and three civilians identified only as Bobong Bamo, Michael Pon and an unidentified man.

Earlier Monday, text messages circulated warning about alleged plot by outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) to set off bombs in Tacurong City, Koronadal City, Gen. Santos City, Cotabato City, Midsayap, North Cotabato and Davao City to avenge the death of Abu Sayyaf Group in Bohol.

Monday’s blasts came about two weeks after an IED explosion injured eight persons when two men lobbed the bomb in front of Sultan Kudarat Electric Cooperative Office along the national highway here, about 800 meters away from Dragon Gas Station.

Troops search Sulu jungles to retrieve hostage remains

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Apr 17): Troops search Sulu jungles to retrieve hostage remains

THE Joint Task Force Sulu has deployed troops to locate and retrieve the remains of the Filipino hostage that was beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf bandits last April 13.

Brigadier General Cirilito Sobejana, Jr., Joint Task Forces Sulu commander, said search and retrieval operations are ongoing to recover the remains of Noel Besconde.

READ: Abu Sayyaf bandits behead Filipino hostage

Besconde, the skipper of F/B Ramona, was executed by the Abu Sayyaf bandits led by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan on Thursday, April 13, in the village of Tugas, Patikul town.

Sobejana said they received report the bandits killed Besconde since he was sick and his condition impedes the group’s movement in evading advancing government forces.

The Abu Sayyaf bandits seized Besconde and three other crew of F/B Ramona in December 2016 in the Celebes Sea.

The other hostages were identified as Reyjim Rocabo, F/B Ramona’s mechanic, and crewmen Roy Ramos and Roel Liones, all residents of Tukuran, Zamboanga del Sur.

Besconde was the second hostage the Abu Sayyaf bandits executed this year. The first was a German national who was executed on February after the authorities did not heed to their ransom demand.

General Eduardo Año, Chief-of-Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said on Monday, April 17, that the execution of hostages will not deter them in pursuing the Abu Sayyaf bandits.

"This terrorist group are all the more, by their recent barbarism, fueling the desire of the AFP to crush their beastly practice, stop their kidnap-for-ransom activities, and restore peace in Western Mindanao,” Año said in a statement through the Western Mindanao Command.

 "We will never falter. We will not rest even a bit in our conduct of combat, intelligence, and civil-military operations to protect our people. We will exhaust all means-legal and moral--to bring this war against terrorists to conclusion,” he added.

End to rebels’ harassment, corruption of govt men sought

From the Manila Times (Apr 17): End to rebels’ harassment, corruption of govt men sought

TUGUEGARAO CITY, Cagayan: The local Catholic Church and the provincial government leadership here appealed to rebel groups to stop “burning” construction equipment and “harassing” businessmen while at the same time calling on government officials and private firms to stop their “corrupt practices.”

Tuguegarao Archbishop Sergio Utleg and Gov. Manuel Mamba, issued a joint statement after the recent burning of a private contractor’s equipment being used for a government road project in Alcala and Baggao towns.

On March 26, at least four road building equipment were burned by about 15 gunmen who attacked a motor pool owned by Pulsar Construction Company (PCC) in Barangay Calantac, Alcala.

The gunmen who claimed to be members of the New People’s Army also took with them communication equipment.

As a result, the PCC pulled out several of its equipment and personnel from the project, delaying its completion.

The joint statement was read over the local radio station by Father Garry Agcaoili, vicar general of Tuguegarao Archdiocese.

“We ask the Henry Abraham Command under the Fortunato Camus Command of the CPP-NPA [Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army]-Cagayan Valley to refrain from harassing construction personnel and burning construction equipment,” it said.

“We also ask construction firms, the local politicians and government functionaries especially the DPWH [Department of Public Works and Highways] to stop their corrupt practices in relation to the construction of roads and bridges,” the statement added.

Duterte confers Gold Cross Medal on soldier slain in Bohol clash

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 17): Duterte confers Gold Cross Medal on soldier slain in Bohol clash

[Video report]

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday posthumously conferred a Gold Cross Medal on 2nd Lt. Estelito Saldua Jr., one of the soldiers who died during a firefight with the Abu Sayyaf in Bohol last week.

The Gold Cross Medal is the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ third highest award for bravery.

Saldua was among the soldiers who responded to an attack by the Abu Sayyaf last April 11 at Inabanga, Bohol.

Duterte went straight to the wake of Saldua in San Jose, Batangas, after he arrived in Manila from the Middle East.

A video from RTVM showed Duterte talking to Saldua’s family.

RTVM reported that Duterte conferred the Gold Cross Medal on Saldua and gave his family financial assistance. He also asked them to contact him if they have problems.

Earlier, Batangas Governor Hermilando Mandanas offered scholarships for the three siblings of Saldua.

America, Not Duterte, Failed the Philippines

From the conservative National Interest Online (Apr 16): America, Not Duterte, Failed the Philippines (By Gordon G. Chang)

Washington pushed the Philippines away by failing to honor moral, if not legal, obligations to its long-standing ally.

Image: President Rodrigo Duterte and President Xi Jinping shake hands prior to their bilateral meetings at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 20, 2016. Wikimedia Commons.

“I HAVE separated from them,” said Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte in October to his Chinese hosts, referring to America. “So I will be dependent on you for a long time.”

Within months of taking office, Duterte had accomplished the inconceivable, reorienting his country away from its only protector, the United States, and toward its only adversary, China. It is China that grabbed Mischief Reef from Manila in the first half of the 1990s and seized Scarborough Shoal in early 2012. The United States is the only nation pledged to defend the territorial integrity of the Philippines.

Some in the Washington policy community, upset with the flagrant display of disloyalty of the Philippine leader, said it was time to end the mutual-defense treaty with Manila. Yet the fundamental issue is not the firebrand Duterte. The issue is Washington. Washington did much to push Duterte away by failing to honor moral, if not legal, obligations to its long-standing ally. The Philippine president did not have to provoke America as he did in October during his trip to Beijing. But his words, though extreme, were nonetheless a predictable outcome of a misguided U.S. policy. It is unlikely that Duterte is spouting off against Washington to get a better deal, playing the Americans off the Chinese and Russians.

His many outbursts against the United States, in fact, look genuine, rooted in a century of Philippine nationalism and mistrust. Duterte was schooled in anti-Americanism from an early age. His grandmother, a Muslim, taught him that the United States was guilty of grave crimes during its colonization of the Philippines. To this day, he refers to the 1906 massacre of the Muslim Moros and believes Washington has not atoned for this particular instance of brutality or, more generally, the torture of Filipinos and the subjugation of his country. To make matters worse, Duterte then learned politics in university in the 1960s from Jose Maria Sison, the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The president now proudly calls himself a leftist.

All these factors mean that America, in Duterte’s eyes, can never do anything right. He still rails about being denied a U.S. visa early last decade. Moreover, he won’t stop talking about what he perceives to be a violation of Philippine sovereignty, the mysterious disappearance of “treasure hunter” Michael Meiring from Davao City in May 2002 after the detonation of a bomb in his hotel room. Duterte, the mayor of that city at the time, believes that Meiring was whisked out of the country by the Central Intelligence Agency.

So not too many Filipinos were taken aback when Duterte slung a homophobic slur at then ambassador Philip Goldberg in August and, by some accounts, directed an equally derogatory comment in the direction of President Barack Obama the following month. As a close aide to Duterte characterized his virulent anti-Americanism, “It’s policy, personal, historical, ideological, et cetera, combined.”
Although Duterte’s views appear warped by prejudice, he nonetheless has good reason to complain about Washington, which despite its mutual-defense pact has not protected his country adequately. Manila has unsuccessfully attempted, since at least the late 1980s, to compel the United States to confirm that the treaty, signed in 1951 and ratified the following year, covers the reefs, rocks, shoals, atolls and islets Manila claims—and China covets—in the West Philippine Sea.

BEIJING, WHICH calls that expanse by its more common name, the South China Sea, claims the same features. Its official maps contain nine, and sometimes ten, dashes forming an area called the “cow’s tongue.” Inside the tongue-shaped area is about 85 percent of that critical body of water, and Beijing claims sovereignty over every feature there. Moreover, official Chinese state media has recently used language directly suggesting that all the waters inside the dashes are sovereign as well. Beijing now has a term for all this: “blue national soil.”

The United States does not take sides on the many South China Sea territorial disputes—China’s claims also conflict with those of Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Vietnam—but Washington does insist on peaceful resolution. Beijing’s actions, however, have been anything but peaceful. For instance, it seized Mischief Reef in a series of acts beginning in 1994. The feature is far closer to the Philippines than other claimants—Hanoi and Taipei as well as Beijing—but Washington did nothing to reverse the Chinese action. American policymakers at the time adopted a serves-them-right attitude because Manila, gripped by one of its bouts of nationalistic fervor, had just ejected the U.S. Navy from its facilities in Subic Bay and the U.S. Air Force from the nearby Clark Air Base.

In early 2012, China moved again. After the Philippines detained Chinese poachers taking endangered coral, giant clams, sea turtles and baby sharks around Scarborough Shoal, Chinese vessels swarmed the feature, which sits only 124 nautical miles from the main Philippine island of Luzon and about 550 nautical miles from China. The shoal—just rocks above the waterline—is strategic because it guards the mouths to Manila and Subic Bays.

China at the strategic speck employed its “cabbage strategy.” By wrapping the shoal “layer by layer like a cabbage” with small vessels, Maj. Gen. Zhang Zhaozhong explained, Beijing could exclude others. In June of that year, Washington brokered an agreement for both sides to withdraw their craft, but only Manila complied. Beijing has been in firm control of the feature since then.

Washington policymakers, despite the seizure, decided to let the matter drop. As Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute suggested, no American president could convince the public to defend “uninhabited rocks of no intrinsic importance.” And as a “senior U.S. military official” told the Washington Post in 2012,

I don’t think that we’d allow the U.S. to get dragged into a conflict over fish or over a rock. Having allies that we have defense treaties with, not allowing them to drag us into a situation over a rock dispute, is something I think we’re pretty all well-aligned on.

In short, the United States did nothing to hold China accountable for its deception. By doing nothing, however, America empowered the most belligerent elements in the Chinese political system by showing everybody else in Beijing that aggression works.

Months after taking control of Scarborough, an emboldened Beijing pressed forward by rapidly stepping up incursions around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, claimed by China but under the control of Japan. And Beijing continued to apply pressure in the South China Sea, especially at Second Thomas Shoal, like Scarborough, thought to be part of the Philippines. At Second Thomas, Manila in 1999 grounded the Sierra Madre, a World War II–era hospital ship, to mark the shoal, and left a handful of marines on board. China, once again employing cabbage tactics, used small craft to surround the tiny Philippine garrison. In March 2014, Chinese craft escalated by turning back two of Manila’s resupply vessels, cutting off the troops stationed on the rusting hulk. “For fifteen years we have conducted regular resupply missions and personnel rotation without interference from China,” said Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez at the time.

THERE ARE various theories why Beijing decided to act at that moment. Ernest Bower of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told Reuters that the belligerent Chinese move could have been the result of Beijing’s perception of American weakness in Syria and Ukraine. Yet there is a far more direct explanation. The Chinese knew the United States had remained idle when they grabbed the much-closer Scarborough, even though they had brazenly repudiated the agreement Washington had brokered with themselves and Manila.

In early 2014, Beijing began another provocative initiative by island building—cementing over coral—in the Spratly chain of islands in the southern portion of the South China Sea, creating more than 3,200 acres on and around seven reefs, rocks, shoals and specks. Beijing, most notably, rebuilt Fiery Cross Reef, also claimed by Manila as well as Taipei and Hanoi. The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Adm. Harry Harris, called the newly created features China’s “great wall of sand.”

Moreover, the Chinese have continued provocative conduct. In February 2016, Chinese craft harassed a Philippine navy vessel not far from Half Moon Shoal, just sixty nautical miles south of Palawan, one of the main Philippine islands. And at about the same time, Beijing made an apparent move on uninhabited Jackson Atoll, which also sits off Palawan. Chinese vessels, following the Scarborough and Second Thomas playbooks, had for weeks crowded around the feature, which Beijing calls Wufang Jiao. China’s Foreign Ministry said Chinese craft had worked to free a grounded foreign vessel, a Manila-based fishing boat.

Yet the action was not a temporary effort to aid navigation, as Beijing had claimed. Chinese vessels, both white-hulled (coast guard) and gray-hulled (navy) had swarmed the feature and excluded Filipinos from their traditional fishing grounds. The Philippine Star, a Manila newspaper, called the Chinese ships a “menacing presence.” Eugenio Bito-onon Jr., a mayor in the area, said China’s ships had loitered around the atoll for more than a month. “We can’t enter the area anymore,” an unidentified Philippine fisherman told the Star. Up to five gray and white hulls had been stationed in the area “at any one time.”

“This is very alarming,” Bito-onon told Reuters. To inhabitants of the surrounding area, Beijing’s actions were a threat. “The Chinese are trying to choke us by putting an imaginary checkpoint there,” the mayor said. “It is a clear violation of our right to travel, impeding freedom of navigation.” Freedom of navigation has had no more staunch defender than the United States, but in recent years America has been reluctant to confront China as it attempted to restrict others in its peripheral waters. Washington’s abandonment of Manila was especially evident when an arbitral panel in The Hague handed down its landmark decision in Philippines v. China last July, invalidating the nine-dash line and ruling against China on almost all its positions.

The tribunal held that Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal are within the Philippine exclusive economic zone and on the Philippine continental shelf, and that there was no basis for any claim by Beijing to these two features. With regard to Scarborough, it decided China had violated the traditional fishing rights of Filipino fishermen by exercising control of the shoal. Moreover, the panel ruled that Beijing had operated its vessels at Scarborough so as to create a “serious risk of collision and danger to Philippine ships and personnel,” breaching its international obligations. The Philippines, as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), brought the action in 2013, shortly after the Chinese had seized Scarborough. At first, Beijing did not realize the significance of the case filed by Benigno Aquino, Duterte’s immediate predecessor, but China eventually grasped its importance and contested the jurisdiction of the arbitral panel in December of the following year.

Beijing did not accept arbitration delimiting sea boundaries when in 1996 it ratified UNCLOS. Yet its ratification implicitly accepted arbitration of other matters. In October 2015, the arbitration panel asserted jurisdiction over seven of the fifteen claims raised by Manila. In response, China withdrew and did not participate in the substantive phase of the case.

Beijing denounced the 479-page award issued last July. It called the panel a “law-abusing tribunal,” the case a “farce.” The decision “amounts to nothing more than a piece of paper.” “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China solemnly declares that the award is null and void and has no binding force,” Beijing announced on the day it was issued. “China neither accepts nor recognizes it.” Chinese experts, apparently speaking at the behest of their government, threatened war.

And Duterte, who assumed the presidency two weeks before the decision was handed down, had grounds to be even more upset at America. Secretary of State John Kerry did say China should accept the award, but he spoke without seriousness. He did not pressure Beijing to honor its obligation to accept the ruling, but instead leaned on Manila to bargain with China, backing the Chinese position on starting talks. Kerry’s posture was indefensible. Chinese officials had publicly refused to accept the award as the basis for negotiations. The secretary of state, it was clear, was more intent on avoiding confrontation with a lawless Beijing than upholding centuries of U.S. commitment to defend the global commons.

Duterte, among others, has noticed Washington’s reluctance to protect his beleaguered country. “America did nothing,” he said in October 2015, referring to China’s reclamation activity. “And now that it is completed, they want to patrol the area. For what?” His views on the topic have been nothing if not consistent. America, he maintained at the end of December, should have stopped China “when the first spray of soil was tossed out to the area.” “He feels aligning with our allies against China is not going to benefit the country,” said Jesus Dureza, Duterte’s close friend and cabinet-level peace adviser, describing the president’s views. “The idea is that our allies are not going to go to war for us, so why should we align with them?”

Perfecto Yasay Jr., Duterte’s foreign minister until March, expanded on this theme of betrayal. He noted the “stark reality” that the Philippines cannot defend itself and, in a Facebook post aptly titled “America Has Failed Us,” wrote,

Worse is that our only ally could not give us the assurance that in taking a hard line towards the enforcement of our sovereignty rights under international law, it will promptly come to our defense under our existing military treaty and agreements.
Moreover, Duterte has also made it clear he will not side with America because he believes that in East Asia it has already “lost,” something he made clear during his Beijing trip.

THE UNITED States has by no means lost in any sense of that term, but nuanced, hesitant-looking U.S. policies have created that impression. Washington, throughout the Bush and Obama administrations, inadvertently created the appearance of weakness, and the appearance of weakness is now costing Washington a crucial treaty ally. As Duterte, who obviously prides himself on his strength, makes clear, everyone wants to be on the winning side.

There are, however, several signs that the rift between Manila and Washington can narrow in coming months. First, American policies are moving in a direction more to the liking of the Philippines. The trend began sometime around the beginning of last year. “Early 2016 saw a perceptible uptick in American naval patrols and surveillance activities close to the Scarborough Shoal, which may have contributed to China’s decision to postpone any construction activity on the disputed feature,” Richard Heydarian, a foreign-affairs expert in Manila, told me.

Moreover, the Financial Times reports that last March, President Obama privately warned Chinese ruler Xi Jinping that he would do all he could to prevent the reclamation of Scarborough—“a stark admonition,” as the paper put it—and there are indications Obama repeated the stern words during the G-20 meeting in September in the Chinese city of Hangzhou. American efforts, Manila believes, had some effect. This March, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana publicly suggested that Washington stopped China at the last minute from cementing over Scarborough. President Trump looks like he will continue to move in his predecessor’s more resolute direction. During his January confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that China would not be allowed to occupy its reclaimed features in the South China Sea. Moreover, White House spokesman Sean Spicer reiterated Tillerson’s position when he said that the administration would not permit China to grab disputed features. “Under Trump, there is growing confidence that the U.S. will adopt a more robust stance against China,” Heydarian notes about attitudes in the Philippine capital.

The new direction is the product of a realization that, for its own reasons, Washington must stop China from reclaiming and militarizing Scarborough. Militarization would allow the People’s Liberation Army to complete a triangle formed by the airstrip on Woody Island in the Paracels and the three runways on the seven reclaimed islands in the Spratly chain. The interlocking facilities would give Beijing the ability to enforce an air-defense identification zone over the South China Sea, much like the one it declared over the East China Sea in November 2013. Each year, some $5.3 trillion of goods passes on and over the South China Sea—much of it moving to or from the United States—so Washington does not want any other country, especially China, to control the skies over that crucial body of water.

Moreover, there is a sense in Washington that, as Beijing adopts progressively more hostile policies, it must keep China’s navy and air force penned inside what Chinese strategists call the “first island chain.” The Philippine president, who governs a sprawling archipelago in the center of that chain, could give China’s forces easy access out of the South China Sea to the Western Pacific, thereby exposing, among other things, Taiwan and the southern portion of Japan.

Second, nations other than the United States also have an interest in preventing the Philippines from becoming a Chinese dependency. Both South Korea and Japan are critically reliant on tanker shipments from the Middle East crossing the South China Sea. Seoul, now embroiled in a deepening political crisis, has no time for outreach to the Philippines. Tokyo, on the other hand, is working the problem hard. Its prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was the first head of government to pay a call to the country since Duterte took office, traveling to see the Philippine leader at his home in Davao City in January. Abe’s trip followed that of his foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, who was the first foreign minister to go there during Duterte’s administration.
In Duterte’s home, Abe shared a simple breakfast in the kitchen, and the Japanese leader brought gifts. Not only is Tokyo funding a drug-rehabilitation center—thereby helping the Philippine leader with his most important domestic initiative—it is also pledging $8.7 billion in assistance. Money talks loudly in Manila and helps Japan, a staunch U.S. ally, maintain a vital link between Washington and its most troublesome treaty partner. Tokyo, in short, may be the factor keeping Duterte from a final defection to China.

Third, Beijing will also impede Duterte from completing his pivot to China. After all, the Philippines, whether it publicly admits to it or not, is involved in a zero-sum contest with the Chinese state. Beijing now labels its South China Sea claims as “core” and “irrefutable,” and Duterte, although he can make temporary accommodations on issues like fishing rights, cannot compromise sovereignty. If he cedes territory as Beijing demands, he could lose his job. In October, on the eve of the president’s trip to Beijing, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio remarked that Duterte can be impeached if he surrenders Scarborough Shoal. Duterte may say China “has never invaded a piece of my country all these generations”—what he told the Chinese during his October visit—but that is manifestly untrue. And Beijing is ramping up efforts to dominate specks that Filipinos believe are theirs.

Fourth, many in Manila are concerned about Duterte moving the Philippines into the Chinese sphere of influence. Among the pro-U.S. voices is the influential Fidel Ramos, a former president. Ramos, who has counseled Duterte, called his anti-U.S. statements “discombobulating,” and there is general concern in the Philippine capital about anti-Americanism getting out of control. The Philippine military, which has seen fit to change presidents from time to time, is almost uniformly pro-American.
These attitudes are in line with Philippine popular opinion. Poll after poll indicates general support for America, usually around 90 percent. No country, as the last Pew Research Center survey notes, has a more favorable view of the United States than the Philippines. And, predictably, poll after poll indicates that the Philippine public expects Duterte to defend the country’s sovereignty. A recent Pulse Asia survey showed that 84 percent of Filipinos want Duterte to assert rights over South China Sea features, in accordance with the July 12 Hague ruling. In a response to growing public concern, Foreign Minister Yasay revealed in January that he had filed formal protests with Beijing over its activities at Scarborough and in the Spratly chain.

FINALLY, DUTERTE’S ability to reorient Manila’s policy will eventually be undermined by an erosion in his popularity at home. So far, the president enjoys wide support, effectively giving him the latitude to do what he wants. Up to now, his war on drugs has been the centerpiece of his governance and, it appears, the main reason for his big following. The war, marked by extrajudicial executions and state-sponsored murders, has been bloody, claiming over seven thousand lives since his inauguration. During this period, police have been “pro-actively gunning down suspects,” the conclusion Reuters draws from a 97 percent kill rate in police raids.

“Duterte Harry’s” extraordinary campaign has encountered stiff opposition from the Catholic Church and human-rights activists, however, and the president has begun to feel the heat. One of the first signs of trouble for him appeared in late January when Malacanang Palace, the presidential office, had to ask the public to give the “Punisher,” another of Duterte’s nicknames, “an allowance for mistakes.”

Mistakes, like the October kidnapping and killing of a South Korean businessman by antinarcotics officers at the Philippine National Police headquarters, have already slowed his drug war, leading to the late January suspension of the effort. And as more horrible stories pile up, his brutal campaign will surely lose support as police excesses become too blatant—and as his attacks against the Church force the bishops to go on the offensive against him.

Furthermore, another bad sign for Duterte is the reports of growing corruption. The country fell on Transparency International’s Corruption Index last year, and the appearance of venality is something that will affect his legitimacy. Duterte should remember that another tough-guy president, Joseph Estrada, was ousted from power over the issue.

All these domestic trends are crucial because, as Duterte loses altitude, he will inevitably lose the clout to fundamentally change the balance of power in East Asia. Yet President Trump may only have a small window to reverse Manila’s course. In January, Duterte said he was going to Beijing in May to meet Xi Jinping again. That’s about the same time he is expected to travel to Russia.

Why is Duterte intent on traveling to Beijing and Moscow? In September, he said he might “cross the Rubicon” and end the mutual-assistance treaty with the United States in order to ink defense pacts with China and Russia.

[Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China. Follow him @GordonGChang.]

Photos of fugitive ASG bandits in Inabanga released

From the Sun Star-Cebu (Apr 17): Photos of fugitive ASG bandits in Inabanga released

THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) released the official photos of the eight remaining suspected members of the Abu Sayyap terror group (ASG) who clashed with government forces in Sitio Ilaya, Barangay Napo, Inabanga, Bohol on Tuesday morning.

In a post by the Facebook page of the Municipality of Inabanga, residents were advised to be on the lookout for the ASG members, who were reportedly mobile in the mountain barangays of Inabanga.

“They hide from our authorities in the morning and move through the forests at night. They are so skillful at hiding themselves, but we have blocked all their possible exits, which will prevent them from venturing to other areas,” Capt. Jojo Mascariñas of the 302nd Brigade of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) told SunStar Cebu.

Four members who include the sub-leader Mouamar Askali alias Abu Rami, alias Abu Sufyan, a bomb expert, Edimar Isnain and an unidentified armed man were killed after 24 hours of combat with the military and the police.

On the government side, 2nd Lt. Estilito Saldua, Sgt. John Dexter Duero, PO2 Rey Anthony Nazareno, and Corp. Meljune Cajaban also sacrificed their lives.

A manhunt is on for Joselito Melloria alias Alih, the local who brought the group to Inabanga, alias Richard, Asis, Ubayda, Poy, Dah, Saada and Um Amra. Mario (real name withheld), an eyewitness, said that two persons of the armed group looked like they were 17-year-old and the oldest was in his 40s.

 For Melloria’s capture, the government is mulling to put a P100,000 bounty on his head, a source who asked not to be named, disclosed.

Duterte signs order fast tracking military procurement

From Update Philippines (Apr 17): Duterte signs order fast tracking military procurement

President Rodrigo Duterte issued Executive Order 18, s. 2017 to fast track procurement projects of the Department of National Defense (DND) for Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) modernization, and other projects for DND attached agencies like Office of Civil Defense, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council and the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office.

The order, repealing former President Gloria Arroyo’s EO 235, s. 2003, was signed April 7. “Except for contracts required by law to be acted upon and/or approved by the President, the Secretary of National Defense shall have the authority to sign and/or approve Government contracts of the Department of National Defense and any of its bureaus, offices or agencies, before the Government contract shall be considered approved in accordance with law and binding on the Government: Provided, however, that the Secretary of National Defense may delegate in writing to appropriate officials, subject to appropriate ceilings, this authority to sign and/or approve a Government contract below Fifty Million Pesos (P50 Million), as he sees fit under the circumstances: Provided, further, that for Government contracts of the Armed Forces of the Philippines involving an amount below Fifty Million Pesos (50 Million), the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines shall have full authority to sign the same,” said in Arroyo’s EO.

No terror threat in south

From the Visayan Daily Star (Apr 17): No terror threat in south

The Philippine Army and National Police yesterday debunked reports of alleged armed men who got off from a boat in a coastal barangay of Inayawan in Cauayan, Negros Occidental.

Colonel Eliezer Losañes, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, clarified yesterday that it was an American identified as Frank Blaskes, 74, and his companions, who docked at the coastal area of Brgy.Inayawan, Cauayan, after their boat suffered an engine malfunction.

Losañes, who supervises the internal security operations of the Philippine Army in Negros Island Region, said that Blakes and his 11-year-old daughter, Liza, who came from Bacong, Negros Oriental, were on their way to Sipalay City, Negros Occidental, when the boat they were riding malfunctioned.

Chief Inspector Ruben Pajarito, Cauayan police officer-in-charge, said the boat drifted towards the territorial waters of the Inayawan barangay town, where Blaskes and his daughter, later docked.

In the same area, the presence of about 10 armed men suspected to be New People's Army rebels were also reported to the Inayawan barangay officials, who relayed the information to the police, Pajarito said.

He said the armed men may have been mistaken as the occupants of the boat, that had docked in the area.

Five Abu Sayyaf bandits who were believed planning to kidnap tourists in central Visayas, died in an encounter with combined forces of the 47th Infantry Battalion and the police in Inabanga, Bohol, last week.

Pajarito said he believes that Abu Sayyaf bandits will not try their luck in Cauayan, as they have no contact in the area, citing the absence of a Muslim community in the town.

Blaskes and his daughter were escorted by Inayawan barangay officials in their return to Dumaguete City on Saturday, while their boat, that is equipped with latest navigation equipment, is now under the custody of the barangay officials, for repair.

Investigations of the Cauayan police showed that the boat propeller hit a rock, and that caused its engine to malfunction.

Pajarito commended the Inayawan barangay officials and residents for their vigilance.

Meanwhile, Losañes said they have not lowered their guards down even in previous months, especially in securing the tourist destination areas of southern Negros.

He also said they have not received any report of “ terror threat” in tourist destination areas of southern Negros, so far.

The city of Sipalay and its neighboring towns of Hinobaan and Cauayan, that are known for their diving sites and beach resort areas, are among the areas of Negros Island Region frequently visited by foreigners, especially from Europe.

Abu Sayyaf might have killed elderly couple in Bohol – AFP

From Rappler (Apr 17): Abu Sayyaf might have killed elderly couple in Bohol – AFP

Constancio and Crisenta Petalco 'could have been suspected of being the ones to have reported to the authorities the presence of the members of the Abu Sayyaf,' says the military spokesman

ABU SAYYAF IN BOHOL. The Abu Sayyaf Group led by Muamar Askali was reportedly welcomed by Muslim converts in the community.

ABU SAYYAF IN BOHOL. The Abu Sayyaf Group led by Muamar Askali was reportedly welcomed by Muslim converts in the community.

The bodies of elderly couple Constancio and Crisenta Petalco were among those recovered at the encounter site in Inabanga, Bohol, last week, but the military said it was possible they were killed by the Abu Sayyaf.

The Petalcos' nephew was among the Abu Sayyaf members who sailed there from Sulu, the military confirmed on Monday, April 17. The bandits stayed in their house.

"There is a possibility that the Abu Sayyaf themselves killed them. They could have been suspected of being the ones to have reported to the authorities the presence of the members of the Abu Sayyaf. We do not want to speculate," said Armed Forces of the Philippines Public Affairs Office chief Colonel Edgard Arevalo.
The police is investigating why the couple did not evacuate along with their neighbors, and whether they coddled the bandits or were taken as hostages.

Relatives of the Petalcos told ABS-CBN News that the elderly couple were not able to evacuate because "they were slow to move and old."

But the military in Bohol suspects that they were willing accomplices because one of the Abu Sayyaf members – Joselito Melloria – is their nephew.

"The Petalco couple are residents of said place and the owner of the house where the Abu Sayyaf Group positioned during the time of encounter," said Captain Jojo Mascariñas, Civil Military Operations chief of the Army 302nd Brigade.

"Accordingly, Crisenta was a relative of Joselito Melloria, who is believed to be the one who guided the other ASG members to the said place."

Mascariñas added that they appeared to have welcomed the local terrorists from Sulu into their home and showed no signs that they were taken as hostages.

Arevalo said they were surprised by reports that civilians were caught in the crossfire because the military launched "surgical operations" after they were assured by local officials that the residents had evacuated.

"If this indeed happened, it is the subject of the ongoing investigation. Investigations are being conducted by the Philippine National Police to ascertain the reason why the couple or the people mentioned stayed at the encounter site," Arevalo said.

The military foiled the planned Abu Sayyaf attack in Bohol and killed notorious Abu Sayyaf leader Muamar Askali or Abu Rami, who brought his men to Bohol to take advantage of the influx of tourists during Holy Week.

Local residents reported their presence in Inabanga, which prompted quick response from authorities. (READ: Bad or good intel: 5 questions on the Abu Sayyaf presence in Bohol)

Three soldiers and a cop were also killed in the clashes in Bohol.