Tuesday, April 18, 2017

AFP to close in on remaining wounded ASG at large in Bohol

From CNN Philippines (Apr 18): AFP to close in on remaining wounded ASG at large in Bohol

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has reason to believe their pursuit of the surviving members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Bohol may come to an end soon, its spokesperson disclosed Tuesday.

"The remaining members of the group that made landfall in Inabanga are still at large, but we are certain that they are only in a certain area," Brigadier General Restituto Padilla updated on CNN Philippines' The Source.

"Information is also trickling in that among them are wounded and that they're running out of food, and low on ammunition... It may be soon that we will be able to find and locate them, and arrest them, hopefully," he added.

Seven members of the terrorist group remain at large after a firefight broke out between the ASG and government forces in Inabanga, Bohol on April 11.

Related: Gov't forces pursuing at least 7 ASG members in Bohol

Among those being hunted is a certain Joselito Milloria, a local convert who likely acted as the group's "connection on the ground."

The ASG may have been in the Visayas to conduct kidnappings in the area, following pressure from continuous military operations, Padilla noted.

The terror group earns money for arms and other resources through kidnap-for-ransom schemes.

"Lately you have not been hearing of abductions in the high seas, particularly in the border areas of Indonesia, the Philippines, and the island of Sabah... Now they have been trying to do these abductions elsewhere," Padilla explained.

The encounter is the most recent in a series of fights with the ASG after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana vowed to stamp out the group for good by June this year.

Padilla said that so far the military is making good on this deadline.

"We're doing our best. Our troops on the ground are leaning forward," said Padilla. "We're hoping to meet that target... sometime June or start of July."

Padilla estimated that around 150 firearms had been recovered from the group, and pegged "just little over 300" members remained from their initial count of 500 when recent operations began.

He also said that the group still holds 27 hostages captive, seven of whom are Filipinos.
ASG leader might surrender

The local war against terror might also be working shown in a "trend" of surrenders, Padilla added.

"Last April 10, there were 11 in the island of Tawi-tawi who surrendered to Gen. [Custodio] Parcon," he announced. "Elsewhere, in Basilan, there are more. I think they number about 11 as well, and then a few in Jolo."

He said that added that a military general shared they are "getting feelers from [Radillon] Sajiron himself, who wants to surrender."

Padilla described Sajiron is one of the "pioneers" of ASG, and his name has been involved in many kidnappings and beheadings.

"Hopefully the feelers that we're getting are authentic, and they're really sincere," said Padilla. "Definitely once this happens, it will be a big blow to the organization."

No failure of intelligence

Padilla also disputes reports that a failure of intelligence paved the way for the group's landfall in Bohol, which is far from their base in Sulu.

"There was no failure of intelligence, and I'd like to emphasize that," said Padilla. "Because we knew where they were. We knew they were coming."

Just before the encounter in Bohol broke out, the United States issued a travel advisory to Bohol and Cebu, prompting concern that foreigners had known about the ASG's arrival first.

However, Padilla clarified that it was actually the AFP who informed them of the possible landfall of terrorists in the area.

Canada, Japan, South Korea, European countries, and Southeast Asian countries were among those in the network of nations who were kept in the loop about this possible movement. Padilla said it was this same network that alerted them to the presence of two ISIS members in Taguig on April 6.

Related: NBI presents alleged ISIS members nabbed in Taguig

It is up to each country's government to issue travel advisories, he added.

The Philippines opted not to issue and advisory because of certain "cause and effect factors," although Padilla maintained that a "beehive of activity" is set in motion once such information is received.

"We know that we have dealt with this threat decisively, and it won't escalate as people are trying to speculate," Padilla assured.


Four Abu Sayyaf chiefs being hunted

From The Star Online (Apr 19): Four Abu Sayyaf chiefs being hunted

Four Abu Sayyaf commanders capable of mounting large-scale kidnappings are being hunted down on both sides of the Sabah and southern Philippines sea borders.

Top on the hunted list are the hot-tempered Al Habsi Misaya and his comrade Sarip Mura, followed by the ageing Radulan Sahiron and Hatib Sawadjaan – all targets for elimination.

Two other commanders of the terror group are Idang Susukan and Apo Mike although intelligence sources believe they could have been killed or seriously injured in gun battles in Jolo island.

There is also conflicting intelligence on whether Hatib is dead or alive.

Intelligence sources said Al Habsi, a syabu addict in his 30s, managed to elude bombardment by the Philippine military and dragnets on Jolo island over the last few months.

He has gone into hiding in Zamboanga City in southern Philippines, according to the sources. Al Habsi is believed to have financed previous cross-border kidnappings in Sabah by providing fuel money, boats and firearms, the sources added.

They said Al Habsi, who owned large tracts of land in Zamboanga mainland and properties in Jolo town, was flush with cash and was the key man in many of the ransom negotiations.

He was blamed for scuttling negotiations for the release of Bernard Then when he demanded more money during the release of Sandakan Ocean King Seafood Restaurant manageress Thien Nyuk Fun two years ago.

Bernard was then in the custody of Idang’s faction in the Jolo jungle.

“But Al Habsi seized Bernard from Idang after the deal was done. Al Habsi refused to release Bernard to negotiators until more money was sent.

“That was the last we heard about Bernard who was later beheaded (Nov 17, 2015),” said a source with knowledge of the negotiations.

Al Habsi, who is believed to have recovered from recent gunshot wounds, has evaded the Philippine military which has killed at least 10 Abu Sayyaf commanders in operations to wipe out the terror group on the orders of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Some even say that Al Habsi is being “protected” by certain quarters within the military who considered him an “asset”.

The sources said Al Habsi faction sub-commander Salip Mura, who was among the senior gunman involved in Sandakan’s Ocean King incident, could launch another hit on Sabah. Salip is also a relative of the Sawadjaan family of Hatib.

The Sawadjaan family were on the security forces radar after their involvement in the Nov 15, 2013, attack on Semporna’s luxury Pom Pom Resort where one Taiwanese tourist Hsu Li Min, 57, was killed and another, Chang An Wei, 57, abducted.

Idang is the brother of the late Mujib Susukan, who was the key figure with Galib Andang @ Commander Robot in the Easter Sunday Sipadan kidnappings on April 23, 2000.


One-arm commander’s offer is a trap, says Jolo activist

From The Star Online (Apr 19): One-arm commander’s offer is a trap, says Jolo activist 

The offer to surrender by Abu Sayyaf’s ageing one-arm commander Radulan Sahiron is seen as a trap to massacre the Philippine soldiers in the terror group’s stronghold of Jolo island.

Radulan, the group’s supreme leader or “emir” who is in his late 70s, recently made the overture to surrender through Sulu Muslim elders.

The Philippine military confirmed that Radulan, for whom the US Department of Justice has offered a US$1mil (RM4.4mil) bounty, wanted to turn himself in following relentless military offensives in Jolo.

Radulan listed one condition for his surrender – that he is not turned over to the US or any other count­­ry and be allowed to remain in the custody of Philippine authorities.

Jolo anti-kidnapping activist Prof Octovio Dinampo told The Star that this could be a ploy by Radulan to seek revenge against the recent killing of Abu Sayyaf leader Maumar Askali @ Abu Rami in Bohol.

“I suspect it could be a trap to draw in military troops to the Abu Sayyaf hideout to avenge the death of Abu Rami who is considered a Robin Hood among the Jolo people,” he said.

Octovio said Radulan could be planning what his former Moro National Liberation Front comrade Usman Sali did in Jolo in October 1977 which came to be known as the Patikul massacre.

In a trap set by Usman under the pretext of holding a peace dialogue, Octovia said 35 military personnel and officers including Brig-Gen Teodulfo Bautista were killed at a market in Patikul.

Intelligence sources said both Radulan and his counterpart Hatib Sawadjaan were not only linked to kidnappings and holding hostages but also provided shelter for Islamic State militants.

They said Radulan and Hatib provided the “umbrella of protection” for younger Abu Sayyaf leaders Isnilon Hapilon and others who took an oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of IS in Syria.

It is believed Isnilon was killed in a military bombing in Basilan last month.

Intelligence reports revealed that Hatib’s daughter Sauda was married to Amin Bacho, one of the four Malaysian IS militants who fled to southern Philippines with Universiti Malaya lecturer Dr Mahmud Ahmad in 2012.

What Will the Biggest US-Philippines Military Exercise Look Like Under Duterte?

From The Diplomat (Apr 18): What Will the Biggest US-Philippines Military Exercise Look Like Under Duterte?

A closer look at what we know about this year’s Balikatan exercises and what they say about the state of the alliance.

What Will the Biggest US-Philippines Military Exercise Look Like Under Duterte?

Image Credit: Flickr/US Pacific Command
In a few weeks, the United States and the Philippines will hold the first iteration of their biggest annual bilateral military exercise under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte known as Balikatan, meaning “shoulder to shoulder” in the national language Tagalog. And though Duterte’s anti-American rhetoric has not quite translated into reality in many instances, it has nonetheless raised questions as to how this might affect military-to-military interactions within their decades-old alliance such as these.

In the lead up to Balikatan this year, local media outlets have cast it as having experienced varying degrees of continuity and change, with some indicating that things are proceeding as normal, while others indicating that a major scaling down is in effect. What is actually going on based on what we know publicly so far, and what might this mean?

Philippine officials have actually been pretty consistent about the general fate of Balikatan at the start of the Duterte administration, even though many specifics have yet to be disclosed. Back in October last year, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that though some assault exercises and bilateral drills were canceled, remaining engagements including Balikatan would be refocused on fields like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), counterterrorism, and counter narcotics (See: “How Much Can Duterte Wreck the US-Philippine Military Alliance?”).

Specifics have been further ironed out by Washington and Manila since then, including at the regular Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) meeting in the Philippines in November as well as in planning for the exercises themselves. But Philippine military officials had indicated privately that the exercises would likely proceed along the lines of what Lorenzana had laid out (See: “Where Are US-Philippine Defense Relations Under Duterte?”).

As we near the start of Balikatan 2017, that appears to be the case. Over the weekend, Balikatan spokesman Major Celeste Frank Sayson released some preliminary details that aligned with what Lorenzana had indicated, both in terms of the areas of focus as well as a general scaling down of the exercises relative to recent years. “It will be scenario-based like (preparing for) a big storm hitting the Philippines or the possibility of terrorism,” he said, adding that the drills would last as usual for around ten days. “We are safe to say there will be no more live fire exercises. We (will) focus on humanitarian and civil assistance.”

What do statements like these tell us about the status of Balikatan 2017, and the alliance more generally? First, it is important to note that it is not uncommon for military exercises to change their focus and even their participants in accordance with the shifting priorities of the actors involved in them. And while the live-firing component of Balikatan is the one that often gets the most attention, the exercise, like many others of its ilk (including Cobra Gold in Thailand, another one that has gotten a lot of press in recent years) does in fact already consist of a variety of events – including simulation supported events, operation events, and humanitarian civil assistance projects – and it does also address a range of challenges from maritime security to HADR. So the change we are witnessing is not as dramatic as it may initially appear.

Second, for close observers of Asian security affairs, this is nonetheless admittedly a stark contrast from what we had seen in the past few iterations of Balikatan under Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino III. Ahead of the 2015 Balikatan Exercises, the media had focused on the fact that both sides were set to double the size of the war games – with the largest number of troops participating since 2000 – and some parts of the exercise were planned to be staged close to a South China Sea flashpoint. In the 2016 iteration, Ash Carter became the first ever U.S. defense secretary to observe the Balikatan exercises, and the headlines were dominated by the involvement of two M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) units which were being deployed for the first time. Balikatan had also increasingly been seen as one path for the multilateralization of U.S. exercises in the region, where U.S. allies and partners like Japan and Australia could either actually participate in varying degrees or attend as observers (See: “Why the Philippines is Critical to the US Rebalance in Asia“).

The first iteration of Balikatan under Duterte in 2017 has definitely been given a much lower profile relatively speaking. It is clear that at least for now, Philippine officials are keen to highlight the “softer” dimensions of the exercise and keep the focus on terrorism and HADR, rather than maritime security which may be deemed more sensitive because of Duterte’s attempts to rebalance Philippine foreign policy with relatively less dependence on the United States and more diversification with other players including China and, to a lesser degree, Russia (See: “The Limits of Duterte’s US-China Rebalance”). At a time when broader foreign policy is still in flux, that might not necessarily be a bad thing. As one Philippine official told me privately during a conversation in Manila last month, “staying under the radar may not be so bad exactly because things are still not clear.”

Third and finally, it is still early days. As Sayson himself indicated, there are still things being ironed out in terms of this iteration of Balikatan. Those details are important, and we will need them before truly assessing the status of the exercise apart from the rhetoric. As I have noted before with respect to Cobra Gold, vague terms like “scaling down” and “refocusing” can mean a whole range of things in practice, from lower troops numbers to the exclusion of certain exercise components, either on a temporary or a permanent basis (See: “US-Thailand Relations and Cobra Gold 2015: What’s Really Going On?“).

Furthermore, we are also in the early days of new leaderships on both sides, with Duterte being inaugurated in the Philippines last June and Donald Trump in the United States this January. Duterte’s own outreach to China has predictably run into some familiar challenges, including on the South China Sea (See: “China and the Philippines Under Duterte: Look Beyond a Voyage“). And depending on what we see from the Trump administration, there is the potential for better U.S.-Philippine ties after a rough patch during the end of Obama’s tenure, especially if Trump does attend the East Asia Summit in Manila later this year and has a summit meeting with Duterte that goes well (See: “Trump’s Real ASEAN Test“). A lot can happen between now and then, and thereafter, which could affect how both sides approach military engagements like Balikatan. So we should be cautious before jumping to too many conclusions too early on.


Visayas back to normal: Aying

From the Visayan Daily Star (Apr 18): Visayas back to normal: Aying

The Armed Forces of the Philippines Central Command and the Army's 3rd Infantry Division have declared all the regions in Visayas back to normal, following an encounter between AbuSayyaf bandits and government forces in Bohol last week.

Maj. Gen. Jon Aying, 3ID commander, said yesterday that the encounter was confined to a coastal area of Inabanga town in Bohol, and stressed that it was an “isolated” incident, although the news caused apprehension among the people.

Three soldiers,including a young Army lieutenant, a policeman , and five AbyuSayyaf bandits were killed in the Bohol gunbattle.

President Rodrigo Duterte conferred a Gold Cross Medal (posthumous) on 2Lt. EstelitoSalduaJr, who led the operations of the 47th Infantry Battalion against ASG. He died during the firefight, with two of his personnel.

The Gold Cross Medal is the third highest military decoration of the Armed Forces of the Philippines for bravery.

The Bohol incident also caused unnecessary panic among residents ofBrgy.Inayawan, a coastal area in Cauayan,Negros Occidental, when the presence of a group of armed men was monitored, but they had been mistaken to be occupants of a boat, that docked in the area Friday night last week.

Because of intensified military operations in Mindanao, especially in the Sulu and Basilan areas, Aying said some of the Abu Sayyaf fled to Bohol, to avoid military pressure. If given a chance, they may create diversionary tactics, he added.

Aying, who supervises Army units deployed in Negros Island Region, Western and Central Visayas, that include Bohol, said the ASG went to Bohol “unprepared”, as they were not able to establish a reliable “base”, that may provide sanctuary for them.

Their presence was immediately reported by the people to the authorities, and that led to the neutralization of five of their members, who were killed in the gunbattle, he added.

Aying acknowledged the timely information relayed by the town residents.

He also vowed to wipe out those armed groups, to maintain peaceful communities. “Whoever they are, we will not spare them. They are “salot (plague)” in our society,”Ayingsaid.

He rallied the people, especially those in the coastal areas, from the provincial to municipal level, to organize themselves and set up a communication network, for them to report any presence of armed men, who may penetrate their communities.


Russia’s missile cruiser, sea tanker to visit PHL

Posted to the Business World (Apr 19): Russia’s missile cruiser, sea tanker to visit PHL

RUSSIAN NAVY’S guided missile cruiser Varyag and sea tanker Pechenga will arrive for a goodwill visit to the Philippines on April 20, the Philippine Navy said in statement. -- Bloomberg


Del Monte pineapple farm in Davao City is latest NPA attack victim

From the Business World (Apr 19): Del Monte pineapple farm in Davao City is latest NPA attack victim

FARM COMPANIES and workers have denounced the continued attacks being carried out by members of the New People’s Army (NPA), the latest of which was on a Del Monte Philippines pineapple plantation in Baguio District, Davao City last week where the rebels burned about P4 million in farm equipment.

The police report said about 30 rebels stormed the farm and burned two harvesters and seized a shotgun of a security guard just four days after the two sides agreed on implementing a temporary cease-fire, although the agreement has yet to take effect as the two sides have yet to set the ground rules.

In a press statement released Monday, Eduardo Maningo, a spokesperson of agrarian beneficiaries, called on government to intensify its protection of farm workers and the farms.

“The safety of our families and our livelihood are threatened. If the government fails to address this problem, businesses can leave and we will lose our jobs,” said Mr. Maningo, adding that their problems have been mounting as the industry is also facing infestations and the impact of climate change.

Other recent NPA attacks were on a cold storage plant in General Santos City on March 30, a banana processing plant in Compostela Valley on Feb. 5, a pineapple plantation in Bukidnon 20 days later, three container vans loaded with fruits in Compostela Valley on March 25, a spray plane in Surigao del Norte also last month and the farm of Sumifru Philippines in Bukidnon on March 27.


DWDD: Two NPA Members Yield, Surrendered Four Firearms in Bukidnon

From DWDD AFP Civil Relations Service Radio Website (Apr 18): Two NPA Members Yield, Surrendered Four Firearms in Bukidnon


IMPASUG-ONG, Bukidnon— Two NPAs surrendered to the 8th Infantry (Dependable) Battalion on Easter Sunday bringing along their four high and low-powered firearms at 8IB headquarters in Impasugong, Bukidnon.

The two has finally decided to return to the mainstream society after realizing the futility of the armed struggle.

The NPA is losing steam and it was felt by its members. The former rebels revealed their reason for their surrender. First is that they grew tired of following the ideology and listening to the empty promises which had been encrypted in their minds by their NPA leaders; second, physical exhaustion as they keep on running away from the government security forces; third, they were starving in the mountains; and lastly, they wanted to live a better and peaceful life.

“The Philippine Army is serious in the performance of their duty to the nation in upholding peace and order. Despite the holidays, we work to keep threats away from the community. We may be mandated to go after armed groups but we never get tired of helping those who saw a brighter path and are seeking a better future. We are focusing all our efforts to achieve one goal and that is to provide the Filipino people just and lasting peace.”

“We are now facilitating the livelihood assistance based on the Comprehensive Local Integration Program of the Government to them. In addition to this, they are also set to participate in the unit’s ARM TO FARM Program in order to rehabilitate them in the mainstream of the society. This is a sustainable program that shall equip them with some basic livelihood knowledge and skills. All of these programs are designed to help our former rebels and those NPAs who are planning to surrender and have a better life outside the rebel group.”


MNLF-IIO: MNLF Special Unit of the Bangsamoro Armed Forces

Posted to the Moro National Liberation Front-International Information Office Facebook page (Apr 16): 1st One Thousand MNLF Special Unit of the Bangsamoro Armed Forces; (MNLF Young Soldiers) Sulu. At Camp Astana Mount Dragon, Bakud Kagay, Indanan Sulu.
April 16, 2017

Basilan and Tawi- Tawi get ready!

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Abu Sayyaf top man Sahiron sends surrender feelers – military

From Rappler (Apr 18): Abu Sayyaf top man Sahiron sends surrender feelers – military

If Sahiron does surrender, the military says he could influence more Abu Sayyaf leaders and members to follow suit

Screenshot of FBI's terrorist list as of April 18, 2017

Screenshot of FBI's terrorist list as of April 18, 2017

A traditional leader in Sulu has been in touch with the military for the possible surrender of Abu Sayyaf top leader Radullon Sahiron, a development that if successful could deal a blow to the group that has terrorized the country for decades.

Sahiron is on the US list of most wanted terrorists, indicted in a court there in 2007 for his involvement in the kidnapping of US citizens. The US offered a $1-million (P49.5-million) bounty for his capture.

Brigadier General Cirilito Sobejana, commander of Joint Task Force Sulu (JTF Sulu), said they are taking seriously the information, which came from a person known to be Sahiron's friend.

"It may be serious considering that the Abu Sayyaf Group is now away from their comfort zones, on the run and disorganized as a result of JTF Sulu's relentless and sustained focused military operations," Sobejana told Rappler on Tuesday, April 18.

Sahiron is estimated to be 74 years old. He is believed to be tired and weary of always moving from one place to another to escape the military, which has been working hard to meet a self-imposed deadline to crush the Abu Sayyaf by June 30.

Highly factionalized

The group that was founded in 1991 by former members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has survived repeated changes in leadership in the past. Sahiron became its overall leader in 2005 after Khadaffy Janjalani was killed by the military in Sulu.

The Abu Sayyaf is a highly factionalized group, divided into cells that mostly act on their own and thrive on ransom from kidnap victims.

Still, Sobejana said Sahiron's surrender would likely prompt more leaders and members to follow suit. It could be the tipping point.

"Others may follow... We hope that long and lasting peace will prevail in Sulu," he said.

The military recently celebrated the surrender of a batch of 11 men from Tawi-Tawi where kidnappers venturing to nearby Sabah are known to take refuge.

Sahiron rejects ISIS

How a Sahiron surrender could impact the group led by Isnilon Hapilon, the faction that has pledged allegiance to the international terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS), may be another matter.

A Jakarta-based think tank divides the Abu Sayyaf into two general factions. The group led by Sahiron rejects ISIS and is mainly preoccupied with kidnapping activities. The other group led by Hapilon has more ambitious plans to play a role internationally.

"The ASG groups involved in the high-profile kidnappings for ransom in 2016 belong or feed into Jolo-based subcommands that do not see themselves as part of ISIS. They have a loose allegiance to Radullon Sahiron, a native of Patikul, Sulu, rather than Isnilon. Their use of ISIS may be a way of upping the ransom demands or simply attracting attention; their resort to beheadings is punishment for failure to pay by the appointed deadline, not for any religious or ideological transgression," said the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) in the report "Pro-ISIS Groups in Mindanao and Their Links to Indonesia and Malaysia."
But Hapilon has not resurfaced since he was believed to be heavily injured in a military strike in Lanao del Sur in January. It is not known if he is still alive. (READ: Duterte hopeful top Abu Sayyaf leader dead after serious injury)

Hapilon reportedly traveled to Central Mindanao from his base in Basilan in Southern Mindanao to link up with another ISIS-linked terror organization, the Maute Group, to implement instructions to look for a suitable area for a caliphate in Mindanao. (READ: 4 PH terror groups link up with pro-ISIS fighters in region)

The leader of another Abu Sayyaf faction that may have links to ISIS, the daring Muamar Askali or Abu Rami, was killed in Bohol last April 11.


Another rural doctor shot dead, this time in Cotabato City

From Rappler (Apr 19): Another rural doctor shot dead, this time in Cotabato City

Dr Shahid Sinolinding, the younger brother of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Health Secretary Kadil Sinolinding Jr, was killed inside his clinic at 11 am Tuesday

Just over a month after the death of Dr Dreyfuss Perlas, another doctor serving in the barrios was shot dead in Cotabato City on Tuesday morning, April 18, Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial confirmed to Rappler.

Ubial said Dr Shahid Sinolinding – the younger brother of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Health Secretary Kadil Sinolinding Jr – was killed inside his clinic in Cotabato City at 11 am Tuesday.

According to an ABS-CBN report, the younger Sinolinding – an ophthalmologist – and his security escort were shot dead by a gunman who pretended to be a patient of the clinic.

"We condemn in strongest terms the murder of Dr Sinolinding, the second doctor to the barrio to be murdered in two months," Ubial said in a text message.

Secretary Sinolinding has yet to issue a statement as of this posting.

Last March, the killing of Perlas – a physician who had been deployed to Lanao del Norte under the government's Doctors to the Barrios program – prompted the health department to "revisit and amend" the Magna Carta of Public Health Workers.

The Department of Justice also directed the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate the killing. Ubial said Perlas' death was an isolated case. (READ: After death of Lanao del Norte doctor, LGUs urged to secure health workers)


Police arrest 2 MILF rebels linked to Philippines bombings

From the Mindanao Examiner (Aug 18): Police arrest 2 MILF rebels linked to Philippines bombings

Police are holding 2 members of the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front on suspicion they were behind a series of bombings that injured over a dozen people in Sultan Kudarat’s Tacurong City in southern Philippines.

The duo also yielded grenades and firearms when policemen nabbed them following Monday night’s daring attacks. The suspects denied accusations against them, but police said witnesses said the duo was at the area prior to the bombings.

Two improvised explosives went off almost simultaneously at Dragon Mart and gas station nearby while the third was detonated along the road. At least 15 people, including a teenager and security personnel were among the wounded from the bombings.

No individual or group claimed responsibility for the blasts, but the attack only showed the failure of police and military to detect or prevent the bombings. Authorities have not released any statement on the attacks.

The daring attacks occurred just barely two weeks after 8 people were wounded in a blast at the compound of the Sultan Kudarat Electric Cooperative where an improvised explosive had been detonated by an unidentified man.

Many of the injured were employees of the cooperative, but one ambulant vendor was also wounded in the blast.

The assailant fled even before the explosion and authorities were investigating whether the attack was connected to extortion or not. No individual claimed responsibility for the blast, but several rebel groups and criminal gangs are actively operating in the province.

In August 2015, motorcycle gunmen also attacked the police headquarters in Tacurong City, exploding a grenade at the office of the Highway Patrol Group. Although no one was killed or injured in the explosion, it only proved that even the police are not safe from such attack.


Security forces thwart attempt by gunmen to hijack cargo ship off Zamboanga

From the Mindanao Examiner (Aug 18): Security forces thwart attempt by gunmen to hijack cargo ship off Zamboanga

Security forces foiled an attempt by gunmen on three speedboats to hijack a cargo ship on Tuesday off Siocon town in the southern Filipino province of Zamboanga del Norte, officials said.

Officials said the military deployed a navy gunboat and backed by two air force helicopters to rescue the cargo ship Anabelle whose captain radioed for help after gunmen tried to hijack the vessel.

The ship, with 21 crew members, was heading to Zamboanga City when the gunmen attacked and tried to board the vessel. The armed men quickly sped off after spotting the approaching navy boat and helicopters.

“The ship was safely escorted by the navy patrol craft 395 to Zamboanga City,” said army Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, a spokeswoman for the Western Mindanao Command.

Rear Admiral Rene Medina, the regional naval commander, praised the successful operation. “Our naval assets are all ready to render necessary assistance to deter hijacking and abduction at seas,” he said.

The military did not say whether the gunmen were members of the Abu Sayyaf or not, although other rebel groups are actively operating in the province. On February 22, security forces also thwarted an attempt by suspected Abu Sayyaf militants to hijack the Vietnamese cargo ship Dong Hae Star off Tawi-Tawi province near the Sabah border.


Villagers flee homes in Samar town

From the Philippine Information Agency (Aug 18): Villagers flee homes in Samar town

More than 500 farming households from the barangays of  Cambagtic, Bulao, San Mauricio, Guimbanga, Minata, Sinalangtan, Caamlungan, Binangaran, Daligan and Buluan all of Calbiga, Samar fled their respective communities to seek shelter to the town gymnasium recently.

In a report filed by the 8th Infantry Division, Philippine Army, it said that a Punong Barangay from the hills claimed that residents were forced to evacuate as they received threats from the rebels that there will be a firefight between the rebels and the government troops particularly the 87th Infantry Battalion.

They were then forced to seek refuge in the poblacion causing panic in the barangays they tread going downtown.

The exodus spread like wildfire and caused other villagers to follow, triggering a mass exodus to the town gymnasium.

Alarmed with the situation, Calbiga town mayor Luzviminda Nacario sought an audience with the officials of the 87th IB, the police, Municipal Social Welfare and Development (MSWD) and the evacuees to resolve the situation. She then convinced the villagers to return to their communities.

The local social welfare department distributed relief goods to the evacuees and the LGU of Calbiga provided trucks for transportation back to their respective barangays.

Most of the evacuees returned to their communities but some refused and opted to stay at the covered court as of press time.

The army issued an advisory that it is deploying community peace and development teams to the barangays to identify issues and concerns in the concerned communitis so that local governments and concerned national agencies can address them.


Magpet town under state of calamity after series of NPA attacks

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 18): Magpet town under state of calamity after series of NPA attacks

The Sangguniang Bayan of Magpet approved Resolution No. 1 series of 2017 filed by the Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council declaring the town under state of calamity.

The declaration was made after elements of the New People’s Army disarmed Mahongkog village chair Michael Lingaro and members of the Barangay Peace- keeping Action Team on April 9 and had an encounter with government forces in Barangay Balete the following day.

Magpet Vice- Mayor Rogelio Marañon said that the 30 percent of the Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund will be utilized for the relief distribution and medical outreach for at least 60 households affected by the incident.

“The fund will also be used for rice distribution as well as for stress debriefing,” Marañon noted adding that the LDRRM team will immediately deliver the aid once they get clearance from the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

At present, the vice- mayor stated that there is an on- going clearing operation in the affected villages of the town.

Meanwhile, 39th Infantry Battalion commander Lt. Col. Harold Argamosa said that in coordination with the Philippine National Police, they are monitoring NPA recruitment in Magpet particularly in the villages of Balete and Temporan.

In an encounter on April 10, two NPA members were killed and one of them is alyas Adong, a 19- year old member of the Guerilla Front 53.

Argamosa emphasized that the NPA recruitment is a clear violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act as most of the recruits are indigenous youth.


Cops arrest 2 men with grenades after twin blasts rock Tacurong City

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 18): Cops arrest 2 men with grenades after twin blasts rock Tacurong City

Police in Tacurong City have arrested two men with hand grenades and handguns minutes after two blasts rocked this city that hurt at least 14 persons Monday night, police said Tuesday.Last night, police initially reported that eight persons, including five soldiers and police officers, were wounded in the bomb attack.

The two, Waren Gani and Johari Gani, were on board a motorbike and were from Gen. SK Pendatun, Maguindanao. Two mobile phones were also taken from them, which contain their photographs in fatigue uniform carrying firearms.

Senior Supt. Raul Supiter, Sultan Kudarat police provincial director, said the two claimed they were members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Supiter said prior to the twin blasts at the Dragon Mart and Gasoline Station, a bomb scare was reported near St. John Learning Center along Ilang-Ilang Street, Barangay New Isabela at around 5:50 p.m.

"No bomb was found near the school," he said.

But at around 6:45 p.m., an explosion ripped the roof of the gas station's comfort room.

As police and Army bomb experts were conducting a post blast investigation, another improvised bomb exploded at around 7:10 p.m. in front of the gas station that damaged parked motorbikes and a vehicle.

"It was a well-planned bomb attack," Supiter said, adding that the bombs used were similar to previous bombings in the region.

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 and PO1 Eleazar Sustiguer, all from Tacurong City police station.

Also hurt were nine civilians who were customers of the resto bar.

Only few remained in the hospital while others only sustained superficial wounds from cut nails used as shrapnel of the improvised explosive device.


Eastern Visayas cops tighten security after Bohol attack

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 18): Eastern Visayas cops tighten security after Bohol attack

The Philippine National Police (PNP) has tightened security in coastal communities in Eastern Visayas after the foiled attack of the Abu Sayyaf Group in nearby Bohol province.

Chief Insp. Ma. Bella Rentuaya, PNP Eastern Visayas spokesperson, said Tuesday that coastal villages have been guarded by cops, especially in Biliran and Southern Leyte province, given their proximity to Mindanao and Bohol.

“The police regional office directed police stations in the provinces and towns to double their security measures. The intelligence community has been stepping up coordination efforts. The intelligence fusion started after the Hilongos town plaza bombing on Dec. 28, 2016,” the official said.

Rentuaya assured that Eastern Visayas is generally safe, noting that there are no reports about the presence of Abu Sayyaf members in the region.

“Our appeal to the public is not to spread unverified information because it may cause panic. If they see suspicious people roaming around their communities, they have to report it to nearby police stations,” she said.

Public safety companies in the provinces have been asked to heighten patrol operations in coastal areas of the region to prevent the possible entry of terrorists.


Navy, Coastguard thwart hijacking off Zamboanga del Norte

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 18): Navy, Coastguard thwart hijacking off Zamboanga del Norte

Government security forces on Tuesday thwarted the hijacking of a cargo vessel by pirates in the waters off Zamboanga del Norte.

Reports from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said cargo vessel M/V Dona Anabelle was waylaid by gunmen aboard two motorboats at around 6:30 a.m. in the high seas of Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte.

Lt. Commander Alvin Dagalea, local PCG chief, said the attack was foiled as PCG and Navy vessels promptly responded to the distress call of the merchant ship.

The gunmen sped off upon seeing the arriving maritime security forces.

Dagalea said no one was reported killed or injured during the incident.

He said the cargo vessel continued its voyage to this city escorted by Navy and PCG ships.

Maritime security has been beefed up in the waters off Zamboanga and Sulu and in Celebes Sea following the string of hijacking incidents perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf Group.

The Abu Sayyaf bandits are still holding 27 hostages, most of whom were seized in the high seas. Most of the hostages are foreign sailors.

Last week, the Abu Sayyaf bandits executed Noel Besconde, a boat captain, after his family failed to pay the bandits’ ransom demand.


Government troops are still searching for the body of Besconde, who was abducted along with three other crewmen in December 2016 in the Celebes Sea.

CIDG-7 probes Abu Sayyaf's local connections in Inabanga, Bohol

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 18): CIDG-7 probes Abu Sayyaf's local connections in Inabanga, Bohol

The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) 7 is looking into the local connections of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Inabanga, Bohol, an official said Tuesday.

Chief Insp. Hector Amancia, CIDG-7 deputy director, said the local connections paved the way for the bandit group’s entry into Bohol, one of the tourist destinations in Central Visayas.

At least ten suspected ASG members on board three pumpboats entered Sitio Ilaya, Barangay Napo, Inabanga through the Inabanga River on April 9.

This led to the encounter between the bandit group and government troops on April 11, which resulted in the death of six suspected ASG members, including their leader Muamar Askali, three soldiers and a policeman.

Eight others are still being tracked down by government troops.

Amancia said they are trying to determine whether the couple Constancio and Crisanta Petalco were members of the bandit group.

The Petalcos, in their 60s, were killed during the encounter.

Amancia said their investigation includes the collection of testimonies of witnesses that could be used in filing appropriate charges against the ASG members.

Amancia said some pieces of evidence are now under the custody of the Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) of the Bohol Provincial Police Office.

Among them are three double-engine boats believed to be used by the armed men in going to Inabangan, Bohol from Sulu, an M4 rifle, two M16 rifles, a .45 pistol, assorted ammunitions, three detonating cords, 49 blasting caps, eight slide switches, 86 red lights and four Korans.


OPAPP mulls new facility to sustain peace projects in Mindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 18): OPAPP mulls new facility to sustain peace projects in Mindanao

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) is working on a new facility to sustain the gains reached under the Mindanao Trust Fund (MTF) program, which was funded by the World Bank and other international donors.

Secretary Jesus Dureza said the new facility will not only cover the Bangsamoro but also the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF), to build confidence even if there is no final agreement yet with the latter.

Dureza said the MTF is a successful program in Bangsamoro areas that can also be copied in other places affected by communist insurgency.

He said the plan is now being worked out, adding that the NDFP already accepted the proposal and created a committee to focus on the short and medium-term development strategy for insurgency-affected areas, spearheaded by Luis Jalandoni, the NDFP consultant.

Dureza revealed this during the closing ceremony of the MTF-Reconstruction and Development in Mindanao on Tuesday at the SMX Convention Center.

Dureza said the MTF plan managed by the Bangsamoro Development Authority (BDA), the development arm of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), can even be copied by the NDF for its initiatives in areas affected by the communist insurgency.

Dureza, however, emphasized that there will be needs assessment before the initiatives are approved. "We will vet responses from the communities," he said, adding that determination of projects must come from the people on the ground.

The NDF and OPAPP will work as managers for the development project implementing team.

Dureza noted the NDF sees "the value of doing development projects while peace negotiations are ongoing. “People cannot wait for a long period for the peace agreement,” Dureza said.

The peace adviser lauded the Mindanao Trust Fund because it helped a lot to improve the access of Bangsamoro communities to basic services such as clean water, roads, farming equipment and community centers.

"More importantly, as a partnership between the government and the MILF, it has built confidence and social cohesion at the community level, which is an important factor in sustaining the momentum of peace and development in Mindanao,” he said.

The MTF has funded programs and projects that promote economic opportunity, provide access to basic services and build greater understanding and cooperation among community members in conflict-affected areas.

Since 2006, MTF completed 573 community-driven projects benefitting 650,000 people in 315 conflict-affected communities.

The European Union, which is the biggest contributor to the MTF, Sweden, Australia, Canada, the United States, New Zealand and the World Bank have provided PHP1.4 billion to support socioeconomic recovery in Mindanao. Of the total funds, EU provided PHP 1.17 billion to the facility.


Focused military ops vs ASG continues despite latest beheading incident

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 17): Focused military ops vs ASG continues despite latest beheading incident

Focused military operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) will continue despite the Abu Sayyaf Group's (ASG) brutal beheading of one of their Filipino captives in Patikul town, Sulu on April 13.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo in a statement Monday also expressed the military's anger and indignation against the latest atrocity perpetuated by the bandit group.

"The AFP expresses its extreme indignation for the beheading of a kidnap-for-ransom victim Mr. Noel Besconde by ASG sub-leader (Hatib) Sadjawaan on 13 April 2017 in the vicinity Barangay Tugas in Patikul, Sulu," he said.

Besconde was one of four members of the crew of F/B Ramona who were abducted somewhere in Celebes Sea in December 2016.

As of this posting, around 27 hostages are still being held by the bandits.

Joint Task Force Sulu commander Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana believes Besconde was murdered by his ASG captors because he was reportedly ill thus, impedes their movement to evade the operating units that are hunting them.

"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," AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Eduardo Año said.

"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," he added.

"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," the AFP chief disclosed.


Role of couple killed with ASG bandits in Bohol being ascertained

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 17): Role of couple killed with ASG bandits in Bohol being ascertained

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Monday said police investigations are now underway to ascertain the role of the elderly couple killed with Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) sub-leader Muamar Askali alias "Abu Rami" and three other bandits during the brigands incursion in Inabanga, Bohol on April 11.

As this develops, AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo, in a press briefing Monday, said the military was surprised when reports of the death of Constancio and Crisenta Patelco allegedly due to government action against the bandits in Sitio Ilaya, Barangay Napo, Inabanga town surfaced late last week.

Allegedly, Crisenta is the aunt of Joselito "Alih" Milloria, the suspected contact of the ASG in the area.

"It is the belief of the AFP that there were no more civilians in the area when it conducted the (clearing) operations," he added in Filipino.

Also, killing or hurting civilians during the course of a focused military operation runs against the AFP theme of conducting such maneuvers in a surgical and target focused manner, Arevalo pointed out.

"Investigations are now being conducted by the Philippine National Police to determine why the couple were still in the combat area when the fighting took place," the AFP official added.

Arevalo also added that there is a possibility that the couple could have been executed by the bandits especially if they were suspected of reporting their presence to authorities.

Efforts are still underway to track down the survivors of Askali's group whom the military official described as "stragglers" and no longer pose any threat to the area's security.

Earlier estimates placed the number of ASG infiltrators at 11 and with four confirmed dead, around seven are still being hunted, although Arevalo did not give specific numbers of the surviving bandits.


Sahiron decision to surrender shows gov't strategy vs ASG effective

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 17): Sahiron decision to surrender shows gov't strategy vs ASG effective

The decision of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) senior leader Radullan Sahiron to surrender speaks well of the effectiveness of the government's ongoing neutralization campaign against the bandits, said Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo Monday.

"It (Sahiron's announcement) shows that the government strategy against the ASG is on the right track," he said.

The AFP is using a combination of force and development diplomacy in reducing the ASG threat in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

The AFP official said this development a welcome shows that even among hardened bandits there is still a chance for them to reform and redeem themselves in the community.

Earlier, Western Mindanao Command (WMC) head Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez said the one-armed bandit leader has plans to surrender due to old age.

One of the conditions set by the ASG leader is that the Philippine government will not turned him over to the US government.

Sahiron is the leading figurehead of the ASG in Sulu after most of the founding leaders of the group were killed.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has set a USD1 million reward for the capture of Sahiron.

“We see that not only those in the lower ranks of the ASG are expressing their desire to surrender because they're ​already feeling ​the heat of the military operation. And they also feel the sincerity of the President to accept people who wanted to surrender,” Galvez said.

The total number of surrendered Abu Sayyaf members has reached 16, following the order of President Rodrigo Duterte to finish off the Abu Sayyaf in six months. The deadline will lapse on June 30.

There are over 40 Abu Sayyaf members who have been killed in the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi since January.


Foiled ASG landing in Bohol unrelated to ASEAN meeting - AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 18): Foiled ASG landing in Bohol unrelated to ASEAN meeting - AFP

Kidnapping of local and foreign tourists frequenting Bohol's lovely beaches is the sole mission of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) band which landed in Inabanga town on April 11, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said Tuesday.

This as he dismissed earlier claims that the brigands were out to attack or abduct ASEAN delegates in the province for the Intersessional Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Trade Negotiating Committee ASEAN Caucus Meeting which will be held at the Hennan Resort in Panglao Island from April 19 to 21.

Representatives from Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Brunei and the Philippines, this year’s ASEAN host, will attend the meetings.

"As far as initial information of the AFP, the ASG bandits whom our troops encountered in Inabanga town are only out for kidnapping (and having them ransomed if successful)," he added in Filipino.

In the Sitio Ilaya, Barangay Napo clash last April 11, four ASG bandits were killed, including Muanmar Askali alias "Abu Rami" and three soldiers and one police officer, aside from an elderly couple whose presence in the encounter site is still being investigated.

Still at- large are five to seven ASG "stragglers" whom the military said is unarmed and unlikely to cause further trouble.

Arevalo said it is very unlikely that the bandits can attack the ASEAN delegates as the venue where they will be holding the meeting is well secured by government security forces.

Earlier, the AFP said the ASG is forced to look for kidnapping victims from afar due to the incessant military pressure in their enclaves in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

Lack of kidnapping opportunities is causing financial difficulties for the group as they no longer have sufficient funds to buy weapons, food, and the loyalties of the communities they are hiding in.


PAF looking for PHP11.3-M worth of C-130 spares

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 18): PAF looking for PHP11.3-M worth of C-130 spares

In line with ongoing efforts to ensure that all of its assets are flyable and mission-ready at all times, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) is allocating the sum of PHP11, 347,000 for the acquisition of spare parts needed for the maintenance of one of its Lockheed C-130H/T cargo aircraft.

This acquisition project is Lot 3 for the above-mentioned cargo plane.

Pre-bid conference is scheduled on April 21, at 1 p.m. at the PAF Procurement Center Conference Room, Villamor Air Base, Pasay City.

While submission and opening of bids is on May 5, 9 a.m. at the same venue, said PAF bids and awards committee chair Brig. Gen. Nicolas Parilla in a bid bulletin posted at the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System.

The PAF presently operates five C-130 units in its air fleet. They are often used for troop and supply transport and humanitarian assistance disaster relief missions.


Soldiers, cops have until June 15 to occupy housing units

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 18): Soldiers, cops have until June 15 to occupy housing units

The National Housing Authority (NHA) on Tuesday said that military and police beneficiaries of the awarded housing units in Pandi, Bulacan have only until June 15 to occupy them.

NHA General Manager Marcelino Escalada Jr. confirmed this during a Senate hearing into resolutions which tackled issues into the Bulacan housing units which were forcibly occupied by urban poor group Kadamay last month.

Escalada said if military and police do not occupy them by the deadline, the NHA “might as well” give them to Kadamay.

To recall, Kadamay justified their move to forcibly occupy the houses saying that the houses, which were intended for members of the AFP and PNP were unoccupied and that they did not have decent houses.

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, for his part, allowed the group to keep the houses noting that they were after all, poor.

The NHA chief, however, said that only some and not all housing units will be given to Kadamay.

At present, over 50,000 housing units meant for the AFP and PNP personnel remain unoccupied.

Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito, chair of the Senate Committee on Urban Planning, Housing and Resettlement, lamented how the current housing programs of the government remained to be in a “sorry state.”

Ejercito, meanwhile, reiterated his call to establish a Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development to attend to housing projects which would also prioritize in-city, on-site or near-city resettlement.


VP Leni gets security briefing from AFP Tuesday

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 18): VP Leni gets security briefing from AFP Tuesday

Vice President Maria Leonor "Leni" Robredo was given an "Information and Security Briefing" by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Tuesday.

This took place at AFP general headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, said military public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo in statement.

"This engagement has been prior arranged by the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Office of the Vice President (OVP) although no definite date had been established until last week," he added.

Arevalo said the AFP rendered the customary arrival honors to Robredo as befitting her standing as the nation's second highest official.

"At the Conference Room, the VP was informed of the mission, vision, and functions of the AFP as a bureau under the Department of National Defense," he noted.

More importantly, Arevalo said the Vice President was made aware of the capabilities the AFP now possesses, the security challenges it faces and copes in various mission areas locally and abroad, and the AFP's way forward in its firm and continuing commitment to bring about conditions for peace, progress, and security for the country with the support of other departments, local governments, and their respective constituents.

"The VP expressed her gratitude for the honors and the briefing accorded to her," Arevalo disclosed.

Robredo, the military official said, expressed satisfaction over the many AFP accomplishments and gave her support to the uniformed personnel and civilian employees of the organization in the pursuit of its mission.

"The Vice President wished the AFP success in all its endeavor," he added.

As this develops, DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana welcomed Robredo for honoring them with her visit.

He likewise expressed the continuing and unwavering loyalty and commitment of the DND -- the AFP included -- to the Constitution and the duly constituted authorities.

"And that every member of the Department, the Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines will have no reservations to perpetuate its mandate of ensuring the defense and security of the state and the protection of its sovereignty and territorial integrity," Lorenzana added.


PHL's second SSV now completed, awaiting inspection before voyage home

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 18): PHL's second SSV now completed, awaiting inspection before voyage home

Construction of the country's second strategic sealift vessel (SSV), the BRP Davao Del Sur (LD-602), is now officially completed, the Philippine Navy (PN) announced on Tuesday.

With this development, the ship is now awaiting for the PN's pre-delivery inspection (PDI) team which will check the vessel for possible defect, said Navy spokesperson Capt. Lued Lincuna in a message to the Philippine News Agency.

"SSV 2 is now completed. PDI team for BRP Davao Del Sur is now enroute for Indonesia today (April 18)," he added.

Lincuna said BRP Davao Del Sur is scheduled to sail for the country by first week of May and her arrival is expected on the second week of the same month.

The BRP Davao Del Sur was launched last Sept. 29. She is the sister ship of the BRP Tarlac (LD-601), currently the largest Filipino warship in commissioned.

BRP Tarlac was commissioned during short ceremonies at Pier 13, Manila South Harbor last June 1.

She arrived in the Philippines last May 14 after a five-day journey from PT PAL shipyard in Surabaya which started on May 9.

BRP Davao Del Sur is also a Makassar-class landing platform dock like her sister ship BRP Tarlac.

Its delivery to the Philippines, tentatively scheduled this coming May, will complete the two-unit SSV procurement project with an approved budget contract of PHP4 billion sourced from the AFP Modernization Act Trust Fund.

Just like the BRP Tarlac, the PN's latest SSV will serve as a floating command-and-control ship especially in the conduct of humanitarian assistance and disaster response and will also serve as a military sealift and transport vessel.

The ship has an overall length of 120 meters, breadth of 21 meters, draft of five meters, and can carry a payload of 2,800 tons.

She has a cruising speed of 13 knots and maximum speed of 16 knots and a minimum operating range of 7,500 nautical miles.

BRP Davao Del Sur can carry 500 troops, two rigid-hull inflatable boats, two landing craft units and three helicopters.


Insurgency attacks jeopardize PHL top fruit exports

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 18): Insurgency attacks jeopardize PHL top fruit exports

Attacks of the communist New People's Army (NPA) on pineapple and banana plantations jeopardized the country's top fruit exports and place at risk its standing as one of the world’s biggest banana exporters.

Latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority shows the Philippines produced 9.1 million metric tons (MT) of bananas in 2015. The cavendish variety, a top export, accounts for half or 4.57 million MT of the total banana production.

Philippine fresh bananas are exported to South Korea, Iran, Hong Kong, Singapore, Russia, New Zealand, San Diego in the United States, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, China, Mongolia, Ukraine, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and even in Europe's niche markets.

In several occasions, NPA rebels resorted to burning equipment and facilities in fruit plantations particularly in Mindanao to force companies to pay them "revolutionary taxes".

Eduardo Maningo, a spokesman for the Mindanao agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs), in a statement, has called on the government to step up its efforts to protect farm workers and agribusinesses vulnerable to NPA attacks.

"The safety of our families and our livelihood are threatened. If the government fails to address this problem, businesses can leave and we will lose our jobs," said Maningo.

"Our industry is already hampered with problems. We have low productivity because of pests and diseases, drought, flooding… but the insurgency is most alarming. We are scared for our lives," he added.

Communist insurgents have focused their attacks in Mindanao’s lucrative fruit farm businesses, aiming to paralyzing their operations by burning or destroying equipment if their owners refuse to pay "revolutionary taxes".

Among the facilities that the communists have destroyed include Dole’s cold storage plant and other equipment in Barangay Sinawal in General Santos City last March 30; a banana processing plant in Pantukan, Compostela Valley last Feb. 5; a pineapple plantation in Bukidnon on Feb. 25; and three container vans loaded with fruits in Maragusan, Compostela Valley on March 25.

On March 27, the NPA opened fire on a spray plane in Tagbina, Surigao. The insurgents continued with their attacks in Sumifru (Philippines) in Malaybalay, Bukidnon.

President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier hesitated in resuming talks with the communists, saying that they should first stop with their extortion activities, release all captives and resist from claiming any territory.

However, in less than a week after government negotiators and the National Democratic Front (NDF) agreed on an interim joint ceasefire agreement, communist insurgents have torched some PHP4 million worth of farm equipment at a pineapple plantation owned by Del Monte Philippines.

According to the report by Police Senior Insp. Merlito Tubog of the Davao City Police, some 30 NPA members led by Rolando Sagcaan (a.k.a. Ka Lando) and Roberto Rosete (a.ka. Kumander Bobby) burned two tractor-type boom harvesters worth some PHP4 million at the Del Monte plantation and ran off with an Armscor shotgun worth PHP20,000 issued to the security guard on duty at the time of the attack.

The incident at the Del Monte plantation is the latest in the series of attacks perpetrated by the NPA on Mindanao’s pineapple and banana plantations.

Such attacks have intensified over the past few weeks even while backchannel talks to get the peace negotiations restarted were being held between the government panel and the NDF.

Mindanao exporters said the latest act of violence by the NPAs at the Del Monte plantation strongly indicates not only the lack of coordination between insurgents on the ground and their political counterparts based overseas, but also the lack of sincerity by the communist group to forge genuine peace with the government.


DND lauds Duterte EO streamlining rules for defense contracts

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 18): DND lauds Duterte EO streamlining rules for defense contracts

The Department of National Defense (DND) on Tuesday lauded President Rodrigo Duterte's Executive Order (EO) 18, which streamlines rules and procedures for defense contracts and other purposes.

The latter repeals EO No. 235 (s. 2003) issued by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

EO 18 was signed by the Chief Executive last April 7.

"The Defense Department initiated the repeal of EO 235 to give the Secretary of National Defense the authority to increase the ceiling of the procurement projects that can be undertaken at the level of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), based on its operational and day to day requirements. Under EO 235, the Secretary of National Defense may only delegate to the AFP the authority to approve procurement projects which are below PHP50 million. Beyond the said amount, procurement projects must be elevated to the DND for approval," said DND public affairs office chief Arsenio Andolong.

Arroyo’s EO 235 stressed the need to streamline procedures for defense contracts for the expeditious implementation of defense projects and the speedy response to security threats while promoting transparency, impartiality and accountability in government transactions.

The 2003 EO then limited the authority of the Secretary of National Defense to delegate approvals of procurement contracts and established a single Bids and Awards Committee for the Armed Forces of the Philippines in its General Headquarters.

"With AFP projects amounting to hundreds of millions of pesos based on actual requirements, the PHP50 million cap has become unrealistic and makes the procurement process cumbersome. EO 18 will enable the Defense establishment to fast track its procurement process, especially for materiel that are badly needed by the operating units in the field," he further said.

"We assure the Filipino people that all processes in the DND are in accordance with the law, particularly Republic Act 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act of 2003 and RA 10349 or the Revised AFP Modernization Act," Andolong said.


‘Beheading fueling desire to crush Abus’

From the Philippine Star (Apr 18): ‘Beheading fueling desire to crush Abus’

The beheading of Noel Besconde on Maundy Thursday by the Abu Sayyaf has enraged Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Año, who vowed to deliver a lethal blow to the bandit group’s terrorist acts. AP Photo/Aaron Favila

The beheading of Noel Besconde on Maundy Thursday by the Abu Sayyaf has enraged Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Año, who vowed to deliver a lethal blow to the bandit group’s terrorist acts.

“This terrorist group, by their recent barbarism, are all the more 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.“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.”

Besconde was one of four FB Ramona 2 crewmembers the group abducted in the Celebes Sea last December and brought to Sulu as captives, just days after the AFP intensified its operations in known Abu Sayyaf lairs in the provinces of Basilan and Sulu and, more recently, Bohol.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella called on the public to be vigilant and report information to the military and police.

“We strongly condemn this senseless and coldblooded murder committed during the Holy Week,” Abella said, giving assurance that authorities and security forces are exhausting all means to locate the captain’s remains.Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the military’s Joint Task Force Sulu, believes that Besconde was murdered by his captors in the vicinity of Barangay Tugas in Patikul, Sulu because he was ill and thus slowed down the bandits’ movements.

The group of Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Hatib Sawadjaan is believed to be behind the murder.

Although a report said Sawadjaan executed Besconde after a failure to pay P3 million in ransom, the military said this was “unlikely” as the bandits are known to make public announcements and issue warnings and ultimatums.

“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,” Año said as he directed Sobejana to locate Besconde’s remains so he could be brought to his family and accorded a decent burial.

The AFP, on orders of President Duterte, has only until June 30 to finish off the group.

Meanwhile, Duterte conferred a Gold Cross Medal on the slain 2Lt. Estelito Saldua Jr. at his residence in San Jose, Batangas yesterday, hours after arriving from his week-long trip in the Middle East.

He attended the wake of the 23-year-old soldier who was killed during combat operations against the Abu Sayyaf in Inabanga, Bohol on April 11.

Duterte comforted the bereaved parents, Gina and Estelito, and the siblings of the slain soldier, giving them financial assistance and a “direct line to the President” through a cellular phone that contains his contact details.