Sunday, March 15, 2015

73rd IB officer bestowed 2nd highest military award

From the Philippine Information Agency (Mar 16): 73rd IB officer bestowed 2nd highest military award

A  rookie  military officer  assigned  at  the 73rd  Infantry  Battalion  of the 1002nd  Brigade  Philippine Army  was  among the   awardees  honored   during the   commencement  exercises  of the Philippine Military  Academy Class  2015   in Baguio City, Sunday, March 15.

President  Benigno  Aquino III, during the PMA Class 2015  graduation ceremony,  bestowed   2nd Lt. Jerson  Sanchez  a  Distinguished Conduct Star Medal,  the  second   highest military award.

Lt. Col. Felix  Ronnie  Babac, commanding officer of 73rd IB,  said Sanchez, a member  of PMA Class 2014,  was  honored  for his gallantry in action during an encounter  with  armed rebels in February.

Sanchez and his  team   were  patrolling the area  on February 16   when they  chanced upon  40 members of the New People’s Army in  Barangay  Datal  Anggas  in Alabel, Sarangani, where  gunfight  ensued.

The  encounter resulted in  the  recovery of   nine  high-powered  firearms  and death  of seven  NPA members  including seasoned  communist leader  Tolentino Bariquit alyas Brigol.

Five  of the  seven  NPA fatalities   were   identified  as  leaders of the  NPA’s  Guerilla Front 71. Recovered  from  the  group were 6 M-16 rifles, 2 AK-47s, and a baby Armalite.

In the succeeding days, 11 more members from the group surrendered and one of them brought with him a high powered firearm.

Pursuit operation yielded another high powered firearm in the neighboring barangay.

Babac  said,   President  Aquino’s  recognition of the  Sanchez  in  front of the  graduating  class sets an inspiration to the young officers to dedicate themselves in service to the people and in securing the nation.

As  the commanding  officer,  Babac  said  he takes pride of Sanchez’  achievement who will be the example of many young officers in doing their job excellently.

Babac  further  disclosed that the other soldiers  involved in the same encounter   were  awarded with Military Merit Medal interim to Gold Cross Medal by no less than the Commanding General of the Philippine Army,  Lt. Gen, Hernando  Iriberri.

Iriberri   came to the battalion  headquarters  of 73rd IB in Malita, Davao Occidental on  February 27 to pin the awards on the soldiers.

Ex-BIFF vice chair Tambako, 5 others arrested in GenSan; Usman still elusive

From GMA News (Mar 16): Ex-BIFF vice chair Tambako, 5 others arrested in GenSan; Usman still elusive

(Updated 11:29 a.m.) COTABATO CITY - Wanted suspected terrorist Mohamad Ali Tambako, former vice chairman of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and five others were arrested Sunday night in General Santos City.

The operation was carried out by joint elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police who served a warrant of arrest for murder and double frustrated murder against Tambako.

According to officials, Tambako’s arrest is crucial because he can clarify whether alleged Filipino bomb maker Akmad Batabol Usman alias Abdul Basit Usman is dead, wounded, or managed to escape the military operations carried out by the AFP against the BIFF.
Five other suspected BIFF members were arrested along with Tambako—Mesharie Edio Gayak, Datukan Sato Sabiwang, Ali Valley Ludisima, Ibrahim Manap Kapina, and Abusahma Badrudin Guiamil.
They, along with Tambako, were on a tricycle in Bgy. Calumpang heading toward the sea port in General Santos City at 9 p.m. on Sunday when intercepted by combined military and police intelligence and operating troops.
During the arrest, three fragmentation grenades and two short firearms were also seized.

Tambako has a standing warrant of arrest for murder and multiple murder issued by Judge Jorge Jabido RTC branch 15 in Cotabato City.

Tambako was responsible for beheading farmer Ricarte Dionio in Midsayap, North Cotabato after he led a group of bandits in attacking a Christian community in the said town in 2013.
The Philippine Army said there is a high possibility that Tambako was also among those who brutally killed the 44 commandos of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) in Mamasapano town in Magiundanao on January 25, 2015.
The PA said Tambako's group was also believed to be coddling Usman and five other foreign terrorists, who are trained in bomb-making and other terroristic activities.
[Video report]
Having been exposed to foreign terror networks in the Middle East, Tambako had established a network of contacts among the notorious Islamic fundamentalist groups around the world, the PA said.

Justice for Islamic Movement
Tambako bolted the BIFF in November 2013 over differences with former comrades.

He established his own organization, Justice for Islamic Movement, said to be the closest to Usman. The five men arrested with Tambako are believed to be JIM members.
Tambako was a member of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) before he joined the BIFF.
It is not yet known whether Tambako's group was planning to escape using the backdoor gateway going to Indonesia via the sea port in General Santos City or was planning to plot another terror attack. Interrogation is still underway.
Authorities are hoping the capture of Usman and BIFF founder Ameril Umra Kato will happen soon following Tambako's arrest.

AFP intel operatives capture BIFF chief's right-hand man and suspected Usman coddler

From InterAksyon (Mar 16): AFP intel operatives capture BIFF chief's right-hand man and suspected Usman coddler

(UPDATE, 8:34 a.m.) The military captured Sunday night Mohammad Ali Tambako, suspected coddler of terrorist Adbul Basit Usman and his five “foreign-looking” cohorts, after hours of intense intelligence operations in General Santos City.

Tambako was captured together with his five security aides at around 9 p.m. in Barangay Calumpang, it was learned.

“Tambako together with his five companions were riding in a tricycle going toward the seaport area in General Santos City when our operatives together with police personnel flagged them down,” a high-ranking intelligence officer who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the matter told

“Seized during their arrest were fragmentation grenades and short firearms,” the officer added.

The officer said Tambako was served an arrest warrant issued by Judge George C. Jabido of Branch 15 of the Cotabato City Regional Trial Court (RTC) for murder and double frustrated murder.

Tambako is the nephew and right-hand man of Ameril Umbra Kato, founder of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and former commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The MILF leadership expelled Kato and his men for sabotaging the peace talks with the Aquino administration.

Tambako is scheduled to be brought to the police headquarters today.

Earlier, Tambako’s camp has reportedly been overrun by the military, which has an ongoing all-out offensive against the BIFF in Maguindanao.

Tambako and BIFF

Internal power struggle has shaken the BIFF after Kato’s successive strokes created a leadership vacuum and wrangle for power between Tambako ang Kagi Karialan, Kato’s chief of staff.

According to a military report, Tambako tried but failed to kill Karialan in a bomb explosion inside their lair. This forced Tambako to sever his ties with the BIFF and form his own group, the Justice for Islamic Movement (JIM), with just a handful of men.

Both the BIFF and JIM have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

After Usman escaped the SAF raid, the Jemaah Islamiyah-trained bomber and his men took refuge with Tambako’s group. Relentless military operations claimed the lives of three of Usman’s close relatives.

The military continues its all-out offensive against Usman and the BIFF. Before Tambako’s capture, government forces consisting mostly of Marines overran a two-kilometer fortified trench of the BIFF during a series of close-quarter battles Sunday morning in Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Maguindanao.

All-out offensive

Initial reports reaching Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City said the fierce skirmishes started at around 10 a.m. at the boundary of Barangay Pusao and Barangay Tina and lasted for 15 minutes.

The military said BIFF elements together with some Usman followers suffered an undetermined number of casualties and left behind in their escape an M79 grenade launcher.

No casualty was reported on the government side.

“The troops overran a large encampment at Barangay Pusao. It has fortified trenches as long as two kilometers with concrete overhead bunkers. These trenches are parallel to the irrigation dike and with road pathway that can accommodate one vehicle,” a military commander said.

Citing personla accounts of civilians in the place, the military said the BIFF and their terrorist cohorts call their camp Al-Khalifa Islamiya.

Troops foil kidnap try on copra dealer in Isabela City

From InterAksyon (Mar 16): Troops foil kidnap try on copra dealer in Isabela City

Combined 4th Special Forces of the Philippine Army and militiamen have foiled an attempt to kidnap a businessman in an island in this city, a military official disclosed Monday.

Safely rescued although injured was Ramon Sanson Jr., 56, a copra dealer and a resident of Barangay Santa Barbara, Malamawi Island, this city.

Lt. Col. Eliglen Villaflor, 4th Special Forces commander, said Sanson was seized at his residence around 6:30 p.m. Sunday by seven gunmen clad in camouflage uniforms.

Villaflor said Sanson’s kidnapping was foiled after his neighbors, who heard the call for help by the victim and his family, immediately informed the nearby Civilian Active Auxiliary (CAA) patrol base “of the on-going crime.”

Villaflor said that troops from the patrol base led by a certain Cpl. Hingosa responded and intercepted the gunmen who were dragging Sanson into a waiting motorized banca.

“Guided with the Rule of Engagement and concern for the safety of the kidnap victim, the team of Cpl. Hingosa engaged the abductors in a firefight by delivering deliberate and selective fires to avoid collateral damage to the community caught in the firefight,” Villaflor said.

He said the kidnappers scampered and left behind Sanson. They boarded a motorized banca and fled.

He said the kidnappers have beaten Sansom black and blue as he persistently resisted his would-be abductors.

Ongoing investigation is trying to establish the perpetrators’ identities while combined military and police forces are tracking down their whereabouts.

Soldiers, MILF troops in danger of clashing in Maguindanao – officials

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 15): Soldiers, MILF troops in danger of clashing in Maguindanao – officials

DATU ABDULLAH SANGKI, PhilippinesGovernment forces have been locked in a standoff with the 106th Base Command of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Sitio (sub-village) Imbornal in Barangay Kakal since last week, MILF and government sources said.

Commander Mastur Lintang of the MILF’s 106th base command said the situation became worse when the Mindanao joint task force of the government, which has been running after members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), fired artillery that nearly hit his house Friday evening.

“We are trying to communicate as we are on a verge of a misencounter,” Lintang told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Lintang said it was ironic that his group had become the subject of 105 howitzer shelling when he had helped government forces neutralize BIFF terrorists just last month in nearby Rajah Buayan town.

On Saturday, Lintang sent an emissary to Army Major General Edmundo Pangilinan, chief of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, who was in Rajah Buayan to attend a Municipal Peace and Order Council meeting and visited with Mayor Datu Zamzamin Ampatuan a historic site in Barangay Bakat where 19th century ruler Datu Anwaruddin Utto met in February 1901 with Governor-General Leonard Howard Taft, who was elected US President.

Lintang said his men helped quell some 200 BIFF men who had vowed to take the town under its control last February.

The MILF leader said the BIFF offensive in Rajah Buayan last month stemmed from suspicion, purportedly by Muhidin Salilama alias Kagui Karialam, that some local residents cooperated with the military in a previous operation on a suspected terrorist lair, in which his group helped in efforts to minimize the attack’s impact on civilians.

Pangilinan said the positioning of the government troopers since last week in Barangay Kakal, Datu Abdullah Sangki, was cleared with the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH).

Pangilinan said he had instructed Col. Melquiades Feliciano of the 601st Army Brigade to “double check and communicate” with the CCCH.

Feliciano said there appeared to be a “miscommunication” in a previous dialogue with the CCCH.

Residents had seen thousands of men being transported on February 7 from parts of Datu Saudi, Datu Salibo and Shariff Saydona Mustapha towns to hilly areas of Ampatuan and Talayan towns. The Philippine Daily Inquirer learned that the all-male exodus was triggered by orders from the MILF Central Committee that the areas of anti-BIFF government operation should be cleared of MILF members.

MILF sources said most of those transported were members of the 105th Base Command (BC) under Ustadz Zacaria Goma and the 118th BC under Ustadz Wahid Tundoc.

On the other hand, members of the 106th Officer-In-Charge BC Commander Yahya Hassan have been clustered in an area between Ampatuan and Datu Abdullah Sangki where composite government troopers of the Philippine Army and the Philippine Navy’s Marines have been locked in a dangerous standoff.

Army Brigadier-General Carlito Galvez, government CCCH head, declined to entertain a query from the Inquirer on the troops’ deployment to an MILF area in the Datu Abdullah Sangki town, during a chance meeting in Awang, Maguindanao on March 8.

Efforts to reach Galvez’s MILF CCCH counterpart Rashid Ladiasan by phone Saturday also proved futile.

Rebel leader in killing of SAF men falls to gov’t troops

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 16): Rebel leader in killing of SAF men falls to gov’t troops

A joint team of police and military operatives arrested Sunday night in General Santos City a rebel leader involved in the killing of 44 police commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on January 25, 2015.

The Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) said Ustadz Mohammad Ali Tambako, leader of the United Islamic Movement for Justice (UIMJ), and five cohorts were arrested on Sunday in Barangay (village) Calumpang around 9 p.m.

The UIMJ, which some reports identify as the Justice for Islamic Movement or JIM, is a breakaway group of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

BIFF spokesperson Abu Misri Mama confirmed that Tambako had bolted the BIFF.

A military source told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that Tambako was a trusted lieutenant of BIFF founder Uztadz Ameril Umra Kato.

“He was the second highest leader of BIFF who formed his own separate group,” said the officer who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak on the matter.

Joint elements of the CIDG, Special Action Force, General Santos police, and the military served warrants of arrest on Tambako for murder and double frustrated murder, the CIDG said in a report.

A military source identified four of the men arrested with Tambako as Ali Ludisman, Abdusama Badrudin Guiamel, Datukan Kadiwang and a certain Ibrahim. The CIDG did not provide names of Tambako’s arrested cohorts.

Reports said the UIMJ men were on board separate tricycles when accosted by authorities.

They were one their way to a seaport when served an arrest warrant issued by Regional Trial Court Judge George Jabido.

The arresting team seized three hand grenades and three handguns. They did not resist arrest.

Before bolting the BIFF, Tambako assumed its leadership after Kato became seriously ill.  He was tagged in various crimes in North Cotabato villages last year and involved in the series of attacks against the military in Maguindanao.

His named emerged as among the armed men in a clash with members of the Special Action Force (SAF) in Mamasapano town where the police commandos killed suspected Malaysian bomber Zulkifli bin Hir alias “Marwan.”

Mohaqher Iqbal, peace panel chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has said the BIFF had split into three groups:  One headed by Kato, the other headed by Kagi Karialan and the third group by Tambako who reportedly has about a hundred armed followers.

Ibrahim Malang, acting spokesperson of the UIMJ, earlier said their forces participated in the clash with SAF men. Malang said he was speaking in behalf of Tambako.

Iqbal told a Senate committee investigating the Mamasapano incident that Tambako’s group joined the MILF’s 105th Base Command under Zacaria Goma, and the BIFF, under Kagui Karialan, in fighting the SAF.

Malang said Tambako left the BIFF to clear his name, after being implicated in criminal charges that BIFF members were facing for the series of attacks in North Cotabato in 2010, 2012 and 2013.

Tambako was reportedly to be flown to Manila for further interrogation, radio reports said.

MILF: BBL provides Bangsamoro with just enough powers within the bounds of Constitution: Atty. Monsod

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 15): BBL provides Bangsamoro with just enough powers within the bounds of Constitution: Atty. Monsod

BBL provides Bangsamoro with just enough powers within the bounds of Constitution: Atty. Monsod

On March 13, Friday,  Atty.Christian Monsod , surviving framer of the 1987  Constitution said that the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) provides the proposed new political entity Bangsamoro with just enough powers for self-determination within the bounds of the Constitution.

He said that those who claim that the BBL provides “excessive powers” are wrong and that they were tying themselves with the “base and meaning of the words.”

“When we look at the BBL, we must look at the vision, spirit, core principles… If we are going to have a new social order as mandated by the 1987 Constitution, then we must start with these areas (Muslim Mindanao and Cordilleras) that are most failure in terms of human development, oppression and neglect for centuries… because of armed conflicts,” he explained.

The former chair of the 1986 Constitutional Commission noted the unreasonable opposition by some lawmakers and other sectors to the Bangsamoro even extends to the proposed form of government for the new political entity, which under the draft BBL would be parliamentary.

Monsod also noted that there is “no prohibition in the Constitution for LGUs to have a parliamentary set-up.”

He cited Article X, Section 18 of the Constitution provides that an organic act “shall define the basic structure of government for the region consisting of the executive department and legislative assembly, both of which shall be elective and representative of the constituent political units.”

According to the proposed BBL, the Bangsamoro Assembly would be composed of district seats and sectoral members to be elected by Bangsamoro voters.

Reserved seats have been allocated for some sectors such as women and the indigenous people. The head of the Bangsamoro government would be the Chief Minister, who would be elected among the members of the Bangsamoro Assembly. The Chief Minister would be assisted by a Cabinet composed of members of the legislature, most of which would come from the assembly.

“We need to give them more autonomy as envisaged by the Constitution. And this is what the BBL is about… What we need at this time is not a legalistic approach but judicial statesmanship,” Monsod explained.

MILF: MILF leaders rejected Marwan, foreign jihadis: Indonesian Think Tank

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 14): MILF leaders rejected Marwan, foreign jihadis: Indonesian Think Tank

Leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front's (MILF) never protected Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, who was killed by PNP-SAF Commandos in Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao before they were routed by combatants from the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on January 25. The Moro Front in recent years had been informing the government on alleged foreign terrorists hiding in Mindanao," an Indonesian think tank said.

The report by the Indonesia-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) was released earlier this month due to claims by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano that the MILF had been coddling ‘Marwan’ in Mindanao despite denials by the Moro Front.
IPAC said Marwan hid under the protection of officials of the Moro National Liberation Front, the Abu Sayyaf and elements of jihadi network Jemaah Islamiyah and some MILF commanders in different periods since he arrived in Mindanao in 2001.

His movements during these years were cited in United States court documents indicating Marwan and his California-based brother, Rahmat, for aiding and abetting in terror activities.

In 2013, however, Marwan lived under the protection of Ameril Umbra Kato, founder and leader of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) that splintered from the MILF in 2010 over its decision to negotiate anew with the government. The BIFF reportedly allied with the global jihadist campaign.

Commander Abdul Wahid Tundok of the MILF, formerly under Kato of the MILF's 105th Base Command, took in Marwan in July 2006 but asked him to leave that November while remained in contact with him until 2007.

Tundok chose to stay with the MILF when Kato broke off with the militant group.
Kato and Basit Usman, who became Marwan's associate, had long been considered as "radicals whom the MILF leadership found difficult to control," IPAC's analysts said.
MILF, meanwhile, had been helping government forces through a mechanism formed in 2005 known as the Ad-Hoc Joint Action Group, or AHJAG, to "isolate and interdict" rogue elements, criminals and kidnap-for-ransom groups suspected of hiding in MILF areas.

The coordination resulted in the expulsion of key Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf elements from MILF territory and even forced some to return to their home countries.
"The MILF leadership made clear that foreign jihadis were not welcome," the IPAC said, citing Malaysian national Marwan and Indonesians Umar Patek and Dulmatin.
At the time of the launching of SAF operation "Exodus" on January 25 in Mamasapano, "Marwan was hiding in an area controlled by the BIFF but surrounded by an MILF-controlled area," IPAC said.

The operation ended disastrously with 44 SAF commandos killed in part due to SAF's failure to use mechanisms set up under the peace process such as the AHJAG, the report said.

The MILF leaders see themselves now as the aggrieved party, blindsided by a counter-terrorism operation that no one told them was coming," the anti-terror organization said.

IPAC also said President Benigno Aquino III as commander-in-chief, the SAF and officials behind the operation should have considered the costs involved in choosing not to inform the MILF while the Bangsamoro Basic Law was being deliberated.
On its part, MalacaƱang in a statement insisted that General Getulio NapeƱas, the SAF Commander should have considered the peace process.

"If Marwan had escaped yet again, there would be another chance to capture him," IPAC noted. "It is not clear there will be another chance for peace if this one collapses."

Authors of the paper stressed that Marwan's reputation as a high-level terrorist was blown up by the government, the media and especially by the US Rewards for Justice Program granting a $5 million bounty for his head.

The think tank warned that Marwan would not be the last criminal who will seek refuge in Mindanao and boost terror activities there.

"The only possible solution is to strengthen existing mechanisms like AHJAG for government-MILF coordination in pursuing people like him," IPAC said.

"Without the MILF's active involvement, no long-term solution to extremism in the Philippines is thinkable," it added.

MILF: QIP Ground Breaking Ceremony in Upi with JICA Vice President

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 13): QIP Ground Breaking Ceremony in Upi with JICA Vice President

QIP Ground Breaking Ceremony in Upi with JICA Vice President

On March 7. 2015, JICA’s Vice President Mr. Toshiyuki Kuroyanagi visited Upi in Maguindanao to witness and participated in the symbolic “Ground Breaking Ceremony for the Quick Impact Project for the Bangsamoro” in Kibleg Elementary School after being selected and approved as one of the recipient of the twenty (20) communities in the proposed Bangsamoro territory to receive the immediate dividends of peace after the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) last March 27, 2014.

Barangay Kibleg in the municipality of Upi underwent several assessment, community consultation, and capacity building before commencing the construction of the two (2) classroom school building for Kibleg Elementary School. The tri-people constituents of the barangay had unanimously chosen the school building in the three (3) facilities which they have to select from the Quick Impact Project (QIP) of the Comprehensive Capacity Development Project for the Bangsamoro (CCDP-B).

QIP is a subproject under the Component of the Public Service Delivery of the CCDP-B which is a partnership between JICA and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) in collaboration with the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA).

In this symbolic Ground Breaking Ceremony in the school ground of Kibleg Elementary School, the school administration welcomed the Delegation of JICA headed by its Vice President and colleagues from JICA Headquarters, JICA Philippine Office and JICA Cotabato Project Office. The School Principal Mr. Nestor de Vera expressed his deepest gratitude to JICA, the Government of the Philippines, to BTC, to BDA and the Local Government Unit of Upi for extending the assistance to his school which was in dire need of additional classroom to accommodate the growing number of pre-school students in the community. He reiterated that the Japanese Government is now an ally in attaining peace and development in Mindanao after sharing the historical occupation of the Japanese to the Philippines during the World War II.
The Executive Director of BDA Dr. Mohammad Suaib Yacob explained how the project came about and narrated the historic meeting between the JICA President Dr. Akihiko Tanaka and MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim after the CAB Signing last year. Both agreed that peace dividends should be realized swiftly and inclusively to the stakeholders of the peace process in the Bangsamoro areas.  Dr. Yacob was joined by his colleagues namely Engr. Aida Silongan, Engr. Tohami Ibrahim and Engr. Mohammad Saud Alon.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the MILF Provincial Political Committee that covers the municipality of Upi Mr. Sumail Mensong emphasized to the constituents and direct beneficiaries of the project that the facility should be maintained well as this is the first symbolic project which the peace agreement had generated for the Bangsamoro. He also mentioned that this project will be evidence that peace, development and good governance will soon reign in the region. He urges his fellow Bangsamoro that only in unity that they can overcome the obstacles which confronted the passing of the BBL and the future establishment of the Bangsamoro government.

The Vice President of JICA, Mr. Toshiyuki Kuroyanagi, shared to the people of Upi and the officials of Upi Municipal Government, Kibleg Elementary School, BTC, BDA, MILF representatives and the community people of Kibleg that JICA and the Japanese people expresses their condolences to the victims of the Mamasapano incident. He also expressed JICA’s commitment in continuing its support to the peace process and the peace and development in Mindanao.

The Chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission Mr. Mohagher Iqbal thanked JICA for its continued support in peace and development for the Bangsamoro as well as in journeying with the MILF and the GPH in the peace process. He also called the attention of the people of Upi not to listen in the call for war as this will not bring better future for the Bangsamoro. In war, everyone is a loser as the BTC Chairman emphasized. He urged everyone to pray for the passing of the BBL and unite for the cause of peace in Mindanao. Those who want war in the comforts of their airconditioned home should be the in war so that they will know what it is like to be displaced or in a war, as he continued to share.

The BTC Socio Economic Officer headed by Engr. Mohajirin T. Ali gave the closing remarks of the activity by emphasizing the symbolic ground breaking ceremony which marks the start of another phase of the project in spite of the current challenges in the peace process. He noted that in spite of the challenges in the peace process still have reached this far. He was joined by colleagues namely Mr. Anuas Hadjiserad, Mr. Tu Alfonso, Mr. Nomaire Mustapha and Ms. Raeesah Bantuas.

MILF: JICA Vice President Reiterates Continued Support to the Bangsamoro

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar13): JICA Vice President Reiterates Continued Support to the Bangsamoro

JICA Vice President Reiterates Continued Support to the Bangsamoro

On March 7, 2015, the Vice President of JICA, Mr. Toshiyuki Kuroyanagi, visited Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao to meet the MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim together with the members of his delegation.

On behalf of JICA, Vice President extended the condolences to all of the victims of the ill-fated January 25th Mamasapano incident which include the 18 MILF Combatants and 5 civilians alongside with the 44 PNP SAF Commandos. He conveyed that even the JICA President was saddened after hearing the incident and hopes that it will not affect the peace process and the enactment of the BBL especially now that the discussion was suspended in both Congress and Senate. Mr. Kuroyanagi shared that if there will be peace in Mindanao, the region will enjoy what Japan has experienced after the World War II where there is prosperity, happiness, education and stability for over 70 years until now. This kind of serenity that the Vice President wish for Mindanao or the Bangsamoro that will attain in the future once all these challenges will be overcome by both the Bangsamoro and the Philippine Government.

MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim extended his deepest gratitude and sincere appreciation to JICA’s continued support to the Bangsamoro and the peace process. Chairman Murad emphasized to the Delegation of JICA that the Mamasapano incident will not ultimately affect the entire peace process which the Government and the MILF had jointly worked for long time. He is also thankful to JICA for the continued partnership with the Bangsamoro even in this challenging situation.

Chairman Murad explained to JICA Mission that the Mamasapano incident has nothing to do with the BBL because it is a separate challenge in the peace process and should not be connected to the BBL. But after the incident, some spoilers of peace coming from the Government and the Bangsamoro have capitalized on the incident and are coming out in order to pose opposition against the BBL and the peace process. These spoilers of peace were quiet before the incident had happened but after that ill-fated day of January 25th, they were grandstanding against the BBL. Because of the incident, the MILF have agreed to let the emotions settle down before continuing the discussion of the BBL in Congress and Senate. MILF is aware that if the hearing of the Proposed BBL continues with the current emotions, there will be a strong possibility of a diluted BBL. The current situation also shows the strong bias against the Bangsamoro as depicted in the pronouncement of several individuals highlighting some of the provisions in the BBL as negative.

Asked by the JICA delegation whether if MILF will accept an amended BBL after the pronouncement of the Congress and Senate that they will change some of the provisions in the proposed laws, Chairman Murad replied that the position of the MILF remains the same and that they will not accept a diluted BBL. If the proposed amendments of the BBL are for those provisions which the Bangsamoro Transition Commission has introduced, the MILF may be amenable to it. But if the Congress and Senate are proposing to amend those provisions which were provided by the signed agreement, the MILF cannot accept it. It is simply because the BBL is the translation of the agreement between the GPH and the MILF, it is not an ordinary deal, it is a translation of the political agreement into a legal document, as explained by Chairman Murad.

Chairman Murad further expressed that the MILF and the Bangsamoro people are hoping and pinning on the capability of the President to move forward the peace process and the BBL. They are also aware that the political capital of the President is going down because of the Mamasapano incident. It was mostly being blamed on him. The MILF and the Bangsamoro people believes in President Aquino’s confidence building that he is committed in really solving the Bangsamoro problem.

On behalf of JICA, Mr. Kuroyanagi, being the Vice President of JICA, expressed again to Chairman Murad that the Government of Japan through the Japan International Cooperation Agency will be with the Bangsamoro in its journey towards the establishment of the new Bangsamoro Government or until the peace and stability will reign in the region.

Mr. Kuroyanagi was joined by his colleagues from JICA Headquarters namely, Mr. Naoyuki Ochiai, the former member to the International Monitoring Team and Senior Advisor in the Peacebuilding and Infrastructure Department and Ms. Tomoko Shimada. From JICA Philippine Office, he was accompanied by Mr. Juro Chikaraishi, the Senior Advisor for Mindanao and current Officer-In-Charge of JICA Cotabato Project Office after Mr. Shinichi Masuda end his term of office in CPO, and Ms. Mary Ann Bakisan, the Senior Program Officer and In-charge of the Quick Impact Project.
From JICA Cotabato Project Office, Mr. Shu Nishimaru, Ms. Tomoko Yasunaga, and Ms. Samrah Karon-Patadon joined the Mission. Mr. Hiroaki Nakatsubo, PR Consultant of JICA from International Development Journal accompanied the Vice President together with his staff Ms. Saguira Saiden. The current Japanese member to the International Monitoring Mr. Takayuki Nakagawa also joined the delegation.

PMA valedictorian: We are not for war

From ABS-CBN (Mar 16): PMA valedictorian: We are not for war

[Video report]

The valedictorian of the Philippine Military Academy Sinaglahi Class of 2015 urged his colleagues not to rush into military actions at the cost of peace.

“History would remind us that the most costly mistake of strategy came not from our restraint but from the willingness to rush into military actions without thinking about the immediate and long term consequences of waging war,” Cadet First Class Arwi Chiday Martinez said in his valedictory speech.

He said the role of the military is to seek long lasting peace, bearing in mind the futile result of wars in the past.

“It will be our generation’s task and responsibility to heed, act, and respond to this aspiration for peace. The challenge that we face right now is how we will effectively put into reality the lessons that we have learned here in the academy, to become good leaders espousing the values of courage, integrity and loyalty in selfless service towards achieving a long lasting peace and prosperity for our country,” he said.

The Benguet-born Martinez led a total of 172 members of the PMA Sinaglahi, which stands for “Sundalong Isinilang na may Angking Galing at Lakas, Handang Ipaglaban and Bayan.”

He received the Presidential Saber from President Benigno Aquino III during the ceremony in Baguio on Sunday.

Martinez explained that the name of his class symbolizes their role in society. “Let us commit ourselves to offer all our strength and wit to protect and uphold the sovereignty of our country,” he said.

He likened the members of the Class of 2015 to rice grains in a healthy soil.

“We are 172 rice grains planted on the hollowed grounds of the Philippine Military Academy, nurtured by competent and dedicated people to transform us into a bountiful harvest ready to be of selfless service to the Filipino people,” he said, as he urged Filipinos to continue to trust in the Armed Forces.

“Patuloy naming ipaglalaban ang kapayapaan at kaunlaran, maging kapalit man nito ang aming buhay,” Martinez said.

Defense supplier denies Hueys obsolete, cries extortion

From ABS-CBN (Mar 15): Defense supplier denies Hueys obsolete, cries extortion

The joint venture tapped to supply 21 Huey helicopters for the government’s use insists that the supplies in its inventory are not obsolete.

The joint venture of Rice Aircraft and Eagle Copters Inc. also denied allegations of financial impropriety and kickbacks in their bid for the project.

The joint venture won a P1.2-billion contract in February 2014 for the supply of 21 refurbished units of UH-1 helicopters. The acquisition project was questioned, however, after a military official claimed the units were obsolete.

“These helicopters are conceivably the most highly modified and advanced version of the UH-1 that has ever existed. These are also configured with crash-worthy self-sealing main fuel cells,” said joint venture representative Robert Arthur Rice Jr. and Rice Aircraft vice president Phil Kemp.

The group is also asking the government to probe a Filipino named Rhodora Alvarez for allegedly misrepresenting herself in the company.

“As of last month, the joint venture had been informed that Ms. Alvarez approached the media in the Philippines and she was providing fabricated stories regarding the UH-1 project. She was said to be attempting to defame the reputation of the joint venture as well as the Department of the National Defense,” the group said.

It said it put its full trust in Alvarez in the procurement process but later realized she may have misappropriated funds given to her.

The group also alleged Alvarez asked them to give her 15% of the contract amount “right away” as part of her commission.

When her authority for the procurement was revoked, however, “the joint venture has received several electronic messages from her threatening to sabotage the project unless the joint venture heeds her demand,” the group alleged.

It denied the supply contract was a “case of corruption” but a “case of attempted extortion.”

The group also insists its supply is top of the line.

“Each helicopter was fully refurbished and underwent comprehensive ground and flight testing at the joint venture’s facility in California, USA prior to being disassembled for containerized shipping to the Philippines,” the group said.

It said the UH-1D models it has in its inventory are newer than the UH-1H models currently in the market. The UH-1D configuration was manufactured by German firm Dornier, it explained.

It added the UH-1D models underwent a Structural Life Extension Programme (SLEP) upgrade, which remains unmatched by other UH-1 models. The UH-1H models, for example, have corrosion and humidity problems, it added.

“To date, all 21 helicopters were already shipped to the Philippines and 13 of them have already completed the acceptance process under the [terms of reference] and are operational and fully mission-capable,” the joint venture said.

The joint venture said it had asked for time until April 15 to complete the turnover of the rest of the helicopters, citing unforeseen events such as the port congestions in Manila and in the West Coast as having delayed the delivery of the other helicopters.

Experts also encountered difficulties in performing test flights and topping checks because of bad weather, it added.

“Despite the grant of extension, the joint venture would like to emphasize that it is still paying liquidated damages to the government due to its incurring of delay,” it said.

Assault rifles of survivor cops also cannibalized

From the Philippine Star posted to ABS-CBN (Mar 16): Assault rifles of survivor cops also cannibalized

It was not only the firearms of the Special Action Force (SAF) troopers who died in the Mamasapano carnage that were cannibalized – even the assault rifles of policemen-survivors handed over to soldiers had missing parts.

This is according to the Philippine National Police Board of Inquiry (BOI), which investigated the SAF’s mission to capture terrorists in Mamasapano but resulted in the carnage of 44 SAF troopers.

In its report released last Friday, the BOI said some rifles turned over to soldiers had missing parts when these were returned. “Interviews with members of Seaborne Company revealed missing and/or stolen parts of rifles.”

It cited the case of Police Officer 2 Rommel Magno, who was seriously wounded and had to turn over his rifle, as well as the rifles of dead Seaborne commandos, to a member of the Army’s Division Reconnaissance Company (DRC).
“When Magno’s rifle was returned, its GL M203 grenade launcher was missing,” the BOI report said.
What was surprising was “Magno’s rifle was among the firearms turned over by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to the government (last Feb. 18).”
“This means that the firearm got into the hands of Moro rebels when it should have been under the protection of the Armed Forces of the Philippines troops,” it stressed.
The BOI stopped short of accusing the soldier-rescuers of cannibalizing some SAF rifles.

Troops belonging to the Army’s DRC rescued the remaining members of Seaborne Company at past 11 p.m. on Jan. 25.

Military captures BIFF training camp, medical base in Maguindanao town

From GMA News (Mar 15): Military captures BIFF training camp, medical base in Maguindanao town

The military has captured what could be a training camp and a medical base of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters as the 16-day offensive against the bandit group in Maguindanao continues.

[Video report: Umano'y Training Camp at Medical Base ng BIFF, nakubkob ng military]
Citing GMA News sources,  "News TV Live" reported Sunday that soldiers have recovered weapons and medical equipment in two sites in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town in Maguindanao.

Also recovered from the sites were documents from the so-called Medical and Dental Department of the BIFF General Headquarters, the report said.

According to intelligence received by the Army 6th Infantry Division, Filipino terrorist Basit Usman, one of the targets of a police operation in Mamasapano town on Jan. 25,  is injured. Operations to find him continue.

Iqbal denies that he and MILF chairman Murad own Malaysian passports

From GMA News (Mar 15): Iqbal denies that he and MILF chairman Murad own Malaysian passports

Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal has disputed the allegation that he and MILF chairman Al Haj Ebrahim Murad own Malaysian passports.

Iqbal dismissed as “baseless” the information received by former Interior Secretary Rafael Alunan that he and Murad are not Filipino citizens.

“I own a Philippine passport. Walang batayan ‘yang sinasabi nilang may Malaysian passport ako. Hindi ko alam kung saan galing ‘yan,” Iqbal told GMA News Online in a phone interview Sunday.

The MILF executive, who also chairs the Bangsamoro Transition Committee, said he is certain Murad owns a Philippine passport.

“Alam na alam ko na Philippine passport ang gamit ni Chairman Murad. Kaya nga walang katotohanan ‘yung mga nagsasabing may Malaysian passport kami,” he said.

In a status message posted on his Facebook page last Friday, Alunan said the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, Department of Foreign Affairs and Bureau of Immigration might already be aware that Murad and Iqbal are carrying Malaysian passports.

“Ano pa ba kailangang gawin ng MILF para matauhan ang taumbayan na ang ating gobyerno ay nasa pigang kamay ng Malaysia? Tanga ba sila o traydor?” he asked.

Alunan added the following, encased in quotation marks: "’Sir si Milf Chairman Murad at Iqbal, ay walang Philippine Passport. Tuwing lumalabas sila gamit nila Malaysia passport. So sa madaling salita lahat na nangyayari ang author is Malaysia.’”

Acting on Alunan’s information, Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles has asked the ad hoc panel discussing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) to verify Murad and Iqbal’s citizenship before continuing deliberations on the measure next month.

"I raise this concern because if it is true that we are writing the BBL Law for Malaysians then we in Congress will be criminally liable for acts of treason," the lawmaker said.

But on Sunday, Alunan clarified in another Facebook post that he received the claims about Murad and Iqbal through a private message on the social networking site.

The former Cabinet official called on Nograles to amend his statement since he only posted allegations made by another person.

“Cong. Nograles needs to amend his statement that he attributes to me which was actually a private message that I posted on my wall about this matter. The amendment should be ‘According to a private message sent to former Secretary Alunan,’” he said.

Nevertheless, Alunan urged the government to investigate Murad and Iqbal’s citizenship.

“I agree that government authorities need to look into this information to determine if we're dealing with foreigners and foreign invaders. From my end, I've been told by Mindanao sources that they have Malaysian travel documents. NICA, DFA, NBI and IMMIGRATION should validate this ASAP,” he said.

Nograles called on BBL panel chair Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez to call BOI officials and subpoena Murad and Iqbal’s travel documents to verify that they are indeed Filipinos.

"We are all for peace but we should achieve peace in Mindanao without sacrificing our sovereignty as one nation and one people," he said.

The House committee is set to resume deliberations on the Bangsamoro bill behind closed doors starting April 6 until April 16 after more than a month-long suspension following the Mamasapano clash.

The proposed BBL, otherwise known as House Bill 4994, seeks to formalize the creation of the Bangsamoro region which will replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The bill is a product of the peace agreement signed by the government and MILF last year.

Chinese forces may stay in West PHL Sea structures, lawmaker warns

From GMA News (Mar 15): Chinese forces may stay in West PHL Sea structures, lawmaker warns

Chinese forces might stay in the structures being built in the West Philippine Sea and block the ships that supply the Philippine Marines guarding the Ayungin Shoal, Magdalo party-list Rep. Francisco Ashley Acedillo said on Sunday.
"Kapag naharang po nila itong sumasaklolo at itong mga nagbibigay tulong mapipilitan po tayong i-pull out ang ating mga Marines, i-abandona ang Ayuingin shoal at tuluyan na pong makukuha yan ng bansang China," Acedillo told GMA 7 news program “ 24 Oras Weekend”.

[Video report: China nagpapatayo na rin daw mga permanenteng istruktura 5 iba pang teritoryo sa West Phl Sea]
Acedillo said the on-going reclamation in the Mischief Reef was about 50 kilometers away from the Ayungin Shoal.
Last week, the Department of National Defense said China was constructing a permanent structure, that was as large as the Mall of Asia, on the Burgos Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
Reclamation and construction activities in the West Philippine Sea territories has been continuous, based on pictures obtained by GMA News.
A picture taken on Jan. 30 showed what looks to be a three-kilometer long airstrip on the Kagitingan Reef.
Construction at the Kennan Reef was, meanwhile, in full swing, with permanent structures also being built on the Calderon Reef.
GMA News had earlier reported on the structures on Burgos Reef and the on-going construction in the Mabini Reef.
There was also reclamation work on the Panganiban Reef, near Ayungin Shoal, and in the Zamora Reef, near Pag-asa Island.
Though the Chinese embassy has yet to issue a statement on the recent activities in the disputed areas, it had previously insisted on China's rights over the islands and reefs in the South China Sea.
Meanwhile the Department of Foreign Affairs has completed all the requirements needed at the United Nations Tribunal for the arbitration of the Philippines' case against China.
The DFA expects the UN decide on the case in 2016.

Basilan turns 14

From the Manila Standard Today (Mar 16): Basilan turns 14

The  island province of Basilan marked its 14th founding anniversary  which was preceded by week-long activities with native Yakans, and Christians and Tausug settlers taking part.

Gov. Jum Akbar said the celebration, focused on the theme “Many Cultures, One Basilan—Diverse Tribes in Harmony, Moving Forward with One Goal”, was joined by thousands of  residents from 10 municipalities at the capitol grounds in this capital city.

Akbar said the turtle-shaped  province, where the Abu Sayyaf Group is based, was originally an island city headed by the late mayor Leroy Brown. It was created in early 1992 through a legislative measure authored by then Congressman Juan Alano.

The occasion was ushered in  by  week-long activities including  an agro-industrial fair which  displayed the area’s prominent local  farm, marine and trade products as well as traditional  events such as cultural presentation and civic-military parade of local  government officials, employees, educators and students, police and military personnel, and leaders of non-government organizations.  
Akbar, widow of the late Rep. Wahab Akbar, who was shot dead by an unidentified gunman in front of the House of Representatives building in Quezon City some six years ago, urged local government leaders and their respective constituents to continue supporting their provincial and municipal officials who are exerting their best to deliver islanders’ basic services.

Basilan is the largest among the islands in the Sulu Archipelago comprising also Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. It now has two chartered cities – Isabela, its capital, which administratively belongs to Zamboanga Peninsula (it having rejected to join the Autonomous Region in Muslim  Mindanao in  two previous plebiscites) and Lamitan City. Both cities were created through legislative measures authored by former Basilan congressman Hadji Salapuddin.

Philippine Navy’s future landing crafts were Royal Australian Navy’s work horses

From Ang Malaya (Mar 15): Philippine Navy’s future landing crafts were Royal Australian Navy’s work horses

Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Lieutenant Brenton-James Glover, HMA Ship Brunei’s last Executive Officer said that two decommissioned landing craft, heavy (LCH) from RAN will greatly help Philippine Navy specially in natural disasters.

“They were certainly the work horses of the Royal Australian Navy and I am sure they will provide just as much service to the Philippine Navy,” Lieutenant Glover said as quoted by Australia’s Navy Daily.

“They were not the best looking or most comfortable ships, however, they could always be called upon when needed,” he added. “The Balikpapan class is an excellent capability for amphibious operations as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”

HMAS Brunei and Tarakan will be refitted and transferred to Philippine Navy on May 2015. Philippine government will buy the remaining three decommissioned crafts namely HMAS Wewak, Betano and Balikpapan at a give away price of PhP726 million.

These Balikpapan-class LCHs are 44.5 meters long and can load up to 180 tons of cargo.

Iqbal: We travel using Philippine passports

From Ang Malaya (Mar 15): Iqbal: We travel using Philippine passports

Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal brushes off the allegation that he and MILF chairman Al Haj Ebrahim Murad are travelling with Malayasian passports. “I own a Philippine passport,” Iqbal told GMA News Online in a phone interview.

Iqbal added that MILF chairman also uses a Philippine passport. “Kaya nga walang katotohanan ‘yung mga nagsasabing may Malaysian passport kami.”

Former Secretary Rafael Alunan III posted on his social networking account that he received an information that the two MILF leaders are travelling with Malaysian passports.

The allegation prompted Davao City Representative Karlo Alexei Nograles to ask the House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee on Bangsamoro Basic Law to call on Bureau of Immigration and subpoena all travel documents of Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and Mohaquer Iqbal to shed light on the issue.

“This is a very serious allegation and must be investigated immediately, even before we continue deliberations on the BBL,” Representative Nograles said.

Philippine peace adviser criticized for secret MILF program in Zamboanga

From the Mindanao Examiner BlogSpot site (Mar 16): Philippine peace adviser criticized for secret MILF program in Zamboanga

The local government of Zamboanga has strongly criticized the secretive programs being implemented by Presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles for Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels and their supporters here. 

Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar said Deles, without informing the local government, has since 2013 implemented the so-called “Sajahatra Bangsamoro Program for MILF communities,” raising fears that rebels and their supporters have encroached Zamboanga. 

Salazar said there are no MILF communities in Zamboanga and that local residents and village leaders are opposed to the inclusion of the city in the proposed Bangsamoro autonomous government. 

She said village officials learned of the Sajahatra program through residents themselves. 

“Barangay officials have been tasked to strictly monitor their areas of responsibility for possible uncoordinated activities such as those implemented purportedly for communities that are not recognized by the local government,” Salazar said.  

“There may be individuals who are sympathetic to the MILF, but we would like to emphasize that there is no MILF community nor do we recognize one in the city,” she added. 

Civil groups and politicians have previously demanded the resignation of Deles over the killings of 44 police commandos by MILF rebels and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters on January 25 in Maguindanao’s Mamasapano town where members of the Special Action Force fatally shot Malaysian bomber Zulkifli bin Hir deep inside MILF territory during a secret anti-terror operation. 

Some groups in Zamboanga wanted Deles be declared “persona non grata” for the secretive Sajahatra program here. 

Salazar said Senen Bacani, a member of the government peace panel, admitted that Sajahatra Bangsamoro Program was started in 2013 in Zamboanga City without the knowledge of the local government. 

“Barangay officials have a very important role to play to ensure that all activities happening in their AOR are sanctioned by the local government. Please be vigilant and report to us any and all activities similar to this being implemented in your area. The city is not part of the ARMM nor shall the city be part of the Bangsamoro,” Salazar said. 

“The non-coordination of such activity has caused alarm that led to anxieties and apprehensions on the part of the barangay officials and residents where the project is being implemented,” she added.

Graft raps filed vs ex-Marine chief, 4 others

From Rappler (Mar 14): Graft raps filed vs ex-Marine chief, 4 others

Former Marine commandant Major General Renato Miranda and 4 others are accused of pocketing over P36 million in clothing and equipment allowances of Marine personnel in 2000

ROBBED? Some members of the Philippine Marine Corps reportedly failed to get their clothing and equipment allowance in CY 1999. File photo by Dennis Sabangan/EPA

ROBBED? Some members of the Philippine Marine Corps reportedly failed to get their clothing and equipment allowance in CY 1999. File photo by Dennis Sabangan/EPA

Five former officers of the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) led by former commandant Major General Renato Miranda face graft and malversation charges for allegedly pocketing P36.77 million in funds allotted for Marine personnel in 2000.

Criminal charges were filed on March 10 before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan against Miranda, Lieutenant Colonel Jeson P. Cabatbat, Major Adelo B. Jandayan, and Captains Felicisimo C. Millado and Edmundo Yurong.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales approved the indictments against the military officers based on the criminal information drafted by Assistant Special Prosecutor 3 Anna Isabel G. Aurellano, and recommended by Maria Janina Justo Hidalgo.

According to the Ombudsman's resolution, P36,768,028.95 was released in 1999 for Combat Clothing and Individual Equipment (CCIE) allowances of PMC personnel in the field, who were each supposed to receive P14,715.05.

The investigation showed that 19 checks were issued to cover the entire amount, released as cash advances to Millado who was then disbursing officer. Millado reportedly entrusted the amount to Jandayan “with the approval of Miranda."

The Ombudsman said Millado, Jandayan, Cabatbat, and Yurong prepared the payroll and supporting documents submitted for liquidation.

The investigators discovered that the signatures on the payroll were forgeries while the supporting documents were falsified, after randomly-selected PMC enlisted personnel who were interviewed by auditors admitted that they never received their CCIE allowances.

The payroll also showed signatures of supposed authorized representatives of some PMC personnel but the intended recipients said that they never authorized anybody to receive said allowances on their behalf.

“(Defendants) made it appear…that said marine soldiers indeed received their CCIE, when in fact they did not; thereby causing undue injury to the said marine soldiers and the government,” the prosecution said.

The prosecutors recommended a P30,0000-bail bond for each of the accused but asked the court to hold them without bail for the malversation charge.

Bottom of the ranks: PMA's 'goat' in Year of the Goat

From Rappler (Mar 15): Bottom of the ranks: PMA's 'goat' in Year of the Goat

This year's class goat – the last in the overall ranking – is 2nd Lt Don John Dominguez of Rodriguez, Rizal

PMA GRADUATION. Breaking tradition during the PMA Sinaglahi class 2015 graduation rites, as President Benigno Aquino chose to walk. Photo from Malacanang photo bureau

PMA GRADUATION. Breaking tradition during the PMA Sinaglahi class 2015 graduation rites, as President Benigno Aquino chose to walk. Photo from Malacanang photo bureau

2nd Lt Don John Dominguez gets a unique distinction this year: he graduates as the goat of his class – the last in the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) rankings – during the Chinese year of the goat.

Dominguez, who hails from Rodriguez, Rizal, is this year's No. 172 in the PMA Sinaglahi Class of 2015.

Dominguez was a bit embarrassed at his ranking, and the crowd did not clap too enthusiastically when his name was called on stage during the graduation rites in Baguio City on Sunday, March 15.

“I only learned that I was the goat last week,” he said.

He may be the last in his class, but he holds a special position in the eyes of his mother.

“He is Number One to us,” his mother, a teacher, said.

Father a retired Marine

Dominguez, who studied Bachelor of Science in Education at St. Joseph College-Rodriguez, said that he returned to the PMA after taking a medical leave in his first year.

He decided to become a military officer because his father, Donato, was a retired Marine soldier who served in Jolo, Mindanao.

It was originally announced that only 171 were set to graduate this year.

Cadet Kelvin Versoza from Labrador, Pangasinan, was given the go-signal to graduate only a day before the rites.

However, cadet Patricio Poblador, who was confined at the Baguio General Hospital due to severe diarrhea, was not called.

As in the past when he was graduation speaker, President Benigno Aquino III chose to walk instead of riding the customary white jeep.

Wireless microphones were also set on the class baron, brigade commander 2nd Lt. Renato Carino Jr. and his adjutant, so the crowd could hear Carino's orders, which were repeated by the adjutant.

During the singing of the PMA hymn, however, only Carino's voice could be heard.

Military carries out airstrikes anew on BIFF rebels

From Rappler (Mar 15): Military carries out airstrikes anew on BIFF rebels

The fighting has displaced at least 80,000 people in Central Mindanao

BIFF. Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters members in their camp in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao in September 2012. File photo by Jeoffrey Maitem/Rappler

BIFF. Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters members in their camp in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao in September 2012. File photo by Jeoffrey Maitem/Rappler

Government security forces carried out two-hour airstrikes Sunday, March 15, against Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the marshy areas of Guindulungan, Maguindanao.

Army Captain Joan Petinglay, spokesman for the military’s 6th Division, defended their action that caused a standoff with members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) 106th Base Command in Datu Abdullah Sangki town.

Petinglay said two MG-520 attack helicopters were dispatched and used at around 12:00 noon in the air assault. “The air offensive lasted for more than two hours. There is an ongoing combat operation in the area,” Petinglay added.

At the same time, she confirmed that they launched an artillery assault near the position of the MILF’s 106th Base Command.

The MILF’s 106th Base Command Commander Mastur Lintang said troops under the government's Mindanao joint task force, which has been running after members of the BIFF, fired artillery that nearly hit his house Friday evening.

BIFF in MILF camp?

“We are not saying here the BIFF are seeking refuge in the MILF camp in the area, but there were sightings of them before the artillery attacks were implemented,” Petinglay said.

“Our soldiers' actions on the ground are calculated. We cannot just fire our howitzers without clear basis,” she added.

On Saturday, soldiers killed 8 more Moro rebels, bringing to 104 the total dead in the ongoing offensives against the BIFF.

Petinglay reported troops also seized a BIFF camp in the village of Kitango, Datu Saudi Ampatuan town after their ground and artillery attacks on Saturday.

Petinglay said 7 60mm mortar fuse, one ballistic helmet, gun powder, a short steel magazine of an M-16 armalite rifle, electrical wires, and several mobile phones were also recovered by the military inside the camp.

High-value target

A second encampment was also overrun by soldiers. They recovered a battery pack of a handheld radio, a police uniform, a combat pack, and combat boots, according to Petinglay.

“We believe our high-value target is still in Maguindanao,” Petinglay said.
The military said only 4 of the total BIFF dead have been validated. On the government side, 6 soldiers were killed from the fighting after two Marines died on Tuesday. There were also 21 reported wounded.

The all-out military offensives started in February to stop the fighting between the MILF and the BIFF, and to arrest Filipino bomb maker Abdul Basit Usman who escaped a police operation on January 25. The operation, however, resulted in the death of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as "Marwan".

The fighting has displaced at least 80,000 people in Central Mindanao.

How to fight ISIS? Build communities (Part 1)

From Rappler (Mar 9): How to fight ISIS? Build communities (Part 1)

The White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism mobilizes community partners, religious groups, academic institutions and the private sector to create a counter-terrorist environment

 TURNING POINT. The White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. Photo by Maria Ressa/Rappler

TURNING POINT. The White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. Photo by Maria Ressa/Rappler

The idea is simple: fight the recruitment and propaganda of ISIS, the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq, by building strong communities that protect youth around the world in the physical and virtual worlds, where ISIS has been winning the battle on social media.

Leading that charge is the United States, which convened a 3-day summit in Washington, DC last week with at least 60 countries, many which have suffered attacks spurred by ISIS’ global rise. The US estimates that at least 20,000 fighters have been lured by ISIS in a little more than 3 years, far more than the 10,000 who fought in Afghanistan in a decade of conflict that spawned al-Qaeda.

The summit took place just days after an ISIS-affiliated group beheaded Egyptian Christians in Libya and an attack in Copenhagen. The global spread of this threat, which has turned home-grown in many cities, is apparent and alarming – from Boston, USA to Ottawa, Canada to Paris, France to Peshawar, Pakistan and many more.

That, say US officials, is the reason for the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism or CVE, the largest effort so far to unite governments, private sector and civic society groups globally on a “bottom-up approach” to fighting the evolution of the virulent ideology behind terrorism.

CVE is a discipline used in many countries around the world that aims to prevent terrorism where it begins: the radicalization of young people in communities. It tries to undermine the attraction of violence through 3 ways: by "building awareness, countering extremist narratives, and emphasizing community-led intervention."

Other countries like Singapore, which began its CVE initiatives in 2003, and Australia, which has a government CVE arm, have long worked with communities, but the US summit signaled the beginning of a global whole of society approach to battling terrorism.

“The White House summit is a turning point in the fight against terrorism,” said Rohan Gunaratna, author of Inside al-Qaeda and the head of the International Centre for Political Violence & Terrorism Research in Singapore. “For the first time, the United States is mobilizing community: community partners, religious groups, academic institutions, and the private sector to create a counter-terrorist environment.”

Gunaratna pointed out that the US had long focused on a military and law enforcement response against al-Qaeda. The rise of ISIS, he said, is changing that. “The US realized it has no option but to work with the community because the predominant form of attack of ISIS is to radicalize communities, splinter them and recruit their members to carry out the attacks,” he added.

In the Asia-Pacific, Australia seems to have seen the most number of its citizens radicalized by ISIS. On Monday, February 23, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced tougher, new measures to counter terrorism. Australia has been on high alert since September. Since then, about 20 people have been arrested in ISIS-related terrorist plots. The last two were arrested mid-February.

“We’ve seen a heavy-handed approach to terrorism, and rightly so, but it’s not been balanced out by the soft approaches so our work is 10 times harder when we work with communities,” said Anne Aly, a Muslim academic and founder of People Against Violent Extremism or PAVE in Perth, Australia. “I’m not one to be alarmist, but every day, I’m meeting a new young person who’s being radicalized and is going down that path. The threat has grown a lot.”

Two days of dialogues at the White House, capped by a 3rd day of Ministerial meetings at the State Department mixed government leaders with the academe, civic-society groups like Washington-based Muflehun, Hedayah from Abu Dhabi, PAVE from Australia and with private sector leaders like Microsoft, Google, Accenture, the Acumen Fund along with a startup like Rappler.

Nearly every speaker mentioned the Internet and social media, and how so many of their youths have been radicalized online. One Muslim cleric talked about how ISIS’ social media engagement began in the morning and continued late into the night: it is personal and it targets vulnerable youth.

Putting ideas into action

Because we were all in the same room, quick connections and shared ideas sparked animated conversations – civil society quickly connecting with ministers, who could put ideas into action.

"The quality of participation in this conference was tremendous – from ministers to state ministers to heads of security and intelligence services to organizations in the private sector," said Gunaratna. "You can see that there will be more resources, more focus, more direction."

The only journalist to speak from a startup that built its growth on social media, I sat between Syrian cleric Sheikh Mohamed Yakoubi and Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry on the week that Egypt launched an airstrike against ISIS forces in Libya to retaliate for the brutal beheadings of Egyptian Christians.

Egyptian Foreign Minister
Egyptian Foreign Minister

“The barbaric violence they commit is totally out of line with any form of human values,” Egypt’s foreign minister Shoukry told me during the first break. “It’s very clear whether it’s ISIS or any other terrorist organization that perpetuates violence and puts innocent lives at risk is a terrible plague that has to be eradicated and defeated. It has to be dealt with comprehensively.”

That was echoed by US President Barack Obama, who gave two policy speeches during the summit outlining his government’s key messages: reject sectarian strife; separate terrorists from Islam; address grievances, including political and economic ones, that lead to marginalization; give the youth opportunities; and, avoid “us” and “them” by building inclusive communities.

"We have to ensure that our diverse societies truly welcome and respect people of all faiths and backgrounds, and leaders set the tone on this issue," said President Obama. He set a timeline.“At the United Nations in September, I called on the international community to come together and eradicate violent extremism. And I challenged countries to come to the General Assembly this fall with concrete steps we can take together. And I’m grateful for all of you for answering this call.”

National Security Advisor Susan Rice outlined concrete actions: how President Obama “has requested nearly $400 million for the State Department to support a wide range of partnerships to counter terrorism.” Working with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the State Department said that dealing with today’s threats is “a generational challenge” and that “lasting victories” are not found in the battlefield, but “in mindsets, and within communities, schools, and families.”

The State Department set out concrete steps for the coming days, and asked their allies to join them. “We need to discredit extremist ideologies, address the economic and political grievances that can feed extremism, empower local communities while remaining true to our values,” said Rice.

Still, many who attended said that the US is late coming to the table – something US Foreign Secretary John Kerry admitted, talking about his conversation with a minister from a country in northern Africa, “where young people are just proselytized and captured at a very young stage, paid money in some cases.” It’s a process of indoctrination that is made more potent online.

“What was chilling was this foreign minister said to me, they don’t have a five-year strategy; they have a 35-year strategy,” said Kerry. “So we have to come together and say, ‘What’s our strategy? How are we going to respond.’”

ISIS' online domination

Finding the way forward wasn't always easy. Even finding a common name for ISIS was difficult: it was referred to by at least 4 different names: IS, ISIS, ISIL and Daesch, a loose Arabic acronym for the group.

Discussions were complex, messy, triggering many sensitivities. Yet, on many points everyone agreed: the threat can only be dealt with effectively by working together; that the Internet and social media battle has so far been dominated by ISIS; and that the work to protect the youth begins in communities, and must include women.

Much of what was accomplished in the 3 days failed to make it to American media coverage, where the term CVE was rarely used. Television, dominated by pundits stuck in a black and white threat landscape, focused on why the US wanted to separate terrorism from Islam. Others focused on whether the US was going soft on terrorists.

“There’s been a silly debate in the media in the last days about the sort of … what you have to do,” said Kerry.“You have to do everything. You have to take the people off the battlefield who are there today, but you’re kind of stupid if all you do is do that and you don’t prevent more people from going to the battlefield.”

It is time to break silos of disciplines, to break differences of philosophy over governance: after all, some of America’s best allies in counterterrorist operations are also some of the ones who have violated some of its principles of democracy and human rights, like Egypt.

“We see the interconnectivity and mutual support,” Egypt’s foreign minister Shoukry said. “We see them moving from Nigeria into Mali, into Chad, into Libya. We see the weaponry that they exchange. We see the financial structures that they present, and the recruitment strategies that help them enhance their capabilities. We know we need to deal with the political conditions that might help them recruit, that might provide space for them to operate because of dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement.”

This is enlightened self-interest at its best: a major policy-setting global summit that showed a United States experimenting with its new role for a networked and fragmented world facing a threat that has evolved significantly since 9/11.

“We are here today because we are united against the scourge of violent extremism and terrorism,” said President Obama. “We are all in the same boat. We have to help each other.”

Part 2: How to fight ISIS on social media

[Maria A. Ressa is the author of Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda's Newest Center of Operations in Southeast Asia and 10 Days, 10 Years: From Bin Laden to Facebook.]