Sunday, April 12, 2015

War games highlight show of aerial force

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 13): War games highlight show of aerial force

A total of 92 military aircraft from the United States, Philippines and Australia will be  taking part  in this year’s Balikatan exercises   scheduled on April 20- 30, 2015.

Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, AFP public affairs office chief, said that the Americans will be deploying 76 military aircraft while the Philippines will be allocating 15 planes and helicopters while the Australian Defense Forces   will deploy one.

Earlier, the AFP said  that 11,740 troops from the three countries will be participating in this year’s Balikatan exercises.

This can be broken down into 6,656 personnel for the US, 5,023 for the AFP and 61 for the Australian Defense Forces.

He added that the US will be deploying three naval vessels while the AFP will be sending one.

Balikatan is an annual combined joint exercise between the governments of the  Philippines and US.

This is conducted every year to serve as a venue for joint and combined training between the Philippines and United States militaries.

“Our Armed Forces and the US Armed Forces are coming together for this mutual defense and disaster response exercises towards a more responsive partnership to the community focusing on development and community service,” Cabunoc said.

This year’s Balikatan is the 31st in the series of bilateral exercises based on the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

The exercise is designed to enhance the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the United States Armed Forces in capability development in the conduct of not only traditional military training but with civil military projects focusing on reaching out towards priority communities.

Balikatan 2015 will be conducted in three simultaneous events.

Humanitarian Civic Assistance (HCA) events is the conduct of combined and joint civil-military operations by the AFP, US and Australian Defense Forces (ADF) in selected areas of the Western Command (WESCOM) area of responsibility in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan and Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility in Panay Island, to enhance civil-military cooperation in support of the AFP and US objectives.

In the Command Post Exercise (CPX) event, the scenario will focus on Marine Security (MARSEC) with Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise (CALFEX) to demonstrate the capability of the AFP National Maneuver Force. 

Selected US and ADF staff members will form a Joint Liaison Group (JLG) to support the capability development at each staff.

While the Field Training Exercises (FTX) events will have the following involved unit; the Philippine Army (PA), Philippine Air Force (PAF), Philippine Navy (PN), Philippine Marine Corps (PMC), AFP Special Operations Force (SOF), United States Army (USAR), United States Air Force (USAF), United States Navy (USN), United States Marine Crops (USMC), and United States SOF (US SOF) will be held in Crow Valley Gunnery Range (CVGR), Tarlac; Basa Air Base (BAB), Floridablanca and Clark Air Base (CAB) Angeles City, both in Pampanga; Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija (FMNE); Marine Base Gregorio Lim (MBGL), Ternate, Cavite; Naval Base Heracleo Alano (NBHA), Sangley Point, Cavite and at Naval Station Leovigildo Gantiouqui (NSLG), San Antonio, Zambales to enhance capacities and improve tactics, techniques and procedures, reinforce relations, and improve interoperability of AFP, US and ADF forces.

Opening ceremony of Balikatan 2015 will be held at Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo in Quezon City on April 20 while the closing ceremony will be at Clark Airbase on April 30.

Balikatan Exercise Director for this year is Vice Adm. Aexander S. Lopez while Brig. Gen. Rodolfo B Santiago is the Exercise’s Vice Director and also the commandant of AFP Command and General Staff College.

BIFF sets retaliatory strikes vs military

From the Manila Standard Today (Apr 13): BIFF sets retaliatory strikes vs military

Members of the separatist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) are reportedly preparing retaliatory attacks to avenge the series of setbacks they suffered from the military’s recent anti-terrorism campaign.

Informed sources said the BIFF will also strongly oppose the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law by staging attacks against the military.

“There is very reliable information that the BIFF is out to avenge the series of military operations against them, resulting in the death of dozens of militants,” the source said.

It was earlier reported that the BIFF is planning to stage bombing attacks in Metro Manila as part of their plan to exact revenge on the military and to emphasize their rejection of the BBL.

Several improvised explosive devices (IED) were discovered by the military in separate areas in Maguindanao in the past two weeks, which the source said was an indication that the BIFF is planning something “serious.”

The military claimed to have killed at least 129 BIFF separatists, including three ranking commanders and also wounding hundreds of others in clashes in the outskirts of Datu Piang, Shariff Aguak and Shariff Saydona towns in Maguindanao in the past two months.

The military campaign against the BIFF has also resulted to the arrest of Muhammad Ali Tambako, the leader of the newly formed terrorist group Justice Islamic Movement (JIM).

Tambako was reportedly the most trusted commander of BIFF leader Umbra kato, a former top MILF commander. The latter allegedly left the MILF because of differences with MILF chairman Murad Ibrahim.

AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Catapang recently suspended military operations against the BIFF to pave the way for the reconstruction of damaged houses and other structures due to the intense fighting in Maguindanao.

However, Catapang said despite the temporary suspension of operations, the military will continue to hunt BIFF terrorists, including Abdul Basit Usman, the top adviser of BIFF leader Umbra Kato.

Army’s approach to healing wounds of war

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 12): Army’s approach to healing wounds of war

Some of Army's battle casualties were recently given training on basic photography and computer literacy at the Army General Hospital to prepare them for non-combat duties once they are discharged from the hospital.

Some of Army’s battle casualties were recently given training on basic photography and computer literacy at the Army General Hospital to prepare them for non-combat duties once they are discharged from the hospital.
PRIVATE First Class Christopher Mejos had his second chance in life after his chest was grazed by a bullet from an AK47 assault rifle in a firefight with communist rebels in Misamis Oriental in 2013.

But he had been confined in a military hospital since then.

“We encountered almost 300 members of the New People’s Army in Barangay (village) Pelaez in Misamis Oriental last August 8, 2013 and I was shot in the chest and it broke my bone on the right side,” he said in an interview recently.

He was given first aid after the fighting but he was rescued only after two days in the mountains.  Only two soldiers from the Army’s 88th Infantry Battalion were wounded, and his condition was critical then.

One year and seven months later, he remains under therapy and complains of a wire inside his chest that makes his breathing difficult.

“I have difficulty breathing because of the wire inside my chest but I cannot undergo surgery because I will have to use my own money. So I went here at the Philippine Army General Hospital to see what can be done,” he said.

He was told that the surgery would cost about P300,000, including the doctor’s fee.

Mejos, 33, who has a live-in partner and two children, wants to go back to service but his body is weak.

“I love my country. I want to serve and stay here. I also get my financial support for my family here. I want to return, my will is strong but my upper body is weak,” he said.

He has already served nine years in the military service and wants to make it at least to 20 years.

“I hope I reach 20 years in service and then retire so I can support myself and my family,” he said.

Healing the wounds of war

Mejos was just one of the 42 battle casualties who were recently given a two-week training on combat photography and basic computer literacy at the Army General Hospital in Fort Bonifacio.

They were taught basic photography, equipment familiarization and basic theories in photo and video production. They were also taught with the basic computer skills such as using Microsoft programs, which will give them enough knowledge when they will be assigned to office or administrative functions once they are healed.

Some of Army's battle casualties were recently given training on basic photography and computer literacy at the Army General Hospital to prepare them for non-combat duties once they are discharged from the hospital.

Some of Army’s battle casualties were recently given training on basic photography and computer literacy at the Army General Hospital to prepare them for non-combat duties once they are discharged from the hospital.
On the average, there are about 500 soldiers wounded in battle every year.

“When Army chief Lieutenant General Hernando Iriberri was visiting battle casualties he told me to think of a way to prepare them for non-combat duties once they get out of the hospital. Many of them are recuperating and they have plenty of idle time here. So as a public affairs officer, this is what I thought of. When they get out of here and join combat again they will be armed with an M-16 and a camera to record events from the frontlines,” Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Noel Detoyato said.

Healing is not only a physical aspect but mental as well, according to the Army spokesman.

“We need to teach them skills that they will look forward to use once they get out of the hospital. That is one aspect of mental healing. They should feel that it doesn’t make them less of a soldier just because they are in the hospital. We have to mentally heal them to prepare then before they go out,” Detoyato said.

Because of the success of the training, more trainings will be made in the coming months, he said.

“Eventually after they retire they will still get to use these skills. So those who are still young in service they will be able to use these skills for a long while,” Detoyato said.

Another ‘rebel leader' falls

From the Visayan Daily Star (Apr 13): Another ‘rebel leader' falls

A month after an arrested New People's Army leader was freed from jail, another suspected leader of the group was apprehended Saturday by operatives of the Regional Intelligence Unit 6 in Victorias City, Negros Occidental, for the crime of arson.

The arrested suspect, alleged by the police to be the Finance and Logistic Officer of the Northern Negros Front of the Komiteng Rehiyonal-Negros was identified as Joseph Sibugan, with the aliases of Sakay and Rubin Arquellon Lumacang.

Sibugan was denied bail by San Carlos Regional Trial Court Judge Kathrine Go.

The RIU 6 operatives headed by SPO2 Rolando Saniana were assisted by the local police force in serving the arrest warrant to Sibugan in Hacienda Nena, Brgy. 14, Victorias City.

Police investigations showed that Sibugan is allegedly involved in the collection of revolutionary taxes from sugar planters and landowners in northern Negros.

Troopers of the Regional Public Safety Battalion troopers have beefed up the Victorias City Police Station, in guarding Sibugan, who is now due for transfer to the San Carlos Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

Sibugan was positively identified by a rebel returnee, the police said.

Last month, Rogelio Posadas, alias Poten and Isko, who was arrested Jan. 9 at a police checkpoint in San Carlos City, was also freed from jail last month, after reportedly posting bail of P180,000.

Posadas tagged by the military as the secretary of the Northern Negros Front- KR-Negros, is facing murder, homicide and robbery-in-band charges in court. But for still unknown reasons, he was still able to post bail.

Aside from Posadas, other alleged rebel leaders arrested in Negros Occidental, are Romeo Natan, regional commander of the NPA, Mary Grace Delicano-Sumayang, Nilda Natan Bertulano, Rogelio Danoso, and Hernando Llorente who rejoined their comrades in the mountains, after posting bail and being released from detention, the military said.

They had been charged for murder, robbery-in-band, frustrated murder, attempted murder and arson, among others, that the militant organizations dismissed as “trumped up charges”.

Ex-Army soldier killed by suspected NPA rebels in Masbate

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 13): Ex-Army soldier killed by suspected NPA rebels in Masbate

Suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels gunned down a former Army soldier Sunday morning in Cawayan, Masbate, an Army official said Monday morning.

Captain Marjorie Panesa, public affairs chief of the 9th Infantry Division, identified the victim as Rehuel Suson, 54, a former Army soldier and a security guard of a telecommunication cell site in Cawayan town.

Panesa, in a text message, said Suson was on his motorcycle on his way home when he was waylaid by six communist rebels in Barangay Mahayahay, Cawayan at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday.

She added Suson was on his way home to Barangay Mactan, Cawayan when he was attacked.

Panesa said Suson bore multiple gunshot wounds in different parts of the body.

Policemen led by Inspector Randy Bachiller of the Cawayan Municipal Police Office immediately responded and recovered Suson’s body.

Investigators from the police are still determining the motive of the killing.

But the NPA guerrillas have yet to issue a statement owning to the killing.

Joint Task Group Sulu halts operations against Abu Sayyaf leader to rest, resupply

From GMA News (Apr 12): Joint Task Group Sulu halts operations against Abu Sayyaf leader to rest, resupply

A military operation against a senior Abu Sayyaf leader had to be called off because it had been compromised and because troops needed to rest after 14 days of continous operations, a military commander in Sulu said Sunday.
Col. Allan Arrojado, commander of the Army’s Joint Task Group Sulu, said operations against Radullan Sahiron, one of the senior leaders of the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu, and his men were halted Sunday morning.
The order came hours after soldiers engaged Sahiron’s advance party in a barangay in Indanan town around 12:30 a.m. A soldier was wounded while the Abu Sayyaf incurred an undetermined number of casualties, Arrojado said.
The military was acting on information that Sahiron and his men were proceeding to Indanan town to link up with other Abu Sayyaf members.
“We (military) went ahead of them, we were supposed to ambush them. But the main group didn’t go first. The advance party came first. The fighting warned Radullan and [he] withdrew (to the south),” Arrojado said.
Arrojado said the decision was also meant to give the troops the time rest, refurbish their equipment and resupply their ammunition.

“Of course, after 14 days of operation, our troops have to go down from the mountain and rest,” he said.
He said, though, that the soldiers from the elite Army 1st Scout Ranger Battalion are keeping an eye on the Abu Sayyaf and are ready to reengage the group if necessary.
Sahiron is one of several Filipino terrorists wanted by the US government, which has offered $1 million for information leading to his arrest. He is linked to the kidnapping of three Americans and 17 Filipino tourists from the Dos Palmas resort in Palawan in May 2001 and other incidents.

Operation to capture Abu Sayyaf's Sahiron suspended

From the Philippine Star posted to ABS-CBN (Apr 13): Operation to capture Abu Sayyaf's Sahiron suspended

A military operation to capture Abu Sayyaf commander Radullan Sahiron was discontinued yesterday after he and his men were tipped off that they would be ambushed in Indanan, Sulu.

Col. Alan Arrojado, Armed Forces Joint Task Group Sulu commander, said the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion planned the ambush after the military received reports that Sahiron and his men were moving towards Indanan.

A soldier was wounded after Army troops engaged the advance party of Sahiron in a two-minute shootout at around 12:30 a.m. yesterday, he added.

Arrojado said the soldiers need to rest after hunting down Sahiron and his men continuously for 14 days.

“This is not a suspension (of operation),” he said. “The troops have to rest and refurbish their bullets and supplies.”

Arrojado said the troops would not allow Sahiron and his men to escape.

“They are ready anytime,” he said in Filipino.

“If there is available information (about the location of Abu Sayyaf members), they can operate.”

Nine Abu Sayyaf fighters were killed and 14 others wounded in an encounter with government troops in Patikul, Sulu last Thursday, the military said.

However, officials could not say how many bodies of the slain terrorists were recovered.

Two soldiers died and 15 others were wounded in the clash.

Sahiron, one of the terrorists in the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)’s most wanted list, was reportedly spotted during the encounter.

Sahiron was implicated in several kidnappings, including that of an American in 1993.

PDEA arrests MILF member for drugs

From the Manila Times (Apr 12): PDEA arrests MILF member for drugs

An employee of the Shariff Aguak municipal government in Maguindanao who is also a member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was arrested by agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) during an operation on April 8, 2015.

PDEA Director General Undersecretary Arturo Cacdac Jr. identified the suspect as Fahaad Zainal Biruar, 31 years old, married and a resident of Campo Muslim, Barangay Bagua Mother, Cotabato City.

Biruar is also a member of the MILF Special Operations Group, Central Mindanao Command.

CPP-NPA-NDF blamed for peace talks’ collapse

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 12): CPP-NPA-NDF blamed for peace talks’ collapse

Lack of sincerity on the part of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF)has been blamed for the collapse of the resumption of peace negotiations with the government.

Former government peace negotiator Alex Padilla said the CPP-NPA-NDF’s rejection of the ceasefire proposal has made the situation even more untenable.

Now president of Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), Padilla used to head the government peace negotiating panel with communist rebels.

Late last year, hopes were renewed for the reactivation of the peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF following reports of a successful backdoor talks between local communist leaders and representatives of President Aquino.

However, the revival of peace talks took a back seat as the Aquino government came under fire in the Mamasapano tragedy that threatened the peace pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Padilla recalled that the CPP-NPA-NDF has been demanding for the release of all its members detained in various jails in the country.

“There have been releases, in fact a number of their members have been released. The problem is they go back to the underground once freed,” lamented Padilla.

Padilla said both the government and the communist side accuse each other of being insincere in their claims for peace.

“Government wanted ceasefire but they do not want it,” the former peace negotiator said.

Last December, a dialogue between President Aquino and self – exiled CPP-NPA-NDF chief Jose Ma. Sison was proposed to jumpstart the reactivation of peace talks.

Former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo, who acted as spokesman of the communist peace panel, welcomed the new bid for peace talks but was not too optimistic it will be completed before Aquino steps down from MalacaƱang in 2016.

Off Subject/But of General Intelligence Interest: On Carter's first Asia trip as Pentagon chief, calm prevails

Off Subject/But of General Intelligence Interest--Philippine Star (Apr 12): On Carter's first Asia trip as Pentagon chief, calm prevails

No news is good news. That might have been the bumper sticker for Ash Carter's first tour of Asia as secretary of defense.

It was mostly quiet on the Eastern front. Carter consulted with Japanese and South Korean leaders, gave pep talks to American troops, stressed the U.S. military's stabilizing influence in the region and repeatedly remarked that compared to the Middle East, the Asia-Pacific is calm and on a prosperous track.

That's a welcome respite from crisis for a Pentagon chief not yet two months into his tenure.

It's also a reminder of why the Obama administration's much-advertised pivot to Asia, after more than a decade of all-consuming war in Iraq and Afghanistan, keeps getting overshadowed by rising towers of trouble in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere across the Middle East.

In Japan on Thursday, Carter told U.S. troops and their families at Yokota air base that if they open any newspaper, "what you see is the mess in the Middle East," whereas East Asia is "generally so peaceful and therefore so prosperous."

"If you think about it," he later told troops at Osan air base in South Korea, "the Middle East is in the headlines all the time. But the reason this place isn't in the headlines is because you're ready anytime to deter conflict on the peninsula." He was alluding to the ever-present danger of North Korea reigniting war with the South, although the North of late has stirred up little trouble and provoked no crises.

Carter practically laughed off the North's test-launching of two short-range ballistic missiles shortly before he arrived on the peninsula, where the missile threat is real and might one day be nuclear armed.

"If it's a welcoming message to me, I'm flattered," he said.

The Asia trip, which Carter capped with a visit Saturday to U.S. Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii, was his second overseas venture since taking over in February for Chuck Hagel. His first was to Afghanistan and Kuwait.

On neither trip did he reveal much about his thinking on possible changes to U.S. defense policy. He has been publicly cautious, saying relatively little to reporters.

Carter was expected to fly home to Washington on Sunday.

The fact that Carter plans to return to Asia next month to attend an international security conference in Singapore and to visit India is evidence that he embraces President Barack Obama's view that the region is increasingly important to U.S. long-term national security and economic interests.

It also shows that Carter realizes the region's current calm could collapse, or at least be shaken, if North Korea were to lash out at South Korea or make new nuclear threats. China's pursuit of territorial claims in the South China Sea, which are disputed by Vietnam and other countries in the region, also is a potential flash point.

Washington's nuclear negotiations with Iran have dominated the headlines lately, but North Korea actually poses a more immediate nuclear threat. It is believed to already possess a small number of nuclear devices, has conducted three underground nuclear tests, and claims to have a road-mobile ballistic missile, designated the KN-08, capable of striking the United States, although the missile has not yet been test-launched.

"North Korea is intent on continued provocation," Carter said in Seoul on Friday after meeting with his South Korean counterpart, Han Min Koo.

Carter has an extensive history with the North Korea nuclear problem. He was a member of a team, led by his mentor and longtime friend, former Defense Secretary William Perry, which extensively reviewed U.S. policy toward the North in 1999, in part based on a rare official visit to Pyongyang.
The review concluded that the "urgent focus" of U.S. policy toward the North must be to end its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs; 16 years later and after inconclusive and now moribund international negotiations with the North, it has given up neither and remains defiant.

The Perry review warned that the cost of war on the Korean peninsula would be unparalleled in U.S. experience since the 1950-53 Korean War.
"It is likely that hundreds of thousands of persons — U.S., (South and North Korean) — military and civilian — would perish, and millions of refugees would be created," his report said.
On his inaugural trip to Asia as Pentagon chief, Carter made no public reference to such gruesome possibilities, although he did mention that the Korean peninsula remains dangerous. He mainly emphasized the solid state of America's treaty alliances with Japan and South Korea and seemed thankful that, for now at least, the Asia-Pacific region is relatively secure, leaving the more dramatic headlines to the Middle East.

No renegotiation for MILF

From the Philippine Star (Apr 13): No renegotiation for MILF

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will not renegotiate the peace agreement it signed with the government if the Supreme Court strikes down the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) as unconstitutional.

In an editorial posted over the weekend on its website, the MILF slammed its critics in Congress whom it accused of “grandstanding” and warned that such actions could lead to dangerous consequences.

“What can they get if the Bangsamoro Basic Law will be rendered non-binding because of the legal challenge and eventually declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court? They do not want to admit it but the consequence of their ‘grandstanding,’ if they succeed, would be risky and dangerous,” the editorial read.

“The MILF will not renegotiate the Framework Agreement (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) anymore,” it added.

The FAB, which aims to create a Bangsamoro entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), was signed by the government and the MILF in 2012.

The areas included in the proposed Bangsamoro entity are Isabela City in Basilan, Cotabato City, six towns in Lanao del Norte, and some areas in North Cotabato, in addition to the ARMM provinces Basilan, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

The CAB, which will serve as the basis of the BBL, was signed last year. If the BBL is passed into law, it will be the legal basis for creating the Bangsamoro entity.

Under the proposed BBL, the new Bangsamoro entity will enjoy enhanced autonomy with greater political and economic powers. The measure has to be approved by voters in the areas included in the proposed entity through a plebiscite before it can take affect.

The fate of the BBL now hangs as lawmakers suspended deliberations on the measure in the wake of the Mamasapano clash, which left 44 members of the Special Action Force and at least 17 MILF members dead. A few civilians were also killed in the crossfire.

Critics of BBL have questioned the sincerity of the MILF in the peace process and have urged lawmakers to subject the measure to close scrutiny.

In the same editorial, the MILF predicted that the country would be “heading for trouble” if critics continue to harp on the Mamasapano issue.

“The Mamasapano incident is indeed tragic. No one has a contrary view. In fact, it continues to threaten the survival of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress,” the group said.

“But if we keep on harping and harping on the same issue, again and again, like a circus, and forget the bigger and more pressing issue of the day, like the BBL, then this country is heading for trouble,” it added.

By any name, ‘IQ’ has traveled long road to peace for 40 years

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 12): By any name, ‘IQ’ has traveled long road to peace for 40 years

Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal  INQUIRER FILE PHOTO/RAFFY LERMA

Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO/RAFFY LERMA
For those skeptical of the peace process, the pseudonymous Mohagher Iqbal is equated with deception, dishonesty and trickery on the part of the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which concluded a political settlement with the government after 17 years of negotiations.

To his comrades and colleagues in the MILF, he is simply “IQ or Sir IQ.” The use of this nickname to refer to Iqbal soon gained currency among journalists, civil society groups and international development organizations.

But for those who know him, the nom de guerre Mohagher Iqbal stands for a mild-mannered, softhearted and straightforward individual who has dedicated more than 40 years of his life to the struggle for self-determination of the Muslim people of Mindanao.

The preface to his 2007 book (writing under the name Salah Jubair), “The Long Road to Peace,” is revealing of the character of this now controversial man: “In the course of reading this book, readers may find some statements or passages offensive, but let me assure you I never intended to hurt people. I merely wrote what I think should be written for people to know, to agree or disagree with.”

Longest-serving negotiator

Iqbal has chaired the MILF’s peace negotiating panel since July 2003, having been a member in previous years. As such, he has had the longest involvement in the peace negotiations, in both government and MILF panels.

“Be tough on issues, be soft on people,” is the principle that has guided him throughout the negotiations, Iqbal once told the Inquirer.

He is one of the main signatories of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), along with government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer. He has affixed his name to the major documents that embody the consensus of the parties in the negotiations, which form the core of the CAB, which in turn was the main reference used to draft the proposed charter of a new autonomous entity to be called the Bangsamoro.

This is what lawmakers find so troubling, that the MILF’s main negotiator and signatory to the peace agreement was using an alias, raising legal questions about the documents he signed and calling into doubt the sincerity and good faith of the rebel group.
In fact, nobody knew who he really was as Iqbal has declined to disclose his real name, saying that it was known to the Department of Foreign Affairs which issued him a passport.

Prison officials fear terrorists radicalizing inmates

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 12): Prison officials fear terrorists radicalizing inmates

Are terror-linked inmates “radicalizing” other convicts in the country’s prisons?

There have been no confirmed cases yet, but authorities are working to avert the threat, keeping an eye on the movements of inmates identified as members of organizations deemed to be terrorist, officials said this week.

Under constant watch are inmates known to be members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a splinter group of the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and the Abu Sayyaf, both of which swore allegiance last year to the Islamic State (IS), an international extremist group responsible for executions and attacks that have drawn global condemnation.

The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) is also initiating moves to “sectorize” and “put a semblance of segregation” in the long-neglected New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City, said its director, Franklin Jesus Bucayu.

The congested facility has been beset by violence and controversy, including the proliferation of drugs and crime, and the princely lifestyle of high-profile inmates which came to light after authorities conducted two raids in December.

“There is that danger [of radicalization], but that has not happened. We have yet to confirm it. Of course, the problem in our prisons is the lack of facilities,” Bucayu said.

“There’s the danger because prisoners are mixed together. That (danger) is the implication, because there is too much congestion,” he told the Inquirer.

Bucayu said prison security was “a national security matter.”

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said her office was monitoring this possibility, given the risks.

“[But the BuCor management is] not seeing that there is an ongoing radicalization, especially in the IS,” she said.

Some 14,500 inmates are currently jailed together in the maximum security compound of the 9-hectare Bilibid prison facility, the “high-risk” or violence prone and the suicidal together with the tamer ones.

The NBP is a prison that has virtually no bars, with inmates allowed to roam freely within its walls throughout the “eight decades it was neglected,” said Bucayu.

Congestion at the NBP is currently at 165 percent, an all-time high, he said.

“So when you mix them together, there is a greater likelihood of trouble. It’s a security nightmare,” he added.

Bucayu could not say just how many Abu Sayyaf and BIFF inmates were currently under watch, only that identifying them as such was complicated as they were sentenced to prison for cases like illegal possession of firearms and murder, and not for terrorist activities.

The official said he brought this concern to De Lima’s attention by letter in November.

Bucayu told De Lima that the BuCor was handling “a good number of Islamist radicals,” specifying them as members of the “Abu Sayyaf, the BIFF and suspected IS affiliates.”

He said these inmates “continue to proselytize and recruit fellow inmates into their beliefs, further contaminating other inmates and defeating the reform agenda of the bureau.”

While the tone of his November letter was unequivocal, Bucayu clarified in an interview that he merely meant to say there was such a “danger.”

“We have yet to confirm or verify that. We are monitoring. But we have yet to have real evidence [to confirm that],” he said.

Filipino, US servicemen shoulder-to-shoulder build classrooms in Palawan

From Ang Malaya (Apr 12): Filipino, US servicemen shoulder-to-shoulder build classrooms in Palawan

Balikatan 2015 engineering civic assistance projects have started in Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command area of responsibility.
Philippine and United States servicemen are working shoulder-to-shoulder to build classrooms.

“Philippine and United States service members have gotten things rolling in Puerto Princesa, Philippines,” Exercise Balikatan’s social networking page posts. “They’ve begun working together to build a classroom for the Santa Lourdes High School.”

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Wesley Timm released photos how US carpenter masonry specialists, engineers and military personnel work with their Filipino counterparts and interact with the community in Palawan, April 7.

This year marks the 31st iteration of Balikatan Exercise, an annual PHL-US bilateral military training and humanitarian civic assistance engagement. Balikatan 2015 will officially be opened on April 20.

Ph troops’ operations vs BIFF continue despite pronouncement

From the pro-CPP online propaganda publication Bulatlat (Apr 12): Ph troops’ operations vs BIFF continue despite pronouncement

The military offensives against the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao had not stopped even after the Army announced to end it on March 30, a Moro group said.

Suara Bangsamoro said the “Army’s pursuit operations using ground and air artilleries, continued in the second district of Maguindanao.”

Jerome Succor Aba, national spokesperson of Suara Bangsamoro, said on March 30: “as the armed forces announced a stop to all-out offensives, bombs and sounds of rifles could be heard in Barangay Malangog of Datu Unsay Ampatuan municipality and Barangay Kitango of Datu Saudi Ampatuan.”

“The day after 6th [Infantry Division’s] public announcement of a stop to all-out offensives, the 1st Mechanized Brigade of the Philippine Army set-up camp at Barangay Binangga, Talayan in Maguindanao for five days (April 1-5) bringing with them 22 military tanks and 6×6 trucks.”

On the last day, April 5 around 8:00 in the evening, the Army “burned two mosques and 32 houses of Maguindanaoan residents in the said village and even left a V90 artillery (that looked like a bazooka) in one of the mosques,” Aba said in a statement on Friday.

A son of a farmer in Barangay Pusao, Shariff Aguak was reportedly killed, said Aba.

Keri Uga Dia, 18, was reportedly apprehended by the 8th Marine Battalion Landing Team on March 16 at around 11:30 to 12:30 noon in Baranggay Pusao.

His body was found in the village hours after the Marines took him to their detachment. His body has a hole in the left chest, punctured wounds in the right rib, right shoulder and on his armpit.

Aba said the 48th Marine Company announced that Dia was suspected of delivering food for the BIFF, tagging him as a supporter.

However, the parents and brother of the victim denied his involvement with the BIFF saying that Dia was suffering from mental ailment and probably has been traumatized when he was apprehended.

Suara Bangsamoro calls on President Benigno Aquino III to stop the all-out offensives by the residents of Maguindanao. The group said the government should also indemnify more than 100,000 residents affected and now living in makeshift evacuation centers.

Aba fears for the lives of evacuees and the impending humanitarian crisis due to lack of relief and medical services. “Children are dying in evacuation centers due to dehydration and diseases,” Aba said, citing a case of a 14-day old infant who died in the evacuation center in Sitio Bayog, Brgy. Dapiawan in Datu Saudi on December 9.

“Due to scant medical services, his condition was not immediately attended to by the medical personnel in the area,” Aba said.

“The Moro civilian residents should not bear the brunt of the war of retaliation being waged by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the name of justice for the death of the SAF commandos. The residents of North Cotabato and second district of Maguindanao have suffered so much in the all-out offensives in the AFP’s failure to neutralize their true targets — the BIFF and terrorist Abdul Basit Usman,” said Aba.

Combined Philippine-US force continues humanitarian efforts in Panay

From DVIDS (Apr 12): Combined Philippine-US force continues humanitarian efforts in Panay

Combined Philippine-US force continues humanitarian efforts in Panay

Armed Forces of the Philippines engineers, from the 552nd Engineer Construction Battalion, U.S. Navy Seabees, assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5, and U.S. Marine engineers, from the 9th Engineer Support Battalion, are ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ as they pass buckets filled with concrete for placement at Don Joaquin Elementary School in Tapaz, Philippines, during Balikatan 2015, April 9. The engineers, part of the Combined-Joint Civil-Military Operations Task Force located on the island of Panay, are constructing two classrooms at the school. Balikatan, which means “shoulder to shoulder” in Filipino, is an annual bilateral training exercise aimed at improving the ability of Philippine and U.S. military forces to work together during planning, contingency, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

CAPIZ, Philippines — The Combined-Joint Civil-Military Operations Task Force, located on the island of Panay, completed a three-day cooperative health engagement with a train-the-trainer first responder medical course as part of exercise Balikatan, April 9.

Over 100 Armed Forces of the Philippines Army soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division, the 6th Regional Community Defense Group and civilian first responders from the Capiz Emergency Response Team attended the training held at the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division Headquarters at Camp Gen. Macario Peralta Jr., in Jamindan, to increase their knowledge or brush up on providing lifesaving medical care.

“We’re teaching the first responder courses mainly to provide knowledge on how to provide lifesaving interventions in the case they are manmade, a natural disaster, car accident or whichever,” said U.S. Army Capt. Jennifer Brown, cooperative health engagement lead. “It will increase their ability to step in and intervene and potentially save lives.”

The training started with lectures, moved on to hands-on instruction and culminated in a mass casualty drill in which the students took turns treating each other suffering from multiple and different types of simulated life threatening wounds.

“All of the Philippine Army and civilian first responders have been very receptive,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Gary Held. “They’re pretty knowledgeable already so it helped speed along the training. It’s probably the most enthusiastic group I’ve ever gotten to teach.”

“For me, it’s very good training,” said Armed Forces of the Philippines Army Pvt. Leo Hornada. “The U.S. troopers were very good, and we gained a lot of knowledge.”

The course was given with the intent for the AFP and civilians to not only learn to apply lifesaving first responder skills but also to help train others in those skills.

“We are teaching AFP soldiers how to do this and also how to teach it as well,” said Brown. “This following week they will teach it to civilians from the local community so they’ll increase the number of first responders here.”

The cooperative health engagements are just one of many Balikatan activities currently underway on Panay.

U.S. Navy Seabees, from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5, U.S. Marines, from the 9th Engineer Support Battalion and III Marine Expeditionary Force are working “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the AFP in civic construction, humanitarian assistance and disaster response preparation.

The engineers are working together to build a modified Philippine Department of Education one-story, two-classroom block and concrete building at the Don Joaquin Artuz Memorial Elementary School in Tapaz. The school, with a student body of 500, saw 14 of 22 classrooms damaged during Typhoon Yolanda in 2013.

“The compaction for the concrete pads is done, the roof beams are up, all of the forms are going to come down and we’ll place the concrete pads hopefully on Saturday,” said Constructionman Kevin Surdyk, assigned to NMCB 5.

AFP engineers began working on the project March 12 and were joined by the Seabees and Marine engineers April 8. The classrooms are expected to be completed April 27.

Panay CJCMOTF civil affairs teams are busy completing infrastructure assessments. The teams are working with local civic leaders to help identify how to best respond to natural disasters that may occur on the island using the resources that the local governments have on hand.

These operations on Panay are the first to occur on the island in the history of the exercise.

“Everyone who understands the mission of Balikatan and understands that this is the first time we’re on Panay is very grateful,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Cdr. Catherine Eyrich, assigned to NMCB 5 and CJCMOTF forward officer-in-charge. “The locals are extremely supportive and it’s an opportunity to be part of something that has a huge impact, supports the AFP and helps prepare them for future humanitarian and disaster relief response.”

The Panay CJCMOTF is a forward element from the main CJCMOTF efforts taking place on the island of Palawan during Balikatan 2015. The CJCMOTF efforts are being led by the U.S. Navy’s 30th Naval Construction Regiment.

Balikatan, which means “shoulder-to-shoulder” in Filipino, is an annual bilateral training exercise held since 1984, aimed at improving the ability of Philippine and U.S. military forces to work together during planning, contingency, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

China must adhere to international laws’

From the Philippine Star (Apr 12): ‘China must adhere to international laws’

Palace welcomes Obama support

China must adhere to international laws for the sake of regional peace and stability, MalacaƱang emphasized yesterday as it welcomed fresh assurances of support from United States President Barack Obama and other world leaders in seeking a diplomatic solution to the West Philippine Sea dispute.

“We note that in his most recent remarks in Jamaica, President Obama has reaffirmed the solidarity of the United States with the Philippines in upholding the principle that disputes on maritime entitlements in the South China Sea must be resolved diplomatically and in accordance with international law,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.

Asked whether China was changing the game through massive reclamation activities in the Spratly islands group, Coloma stressed that as a member of the United Nations, China was expected to abide by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that delineates the maritime entitlements of countries.

Obama expressed concern at a town-hall event in Kingston, Jamaica Thursday over China’s use of its “sheer size and muscle” to push around small countries like the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea.

Coloma said China’s growing aggression was the reason why the Philippines submitted a memorial or written argument of its position on the issue to the UN arbitral tribunal in The Hague.

He added President Aquino would likely raise the issue at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Malaysia later this month.

In the ASEAN summits in Cambodia in 2012, Brunei Darussalam in 2013 and Myanmar last year, Coloma said Aquino had consistently advocated the fleshing out of a legally binding code of conduct of parties in the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea to ensure peace and stability in the region.

Coloma said it was reasonable to expect that Aquino and the other ASEAN leaders would engage in continuing dialogue and discuss how developments in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea would be addressed, with the end in view of helping member-countries attain their shared vision of a united and politically secured bloc.

He said “a rules-based community” with shared values and norms would be key to achieving a cohesive, peaceful, stable and resilient region.

Coloma emphasized that countries must have a shared responsibility for comprehensive security and should work for “a dynamic and outward-looking region in an increasingly integrated and interdependent world.”
Obama raised his concerns over China just hours after Beijing gave a detailed defense of its creation of artificial islands in the contested waterway.

Backing for Phl position

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said over radio dzRB the country’s position on the maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea has received broad international support because the country has taken the peaceful track.

“We have committed to pursuing our cause through recognized fora, and that we continue to adopt the rules-based approach; meaning, we will follow the ways laid down under international law to fight for what is ours... This support is manifested in so many ways by members of the global community,” Valte said.

Valte said the government was exhausting all diplomatic and legal means to address the issue.

She said it would be up to the Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to study proposals for increased presence of US and Philippine troops in the West Philippine Sea to protect the country’s sovereignty.

China’s rapid reclamation around seven reefs in the Spratly archipelago in the West Philippine Sea has alarmed other claimants, including Vietnam, and drawn growing criticism of Beijing from US government officials and the military.

While the new islands are not likely to overturn US military superiority in the region, workers are building ports and fuel storage depots and possibly two airstrips that experts have said would allow Beijing to project power deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia.

“Where we get concerned with China is where it is not necessarily abiding by international norms and rules and is using its sheer size and muscle to force countries into subordinate positions,” Obama said in Jamaica ahead of a Caribbean summit in Panama.

“We think this can be solved diplomatically, but just because the Philippines or Vietnam are not as large as China doesn’t mean that they can just be elbowed aside,” he said.

China claims most of the potentially energy rich South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.

China, which has asked Washington not to take sides in the row, says it is willing to discuss the issue with individual countries directly involved in the dispute.

However, it has refused to participate in an international arbitration case filed by the Philippines in The Hague.

Growing concerns

For the Department of Foreign Affairs, the US statements reflect a growing international concern over Chinese reclamation activities.

“The US has issued recent statements on China’s massive reclamation activities. These statements, and those of other nations, reflect growing international concern over these reclamations that are contrary to international law, especially the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and undermine our collective efforts to build regional security and stability,” the DFA said in a statement.

It said the Philippines’ arbitration case based on UNCLOS is Manila’s way of asserting its maritime entitlements through peaceful means.

“Developments in the South China Sea concern not only the claimant states and the region, but also the international community. All should contribute to efforts to establish a regional architecture based on the rule of law,” the DFA said.

The Philippines, the DFA pointed out, would continue to work with ASEAN and other responsible members of the international community to address China’s unilateral and aggressive actions.

The DFA said Beijing’s action was a direct challenge to the rule of law, and done without regard to risk to peace and stability in the region.

Green group hits China reclamation, Ph-US Balikatan in West Ph Sea

From the pro-CPP online propaganda publication Bulatlat (Apr 11): Green group hits China reclamation, Ph-US Balikatan in West Ph Sea

Philippine Marines assigned to 2nd Marine Company, 11th Marine Battalion, and U. S. Marines assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, site in their weapons during close-quarter marksmanship bilateral training May 6, 2014, at Crow Valley, Philippines, for Balikatan 2014. This marks the first day of several bilateral live-fire training evolutions for the exercise. Balikatan is an annual training exercise that strengthens the interoperability between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. military in their commitment to regional security and stability, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.  (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joey S. Holeman, Jr./Released)

Balikatan 2014 in Crow Valley, Tarlac (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joey S. Holeman, Jr./Posted on the US embassy website Balikatan photo gallery)

The Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) criticized both China and US for their activities in the West Philippine Sea, which, it said, violate the country’s sovereignty as well as threaten the marine ecosystem.

Other groups, including the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), also lambasted the Chinese reclamation and the upcoming Ph-US Balikatan war games in the West Philippine Sea.

China’s reclamation is the latest episode in its drive to violate our sovereignty in the disputed seas. Meanwhile, this year’s annual US war games will be held in the country’s last frontier, Palawan, clearly to counter China,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

The Ph-US bilateral military exercises 2015 will be held from April 20 to 30, involving some 5,000 US troops and 6,000 Filipino soldiers, said the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Among the areas identified for joint civil-military operations is Puerto Princesa, Palawan, where US engineering battalions have already started constructing a high school building.

Since last year, progressive groups have condemned the repairs at an old Philippine Navy station in Ulugan Bay, Palawan, which was reportedly eyed as one of the temporary basing or “agreed locations” under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca).

Meanwhile, China has been doing dredging and land reclamation for the construction of suspected military bases in reef and shoal areas inside the 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.

Bautista suspected that China’s reclamation and construction activities are also meant “to establish their EEZ and air defense identification zone” the West Philippine Sea.

“On the other hand, the increasing military activities of the United States in Philippine territories, is widely acknowledged as part of the US’ strategic military pivot towards the Asia-Pacific region alongside its efforts to establish a free-trade agreement across the region in resource and biodiversity-rich areas adjacent to the West Philippine Sea,” he added.

Bautista said that China’s land reclamation and the increased activity of various foreign vessels have resulted to “ever-worsening marine degradation.”

“The US-Aquino response of intensifying US militarization in the country, far from defusing the situation, is actually intensifying the tensions and has even caused major environmental disasters themselves, as in the grounding of a US warship in Tubbataha Reef and their dumping of toxic and hazardous wastes in Subic Bay,” said Bautista.

‘Shameless puppet’

Meanwhile, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) slammed the Aquino administration as a “shameless puppet” for refusing to take a stronger stand on China’s reclamation.

“It refuses to assert economic sovereignty, which will allow us to develop the capacity to defend our territorial waters,” Bayan said in its April 7 statement.

Bayan also hit the upcoming Balikatan exercises as “a continuing reminder of the subservience of the Aquino regime to foreign dictates.”

“Why is the Philippine government welcoming these interventionist troops after all the damage they have done to our country?” Bayan said.

At the House investigation on the Jan. 25 Mamasapano fiasco, Makabayan bloc lawmakers said more proof are being uncovered showing that the US had a lead role in the planning, funding and execution of Oplan Exodus, which targeted suspected international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan.

“The refusal of the US to reveal its true role in Mamasapano along with their earlier refusal to surrender custody of Pemberton should already be grounds for terminating US military activities in the country. These should be enough basis to junk the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Edca,” Bayan said.

Extensive reclamation by China on Mabini Reef (Johnson South Reef) which part of the Kalayaan Island Group. (Photo release by the Department of Foreign Affairs)
Extensive reclamation by China on Mabini Reef (Johnson South Reef) which form part of the Kalayaan Island Group. (Photo release by the Department of Foreign Affairs)
China robs Ph

The CPP also lambasted China for its reclamation activities and encroachment in Philippine territories.

China claims 90% of the South China Sea and in effect robs the Philippines 100% of its extended continental shelf (ECS) and 80% of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” the CPP said in its statement on the 46th anniversary of the New People’s Army on March 29.

The CPP warned that the bases could be “operational in less than a year,” and decried that the US and Aquino governments “have not shown any effective opposition.”

“In fact, the US has declared in self-contradiction that it is neutral in disputes over the South China Sea,” it said.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is expected to promulgate its ruling on the suit that the Philippines has filed before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, the CPP said.

Obama concern

At the most, US President Barack Obama expressed “concern” with China on the West Philippine Sea “maritime disputes” on April 9, in a forum at the University of West Indies during his visit to Jamaica.

“Where we get concerned with China is where it is not necessarily abiding by international norms and rules, and is using its sheer size and muscle to force countries into subordinate positions,” Obama said.

“We think this can be solved diplomatically, just because the Philippines or Vietnam are not as large as China doesn’t mean that they can just be elbowed aside. And by the way, we don’t have a particular view on the territorial disputes, the maritime disputes. Our attitude is simply, Let’s use the mechanisms we have in place internationally to resolve them,” Obama said.


“We Filipinos are the losers in this shadow war currently being waged in the West Philippine Sea,” Bautista said. “It is resulting in the degradation of coral reefs and its consequent disruption of entire marine ecosystems, and the displacement of our fisherfolk from their traditional fishing grounds.”

Kalikasan called on China and the Aquino government to “find a diplomatic solution.”

“Beyond economic gains, both parties should see the inter-generational importance of preserving the marine ecosystems of the West Philippine Sea. This can be an alternative track in resolving the disputes without needing to compromise the sovereignty of our respective countries to imperialist interests,” Bautista said.