Thursday, May 7, 2015

Where did P63B go?

From the Manila Times (May 7): Where did P63B go?

Defense and military officials were told on Wednesday to account for the P63 billion budget allocated since 2002 for the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

“Money for the modernization program has been in the AFP’s hands beginning 2002. We want to know how it was spent, where it was spent.

We want to know what their procurement did to the force, how the military condition has changed,” Sen. Francis Escudero, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, said at the start of the Senate blue ribbon committee investigation of alleged anomalies in the AFP modernization program.

The blue ribbon inquiry stemmed from a series of reports of The Manila Times that uncovered an allegedly questionable transaction in the acquisition of 21 combat utility helicopters for the Philippine Air Force. A source of The Times who claimed he was privy to the P1.2-billion contract said graft was written all over the place when defense and military officials opted to negotiate with an American joint venture for the purchase of 21 refurbished UH-1D helicopters.

Escudero, one of the three senators who sought the inquiry, said from 2002 to 2013, a total of P63.38 billion had been released to the Armed Forces for its modernization program.

Of the amount, P41.832 billion came from the General Appropriations; P12.958 billion from the remittances from the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA); P1 billion from the Malampaya fund; P6.59 billion from the Department of Energy (DoE); P909.98 million from interest income; and PP92.438 million from the government arsenal.

“Why is our military still in a sorry state after P63 billion? With this money, we get to ask: Is the Filipino soldier better off than before? Are our soldiers better equipped? Are they better trained? Is their inherent bravery boosted by more confidence in fighting with the purchased arsenals? The answers will show us where this modernization plan can and will take us,” Escudero said.

“We are no Hercules compared to the formidable forces of China or Japan, so we better equip our military with the right arsenal. There is a dream sequence and there is reality.

 We want to see how they chose between these two in terms of spending,” he added.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told the senators that he will provide a full accounting of the military’s modernization budget.

The blue ribbon committee headed by Sen. Teofisto Guingona 3rd suspended its public hearing and reconvened in an executive session on Gazmin’s request.

Gazmin asked the senators to allow them to make a presentation behind closed doors as matters to be discussed would affect national security.

“Thereafter, we can go back to open public hearings on issues affecting the procurement and acquisition of protection equipment M113 APC (armored personnel carriers), and the UH-ID aircraft,” he said.

“Joey,” the whistleblower in the helicopter deal, expressed disgust with the way the Senate investigation was conducted.

“The Senate blue ribbon committee should not take the issue for granted. {Even if money involved here is not a lot, it still is the money of the government]. Taxpayers money. He has to take a look at the issue with a deeper prospective,” The Times source said.

“Joey” added that while he understands why security officials sought a closed-door session, he said the legislators should not lose focus on why there was a need to investigate the issue.

“How was the acquisition process manipulated? Why did it take the blue ribbon a long time to investigate? The people want to know the answers,” he said.

“Joey,” who is expected to be called as the principal resource person in the investigation, claimed that the helicopter project was just one part of the program.

“There are many projects involved but the personalities behind are the same,” he told The Times.

AFP wants additional funding for territorial defense

From the Philippine Star (May 7): AFP wants additional funding for territorial defense


The Armed Forces of the Philippines is set to focus on territorial defense this year. File photo

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Thursday called on lawmakers to grant a bigger budget for the military to improve territorial defense capability.

During the Senate hearing on the reclamation activities of China in West Philippine Sea, AFP chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. suggested that at least 1 percent of the national budget should be allocated for national defense.

READ: AFP chief: Defense spending should be 1% of Phl budget

"Funding is crucial for our modernization program... I hope that our senators will really support us in this endeavor because we don't have the luxury of time. Our threats are already there," Catapang told the Senate panel.

National Security Council Director General Cesar Garcia noted that the military should shift its focus to territorial defense given that the country's territorial disputes with China are the biggest national security concern at the moment.

Catapang said that the Philippines is also facing global wars against terrorism, global warming, maritime issues, transnational crime and possibly proliferation of weapons for mass destruction.

According to the AFP chief, the Armed Forces is only buying refurbished equipment since it could not afford to acquire new ones.

Compared to the its neighbors in South East Asia, the Philippines is among the lowest in national defense funding, Garcia added.

"We are far behind in the region as far as the capability of the Armed Forces," Department National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin added.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes then reassured the Senate's commitment in supporting the military's modernization program, particularly the on issue of additional funding.

Army tags 9 Leyte towns as rebel-free in 2014

From the Philippine News Agency (May 7): Army tags 9 Leyte towns as rebel-free in 2014

Nine towns in Leyte province had been declared as insurgency-free by the local government units and the Philippine Army in the bid to establish safer communities that are ready for economic development.

Lt. Col. Nedy Espulgar, commander of 19th infantry battalion (IB) and Lt. Col. Allan Jose Taguba, commander of the 78th IB made the announcement in the presentation of their 2014 accomplishment before members of civil society and media practitioners at the quarterly meeting of Bantay Bayanihan held at 19th IB camp dubbed as “Security Sector-Leyte BB Team Building Activity and Dialogue”.

Bantay Bayanihan is a civil-society led initiative that aims to institutionalize the participation of civil society and relevant agencies in the implementation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP), otherwise known as Oplan Bayanihan.

Towns in Leyte province declared as free from threats of communist rebels in 2014 were Matag-ob, Merida, Palompon, Matalom, Bato, Inopacan, Dulag, Tabontabon and Tabango

In Leyte province, under the watch of the army’s two infantry battalions are 40 towns and three cities. Their jurisdiction is also extended to Biliran and Southern Leyte provinces.

With the declaration of these towns as insurgency free, government troops are expecting to witness a dramatic change of people’s living condition to a better community, where everyone lives in peace and has normal condition and better source of livelihood.

Col. Dinoh Dolina, commander of the 802nd Infantry Brigade said that aside from military operation, they are also conducting civil military operation, which focuses in identifying the root cause of insurgency problem in affected villages of the province.

Various peace and development programs and project are being implemented by the government troop to ensure that far-flung areas can now access and avail government basic social and health services.

“As catalyzers, we tried to fill the gaps between the communities and the government,” he stressed. Dolina also vowed to fully support the Leyte-Bantay Bayanihan and its initiatives.

Foremost in this development projects being implemented by the government troops in the province is the “Organic Farming” of the 19th IB supported by the Landbank of the Philippines, which allows former rebel members, sympathizers and supporters to acquire knowledge in organic farming which is currently the new trend in agriculture sector.

The Bantay Bayanihan Forum at 19th IB was initiated by Gina Ragudo, the convenor of Leyte Bantay-Bayanihan who discussed its core objective by reforming the security sector institutions to become transparent, respectful of the Rule of Law, Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, and accountable to democratic civilian authority.

Ragudo also emphasizes that reform in security sector is an important component of peace building, democratization and development.

The Leyte-Bantay Bayanihan was launched at the Visayas State University (VSU) in Baybay City, June 23 last year.

Army hunting down NPAs after North Cotabato ambush that left 3 soldiers killed

From the Philippine News Agency (May 7): Army hunting down NPAs after North Cotabato ambush that left 3 soldiers killed
CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao -- Government forces are now hunting down a band of communist guerillas who ambushed and set off improvised explosive device that left three infantrymen killed and another wounded in North Cotabato, police said Thursday.

Elements of the 57th Infantry Battalion based in Makilala, North Cotabato have launched manhunt early Thursday after the New People's Army (NPA) attack a military vehicle in the village of Kabalantian, Arakan, North Cotabato, a known NPA lair.

Chief Inspector Bernard Tayong, speaking for the North Cotabato police office, said the police provincial public safety battalion has provided back up to elements of the 57th IB tracking the NPA rebels.

Three soldiers were killed when the rebels set off an improvised explosive device at Barangay Kabalantian at pas 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Tayong identified the slain infantry men through their family names as Privates First Class Callano, Quilangit, and Manampan, all belonging to the 5th Infantry Battalion.

Wounded was Corporal Blancia who is now recuperating at private hospital in Kidapawan City.

According to Tayong, another team of soldiers, led by a certain Lt. de Guzman of the 57th IB, were responding to reports about the presence of NPA guerrillas in Barangay Kabalantian at past 4 p.m.

As they entered the village on board a military truck, they were ambushed by unidentified gunmen, triggering a fire fight that lasted for about an hour.

Responding elements from the 57th IB Charlie Company on its way to the clash site was hit by a road side command detonated IED. Three soldiers died on the spot.

Tayong could not say whether or not the ambushers of an earlier Army team suffered fatalities during the fire fight.

“We saw traces of blood. We could not say there were fatalities,” Tayong said, adding that normally the rebels fled carrying their wounded or killed comrades.

The remains of fallen soldiers were retrieved at past 9 p.m. and brought to a funeral homes in Kidapawan City.

Arakan is a known area of operation of the communist guerrillas.

In May 2014, about 100 guerrillas attacked the town police office but policemen, although outnumbered, managed to repulse the attackers and killed three guerrillas.

Government forces rescue businesswoman; kill 5 Abu Sayyaf bandits in Sulu

From the Philippine News Agency (May 7): Government forces rescue businesswoman; kill 5 Abu Sayyaf bandits in Sulu
Five Abu Sayyaf bandits were killed while the Filipino-Chinese businesswoman they abducted was safely rescued in Sulu, a top military official announced Thursday.

Col. Alan Arrojado, Joint Task Group Sulu commander, identified the rescued victim as Guan Kim Maujon, 48, a businesswoman and a resident of Barangay Tampakan Laminusa, Siasi, Sulu.

Arrojado said Maujon, who sustained two gunshot wounds, was rescued by fishermen around 7 a.m. Thursday in the sea waters between Tapul island town and Parang municipality in the Sulu mainland.

Arrojado said Maujon was abducted by seven Abu Sayyaf bandits led by Salip Mira around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday from her residence.

Arrojado said that a firefight ensued with the responding Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team (BPAT) members while the group of Mira was escaping dragging along Maujon with them.

He said that military and police forces rushed to Barangay Tampakan Laminusa, Siasi, after receiving the report of the incident to reinforce the BPAT members.

He said aside from the five killed Abu Sayyaf bandits during the firefight, the troops also recovered a rifle.

He said the remains of one of the five slain bandits was recovered at the residence of Maujon, another one fell dead at sea while escaping aboard motorized bancas and the remains of the other three were recovered at the shoreline of Barangay Cabingaan in the nearby island town of Tapul.

Arrojado said Maujon, upon her rescue, was rushed to the district hospital in Parang town and transferred around 9:30 a.m. Thursday to the Integrated Provincial Health Office (IPHO) in Jolo, the capital of Sulu.

Arrojado said the group of Mira is based in Barangay Kuta Kahoy in the island town of Pata and has strong ties with the groups of Alhabsy Misaya, Idang Susukan, Yasser Igasan and Anggah Adji.

He said that troops are tracking down the group of Mira.

Task Group Sulu intercepts illegal shipment of rice

From the Philippine News Agency (May 7): Task Group Sulu intercepts illegal shipment of rice
Joint Task Group Sulu troops have intercepted and confiscated an illegal shipment of rice with estimated market value of more than PHP3 million in the sea waters of Sulu.

Col. Alan Arrojado, Joint Task Group Sulu commander, said the rice shipment was intercepted around 6:40 a.m. Thursday in the waters between the municipalities of Parang and Indanan.

Arrojado said the troops aboard Patrol Gunboat-393 were on security patrol when they spotted a watercraft named M/L Glory II steaming towards Jolo, the capital of Sulu.

When inspected, Arrojado said M/L Glory II was loaded with undocumented 2,090 sacks of white rice of 50 kilos each that came from Sabah.

He said the confiscated sacks of rice were turned over to the Bureau of Customs (BoC) for proper disposition.

Army’s 3rd Infantry Brigade commander named ‘adopted son of NegOcc’

From the Philippine News Agency (May 7): Army’s 3rd Infantry Brigade commander named ‘adopted son of NegOcc’

Brig. General Jon Aying, outgoing commander of the Murcia-based 303rd Infantry Brigade (IB) of the Philippine Army, has been named adopted son of Negros Occidental.

The recognition is stated in the resolution authored by First District Board Member Renato Gustilo unanimously passed Wednesday by the Provincial Board.

The resolution was handed to Aying by Vice Gov. Eugenio Jose Lacson during the session.

“If Aying's predecessor Brig. General Maximo Caro was known as ‘darling of the media,’ now Aying, the 22nd brigade commander of 303rd, is adopted son of Negros Occidental, having greatly contributed a lot in neutralizing insurgency in the province by way of implementing the Marching for Peace program,” Gustilo said.

He added, “The Army through Aying has engaged good relationship with the civilians not as soldiers, but as public servants.”

Marching for Peace was conceptualized by former 303rd IB commander Brig. General Oscar Lactao, and Aying implemented the program by giving peace a chance for development the province, the board member said.

“I did not expect this to happen, to become an adopted son of Negros Occidental. Because I came here to serve the people for peace as commander of 303rd Infantry Brigade. This is the first time that the province has adopted a brigade commander as a son. This is a great pride and honor, to become one of the Negrenses. Wherever you are, do not forget that we are in the same family of Negrenses," Aying said.

Although he will be leaving the province soon, Aying said he will still offer his services as Negros Occidental’s adopted son.

Aying is set for reassignment to the AFP headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo as chief for plans, or J5.

A hero’s burial for Gen. Vicente Piccio, Jr.

From the Philippine News Agency (May 7): A hero’s burial for Gen. Vicente Piccio, Jr.

The remains of the late Major General Vicente Mondejar Piccio, Jr., former Mayor of Belison, Antique, will be flown today, May 7, 2015 to Villamor Airbase in Pasay City and will be laid in state at the Villamor Airbase Chapel until his interment at noon on Sunday, May 9, at the Libingan Ng Mga Bayani at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.

From his home in Belison town, Piccio’s remains will be brought to his hometown in Maasin for a short necrological service to be held at the Municipal Hall of Maasin to be led by the Municipal Government under the leadership of Mayor Mariano Malones.

Mayor Malones personally informed the Piccio family of his and the Municipal Government’s desire to give honor to the town’s first and only General of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

After the necrological service, which is expected to last until after lunch, Piccio’s remains will be brought to Iloilo Airport and flown to Manila by a Philippine Air Force C-130 plane and will lay in state at the Villamor Airbase Mortuary for three days until Sunday.

General Piccio joined the Philippine Air Force Flying School after graduating from the University of San Agustin in 1951. He started as a Fighter Pilot based at Basa Airbase in Pampanga.

In 1971, he was promoted Squadron Commander and Commandant of the Air Force Officer’s School at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.

In 1972, Piccio was promoted Assistant Chief of Air Force Staff (A3) for Operations, then in 1974 was again promoted to Wing Commander of the 410th Air Material Wing. In 1976 he was Wing commander of the 240th Composite Wing based at Sangley Point, Cavite City then in 1978 was promoted Division Commander of the 3rd Air Division at Andrews Air base in Zamboanga City.

In 1979, Piccio was promoted General then Brigadier General of the Philippine Air Force. The following year he was promoted Commanding General of the Aviation Security Command (AVSECOM).

In 1981, he was appointed Vice Commander of the Philippine Air Force at the same time AVSECOM chief. In April 4, 1982, he was promoted Commanding General of the Philippine Air Force and about a month later, May 2, 1982 during the Air Force Day Anniversary celebration, he was promoted on-the-spot by former President Ferdinand Marcos who personally handed to him his 2-Star Shoulder Board right at the Villamor Air Base grandstand.

He was Commanding General of the PAF until his retirement in February 1986.

In May 2007, General Piccio ran as Mayor of Belison town following his sons Vincent Piccio III and Christopher Piccio finished their three-year term limits. He, however, was not able to finish his three-year term because of health reasons. He resigned in January 2009.

Gen. Piccio joined his Creator last April 28, 2015 at the age of 88. He was survived by his wife Nena Hernandez Piccio, his children namely Provincial Board Member Vincent Piccio III, Elizabeth Piccio Castrence, Philip, Bernard, Robert, Christopher and Paul Anthony, son-in-law Dr. Arnie Castrence, daughters-in-law Bituin Rodriguez Piccio, Johanna Manaloto Piccio and Samantha Mary Carpenter Piccio and grandchildren Ian and Ariana Castrence, Paola, Bobby Jr., Robert Pio, Christopher Cresap and Alexandra Sophia.

After Usman, MILF now targets foreign bomb-makers Muawiyah, Baco

From the Philippine News Agency (May 7): After Usman, MILF now targets foreign bomb-makers Muawiyah, Baco

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) elite unit who killed foreign-trained bomber Abdul Basit Usman are now hunting down two other foreign bombers hiding in Maguindanao with the slain Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir alias "Marwan."

The two foreign bomb making experts, Malaysian Amin Baco and Muawiyah, a Singaporean, escaped Barangay Tukanalipao after the Police Special Action Force commandos raided on January 25 their hideout in Mamasapano town. Marwan was killed in that incident.

Usman, a Maguindanao, was killed past 11:00 a.m. Sunday near Barangay Muti in Guindulungan town, Maguindanao while trying to evade pursuing government forces.

MILF forces under Commander Wahid Tundok of 118th base command went to the village where usman and his 12 armed followers were waiting for the start of boxing bout between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather on radio.

Mayor Antao Midtimbang of Guindulungan told reporters he was told that the MILF elite unit has been searching for Maco and Muawiyah.

Tundok said the search for the two foreign bombers was in keeping with their ceasefire accord with government.

Under the ceasefire agreement, both the government security forces and MILF will work side by side in the interdiction of criminals and terrorists.

Tundok said more and more civilians have offered to assist the MILF in locating the foreign terrorists because they were the main cause of civilians' dislocation in Datu Piang, Datu Saudi, Salibo, Mamasapano, Guindulungan and Talayan, all in Maguindanao.

Speaking in Filipino, Tundok said even MILF forces had to be moved out along with their families in compliance with the ceasefire accord to allow military action against Usman and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

"We will operate against these foreign bombers so we will no longer be relocated when the Army hunt them," an MILF sub-commander said.

The Army offensive against the BIFF, which is believed to be coddling foreign bombers, had displaced 120,000 civilians, mostly relatives and friends of the MILF.

"Our fighters are tired of moving from one place to another because of these foreign bombers, so we will get them ourselves," the commander said.

"Its not about the reward money, all we want is peace in our communities," he said.

About 900 MILF fighters have been relocated since Feb. 27 when the military launched manhunt against the terrorists and the BIFF.

Muawiyah, whose real name Abdullah Ali, is affiliated with the Jemaah Islamiyah, a group where Marwan also belonged and a ranking official, according to Army and police intelligence community.

The military tagged these terrorists as the ones who provided training to lawless elements in Maguindanao in bomb making and other terror attacks.

4 soldiers killed, 8 others wounded in Davao City clash with rebels

From the Philippine News Agency (May 7): 4 soldiers killed, 8 others wounded in Davao City clash with rebels

Four soldiers were killed while eight others, including a militiaman, was wounded during a clash with an estimated 50 New People's Army (NPA) men in Sitio Islid, Barangay Dalagdag, Calinan District, Davao City Wednesday morning.

10th Infantry Division spokesperson 1st Lt. Vergel Lacambra, in a belated report, said the encounter took place 9: 45 a.m. as troopers from the 69th Infantry Battalion were conducting routine patrols in the locality following reports that a huge number of armed men were massing in the area.

Upon reaching Sitio Islid, the troops chanced upon an estimated 50 NPA bandits believed to be under Pulang Bagani Command-1, Southern Mindanao Regional Committee, triggering an intense fire fight.

Despite the superior number of the rebel forces, government troops bravely returned fire while taking defensive positions.

Lacambra said the rebels made several attempts to overwhelm the outnumbered troopers but were beaten every time, resulting in numerous casualties to the NPAs.

However, after 45 minutes of combat, the rebels retreated, taking with them their dead and wounded.

Government losses in the encounter were placed at four soldiers and eight others wounded, including a militiaman.

Lacambra said the wounded soldiers were brought to Panacan Station Hospital while the bodies of the slain soldiers were brought to Villa Funeral Homes in Davao City.

Their families are yet to be notified.

“While we grieve with their families, this display of bravery and heroism by our men will inspire us more to serve and protect our country and people,” 69th Infantry Battalion commander Lt. Col. Rodney Intal said.

In a separate incident around 2:25 p.m. Tuesday, three soldiers were also killed and another was wounded in a fire fight between 57th Infantry Battalion and undetermined number of NPA bandits at vicinity Brgy Kabalantian, Arakan North Cotabato.

Soldiers are now pursuing the bandits.

Meanwhile, Major Gen. Eduardo M. Año, 10th Infantry Division commander, has ordered his men to intensify combat operations against lawless armed groups to thwart NPA terror plans in the communities.

“Despite the risks, we will remain steadfast in our resolve to keep our civilian communities safe from the threats of lawless armed elements such as the CPP-NPA," he added.

Ranking CPP-NPA leaders arraigned in Manila courts for Inopacan, Leyte Massacre

From the Philippine News Agency (May 7): Ranking CPP-NPA leaders arraigned in Manila courts for Inopacan, Leyte Massacre

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Thursday said that ranking Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) leaders were arraigned at the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 47 for 15 counts of murder regarding the 1985 Inopacan, Leyte Massacre.

These rebel leaders were identified as Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, Satur Ocampo, Vicente Ladlad, Randal Echaniz, Rafael Baylosis and several others.

They refused to enter a plea so the judge entered a “not guilty plea” in their behalf in order for the arraignment to push through, AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said.

The Inopacan, Leyte Massacre was among the alleged crimes committed by the NPAs in 1985 in their attempt to rid their ranks of military informants.

The rebels hastily tried suspected NPAs and civilians thru their “Kangaroo Courts,” leading in the summary execution of most suspects.

Accounts from the families and witnesses revealed that the massacre ended up into about 70 killings in Barangay Sapang Daku alone.

Exhumation of some of the victims’ remains were done in the early 2007.

The complainants and witnesses of the prosecution include those who were ordered to execute the victims themselves as they were then members of the NPA operating in Leyte.

The families of the victims were thankful that their case have finally moved despite the delaying tactics done by the accused.

The case was originally filed in Hilongos, Leyte but was transferred to Manila on request of the accused personalities in the hope that the witnesses will be in default during the hearings, according to one of the aggrieved parties.

They hope that the arrest warrants of the NPA leaders will come out soon.

Amid territorial disputes, China is not an enemy -- DFA

From the Philippine News Agency (May 7): Amid territorial disputes, China is not an enemy -- DFA

Amid China’s massive reclamation and dredging operations in the disputed West Philippine Sea (WPS), the Philippines’ foreign affairs department has said China is not an enemy.

”Your honor, China is not an enemy. In fact, we have bilateral and diplomatic relations with China,” DFA assistant secretary Benito Valeriano said when asked by Senator Antonio Trillanes IV if the government considers China as an enemy during the Senate inquiries on the WPS or South China Sea.

Valeriano said the Philippines has already filed eight diplomatic protests since April 2014, including the arbitration cases the DFA formally filed in May 2014 to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“Our approach to this is through the rule of law, that’s why we sought arbitration and even if China did not participate, it’s an option under UNCLOS for China not to participate and the tribunal that was composed for this arbitration has also engaged China to get this side of this arbitration,” Valeriano said

Valeriano said the protests does not include the three others filed against China for crashing the fishing vessels and hitting with water cannon the Filipino fishermen near the Ayungin Shoal.

Alarmed by the operations of China in the disputed territory, National Security Council (NSC) director general Cesar Garcia Jr. said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) should focus from domestic to external security.

”It is very imperative to transition the armed forces from its domestic security focus towards an external or territorial defense role as rapidly as possible,” Garcia told the Senate panel.

Garcia said the territorial disputes in the WPS has overtaken all national security concerns including terrorism, insurgency and the peace and order problems in Mindanao.

”Judging from the recent developments, particularly the reports of massive reclamation projects in our exclusive economic zone, it is now very clear that our territorial disputes in the WPS has in fact overtaken all security issues,” Garcia said.

Garcia emphasized the need for the whole nation to get involve in investing in the country’s national defense by pursuing the AFP modernization program.

”It is also means we need to seriously re-think how we can swiftly capacitate the national police to take over the residual internal security responsibilities from the AFP,” the national security adviser said.

During the hearing, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said the China’s massive reclamation activities have already covered seven reefs in the disputed WPS, including three that are within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Using a PowerPoint presentation, Western Command (Wescom) chief Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez showed photos of China’s massive reclamation activities in Mabini (Johnson), Calderon (Cuarteron), Gaven, Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Chigua (McKennan/Hughes), Zamora (Subi) and Panganiban (Mischief) Reefs. Mabini, Chigua and Panganiban are within the country’s EEZ.

Lopez said in the Panganiban reef which is only 126 nautical miles away from the Philippines, China has expanded its reclaimed area from only 1,000 square meters to 7.3 hectares based on a photo taken April 12, 2015.

China has even built what Lopez believed as three-kilometer airstrip both in the Kagitigan and Zamora reefs.

Jay Batongbacal, director for Institute of Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, University of the Philippines (UP), believed that the massive reclamation was China’s response to the Philippines’ move to file arbitration case to the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in May 2014.

”In my view your honor, this (reclamation) may have been a long term plan but at this early, it is accelerated by the arbitration,” Batongbacal said.

While waiting for the AFP modernization to be completed by 2028, Batongbacal suggested that the AFP should think of “rationalized procedures” to defend the country’s territory particularly the exclusive economic zone.

”You have to have immediate contingencies which could happen at any time. It’s good that they (AFP) recognize they have to do something,” Batongbacal said.

AFP chief General Gregorio Catapang said one percent or Php26 billion of their annual budget is being allotted for the AFP modernization program.

During the hearing, former senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani recommended to include the local government units (LGUs) in protecting their territory specially in Zambales where fishermen have been harassed by the Chinese vessels.

”The LGUs should be involved in the issues of WPS. We should asserts ourselves. We should go beyond diplomacy and beyond protocol,” Shahani said.

Senator Teofisto Guingona III agreed with Shahani, saying “let’s make a people to people issue.”

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, chairman of the Senate panel, said it is clear that the country has to modernize its armed forces.

”Now on other front, how we approach it diplomatically. That’s a tricky part. At least we have raised awareness,” Trillanes, a former Navy officer, said.

Trillanes said it is clear that China has violated the Declaration of Conduct with its massive reclamation in the disputed territories.

Trillanes agreed with Garcia but the AFP has to make sure that international security threat is totally wiped out before shifting its focus to external security.

Trillanes, however, clarified the Philippines will not engage in an arm race with China.

”At least we will have minimum credible defense posture or at least minimum deterrent capability ,” the senator said.

The WPS or South China Sea is being claimed partly by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

DSWD continues to aid families displaced by armed conflict in Mindanao

From the Philipppine News Agency (May 7): DSWD continues to aid families displaced by armed conflict in Mindanao

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said Thursday it continues to provide assistance to families displaced by the continuing armed conflict in Mindanao.

According to DSWD Secretary Corazon J. Soliman a total of 35,697 affected families or 177,456 person had been affected by the continuing armed conflict.

As of May 6, a total of 33 evacuation centers remained open and serving 8,101 families or 40,435 persons.

Twenty nine of the evacuation centers are located in five towns in Maguindanao and in four towns in North Cotabato.

The DSWD chief earlier shared her views that in most conflicts, the vulnerable children are usually affected for war can caused trauma on the children as she said that peace efforts should be strengthened to avoid sufferings of the vulnerable children who are often hurt and victimized by the tragedy.

Business sector supports BBL; points out 13 potential economic issues

From the Philippine News Agency (May 7): Business sector supports BBL; points out 13 potential economic issues

The business sector expressed support for the passage of the Basic Bangsamoro Law (BBL) during the first public presentation of the Report of the Peace Council on Thursday.

What are the potential issue that they (businessmen) might face with BBL? These were identified in a discussion according to Michael Montelibano, head of the Business Development and Innovation, Ayala Corporation, and representative of Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala in the presentation.

The group reviewed the draft articles of the BBL and related materials like the Bangsamoro Development Plan. It also consulted BBL experts and stakeholders.

After a detailed discussion with members of the cluster and resource persons, the group identified 13 potential economy and patrimony issues which, Montelibano said, could be addressed through providing a more detailed explanation and information. These are:

1. Natural resources

The group asks how can this affect the private sector’s ability to invest in related sectors if the Bangsamoro government will have exclusive powers on ancestral domain and natural resources.

This is not an issue, the group realized, as devolution is already happening.

2. Labor matters

With regard to labor matters, the group thinks there’s a need to clarify how deviations may be legislated by the Bangsamoro.

3. Land transfer

As land acquisitions and titles shall be governed by the Bangsamoro government, it may or may not be consistent with the rest of the country.

However, land titles that were already registered under the national system will be honored by the Bangsamoro government.

4. Customs and tariff

This is a potential issue as it may promote more smuggling in the region. The group thinks there’s just a need for further clarification with the manner of enforcement.

5. Infrastructure

Will the government’s infrastructure development program (public-private partnership or PPP) still apply in the Bangsamoro? This is another thing that the group seeks further clarification.

6. Power sector

The Bangsamoro government will regulate generation, transmission, and distribution when not connected to national grid. As such, the group thinks there’s a need to develop and disclose parameters managing power projects connected to national grid.

7. Transport and communication

Another area that the cluster seeks for further clarification is on transport and communication. Montelibano said the Bangsamoro government will need to work closely with various agencies (such as the DOTC, CAB, MIA, PPA, LTFRB, LTO and NTC) to determine any additional powers as well as the extent of check and balance mechanisms.

8. Power to temporarily take over business

Montelibano pointed out that the chief minister may order the temporary takeover of any privately-owned business affected with public interest in times of state of calamity.

With this, there’s a need to define specific set of instances where businesses can be taken over by the chief minister.

9. Taxes

The business community is curious on how their businesses will be taxed under a new tax regime. Montelibano clarified, however, that this needs not to be an issue since major taxes in Bangsamoro are same as national taxes. “Taxes may actually be set lower in the region to promote investment,” he added.

10. Inland waters

Since the Bangsamoro government may enact laws on regulation, management and protection of resources, the cluster seeks further clarification to ensure that access to water will remain equitable.

11. Block grant

Montelibano pointed out that the public’s perception on the block grant is that the Bangsamoro will receive more than its due share of the national internal revenue. But the cluster thinks this just needs more details and a clear explanation on amounts that the Bangsomoro government will receive.

12. Auditing body

While the public’s perception is that Bangsamoro will have its own audit commission independent of Commision on Audit, the economy cluster thinks that this needs not to be a contentious issue.

This is a misinterpretation according to Montelibano. “If any rewording is necessary to avoid misinterpretation, the provision in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro may be considered,” said Montelibano.

13. Security

“This is an important economic issue for us, investors,” Montelibano highlighted. He added that peace and order also affect the growth of businesses in the area.

Montelibano reiterated that these 13 potential issues will certainly be addressed with clarifications. “We support the BBL. I think everybody will benefit from peace,” he told the Philippines News Agency.

PH, Japan arrest 'pirates' in sea safety drill

From Rappler (May 6): PH, Japan arrest 'pirates' in sea safety drill

The Philippine Coast Guard and the Japan Coast Guard downplay questions on whether the joint exercises are meant to counter China's threat

SAFETY AT SEA. Members of the Philippine Coast Guard and the Japanese Coast Guard 'arrest' 6 hijackers at Manila Bay in a joint maritime safety drill on May 6, 2015. Photo by Joel Leporada, Rappler

SAFETY AT SEA. Members of the Philippine Coast Guard and the Japanese Coast Guard 'arrest' 6 hijackers at Manila Bay in a joint maritime safety drill on May 6, 2015. Photo by Joel Leporada, Rappler

Members of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Japan Coast Guard conducted mock operations at the Manila Bay on Wednesday, May 6, “arresting” 6 armed men who were trying to hijack a cargo vessel.

“The target of this exercise is mutual interest [of both countries], such as pirates and trafficking of firearms and drugs,” Captain Koichi Kawagoe, exercise director for the Japanese side, while on board BRP Batangas with foreign observers from the Heads of Asian Coast Guard Agencies and journalists.

BRP Batangas is a search and rescue vessel.

At the Manila, 1.8 nautical miles north of San Antonio, Cavite City, the PCG's helicopter Helo 1636 confirmed that "pirates" were hijacking a cargo vessel.

The coast guard members of both countries – with more 40 from the Japanese side – responded on board the Japanese ship PLH22 Yashima and the PCG's BRP Nueva Vizcaya.

In the simulation of the maritime law enforcement (Marlen), PLH22 Yashima happened to be at the Manila Bay, so it positioned itself at the starboard bow of the hijacked vessel to block it.

BRP Nueva Vizcaya, on the other hand, hoisted the “Kilo” flag, which signals its intention to communicate with the cargo vessel. It approached the stern of the hijacked vessel, then deployed two rubber boats for “horsehoe maneuvers.”

As the coast guard members' rescue vessels attacked the hijacked cargo vessel, the PCG sent the Diesel Fast-312 with anti-terrorist units and canine and investigating teams to reinforce the two teams. Japan's helicopter Bell 412 evacuated a pirate who was injured in the firefight for medical treatment.

“Japan is constantly updating the technical skills of our people. They are monitoring how well we are learning, but there is really a move enhancing the cooperation between the Japan and the PCG,” Captain Artemio Abu, exercise director for the Philippines, told reporters.

“There is a constant coordination should there be a development when it comes to technology and we are testing if we are improving our skills and interoperability. This is one of it,” he said.

Abu and Japan's Kawagoe both downplayed questions on whether the joined maritime security exercises of the two countries are meant to counter the threat posed by China in disputed waters.

Kawagoe, who is also the director for Japan’s Internal Affairs Administration Division and Guard and Rescue Department, said that the two countries will only launch an operation in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) if it is a case of piracy.

“As long as the incident is related to piracy we would coordinate efforts [with the PCG],” he said.

“Piracy is an international crime – the reason why we are forward-looking. We must prevent pirates and strengthen our capability. We have to be prepared all the time. We must always be on guard,” Abu said.

PH Coast Guard mulls exercises with China

From Rappler (May 7): PH Coast Guard mulls exercises with China

Despite the maritime dispute that the two countries have, the Philippine Coast Guard says PH and China can conduct joint activities on 'borderless issues' such as environmental protection

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Wednesday, May 6, broached the possibility of conducting joint activities with China despite the dispute between Manila and Beijing over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

"We have ongoing discussions, and maybe we will have cooperation in the future to have exercises with China. It is not far-fetched," PCG spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said.
Balilo said the Philippines and China can conduct joint activities on "environmental protection, maritime safety, and search and rescue."
He explained these to be "borderless" issues.
"For these activities, nothing is impossible," he said. "These are inherent functions of the coast guard that could be the subject of a multilateral or bilateral exercise even with China."
The PCG conducted joint maritime safety drill with the Japan Coast Guard on Wednesday. The exercise directors from both countries downplayed questions on whether the activity was meant to address China's aggression in the West Philippine Sea.
'There is friendship'
The Philippines and China remain locked in a territorial and maritime dispute over the South China Sea.
The Philippines has filed a historic arbitration case against China over the sea dispute, and expects a ruling on the case by 2016. (READ: Philippines vs China hearing set in July)
Despite this, the Chinese Coast Guard has shown signs it is willing to work with its Philippine counterpart.
The Chinese Coast Guard, in fact, attended the 11th Heads of Asian Coast Guard Agencies Meeting in Manila from May 4 to 6.
The event aimed to boost ties between Asian coast guard agencies for borderless issues such as terrorism and human trafficking.
Balilo said: "Despite the West Philippine Sea issue, the China Coast Guard is here. We appreciate that…There is friendship and camaraderie being built."

3 soldiers dead, 1 wounded in landmine blast in N Cotabato

From InterAksyon (May 7): 3 soldiers dead, 1 wounded in landmine blast in N Cotabato

The troops suffer casualties after pulling out from an encounter site with New People's Army rebels

ATTACK. File photo of NPA rebels in Mindanao

ATTACK. File photo of NPA rebels in Mindanao

COTABATO, Philippines – Three Army soldiers were killed while another was wounded in a landmine attack by suspected communist rebels in Noth Cotabato on Wednesday, May 6.
Troops under the Army’s 57th Infantry Battalion were conducting security patrol Wednesday at 4 pm in the remote village of Kabalantian of Arakan town when they encountered heavily-armed New People's Army rebels, according to Chief Inspector Bernard Tayum, provincial police spokesman.
Tayum said the soldiers were killed as their unit was pulling out from the encounter area and hit a landmine reportedly planted by the guerrillas.
“Three soldiers died in that incident. They sustained severe shrapnel wounds in their heads and bodies,” he said. Tayum identified the fatalities as Private First Class Callano, Kilangit and Manampan.
The NPA, armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has been waging a guerrilla war for 4 decades.
Military estimates put NPA strength at more than 5,000 men scattered in more than 60 guerrilla fronts throughout the country.
Peace talks between the Aquino government and the leftists bogged down last year.

China continues to harass PH air patrols in West PH Sea

From InterAksyon (May 7): China continues to harass PH air patrols in West PH Sea

At least 6 incidents are recorded since the April 19 incident over Subi (Zamora) Reef, says Westcom chief Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez

PHILIPPINE AIR DEFENSE. A Fokker plane of the Philippine Air Force.

PHILIPPINE AIR DEFENSE. A Fokker plane of the Philippine Air Force.

China's harassment of Philippine planes on West Philippine Sea patrol continues, according to Western Command (Wescom) chief Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez.

At least 6 incidents were recorded since the April 19 incident over Subi (Zamora) Reef near Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island, Lopez said in a presentation on Thursday's, May 7, hearing on the situation in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

On April 19, a Chinese Navy frigate in a radio message ordered a Philippine Air Force (PAF) on patrol to stay away from the reef already reclaimed by China. The Chinese frigate also blinked its lights, a move that is considered provocative.

Wescom recorded China's audio message: Foreign airplane you are approaching my military security area. Please go away quickly in order to avoid misjudgment. Foreign airplane you are approaching my area. Please go away quickly to avoid wrong judgment."

A military source said the frigate was calling out the Philippine plane for getting "a little too close" to its location.

While incidents between Chinese and Phiilppine sea vessels have been common, Lopez earlier told Rappler this was the first time that China challenged a Philippine plane.

[Video report: The first time China drove away PH plane in West PH Sea]

Court enters 'not guilty' plea for Satur, Tiamzons in killing of 15 people in Leyte 20 years ago

From InterAksyon (May 7): Court enters 'not guilty' plea for Satur, Tiamzons in killing of 15 people in Leyte 20 years ago

Benito and Wilma Tiamzon board a bus at their March 2014 inquest. INTERAKSYON.COM FILE PHOTO

Former party-list representative Satur Ocampo, who once served as National Democratic Front spokesman, and his co-accused NDF leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon and several others  refused to enter a plea on Thursday in a case involving the massacre of 15 people over 20 years ago in Leyte, in what the government says was part of the communist rebels' purge of suspected infiltrators.

As a result, Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court's Branch 32 entered a “not guilty" plea for them during arraignment Thursday.

Ocampo was a former Bayan Muna party-list representative.

In the 60s and 70s, he was a noted business journalist who went underground during martial law and fought the Marcos dictatorship as a ranking NDF leader, but was caught twice and detained. When Marcos was driven from power in 1986, he became one of the Left's key negotiators in peace talks with the government.

Sought for comment, Ocampo said they are awaiting the decision on their petition for certiorari before the Court of Appeals because the accusations are not credible.

The judge set the pre-trial hearing on July 30.

The Tiamzons were arrested last year in Cebu along with five other suspected rebel personalities. They are detained at the Custodial Center of the Philippine National Polcie (PNP) at Camp Crame in Quezon City.

The government holds that the massacre was carried out in Inopacan, Leyte, by the New People’s Army (NPA) with knowledge of the three accused to rid their ranks of suspected military moles. Families of the 15 victims filed murder charges against the accused.

Accounts from the families and witnesses said the massacre involved up to 70 victims in one village alone, Barangay Sapang Daku. Some of the remains were exhumed in 2007.

The case was first filed in Hilongos, Leyte, but was transferred to Manila on request of the accused.

Charged along  with Ocampo and the Tiamzons are Vicente Ladlad, Randal Echanis and Rafael Baylosis, among others.

The killings were seen as part of the NPA’s “kampanyang ahos” (purging) that the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) allegedly ordered. The NDF is the negotiating arm of the CPP-NPA.

The CPP-NPA-NDF hierarchy subsequently realized the negative implications of the purge and thus started its own “rectification movement,” but by then the leadership was struggling with factionalism and dissention.

Founded 46 years ago, the CPP-NPA-NDF wages what is described as the longest communist insurgency in Asia.

VIDEO | 3 Pinoy fishers hurt as China CG water cannons them in Panatag Shoal

From InterAksyon (May 7): VIDEO | 3 Pinoy fishers hurt as China CG water cannons them in Panatag Shoal

Screenshot from amateur video shows a Chinese Coast Guard vessel (left) firing a water cannon on Filipino fishermen.

In yet another case of harassment, three Filipino fishermen were injured and their fishing equipment destroyed after the Chinese Coast Guard sprayed water cannon on them while they were fishing in the Panatag Shoal on April 18.

The fisherman, who filmed the 12-minute incident, can’t help but voice his anger at the foreigners.

The amateur video, though not so clear, shows a huge burst of water coming from a big vessel - apparently that of the Chinese Coast Guard.

[Video report]

Based on a spot report they submitted to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the fishermen said one of three Chinese coast guard vessels patrolling the shoal attacked them.

“One of the three China Coast Guard with the Vessel Number 3402 accosted one Philippine fishing boat operating near said shoal about 3 nautical miles away from the Chinese Coast Guard with the distance about 2 nautical miles from Scarborough Shoal.”

In their report, they said, “3 Filipino crew were injured and most of the equipment on board destroyed, one of this equipment is the generator including diesel fuel and the fish catch on board.”

The BFAR expressed concern about the incident.

BFAR director Asis Perez said he was alarmed and at the same time saddened by the harassment experienced by the fishermen.

Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said they will definitely file a protest as soon as the BFAR finishes its investigation of the incident.
It was not the first time Filipino fishermen were subjected to harassment by the Chinese.

Last month, Filipino fishermen suffered similar incidents wherein they were shooed from the rich fishing grounds, threatened with a gun, water cannoned and their catch confiscated by Chinese fishermen or coast guards.

China warns Philippine military planes: Stay away from disputed areas

From InterAksyon (May 7): China warns Philippine military planes: Stay away from disputed areas

Handout photo shows Chinese dredgers at Mischief Reef, one of the sites of China's frenzied reclamation activities. REUTERS

China has warned Philippine air force and navy planes at least six times to leave areas around the disputed South China Sea, the Philippine military commander responsible for the region told a Senate hearing on Thursday.

While Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez gave no timeframe, a senior Philippine air force official told Reuters the warnings had come in the past three months.

China could be "testing the waters" to see if it can enforce an air exclusion zone above the Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea, said the air force official, who declined to be identified.

Recent satellite images show China has made rapid progress in reclaiming land around seven reefs it occupies in the Spratlys, including building what appears to be an airstrip on one of the artificial islands.

That has alarmed some countries in Southeast Asia and drawn criticism from Washington.

"As we were conducting routine maritime air patrols and flying in international airspace, our air force aircraft were challenged over the radio," Lopez, commander of the Philippine Western Command, told senators, adding the planes ignored the warnings.

"The Chinese said our planes were in their military security area."

China deploys coastguard and naval vessels in the Spratlys, but rarely planes because of the distance from mainland China.

Last month, a Chinese warship challenged a Philippine maritime patrol plane near Subi Reef, asking the low-flying aircraft to leave China's territory, said military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc.

Radar, missile systems to enforce exclusion zone?

The US military commander for Asia, Admiral Samuel Locklear, said last month that China could eventually deploy radar and missile systems on its outposts that could be used to enforce an exclusion zone should it move to declare one.

Beijing 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, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims.

China has denied accusations its actions are provocative. It recently accused the Philippines, Vietnam and others of carrying out illegal building work in the South China Sea.

Lopez said China had expanded the seven reefs it occupies from a few thousand square meters to up to 11 hectares (27 acres) in artificial islands, including two areas close to the Philippine-held Thitu island, also known as Pagasa, and Second Thomas Shoal.

The United States and other countries would be welcome to use civilian facilities China is building in the Spratlys for search and rescue and weather forecasting "when conditions are right", China's navy chief told a senior U.S. officer recently.

China drew condemnation from Japan and the United States when it imposed an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), in which aircraft are supposed to identify themselves to Chinese authorities, above the East China Sea in late 2013.

MILF forms political party, to participate in 2016 elections

From InterAksyon (May 7): MILF forms political party, to participate in 2016 elections

Mohagher Iqbal: MILF won't be dissolved, it will become a social movement. REUTERS FILE PHOTO

Saying it is determined to leave the armed struggle and join mainstream politics, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has organized a political party for the 2016 elections.

MILF peace negotiating chairman Mohagher Iqbal said the United Bangsamoro Justice Party was registered at the Commission on Elections on Wednesday.

"We will be engaging no longer (through) armed struggle, but through democratic struggle," he said in an interview after a dialogue with about a dozen lawmakers from Metro Manila about the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

He said the new political party of the MILF shows that they are sincere in working with the government in having peace in the region.

The MILF will not be dissolved, but will remain as a "social movement," he added.

Iqbal earlier said that MILF members will participate in the election of officials of the new Bangsamoro government that will be in place once the BBL is signed into law.

The BBL is the product of the comprehensive agreement between the MILF and the government. Congress is currently deliberating on the proposed law.

Sulu police rescue businesswoman, kill 5 Abu Sayyaf abductors

From InterAksyon (May 7): Sulu police rescue businesswoman, kill 5 Abu Sayyaf abductors

Police in Sulu province rescued a kidnapped businesswoman and killed five of her Abu Sayyaf abductors, the military said Thursday.

Guankim Lim Maujun, 48, was abducted around 4 p.m. on May 5 in Barangay Tampakan Laminusam in Siasi town and was rescued in Parang town 7:30 a.m. the next day.

She was brought to the Parang District Hospital and, later, to the Integrated Provincial Health Office in Jolo, Arojado said.

However, he gave no details of Maujun’s injuries.

Parang chief of police Senior Inspector Annidul Sali gave a more detailed account of how Maujun was saved from the gunmen, who were led by Salip Mira, who operates in Barangay Kuta Kahoy, Pata town.

Sali said one of the kidnappers was “killed in the vicinity of the victim’s residence and another one killed during pursuit operations by the BPAT (Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team).”

Three more gunmen were killed by BPAT snipers as they tried to flee in a speedboat and their bodies were recovered on the shoreline of Barangay Alu-Kabingan in Tapul town.

An M16 rifle was also recovered.

Mira’s group has links to Abu Sayyaf sub-leaders Alhabsy Misaya, Idang Susukan, Yasser Igasan and Anggah Adji, Sali said.

MILF won't turn over fighters accused of killing SAF 44 - Iqbal

From InterAksyon (May 7): MILF won't turn over fighters accused of killing SAF 44 - Iqbal

Members of the International Monitoring Team and the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities are seen on the footbridge leading to the "killing field" in Tukanalipao village in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, where 44 police commandos were killed by heavy gunfire from the MILF, BIFF and private armed groups on January 25. MILF's Mohagher Iqbal reiterated Thursday the rebel group was not turning over to government its fighters who are being accused of killing the SAF men. TV5 SCREENSHOT

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Thursday reiterated that it will not surrender its fighters accused of killing 44 members of the police Special Action Force (SAF) at Mamasapano town in Maguindanao on January 25.

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief negotiator, said there are processes that would address lawless elements in conflict areas based on the agreement they signed with the government.

"We will talk about it. We respect the legal processes of the government; however, we have also signed an agreement with them," Iqbal told reporters in an interview.

"It is not as simple as saying we will turn over our men; it will have to go through a process," he added.

Last month, an investigating team headed by the Department of Justice said that 90 people, mostly MILF members, will face preliminary investigation for the death of the SAF men.

The elite police team clashed with the MILF and its breakaway faction, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter (BIFF) in Mamasapano town, after it gunned down international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, the subject of arrest warrants along with his trained bomb maker, Filipino Basit Usman. The two terrorists were believed to have taken sanctuary in what is considered MILF territory, but the MILF insisted it was not coddling them.

Last Sunday, Usman, who escaped from the SAF raiders at Mamasapano, was shot dead in another part of Maguindanao, after having been the subject of a massive military-police dragnet since January 25.  Initial reports were conflicting about who really killed him, but in the end, the AFP acknowledged the MILF had killed Usman after he strayed into their territory.

Earlier, MILF vice chairman Ghadzali Jaafar said the SAF men were the ones who attacked the MILF members in their villages on January 25, and that the MILF just acted in self defense.

The government and the MILF have a standing cooperative mechanism called the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), which responds to criminality and terrorism in areas with MILF presence.

The Revised Guidelines aim to advance coordination efforts among the government agencies involved in law enforcement, namely the PNP, the AFP, and the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), which is supervised by the government negotiating panel.

AHJAG’s mandate is to coordinate and monitor between and among the Armed Forces of the Philippines,  Philippine National Police, and MILF to ensure that law enforcement operations against criminal elements within MILF areas are effectively conducted without jeopardizing the ceasefire between the government and the rebel group.