Sunday, August 23, 2015

Blast hits Tacurong City High Patrol Group office

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 24): Blast hits Tacurong City High Patrol Group office

Unidentified men hurled a fragmentation grenade at the office of PNP Highway Patrol Group in Sultan Kudarat in what police believe was a retaliatory attack against HPG's intensified drive on illegal vehicles.

Superintendent Jhunny Buenacosa, Tacurong City PNP director, said in a radio interview that the grenade attack occurred at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

Manhunt has been launched against the attackers whose identities have been provided to the police by witnesses.

Nobody was hurt in the blast but it caused damages to the building located along the national highway in Barangay EJC Montilla, Tacurong City.

Quoting witnesses, two men riding tandem on a motorbike slowed down in front of HPG building then one of the two men hurled the grenade and sped away.

Responding police and Army bomb experts recovered fragments from MK-2 fragmentation grenade.

Buenacosa said the intensified campaign of Highway Patrol Group against colorum vehicles operating in the city could have motivated the attackers who owned one of the vehicles impounded by the highway patrol unit.

Implementing highway traffic rules, members of the PNP HPG have been checking at random vehicles plying the Isulan-Tacurong City highway and elsewhere in Sultan Kudarat province.

Attention is given on motorbikes which are often used by lawless elements in committing crimes because it can be maneuvered for quick escape after the crime was carried out.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack but police investigators have been following a lead that could identify the perpetrators and their immediate arrest.

Army denies blast at Cotabato detachment accidental

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 24): Army denies blast at Cotabato detachment accidental

Army Colonel Ranulfo Sevilla, commander of the 5th Army Special Forces Battalion based here, Monday took exceptions from comments made by a Cotabato City official that the rifle grenade that exploded at an Army base last week “came from within.”

“It was not accidental, our on duty soldiers do not carry rifle grenade while manning checkpoints,” Sevilla told DXMS-AM Radyo Bida in reaction to a comment by the official before teachers in the city.

Without naming the official, Sevilla said it was an irresponsible statement and aimed at maligning the image of Special Forces. The man apparently based his comments on the photo of the guard house roof which showed it was blown off with iron sheets protruding upward.

“We have video footage the rifle grenade was fired about 75 meters away by two men on motorbike,” Sevilla said.

“Kung wala naman sanang maitulong sa investigation huwag na lang magbigay ng mali at walang basehang pahayag para i-discredit ang Army (If they cannot help in the investigation, it is best if they keep their mouth shut than issue baseless and unfounded allegations to discredit the Army.” Sevilla added.

Private 1st Class Philip Palino, who sustained serious multiple shrapnel wounds, died while undergoing medication.

Sevilla said PFC Marvin Ona who was standing nearby suffered minor injuries after a 40mm projectile landed atop a guard house at about 7:30 p.m. Thursday night.

No one has claimed responsibility but Sevilla said they have the clear image of the attackers and will file appropriate charges against them.

It was the second harassment against Special Forces based in Cotabato City since April.

On April 18, motorcycle-riding gunmen attempted to bomb a police outpost, a moving Army truck and a battalion detachment all within an hour here and in neighboring Datu Odin Sinsuat town but missed their targets.

The attacks in succession left one person injured.

At around 7:05 p.m. Saturday (April 18), motorcycle-riding gunmen lobbed a grenade near a police outpost along the national highway in Barangay Tamontaka 2, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao but no one was injured.

Police reports said the suspects lobbed the grenade while approaching the police station.

At about 7:50 p.m., the same motorcycle-riding men intentionally overtook a KM truck of the Army’s Special Forces on security patrol along Sinsuat Avenue in Cotabato Ciy, and lobbed a grenade. The grenade hit driver’s window and bounced then exploded, wounding a passerby.

Minutes later, two men in motorbike tossed an improvised explosive device at the SF detachment along Notre Dame Avenue in Barangay Rosary Heights 2, the same detachment attacked tonight.

The April 18 explosive failed to go off. It was later defused by police and Amry bomb experts.

Should the Philippines’ South China Sea Case Against China Proceed?

From The Diplomat (Aug 21): Should the Philippines’ South China Sea Case Against China Proceed? by

China argues that it should not, on jurisdictional grounds.

Should the Philippines’ South China Sea Case Against China Proceed?

Image Credit: REUTERS/Erik De Castro
Two and a half years ago, the Philippines took an unprecedented step to shake up the territorial dispute roiling the waters of the South China Sea. For years, six nations – including the Philippines and China – have wrestled over control of a smattering of islands and reefs dotting the oceanic expanse. At times, the dispute has been heated, even violent, but it largely played out within the four corners of the sea itself. That changed when Manila brought the dispute into the halls of the Peace Palace, the home of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The island nation legalized the conflict by instituting arbitral proceedings against China, essentially suing Beijing for its allegedly aggressive and “unlawful” behavior in the South China Sea.

The case has meant much to many. To the Philippines, it bears out “the conviction that principles trump power; that law triumphs over force; and that right prevails over might.” Others have suggested that the suit implicates the vitality of the maritime dispute settlement system, or even that it is really a case about the validity of international law itself.

But there’s a chance that the case will be stopped in its tracks long before the tribunal has the opportunity to take on any of these issues. If China gets its way, the court will rule that it lacks authority to hear the Philippines’s claims because they exceed the bounds of its jurisdiction.

That would be a mistake. Although the Chinese government has crafted a compelling legal argument against the tribunal’s jurisdiction, it is unpersuasive and should be rejected. Not only would a contrary holding make bad law, but it would also deprive Manila and the other smaller claimants of one of their last few tools against their ambitious northern neighbor.

The Philippines Turns to Lawfare

Although tensions have been high in the South China Sea for many years, perhaps nothing spurred the Philippine case against China as much as the Scarborough Shoal standoff. In April 2012, the Philippine navy detained Chinese fishermen who were allegedly poaching at Scarborough Shoal, a small grouping of rocks off the coast of the Philippines. In response, Beijing sent in its own maritime vessels, leading to a tense two-month standoff. Eventually, the United States brokered a deal. By its terms, both countries would defuse the crisis by leaving the shoal. The Philippines complied; China did not. It took permanent control of the area, and has excluded its smaller neighbor since.

The standoff exposed Manila’s helplessness in the face of Chinese assertiveness. The Philippines was outmatched by China in practically every arena: militarily, certainly, but also economically, diplomatically, and politically. ‪All these factors are reflected in the situation at sea: Chinese vessels outnumber Philippine vessels several times over. So long as Beijing played its cards right, it wouldn’t be a fair fight – in fact, it could hardly be called a fight at all.

So Manila turned to the great equalizer of international relations – the law. In January 2013, the Philippines brought an arbitral case against China under the auspices of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). UNCLOS is the definitive treaty governing the law of the sea (also known as maritime law), and both countries had ratified it years earlier. The treaty allows parties to submit “any dispute concerning the interpretation or application of this Convention” – which is to say, practically any maritime law dispute – to an ad hoc tribunal.

In its suit, the Philippines unleashed a litany of complaints. They fall into four broad categories. First, China has been too greedy – it has grasped for vast swathes of the South China Sea, far more than UNCLOS entitles it to. Second, Chinese lawyers have mischaracterized islands in a way that grants China too much control over their waters. Third, Beijing has been misbehaving in the South China Sea – contrary to its promises under UNCLOS, China has interfered with Philippine rights and entitlements. And finally, Manila has accused its northern neighbor of despoiling the natural environment through its unsustainable fishing and harvesting practices.

China Responds with Jurisdictional Argument

Predictably, Beijing was less than pleased to find out that it was the target of the Philippine legal barrage. Outside of court, the government has tried unsuccessfully to use a mix of conciliation and coercion to convince the Aquino Administration to back down. Inside the Peace Palace, though, Chinese lawyers have taken a different tack. Rather than arguing that they should win, they have argued that the tribunal lacks jurisdiction. In other words, China claims, the court does not have power under UNCLOS to hear the case in the first place.

To make this jurisdictional argument, China has drawn on a powerful intuition about the nature of the South China Sea dispute. For decades, the claimants have sparred over control of the various islands and reefs that pepper the Sea. While the dispute is fueled by many factors – including oil reserves and nationalism run riot – it is still a dispute about territory at its core.

That fact presents a problem for the Philippines, because under UNCLOS, a tribunal does not have the authority to rule on issues of territorial sovereignty. Instead, the court is limited to deciding issues of maritime law, or questions involving how states act in the waters surrounding territory.

On the surface, Manila has complied with this prerequisite and brought only claims that fit into the “maritime law” category. But as China has pointed out, maritime rights and entitlements often cannot be determined without first deciding territorial issues. Simplifying a little, take the following example: Under UNCLOS, a Philippine vessel can fish in the waters next to a Philippine island but not in the waters adjacent to a Chinese island. So when Manila claims that China is interfering with, say, the Philippines’ right to fish, it is asking the tribunal to find a right that would stem only from Manila’s ownership of that nearby island. In other words, Beijing believes that the Philippines is using maritime law claims to smuggle in and decide territorial sovereignty issues – something clearly outside of the tribunal’s jurisdiction.

China spelled out this jurisdictional argument in great detail last December in a “position paper.” China’s lawyers accused their opponent of using “contrived packaging” to mask “the very essence of the subject-matter of the arbitration, namely, the territorial sovereignty over certain maritime features in the South China Sea.” (The government has also objected to the tribunal’s jurisdiction on secondary grounds not considered here.) International law makes clear that “sovereignty over land territory is the basis for the determination of maritime rights.” Accordingly, “the Philippines is putting the cart before the horse” – the tribunal cannot rule on Manila’s claims without deciding who owns the disputed islands, a question beyond its jurisdiction. Beijing concluded that the tribunal should throw the case overboard.

Why China’s Argument Capsizes

For the most part, China gets the law right. But Beijing stumbles when it concludes that “whatever logic is to be followed,” it is impossible for the tribunal to decide the maritime issues raised by the Philippines without first deciding ownership of the underlying territorial features.

To make their jurisdictional argument watertight, China’s lawyers must subtly misstate the Philippine position. It is true, as the position paper suggests, that some maritime rights and claims will depend on apportioning sovereignty over the disputed islands. But that’s not universally true, because other types of behavior are simply forbidden by UNCLOS regardless of who owns the disputed features. In other words, Manila is asking the tribunal to simply assume that every disputed feature in the entire Sea belongs to China. Even under that assumption, the Philippines argues, Beijing is still breaching UNCLOS.

Two examples explain why Manila is right on point. First, the Philippines asserts that China claims control over the entire body of water enclosed by its infamous nine-dash line. But even if China had sovereignty over every single island in the South China Sea, UNCLOS would still not entitle it to control the entire sea. Second, China has spent the last year furiously piling sand onto the islands it controls in order to expand its surface area. This would clearly be unlawful if those islands legally belonged to the Philippines. But, Manila says, the land reclamation is still unlawful even if the islands belong to China because the program is trashing the surrounding environment in violation of China’s treaty commitments.

Now, Manila may be right or wrong about whether the nine-dash line runs afoul of UNCLOS, or whether the treaty forbids China from pursuing its groundbreaking reclamation program. But that’s a merits issue rather than a jurisdictional one. So, the Philippine lawyers reason, the arbitral tribunal should discard China’s jurisdictional argument.

Indeed, the United States has cleverly shown the tribunal how it can be done. Two days before Beijing released its Position Paper, the U.S. State Department released a report criticizing China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea. According to the jurisdictional argument, this report should have been impossible to write – the United States has refused to take a position on the sea’s territorial dispute, so if Beijing were right, Washington should have been struck speechless about the necessarily contingent maritime issues. But, of course, the report had much to say. The State Department acknowledged “that it takes no position as to which country has sovereignty over the land features of the South China Sea,” but then went on to criticize three different legal interpretations of the nine-dash line. If the State Department can do it, then so can the arbitral tribunal.

This is not to say that China’s argument is necessarily meritless. The Philippines may have made claims which do turn on territorial questions. (The Aquino administration has not publicly released its exact final arguments, so it’s impossible to know at this stage.) But Beijing is wrong to suggest that Manila’s suit should be thrown out automatically, and nothing in any of China’s statements has explained why any particular claim trespasses on territorial issues.

All Eyes on the Peace Palace

Last month, the arbitral tribunal convened for a week to consider China’s jurisdictional argument. A decision is expected by the end of the year, if not sooner.

Regardless of how the tribunal rules, it’s hard to predict the next chapter of this dizzying dispute. But given the flaws in China’s primary jurisdictional argument, a decision in its favor risks being read as an admission of weakness on the court’s part. In effect, the tribunal may be saying that it fears the consequences of ruling against China on the merits because Beijing will likely ignore the decision and may even retaliate. So the tribunal may prefer to save face and dispose of the case quietly before it reaches that stage.

But for the Philippines and many of its smaller neighbors, international law represents one of the last lines of defense against perceived Chinese transgressions. Without recourse to that “great equalizer,” the Philippine government may turn to increasingly desperate solutions, none of which would bode well for the stability of the sea.

[Sean Mirski graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where he served as Supreme Court Chair for the Harvard Law Review. He is co-editor of Crux of Asia: China, India and the Emerging Global Order, and a regular contributor to The National Interest and Lawfare.]

Air Force fuel bill soaring, says COA

From The Standard (Aug 24): Air Force fuel bill soaring, says COA

The  Philippine Air Force in 2014  incurred a fuel  bill that for the first time exceeded the billion-peso mark, according to the Commission on Audit.

CoA’s latest expense report said  the Air Force spent P1,011,460,009.91 last year, which  was up by 12.88 percent from P896.08 million in 2013.

 “This is the first time that  PAF exceeded the billion-peso mark in its ‘fuel, oil, and lubricants (FOL) expenses’ although it came close in 2012 when it spent P922,692,000 for the same item previously listed in audit as ‘gas, oil, and lubricants (GOL)’,”  the COA report stated.

PAF helicopters prepare to embark on a mission

The PAF’s 2014 FOL cost was the highest among the three branches of service in the military with the Philippine Navy coming in second at P878,358,228.62, followed by the Philippine Army at P425,739,893.95.

The Air Force, Army and Navy spent a combined total of P2.316 billion, CoA said.
With the delivery of additional aircraft and acquisition of more naval transport and patrol vessels in 2015 and 2016, the figure could go   higher,  sources said.

In 2012, Philippine Navy topped the billion-peso mark at P1.292 billion on GOL for that year.

Also in that same year, the three branches    posted the biggest total expenditure on GOL.

Based on CoA’s figures, the Air Force had the biggest fuel bill in the last three years of  P2.83 billion, followed closely by the Navy with P2.758 billion, and the Army with P1.467 billion.

Pirate dies in firefight; 4 captured

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Aug 23): Pirate dies in firefight; 4 captured

A SUSPECTED pirate was killed in a firefight, while four others were captured by policemen offshore Zamboanga del Sur.

Superintendent Cleve Taboso, Police Regional Office-Zamboanga Peninsula spokesman, identified the suspected pirate as Junjie Galorio.

Those captured were Joveto Galorio, Bobby Jerusalem, Joel Langgam, and Fredo Oclaret.

Taboso said the firefight occurred around 3 p.m. Friday offshore Barangay Biu-Os, Vincenzo Sagun, Zamboanga del Sur.

The policemen were on seaborne patrol when they chanced upon the suspected pirates, he added.

He said appropriate charges will be filed against those captured.

Recovered from the pirates were a Garand rifle and ammunition.

Mindanao peace process gets caught up in national politics

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 24): Mindanao peace process gets caught up in national politics
A CHILD carries a streamer expressing support for the peace process in a rally attended by thousands of residents in Cotabato City last year. KARLOS MANLUPIG/INQUIRER MINDANAO

A CHILD carries a streamer expressing support for the peace process in a rally attended by thousands of residents in Cotabato City last year. KARLOS MANLUPIG/INQUIRER MINDANAO
(Last of two parts)

ILIGAN CITY—It took a year for the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to end the fighting as a result of the aborted signing of the landmark but controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) on Aug. 5, 2008.

Because of this, the peace process got caught up in the dynamics of national politics when the 2010 elections beckoned.

The same pattern is emerging today with the effort to enact the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress.

Just like in 2008, many Filipinos still lack understanding about Mindanao’s history and sociopolitical dynamics hence they have a low appreciation of the nuances of the peace process. This is also the reason for the persistent bias against the Moros.

This makes the process vulnerable to attack by politicians who pander on the public’s fears and prejudices to score popularity points.

Candido Aparece Jr., spokesperson of the Mindanao Civil Society Organizations Platform for Peace, likens the tragic Jan. 25 incident in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, to the MOA-AD debacle in 2008 in terms of its impact on peacemaking in Mindanao.

“Both rocked the peace process, even raised doubts about its intended outcome. But thanks to the steadfast commitment of President Aquino, the process is kept afloat even as it sailed through rough waters,” Aparece noted.

Peace President

Whatever fate the peace process has in the remaining months of Mr. Aquino, the next President would play a crucial role in moving it forward, said Basilan peace activist Allan Pisingan of Bantay Ceasefire.

“Beyond the BBL, there is a host of mutually agreed upon measures that need to be carried out by both the government and the MILF,” he said.

While the four personalities leading the presidential opinion polls uphold the broad goal of achieving peace with Moro rebels, each one has distinct takes on the more concrete issues, like the BBL.

Both Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Vice President Jejomar Binay were involved in efforts to strike down the MOA-AD before the Supreme Court in 2008.

Roxas was then a senator and Binay was Makati mayor.

Today, Roxas has vowed to pursue the peace process along the direction already set by President Aquino, although he is still silent on other related issues. Binay has hit the BBL in the process of venting his tirades against the administration after failing to bag Aquino’s anointment for President.

In her report on the Senate probe of the Mamasapano debacle, Sen. Grace Poe chided government peace negotiators for imbibing a “wanton excess of optimism” over the BBL.

While she was widely lauded for taking an independent stance on the tragedy, many were also surprised at her prejudging the proposed BBL as it was not the subject of the Senate probe.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the lone Mindanaoan who has not yet decided to run for President, has issued varying remarks about the BBL, at one time describing it “a crazy idea.”

“Of course, nothing is still definite beyond these public postures as presidential wanna-bes adjust their anchors to the fluidity of the political situation,” said Aparece.

One thing is certain, for now —the Kolambugan people will continue to remember the day of the attack, Aug. 18, 2008.

ESSZone curfew extended until Sept 6

From the Sun Daily (Aug 23): ESSZone curfew extended until Sept 6

KOTA KINABALU: To stave off cross border criminals and extremists groups, the curfew imposed in waters off six districts in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZone) has been extended from Aug 22 till Sept 6.

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman said the curfew from 7pm till 5am, and currently in its 26th phase, has to be continued as these elements have continued to pose a threat to local residents, tourists and Sabah.

He said the curfew was also extended to facilitate enforcement and monitoring of boat movements to prevent encroachment and potential cross border crimes, aside from curbing human trafficking and drugs and firearms smuggling.

Jalaluddin said the security forces extended the curfew with the agreement of stakeholders including chalet operators and the fishing community.

He said district police chiefs in the ESSZone have been given the authority to issue permits to residents involved in fishing activities, and during emergencies.

Communists torch heavy equipment in Zamboanga

From The Standard (Aug 24): Communists torch heavy equipment in Zamboanga

At least seven heavy equipment units of four different private firms were separately burned   Saturday   night by different groups of rebels aboard motorcycles in Sta. Cruz, Zamboanga del Sur.

The almost-simultaneous” burning at around   7:35 p.m.   by the NPA destroyed   4 backhoes, 2 graders, a crane, and a dump truck.

Eastern Mindanao Command public affairs chief Captain Alberto Caber said that the military has declared a heightened alert in the province as the incident showed that the New People’s Army had intensified its operations.

Following the burning, a suspected NPA liaison officer was arrested  at a military and police checkpoint in Baragay Sirawan in Toril district in Davao City.

Caber identified the suspect as John Omega Nebris alias Part, alleged member of the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee. He was arrested at around   9 p.m.

He said a caliber .45 pistol, a fragmentation grenade, 3 cellular phones, 13 sim cards, P5,000 cash, and personal belongings were recovered from Nebris. The incident was triggered by the NPA’s failure to collect “revolutionary tax” from the companies.

Caber said the rebels used gasoline in burning the heavy equipment units being used for road widening projects in   Sitio Kinukol, Baragay Darong; Baragay Kurunon; Sitio Tacub, Barangay Zone 1; and Barangay Tagabuli; all in Sta. Cruz town.

The 39th   Infantry Battalion has operational jurisdiction in the area.

Despite repeated claims by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that it had reduced the number of Red fighters to more than 4,000 only from almost 24,000 in the 1980s, it admitted though that the NPA continues to be a force to reckon with and remains its priority for internal security operations.

The military is currently concentrating its anti-insurgency campaign in Mindanao and event transferred sizable Army brigades from Luzon to battle the 46-yar-old NPA in Mindanao, the longest communist armed rebellion in Asia.

Army chief Lieutenant General Eduardo Ano admitted that the NPA and other armed groups such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters BIFF, a faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and several hundreds of Abu Sayyaf Group remain their priority.

Philippines, Malaysia to hold naval drills in crime-ridden waters

The Straits Times (Aug 24): Philippines, Malaysia to hold naval drills in crime-ridden waters

The Philippines and Malaysia will hold naval drills this week in seas that have become hunting grounds for the notorious Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, human traffickers and smugglers.

In an advisory, Naval Forces Western Mindanao said live-fire and interoperability exercises will be held in waters around the Zamboanga peninsula, and in seas separating Sulu province in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao and Malaysia's Sabah state.

The drills - the 19th to be held since the Philippines and Malaysia signed a defence cooperation agreement in 1994 - will begin today and last till Friday. "The focus is on maritime security and transnational crimes," said Philippine Navy spokesman Chester Ian Ramos.

The joint exercises will involve ships, aircraft and special units from the Philippine Navy and Royal Malaysian Navy. The navy advisory did not say how many troops or what ships will participate in the drills, but at least 300 Filipino and Malaysian soldiers and sailors had participated in previous exercises.

The Abu Sayyaf, a group formed by disgruntled Islamist fighters in 1991 with Al-Qaeda funding, has been hunting in waters off Sulu for tourists and traders in Sabah.
Some 400km of open sea separates Sulu and Sabah.

Despite a floating force that Malaysia deployed just outside Sulu's waters, the Abu Sayyaf, human traffickers and smugglers have been able to criss-cross the porous border. Last week, US-trained Philippine commandos raided an Abu Sayyaf lair on Jolo island in Sulu to free hostages held there, including two Malaysians taken from Sandakan in Sabah on May 14.

Two Philippine Coast Guard personnel held hostage since May 4 managed to flee during the fighting.

But the fate of nine other hostages - including Malaysians Thien Nyuk Fun, 50, manager of a seafood restaurant in Sandakan, and Bernard Then Ted Fen, 39, an engineer - remained unknown.

The Abu Sayyaf gained prominence in May 2000 when it attacked a dive resort in Sipadan, Sabah, taking 21 hostages.

Over the years, US-backed military campaigns had managed to decimate the group's leadership.

In recent years, however, it has managed to regain some of its strength from ransoms it managed to raise from traders it kidnapped in Sabah and Mindanao.

Rescue of kidnapped duo from Philippines may take time: Police

From the New Straits Times (Aug 23): Rescue of kidnapped duo from Philippines may take time: Police

KOTA KINABALU: Efforts to secure the release of two Malaysians held captive by Abu Sayyaf militants may take some time, said Sabah police commissioner Datuk Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman.

He said Thien Nyuk Fun, 50, and Bernard Then Ted Fen, 39, were safe despite the recent conflicts between Philippine army and the al-Qaeda-linked militants in Indanan, Jolo.

"We ask the families to remain calm and be patient. We are in constant communication with the Philippines authority," he told reporters here, today.

Early this week, the Philippines army raided Abu Sayyaf camp in an isolated area in Indanan to rescue 11 hostages, including two Malaysian captives.

Gun battle ensued, killing 15 militants, while hostages were believed to have been moved to another location.

During the conflicts, two captives who were the Philippine coastguard personnel managed to escape and were rescued by security forces.

The fate of other hostages were not known but Philippine Armed Forces Joint Task Group Sulu public affairs officer Captain Antonio Bulao had told New Straits Times that Thien and Bernard were believed to be still alive.

On May 14, Filipino gunmen stormed the Ocean Seafood Restaurant in Sandakan and abducted the owner Thien and her customer Bernard.

Kidnappers had initially demanded for RM30 million ransom per person but since reduced it to about RM15 million.

Meanwhile, the 7am to 5pm curfew has been extended to September 9 and it covers six districts within the Eastern Sabah Safety Zone.

Sabah police commissioner Datuk Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman. Photo by Mohd Adam Arinin

MILF: IBS, IMEAS hold Workshop on Bangsamoro Research Agenda

Posted to the MILF Website (Aug 22): IBS, IMEAS hold Workshop on Bangsamoro Research Agenda

IBS, IMEAS hold Workshop on Bangsamoro Research Agenda

A conglomeration of doctors in education and master’s degree holders formulated a  Bangsamoro Research agenda in a workshop held at 8th Avenue, Barangay Katidtuan, Kabacan, North Cotabato on August 22, 2015.

Prof. Abhoud Syed M. Lingga of Institute of Bangsamoro Studies (IBS) based in Cotabato City chaired the workshop jointly with the Institute of Middle East and Asian Studies (IMEAS), University of Southern Mindanao, Kabacan, North Cotabato. He was assisted by Dr. Parido Pigkaulan.

Prominent academicians who participated in the activity were Dr. Dingan Ali, former President of the Cotabato City State Polytechnic College (CCSPC); Dr. Maniaga Mantawil, former President of the Cotabato Foundation College of Science and Technology (CFCST); Dr. Kundo Pahm, former President of the University of Southern Mindanao (USM); Dr. Alimen W. Sencil, Vice President for Resource Generation and Entrepreneurship, USM; Dr. Abubakar A. Murray, Director for Instruction, USM; Dr. Maugan Mosaid, President of the Bangsamoro Association of Doctors; Dr. Rahib Kudto, President  of the United Youth for Peace and Development (UNYPAD); and Prof. Badrodin S. Abdulkadir, Dean of IMEAS.

Delegates from USM, CFCST and CCSPC comprised the other members of the activity.

Dr. Sencil gave the research guide and the procedures for the workshop. He also acted as activity moderator.

During the presentation, group leader, Dr. Abdulnasser Makalugi said that “His group subdivided the problems into three major components, namely: Political, economic and social. Under the first category, he enumerated: peace and order, governance, etc..

Under the second, he gave: untapped natural resources, low technology, biotechnology, etc.. Under the third, he outlined acculturation, illiteracy, etc.

The other four group presenters underscored partial similar works with Dr. Makalugi’s presentation but power struggle, political dynasties, militarization, “rido” (family/clan fued), illegal drugs, degradation of moral values, etc. were included as addendums.

One participant remarked that the primary problem confronting the Bangsamoro has not been squarely said in the instant bestowals although partly touched therein.

He said, while some had enough knowledge of the experiences in New Zealand, Europe, Africa, Timor Leste in South East Asia, and other parts of the world but failed to find appropriate solution to our main problem.

He said that he was referring to the “Illegal and immoral annexation of our Bangsamoro Homeland to the mainstream Philippine Republic”. A lady doctor said: One among many problems we have today is the proliferation of gays in our midst.

Another doctor followed up the former idea by saying: We must include the peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in our research agenda. This is on the ground that while the peace processes in South Sudan, Kosovo, Timor Leste, etc. were successful, ours may be bound to fail with  the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) being diluted and still pending in Congress.

An international Bangsamoro graduate from Cambodia, said: that is correct because nowadays researchers on the topic are mainly Manila-based that are not Bangsamoros.

The secretariat was composed of Dr. Dialica L. Caup, Chair; Prof. Lahmodin Balabagan; Prof. Datu Moden C. Talandig; Jude Lubiano Balabagan; Faydiyah Akmad; and Rejanah B. Camsa; members.

MILF: Shifting to federalism is a win-win solution to Mindanao problem: MNLF

Posted to the MILF Website (Aug 22): Shifting to federalism is a win-win solution to Mindanao problem: MNLF

Shifting to federalism is a win-win solution to Mindanao problem: MNLF

“One option the Government of the Philippines (GPH) can explore in order to address Mindanao problem is shifting the form of government from untary-centralized to federalism,” an aide close to Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding Chair Professor Nur Misuari said.

Hajji Gapul Hadjirul, Political Director of Misuari-led MNLF, said in an interview that it is high time for the lawmakers to consider transforming the governance from highly centralized system into federalism which is fair to all regions of the country and definitely can address the clamor of the Bangsamoro people for self-governance.

He noted the sluggish movement of the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in Philippine Congress which he believes “will not be realized” as the election campaign period nears.

“Under federalism, we can make the island provinces one state, another for Lanao areas, then for Maguindanao areas and also for Socsargen area,” he added.

Hadjirul said in a federal country, a state can make their own laws that may differ from other states, “thus the Bangsamoro people can make their own laws attuned to their culture and belief” he explained.

The government has provided the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) for Bangsamoro people to exercise their own governance.

However, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) saw that the ARMM does not answer the Bangsamoro peoples’ quest for self-determination.

President Aquino has also pronounced that the ARMM is a failed experiment. The region is popular for having weak local governance, election irregularities and widespread corruption.

Other peace advocates see federalism as another option should the proposed autonomy through the passage of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which is espoused by the MILF and Malacanang will not be realized.

Peace in Mindanao a global concern

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 23): Peace in Mindanao a global concern

A MORO Islamic Liberation Front fighter carrying an antitank rocket-propelled grenade inside Camp Darapanan in Maguindanao province patiently waits for updates on the peace process with the government. RYAN D. ROSAURO

A MORO Islamic Liberation Front fighter carrying an antitank rocket-propelled grenade inside Camp Darapanan in Maguindanao province patiently waits for updates on the peace process with the government. RYAN D. ROSAURO

At dawn on Aug. 18 seven years ago, hundreds of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters attacked Kolambugan and Kauswagan towns in Lanao del Norte province, outraged over the aborted signing of the landmark, but controversial, memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD).

The attacks escalated into a yearlong war in central Mindanao between government troops and MILF forces that drove more than 600,000 people out of their homes and communities in what was then the world’s largest displacement.

The war reopened old wounds and dimmed hopes of ending decades of Moro rebellion. It also meant the increased involvement of the global community to brighten the prospects for peace.

Today, the international actors are more enthusiastic at seeing closure to the conflict than the country’s legislators who are heating up for the 2016 political derby.

“Peace is within reach,” read a July 24 statement from the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT), an independent body created by the government and the MILF to oversee compliance with agreements entered into by both sides.

The TPMT is led by Alistair B. MacDonald, former European Union ambassador to the Philippines.

The House of Representatives has been grappling with the problem of lack of quorum to continue plenary debates on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), even as the clock is ticking for the BBL passage, which President Aquino wants in October.

“While it is difficult for those inside the country to appreciate [the peace process],
those outside are enthusiastic,” government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer told Manila-based journalists during a training session in May.

Guaranty mechanism

Greater international involvement in the peace process after the 2008 war came largely as a guaranty mechanism to ensure that the parties fulfill the consensus reached on the negotiating table.

In September 2009, the parties established the International Contact Group (ICG) composed of representatives from four foreign governments and another four from the civil society.

The ICG counts as members Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Turkey and Japan, and The Asia Foundation (TAF), Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, Muhammadiyah and Conciliation Resources. TAF has moved to the TPMT and was replaced by the Vatican-based Community of Sant’Egidio.

Apart from Malaysia as a facilitator, eight more independent entities have full access to the negotiations, boosting its chances of success.

In later stages, international support was also employed to help the parties implement the various aspects of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. One is the creation of the Canada-led International Commission on Policing, which outlined recommendations on the structure and functioning of the Bangsamoro police.

Another is the Turkey-led, seven-member Independent Decommissioning Body, which is now overseeing the decommissioning of MILF combatants and weapons in step with the achievement of agreed political milestones.

Still another is the Swiss-led Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission.
According to Ferrer, foreign governments are keen on seeing peace in Mindanao to help isolate extremism and fundamentalist ideologies.

Downed by populism

The MOA-AD sought to define in concrete terms the Moro people’s homeland over which they would exercise self-governance through a political entity that would still be part of the Philippine state. It was a key document that took three years and eight months to prepare.

Even hard-line secessionists had a high regard for the MOA-AD. Ameril Umra Kato, the late founder of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, told the Inquirer in 2009 that he supported the MOA-AD “even if it’s not [for] independence or separation as it will lessen the political and economic dominance of the Philippine state over the Moro people and their homeland.”

But the impending deal was regarded differently by the poorly informed public who harbored fears of the country’s dismemberment. Politicians styling themselves as saviors of the republic trooped to the Supreme Court to thwart it.

Initialed by the chief negotiators, the document was ready for signing on Aug. 5, 2008, in Kuala Lumpur in the presence of diplomatic dignitaries, but the Supreme Court ruled against it.

“If only there could also be a temporary restraining order on that armed conflict in Mindanao,” legal scholar Soliman Santos Jr. wrote in a Philippine Law Journal commentary in 2009.

Amid mounting public pressure, the unpopular President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo backed down from the deal. By October, the court declared the MOA-AD unconstitutional, stoking the fire of war in Mindanao.

“It was unfortunate that President Arroyo took the populist road in deciding the fate of the MOA-AD,” recalled Candido Aparece, spokesperson of Mindanao Civil Society Organizations Platform for Peace. (To be continued on Monday.)

WestMinCom gives free medical services to personnel, dependents

From the Zamboanga Today (Aug 23): WestMinCom gives free medical services to personnel, dependents

In connection with its month-long anniversary celebration, the Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) led by Lieutenant General Rustico Guerrero launched a health care fair activity benefiting the personnel of the Command and their dependents at the WestMinCom Gymnasium in Camp Navarro, Upper Calarian, Zamboanga City on Friday.

Free medical services were offered, including minor surgery, EENT, pediatrician, pop smear, dental (extraction), massage, urologist/prostate examination, internal medicine/ blood glucose determination, acupuncture, haircut, and dog immunization and vaccination.

The activity was also sponsored by Zamboanga City Mayor Ma. Isabella Climaco-Salazar, the Department of Health-Zamboanga Peninsula, Rotary Club of Zamboanga City West, Association of Pharmacy’s Western Mindanao Chapter, Bar Code and Max’s Restaurant, Ago Construction Corp., San Miguel Corp., Coca-Cola, Elo Water Corp., Myler Company, Ric & Deny’s Bakeshop, and Marine Battalion Landing Team-9 (MBLT-9).

The Health Care Fair activity was also graced by General Hernando Delfin Carmelo A. Iriberri, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

CAFGU man’s son killed in ambush

From the Manila Bulletin (Aug 23): CAFGU man’s son killed in ambush

A member of the Civilian Auxiliary Army and Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) was seriously wounded while his 17-year-old son was killed in an ambush by still unidentified men in the town of Arakan, North Cotabato Saturday afternoon.

Arakan police chief Sr. Insp. Sunny Leoncito identified the CAFGU member as Roger Fordan Sr., a resident of Makalangot, Arakan and his son, Roger Jr., a high school student, who were waylaid while on their motorcycle, travelling from Doroluman, Arakan on their way home.

The militiaman sustained a gunshot wound and was in serious condition when rushed to a hospital in Kidapawan City but Roger Jr. was riddled with three shots to the body that killed him instantly.

Leoncito, in an interview with the Manila Bulletin here on Sunday morning said Fordan and his son were already near their village in Barangay Makalangot when they were ambushed.

He refused to identify the group behind the ambush as the police were still investigating the case.

But the Army’s 10th Infantry Division , which has jurisdictional responsibility over the area, believed that communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels were behind the ambush.

Other sources told the Manila Bulletin that the ambush could have been connected to the murder of a peasant leader in the same area earlier this week.

On Monday, August 17, Joel Gumatico, secretary-general of Arakan Progressive Peasant Organization (APPO), was gunned down by unidentified men riding in-tandem in Naje, Arakan.

The police are yet to identify the perpetrators to the series of killings in the area.

Karapatan accuses army of killing activist

From the Manila Bulletin (Aug 23): Karapatan accuses army of killing activist

Naga City, Camarines Sur — Karapatan Sorsogon accused over the weekend elements of the Peace and Development Team (PDT) of the army’s 31st Infantry Battalion based in Barcelona, Sorsogon, of killing Teodoro Escanilla, alias “Tudoy,” 63, spokesperson of the group that touts itself as the “Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights.”

Six men in three motorcycles barged into Escanilla’s house at midnight last August 19 and shot him dead.

Karapatan claimed that in a sworn statement, a resident of Barangay San Antonio, Barcelona town, said the PDT arrived in their barangay in October 2014 and engaged in a population survey and interrogation of select residents whom it suspected of either being members, supporters or sympathizers of the New People’s Army (NPA).

The resident supposedly claimed that he was one of the residents “invited” for questioning by a certain Alex Buenaobra, whom he presumed to be the leader of the PDT. Buenaobra interrogated him inside the barangay hall of San Antonio on Nov. 22, 2014.

The affidavit further said: “Buenaobra offered to give the affiant a caliber .45 pistol and the sum of P50,000 to kill Tudoy or Teodoro Escanilla. He refused to do the bidding of Buenaobra. The said affiant was released after suffering long hours of mental and physical torture. He went to Manila for fear for his life and his family’s, and came back on February 21, 2015 when the PDT left their place.”

For Karapatan, there is no lingering doubt about the killers of Ka Tudoy.

“Only the 31st IBPA, based in Rangas, Juban, Sorsogon, have the motive and orientation (Oplan Bayanihan), weaponry, logistics and training to execute the operation to kill Ka Tudoy,” it said in a statement.

Asked to react on the accusations of Karapatan, Captain Mardjorie Panesa, spokesperson of the 9th ID, Phillippine Army said the army welcomes any impartial investigation into the killing of Escanilla and vowed to cooperate and assist authorities in identifying the perpetrators.

“The 9th ID and its subordinate units respect human rights and the international humanitarian law (IHL) all the time. We strictly follow the rules of engagement.

Records show that 9ID has no human rights violations to date and we condemn any form of human rights violation,” Panesa said.

Air Force says attack helicopters to be delivered by year's end

From the Philippine Star (Aug 23): Air Force says attack helicopters to be delivered by year's end

A photo of a AW109 Power helicopter, which the Philippine Air Force is purchasing from an Italian company. AugustaWestland photo

Philippine Air Force (PAF) official said “power” attack helicopters will be delivered and completed before the end of this year.

“We expect six more attack helicopters that will come before the year ends,” PAF commander Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado said in a state news.

The PAF said it formally commissioned its first two attack AugustaWestland AW-109E “Power” attack helicopters last August 17 but all six units will be delivered within the year.

Delgado is confident that the remaining aircraft will be mission-capable before the last quarter of 2015.

In 2013, the Philippine government signed an eight-unit  AW-109E order with Augusta Westland worth P3.44 billion.

The AW-109E was procured since it has established itself as the world’s best selling light-twin helicopter for maritime missions.

With the helicopter’s speed, capacity and productivity combine with reliability and ease of maintenance, it has become the most cost effective maritime helicopter in its class.

This aircraft is a three-ton class, eight-seat helicopter powered by two Pratt and Whitney PW206C engines with safety features such as fully separated fuel system, dual hydraulic boost system, dual electrical systems and redundant lubrication and cooling systems for the main transmission and engines.

Aside from its maritime mission-capability, the aircraft has reinforced-wheeled landing gear and deck mooring points and extensive corrosion measures for shipboard operations.

The United States government is also supporting the Philippine military modernization through its military funding.  US said there will be two more C-130s to be delivered in the first quarter 2016 that will be used to aid the Philippines army in its missions.

NPA liaison officer arrested in Davao City

From the Philippine News Agency Aug 23): NPA liaison officer arrested in Davao City

Joint military and police units have arrested a New People's Army (NPA) liaison officer during checkpoint operations in Barangay Sirawan, Toril District, Davao City Saturday night.

The incident took place 9 p.m., said Eastern Mindanao Command public affairs office chief Capt. Alberto Caber.

The arrested rebel was identified as John Omega Nebris alias "Part" and affiliated with the NPA Southern Mindanao Regional Committee.

Recovered from his possession were a .45 pistol caliber, a fragmentation grenade; three cellular phones, 13 sim cards, Php5,000 in cash and personal belongings.

Nebris is now detained at Toril PNP station while the case is being prepared against him.

The former's arrest stemmed from reports coming from a concerned citizen.

Caber said Nebris' arrest is a big blow to the NPA movement as he is knowledgeable of the rebels' activities in the region.

As this develops, the Eastern Mindanao Command is now conducting pursuit operations against thee NPAs who destroyed four backhoes, two graders; a crane; and a dump truck in Sta. Cruz, Davao Del Sur Saturday night.

Extortion is being eyed as the motive for these attacks.