Sunday, December 20, 2015

Opinion: Retracing our roots

From the Reville column by Ramon Farolan in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 21): Retracing our roots

TODAY THE Armed Forces of the Philippines marks its 80th foundation anniversary, even as it bids farewell to President Aquino who, for the last five years, served as its commander in chief. This year, for the first time, the ceremonies will be held at Clark Air Base, Mabalacat City, in Pampanga instead of at Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo, home of AFP general headquarters in Quezon City. The event will be highlighted by an aerial flyby involving some 50 aircraft, many of which were acquired under the auspices of the present administration.

I recall that during an earlier foundation day anniversary, President Aquino vowed to acquire more planes, more ships, and more equipment to sustain the ongoing modernization program of the military organization. And he kept his word. No other president has done more than the incumbent President to upgrade the capabilities and strength of our armed forces. Only last week, he led the AFP in ushering into a new jet age the Philippine Air Force with the acquisition of Korean-made jet fighter trainers.

While he has done much in terms of upgrading the capabilities of the AFP, he has also contributed to the stagnation of the armed forces as a professional military organization.

At the start of his presidency, there was a glimmer of hope that he would put an end to the pernicious “revolving door” policy of his predecessor in the appointment of the AFP chief of staff. However, in January 2012, he vetoed a bill that had been ratified by both houses of Congress, providing for a fixed term of office for the AFP chief and the service commanders. No reason, no explanation was given for his actions. Essentially, he maintained the same record as his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo, who had 11 AFP chiefs in her 10 years in office. It served the interests of Mr. Aquino and Arroyo to hold the entire officer corps hostage as the scramble for position and favor made it almost impossible to create a sense of loyalty to institution while making it easier to develop the same to a particular individual.

To my mind, the “revolving door” policy on the leadership of key AFP commands has been extremely detrimental to the organization not only in terms of efficiency and effectiveness but, more so, in terms of promoting and enhancing the professionalism of the AFP officer corps.

One of the worst abuses in the history of the organization brought about by frequent changes in command occurred in 2002 when the AFP had three chiefs of staff installed in just one year. The new appointees had just begun to warm their seats when the time came for them to bid goodbye to the troops. With such a fluid situation at the top, it was the perfect environment for underlings to engage in mischief.

US Customs authorities confiscated undeclared foreign exchange being brought into the United States by family members of an AFP comptroller. The discovery would have far-reaching consequences for the AFP, leading to the tragic self-inflicted death of a former AFP chief of staff.

As we approach another presidential election, one of the key questions to ask the various contenders is their position on the “revolving door” issue affecting the military leadership. As Washington SyCip, noted management guru, pointed out: “Is it possible to carry out reforms in an organization as large as the armed forces when there is such a rapid change in the leadership?”

* * *

The current celebration of AFP Day is based on the enactment of the National Defense Act by the National Assembly during the Commonwealth period (1935-1941). The bill, with then Sen. Camilo Osias of La Union as its principal opponent, was passed at midnight of Dec. 20, 1935. President Manuel L. Quezon signed the measure into law the following morning, Dec. 21, 1935.

There is room for reasonable debate and discussions on the proper date for the observance of AFP Day. Consider the following events:

• The Philippine Army marks the establishment of the organization on March 22, 1897, when at the Tejeros Convention, members of the Magdalo and Magdiwang factions met to dissolve the Katipunan and prepare for a republic. Artemio Ricarte was elected captain general of the Philippine Revolutionary Army, a position comparable to the present office of AFP chief of staff. Ricarte, also known by his nom de guerre “Vibora,” is hailed as the “Father of the Philippine Army.” He is best known for his refusal to take an oath of allegiance to the United States after the end of the Philippine-American War.

• The Philippine Navy was organized in 1898 after the First Philippine Republic was inaugurated on June 12, 1898, with Pascual Ledesma as director for the Navy, the first such appointment in the revolutionary government.

• The Academia Militar, now the Philippine Military Academy, was organized in October 1898 upon the recommendation of Gen. Antonio Luna under the provisions of a presidential decree issued by then President Emilio Aguinaldo.

With the Army, the Navy and the Philippine Military Academy having been established in 1897 and 1898, respectively, how could AFP Day be reckoned from legislation passed in 1935 under a Commonwealth administration beholden to a foreign power? Celebrating AFP Day on Dec. 21 is completely out of sync with the realities of our history. We continue to be held hostage to our colonial past. There will be objections from sectors of society that frown on changing historical dates; we acknowledge and respect such arguments.

But if President Diosdado Macapagal did not decide to transfer Philippine Independence Day from July 4, 1946 to June 12, 1898, we would still be marking Philippine Independence Day in accordance with the restoration of our freedoms by the United States rather than as a result of our own efforts and sacrifices against the Spanish colonial masters.

In like manner, if President Corazon Aquino did not issue Presidential Proclamation No. 397, we would still be marking Air Force Day on May 2, 1936, the day an American pilot, Lt. William Lee, test flew a Stearman biplane, ushering the Philippine Army Air Corps (PAAC) to actual flight operations. Instead, Air Force Day is celebrated on July 2, 1989, the day the PAAC was redesignated as the Philippine Air Force and raised to major command status in the AFP.

In calling for a reassessment of “Araw ng Kagitingan,” which marks the Fall of Bataan, the Magdalo boys in Congress, Representatives Gary Alejano and Francisco Acedillo, are on the right track. We need to revisit the past and to retrace our roots if we are to discover the truth about ourselves.

EDITORIAL: Room for reforms

From the Philippine Star (Dec 21): EDITORIAL - Room for reforms

Not too long ago, the standing joke was that the Philippine Air Force was all air and no force. The Philippine Navy also lacked ships to patrol the country’s extensive coastline. Members of the Philippine Army, meanwhile, complained about the lack of even basic equipment such as boots and medical packs.

Today, as the Armed Forces of the Philippines celebrates its 80th year, the Air Force will showcase its newly acquired aircraft, starting with the first two of 12 FA-50 lead-in fighter trainer jets from Korea Aerospace Industries. Other newly acquired defense materiel will also be on display during the AFP anniversary parade to be held for the first time in Clark, Pampanga.

Ground troops have also seen improvements in their equipment as the Aquino administration stepped up the AFP modernization program. President Aquino deserves a salute from the AFP as he graces its anniversary for the last time as commander-in-chief.

Apart from considering the welfare of AFP personnel, the government has also seen the importance of maintaining credible defense capability as China embarks on an aggressive reclamation activity to stake its expansive territorial claims in disputed waters.

The Philippines cannot match the resources and firepower of the world’s second largest economy. The AFP remains one of the weakest armed forces in the region. But minimum credible defense is possible. The Philippines is slowly improving its capability to protect its territorial waters from intruders including poachers, smugglers and those who deliberately endanger wildlife and the environment.

Along with the good news, however, the AFP must commit to improve its human rights record. The military continues to deny accusations of violating human rights, insisting that it merely carries out legitimate counterinsurgency operations. President Aquino, the only son of two democracy icons, must tell his troops to assess whether such methods are necessary for success in battling threats to national security.

The AFP has come a long way from the years when it was used as an instrument for oppressing the people during the Marcos dictatorship. But there’s still a wide room for reforms as the AFP celebrates its 80th year.

Government programme seeks to integrate former armed rebels into Philippine society

From Channel News Asian (Dec 21): Government programme seeks to integrate former armed rebels into Philippine society

The government’s Gun for Peace and Social Integration Programme gives them financial compensation for surrendering their firearms, and monetary assistance to help them integrate into mainstream society.
RIZAL, Philippines: The Philippine government is hoping a programme to integrate former armed rebels can help them move back to mainstream society.

From being part of an armed group fighting the Philippine government to being part of the Philippine military was not an easy decision, but it was a decision Ellen Carandang felt she had to make for the sake of her children. Mrs Carandang is one of a handful of former members of the New People’s Army (NPA) who have laid down their guns and chosen to return to the fold of the government. 

The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. For almost five decades, it has fought to overthrow the government using guerrilla-style warfare. It has been credited with the kidnappings of locals and foreigners, extortion and killings. Because of this, the group is listed on the Foreign Terrorist Organisation list of the US State Department.

Before being based with the Philippine military, Mrs Carandang worked in isolated mountainous areas recruiting girls into the movement. She said: "Life in the mountain is hard, like now there's a typhoon, there's no place to stay in the forest, you'll get wet, and sometimes you have nothing to eat. You have to endure everything, if you saw a coconut, it will be divided. You have to eat unripe bananas and drink water from anywhere.” 

She was also not allowed to see her five children when she was stationed in the mountains. They lived with their relatives instead. 

In 2012, Mrs Carandang was captured by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. She was imprisoned but during her captivity, the government gave her the chance to remain in jail, or to surrender and work with them.

She eventually agreed and now lives with her children in the Campinpin military camp, just a few hours outside of Manila and works as a food vendor there. 

But the family is still divided. Mrs Carandang's husband has chosen to stay with the NPA, rather than surrender.  

There are around 15,000 to 20,000 former members of the NPA now working with the Philippine Armed Forces. They are part of the government’s Gun for Peace and Social Integration Programme, which gives them financial compensation for surrendering their firearms, and monetary assistance to help them integrate into mainstream society.

After choosing to surrender and work with the government, many former rebels are brought to camps where they are assigned to a division. Out of the 4,500 soldiers in the second infantry jungle fighter division, around 20 of them are former rebels.

Some choose civilian roles while many choose to serve as soldiers. They undergo basic military training, which takes around six months.
According to Colonel Randolph Cabangbang, a spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, some are placed in intelligence units while others are placed in civil military operations.

He said: "One of the things that we want from them is to teach us in the ways of how the NPA fights, so they provide us with so many techniques that we can use to crack their former comrades."

Jo” was one of the former rebels that chose to become a soldier. He came from a broken family and joined the NPA because he fell in love with one of its members. During his time with the NPA, he was taught how to fight, enter army camps and use guns.
But he said that life was hard and so he left. "I decided to leave them because life was really hard - we're always hiding and I couldn't sleep at night, especially during the day, because you're always thinking that you might get shot or killed."

Although “Jo” has a new life, he is still wary of being killed by his former comrades. But with a young family now and a job with the military that he plans to stay in till he has retired, he said the sacrifice is worth it.

Visayas has new Army chief (Cabreros bio data)

From the Visayan Daily Star (Dec 21): Visayas has new Army chief

An Army general who was responsible for the neutralization of a top ranking New People's Army leader in Mindanao, is the new commander of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division in Western and Central Visayas, as well as in the Negros Island Region.

He is Brig. Gen. Harold Cabreros, who is presently the deputy commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Eastern Mindanao Command.

Cabreros, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class 1984, will replace Brig. Gen. Reynaldo Mutiangpili, who served as acting 3ID commander, following the designation of his predecessor, Maj. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, as commanding general of the AFP Eastern Mindanao.

As commander of the Army's 1003rd Infantry “Raptor” Brigade of the 10th Infantry Division, Cabreros led the focused military operations that resulted in the neutralization of Leoncio Pitao, alias “Kumander Parago”, who died in an encounter.

His stint in the 1003 rd Brigade also yielded remarkable accomplishments, including the brigade's Project Quest for Peace that resulted in the fast clearing of NPA infested areas in Davao del Norte and in some parts of Davao City through the IPSP “Bayanihan”. Maj. Rey Tiongson, 3ID Public Affairs Office chief, yesterday said.

Tiongson added that Cabreros is no stranger to fighting the communist rebels, having been exposed to various operational areas in Luzon and Mindanao, as commander of the 1003 rd Infantry Brigade in Davao Region, commanding officer of the 50 th Infantry Battalion, 5 th Infantry Division, among others.

Among the key positions he has occupied included being Chief of Staff of the 7 th Infantry Division; deputy commander of the 703 rd Infantry Brigade; Chief of Unified Command Staff of Northern Luzon Command, AFP; Assistant Chief of Unified Command Staff for Intelligence, U2 and for Operations U3, NOLCOM, AFP and Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations, G3 of the Army's 5 th Infantry Division.

With Cabreros' vast experience in fighting insurgency, Tiongson said the people of Western and Central Visayas can be assured of the Army's commitment in bringing peace and development in the localities in collaboration with the local government units, government agencies, the civil society organizations and other stakeholders by fostering “Bayanihan”.

Cabreros is also a recipient of four Distinguished Service Star Medals, two Bronze Cross Medals for bravery, three Gawad sa Kaunlaran Medals, 22 Military Merit Medals, 16 Military Commendation Medals, Long Service Medals, Military Civic Action Medal and various Campaign Medals and Ribbons.

Army chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año will install Cabreros on Dec. 23 as the incoming 3ID commander in a ceremony to be held at Camp Macario Peralta in Jamindan, Capiz.

Cabreros has added to the list of PMA Class 1984 members who have served Western and Central Visayas, as well as the Negros Island Region, including Maj. Gen. Guerrero, Maj. Gen. Oscar Lactao and Brig. Gen. Jon Aying, who had both served as commander of the 303rd Infantry Brigade.

OPAPP has P691 million unliquidated DAP funds: COA

From Malaya Business Insight (Dec 21): OPAPP has P691 million unliquidated DAP funds: COA

THE Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) has yet to account for at least P691 million funds it received from the national government under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), the Commission on Audit said.

In an audit report on the OPAPP released last December 18, state auditors said the agency received DAP funds of P1.819 billion in 2011 and P248.253 million in 2013 or a total of P2.067 billion.
Out of this sum, OPAPP transferred P1.46 billion to various implementing agencies (IAs) but only P798.042 million has been liquidated, leaving a balance of P662,492,805.81 as of yearend 2014.

Auditors noted that P29,441,500 transferred by the IA’s to implementing partners (IPs) were simply treated as “liquidations” even if actual usage has not been documented, thereby increasing the unliquidated DAP to P691.93 million.

“We reviewed the schedule of unliquidated DAP Funds transferred to IAs…which showed fund transfers totaling P440,062,277.55 were still carried in the books in their original amounts. We cannot determine whether or not the projects had been implemented,” auditors said.

Verification letters sent by the COA to the OPAPP seeking clarification received no response.

“Management did not reply to our communication dated November 6, 2014 for the updated detailed list of all projects, fund releases, target dates of completion and project status,” the COA said.

Sought for comment, the OPAPP said it is looking into the COA report. 
“We have received your query. Give us time within the day to respond. Thanks!”  Darwin Dee of the OPAPP communications office said in a text message on behalf of Peace Adviser Teresita Deles.

No update, however, has been given by OPAPP as of 7 p.m.

Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said Malacañang also needs to verify the report first before it could comment.

In a ruling issued on July 1, 2014, the Supreme Court declared parts of the DAP as unconstitutional which it affirmed in a subsequent resolution dated February 3, 2015, but the OPAPP has only remitted P198.74 million unused DAP to the Bureau of Treasury (BTr).

However, several projects supposed to be implemented by national government agencies chosen by the OPAPP to implement them did not move past the planning stage despite the lapse of three years since the DAP budget was released in 2011.

These include the P112.5 million road concreting project in Barangay Makir, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao and the P80 million Ganassi-Lamud Road concreting project in South Upi also in Maguindanao.

Both had the Armed Forces of the Philippines as implementing agency.
“The original check of P80 million and two checks worth P56,250 each for AFP were cancelled as stale checks on November 29, 2012. They were replaced by (new) checks dated December 19, 2013. We learned from the Project Monitoring Office that projects for the funds transferred to the AFP…remained unimplemented as of December 31, 2014,” the COA said.

Iqbal: ‘Í never said MILF rebels are sick, tired of war

Posted to the MILF Website (Dec 20): Iqbal: ‘Í never said MILF rebels are sick, tired of war

Iqbal: ‘Í never said MILF rebels are sick, tired of war

Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace panel and also chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, took exception to statement attributed to him by a Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) reporter in an article published today.

He said that it is a pity that some reporters grossly misquoted statements of purportedly people whom they allegedly interviewed.

He identified the PDI reporter as Jeoffrey Maitem, a long-time friend of his and a resident of Cotabato City, who said in the report by-lined by him that the MILF is “sick and tired” of war and is not likely to revive the violent struggle to attain self-rule for the Moro people.

Iqbal was surprised that such story came out and attributed to him when for many weeks he had never had an interview with Mr. Maitem, saying he (Iqbal) is either in Manila always or out of the country.

He asked Mr. Maitem to correct the story immediately.

Iqbal explained that it is not correct to say that the MILF is sick and tired of war, saying that war, in the first place, is not and should not be desired by anyone; but if it arrives, because someone has forced it on Muslims, Islam made it incumbent upon them to fight the aggression until it is stopped.

Iqbal also belied Maitem’s claim that the MILF is 100 percent optimistic that BBL will become a law.”

“This is also very inaccurate and completely a fabrication, he added.

He said in all his interviews in recent weeks  that optimism has long been dead and buried and the only thing left is flickering hope and trust for the commitment of President Benigno III to deliver the BBL.

Aquino urged to certify mandatory ROTC bill

From the Manila Bulletin (Dec 21): Aquino urged to certify mandatory ROTC bill

President Aquino has been urged to certify as urgent the legislative measures seeking to strengthen the Reserve Officers Training Corps. (ROTC) to highlight the important role of the citizen armed force in case of calamities, disasters or armed conflicts.

Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, and MAGDALO partylist Rep. Gary Alejano asked Mr. Aquino as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to prod Congress to pass bills which would breathe life into making ROTC mandatory.

“The Filipino people, through their elected representatives, call upon the Philippine government to strictly adhere to the mandate of the Constitution for the defense of the people and to administer the proper training and preparation of the citizens of the Philippines in case of calamities, disasters or armed conflicts,” Ungab, one of the authors of the bill said in filing House Resolution 2571.

He noted that in a meeting last November 4, Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr. expressed strong support for the passage of bills to strengthen the reserve force of the AFP.

Aside from Ungab, Valenzuela Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian, Bohol Rep. Aristotle Aumentado, and Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon filed measures to revive mandatory ROTC to strengthen the reserve force of the AFP and to uphold the sovereign territories of the State and defend the Filipino people during armed conflicts, calamities, disasters and other national emergencies.

Republic Act 7077, the “Citizen Armed Force or Armed Forces of the Philippines Reservist Act,” provides that the citizen armed force shall be organized, trained, developed and maintained as to ensure its readiness to immediately respond to the call to service and the State shall promote and develop public support to and awareness of the important role of the citizen armed force as protector of the people and the State.

RA 9163, otherwise known as the “National Service Training Program Act of 2001” amended RA 7077 to abolish the mandatory nature of the ROTC.

In 2001, the mandatory ROTC was made optional through the passage of the National Service Training Program (NSTP).

“In order to create a capable military force there is a need to have a trained citizen armed force and a strong nationalism in the country,” Alejano pointed out.

He noted that at the start of the Commonwealth Period, the government embarked on nation-building policies which included Commonwealth Act No. 1, also known as the “National Defense Act of 1935” to strengthen the military reserve force of the country.

Citing Section 4, Article II of the 1987 Constitution, the former mutineer reminded that it is prime duty of the government to serve and protect the people and the government may call upon the people to defend the State and in the fulfillment thereof, all citizens may be required under conditions provided by law, to render personal, military or civil service.

“The Filipino people are likewise respectfully calling on President Aquino to certify as urgent the proposed legislative measures to strengthen the ROTC and facilitate the immediate passage of the bill that will hasten the training program of the youth as future defenders, custodians and leaders of the country,” Ungab and Alejano said in pushing for the final adoption of the HR 2571.

NPA’s extortion activities revealed in documents seized at encounter site

From the Manila Bulletin (Dec 20): NPA’s extortion activities revealed in documents seized at encounter site

Butuan City – Extortion letters to businessmen, mining companies, permits to campaign (PTCs) and permits to win (PTWs) were among the materials confiscated by the military over the weekend during clearing operations in an encounter site with the New People’s Army in Lianga town, Surigao del Sur.

Field reports said that troops of Alpha Company, under the command of First Lt. Karl Ian Devaras of the 75th Infantry Battalion (75th IB), discovered the materials during the clearing operations.

Also recovered were an AK 47 assault rifle, three AK 47 fully loaded magazines, two jungle packs, seven improvised explosive devices (IEDs), six blasting caps, bomb-making materials, two rifle grenades, two M203 grenades, several empty cartridge shells from assorted firearms and several subversive documents.

The PTCs and PTWs were addressed to politicians who will be seeking election in Surigao del Sur in May, 2016.
“Our clearing operation troops also discovered several blood stains in the encounter site and in their (NPAs) escape route of withdrawal,” claimed Col. Isidro A. Purisima, commanding officer of the 402nd Infantry (Stingers) Brigade.

The clearing operations came after the 75th IB engaged NPA rebels Thursday morning on two separate occasions in Kilometer 9 and Sitio Han-ayan in Barangay Diatagon after the latter tried to prevent lumads from returning home after months at an evacuation site in Tandag City

Without passing Bangsamoro law, more Muslims may join radical groups

From the Business World (Dec 29): Without passing Bangsamoro law, more Muslims may join radical groups

The failure to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) may become a vehicle for more members of the Moro community to be radicalized, an official warned.

“We are very much concerned because it may become a rallying point of those radicalized individuals (within the ranks of the Moro community) as the continue their activities that are contrary to attaining peace,” Dr. Saffrullah M. Dipatuan, executive director of the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA), said.

In a separate interview, Mohagher Q. Iqbal, chief negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), expressed the same sentiments, asserting that the proposed law’s non-passage or prolonged delay could lead to more radicalization in Mindanao.

“The expectation among the Bangsamoro community that it [BBL] will be passed is really high. And given that frustrations can be contagious and toxic like poison, no one can really tell how wide it would spread if lawmakers would not be able to pass the BBL,” Mr. Iqbal said in a phone interview.

Individuals or groups “frustrated” with the process could choose to join radicalized groups like the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, he said.

The delay or the outright non-passage of the Bangsamoro law “has an effect on the MILF because it (non-passage of the BBL) diminishes our legitimacy that we can deliver on our promises of change to our people in our negotiations with the government. We have been negotiating and working with the government for a long time so it would be frustrating if we go back to zero,” he said.
Bangsamoro development plan to face rough sailing
Similarly, Mr. Dipatuan pointed out that without passing the law creating an autonomous government and region for Muslims, the implementation of the Bangsamoro Development Plan will face rough sailing. Launched in November 2013, the plan needs P110 billion in funds from both the government and the international donor community.

“There is no doubt that it would be easy to implement the plan if BBL is passed. But without the BBL, the simple thing is that the plan cannot be implemented in full,” he said.

What can be implemented are small but quick-impact projects which would help the communities have confidence that the peace process will continue, he added.

However, the agency has not given up on the proposed law’s passage because there have been lawmakers who have been pushing for its approval such as Senate President Franklin M. Drilon and Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez, who sponsored the law at the House of Representatives.

The BDA, which serves as a government conduit to assist Mindanao communities in drafting and eventually implementing projects in communities, was established as a confidence-building mechanism between the government and the MILF. It has been drawing funds from the Mindanao Trust Fund with about $28 million starting in 2004.

“I just want to emphasize that the fund does not go to the BDA, but directly to the people’s organizations that help communities that need assistance,” he said.

But even without the proposed law’s passage, the agency remains committed to continue “supervising and facilitating” in the implementation of key projects not only in Moro communities, but also in other areas within Mindanao.

“The BDA will continue to serve the communities, be it the communities of the Moro people or of the settlers or of the indigenous people,” he said. “Many of these communities have developed their knowledge in sustaining the projects that will help their livelihood activities.”

He said what the BDA is doing is providing technical assistance to communities through people’s organization which help identify the projects for their respective communities.

President Aquino to grace 80th AFP Day in Clark

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 20): President Aquino to grace 80th AFP Day in Clark

CLARK AIR BASE, Pampanga -- President Benigno Aquino III will grace on Monday, December 21, the landmark 80th anniversary celebration of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Pampanga.

Its highlights include the high-speed opener pass of two FA-50, inspection of troops, and conferment of recognitions to AFP personnel and partners.

There will likewise be a pass-in-review of mounted and dismounted contingents composed of 117-person team from AFP Special Units, 11 wheeled armor vehicles, 53 tracked armor vehicles, 14 artillery vehicles, 5 engineer vehicles, 15 combat service support, 12 humanitarian and disaster response vehicles, 4 affiliate reservist vehicles, and 54 motor military vehicles (static display).

And lastly, there will be a fly-by of 40 newly-acquired aircrafts including 16 Stello Frati 260FH, 1 Construcciones Aeronauticas SA (CASA) C-295, 3 Bell 412 combat utility helicopters, 4 UH-D helicopters, 3 Sokol Rescue Helicopters, 5 Philippine Air Force Augusta Westland (AW) 109 attack helicopters, 3 Philippine Navy AW 109 helicopters, 2 C-130 Hercules, and 3 UH-1 helicopters.

About 800 guests are expected composed of Department of National Defense and AFP officials and staff, former Presidents of the Philippines, members of the cabinet and diplomatic corps, veterans, reservists, and retirees.

This year’s celebration carries the theme “At 80: Advancing, Transforming to protect the people and secure the state.”

Soldiers capture Abu Sayyaf camp after week-long assault

From Rappler (Dec 20): Soldiers capture Abu Sayyaf camp after week-long assault

Casualties are reported on both sides as a military assault on an Abu Sayyaf camp in Basilan ends   

A week-long assault by Philippine troops ended with the capture of a terrorist camp and the deaths of 26 militants and 3 soldiers, a military spokesman said on Sunday, December 20.

Soldiers captured the Abu Sayyaf camp in a forested area on the southern island of Basilan but an improvised explosive device left behind by the fighters injured 12 soldiers on Sunday, said Major Filemon Tan.

"After we captured the camp, they were clearing the bunkers when the IED exploded," he told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

About 300 soldiers, backed by artillery and attack helicopters, launched the attack on the Abu Sayyaf group on strife-torn Basilan about 885 kilometers (550 miles) from Manila on Monday, December 14, starting days of intense combat.

The battle involved as many as 150 members of the Abu Sayyaf group, according to the military, which also reported militant deaths that could not be verified.

A total of 26 Abu Sayyaf fighters were slain, Tan said, but the military was unable to recover their bodies.

"The populace of the area, they confirmed it. They were buried at once according to Muslim tradition. Others were seen by our troops, being shot, falling and not getting up," he told AFP.

The rest of the Abu Sayyaf members fled in different directions before dawn on Sunday, he said.

Sixteen Abu Sayyaf fighters were also wounded along with 14 soldiers before the IED blast on Sunday, Tan added.

Pursuit operations were continuing against the remnants of the Abu Sayyaf group and its leaders in Basilan, he said.

The captured camp, measuring 30,000 square meters (323,000 feet) could accomodate about 250 people with 28 structures including fortified bunkers, the military said.

Basilan, an impoverished island of about 400,000 people, has long been a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, a group formed in the 1990s with the help of Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.

The Abu Sayyaf is infamous for kidnapping people, including foreigners and demanding huge ransoms for their release.

The group has also been blamed for the worst terror attacks in the country, including the firebombing of a ferry off Manila Bay in 2004 that killed over 100 people.

Last year, Abu Sayyaf leaders pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, which controls vast swathes of Syria and Iraq.

Malaysian jihadist among 26 Abu Sayyaf men killed in Basilan ops — military

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 20): Malaysian jihadist among 26 Abu Sayyaf men killed in Basilan ops — military

ZAMBOANGA CITY, PhilippinesThe military on Sunday confirmed the death of a Malaysian jihadist in the recent Basilan encounters.

Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson of Western Mindanao Command, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that 26 Abu Sayyaf bandits, including Malaysian jihadist Mohammad Najib Hussein alias Abu Anas, were killed in the continuing operations in Basilan.

The military operation in the village of Macalang in Al Barka town started on December 15. It already left three government soldiers– Capt. Vincent Cordero, the commanding officer of 8th Scout Ranger Company; Private First Class Marctan Tirambulo of the 1st Scout Ranger Company; and Staff Sergeant Jesus Tuting of the Marines Special Operations Group, dead.

At least 26 others soldiers, including two junior officers, were wounded in the fighting.

Tan said different sources claimed that 26 bandits were killed and 16 others were wounded in the clashes.

Col. Rolando Bautista, commander of 104th Army Brigade, told the Inquirer that the death of Hussein was confirmed by different sources.

“Despite these reports, we continue to make validation so we can recover the body as proof,” Bautista said.

Hussein was a 38-year-old Malaysian shopkeeper-turned-bomb-maker associated with the Islamic State (IS). He is known as the key figure in the IS’ Black Flag cell of Universiti Malaya professor, Dr. Mahmud Ahmad, alias Abu Handzalah, who has been hiding with the Abu Sayyaf in southern Philippines.

Hussein reportedly owned a photo and stationary shop in Universiti Malaya, Petaling Jaya, but in July last year, fled Malaysia with Mahmud and several other IS terror suspects to Southern Philippines.

Philippine troops capture huge Sayyaf camp

From the Mindanao Examiner (Dec 20): Philippine troops capture huge Sayyaf camp

BASILAN – Military forces have seized Sunday a huge Abu Sayyaf camp in the Muslim province of Basilan in southern Philippines as troops continue to hunt down militants and Malaysian jihadists hiding out in the hinterlands, regional governor Mujiv Hataman said.

But a homemade bomb also exploded the same day in Lamitan City although no was hurt or injured in the blast.

Hataman said soldiers recovered a cache of improvised explosives in the rebel base in Al-Barka town, scene of recent clashes that left nearly three dozen casualties on both sides.

He said security forces continue its operations in Basilan, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region, following reports that Abu Sayyaf is coddling Malaysian jihadists – one of them, Mohd Hussein, was among 15 militants killed by troops in Al-Barka.

The fierce clashes also killed 3 soldiers, one of them an army captain, and wounded 20 more from both sides.

Hataman also rushed to Al-Barka following a near misencounter between security forces and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members, whose bases are also in the town. The MILF, which signed a peace deal with Manila last year, complained that troops pursuing the Abu Sayyaf had fired on their camps.

“I have talked to the MILF leaders in the area and military commanders and everything is okay now. We have signed an agreement that would allow government forces to continue the operations against the Abu Sayyaf in coordination with the MILF. We don’t want any misencounter here between two friendly forces,” he told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

He said the military would hand over the captured Abu Sayyaf camp to the government and MILF’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities.

The rebel camp was under Isnilon Hapilon, who escaped the massive military operation and is now the object of an anti-terror mission in Basilan. Troops also destroyed dozens of trenches and fox holes and bunkers inside the camp which could house some 250 people, according to Hataman.

The fighting in Al-Barka also displaced more than 1000 families from 3 villages – Macalang, Linuan and Danapa – and is being attended by social workers on Hataman’s order. A massive relief and humanitarian mission led by Hataman were held in those areas.

The military operation in Basilan involved forces from the army’s 104th Infantry Brigade – 3rd Scout Ranger Battalion, 4th Special Forces Battalion, Marine Special Operations Group, and 12th Light Armor Cavalry.

The province is also being used by the Abu Sayyaf rebels to hide foreigners and Filipinos they kidnapped from other areas in southern Philippines. Many innocent victims of the Abu Sayyaf had been killed and beheaded in the restive province of Basilan, just several nautical miles south of Zamboanga.

The fighting broke out just barely two weeks after the National Intelligence Board warned of potential attacks by terrorists in Zamboanga City and other areas in the southern region, including resorts frequented by tourists in Aklan in western Visayas, and Palawan province that forced police and military authorities to heighten security alert in those places.

Zamboanga police chief Angelito Casimiro said the city is now in red alert status due to high threats of terrorism. He said there are persistent intelligence reports of bombings and kidnappings by terror groups such as the Abu Sayyaf.

Police and military forces also captured an Abu Sayyaf member – Arasid Julayli Udjarin, alias Laih – in Zamboanga City following a joint operation over the weekend in the coastal village of Bolong. Udjarin is facing a string of kidnapping charges in Basilan.

Mayor Beng Climaco said a team of US-trained Light Reaction Company of the Philippine Army has arrived in Zamboanga to help police beef up security here.

Anṣār al-Khilāfah

Just last month, Philippine soldiers also killed at least 8 jihadists whose group has been linked by the military to ISIS in a fierce gunbattle in the southern province of Sultan Kudarat.

Marines clashed with members of the “Anṣār al-Khilāfah” or “Supporters of the Caliphate” in the village of Butril in Palimbang town and recovered five ISIS flags, including a .50-caliber Barrett sniper rifle, an M16 automatic rifle, a .45-caliber pistol, assorted improvised explosives, radio communication sets and various documents with intelligence value from the encounter site.

The slain rebels were believed under Mohd Jaafar Maguid, but it was not immediately known whether he was among those killed in the fighting. Anṣār al-Khilāfah was formed in Homs, Syria in January 2013 to overthrow President Bashar Hafez al-Assad and declare Sharia.

The local members of the radical group have pledged allegiance to the ISIS and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in August 2014. They also released a video in August 2014 threatening to deploy suicide bombers in the Philippines and make the country a “graveyard” for American soldiers, according to a report by the US-based SITE Intelligence Group which tracks online activity of White supremacist and Jihadi organizations.

US troops are deployed in the southern Philippines since 2001 and assisting the government in fighting terrorism in the restive region of Mindanao.

Aside from Anṣār al-Khilāfah, the Abu Sayyaf group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in the southern Philippines also pledged allegiance to ISIS and vowed to put up a strict Islamic state in Mindanao.

Najib wants remains of slain Malaysian hostage brought home

From AsiaOne (Dec 20): Najib wants remains of slain Malaysian hostage brought home

Malaysian hostage Bernard Then Ted Fen

PETALING JAYA - Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has expressed his condolences to the family of the late Bernard Then Ted Fei and directed Malaysian authorities to bring Then's remains back as soon as possible.

"I learned with deep sadness that DNA tests by Philippine authorities confirmed the remains found in Jolo is that of the late Bernard Then," said Najib in a post on his Facebook page on Sunday.

He directed Malaysia to liaise with authorities in the Philippines to bring Then's remains home as soon as possible in order to "help provide closure to his family".

"I sympathise with the family of the late Bernard Then and wish to express my deepest condolences in this difficult time," said Najib.

On Saturday, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar confirmed that police had received verbal conformation from their Philippine counterparts that the DNA sample of the severed head found on Jolo island matched Then.

The engineer from Sarawak was kidnapped from the Ocean King seafood restaurant in Sandakan on May 15 along with the manager of the restaurant Thien Nyuk Fun, 50.

Then was beheaded by Abu Sayyaf at around 4pm on Nov 17.

His severed head was found near a municipal council building in Jolo later that day.

A headless body believed to be that of the slain Then was recovered in Jolo on Dec 14 and sent to Zamboanga City for identification.

Palace: Truce with NPA can speed up relief operations in typhoon-hit areas

From the Sun Star-Manila (Dec 20): Palace: Truce with NPA can speed up relief operations in typhoon-hit areas

MALACAÑANG said Sunday the unilateral ceasefire declared by the government with the communist New People's Army (NPA) will help accelerate the distribution of relief goods in typhoon-hit areas.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the military and the police have been coordinating with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to secure the relief operations.

"Sa aming pananaw, malaki ang maitutulong ng nailabas na deklarasyon ng Pangulo ng unilateral suspension of military operations noong Biyernes upang higit pang mapabilis ang paghahatid ng tulong sa ating mga kababayan mula sa mga lalawigan ng Albay, northern Samar, Oriental (Mindoro), Romblon, at Sorsogon na apektado ng typhoon ‘Nona’ at doon din sa dapat mabigyan ng tulong sa mga naapektuhan naman ng typhoon ‘Onyok'," he said over dzRB Radyo ng Bayan.

Suspected NPA rebels ambushed a convoy of relief goods in Samar last Friday.

But despite what happened, Coloma said the government would not be deterred in extending assistance to those areas affected by the weather disturbances.

The suspension of military operations (Somo) will take place on December 23 to January 3, 2016.

The Communist Party of the Philippines, the umbrella organization of the NPA-National Democratic Front, also declared similar 12-day holiday truce with the government troops.

Military: 26 terrorists killed in offensive

From the Sun Star-Manila (Dec 20): Military: 26 terrorists killed in offensive

Philippine troops killed 26 Abu Sayyaf gunmen and possibly a Malaysian terrorist in a weeklong counterterrorism offensive in Mindanao that ended Sunday with the capture of a major jungle training camp where bombs and bomb-making components were found, an Army commander said.

Three soldiers were killed in the assaults that involved about 600 Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force personnel against the brutal group in the jungles near Al-Barka town in Basilan province, Army Colonel Rolando Joselito Bautista said.

The military has received intelligence reports that the Basilan-based Abu Sayyaf faction led by Isnilon Hapilon and Puruji Indama was planning with a number of Malaysian terrorists to organize a new insurgent group that would be supportive of Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq, Bautista said.

Concerns grew over reports that the Abu Sayyaf gunmen have been carrying out bomb-making training and manufacturing bombs in the encampment with the help of Malaysian terrorists, prompting the military to launch an offensive, he said.

"We've been receiving reports of the presence in this camp of foreign terrorists and high-value targets," Bautista said by telephone.

Among the terrorists who were reported killed in the military assaults was a Malaysian who was identified only by his nom de guerre, Abu Anas. The military is trying to confirm his death, Bautista said.

While government forces were inspecting the captured Abu Sayyaf camp, one of five bombs placed around the area exploded at dawn Sunday, wounding 12 soldiers, Bautista said. Troops found bomb-making components in other parts of the encampment, he added.

The encampment had bunkers and could shelter more than 200 terrorists, regional military spokesman Major Filemon Tan said.

Isnilon is among a few Muslim bandit commanders in Mindanao who have made a public oath of loyalty to IS and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Philippine security officials, however, said they have found no evidence of an active collaboration between Filipino bandits and the Islamic State group.

Three bombs placed by Abu Sayyaf gunmen, meanwhile, successively exploded Sunday near an abandoned military detachment on Jolo island near Basilan but failed to cause any injuries, Army Brigadier General Alan Arrojado said.

The Abu Sayyafs apparently targeted a military convoy but its passage in the area was delayed, Arrojado said.

The United States and the Philippines have separately blacklisted the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization for deadly bombings, kidnappings for ransom and beheadings.

US-backed Philippine military offensives have weakened the Abu Sayyaf, but it has survived and remains a security threat. It's one of at least four small insurgent groups in Mindanao outside of a peace deal the government signed last year with the largest rebel group, the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Abu Sayyafs detonate 3 bombs in Sulu

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Dec 20): Abu Sayyafs detonate 3 bombs in Sulu

THE Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) has successively set off three improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the province of Sulu, a top military official said Sunday.

Brigadier General Alan Arrojado, Joint Task Group Sulu commander, said the first explosion occurred around 8:25 a.m. Sunday near a former military detachment along Kilometer 3 in the village of Kajatian, Indanan, Sulu.

Arrojado said two other explosions followed seconds apart in the same area.

But Arrojado said no one was killed or wounded in the explosions.

It was the handiwork of the ASG. They usually wait for military convoy to pass to ambush,” he said.

“They decided [to] set off the IEDs as the convoy was delayed and there are many civilians passing by the place,” he added.

He said the explosive ordnance demolition personnel assisted by the Scene of the Crime Operatives recovered from the blast sites fragments of 81-milimeter (mm) and 60-mm mortar ammunition, aluminum container filled with more or less 20 liter of Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil, dry batteries, and cellular phone parts.

Further investigation showed that a certain Sarib, who is an Abu Sayyaf member and a resident of Barangay Kajatian, was among those who placed the IEDs along the road.

Arrojado said that Sarib has warned civilians residing near the blast site “to vacate the area if they do not want to die.”

Sarib, who is a follower of ASG sub-leader Muammar Askali, is the grandson of Moro National Liberation Front Commander Khaid Ajibon. He was also seen together with other ASG members in the area prior to the explosions.

Bomb explosion rocks Lamitan City

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Dec 20): Bomb explosion rocks Lamitan City

A BRANCH of a financial service firm was damaged in a bomb explosion in the province of Basilan, a top police official said Sunday.

Basilan Police Director Oscar Nantes said the incident took place around 12:15 a.m. Sunday along Cuevas Street in the village of Matibay, Lamitan City.

Nantes said no one was either killed or wounded, but the explosion damaged the branch of the MLhuillier, a financial service company.

Investigation showed the improvised explosive device was placed at the left front side portion of the MLhuillier branch by still unidentified persons.

Nantes said they are looking into all possible motives, as well as the involvement of members of the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Government forces are currently pursuing the Abu Sayyaf members in the municipality of Al-Barka, which is located few kilometers away from Lamitan City.

Abu Sayyaf member with P1.3M bounty nabbed in Zamboanga

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Dec 20): Abu Sayyaf member with P1.3M bounty nabbed in Zamboanga

AN ABU Sayyaf member facing a string of criminal charges and who has a P1.3-million bounty was arrested in Zamboanga City, a police official said Sunday.

Zamboanga City Police Office spokesman Joel Tuttuh said that Arasid Udjarin, 47, alias Laid and Badz Basilan, was arrested by joint police and military forces around 12:50 a.m. Saturday at Sitio Panzulan in the village of Bolong, east of Zamboanga City.

Udjarin is facing seven counts of kidnapping and serious illegal detention charges. A Basilan court issued a warrant for his arrest.

Udjarin was turned over to the custody of the Zamboanga City Reformatory Center, said Tuttuh.

NPA kills Air Force sergeant in Batangas attack

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 20): NPA kills Air Force sergeant in Batangas attack

LUCENA CITYA Philippine Air Force sergeant was killed when a band of suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels attacked a PAF detachment in Nasugbo, Batangas on Saturday afternoon, police said Sunday.

An undetermined number of NPA rebels swooped down on the detachment of the 730th Combat Group of the PAF 710th Special Operations Wing in Barangay Calayo at around 3:30 p.m., said Superintendent Chitadel Gaoiran, information officer of the Philippine National Police in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon).

Soldiers manning the detachment fired back but in the exchange of gunfire, the NPA rebels hit Staff Sergeant Armando Silvestre, 47. He sustained two gunshot wounds that killed him on the spot, the report said.

The rebels fled after the short firefight.

The victim’s remains now lie at the Saint Peter Funeral Homes in Nasugbo.

The Armed Forces Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) strongly condemned the attack.

Major Angelo Guzman, Solcom spokesman, said all soldiers in Batangas province were on standby for deployment to assist victims of Typhoon Nona.

The attack also puts into question their sincerity in unilateral ceasefire which they declared,” he said in a statement.

Guzman said police and Army soldiers have been deployed to track down the rebels.

The attack happened three days before the start of the 12-day unilateral ceasefire declared by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

On Dec. 14, the CPP ordered the NPA, its military wing, to cease from carrying out offensive operations against government troops from Dec. 23 to Jan. 3, 2016.

On Friday, the government reciprocated the peace gesture and also declared its own 12-day unilateral ceasefire, covering the same period, in observance of the Yuletide season.

Gov’t troops arrest ASG member in Zambo City

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 20): Gov’t troops arrest ASG member in Zambo City

Combined police and military operatives arrested on Saturday a member of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) who carried a PhP 1.3-million bounty in this city.

Chief Insp. Joel Tuttuh, Zamboanga City Police Office (ZCPO) spokesman, identified the arrested ASG member as Arasin Udjarin, 47, who carries the aliases "Laid" and "Badz Basilan."

Tuttuh said Udjarin was arrested at around 12:50 a.m. Saturday in Sitio Panzulan, Barangay Bolong, 32 kilometers east of City Hall.

Tuttuh said Udjarin is facing seven charges for kidnapping and serious illegal detention. A Basilan court has issued a warrant of arrest against him.

He said Udjarin was turned over to the custody of the Zamboanga City Reformatory Center (ZCRC).

Military, police EOD teams detonate 3 ASG IEDs in Sulu

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 20): Military, police EOD teams detonate 3 ASG IEDs in Sulu

Military and police explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams successfully detonated three Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)-laid improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Indanan, Sulu Sunday morning.

The incident took place at 8:25 a.m. at the vicinity of Kilometer 3 Road, Indanan, near an abandoned military detachment, said Joint Task Group Sulu commander Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado.

He said the IEDs were detonated by responding Special Action Force, Philippine National Police and Philippine Army EOD teams.

No one was hurt in the subsequent explosion.

Arrojado said the ASGs were targeting numerous military convoys passing along the roadway.

Fortunately, movement of these vehicles were delayed, giving ample time for the IEDs to be discovered and exploded by government forces.

Arrojado said severe casualties would have been incurred had these explosives hit civilians or a military convoy.

Gov’t unfazed by ambush of post-'Nona' relief response team in Samar –Palace

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 20): Gov’t unfazed by ambush of post-'Nona' relief response team in Samar –Palace

Malacanang said on Sunday the government will remain steadfast in helping the victims of typhoon "Nona" despite the ambush of three government trucks carrying relief goods for typhoon victims in Samar province.

The government will be unshaken and will even intensify its efforts to bring the assistance to our countrymen affected by the typhoon despite the ambush done by the suspected NPA (New People’s Army),” Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a Radyo ng Bayan interview.

The convoy of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) personnel belonging to the 546th Engineering Battalion and the 81st Division Reconnaissance Company had just brought relief goods in typhoon-stricken areas when they were ambushed by the armed men last Thursday in Pinabacdao, Samar.

”The AFP and the Philippine National Police continue to coordinate with DSWD to increase the security for the relief operations,” Coloma said.

Coloma said the decision by President Benigno Aquino III to declare unilateral suspension of military operations last Friday would boost the relief operations for typhoon victims in Oriental Mindoro, Albay, Samar, Romblon and Sorsogon.

Typhoon "Nona" reportedly damaged an estimated PhP320 million worth of infrastructure and agriculture.

Coloma said the government is also helping the victims of tropical storm "Onyok" that brought heavy rains in Mindanao areas.

Last Friday, President Aquino also issued Proclamation No. 1186 declaring a state of national calamity to further hasten the distribution of relief assistance and to impose price control, particularly in areas heavily affected by "Nona."

Coloma said the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) had already distributed PhP56.2 million assistance to Regions II, IV-A, IV-B, V and VIII.

He said the DSWD had also prepositioned PhP674 million worth of standby funds, PhP111.5 million worth of food and non-foot items and 204,000 food packs in Regions X, XI, XII, Caraga and the National Relief Operations Center in Metro Manila.