Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Officials ask Muslims to help Christians amid BIFF attacks

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 31): Officials ask Muslims to help Christians amid BIFF attacks 

Local officials here have asked Muslims and Maguindanaons to help protect local Christians from violence inflicted by the lawless Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Abdullah Sangki town Mayor Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu has also condemned the Christmas Day offensives by the BIFF that left eight civilian farmers of Barangays Kauran and Palian, all farming villages inhabited by Christian settlers.

“It was unjust and inhuman,” Mangudadatu said of the Dec. 24 dawn attacks perpetrated by the BIFF.

“And so we condemn the group that perpetrated this. Our municipality, Datu Abdullah Sangki, is one of the most peaceful towns in Maguindanao, where the Christians and the Muslims live peacefully together,” the lady mayor said in a statement.

She described the attackers as “anti-peace.” Two of the eight fatalities in the Christmas Day rampage were residents of Barangay Kakal, Datu Abdullah Sangki taown.

Like village officials, Mangudadatu stressed that the slain farmers were not armed and were never a member of para military troops as claimed by BIFF spokesperson Abuy Misri Mama.

Mangudadatu expressed sympathy with the widows of slain farmers after distributing relief items and financial aid to them.

Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, 6th Infantry Division commander, condemned the BIFF attacks and vowed to pursue them wherever they go to give justice to the slain farmers.

“The 6th ID condemns the treacherous act of the lawless group, BIFF, and will not allow them to continue thriving within Central Mindanao,” Pangilinan said.

Regional Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) on Wednesday also condemned the BIFF offensives. He called on villagers in affected villages to remain alert and never resort to retaliatory attacks.

Hataman told residents the government is doing its best to address security issues in Barangay Kauran and adjacent communities in Ampatuan.

Hataman said the BIFF attacks were “acts of terrorism.” He added no legitimate revolutionary group who is fighting for the Bangsamoro people would harm or kill non-combatants.

Mangudadatu said residents, both Muslims and Christians, should look back to the years when they protect each other against lawlessness since they have been living together. In fact, there were inter-marriages within the two tribal groups.

The beleaguered residents of Barangay Kauran, Ampatuan, Maguindanao also urged the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels to help prevent similar attacks in the future.

Under the GPH and MILF ceasefire agreement, both the government and the MILFF will mutually cooperate in containing lawlessness in areas where the MILF operate, like Maguindanao.

Barangay Kagawad Rommel Rodriguez of Kauran, Ampatuan said the residents expect the GPH and MILF peace panels to interfere in the name of peace.

“Our village is peaceful, Muslims and Christians live together and work together, the problem started when the BIFF started dipping its finger on land claims,” Rodriguez told DXMS-AM Radyo Bida.

Rodriguez stressed there is no land conflict in the area and that Christians legally acquired the lands from Muslim owners.

“We have titles, we have legal documents, there is no land grabbing issue in Barangay Kauran,” Rodriguez told BIFF spokesperson who earlier accused the Christian settlers of land grabbing.

Rodriguez and other local officials were convinced the GPH-MILF ceasefire committee can do something.

(Update) Death toll in Sulu clash now at 11

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 31): (Update) Death toll in Sulu clash now at 11

The death toll in the clash against military units and Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits in Patikul town, Sulu Wednesday afternoon has now climbed to 11, with one soldier and 10 brigands killed.

Western Mindanao Command (WMC) spokesperson Major Filemon Tan said in a message to PNA on Thursday that 15 ASGs were "fatally wounded."

Aside from the lone casualty in the military side, six other troopers were wounded, Tan added.

Tan said the wounded troops are now undergoing treatment at the Kutang Heneral Teodulfo Bautista Station Hospital in Jolo, Sulu province.

All are now in stable condition and will be transported later to the Wesmincom headquarters, Camp Navarro Station Hospital in Zamboanga City for further treatment.

The clash between an estimated 300 ASG bandits under Hajan Sawadjaan and elements of the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion took place at 4:15 p.m. at Sitio Sangay, Barangay Buhanginan, Patikul.

Troopers were conducting "focused military operations" against the bandit group, believed to be holding the Samal Island victims whom they abducted last September, when the firefight erupted.

Pursuit operations are still ongoing.

Killing the ogre that never dies

From Rappler (Dec 30): Killing the ogre that never dies

The enemy isn't out there. 'I hope I will never reach the stage when I become the ogre,' says RADM Suarez.

It was a thought-provoking conversation about change in our society, an admission that our generation has largely failed, and that change would be led by this generation.
While waiting for the wedding of TV reporter Pia Gutierrez to naval officer Errol Dela Cruz on December 26, I chatted with my partner in the procession: Rear Admiral Jose Renan Suarez of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
 RADM Jose Renan Suarez with me waiting for the entrance of the procession
RADM Jose Renan Suarez with me waiting for the entrance of the procession
He had a quiet strength that showed a passion fueling his faith in the future – necessary for his job as the head of the Naval Education and Training Command.
We spoke about a shared focus: the ongoing battle against corruption, instilling a code of ethics, providing a clear mission, and encouraging strategic thinking – for his officers and our journalists. [Disclosure: I sit on the board of the Philippine Navy.]
We discussed problems in organizational development: breaking feudal structures of management; empowering marginalized voices; creating a culture of excellence and meritocracy; encouraging entrepreneurship and accountability.
Over the next half hour, we spoke about what drew both of us to this couple and their wedding: the idealism of youth and our hope for change in the next generation.

He spoke so eloquently that I asked if I could do an interview about leadership on video, and while he said yes, it's a shadow of our conversation. With the camera on, he became stilted and retreated into "safe" language, but our conversation stayed with me for days.
We talked about the lure of power, and when I asked him how he keeps his ideals, Suarez replied, "I hope I will never reach the stage when I become the ogre."
Then he told me a story.
The Ogre that Never Dies
Once upon a time in a land far away, there was a village under the control of a huge and terrible ogre. Whenever he wanted to, the ogre raped, pillaged and stole whatever he wanted.
Every year, one champion challenged him, and every year the ogre reigned supreme. The champions would just disappear. The ogre would be especially hard on the villagers after he won the annual battle. All the poor people could do was cower in fear.
Seeing the destruction, two brothers decided they would bring down the ogre once and for all. They trained long and hard.
Then the elder brother challenged the ogre. It was a long battle, but the ogre emerged victorious. That year, the ogre was especially vicious on the villagers.
The younger brother mourned the death of his brother, and vowed he would avenge his death and liberate his village.
That pushed him to train even harder because when it was his turn to fight, he wanted to be ready. The villagers saw how hard he trained, and that began to spark hope that someday, the reign of the ogre would end.
Their battle lasted for 3 days. At the end, exhausted and bleeding, he swung his axe one final time, closed his eyes, and killed the terrible ogre.
It took him a few minutes to catch his breath. Then he looked at the body of the ogre he vanquished.
The hair began to fall off, and to his horror, he watched the ogre’s body transform into his brother.
He sat in shock as he saw his axe blade sticking out of his brother’s body.
He picked up the ogre’s axe, and he felt the electricity of power surge through his body. He dropped it and vowed never to pick it up again.
It turns out that the champions win every year, but the lure of power turns them into the ogre, who rapes, pillages, and steals holding the village under a vicious reign.
The champions didn't die. They just turned into the ogre.
There are different versions of this parable: Suarez said they were brothers; others say they were friends. Some say the winner becomes the ogre; Suarez said they had a choice.
The lesson is the same: that the enemy isn't out there, it's in you, and that power is so tempting few can resist its lure – especially when you enjoy its fringe benefits.
Suarez said as he rose up the ranks, he avoided the trappings of power: for example, he drove himself to the wedding, and he doesn't have an aide. I understood that: I live within my means; avoid borrowing against the future. That's allowed me to quit high-paying corporate jobs, and while I make a fraction of what I used to make, my ideals are intact.
The enemy is within.
As we go into the 2016 elections, these are the leaders I will be voting for: the men and women who have slayed the enemy within – who are self-aware enough to draw the lines they will never cross...before the lure of power can turn them into the ogre that never dies.

NPA rebels break holiday truce, terrorize Bukidnon village anew

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 29): NPA rebels break holiday truce, terrorize Bukidnon village anew

The Philippine Army blamed the Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples Army (CPP-NPA) of breaking their own Christmas truce after an alleged attack in White Kulaman village, Kitaotao, Bukidnon.

In a spot report from the army’s 2nd Special Forces Company, undetermined number of NPA rebels indiscriminately fired their rifle grenades at houses in central White Kulaman at about 7:00 p.m, December 23, 2015.

Immediately, the government troops fired back and thwarted the terror attack. Upon sensing the tough presence of army troops, the NPAs fled.

No one was hurt in the incident, reports said.

Col. Jesse A. Alvarez, Commander of the 403rd Infantry (Peacemaker) Brigade condemned the attack especially that it happened within the timetable set by NPAs in their ‘self-declared’ ceasefire as they celebrate their 47th founding anniversary this Yuletide.

“Though we are observing the Suspension of Military Operations (SOMO), our troops who are securing far-flung communities are still on heightened alert in anticipation of NPA attacks and atrocities. We call on the CPP-NPA to be sincere in their ceasefire pronouncement and spare the lives of innocent civilians especially this Yuletide season,” he said.

It can be recalled that barangay officials and residents of Barangay White Kulaman denounced the CPP-NPA of their threats and atrocities.  Barangay officials requested the Army’s presence to protect them from NPA rebels’ harassments and atrocities.

Last December 15, the Communist Party of the Philippines declared a ceasefire from 12:01 a.m of December 23 to 11:59 p.m of January 3, 2016, which says, the truce is “in solidarity with the Filipino people’s traditional celebrations of Christmas and New Year holidays.”

Likewise, on 18 December, Malacanang matched the 12-day ceasefire of CPP-NPA after President Aquino III approved the Defense Department’s recommendation for a suspension of military operations from Dec. 23 to Jan. 3.

Presidential Communications Operations Office head Secretary Herminio Sonny Coloma Jr. said the ceasefire will start 12:01 a.m. of December 23, and will end at 11:59 p.m. of Jan. 3, 2016.

Army claims Reds’ capacity in eastern Mindanao reduced by 17%

From the often pro-CPP Davao Today (Dec 30): Army claims Reds’ capacity in eastern Mindanao reduced by 17%

The Army belied the recent report by the National Democratic Front that the guerrilla troops of the New People’s Army and their armaments are increasing.

In a statement, Captain Alberto Caber of the Eastern Mindanao Command said the number of the regular NPA members in their area of responsibility “was reduced by 17 percent, or by 344”.

Caber said majority of the decrease is attributed to the NPA surrenderees.

“The number of affected barangays was reduced by 27 percent, or by 152,” he said.

“Also for the same period, the NPAs high powered firearms were reduced by 148 and there were five guerrilla fronts dismantled,” said Caber.

“Many of the stakeholders, particularly those former rebels and victims of CNN atrocities have come out on the open to expose their its dirty tactics; which include the radicalization of students and mobilization and exploitation of the (indigenous peoples),” he said.

The military refers CNN to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP); its armed wing, the NPA  and its political wing the Nationald Democratic Front (NDF).

Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma, in a statement said “the CPP-NPA personnel dropped by 17 percent from 2,035 to 1,691 and the affected villages went down by 25 percent from 547 to 414.”

“Government forces also managed to reduce the rebels’ arsenal by about six percent from 2,383 to 2,232,” Coloma added.

“And their guerrilla front was cut from 29 to 24 or 17 percent,” he said.

In its statement released during their anniversary, the Central Committee of the CPP said they “have defeated the latest reactionary regime of big compradors and landlords, the US-Aquino regime.”

“Its US-designed Oplan Bayanihan has failed to achieve its objective of destroying or reducing the New People’s Army to inconsequence despite the deployment of 70 percent of its maneuver battalions against the revolutionary forces,” said the CPP.

The CPP said the deployment of 24 percent of government troops  in Eastern Mindanao “has resulted in the intensification and advance of the people’s war in this area and in other regions in Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon.”

“The inspiring example of the revolutionary forces and people of Eastern Mindanao and the intensification of tactical offensives elsewhere have served to strengthen and advance the people’s war nationwide,” it said.

The CPP said their forces in Eastern Mindanao have “demonstrated that they can grow stronger by fighting back against the most concentrated enemy attacks.”

“In the latest enemy campaign against the NPA in Eastern Mindanao, the premise is that the deployment of 30 percent of the total armed strength of the reactionary armed forces would result in the defeat of 40 percent of total NPA strength. But the result is the contrary.”

“The NPA in Eastern Mindanao has prevailed over the enemy by taking advantage of the wide gaps in enemy deployment on rough terrain and has inspired the forces of the NPA in other regions of Mindanao and in the Visayas and Luzon to intensify their tactical offensives,” said the CPP.

The CPP also said “the conditions for advancing the Philippine revolution are excellent.”

“The crisis of the world capitalist system is ever worsening. The capitalist powers continue to fail in lifting the global economy from crisis and depression,” the CPP said
“They keep on passing the burden of crisis to the people and are thus aggravating the economic and financial crisis as well as escalating inter-imperialist contradictions bringing about widespread conditions of state terrorism and imperialist wars of aggression,” it said.

The CPP, however, admitted that they have not yet accomplished their target to advance to “strategic stalemate”.

“The delay in achieving nationwide the strategic stalemate can be explained by the uneven development of the subjective forces and by the intensity of enemy reaction upon the rise in the number of offensives carried out by the people’s army,” it said.

Meanwhile, the Army has also warned politicians from paying permit-to-campaign fees to the CPP. It called the PTC as an “extortion scheme”and as “dirty tactic”.

“EastMinCom again advises the candidates against giving in to the demands of the CNN bandits as the extortion money can be used to sustain the armed struggle through violence and intimidations against innocent civilians and properties. Also as consequence, this CNN extortion scheme hampers the delivery of government services and causing underdevelopment or non-development of far-flung communities,” he said.

In 2013, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has said that the taxation of the NPA is “a reality” and advised businesses to “just pay them”.

An NPA leader has said the PTC gives candidates the permit to enter their areas where their “organs of political power” exist.

Army brigade official tagged in militia threats Vs. journalists

From the often pro-CPP Davao Today (Dec 31): Army brigade official tagged in militia threats Vs. journalists

A high-ranking army official was tagged in the death threats issued against members of the media who are assigned to cover the anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

The political arm of the CPP, the National Democratic Front said Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Col. Isidro Purisima who is the commanding officer of the 402nd Brigade based in Surigao del Sur is using the Magahat Bagani paramilitary group to threaten journalists.

The paramilitary group was also accused in the killings and threatening indigenous peoples in Mindanao.

The threat came from a text message claiming that he is Bobby Tejero, leader of the Magahat Bagani. A video clip, containing the same message by armed men whose faces were covered, was also released in the social media network, Facebook.

The text message reportedly read:

“Maayong adlaw sa tanang media sa mindanao, among ipahibalo nga kung kinsa man ang magtambong sa anibersaryo sa CPP/NPA/NDF nga taga media among apilon ug ambush. Kay kun mutambong sa maong anibersaryo nagpasabot nga linya sa NPA, mao ng kinahanglan walay magtungas nga media arun dili maapil sa gira. Gira nga NPA batok sa armadong lumad MAGAHAT…walay labot ang kasundalohan ug mga police ky amo ra kining bangi TRIBU bersus NPA. daghan salamat!!  #Nagpahibalo Bobby Tejero commander sa MAGAHAT… Palihog ipakalat sa tibook mindanao.”

(Good day to all the media in Mindanao. We would like to inform that members of the media who will be attending the anniversary of the CPP/NPA/NDF will be included in our ambuscades. Because If those who attend during the said anniversary means he/she has a connection with the NPA, that’s why there should be no media during the event to avoid being caught in the war. War of the armed lumad Magahat against the NPA… The military and the police have nothing to do with this because this is a conflict between the tribe against the NPA. Thank you! #For information Bobby Tejero commander of MAGAHAT… Please spread to whole Mindanao.)

“By allowing criminal paramilitary groups to issue death threats against members of the press, Col. Purisima has made the mass media a veritable target of state terrorism,” said Jorge Madlos, with nom de guerre Ka Oris, spokesperson of NDF Mindanao.

“This is not only a grave affront to the integrity of the press, but an act in outright contempt of press freedom.  It violates media people’s right to life and free expression as well as subvert their duty to inform the public, which is a tenet held inviolable even by the 1987 Constitution,” he said.

Madlos said since Purisima took over the 402nd Brigade “direct terror attacks against peasant and Lumad communities in Surigao del Sur and Surigao del Norte have escalated.”

“Under his command, extra-judicial killings perpetrated by his troops and paramilitary groups have intensified, such as the Tabugol murders on August 28, the Han-ayan massacre on September 1 and the killings of two barangay captains,” he said.

On September 1, the killings of tribal leaders and a school head in Lianga, Surigao del Sur has caused the massive evacuation of thousands of indigenous people who sought refuge at the Tandag City Provincial Sports Complex.

“With communities brutally terrorized, thousands have been displaced in the short time that he had held his post, such as those from the 5 towns of Surigao del Sur and from Agusan del Sur. And, reports have it that Purisima’s troops also raped a blind woman in Tago sometime in October,” Madlos said.

Madlos said the Army official has also “conspired with the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), a government-run news ‘media’ agency, and the ANAD, a group formed by the swindler Alcover and the dreaded criminal Palparan, to engineer a brazen deliberate attack against the mass media, guests and the people to discourage them from attending the 47th CPP anniversary celebration in any part of Caraga.”

Retired Army General Jovito Palparan figured in the abduction of two UP students, Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan in 2006. Palparan was also tagged as “butcher” by activists in the country.

Madlos said even with the threats by the paramilitary group journalists from major cities in Mindanao “and even from as far as Cebu” covered the CPP’s anniversary celebration held somewhere in Agusan del Norte.

“As journalists, they have displayed an uncommon audacity that will ensure, for years to come, the preservation and defense of press freedom,” he said.

Madlos said more than 5,000 people attended their anniversary celebration last Saturday.

The CPP has recently celebrated their 47th founding anniversary.

ASG leaders with 100 men spotted

From Tempo (Dec 30): ASG leaders with 100 men spotted

About 100 armed followers of five sub-leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) attended the feast of Mauludin Nabi at the village of Bauboh, Kalinggalang Caluang, Sulu, last Saturday afternoon.

A military report said that around 4:30 p.m., ASG gunmen led by sub-leaders Alhabsy Misaya, Salip Murah Kayawan, Uddon Hassim, Junior Lahab and Sabirul Sahiyal arrived in Barangay Bauboh in Kalinggalang Caluang to attend the celebration of Mauludin Nabi.

According to the report, the rebels came from Barangay Masjid Punjungan upon the invitation of ASG member Abu Wisbar.

Military troops were dispatched in the area to run after the group but they failed to track down the rebels since no encounter were reported in the area, the report said.

11 die, 22 wounded in Sulu clash

From the Sun Star (Dec 31): 11 die, 22 wounded in Sulu clash

Eleven people were killed, including an Army junior officer, while 22 others were wounded in a more than an hour clash in the hinterlands of Sulu, a military official disclosed Thursday.

Major Felimon Tan, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) information officer, disclosed the clash broke out around 4 p.m. Wednesday at Sitio Sangay in the village of Buhanginan, Patikul, Sulu.

Tan said the clash broke out as the troops from the Army’s 1st Scout Ranger Battalion encountered more or less 100 Abu Sayyaf bandits while they were conducting Focus Military Operations (FMO).

Tan said the Abu Sayyaf bandits are led by Hajan Sawadjaan, one of the bandits’ sub-leaders based in the province of Sulu.

Tan said the firefight lasted for more than hour that resulted to the death of 10 Abu Sayyaf bandits and an Army junior officer.

He disclosed that seven of the 22 wounded were soldiers, including an officer, and the others 15 are members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

He said they were able to determine the number of ASG casualties through intelligence reports “from the ground.”

He identified the slain junior officer as 2Lt. Ronald Detalla of the Army’s 1st Scout Ranger Battalion.

He said the following were wounded: Capt. Edmar Samonte; SSgt. Wilson Fontanil; Sgt. Arthur Andama; PFC Albert Dinio; PFC Denis Desembrana; PFC Joemar Andrez; and, PFC Ernie De Guzman.

The slain and wounded soldiers were airlifted to this city. The wounded, who were in stable condiution, were taken to the Camp Navarro General Hospital.

Tan said the troops are continuously pursuing the Abu Sayyaf bandits as the offensive against them continues.

Kidnap gangs will strike if given a chance, says outgoing police chief

From the Star Online (Dec 30): Kidnap gangs will strike if given a chance, says outgoing police chief

Looking ship-shape: Jalaluddin inspecting the guard of honour during the monthly Kepayan police headquarters gathering in Kota Kinabalu.

Looking ship-shape: Jalaluddin inspecting the guard of honour during the monthly Kepayan police headquarters gathering in Kota Kinabalu.

KOTA KINABALU: The authorities believe that Abu Sayyaf-linked kidnap-for-ransom gangs will try to strike in Sabah waters given “half a chance”.

“If we let our guard down, they will make an attempt,” said outgoing Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman.

The high level of security that had been put in place by the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) has helped deter these cross-border kidnap groups, he said after attending the monthly Kepayan state police headquarters monthly gathering.

Jalaluddin, who implemented the dawn-to-dusk sea curfew in seven east coast Sabah districts since July last year, said the curfew helped in strengthening security while they monitored movements of any criminal elements.
“Local fishermen who obtained permits to carry out fishing during curfew hours are also helping by becoming the eye and ears for the police,” he said.

These fishermen, he said, would tip them off on any suspicious movements within Sabah waters.

On May 14, cross-border kidnap groups controlled by the notorious Muktadir brothers snatched restaurant manager Thien Nyuk Fun, 50, and Sarawakian tourist Bernard Then, 39, from a restaurant in Sandakan.

Thien was released on Nov 8 but Then was killed on Nov 17 by the gunmen after ransom negotiations broke down.

Malaysia is making efforts to bring his body home.

Kadafi, one of the Muktadir brothers, was arrested in Jolo by Philippines police on Nov 29. His twin brother Mindas was shot dead also in Jolo in May.

However, the hunt is still on for the mastermind among the Muktadir brothers.

Nikson and Badong are still on the run with intelligence on both sides believing that they might be planning cross-border kidnappings.

The Muktadir brothers, who are based in Tawi Tawi, are believed to be working with Abu Sayyaf groups under the control of bandits Indang Susukan, Alhabsy Misaya, Anga Adji and Yasser Igasan.

They have been blamed for most of the kidnappings in Sabah waters since Nov 15, 2013.

Pirates in the Philippines 'join' the Islamic State to sound scarier than they are

From the Global Post (Dec 29): Pirates in the Philippines 'join' the Islamic State to sound scarier than they are

A vigilante prays at a mosque in Talipao village, a few kilometers away from the suspected hideout of Abu Sayyaf rebels in Jolo island in the southern Philippines, April 28, 2000.  Reuters
The Islamic State isn’t just the world’s premier jihadist organization. Like Coca-Cola or Nike, it’s also one of the world’s most recognized brands.

Its name alone evokes both extreme sadism and a terrifying sense of reach — a fear that radical acolytes lurk in all corners of the planet, many of them plotting spectacular violence.
That brand is ripe for exploitation. That’s why criminal gangs in the Philippines, where Islamic insurgency smolders on remote tropical isles, are now tapping the fearsome power of the Islamic State’s name.
Several commanders of Abu Sayyaf — a notorious pirate gang in the Philippines — have sworn loyalty to the Islamic State. In videos posted online, their foot soldiers wave the same black flag embraced by the Islamic State over the heads of Western hostages, who kneel in the jungle with knives by their throats.
Abu Sayyaf rebels are seen in the Philippines in this video grab made available Feb. 6, 2009. Reuters TV
The desired effect is to present these militants as a Southeast Asian tentacle of an organized, wealthy and global operation that can strike fear in the hearts of Western presidents. Like the Islamic State, Abu Sayyaf claims its goal is to achieve a new, independent Muslim nation. 
But in reality, it’s just a piracy and extortion ring with fewer members than many Los Angeles street gangs.
The group controls only about 500 men. Their specialty is kidnapping. They are known for nabbing Westerners who venture into the southern Philippines, where various Islamic insurgents have struggled for autonomy since the 1960s. 
This gang’s oath to the Islamic State, and to obey its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, appears to be mostly theater.
“They’re just criminals attaching themselves to a well-known name,” says Warren Rodwell, a former soldier for Australia’s military who spent much of his life teaching English in Asia. “It’s theatrical.”
Rodwell became intimate with Abu Sayyaf the hard way. In December 2011 he was kidnapped by the group from his home in the southwest Philippines, held in their jungle camps for 15 grueling months and freed when his family handed over roughly $100,000. 
Australian national Warren Rodwell upon his release from 15 months of captivity at the hands of Abu Sayyaf, March 25, 2013.  Romeo Ranoco/Reuters
Most of the militants, he says, are just poor villagers whose concept of jihadi warfare comes from bad Hollywood movies, not indoctrination from the Middle East.
They are also lacking the extreme piety professed by Islamic State troops. “The only time they became observant, praying multiple times a day, was when their cell phones ran out of charge,” he says. “Or maybe if our camp was too remote to send text messages to their girlfriends.”
“Most of these guys didn’t even go into formal marriages with Muslim women,” Rodwell says. “What they wanted to do was run around with Christian girls who they saw as dirtier.”
By most accounts, Abu Sayyaf is driven by greed, not ideology. But when it comes to extreme violence, however, the group’s credentials are impeccable.
It is believed to have beheaded more than a dozen captives in the last 15 years. Its militants have kidnapped more than 700 hostages and racked up millions in ransom payments. The group’s global relevance peaked after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, when its troops numbered more than 1,000 men. 
Though founded with the help of seed capital from global jihadi icon Osama bin Laden, the group has never really outgrown small- to mid-sized operations on Philippine islands. Its most spectacular attack was a 2004 ferry bombing in Manila Bay that killed 116 people; the boat’s owners had reportedly refused to pay a $1 million extortion fee.
But Abu Sayyaf’s ranks were ground down by US troops deployed to fight alongside Philippine forces in the mid-2000s.
Philippine police chief Jesus Verzosa crosses out the picture of an alleged Abu Sayyaf militant from a list of wanted group members, Feb. 25, 2010.  Erik de Castro/Reuters
In Rodwell’s experience, Abu Sayyaf’s militiamen were poorly equipped, shoddily trained and bore no signs of a competent force guided by international jihadi networks. “Most were lucky to have even a fifth-grade education,” he says. 
“A lot of them wanted to go to America. I’d ask, ‘Oh, which part?’ They said, ‘London.’”
Southeast Asia — home to the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, Indonesia — is indeed seeing a handful of people fall under the Islamic State’s spell. 
According to Zachary Abuza, a National War College professor, up to 1,000 Southeast Asians have moved to Islamic State territory. But many, he says, have been “used as cannon fodder.” 
Another analyst, Sidney Jones with the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict in Jakarta, says the total number of Indonesian fighting-aged males in the Islamic State is likely a mere 160. “And many of them,” she says, “complain they’ve been given menial jobs and haven’t been sent to the front.”
Compare that to the estimated 1,700 fighters in Iraq and Syria who’ve come from France, a far smaller territory than sprawling Southeast Asia, which is home to more than 240 million Muslims. A Pew survey shows that, like most Muslim-majority nations, Indonesians overwhelmingly despise the Islamic State.
There is a possibility, Jones says, that Abu Sayyaf could become more ideological as it links up with tiny cells of Islamic State associates in Indonesia. There are “petty criminal gangs using the name of ISIS for their own interests,” she says, as well as a few “committed people” within Abu Sayyaf as well.
Apart from Abu Sayyaf, one other terror group in the Philippines, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, has also declared a so-called affiliation with the Islamic State. But this pledge is equally flimsy and the rebels concede they have no plans to send fighters to Syria.
So far, it appears to be just another meaningless “alliance” forged with a smartphone camera and a YouTube account — a cheap way for local extortion rings to exploit the terrifying brand power of the Islamic State.

Gov't, MILF urged to resolve BIFF threats

From the Philippine Star (Dec 30): Gov't, MILF urged to resolve BIFF threats

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters had warned of more attacks after its three-day rampage last week. photo

Beleaguered folks want the peace panels of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to help prevent a repeat of last week’s deadly attacks in Central Mindanao by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

The two panels are bound by interim security agreements, including the July 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities, to mutually cooperate in addressing security concerns in areas where there are MILF forces.

Barangay officials in peasant enclaves in Maguindanao’s Datu Abdullah Sangki and Ampatuan towns and in Esperanza in Sultan Kudarat province, which the BIFF attacked almost simultaneously on Christmas eve, have also confirmed that villagers threatened by possible harassments by the outlawed group have started arming themselves.

At least 13 people, among them eight innocent farmers, were killed in last week’s BIFF rampage, which also displaced more than a thousand families.

Four of the fatalities were BIFF gunmen killed in ensuing encounters with armed villagers and soldiers.

Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) on Wednesday condemned the BIFF attacks and called on affected communities to remain sober and refrain from retaliating.

He said the government is doing its best to address the security problems hounding the local communities.

“The attacks were acts of terrorism. No genuine, sensible revolutionary group, claiming to fight for a pro-people or any political cause, will harm non-combatants just like that," said Hataman, presiding chairperson of the ARMM’s inter-agency regional peace and order council.

The ARMM's Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Response Team (HEART) provided hundreds of displaced Maguindanao residents with food and other relief supplies in a series of operations early this week.

The relief missions of ARMM-HEART, which operate under Hataman's ministerial control, were led by officials of ARMM’s health and social welfare departments.

Local officials in Datu Abdullah Sangki and Ampatuan had also condemned the BIFF attacks, something they did not expect the group would perpetrate at a time when the Christian communities it raided were observing the Yuletide season.

Datu Abdullah Sangki Mayor Miriam Mangudadatu on Tuesday told reporters she was saddened by the hostilities in their municipality, which forced many of her constituents to evacuate to neutral grounds.

Local officials and barangay officials said they are convinced the GPH and MILF panels can do something, along with the police and military, to address the BIFF threat squarely.

The BIFF had warned of more attacks after its three-day rampage last week in response to government’s crackdown on local Middle Eastern-inspired jihadist factions.

Officials said four bandits were confirmed killed while five others were wounded in the incursions, met with heavy resistance from soldiers and armed villagers.

The seemingly crackpot Abu Misry Mama, BIFF spokesperson, said their harassment of peasant enclaves and military detachments in Central Mindanao last week were also meant to show their continuing opposition to the presence of state forces in Moro-dominated areas in the region, now a hotbed of Islamic militancy.

Mama told reporters early this week the attacks BIFF forces pulled off in the adjoining provinces of Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat were also to disprove assertions they have been weakened tactically by military offensives early this year.

BIFF commanders had said their deadly maneuvers this week were partly in retaliation for recent government offensives against Mindanao-based jihadist groups sympathetic to the Independent State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Eight young members of a local Islamist group displaying the iconic black ISIS flag in their hideout in Barangay Butril in Palimbang town in Sultan Kudarat were killed by pursing combatants of the 1st Marine Brigade last month in an operation initiated on the behest of local folks threatened by their presence.

The Al-Qaeda-linked and now confessed ISIS-inspired Abu Sayyaf also suffered fatalities in a military offensive in Albarka town in Basilan more than a week ago, which resulted to the government’s takeover of its enclave in the municipality.

BIFF leaders have overtly been expressing allegiance to ISIS whenever they talk to journalists.

Amid BIFF attacks, AFP to deploy more troops

From the Philippine Star (Dec 31): Amid BIFF attacks, AFP to deploy more troops

Army Chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año said members of the 57th Infantry Battalion would be deployed to Davao del Sur and the Cotabato region to safeguard communities, particularly in North Cotabato. Earth

Additional troops will be deployed to Central Mindanao as the military braces for more attacks by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

“We are deploying additional forces even during the holiday season,” Army Chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año told reporters on the sidelines of ceremonies marking Rizal Day yesterday.

Año said members of the 57th Infantry Battalion would be deployed to Davao del Sur and the Cotabato region to safeguard communities, particularly in North Cotabato.

“While we are not seeing any full-blown conflict, it is better to be always prepared,” he said.

Over 1,000 families affected by violence in several towns in Central Mindanao are spending their New Year in evacuation centers, the Office Civil Defense (OCD) reported on Tuesday.

Rommel Sinarimbo, OCD deputy operations officer in Central Mindanao, said 252 families are staying in an elementary school in Barangay Bes in Midsayap, North Cotabato for fear of being caught in the crossfire between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the BIFF.

Sinarimbo said groups of the MILF, led by a certain Magadta, and an alias Kulilong of the BIFF have also been fighting due to rido or clan war.

In Pigkawayan town, 206 families fled their homes in Barangays Simsiman and Malagakit since Dec. 24 in the wake of the BIFF’s attacks on civilians.

“The situation remains volatile in the two villages and it is not advisable for the residents to return to their homes,” Sinarimbo said.

In Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat, 365 families, who are residents of Barangays Paitan, New Panay and Gamalia, have evacuated to the town’s gymnasium to escape harassment from BIFF gunmen.

Thirty-eight families from Barangay Kauran and Barangay Banaba in Datu Abdullah Sanki, Maguindanao are staying in an evacuation center.

“We are closely monitoring the development on the ground,” Sinarimbo said.

Meanwhile, Davao City has been placed under red alert since Monday due to reported security threats, said Senior Superintendent Vicente Danao Jr., Davao City police chief.

Danao said they received intelligence reports that lawless armed groups, which have not been identified, plan to launch attacks in the city.

MILF rejects watered-down BBL, believes Congress is running out of time for bill

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 30): MILF rejects watered-down BBL, believes Congress is running out of time for bill

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would rather sound upbeat on the passage of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law but has admitted Congress is running out of time to do it.

Murad Ebrahim, MILF chair, said during the recently concluded 3rd Annual Assembly of the Bangsamoro Communication Network here that “if BBL will not make it by February, it would be impossible for the bill’s passage in the next months.”

He cited the election campaign season, which would certainly prevent a quorum in both houses of Congress.

Nine dead as Philippine troops clash with kidnappers

From Rappler (Dec 30): Nine dead as Philippine troops clash with kidnappers

The regional military spokesman, however, refused to speak on the status of the hostages thought to be held by the gunmen   

Philippine security forces clashed with al-Qaeda-linked gunmen believed to be holding foreign hostages on Wednesday, December 30, leaving one soldier and 8 of the gunmen dead, the military said.

The clash occurred near Patikul town on the remote southern island of Jolo, where gunmen from the Islamic militant group Abu Sayyaf are believed to be holding two Canadian hostages along with a Norwegian and a Filipina.

Regional mlitary spokesman Major Filemon Tan said that one soldier was killed and 4 wounded, but did not respond to queries about the status of the hostages thought to be held by the gunmen.

Eight of the around 100 attackers were also killed, Tan told reporters, adding that the militants belonged to an Abu Sayyaf faction led by Hajan Sawadjaan.

Abu Sayyaf last month released a video of two Canadian tourists, a Norwegian resort operator and a Filipina abducted in another area in Mindanao in September, and demanded P1 billion pesos ($21 million) in ransom.

A Dutch bird watcher abducted in Mindanao in 2012 is also believed by the military to be held by the same group on Jolo.

Founded in the early 1990s with seed money from late Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, Abu Sayyaf gained international notoriety for kidnapping dozens of foreign tourists for ransom in the early 2000s.

The group has also been blamed for the country's worst terrorist attacks, including the bombing of a ferry off Manila Bay in 2004 that killed more than 100 people.

It is believed to have just a few hundred gunmen, but thrives in lawless sections of Mindanao where Muslim rebels have for decades fought for independence or autonomy.

The militant group beheaded a Malaysian hostage last month, weeks after a 74-year-old South Korean kidnapped in January was found dead, apparently from illness, on Jolo.

Army focuses on permit-to-campaign fee

From the Mindanao Times (Dec 30): Army focuses on permit-to-campaign fee

THE EASTERN Mindanao Command is continuously monitoring the New People’s Army who will mulct politicians this election season through the so-called permit-to-campaign fees in their territories.
The (communist rebels) resorting to utilizing threats, intimidation, terror and violence infringes upon the constitutional rights of the people to choose the best leaders who can bring real reforms through good governance,” Capt. Alberto Caber, spokesperson of EastMinCom, said.
“These dirty tactics employed by the CPP-NPA-NDF are meant to limit the candidates’ campaign activities in the countryside.”
Caber said they are focusing their operation in Davao Region, portion of North Cotabato, General Santos City, Northern Mindanao and Caraga, which has the most number of extortion demands from the rebel group based on previous elections.
“The 4th ID also monitored extortion tries where the perpetrators attempted to send threatening letters to politicians,” he added.
The officer then adviced candidates to coordinate with the military or police, instead of giving in to the demands of the NPAs.
Meanwhile, he claimed that there’s a significant reduction in the numbers of the NPA this year by 17%  or 344, majority of whom surrendered to the authorities. The number of rebel-influenced barangays was also cut by 27%, or 152 villages.
For the same period, he said they dismantled five guerilla fronts and recovered 148 high-powered firearms.

Obama to host summit with PHL, other ASEAN nations Feb 15-16

From GMA News (Dec 31): Obama to host summit with PHL, other ASEAN nations Feb 15-16

President Barack Obama will host a summit with leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in California on Feb. 15 and 16, the White House said on Wednesday.

"This unprecedented gathering - the first hosted by the United States with the ASEAN leaders - builds on the deeper partnership that the United States has forged with ASEAN since 2009 and will further advance the Administration's rebalance to Asia and the Pacific," it said in a statement.

The meeting will take place at the Sunnylands retreat center in Rancho Mirage, California, a place where the White House has staged other high-profile meetings outside Washington.

Obama, who is on vacation in Hawaii, previously announced his intention to hold the meeting, but the White House had not disclosed the dates.

The United States is eager to promote ASEAN unity in the face of increasingly assertive behavior by China in pursuit of territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Four ASEAN members - Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam - are also part of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, which is the key economic plank of Obama's economic and security pivot to Asia in response to China's growing power.

The choice of Sunnylands is symbolic as the retreat was the venue of an informal meeting between Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 that sought to chart a new way forward in US-China relations but did little to ease tensions.

AFP vows to pursue Abus amid threat to behead hostages

From the Daily Tribune (Dec 30): AFP vows to pursue Abus amid threat to behead hostages

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) yesterday vowed to sustain the ongoing focused military operations against the terrorist Abu Sayyaf group in the provinces of Basilan and Sulu despite reported threat to behead hostages.

At a press briefing, Col. Restituto Padilla, spokesman of the AFP, said that the military’s Joint Task Groups Basilan and Sulu will continue with their relentless pursuit operations against the Abu Sayyaf even during the upcoming New Year.

Padilla said that the standing order of AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri is to relentlessly pursue the terrorists.

“We never stop, we continue our focused military operations to sustain the momentum and until we safely get all the hostages,” Padilla said.

Despite continuing military operations, the Abu Sayyaf managed to harass government installations and engage troops in Sulu and Basilan.

On Monday, two Marines were killed after ASG bandits attacked the 22nd Marine Company headquarters in Talipao.

Earlier, three soldiers died after clashing with Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the hinterland of Al Barka, Basilan.

Reports came out yesterday that the Abu Sayyaf is threatening to behead Filipina captive Maritess Flor, who was abducted along with three foreigners from Samal island in Davao del Norte last September.

Padilla stressed that the Abu Sayyaf threat to harm the hostages has been there since day one of their captivity.

“But we pray that they will not push through with the threat,” said Padilla.

Aside from Flor, other ASG hostages are Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, Canadians Robert Hall and John Ridsdel, who were all snatched from Samal Island, and Dutchman Ewold Horn who was kidnapped in Tawi Tawi in 2012.

MILF ‘involvement’ seen in BIFF attacks

From the Daily Tribune (Dec 30): MILF ‘involvement’ seen in BIFF attacks

The recent atrocities launched by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Central Mindanao may be part of the efforts by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to show dismay over the non-passage of its proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Informed military sources yesterday raised such possibility, citing the timing of the attacks staged by BIFF in North Cotabato and Maguindanao — both known as MILF areas, recently.

“That is not far-fetched,” a ranking Camp Aguinaldo official replied when asked by The Tribune if the MILF could have had a hand in the BIFF atrocities.

“They could use it as leverage in the peace negotiations, in whatever ways they want. Remember that BIFF and MILF members are relatives, they come from the same areas,” the official added.

Despite Malacañang backing, the MILF-proposed BBL is yet to be passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives after four missed deadlines. In the Senate, the BBL is still in the period of interpellation while the House of Representatives has already concluded interpellation during its last session day.

But both Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who chair the Senate and House of Representatives panels scrutinizing the BBL, had expressed optimism that the current Congress can still pass the bill.

“Giving the MILF the benefit of the doubt, they might not really be knowledgeable about the BIFF attacks but they can do something to stop these because they know the areas,” the source said.

The BIFF was founded in 2011 by former MILF commander Ameril Umbra Kato who was against the MILF leadership’s handling of the peace negotiations with the government.
However, many believed that the BIFF remains “closely knitted” with the MILF due to blood relations among members.

More than a dozen civilians were killed in Central Mindanao after BIFF launched separate attacks after Christmas.

Last Thursday, BIFF rebels, led by Sukarno Sapal, attacked a Christian village near a military detachment in Datu Abdulla Sangki town, Maguindanao and killed seven innocent farmers.

BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama even warned of more attacks against government forces in the coming days.

Col. Restituto Padilla, spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said the attacks were meant to ensure that the BIFF gets the attention it wanted.

“Christmas time is a very significant occasion in the Christian calender…it is when they (BIFF) can get the attention they wanted by staging these attacks against innocent civilians,” he noted.

“They will bear the full force of the law. We will continue to hunt them down,” the military official added.

According to Padilla, the military remains on heightened alert in Mindanao regions to ensure the safe and peaceful celebration of the New Year.

He said there are areas where soldiers forgo their Yuletide break just to sustain military operations against threat groups.

“The AFP remains on heightened alert, and in coordination with the PNP (Philippine National Police), we will ensure that our people are protected,” Padilla stressed.

Col. Fernando Trinidad, new commander of 903rd IB in Sorsogon

From the Bicol Today (Dec 30): Col. Fernando Trinidad, new commander of 903rd IB in Sorsogon



CASTILLA, Sorsogon – Colonel Fernando T. Trinidad assumed leadership of the 903rd Infantry Brigade in Castilla, Sorsogon Province.

Trinidad is a member of PMA Class of 1987.

He is recognized as one of the military’s top and respected intelligence officers. Col.Trinidad is the assistant chief-of-staff for intelligence of the Philippine Army prior to his appointment to 903rd Infantry Brigade.

He is the former commander of the 31st Infantry Battalion in Camarines Sur and Norte.

Col. Trinidad succeeded Col. Cesar M. Idio, who is now the new assistant commander of the 8th Infantry Division in the Eastern Visayas.

The 903rd Infantry Brigade provides internal security operations in the provinces of Sorsogon and Masbate.

8 Abus, 1 soldier killed in Sulu clash

From the Philippine Star (Dec 31): 8 Abus, 1 soldier killed in Sulu clash

Eight members of terror group Abu Sayyaf were killed in an encounter with Army Rangers in the jungles of Patikul, Sulu yesterday.

One soldier was killed in the battle, which also left seven militants and four troopers wounded, Maj. Felimon Tan Jr., spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said.

The latest casualty figure placed at 28 the number of militants killed by security forces in recent weeks when troops began closing in on an Abu Sayyaf camp in Al-Barka town in the neighboring province of Basilan.

Yesterday’s encounter erupted at around 4 p.m. in Barangay Buhanginan.

The Abu Sayyaf is believed to be holding two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina who were kidnapped from a marina in Davao in September. Rebels who identified themselves in an online video as belonging to the Abu Sayyaf demanded more than $60 million for the release of the three foreigners.

The group was also allegedly behind the beheading of a Malaysian hostage in Sulu.

Tan said the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion special operation task group under Lt. Col. Eugene Boquio was on patrol when it ran into a group of some 100 Abu Sayyaf militants under Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan in Sitio Sangay.

Tan said the initial fighting resulted in the killing of eight militants and one soldier.

“Pursuit operation has been ongoing after the firefight ceased at dusk,” Tan said.

He said the operation was part of the relentless campaign to flush out the Abu Sayyaf bandits in Sulu.

In mid-December, the military reported killing 15 terrorists near their hideout in Basilan as the soldiers were advancing toward the militants’ camp in Al-Barka.

The military also reported killing five militants in Sulu later in the month.

The number of dead Abu Sayyaf members was based on accounts from troops, but the bodies were not recovered because they were taken away by their comrades, he said.

In an earlier firefight, Tan said troops had to advance slowly because of snipers.

“If we become careless in our advance, we will have many fatalities,” he said, adding that the militants’ camp is in a mountainous area and cannot be easily reached by armored vehicles.

The four-decade conflict in the southern Philippines is one of the world’s bloodiest, with a death toll estimated to have surpassed 150,000. Efforts between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to cement a peace deal were restarted in June.

The Philippines and the United States have listed al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization for kidnappings, beheadings, extortion and bomb attacks.

The Abu Sayyaf has been weakened but has survived more than a decade of US-backed offensives.

At least 9 killed, 11 injured in Sulu clash: report

From ABS-CBN (Dec 30): At least 9 killed, 11 injured in Sulu clash: report

Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) encountered about 100 members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Sitio Sangay, Barangay Buhanginan in Patikul, Sulu Wednesday, initial reports said.

Members of the 1st Scout Ranger Battalion under a certain LTC Boquio were conducting a military operation in the area when they encountered the armed group.

A soldier from the government side was reportedly killed in the firefight, while four others were injured.

The Abu Sayyaf, meanwhile, reportedly lost eight members, with seven others wounded.

Major Filemon Tan, spokesperson of the AFP Western Mindanao Command, said they have yet to verify the said figures.

The firefight is still on going as of this posting.

Candidates asked not give in to ‘extortion’ by Reds

From MindaNews (Dec 30): Candidates asked not give in to ‘extortion’ by Reds

The Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) told candidates in the 2016 elections not to give in to “extortion demands” of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) as the money would “be used to sustain armed struggle sustain the armed struggle through violence and intimidation against innocent civilians and properties.”

In an emailed statement, Capt. Alberto Caber, spokesperson of the EastMinCom, said the military condemns the alleged extortion schemes of the rebel group against politicians who go to barangays to campaign.

In past elections, the New People’s Army, armed wing of the CPP, had demanded “permit to campaign” fees from politicians. The amounts would vary depending on the positions they’re running for.

“The CNN’s resorting to armed struggle utilizing threats, intimidation, terror and violence infringes upon the constitutional rights of the people to choose the best leaders who can bring real reforms through good governance,” Caber said.

CNN is the military’s acronym for the CPP-NPA and National Democratic Front.

The election period will start on January 10 and end on June 8, 2016.

Caber said the CNN’s activities are “meant to delimit the candidates’ campaign activities in the countryside.”

The military added the rebels are overstating their capability.

“EastMinCom also noted the hype delivered by NDF-Mindanao when the fact remains clear that for the whole of year 2015 alone, there has been a significant reduction in CNN capability in all parameters,” Caber said.

He said the number of NPA rebels within their area of responsibility decreased by seven percent or 344, including 152 who surrendered this year.

“Also for the same period, the NPA’s high powered firearms were reduced by 148 and there were five guerrilla fronts dismantled. The CNN decline in Eastern Mindanao is evidenced by its simple holding of anniversary celebration,” he said.

Caber was reacting to claims by the NDF that Oplan Bayanihan, the government’s counterinsurgency program, has failed to weaken the armed movement in Mindanao.

In a video message during the 47th anniversary celebration in a village in Kitcharao town in Agusan del Norte, NDF-Mindanao spokesperson Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos said the NPA has maintained its stronghold in 46 guerrilla fronts in five regions in Mindanao despite intensified attacks by government forces.

He said the NPA launched over 500 tactical offensives against military, paramilitary and police targets in Mindanao in 2015.