Friday, January 15, 2016

AFP chief visits Sulu, Zamboanga amid alert following Jakarta attack

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 15): AFP chief visits Sulu, Zamboanga amid alert following Jakarta attack

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri visited Sulu and Zamboanga in Mindanao on Friday amid heightened security alert in the wake of Jakarta attacks.

“He has gone there also to reiterate our message to everyone in the AFP that we have gone on heightened alert because of the recent incidents that have occurred in Jakarta. We are in solidarity with our Indonesian brothers regarding these attacks. We’d like to prevent any others from happening in the region,” AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo on Friday.

Iriberri is scheduled to visit Basilan on Saturday.

Iriberri also extended his gratitude to soldiers in these areas “due to their sacrifices especially they have been making this last holiday season,” Padilla said.

The soldiers did not take a holiday break and many stayed because of the stepped up military and law enforcement operations, he explained.

President Benigno Aquino III ordered to intensify their operations against militants after a Malaysian captive of the Abu Sayyaf was beheaded last November in Sulu.
“The mission has not changed. The President’s instruction has not changed. We are committed to finish this mission to its fruitful end until every kidnap victim has been rescued and until every issue on security in the area has been solved,” Padilla said.

As the ISIS attacks get close to the Philippines, with the latest one supposedly in Indonesia, Padilla reiterated that “there is no credible and verified link to any international group.”

No specific security threat has been monitored in the Philippines after the attacks in Indonesia, other than those from Abu Sayyaf and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

“Nothing has been monitored,” Padilla said.

Security forces are also continuing with their military and law enforcement operations but Padilla said “there is no drastic and significant change in our posture.”

NPA rebel killed in Bukidnon clash; AFP cites Reds’ dwindling influence

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 14): NPA rebel killed in Bukidnon clash; AFP cites Reds’ dwindling influence

A New People’s Army (NPA) rebel was killed while another was captured following a skirmish with government forces in Barangay Kagawasa in Kibawe, Bukidnon, a regional Philippine Army spokesman yesterday said.

Capt. Joe Patrick A. Martinez, spokesman of Northeastern and Northern Mindanao 4th Infantry (Diamond) Division (4th ID), also said elements from the Army’s 1st Special Forces Battalion under Lt. Col. Nasser P. Lidasan, also recovered one M14 rifle, one M16 Armalite rifle, 3 Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), 5 back packs with NPA personal belongings, and subversive documents with high intelligence value.

WANING N.P.A. INFLUENCE – Maj. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero (left), commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Eastern Mindanao Command and Philippine National Police–11 Regional Director Chief Supt. Wendy Rosario discuss with reporters the declining presence and influence of the New Peoples Army in Mindanao during a press briefing at the Royal Mandaya Hotel in Davao City. (Alexander D. Lopez)
WANING N.P.A. INFLUENCE – Maj. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero (left), commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Eastern Mindanao Command and Philippine National Police–11 Regional Director Chief Supt. Wendy Rosario discuss with reporters the declining presence and influence of the New Peoples Army in Mindanao during a press briefing at the Royal Mandaya Hotel in Davao City. (Alexander D. Lopez)

Meantime, a senior military official bared that the number of villages still under threat from the NPA in the Davao region, Caraga and Northern Mindanao has dropped significantly to 273.
Speaking before reporters during the regular Armed Forces of the Philippines–Philippine National Police press conference at the Royal Mandaya Hotel in Davao City, Eastern Mindanao Command commander Major General Rey Leonardo Guerrero said intensified campaigns of the command from 2014 up to last year had already reduced the influence of the NPAs in villages in the area – from 400 barangays down to 273.

“There were 496 barangays affected by the presence of NPAs during the first quarter of 2015 in our area of jurisdiction, a number lower compared to 514 barangays during the last part of 2014,” Guerrero said.

He added that the diminishing NPA influence in the 273 villages was attributed to the convergence of government agencies and local government units (LGUs) in reaching remote areas and the delivery of basic services to residents.

The efforts, he added is part of the continuing implementation of the peace and development program of the AFP in Northern and Eastern Mindanao.


The Bukidnon gun battle took place after presence of the said NPA group was tipped-off by the concerned civilians who were victimized by the rebel group’s extortion activities, the 4th ID spokesman claimed.

Capt. Martinez, quoting civilians in the area, said NPA group is planning to conduct hostile activities to hamper development in the area.

Upon the receipt of said information, Col. Lidasan immediately dispatched troops to address the said situation, he said.

“Unmindful of the civilians nearby, the NPAs indiscriminately opened fire but the troops managed to maneuver to a vantage position, keeping the civilians away from danger,” Capt. Martinez said.

He said the gunbattle lasted for about 40 minutes before the rebels retreated to a forested and mountainous area.

Jakarta attacks: Who are the Jemaah Islamiyah militants linked to Isis and al-Qaeda in Indonesia?

From the International Business Times (Jan 14): Jakarta attacks: Who are the Jemaah Islamiyah militants linked to Isis and al-Qaeda in Indonesia?

Supporters of radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir

Supporters of radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir shout slogans outside the South Jakarta court as Bakar Bashir stands trial February 14, 2011Reuters

The extreme Islamist group Jemaah Islamiyah, affiliated with al-Qaeda, has been waging a separatist war for decades across Indonesia, the world's most populous Islamic nation. Its leader radical Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir is known to be an avowed preacher against all forms of secularism.

If, as is believed, the suicide bombings in Jakarta were inspired by the Islamic State attacks in Paris in November, authorities in the Southeast Asian nation will suspect militants linked to Jemaah Islamiyah are to blame.

The Islamist group stretches across Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. It is linked to scores of atrocities across the region including the Bali bombing which killed 202 people in 2002 including 88 Australian nationals. In 2004 the group killed nine and wounded 150 in an attack on the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.

Indonesian armed military

Indonesian armed military patrol on bikes after a series of blasts hit Jakarta on January 14, 2016Getty

The group is designated a terror organisation by the UN, US, UK and Australia. Jemaah Islamiyah is believed by analysts to have an operational alliance with Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic State affiliated group waging a war in the Philippines and Malaysia.

In December, Detachment 88, an Indonesian Special Forces counter-terror squad formed to combat Jemaah Islamiyah discovered an Islamic State flag and other materials related to the Jihadist group during a series of raids. Six militants were arrested for planning terror attacks to coincide with New Year's Eve celebrations as a result.

The likelihood of Islamic State looking to exploit groups like Jemaah Islamiyah was highlighted following the raids by Australian Attorney-General George Brandis who claimed Daesh was looking to establish a "far caliphate" in Southeast Asia.

Bali Bombing

People are seen silhouetted as they watch fires blaze in the wreckage of buildings and cars following bomb blasts in Kuta Beach nightclub district October 12, 2002Reuters

Indonesian police have stated they believe the attackers to be part of a terror cell from Solo, on the Indonesian island of Java which was disrupted in the raids prior to the planned New Year's Eve attacks.

Between 200 and 300 Indonesian Jihadis are believed to have travelled to the Middle East to fight alongside Islamist Brigades in the Levant raising fears they might return to carry out attacks at home.

Indonesia's security minister, Luhut Panjaitan, said that at least 800 Indonesians had travelled to the Middle East to join IS, still a number far fewer than those that have travelled to Iraq and Syria from Europe. There are 202.9 million Muslims in Indonesia of which 0.5% are Shia, while the majority follow Sunni Islam. In the past Jemaah Islamiyah has also planned attacks on Shia places of worship including Java and Sumatra.

Jakarta Attacks Stoke Fears Islamic State Could Target Philippines

From the Wall Street Journal (Jan 15): Jakarta Attacks Stoke Fears Islamic State Could Target Philippines

Abu Sayyaf leaders have previously sworn allegiance to Islamic State  

The Islamic State-linked attacks on Indonesia’s capital have stoked fears that the Philippines—home to more than five million Muslims—could be next on the extremist group’s list of targets.

While the extent of Islamic State’s influence in the Philippines is unclear, delays to a landmark peace deal with the country’s main Islamic rebel group could embolden splinter organizations that reject the plan and allow Islamic State to make inroads into disaffected Muslim communities, security experts have warned. Officials said they believed the perpetrators of Thursday's attacks were involved in a local Islamist group and funded by an Indonesian militant with ties to Islamic State. Photo: AFP/Getty

“It’s definitely time to start taking the threat [of Islamic State] more seriously,” said Steven Rood, the Asia Foundation’s representative in the Philippines, pointing out that two foreign nationals—an Indonesian and a Malaysian—had been killed in recent clashes between the Philippine military and Islamic rebels. The presence of foreign fighters in the Philippines hints at transnational links between Southeast Asia’s militant groups, he said.

In 2014, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country’s dominant Islamic rebel group, signed a peace agreement with the government of the Philippines—a predominantly Roman Catholic country -- that would establish a new autonomous region on the southern island of Mindanao, which is about 20%-25% Muslim. But smaller groups have boycotted the process. The Islamic Front is based in Mindanao and has little influence in the nearby Sulu archipelago, a string of small islands where extremist groups including Abu Sayyaf have their jungle bases. Islamic State's links to the deadly attacks in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta show the expanding reach of the extremist group in Asia, raising fears of a return of Islamist-inspired violence in the region.

Moreover, the deal has become bogged down in the Philippine Congress, with some lawmakers wary of handing too much power to former Muslim rebels.

Abu Sayyaf leaders have previously sworn allegiance to Islamic State in videos published online, but the Philippine authorities have dismissed these as attempts to increase the group’s notoriety to secure higher ransoms for their frequent kidnappings. Most recently in September Abu Sayyaf snatched two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipino from a Mindanao resort, and then prominently displayed the black flag of Islamic State in a video demanding ransom money.

A new video showing Filipino militants from Abu Sayyaf and other lesser-known groups training in front of the Islamic State flag emerged earlier this month.
Philippine military officials have denied that Islamic State has any foothold in the country. They didn’t respond to questions on Friday.

Zachary Abuza, a Southeast Asian security expert at the U.S. National War College, said it is time the Philippines acknowledged the threat posed by Islamic State, while also being careful not to overplay it. “There is clearly some [Islamic State] presence in the south,” he said, warning that the relatively unsophisticated attacks staged in Jakarta are “very much within the capabilities of militants in the Southern Philippines.”

The challenge for the Philippine authorities is to “keep them contained” in their southern base areas and prevent attacks on Manila or other Philippine cities, Mr. Abuza said.

Philippine lawmakers should expedite the stalled peace plan to deny extremists an opportunity to win over the country’s disillusioned young Muslims, Mr. Rood argued.

“The [Islamic Front] have clearly said they’re committed to the path to peace no matter what; and if they’re not achieving anything, it’s harder to keep arguing that you can fight for Islam through peaceful means,” he said.

China: Philippines' accusations made with ulterior motive

From the Philippine Star (Jan 14): China: Philippines' accusations made with ulterior motive

In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016 file photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a China Southern Airlines jetliner lands at the airfield on Fiery Cross Reef, known as Yongshu Reef in Chinese, in the Spratly Islands, known as Nansha Islands in Chinese, of the South China Sea. An official says Philippine and U.S. foreign and defense chiefs will discuss new security concerns arising from China's completion of artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, on Tuesday, January 12 in Washington. Cha Chunming/Xinhua via AP, File

Beijing on Wednesday claimed that the Philippines' accusation against its test flights on Kagitingan Reef or Fiery Cross Reef in the West Philippine Sea is made with ulterior motives.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said in a press conference that the flights conducted by China's aircraft fall completely with its sovereignty.

"The Philippines' accusation is made with ulterior motives and is not worth refuting," Hong said.

Hong stressed that China enjoys freedom of navigation over the disputed South China Sea as other countries do.

"China's inspection and test flights are of professional, technical and civil nature and are conducted for public interests," the Chinese official said.

The Philippines recently protested China's test flights on the Manila-claimed reef, arguing that China's actions elevate tensions and anxiety in the region.

Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Charles Jose said that China's "provocative" actions restrict freedom of navigation and overflight in the West Philippine Sea.

Meanwhile, Vietnam accused China of threatening the safety of civilian flights over the disputed sea by failing to inform its aviation authorities of recent test flights to a man-made island claimed by both Beijing and Hanoi.

The notification from the Chinese Embassy "cannot substitute China's notification to the appropriate air traffic services units of Vietnam in order to ensure the safety and regularity of flight operations," the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam said in a statement late Tuesday.

Philippines worried by reports of ‘ill’ Canadian hostage

From the Fulton County News (Jan 13): Philippines worried by reports of ‘ill’ Canadian hostage

Military says yet to confirm reports that Abu Sayyaf militants carrying 68-year-old mining firm chief as they evade troops

The Philippines’ military expressed concern Wednesday over reports about the deteriorating health of one of two Canadians abducted from a resort on a southern island four months ago.

Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, Joint Task Group Sulu commander, said in a text message that reports of al-Qaeda-linked militants carrying the ailing John Ridsdel, 68, as they evade troops had yet to be confirmed.

“But such information would be concerning if true,” he said of the president of TVI Minerals Processing, Inc., a firm providing mineral mining services, with its main office in Pasig City but with business interests in southern Mindanao island.

Ridsdel was abducted from Samal island in September alongside fellow Canadian Robert Hall, Norwegian resort owner Kjartan Sekkinstad and a Filipino female companion.

The Abu Sayyaf militant group has demanded a ransom of 1 billion Philippine pesos ($21 million) for the release of each of the foreigners.

A video released on YouTube in early November showed the four hostages flanked by armed men in black garb against what appears to be a Daesh flag.

The video appears to show Ridsdel appealing for the ransom to be paid.

“We’re being ransomed each for 1 billion pesos,” he said. “I appeal to the Canadian Prime Minister and the people of Canada, please pay this ransom as soon as possible, or our lives are in great danger.”

The Abu Sayyaf released several videos of the hostages late last year at undisclosed jungle locations.

Arrojado said troops are continuing to pursue the escaping militants to prevent them from slipping out of the operation zone.

Aside from the Norwegian and two Canadians, the Abu Sayyaf is currently holding other foreigners including a Dutch man kidnapped more than three years ago in Tawi-Tawi island and a former Italian priest seized last year in Zamboanga del Norte province.

Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf — armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles — has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortions in a self-determined fight for an independent Islamic province in the Philippines.

It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.

3rd ID chief dares new Army battalion commander to excel in peace efforts

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 15): 3rd ID chief dares new Army battalion commander to excel in peace efforts

Brig. Gen. Harold N. Cabreros, the commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, on Friday challenged the incoming commander of the 79th Infantry “Masaligan” Battalion to surpass the performance of his predecessor in efforts to achieve lasting peace in Negros.

Cabreros was the guest of honor and speaker during the turnover of command of the 79th IB from Col. Harold Anthony Pascua to Lt. Col. Roderick Garcia, held at the battalion headquarters in Camp Leon Kilat, Tanjay City in Negros Oriental.

In his message, Cabreros lauded and thanked Pascua for his excellent performance during his term as battalion commander, citing his unit’s achievements that have contributed to making Negros Oriental almost free from the problem of insurgency.

At the same time, Cabreros also expressed confidence that Garcia perform just as well, what with the experience, training and other credentials that the latter possessed.

First order of the day for Garcia is to continue what his predecessor had started, more importantly pursuing efforts under the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Bayanihan, said Cabreros.

Cabreros highlighted the importance of the Army being able to foster good relations with the local government units, non-government organizations and the people who are their partners in the Bayanihan program of attaining lasting peace.

He urged the 79th IB troopers to give their all-out support to Garcia, adding that as he met with them, he gave them one word as a reminder for them to carry on each day.

That word, which he said started with the “big letter O,” is obedience, according to Cabreros.

“Observe obedience to the oath you took when you entered the military service to selflessly serve our country and our people”, Cabreros said.

Also, observe obedience to the laws of the land, to rules, regulations, directives and policies of the military organization, to the commitment and obligation to your families and finally to the word of God, Cabreros added.

The Army general also emphasized the role of the Army’s partners especially in the IPSP Bayanihan as he called on them to continue their support for peace to prosper.

Cabreros stressed that there was still much work to be done and “we are still in the midst of winning the peace in Central and Western Visayas”.

“There is still much ahead of us… and this entails strengthening and intensifying our partnership and collaboration with all our stakeholders and advancing our skills and programs complementary to the IPSP Bayanihan”, Cabreros added.

Cabreros officiated the turnover of command of the 79th IB which was also highlighted by the promotion of Pascua from the rank of Lt. Col. to Colonel.

Former rebels in Davao Occidental receive financial assistance

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 15): Former rebels in Davao Occidental receive financial assistance

The local government here awarded Php 5,000 cash assistance to nine former members of New People’s Army (NPA) who surrendered to 73rd Infantry Battalion (IB).

The assistance given was not a part of the livelihood assistance under the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) of the government for the former NPA rebels but from the local government funds.

This was the second batch of former rebels who received financial assistance from the local government here.

“The financial assistance was given to them to show the sincerity of the LGU to help those who opted to rejoin the mainstream society,” Mayor Benjamin Bautista said.

According to Lt Col. Ronnie Babac, 73rd IB commander, the financial assistance awarded to the former rebels (FR’s) was a successful collaborative effort of the local government unit and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in support to the unit’s mission and government campaign to help the rebels who return to the folds of the law.

“This activity will surely convince the rebels who are still in the movement to lay down their arms and return to their families. Moreover, the event would not be achieved if not with the support of the concerned government agencies especially the LGU of Malita, Davao Occidental” Babac added.

NPAs continue to threaten 273 villages in eastern, northern Mindanao

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 14): NPAs continue to threaten 273 villages in eastern, northern Mindanao

Around 273 villages in the areas of Davao region, CARAGA and northern Mindanao continue to bear the threats being posed by communists New People’s Army (NPA), a senior military official said.

Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) Commander Major General Rey Leonardo Guerrero (left) and PNP-11 director Chief Superintendent Wendy Rosario (right) told reporters during the regular AFP-PNP press conference at the Royal Mandaya Hotel on Wednesday, January 13 of the continuing decrease of NPA influence in the areas of Davao region, CARAGA and Northern Mindanao. (Alexander D. Lopez)
Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) Commander Major General Rey Leonardo Guerrero (left) and PNP-11 director Chief Superintendent Wendy Rosario (right) told reporters during the regular AFP-PNP press conference at the Royal Mandaya Hotel on Wednesday, January 13, of the continuing decrease of NPA influence in the areas of Davao region, CARAGA and Northern Mindanao. (Photo by Alexander D. Lopez)

Speaking before reporters during the regular AFP-PNP press conference at the Royal Mandaya Hotel on Wednesday (January 13, 2016) Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmicom) commander Major General Rey Leonardo Guerrero said intensified campaigns of the command from 2014 up to last year had already reduced the influence of the NPAs in villages in the area – from 400 barangays down to 273.

“There were 496 barangays affected by the presence of NPAs during the first quarter of 2015 in our area of jurisdiction, a number lower compared to 514 barangays during the last part of 2014,” Guerrero pointed out, adding that the further lessening of NPA influences to 273 villages was attributed to the convergence of government agencies and local government units (LGUs) in reaching remote areas and the delivery of basic services to residents.

The efforts, he added, is part of the continuing implementation of the peace and development program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in northern and eastern Mindanao.
Guerrero also announced the reduction of NPA forces in the area as well as the decrease of the number of their firepower.

“There around 1,600 guerrillas now in Davao region, CARAGA and Northern Mindanao with an estimated number of 2,232 short and high-powered firearms,” he said.

In an earlier data provided by Captain Alberto Caber, chief information officer of Eastmincom, joint elements of the Philippine National Police and the AFP captured 72 NPA members in a series of operations conducted in their areas of jurisdiction in 2015.

A total of 330 NPAs also surrendered to various units of Eastmincom in the area during the period, Caber added.

The leadership of Eastmincom emphasized that they will continue to work with the various government agencies and LGUs for peace and development programs this year.

Meanwhile, Eastmincom also confirmed of the continued extortion activities of the NPAs, particularly the demands they make to politicians to collect permit to campaign during election period.

Guerrero made an appeal to politicians not to give in to the demands of the NPAs as this will only help the rebels consolidate themselves and sow terror to villages in the area.

He also asked the politicians to coordinate with the police and the military to clear the areas during their campaign sorties and activities.

PNP Davao region director Chief Superintendent Wendy Rosario also assured the residents in Davao region and the candidates that the police force will work with the AFP in ensuring orderliness during the campaign period and election.

ISIS In The Philippines: Islamic State Support Growing Despite Government Claims

From the International Business Tines (Jan 13): ISIS In The Philippines: Islamic State Support Growing Despite Government Claims


Support for the Islamic State group may be spreading in the Philippines, according to recent reports. Pictured: Iraqi security forces and fighters gather next to a mural depicting the ISIS emblem April 1, 2015.

The Islamic State group may be gathering strength in the Philippines, an island nation with a history of Muslim rebellions. The Japan Times reported Wednesday that there are signs of rapidly accelerating support for the terrorist group, aka ISIS, specifically in the southern Philippines. The government in Manila, however, has dismissed the extremists as simple criminals.

“They are spreading here,” the Rev. Sebastiano D’Ambra told the Times, speaking from Zamboanga. “God knows what will happen next. Everybody is trying to maintain control of the situation, but I am afraid that sometime, in some way, it will go out of control.”

D'Ambra's comments come days after several Filipinos released a video depicting members from various insurgent factions declaring their loyalty to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Among them was the Abu Sayyaf group, a militant organization that operates primarily in the southern part of the country.

Abu Sayyaf is one of the Philippines' biggest Muslim separatist groups, along with the Moro National Liberation Front and Moro Islamic Liberation Front. They've been waging insurgent attacks for decades in hopes of autonomy, but the latter recently began a peace process with the government, the Washington Post reported. About 5 percent of the Philippines' 98 million people are Muslim.

The video renewed concerns about whether the organizations would set up a wilayat, or ISIS satellite, in the Philippines. But authorities insisted they weren't worried.

"The local militants are only interested in making money, and those attracted to Islamist ideology would rather travel to Syria and Iraq, especially those from Malaysia and Indonesia," an anonymous intelligence source told Reuters this week. "What we have in the south are pure criminals hiding behind IS masks to gain prominence and raise more ransom money."

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Al Arabiya English
says southern rebels not linked to 

Caraga police seek public’s help in finding militiamen tagged in lumad slays

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 14): Caraga police seek public’s help in finding militiamen tagged in lumad slays

TAGUM CITY, Davao del Norte, Philippines – Authorities in the Caraga region asked the public anew on Thursday to help them find the suspects in the murders of three school and community leaders in Surigao del Sur in late 2015.

This as the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), in a recent circular, announced the putting up of a P3.6-million bounty for the arrest of the alleged leaders of the Magahat-Bagani Force militia, which was blamed for the killings of Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo in Lianga, Surigao del Sur last Sept. 1.

The DILG Memorandum Circular 2015-136 states that a P1.2-million cash reward has been offered for the capture of each of the suspects Bobby and Loloy Tejero and Margarito Layno for the crimes of multiple murder, arson and grave coercion.

Supt. Daniel Peusca, acting Caraga police regional spokesperson, said operations have been continuing to locate and arrest the region’s three most wanted men.

Samarca was the director of Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev), a community school that has been serving children of the Manobo tribes people in Sitio Han-ayan, Diatagon village. Campos was the chairperson of Malahutayong Pakigbisug alang sa mga Sumusunod (Persevering Struggle for the Next Generation) or Mapasu, an IP organization reportedly opposed to the entry of logging and mining companies in Lianga, but which the military has branded as a communist front. Sinzo was a Manobo chieftain.

“We’re appealing to the communities who might have information about the suspects’ whereabouts to report their location to us,” Peusca told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by mobile phone. “With the reward, this could encourage people to cooperate with the authorities.”

Following the widespread outrage and condemnation of the killings, a joint police-military group called Task Force Bangkaw (Spear) was created to hunt down the suspects and their armed followers.

Almost 3,000 Manobo men, women and children from Lianga and nearby municipalities of San Agustin, Tagbina, San Miguel and other areas in Surigao del Sur have since fled to the provincial capital of Tandag out of fear.

The suspects are still at large despite the continuing manhunt by policemen and soldiers.

“So far what we’ve got are intelligence reports about their locations, sightings. But our efforts to arrest them have yet to yield positive results,” Maj. General Rey Reynaldo Guerrero, chief of the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) said.

One of Eastmincom’s Army branches, the 4th Infantry Division based in Cagayan de Oro City, is the PNP’s partner under TF Bangkaw.

Guerrero said intelligence reports they received about Magahat’s movements were usually late, so their responses were always “after the fact.”

“The point here is we received the reports,” said Guerrero. He said he has spoken to Maj. General Oscar Lactao, 4th ID commander, who
vowed “they would be leveling up their efforts” in tracking down and apprehending the suspects.

More than three months after the killings, at least 468 families or 2,753 persons from Manobo communities are still living in an evacuation center in Tandag, Surigao del Sur, according to May Navidad Salinas, Surigao del Sur provincial social welfare office chief.

Aquino says PH armed groups just jumping on ISIS bandwagon

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 15): Aquino says PH armed groups just jumping on ISIS bandwagon
Has the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) reached the Philippines or are local armed groups just using their name to sow fear among the populace? President Benigno Aquino III believes it is the latter.

“There are members of the Abu Sayyaf Group who have pledged, all sorts of groups waving the ISIS flag and claiming that (they) are ISIS. There are reports that one particular group is about to be recognized. But these groups are known enemies of the state, like the ASG, which used to claim it is part of al-Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah,” Aquino said during an ambush interview in Bulacan.

 “Now that ISIS is popular, they are claiming to be ISIS. Tomorrow it might be another group, another name,” he added.

Recent reports cite videos shot in Mindanao by armed groups claiming linkages to the infamous terrorist group.

With the series of attacks in Jakarta linked to the ISIS, Aquino said the Philippine government had directed a “hardening of sites” or having stricter security measures.

He said such sites could still be vulnerable and it was important to gain the cooperation of the public.

“The cooperation of the government and the people would ensure our safety. Are there suspicious people in the area? Are there unattended packages?” he said.

Aquino said he met with security officials on Thursday and they did not report any imminent threat.

However, he said it was still better to be cautious and vigilant.

“We’ve seen the attacks in Paris, in America, in Indonesia; we also receive threats here. But is there a credible threat? None. Is there a general threat? Yes. We are not immune to the problem of extremism,” Aquino said.

Nevertheless, he said law enforcement agencies and intelligence groups were focused on the issue and working to thwart such threats. He said one way to prevent “radicalization” of people was to give them livelihood.

He said there were two half-Filipinos supposedly being linked to ISIS but both were born and grew up outside the Philippines.

“Having said that, we have a large population in the Middle East—one to two million. It is said that many have been radicalized through the Internet. Of course we will be prudent and try our best to work with their intelligence agencies and our intelligence agents themselves have been monitoring (Filipino) communities to verify if these are being influenced by ISIS,” he said.

IS claims Jakarta attacks that left 5 gunmen, 2 others dead

From the Philippine Star (Jan 14): IS claims Jakarta attacks that left 5 gunmen, 2 others dead

Attackers set off suicide bombs and exchanged gunfire outside a Starbucks cafe in Indonesia's capital in a brazen assault Thursday that police said "imitated" the recent Paris attacks. Backers of the Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

All five attackers and two bystanders — a Canadian and an Indonesian — died in the midmorning explosions and gunfire that were watched by office workers from high-rise buildings on Thamrin Street in Jakarta, not far from the presidential palace and the U.S. Embassy, police said. Twenty people were injured.

When the area was finally secured a few hours later, bodies were sprawled on sidewalks. But given the firepower the attackers carried — handguns, grenades and homemade bombs — and the soft targets they picked in a bustling, crowded area, the casualties were relatively few compared to the mayhem and carnage caused by the Paris attacks.

"We have identified all attackers ... we can say that the attackers were affiliated with the ISIS group," national police spokesman Maj. Gen. Anton Charilyan told reporters, referring to the Islamic State group.

Islamic State group backers circulated a claim of responsibility for the attacks resembling the extremist group's previous messages.

The claim was shared on Twitter late Thursday. The U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group said it also circulated among pro-Islamic State groups on the message app Telegram.

The message said attackers carried out the assault in Jakarta and had planted several bombs with timers. It differed from Indonesian police on the number of attackers, saying there were four. It said they wore suicide belts and carried light weaponry.

The statement could not be independently verified by The Associated Press, though it resembled previous claims made by the group, which controls territory in both Iraq and Syria.

Jakarta police chief Maj. Gen. Tito Karnavian told a news conference that the first suicide bombing happened at a Starbucks restaurant, causing customers to run out.
Outside, two gunmen opened fire, killing a Canadian and wounding an Indonesian, he said.

A Dutch Foreign Ministry spokeswoman in the Netherlands said a Dutch man was seriously injured and was undergoing surgery.

At about the same time two other suicide bombers attacked a nearby traffic police booth, killing themselves and an Indonesian man. Karnavian said that minutes later a group of policemen was attacked by the remaining two gunmen, using homemade bombs. This led to a 15-minute gunfight in which both attackers were killed, he said.

Police then combed the building housing the Starbucks and another nearby building where they discovered six homemade bombs — five small ones and a big one.

"So we think ... their plan was to attack people and follow it up with a larger explosion when more people gathered. But thank God it didn't happen," Charilyan said.

He said the attackers imitated the recent "terror acts" in Paris and were likely from the Islamic State group, but gave no evidence.

Karnavian also said the attackers had links with IS and were part of a group led by Bahrum Naim, an Indonesian militant who is now in Syria.

It was the first major attack in Indonesia's capital since the 2009 bombings of two hotels that killed seven people and injured more than 50. Before that, bombings at nightclubs on the resort island of Bali in 2002 killed 202 people, mostly foreigners.

Thursday's attack prompted a security lockdown in central Jakarta and enhanced checks all over the crowded city of 10 million. Thamarin Street is home to many luxury hotels, high-rise office buildings and embassies, including the French.

Eliaz Warre, who witnessed the attack, said he was riding on a motorbike when the explosion went off at the police post. "I saw people running away and two people lying on the ground bleeding," he said.

Charilyan said police had received information in late November about a warning from the Islamic State group that "there will be a concert" in Indonesia, meaning an attack.

"This act is clearly aimed at disturbing public order and spreading terror among people," President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said in a statement on television.

"The state, the nation and the people should not be afraid of, and be defeated by, such terror acts," he said.

The country had been on high alert after authorities said they foiled a plot by Islamic militants to attack government officials, foreigners and others. About 150,000 police officers and soldiers were deployed on New Year's Eve to guard churches, airports and other public places.

More than 9,000 police were also deployed in Bali.

Last month, anti-terror police arrested nine suspected militants and said they had planned attacks "to attract international news coverage of their existence here."

After the explosions at Starbucks, sporadic gunfire could be heard for about two hours. Police helicopters hovered overhead as anti-terror squad troops rushed in. Reporters and bystanders were kept behind police lines.

Tweets from the account of Jeremy Douglas, a regional representative of the U.N. drugs office, described a bomb and "serious" exchanges of gunfire on the street outside his office. "Didn't experience this in 3.5 years in #Pakistan," he wrote.

On Tuesday, jailed radical Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir appealed to an Indonesian court to have his conviction for funding a terror training camp overturned, arguing that his support for the camp was an act of worship.

The 77-year-old leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah militant network filed a judicial review of his 2011 conviction, when he was sentenced to 15 years in jail for setting up the camp in Aceh province. A higher court later cut the sentence to nine years.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, has suffered a spate of deadly attacks blamed on the Jemaah Islamiyah network in the past. But militant strikes in recent years have been smaller and less deadly, and have targeted government authorities, mainly police and anti-terrorism forces.

Philippines thanks US for $50-M maritime security aid initiative

From the Philippine Star (Jan 15): Philippines thanks US for $50-M maritime security aid initiative 

The Philippines’ top diplomat acknowledged the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee for introducing a Maritime Security Initiative in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.

The move allots $50 million to help enhance the maritime security capacities of countries in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Senate Armed Services Committee has demonstrated keen interest in developments in Asia, particularly on maritime security.

President Barack Obama first unveiled the assistance plan when he visited Manila last November.

Del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin met with Sens. John McCain and Jack Reed, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, respectively, last Jan. 12.

“We wish to thank the Senate Armed Services Committee for the priority it has accorded to US engagement with Asia-Pacific and for the committee’s statements calling for stronger US presence in the region,” Del Rosario said in behalf of the Philippine delegation.

The two secretaries also noted McCain’s comments against China’s recent test flight over Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef and the committee’s consistent efforts to prod the US government to continue with legitimate challenges to China’s illegal claims in the South China Sea.

In a statement, McCain welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

“This landmark agreement between the United States and the Philippines will bring our alliance to a level of cooperation and integration that we have not witnessed in decades,” he said.

“As Manila finds itself the target of Chinese coercion in the West Philippine Sea and is looking to Washington for leadership, this agreement will give us new tools to deepen our alliance with the Philippines, expand engagement with the Philippine Armed Forces, and enhance our presence in Southeast Asia,” said McCain.

Troops disrupt Abu pro-ISIS training

From the Philippine Star (Jan 15): Troops disrupt Abu pro-ISIS training

When troops killed fugitive Malaysian bomber Mohammad Najib Hussein, alias Abu Anas, in Basilan last December, they disrupted the Abu Sayyaf’s and other terrorists’ training to show support for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Troops also captured the camp where Abu Anas provided training in bomb making and demolition to the Abu Sayyaf band of Isnilon Hapilon, Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo dela Cruz said.

The camp had 28 fortified structures and 10 bunkers that can accommodate 250 people, he added.

It has been turned over to the local ceasefire monitoring team in Al-Barka, Dela Cruz said.

He said the military offensive last December disrupted the training of the Abu Sayyaf and its propaganda of showing the training of alleged supporters of the ISIS.

“Yes, it was a big disruption that we had accomplished,” he said. “In fact, the  operations are continuing.”

The military has no conclusive evidence that the band of Hapilon and Abu Anas is affiliated or recognized by ISIS, Dela Cruz said.

In a published statement on a web-based news site, Rohan Gunaratra, a Singapore-based counterterrorism expert, warned that the Abu Sayyaf is supporting ISIS in preparation for establishing a local base as seen in the video footage posted last week showing its fighters hoisting the black flag while in training.

However, the military has no valid report or evidence on the funding for the Abu Sayyaf supposedly coming from ISIS to prove their alliance, Dela Cruz said.

Army colonel in Burgos kidnapping, 23 others promoted

From the Philippine Star (Jan 15): Army colonel in Burgos kidnapping, 23 others promoted

Malacañang has promoted 24 senior military officers, including a controversial Army colonel implicated in the 2007 disappearance of peasant activist Jonas Burgos.

Promoted to the rank of lieutenant general were former major generals Glorioso Miranda, commander of the Nueva Ecija-based 7th Infantry Division, and Mayoralgo dela Cruz, commander of the Zamboanga City-based Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom).

Given their second star (major general in the Army and Rear Admiral in the Navy) were former brigadier generals Arnold Rafael, Job Yucoco and Benjamin Madrigal; Commodores Bayani Gaerlean, Rafael Mariano and Jorge Amba.

Amba is currently commander of the Puerto Princesa City-based Naval Forces Northwest, a naval unit whose primary task is to secure the country’s maritime domain in the West Philippine Sea, including the disputed Spratlys.

Also promoted to star rank (brigadier general and commodore in the Navy) was former Air Force colonel Restituto Padilla, spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Getting their first star along with Padilla were Roberto Arevalo of the Army, Elvin Velasco of the Marines; Dinoh Dolina; Arnel dela Vega, Gerry Amante, of the Army; former captains Francisco Gabudao Jr. and Danilo Rodelas of the Navy; Melquiades Feliciano, Rodel Mauro Alarcon of the Army; Werner Elpedes of the Air Force; David Diciano Sr. of the Army; Nelia Valmonte of the Nursing Corps, Allan Martin and Gener del Rosario of the Army and Jose Cabanban of the Marines

Melquiades, whose last assignment was in Mindanao, has been linked to the abduction of Burgos while the latter was meeting with some activists inside a mall in Quezon City on April 28, 2007 to map out their reported Labor Day mass action.

At the time of Burgos’ disappearance, Melquiades was an Army battalion commander in Bulacan, an Army unit then heavily engaged in counter-insurgency operations against communist rebels.

Despite a series of attempts to pin him down in the Burgos case, Melquiades was cleared of any involvement.

Philippines, US vow close coordination on EDCA

From the Philippine Star (Jan 15): Philippines, US vow close coordination on EDCA

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin met with their counterparts US Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in Washington last Jan. 12 to discuss security issues and work out defense arrangements. AP

The Philippines and the US have committed to coordinate closely on security and defense initiatives as part of the implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

In a joint statement at the conclusion of the Second US-Philippines Two-Plus-Two Ministerial Dialogue in Washington, the two countries also reiterated that EDCA is “consistent” with the Philippine Constitution.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin met with their counterparts US Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in Washington last Jan. 12 to discuss security issues and work out defense arrangements.

The officials also hailed the Supreme Court for upholding, in a vote of 10-4, the constitutionality of EDCA.

Both parties agreed EDCA would enhance the US ability to provide rapid humanitarian assistance to the Philippines as well as help the Philippine military in its effort to modernize.

“Welcoming the Philippine Supreme Court’s decision that the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement is consistent with the Philippine Constitution, the ministers reaffirmed their commitment to continue strengthening the Alliance, in terms of ensuring both countries’ mutual defense and security as well as jointly contributing to regional peace, stability and economic prosperity,” the joint statement said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Tuesday that the Philippines and the US would finalize arrangements for the full implementation of the EDCA.

Joint patrols

In Manila, defense spokesman Peter Galvez said the Philippines is pushing for joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea with the US in the face of China’s growing aggressiveness in asserting its claims in the region.

Galvez said the Philippine panel relayed its proposal to its US counterpart during their 2+2 meeting in Washington.

“The 2+2 meeting extensively discussed the South China Sea issue, with the US side reiterating the US’s ironclad commitment to the defense of the Philippines while the Philippines batted for joint patrols,” Galvez said in a statement yesterday.

Pressed for details, Galvez said the Philippines cited the “need for more collaborative presence in the South China Sea.”

“Thus, in addition to freedom of navigation operations of the US, we are suggesting that we also patrol the area together,” he said.

Galvez said the US reiterated its commitment to support freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, where more than $5 trillion worth of trade passes through every year.

“The US side emphasized that it will not allow China to control the South China Sea and will act to ensure that freedom of navigation is respected,” the defense spokesman pointed out.

“The US also stressed that they will continue to fly and sail whenever and wherever international law allows,” he added.

Furthermore, the US “committed to maintain presence in the South China Sea to include naval, sub-sea, air and special forces,” he said.

China’s territorial claim covers about 90 percent of the South China Sea, a resource-rich area and a busy sea lane that is also being claimed in part by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

To assert its claims, China launched an ambitious land reclamation program covering at least seven reefs also being claimed by the Philippines.

China is building facilities on Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi), Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Kennan (Chigua), Mabini (Johnson South), Burgos (Gaven) and Calderon (Cuarteron) Reefs.

Satellite photos showed the Chinese constructing artificial islands with airstrips, radar systems and military barracks.

In 2013, China declared an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea. The policy requires all aircraft to report their flight plans and to identify themselves while flying through the zone. China has also been challenging non-Chinese aircraft flying over the South China Sea.

Galvez said the US has also reaffirmed its commitment to help the Philippine military carry out its modernization program.

Standardized definition

Citing China’s promise that it would not militarize the South China Sea, Galvez said the US had suggested the need for claimants to have a common and shared understanding of the term “militarization” to avoid miscalculation.

“A common sense among the other parties would put pressure on China,” Galvez said.
The Philippines and the US also agreed to explore the possibility of inviting other partners like Japan and Australia to get more involved in bilateral exercises and similar activities.

“The Philippine side stressed that the involvement of other parties in these activities shall be in accordance with the Philippines’ national legal framework,” Galvez said.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, meanwhile, said EDCA would definitely be mutually advantageous to the US and the Philippines.

Trillanes, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security and a vice presidential candidate, said that there is no truth to the claim that the country is giving up its sovereignty by allowing US troops to set up military bases under the EDCA.

In a roundtable discussion yesterday hosted by TV5, Trillanes explained that the US government would spend for the development of the bases and would use these as long as EDCA is in force.

He stressed the bases would remain the property of the Philippines and would eventually be utilized by the country’s forces.

In addition, Trillanes said EDCA would provide the Philippines with a security blanket, which he said is priceless.

He said the presence of US troops would also deter other countries from bullying the Philippines.

“When push comes to shove then you know that we have someone to lean on,” he said.

Mixed reactions

In Pampanga, the proposal to use Clark Freeport as one of the camps for US forces has drawn mixed reactions from business leaders.

Former Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) chairman Nestor Mangio told The STAR that the use of Clark by the US military would “compromise our dream of a premier international gateway.”

“I am not against an alliance with the US military amid the territorial dispute with China, but why should Clark, which is now a freeport, be offered for US military use? There is Basa air base that can be used instead,” said Mangio. Basa air base is in Floridablanca, Pampanga.

Mangio noted that congestion at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) has increased awareness of the need to use the Clark airport as alternative airport.

“Now that we know the value of Clark as alternative to NAIA, why complicate the situation by opening it to US military operations?” he asked.

“While part of Clark is under the Philippine Air Force, there is no doubt that its two runways would be shared with the US military and therefore disrupt civilian aviation,” he added.

But Rene Romero, chairman of the Pampanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry and an official of Central Luzon’s Regional Development Council, said he is in favor of the proposal.

“We need them at this time. We still do not have enough capability to defend our territory against China, so we need an ally and the US has been a close ally for a long time,” he said.

Romero also noted that part of Clark is within the jurisdiction of the PAF and its use by the US military under the EDCA is legally acceptable.

Navy's strategic sealift vessel to be launched in Indonesia

From the Philippine Star (Jan 15): Navy's strategic sealift vessel to be launched in Indonesia

A sketch of a strategic sealift vessel for the Philippine Navy. photo

One of the two strategic sealift vessels acquired by the Philippines to boost the Navy’s capabilities will be launched on Sunday in Indonesia.

Launching is a Navy term that refers to the removal of a ship from dry dock to allow it to float at sea for the next stage of tests. A ship is launched to ensure that it is working properly before it is delivered to its buyer.

“We got a word from the Navy that one of the two strategic sealift vessels we ordered from Indonesia, from the PT PAL shipyard, will be launched this January 17. Our key officials will be in attendance to see the launching of that ship,” Armed Forces spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla said in a press briefing yesterday.

“The acquisition of the strategic sealift vessels is a very important milestone for our Navy. It will increase our capacity for humanitarian assistance and disaster response during critical moments when we our hit by storms,” he added.

In 2014, The STAR reported that shipbuilder PT PAL Indonesia (Persero) won the bidding for the purchase of two brand new strategic sealift vessels for the Philippine Navy. The notice of award for the P4-billion project was issued to the company in December 2014.

PT PAL offered to build the vessels for $86,980,000 or about P3.864 billion, well within the budget ceiling of P4 billion.

The first strategic sealift vessel will be delivered in May while the second ship is scheduled to arrive next year.

The strategic sealift vessels can be used to perform civil-military operations and can transport a large number of soldiers, logistics equipment and supplies. They can also accommodate three helicopters and can support disaster relief operations.

Padilla said the ship can also be deployed as a command and control center that can coordinate rescue, recovery and retrieval efforts.

“This ship can also be used as floating hospital in case our health center and hospitals in provinces that were affected by disasters become unavailable,” he said.

Padilla said the vessel can also be used as a supply ship in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and other Philippine territories.

Zamboanga tightens security amid alleged MNLF presence

From ABS-CBN (Jan 15): Zamboanga tightens security amid alleged MNLF presence

Authorities have tightened security in Zamboanga City following reports of alleged presence of members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

Authorities tightened security specifically in the mangrove areas of Barangay Talon-talon and Mampang, which the MNLF used as entry points when it laid siege to the city in 2013.

Some residents in the two villages reportedly panicked after they heard information alleging the presence of some members of the MNLF who plan to hold a peace rally today, January 15.

Zamboanga on alert vs MNLF intrusion

According to Tetuan Police Station Chief Superintendent Nonito Asdai, they also received reports that a small boat carrying armed men docked in the Mampang area.

But upon verification, police discovered that it was just a tug boat manned by some locals in the area.

Combined forces of the police and military remain in different strategic areas to secure the city.

Residents are advised to remain calm while remaining alert and vigilant.

Photo: Anti-EDCA activists burn US flag

From ABS-CBN (Jan 14): Photo: Anti-EDCA activists burn US flag

Activists burn a U.S. flag during a protest against the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) outside the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines, on Thursday. The Supreme Court recently declared the agreement, which would allow the United States to use some of the country’s military facilities, constitutional.

Two blasts rock Cotabato province - police

From GMA News (Jan 15): Two blasts rock Cotabato province - police

KIDAPAWAN CITY — Two blasts rocked Cotabato province on Thursday evening but there were no reported casualties, police officials said. Around 10:30 p.m., an improvised explosive device (IED) went off beside the national highway at Purok Mirasol in Barangay Polomoguen, Midsayap. Another explosion occurred Aleosan town of shortly before midnight.

Superintendent Bernard Tayong, Cotabato PNP spokesperson, said no one was hurt in the blasts.

The incidents, however, caused panic among residents in the areas.

Tayong disclosed that the IED that went off in Midsayap contained blasting caps, gunpowder and at least a kilo of nails.

Superintendent Guilbert Tuzon, Midsayap chief of police, could not ascertain if the blast was intented to sabotage the Halad Festival as celebration of the feast of Sto. Niño on Sunday.

“Perhaps the strict security implemented in Midsayap prompted the suspects to abandon the explosive beside the highway,” Tuzon told reporters.

Meantime, a steel tower of the National Grid Corporation in the Philippines (NGCP) in Aleosan was also bombed after the explosion in Midsayap.

Reports reaching the North Cotabato Police Office said the explosion toppled the steel tower which resulted in power fluctuation in some areas in Cotabato's first congressional district.

Responding bomb squad also recovered another unexploded IED near the tower. As of posting time, no one has claimed responsibility for the incidents.

China: EDCA to escalate tensions, undermine stability in Asia-Pacific

From GMA News (Jan 14): China: EDCA to escalate tensions, undermine stability in Asia-Pacific

China has criticized the Supreme Court's decision declaring the defense pact between the Philippines and the United States as constitutional, claiming the deal will only "escalate tensions and undermine peace and stability in the (Asia-Pacific) region."

"It seems very peculiar that the Philippines, which stopped hosting two of the largest overseas US military bases in the early 1990s, invited the US troops home again, despite strong domestic criticism, at a time when the situation in the South China Sea has stabilized," a commentary on the official Xinhua News Agency site said Wednesday afternoon.

"It is easy to deduce that Manila, which has long been involved in a dispute with Beijing over claims on some South China Sea islands, appears to be now turning to Uncle Sam to back its ambition to counter China," it added.

Criticizing the United States, the commentary claimed that an "increased military presence in the region will only aggravate regional tensions and could push the situation to the brink of war."

"The US military intervention in the Asia-Pacific will only escalate tensions in the region, of which the Philippines is an indispensable part. Manila has to bear the negative consequences of its stupid move in the future," Xinhua's commentary said.

On Tuesday, the high court upheld the constitutionality of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and the United States.

Under the EDCA, the US will be allowed to build structures; store and pre-position weapons, defense supplies and materiel; station troops, civilian personnel and defense contractors; and transit and station vehicles, vessels, and aircraft for a period of 10 years.

The Supreme Court decision came amid an ongoing dispute between the Philippines and China due to overlapping claims in the South China Sea. Following the decision, a military spokesman said Wednesday that the Philippines has offered the US eight bases where it can build facilities to store equipment and supplies under the new security deal.

"The list has been prepared many months ago when we had earlier discussions," a Reuters report quoted Col. Restituto Padilla as telling reporters, saying five military airfields, two naval bases and a jungle training camp were offered to the United States.

"These are still subject for approval and we're going to hold final discussions about these areas," Padilla added.

Three of these bases are on the main island of Luzon in the northern Philippines, including Clark airfield, a former US air force base, and two are on the western island of Palawan, near the South China Sea.

The Americans are also seeking access to three civilian seaports and airfields on Luzon, including Subic Bay, a former US Navy base, a senior defense official told Reuters.

Last year, more than 100 US Navy ships docked in Subic and two advanced nuclear-powered stealth submarines made visits in the first two weeks of this year.

"Subic is important to the Americans because it is one of the few areas in the country where they can actually dock safely," said a defense official, who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

China seeks investment for disputed islands, to launch flights

From GMA News (Jan 15): China seeks investment for disputed islands, to launch flights

In moves likely to anger other claimaint-countries, China will invite private investment to build infrastructure on islands it controls in the disputed South China Sea and will start regular flights to one of them this year, state media said on Friday.

China claims almost all of the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of maritime trade passes each year.

The Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims.

In 2012, China set up what it calls Sansha City, based on Woody Island in the Paracels, to administer its islands there.

Though China calls it a city, its permanent population is no more than a few thousand, and many of the disputed islets and reefs in the sea are uninhabited. Sansha's deputy mayor, Feng Wenhai, said they will welcome private investment and "will initiate public-private-partnership programs," state news agency Xinhua said.

"The city will also push forward the planning and construction of a maritime medical rescue centre. Submarine optical cables will be laid and put into use this year, and WiFi will cover all inhabited islands and reefs," Feng said.

The airport on Woody Island will also launch regular flights this year, Feng added, without elaborating.

China took full control of the Paracels in 1974 after a naval showdown with Vietnam.

Hundreds of Vietnamese demonstrated in Hanoi when China established Sansha City and invited oil firms to bid for blocks in offshore areas that Vietnam claims as its territory.

Tensions between China and Vietnam have flared in recent weeks, after Chinese civilian aircraft conducted several test landings on the disputed Fiery Cross Reef, one of three runways China has been building for more than a year by dredging sand up onto reefs and atolls in the Spratly Islands.

Vietnam says China's landings were on an "illegally" built reef, and has vowed to defend its sovereignty through peaceful measures.

Chinese state media on Friday showed pictures of what it said was the first batch of civilian passengers to arrive by plane on Firey Cross Reef, family members of troops based there, though it only appeared to be two women and two young children.

"Everyone rapturously looked around at the island's beautiful scenery," read a caption underneath one of the pictures carried on the website of Chinese news portal Sina, showing the four of them standing on the tarmac in front of two civilian aircraft.

The United States has criticised Beijing's building of artificial islands in the disputed Spratly archipelago, south of the Paracels, and has conducted sea and air patrols near them.

The Philippines has challenged Beijing at the arbitration court in The Hague, a case Beijing has not recognized.

Communist rebels open to talk peace 'with any administration'

From Rappler (Jan 15): Communist rebels open to talk peace 'with any administration'

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines says the rebel leadership is 'ever ready' to resume the peace process in the context of past agreements

ASIA'S LONGEST. Philippine communist guerrillas in Mindanao. File photo by Edwin Espejo/Rappler

ASIA'S LONGEST. Philippine communist guerrillas in Mindanao. File photo by Edwin Espejo/Rappler

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) is looking forward to the resumption of peace negotiations with “any administration" as formal talks “have been paralyzed” under the Aquino administration, according to its peace consultant Randy Felix Malayao on Thursday, January 14.

“Despite the promise of peace talks under the present administration, [the process] has been paralyzed since 2011,” he said during a forum organized by the Royal Norwegian Embassy and International Alert Philippines. “The NDFP is ever ready to resume formal talks.”
The NDFP negotiates on behalf of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA). The CPP, formed in 1968, is behind Asia’s longest running insurgency.
The peace process between the NDFP and the Philippine government started in 1986 under the administration of Corazon Aquino. After several suspensions – the last one being in 2004 – formal talks between the two parties resumed in February 2011 in Oslo, Norway.
Both parties, according to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), agreed to a timeframe of 18 months to complete the negotiations under The Hague Joint Declaration, which was signed in 1992.
Open ‘with any administration’
With President Benigno Aquino III’s less than 5 months in office, Malayao said that the NDFP is not expecting the resumption of talks.
But, he stressed, “we are open to negotiate with any administration."
The process however should be “in the context of past agreements,” he added.
The NDFP said the Philippine government – under the Aquino administration – has not honored some of the agreements, mainly the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).
“For formal talks to move forward, there should be respect to former signed agreements,” he said. “There has been little to no release made until now.”
The alleged violation of this agreement was highlighted when top leaders of the CPP – Benito and Wilma Tiamzon – were arrested in 2014. The Department of Justice, however, insisted that the JASIG cannot be invoked in the arrest of the Tiamzons as there was no ongoing peace negotiations with the communist group.
Hopeful and committed
“In the absence of formal talks, we can engage in exploratory talks,” Malayao said.
The Royal Norwegian government, which acts as the 3rd party facilitator in the peace process between the NDFP and the Philippine government, remains hopeful that the talks will end well eventually.
According to Elisabeth Slattum, Norwegian Special Envoy to the GPH-NDFP peace process, they “haven’t seen much progress in the process” but they “remain committed.”
“Peace process is not an easy task and it often take many failed attempts," she said.
Norway is also the third party facilitator of the peace talks between Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army. The latest talks, which followed 3 previous failed attempts, started in 2012 and have led to agreements covering rural development and political participation, among others.
The final agreement between Colombian government and the rebel group is expected in 2016. This will ultimately retire Latin America's longest running insurgency.
The Norwegian government aims to achieve in the Philippine negotiations what have been done in Colombia.
"Dialogue and cooperation is the most effective and least costly,” Slattum said. "We remain very hopeful that we will achieve progress in the negotiations with NDFP.”