Saturday, January 16, 2016

SSVs to be fit with defensive weaponry

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 17): SSVs to be fit with defensive weaponry

While the country's first-ever strategic sealift vessels (SSVs) are primarily for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, a ranking military official said these ships will be equipped with defensive armaments.

This was confirmed by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla in an interview.

"Every Navy ship acquires a defensive weapons system to protect it from any hostile forces, we only acquire defensive weapons so it can protect itself," he added.

The first SSV was launched at PT PAL (Persero)'s shipyard in Surabaya, Indonesia Sunday.

"The SSV's weapons system will be solely on the discretion of our Navy, and I think they are preparing for that, at the moment I am not at liberty to divulge any of those arrangements, and as soon as the Navy has any information that is prepared to announce then we will," Padilla said.

The first SSV will arrive in May while the second one will be delivered in May 2017.

The Philippines has a two-SSV order with PT PAL (Persero) for PHP3,870,000,000 which is sourced from the AFP Modernization Fund.

The SSV acquisition project for the PN was initiated upon the approval of Acquisition Decision Memorandum Number 2012-060 by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on October 30, 2013.

The Department of National Defense declared Persero as the Single Calculated Responsive Bidder with a bidding price of PHP3,870,000,000 on November 18, 2014.

The SSVs are programmed to be the PN’s floating command center carrying out their main purpose as military sealift and transport vessels and also for humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

The ships are estimated to weigh around 7,300 gross register tons.

Furthermore, these vessels are critical assets for civil-military operations due to their capability of transporting large number of soldiers, logistics, and supplies.

Moreover, each SSV has the capacity to house three helicopters. The Navy’s Augusta Westland-109s are programmed to be on-board components of these vessels.

These forthcoming landing platform dock strategic sealift vessels will improve the transport capability of the PN and boost the defense capabilities of the country.

Another Navy MPAC up for maintenance, dry-docking

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 17): Another Navy MPAC up for maintenance, dry-docking

Another multi-purpose assault craft (MPAC), BA-482, is scheduled for repairs and dry-docking by first quarter of 2016.

Budget for the project is placed at PHP2,575,609.76.

Winning bidders are required to deliver the services and other items needed for the repairs within 45 calendar days, the bid bulletin from the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System said.

Pre-bid conference is set on Jan. 18, 9:00 a.m. at the Office of the PN Bids and Awards Committee Bonifacio Naval Station, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.

MPACs measure 16.5 meters long, 4.76 meters wide and has a draft of one meter and a top speed of 45 knots.

The Philippine Navy has six MPAC units and anther three is in the process of being ordered.

Each one around PHP90 million and has a range 300 nautical miles.

The hull is made of high-quality aluminum and is crewed by one officer and four enlisted personnel.

It is capable of carrying 16 fully-equipped troopers or two tons of cargo.

MPACs capable of operating in territorial waters up to "Sea State 3" (slight waves) without any system degradation.

It is armed with one .50 caliber and two 7.62 mm machine guns.

PHL determined to assert freedom of navigation, overflight in WPS -- Palace

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 17): PHL determined to assert freedom of navigation, overflight in WPS -- Palace

Malacanang on Sunday asserted the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) amid report that China has constructed additional runways in the disputed territories.

”Government is determined to assert the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight in the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea,” Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Hermino Coloma Jr. said in a state-run Radyo ng Bayan interview.

According to the report of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, a United States think tank, it has received report that China has put up additional runways in the WPS.

Coloma said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had previously filed a diplomatic protest regarding the test flights made on reefs also claimed by the Philippines particularly at Kagitingan Reef, which is well within our exclusive economic zone.

”Hence, the building of additional runways contributes to heightened tensions in the region,” Coloma said.

”We reiterate that these actions by China violate not only pertinent international laws but also the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea of which China is a signatory along with the member countries of ASEAN,” he added.

The Philippines as well as other claimant countries in Southeast Asian region particularly Vietnam have been protesting China’s massive reclamation in at least six disputed areas in the WPS.

Village chief gunned down in front of wife

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 16): Village chief gunned down in front of wife

A 56-year-old village chieftain died on the spot in front of his wife when an unidentified gunman shot him while he was parking his motorcycle in front of their house in Barangay Cabangcalan, Placer, Masbate at 2 a.m. Saturday.

A police report identified the victim as barangay captain Jonathan Sullera who was shot by the suspect with a .45-caliber pistol.

Sullera's wife, who could not identify the suspect due to darkness, immediately sought the assistance of other village officials.

The report said the couple had just come from Sitio Francisco where they joined in the celebration of its community feast.

Police are now investigating whether the incident is election related or not since the Sullera was known to be supporting a local town candidate.

1 killed as armed group harassed a CAFGU patrol base in Agusan del Norte

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 16): 1 killed as armed group harassed a CAFGU patrol base in Agusan del Norte
A member of the civilian armed force geographical unit (CAFGU) was killed allegedly hit by a sniper fire when an armed group harassed a CAFGU patrol base located at a hinter village of a border municipality between the provinces of Agusan del Norte and Misamis Oriental on Thursday evening.

This happened despite the implementation of the election gun ban and the setting up of checkpoints which started Sunday for the forthcoming May elections.

Reports from Carmen Municipal Police Station, Carmen town in Agusan del Norte received by the provincial police office here at 10:50 p.m., stated that a CAFGU patrol base located at the said area was harassed some minutes earlier, by an undetermined number of heavily armed group believed to members of the New People’s Army operating in the said area. The patrol base belonged to the 23rd Infantry Battalion, PA headed by a certain Sgt. Molina, the detachment commander.

Initial investigation disclosed that the firefight lasted for 10 to 15 minutes, after which the raiders withdrew towards some unknown direction.

A civilian active auxiliary, identified by the police as CAA Rodolfo C. Calumpang, was slain, believed to be hit by a sniper fire from the enemy side. The Carmen police requested the Scene of the Crime Operative to conduct an autopsy of his cadaver.

In a related development, another encounter was reported at 3:55 p.m. Friday, at Sitio Anahawan, Brgy. Rojales of the same municipality.

Police report said that while a team from the 13th Regional Public Safety Battalion conducted a hot pursuit operation against the withdrawing raiders of the patrol base, they engaged another armed group at the aforementioned place.

Police believed that the group could have been the withdrawing main force of raiders or a blocking force of the enemy. After 10 to 15 firefight, the armed group withdrew towards Sitio Kabayawa of the same village.

No casualties were reported however on the second encounter. Army and police teams are now in hot pursuit operations against the fleeing armed groups, police report said.

(News Feature) SSVs primary mission is to help people displaced by calamities

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 16): (News Feature) SSVs primary mission is to help people displaced by calamities

(PNA News Feature) --- Helping people displaced by natural or man-made disasters will be the primary mission of the country's first-ever strategic sealift vessels (SSVs).

The country's first SSV, which was ordered from PT PAL (Persero) in Surabaya, Indonesia, will be launched Sunday.

Launching is the removal of the ship from its building or dry-dock and first time placement in the water.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said, "The motivation, behind our acquisition of this ship is our readiness to respond during moments of disaster, because the given scenarios in a year kind of revolved during times when we are hit by weather disturbances and hence, our preparedness to meet all these weather disturbances is a very important and critical role that we play as an Armed Forces and our Navy,"

And although the SSVs, also have some security use, its primary role was to transport relief goods and personnel to disaster affected areas aside from acting as mobile command centers for coordination of emergency operations, Padilla said.

From Surabaya, the vessel's various systems will be tested before turnover to the Philippines.

The first SSV will arrived by May while the second will be delivered on May 2017.

The Philippines has a two-SSV order with PT PAL (Persero) for Php 3.87 billion , which is sourced from the AFP Modernization Fund.

The SSV acquisition project for the PN was initiated upon the approval of Acquisition Decision Memorandum Number 2012-060 by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin last Oct. 30, 2013.

The Department of National Defense declared Persero as the Single Calculated Responsive Bidder with a bidding price of Php3.87 billion on Nov. 18, 2014.

The SSVs are programmed to be the PN’s floating command center carrying out their main purpose as military sealift and transport vessels and also for humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

The ships are estimated to weigh around 7,300 gross register tons.

Further, these vessels are critical assets for civil-military operations due to their capability of transporting large number of soldiers, logistics, and supplies.

Moreover, each SSV has the capacity to house three helicopters. The Navy’s Augusta Westland-109s are programmed to be on-board components of these vessels.

These forthcoming landing platform dock strategic sealift vessels will improve the transport capability of the PN and boost the defense capabilities of the country.

Young boys recruited to be ISIS mercenaries

From the Manila Times (Jan 16): Young boys recruited to be ISIS mercenaries

FOREIGN-trained mercenaries of the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) took advantage of the pitiful plight of the residents of a Muslim community by recruiting teenagers to join the jihad (holy war) with the promise of financial support for them and their families.

This was learned by The Manila Times from an 18-year-old recruit who said he has trained with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for about six months now and wanted out complaining of starvation and rigid physical exercises.

“Jihadist ang tawag ng ISIS sa mga kapwa naming Muslim na may pananampalataya sa Islam at paniniwala sa Koran (the ISIS calls our fellow Muslim Jihadist who has faith in Islam and believers of the Quran),” said the recruit.

The young Jihadist is one of about 20 recruits – whose ages range from 16 to 18 –allegedly being trained by an MILF regional field commander based in Lanao del Norte he identified as “Commander Bravo”.

It was not known if the teener, named “Saydala”, was referring to the known MILF commander Abdulrahman Macapaar, alias Commander Bravo.

Saydala who is from Marawi City, disclosed to The Manila Times how the ISIS manipulated and managed to win the hearts of their supporters.

Saydala said they had no idea what ISIS is all about until their Jihad lectures and training activities started, conducted about 100 meters away from the undisclosed camp of the MILF in Lanao del Norte.

He also said that commander Bravo told them they will be given P20,000 each after completing the MILF-ISIS joint training.

Their families were also promised P30,000 a month once the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is approved by both houses of Congress.

The fund, they were allegedly told, will come from ISIS Islamic member-country.

Saydala added that Commander Bravo assured them of assignment with the Regional Special Forces (RSF) in the Autonomous Region In Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

They were told to report to Muhammad Jaafar Maguid, said to be the new leader of Ansar al-Khilafa (Supporters of the Caliphate) in the Philippines (AKP).

An earlier story carried by The Manila Times quoted a source from Joint Task Force GenSan (JTF-GenSan) saying that Maguid, alias “Tokboy” was tasked to continue the role of Abdul Basit Usman, the slain leader of ISIS terror cell creating wide scale violence in Central Mindanao.

Part of the plan was to secure external support and recruit other terror groups in Southern Philippines like Abu Sayyaf Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Khalifah Islamiyah Mindanao, Moro Islamic Liberation Front-Special Operation Group (MILF-SOG) and other allied forces.

Support to AKP

 Saydala’s claim was confirmed to The Manila Times by his uncle identified as commander Sakaruddin of the MILF.

Sakaruddin, a highly trained MILF commander who turned ISIS supporter, said the ISIS mercenaries have been offering large amount of money to their recruits on condition that they strongly support the AKP.

He said that most of the earlier ISIS recruits were Imam or high priests of the Islamic faith calling themselves the fundamentalists group which are now mobilizing in Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Marawi, Cotabato City, Carmen in North Cotabato, the owns of Palimbang and Kalamansig in Sultan Kudarat province.

Earlier this month, some 30 ASG members in Basilan have “officially” pledged allegiance to the caliph of the ISIS and named its new leaders aligned with the Islamic extremist group through a video released and uploaded in a website on January 4.

However, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Colonel Restituto Padilla have repeatedly denied the existence of the group or any ISIS operations in the country.

2 IS allies, 2 civilians slain in Lanao

From the Manila Times (Jan 16): 2 IS allies, 2 civilians slain in Lanao

TWO suspected supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and two civilians were killed following clashes with government troops, which the local jihadist militants claimed to have initiated on Friday in Lanao del Sur.

Colonel Roseller Murillo, commander of Marawi city-based 103rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army, identified the civilians as Panundi Sultan and his son, Aiman.

Murillo said the victims were killed by armed men under a certain “Maute group” at about 6 a.m. in Barangay Gata, Buadipuso Buntong town.

Relatives of the victims retaliated, killing one of the attackers, reportedly wearing a headband encrypted with the words “ISIS”.

The official believed that military vehicles were the target of the attack.

Members of the 65th Infantry Battalion rushed to the scene and pursued the gunmen.

While on hot pursuit, the troopers encountered another armed group in Barangay Lilod in Maguing town, a known stronghold of drug syndicates in the province, and killed one of the armed men and wounded another.

The army commander said that the gunmen in Maguing were the same group who staged an attack in Buadipuso Buntong.

An M4 rifle was recovered from the attackers.

Murillo said that local security forces in Lanao del Sur have been already alerted against the armed group suspected to be supporters of ISIS.

Attacks claimed

Inspired by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), local jihadist militants have claimed responsibility for several attacks in Lanao del Sur including the Friday encounters.

The group – combined members of the Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM), its covert unit Ghuraba (or strangers) and some former members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – hailed their fallen members “after having done their part on jihad as martyrs.”

They said two of their brothers were killed and several others were wounded in the attack.

The radical militants said their operation on Friday was to punish alleged “drug syndicates” in the province, but were intercepted by the military.

The group also claimed responsibility for the killing of two soldiers in Marawi City last December, who were on a mission in connection with the shooting of an ABS-CBN news team, whom they considered “spy” of the government.

The rebels were resisting and vowed to derail the ongoing peace process in Mindanao between the government and the MILF, saying that “those who joined the people ‘shaking hands’ with the infidels are also their enemy.”

Authorities were closely monitoring the activities of the ISIS-inspired groups in Lanao del Sur and the lone Islamic city of Marawi.

Losing influence

 Local residents and officials in Lanao del Sur expressed alarm and urged the Philippine government and the MILF to “establish close coordination” to avoid a repeat of the dreaded Mamasapano massacre in Maguindanao on January 25, 2015.

A source of The Manila Times who requested anonymity, said majority of the residents want the peace process to continue.

The MILF on Tuesday released a statement saying that failure of Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) would benefit radical groups and consequently lose their influence towards their supporters in the troubled Muslim region.

“The equation in Mindanao will change radically. There will be widespread frustration, which is a fertile reason to recruit people especially the youths to fight the state,” it said.

The statement was in reaction to the reported pledging of allegiance to the ISIS by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Basilan, led by Isnilon Hapilon.

Philippines Pushes for Joint Naval Patrols With US in South China Sea

From The Diplomat (Jan 15): Philippines Pushes for Joint Naval Patrols With US in South China Sea

Manila pushed for a “more collaborative presence” in the South China during bilateral consultations in Washington D.C.

Philippines Pushes for Joint Naval Patrols With US in South China Sea

The Philippines proposed joint naval patrols with the United States in the South China Sea amidst ongoing territorial disputes between Manila and Beijing, The Philippine Star reports.

During the U.S.-Philippine 2+2 ministerial consultations (See: “US, Philippines Boost Ties In Ministerial Meeting”), held in Washington D.C. on January 12, the United States committed to maintaining a military presence in the contested sea, according to the Philippine’s Department of National Defense spokesman, Peter Paul Galvez.

“The 2+2 meeting extensively discussed the South China Sea issue, with the U.S. side reiterating the U.S. ironclad commitment to the defense of the Philippines (…) The U.S. also conveyed that it remains committed to the AFP’s (Armed Forces of the Philippines) modernization program,” Galvez said.

During the 2+2 meeting, the United States also committed to continuing to ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. “We are suggesting that we also patrol the area together,” Galvez emphasized, according to Reuters. “There is a need for a more collaborative presence in the South China Sea.”

In addition, the Philippines pushed for clarification on the term ‘militarization’ in the context of China’s growing military presence in the disputed waters. “Noting China’s claim that it will not militarize the area, the US suggested the need for parties in the South China Sea to have a common and shared understanding of the term ‘militarization’ to avoid growing tensions. A common sense among the other parties would put pressure on China,” Galvez said.

I explained back in September 2015:
China has pushed its territorial claims in the South China Sea vis-à-vis the Philippines with vehemence. Among other things, Beijing has seized Scarborough Shoal – a shoal located between the Macclesfield Bank and Luzon island that is claimed by China, Taiwan, and the Philippines – from Manila in 2012 and continues to prevent the latter from carrying out oil and gas explorations in what the Philippines consider its territorial waters.
As my colleague Prashanth Parameswaran reported on Tuesday, this week the Philippine Supreme Court finally approved the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the United States and the Philippines which both sides initially signed in April 2014, paving the way for closer defense ties between the two countries.

In August 2015, Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin requested military assistance from the head of U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris Jr., to strengthen the Philippines’ position in the South China Sea, although the United States has made no detailed commitment to date.

As I reported previously, the Philippines specifically asked the United States for assistance in monitoring the situation in the South China Sea in “real-time” by providing surveillance and reconnaissance assets, as well as air cover to a civilian ship that supplies military personnel stationed on and around the Second Thomas Shoal.

The Philippines’ defense budget will rise by 16.3 percent to P115.8 billion ($ 2.5 billion) with total defense spending – including unprogrammed acquisitions and pensions – set to increase to P174.6 billion ($ 3.8 billion) in 2016. The Armed Forces of the Philippines modernization program within the core defense budget is slated to increase from P15 to P25 billion ($552 million) in 2016. The 2016 funds will be used to purchase two frigates, two twin-engine long range patrol aircraft, three aerial surveillance radars, and the first two out of a total of 12 FA50 light fighter jets ordered from South Korea.

‘Isis-inspired’ rebel killed in Lanao Sur

From the Sun Star-Cagaya de Oro (Jan 16): ‘Isis-inspired’ rebel killed in Lanao Sur

ILIGAN CITY - A local terrorist known by locals here to have been inspired by Isis, the Islamic militant group known variously as the Islamic State or the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, was killed around 6 a.m. Friday, January 15, in Barangay Gata, Buadipuso Buntong in Lanao del Sur.

The military did not reveal the identity of the terrorist but said two civilians were also killed.

Colonel Roseller Murillo, commanding officer of 103rd Brigade of the Philippine Army based in Kampo Ranao in Marawi City, identified the two civilians as Panundi Sultan and son Noble Sultan.

Murillo said the two civilians were killed after they chanced upon armed men under the Maute group whose presence were earlier reported by residents.

"The relatives of the victims retaliated in a firefight which killed one of the terrorists who was wearing a headband with an Isis symbol,” Murillo said.

"An Army report further disclosed that the terrorists were in an ambush position waiting for a military vehicle," Murillo said.

"At around 11:20 in the morning the 65th Infantry Battalion, while in a hot pursuit operations, encountered another armed group in the village of Lilod in Maguing town and killed one of the armed men and wounded another," Murillo added.

Murillo said the armed group that figured in a firefight with government troops in Maguing could have been part of the armed men in Buadipuso Buntong.
Murillo said the troops recovered one M4 rifle.

"We are closely monitoring the movement and veracity of reported locally inspired ISIS operating in Lanao del Sur and Marawi City,” Murillo said.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines had earlier dismissed reports on the alleged presence of Isis in Southern Philippines.

Meanwhile, the Philippines condemned the terror attack in Indonesia on Thursday, which resulted to the death of seven people and left 24 others injured.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Thursday morning attack claimed by the Islamic State is simply unacceptable.

"The Philippines strongly condemns the attacks in Jakarta in the morning of January 14, 2016 that claimed the lives of innocent people," said the DFA.

It assured the government of Indonesia that Filipinos are one with their Indonesian brothers and sisters in this time of tragedy.

On Thursday, Jakarta was struck by terror attacks after a bomb exploded followed by an armed battle between the police and the attackers.

The DFA said the Philippine Embassy in Jakarta is closely monitoring the situation and is in contact with Indonesian authorities.

"So far, there are no reports of Filipino casualties in the attacks," said the DFA.

Records show that there is an estimated 8,000 Filipinos in Indonesia.

Opinion: A tale of negotiations gone wrong

From the One Man's Meat column by Philip Golingai in The Star Online (Jan 16): A tale of negotiations gone wrong

Local experts claim that Bernard Then (pic) was cruelly beheaded not only because the ultimatum was not met, there was also friction between the groups involved in the kidnapping.

COINCIDENTALLY, when the body of beheaded Malaysian hostage Bernard Then was flown from Zamboanga City to Manila on Thursday night, I was flying from the city, where his cadaver was kept, to the Philippine capital.

The body was on its way to be reunited with the Then family who flew to Manila to collect, cremate and bring the ashes back to Malaysia today.

My colleague P. K. Katharason, who was with me in southern Philippines, remarked that sometimes life was a coincidence.

From day one on May 15 last year, we had covered the kidnapping of the 39-year-old Sarawakian and restaurant manager Thien Nyuk Fun, a 50-year-old Sabahan, at Ocean King Seafood Restaurant in Sandakan, Sabah. And this week, we were with him on his way to be with his family.

Hopefully, receiving and cremating his remains will bring closure to the Then family whose son/sibling was horrifyingly beheaded by his Abu Sayyaf captors in Jolo island on Nov 17 last year.

But it will not bring closure for me.

I was in Zamboanga City, about a three-hour ferry ride from Jolo island, as I wanted to find out why the Abu Sayyaf gunmen senselessly murdered a Malaysian who was worth at least RM3mil in ransom.

It is still a big mystery why Bernard was beheaded nine days after Thien was released for about 30mil pesos (about RM2.7mil at the exchange rate at that time).

I’ve spoken to several Philippine military and police intelligence officers, Jolo kidnappings experts and informants on why Bernard was beheaded. I have also partially watched the video of the gruesome decapitation of Bernard. (This is not the South American or Mexican drug cartel beheading video, allegedly that of Bernard, which had gone viral soon after his death.)

Last year in this column, I wrote about why Bernard was killed.

“Most likely – and this is corroborated by intelligence and security expert sources who told me slightly different but similar information – Then was murdered because of failure to meet the ultimatum given by the Abu Sayyaf to the negotiators on the day Thien was released,” I wrote.

“The captors gave the negotiators nine days to give them ransom money which they believed was brought to Jolo but pocketed by Filipino politicians acting as middlemen in the negotiations.”

(Update: negotiators too pocketed some of the ransom money.)

Another reason Bernard was beheaded has emerged. The stories that I’ve been told are roughly the same. It is just that who took the money that caused the friction and which faction cut Bernard’s head were different.

I can’t name my sources as some of them live or operate in Jolo and could be killed by the Abu Sayyaf if their identities are revealed.

Here’s the first version.

“The original ransom demand was 30 million pesos for both. This was agreed by Idang Susukan (who partially financed the Sanda­kan kidnapping as he lent the kidnappers his Volvo-engine-powered fast craft),” said the source who keeps tab on cross-border kidnap groups in Jolo.

“However, it was the Al Habsi group which were holding the two hostages. And Al Habsi wanted 80mil pesos for the two.”

(Idang, according to the source, had entrusted Al Habsi to guard the hostages in Indanan about 10km or five hours’ trek from where he was based in Talipao, as he was fighting with the military forces and did not want the Malaysians to be harmed in the gunfight. “They played hide and seek with the military hunting for the hostages,” he said.)

On Nov 8 last year, when the Malaysian and Philippine negotiators exchanged about 30mil pesos for Bernard and Thien, only the Sabahan was released. Al Habsi had decided to keep Bernard as he wanted 50mil pesos for his release.

This caused friction between Idang and Al Habsi. “They almost shot each other. However, a core Abu Sayyaf gunman stopped them,” said the source.

Nine days later, Al Habsi executed Bernard because his demand for 50mil pesos was not met.

“My group had managed to talk to Al Habsi to reduce his ransom demand to 15mil pesos. He had agreed to that amount. However, the Malaysian officials I spoke to could not commit to that amount,” said the source.

“The Malaysian and Philippine negotiators were still trying to talk to Idang, who was not holding Bernard. And it was Al Habsi who had issued the beheading ultimatum.”
Here’s the second version.

“Idang and Al Habsi had a fight as Al Habsi betrayed him. Al Habsi took the 30mil pesos in ransom money and did not give any to Idang,” said a source who has Abu Sayyaf informants in Jolo island.

“Al Habsi is a drug addict. He was not in the right state of mind when he took the money.

“Al Habsi is now on the run as Idang wants him dead. He has been hiding with his 20 gunmen somewhere in Jolo, Tawi Tawi and Palawan.”

In early January, according to the source who keeps in constant contact with Abu Sayyaf gunmen, Idang started a rumour that he was killed in a military operation in Jolo island.

“He did it as he wanted Al Habsi to come out of hiding so that he can kill him,” said the source. “I spoke to Idang’s wife and she said, ‘We want Al Habsi to come out from hiding so that we can talk to him’.”

On Nov 8 last year, said the source, Idang issued an ultimatum that if the 30mil pesos was not given to him, he would behead Bernard.

“When no money was paid, Idang cut off Bernard’s head as he already had given the ultimatum,” he said.

“Who beheaded Bernard?” I asked.

“If you watch the video, look at the hand that cut the head. There’s a distinctive tattoo on the wrist. I know that the tattoo belongs to Idang, whom I know personally,” he said.

Today Bernard’s ashes return to Malaysia. From the video, he died a gruesome death. May he rest in peace.

Militants in Mindanao 'pose threat to region'

From the Straits Times (Jan 16): Militants in Mindanao 'pose threat to region'

Philippine marines conducting an operation near the site where weapons and ISIS flags were recovered in Palimbang town, Mindanao, on Nov 28, 2015.

Philippine marines conducting an operation near the site where weapons and ISIS flags were recovered in Palimbang town, Mindanao, on Nov 28, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

The latest terrorist attack in Indonesia's capital Jakarta signals an evolving threat to the region coming from deep in the jungles of the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

While the Philippine military remains adamant that Islamist militants in Mindanao are nothing more than bandits, most analysts warn that the threat is real. Some have predicted an attack in the region similar in scale to recent lone wolf attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, as the militants appear to move closer to declaring a South-east Asia "wilayat", or province, of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Reiterating the military's assessment following the ISIS attack in Jakarta, President Benigno Aquino said yesterday: "Is there a credible threat? Is there a specific threat? There is none."

But he acknowledged there is a "general threat", as he disclosed that the Philippines has been coordinating with intelligence agencies in the Middle East to monitor Filipinos there who ISIS is reportedly trying to recruit.

General Lloyd Austin, head of the US military's Central Command overseeing Middle East operations, has warned that ISIS has lately been keen on planting roots in the Philippines and elsewhere, as it comes under increased pressure in Iraq and Syria.
Security expert Richard Javad Heydarian said ISIS is providing a "new impetus" for "relatively marginal" extremists in the Philippines to "rebrand and reorganise themselves", so the government should "ramp up cooperation with moderate elements in major Islamist and Moro groups".
A stalled peace process to end a Muslim insurgency in Mindanao is fuelling support for extremists among Muslims in Mindanao, he said. In March 2014, the Philippines and the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed a peace pact to end 40 years of war in Mindanao. But the proposed Bill implementing the agreement is unlikely to become law before President Aquino steps down in June.

For defence analyst Jose Antonio Custodio, local militants are keen on securing recognition from ISIS only because of the money and the logistical support it brings. "Ask (the Abu Sayyaf bandits) about the Sunni-Shi'ite split and they will probably just stare at you, and may even shoot you," he said.

EDITORIAL: IS reaches Southeast Asia

From the Philippine Star (Jan 16): EDITORIAL - IS reaches Southeast Asia

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the bombings in the Indonesian capital Jakarta the other day that left seven people dead. This brings to 15 the number of countries where IS has launched deadly attacks.

As with other horrific terrorist attacks, the bombers hit a soft target: a Starbucks outlet in Jakarta’s busy commercial district. It is the first major attack in Southeast Asia claimed by IS and should raise alerts across the region, particularly in the Philippines where foreign terrorists have long enjoyed safe haven.

Philippine security officials have said there is so far no IS-related threat detected, but a high state of vigilance must be maintained. Indonesian militants belonging to Jemaah Islamiyah or JI, the regional terror cell with loose links to al-Qaeda, have struck in Mindanao and Metro Manila.

Indonesian JI bomber Fathur Rahman al-Ghozi, harbored by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, was arrested and convicted for the deadly attacks on a Light Rail Transit coach and several other sites in Manila and Makati on Dec. 30, 2000 that left 22 people dead. JI and the Abu Sayyaf were tagged in the 2004 bombing of the SuperFerry 14 near the mouth of Manila Bay that killed at least 116 people.

Indonesia is no stranger to Islamist terrorism. The country has battled JI militants, who were tagged in the bombings in Bali in 2002 and 2005 that killed a total of 222 people, and the 2009 attack on the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in which two suicide bombers killed seven people.

Nearly a year ago today, Philippine police Special Action Force commandos killed Malaysian JI terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, in Mamasapano, Maguindano.
Combined forces of the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters killed 44 of the SAF and prevented the commandos from taking the body of Marwan, who was wanted for the 2002 Bali bombing.

The killers of the SAF are still scot-free, and there’s the possibility that more terrorists are being harbored in this country. There is also a strong possibility that with IS gaining a foothold in Indonesia, it won’t be long before the group makes its presence felt in the Philippines. No country in the region can let down its guard.

Insurgency primary concern in 2016 polls in Surigao del Sur

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 15): Insurgency primary concern in 2016 polls in Surigao del Sur

Tandag City – Communist insurgency in Surigao del Sur remains a primary concern for the government in its efforts to ensure honest, peaceful, and orderly national and local elections on May 9, 2016.

Declassified intelligence reports stated that highland communities of the five municipalities bordering the Andap Valley Complex are currently the focus by field units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) due to the presence of New People’s Army (NPA), armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

These highland communities belong to the municipalities of Lianga, Marihatag, Cagwait, Tago, and San Miguel.

The CPP has five NPA front committees, out of six front committees operating in highland communities in Surigao del Sur and the border of Agusan del Sur, the intelligence reports noted.
However, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) assured that the AFP and PNP have been continuously coordinating with the election agency, and conducting command conferences so that all the 367,488 registered voters all over the province will be able to vote without any untoward incident in the upcoming elections.

Ernie F. Palanan, Surigao del Sur Comelec director, said he was optimistic that the insurgency situation could still be properly addressed with the deployment of four Army maneuvering battalions of the AFP and special forces of the PNP.

Vice Governor Tan confirms Misuari is in Sulu

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 15): Vice Governor Tan confirms Misuari is in Sulu

Nur Misuari (MB File Photo/ Linus Guardian Escandor II)

Nur Misuari (MB File Photo/ Linus Guardian Escandor II)
Sulu Vice Governor Abdusakur Tan confirmed on January 15, 2016, that the  former chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Nurulaji “Nur” Misuari is in Sulu and is just hiding in one of the  towns in the province to avoid being arrested by the police.

Tan said “Misuari is in Sulu” and his presence in the province is of public knowledge.

Misuari is just hiding Sulu from pursuing authorities to avoid being arrested for his string of criminal cases, among them was the siege in Zamboanga City in September 2013, Tan said.

Tan also said that the recent gatherings of former MNLF forces in Indanan, Sulu have not disturbed the peace of the town.
When asked why the police failed to arrest Misuari during the gathering, Tan simply replied “the people of Sulu loves him and is protecting him from harm.” He did not elaborate further.

Noy orders no let-up in hunt for Abu Sayyaf

From the Philippine Star (Jan 16): Noy orders no let-up in hunt for Abu Sayyaf

President Aquino ordered troops to hunt down the Abu Sayyaf without let-up and secure all remaining hostages, a ranking military official said here yesterday.

Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo de la Cruz, commander of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said the President issued the marching orders to the troops in Basilan and Sulu.

“The order of the President, our commander-in-chief, we will pursue the operations here without let-up,” De la Cruz said.

“It is important that once and for all we complete this (operation) so that our fellowmen will feel that they are safe and secured here,” De la Cruz added.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Hernando Irriberi flew to Mindanao yesterday to oversee the presidential order against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan and Sulu.

“He went there to reiterate the message of the President against the Abu Sayyaf and all lawless groups,” AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said.

The presidential order came amid reports that one of two captive Canadians taken hostage by the Abu Sayyaf had fallen ill.

The military said it was verifying reports that John Ridsdel got sick and was seen being dragged by Abu Sayyaf bandits while evading pursuing government troops.

Ridsdel, 68, and fellow Canadian Robert Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Filipina Marites Flor were abducted last Sept. 21 in Samal Island off Davao province and are believed to be held captive in Sulu.

However, De la Cruz said they have no report to confirm the condition of the hostages. He said they have no concrete evidence on whether the victims were indeed brought in their area of operation.

Westmincom covers Central and Western Mindanao, including Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

“If they are here we have been operating and our soldiers are not taking breaks. And they would rather conduct the operation just in case we can rescue not just the Canadians but all the victims still held by the Abu Sayyaf,” De la Cruz added.

Navy’s Indonesian-made ship launched tomorrow

From the Philippine Star (Jan 16): Navy’s Indonesian-made ship launched tomorrow

One of two Indonesian-made strategic sealift vessels acquired by the Philippines to boost the Navy’s capabilities will be launched tomorrow.

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 delivery to its buyer.

“We got 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 Jan. 17. Our key officials will be in attendance,” 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 are hit by storms,” he added.

In 2014, The STAR reported that shipbuilder PT PAL Indonesia 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 could 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 could 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 could also be used as a supply ship in the West Philippine Sea and other Philippine territories.

EDCA to enhance Phl defense, security capabilities – Noy

From the Philippine Star (Jan 16): EDCA to enhance Phl defense, security capabilities – Noy

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement  (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States could enhance the interoperability between the two countries in terms of defense and other activities, President Aquino said yesterday.

“Anybody who is reasonable will see that this agreement is an enhancement of both our countries’ abilities, rather than a threat to anyone else,” he said.

The Supreme Court upheld the accord early this week, saying it was constitutional and need not be ratified by the Senate, being an executive agreement.

Speaking at the East-West Center Association International Conference at the Manila Hotel, Aquino cited EDCA as an example of complementary relationship to address needs and improve capacities.

“As we are all aware, the Philippines has a long standing Mutual Defense Treaty with the US. We have the Visiting Forces Agreement as an adjunct of that. Under the Mutual Defense Treaty, we are obliged to come to the defense of one another and assist each other in times of need,” the President said.

“My question is – how do we do that if we are not familiar with each other’s resources, equipment, doctrines and limitations?

“To my mind, EDCA has a very practical purpose for developing our own armed forces: all the modern hardware carries a significant price tag, yet with EDCA, we have a chance to try the cutting-edge equipment and see just how suitable they are to our needs, without having to buy them first,” Aquino said.

“If the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) would get to train with the US, a far more advanced force, they could learn from them the strengths and shortcomings in using such equipment and they could even redefine and understand such under their own parameters.”

He said the US, on the other hand, gets to learn how to make do with fewer resources, which in a conflict situation is a high probability.

‘Freeport not military base’

On the other hand, the head of the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) clarified that the freeport cannot be classified as a military base despite its hosting units of the Philippine Air Force, which occupies 300 hectares of land in the area.

The AFP has offered the US military use of eight Philippine bases, including Clark and Subic, a former US Navy base, under the EDCA.

In a forum at Clark, BCDA president and chief executive officer Arnel Paciano Casanova said under the law, Clark can no longer be classified as a military reservation but a freeport.

“The PAF area in Clark is part of the freeport. The stay of the PAF at Clark is temporary and is renewable every five years,” he said.

Casanova said he favors the use of Clark by the US military under EDCA, citing the “need for a balance of power for national security.”

He admitted, however, that the BCDA has yet to be consulted by the Department of National Defense or the AFP on the possible US military use of Clark or whether US military activities would be limited to the 300-hectare area occupied by the PAF.

Casanova said he sees nothing wrong with the US military putting up structures, such as warehouses at Clark.

He also assured Central Luzon folk that the operation of the US military would not disrupt civilian passenger activities at the Clark International Airport, stressing that civilian aircraft would be given priority in the use of either of the two 3.2-kilometer runways, except during times of emergency.

After the SC ruling on EDCA, Armed Forces spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla said the government offered eight bases in the Philippines for US military use.Padilla said, however, the offer still has to be finalized.

Meanwhile, Kalayaan town, a fifth-class municipality on Pag-asa Island in the Spratlys archipelago, stands to benefit from the SC ruling enforcing the EDCA.

Kalayaan town Mayor Eugenio Bito-ono Jr. said while he is not privy to the details of EDCA, he believes it would boost security on the island.

“I believe it will help, specially in surveillance capabilities and training,” Bito-onon said, referring to China’s  aggression in the South China Sea.

Bito-onon said EDCA would bolster interoperability capabilities between Filipino and US troops and in the process make China think twice before making a military move against the country.

Noy: No terror threat in Phl amid Jakarta attack

From the Philippine Star (Jan 16): Noy: No terror threat in Phl amid Jakarta attack

There is no credible or imminent terror threat to the Philippines, but security forces are on alert following attacks in Jakarta, President Aquino said yesterday, warning of a “general threat.”

“Is there a credible threat? Is there a specific threat? There is none. Is there general threat? Yes. We are not immune to the problem of extremism that is happening,” Aquino told reporters after the signing of contracts for a bulk water project here.

Aquino also said the government is concerned about the possibility of Islamic State jihadists recruiting Filipinos in the Middle East.

He said Philippine intelligence authorities would ask their Middle East counterparts to monitor possible radicalization within the Filipino community in the region, which numbers up to two million.

There are reports that half-Filipinos and extremist groups had pledged allegiance to the IS that recently attacked France and other countries.

“We need to be prudent. We will coordinate with (Middle Eastern) intelligence agencies to monitor these communities to see if they have been influenced by ISIS,” Aquino said, using another acronym for the extremist group.

“We can’t be like an ostrich, which burrows its head in the ground to avoid seeing the problem,” he said.

In particular, Aquino said a Filipino-Lebanese and a Filipino-Saudi Arabian, both of whom were living abroad and never resided in the Philippines, had reportedly been recruited by the IS.

“Now, having said that, we have a big population in the Middle East – one to two million. Supposedly there are many who have been radicalized through the Internet. Of course, we will be prudent and we will endeavor to coordinate with the intelligence agencies and our intelligence agents themselves are guarding our communities to see if the ISIS is having influence,” Aquino said.

This month, the Abu Sayyaf released a video pledging allegiance to IS.

Aquino, however, belittled the bandit group’s claim and said they were riding on IS’s notoriety. The group had previously been associated with IS rival al-Qaeda, he noted.

Aquino said the Abu Sayyaf was known to link with known and popular terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and the Jemaah Islamiyah.

“Tomorrow, when there is another group, they will change their (allegiance) again,” Aquino said.

A series of explosions hit Jakarta on Thursday, killing and injuring people. The IS reportedly owned up to the suicide attack.

Following the bombing attack in Indonesia, the Philippines went on heightened alert.
“There is nothing to lose if we continue to be on guard,” the President said, noting attacks could be indiscriminate, given the nature of terrorists today.

Aquino said local security forces, aside from being on heightened alert following attacks in other places, had long conducted hardening of sites to thwart terrorist attacks.

Aquino said he met with Armed Forces chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri, Philippine National Police chief Director General Ricardo Marquez, National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia and other officials on Thursday to assess the security situation.

The Philippine Coast Guard went on high alert while the Bureau of Immigration is coordinating with other agencies to implement appropriate security measures.

Aquino called on the people to remain vigilant and help authorities ensure security.
“Are there suspicious (individuals) going around (in your areas)? Are there packages left unattended?” the President asked.

“But all law enforcement agencies, the (intelligence community), they are all focused on this problem and we are working hard to thwart any potential problem. From the areas where they could radicalize to fixing the livelihood of our brothers who might be radicalized… so they would not be attracted to those ideologies and philosophy,” Aquino said.

AFP vows to disrupt emerging ISIS stronghold

From the Philippine Star (Jan 16): AFP vows to disrupt emerging ISIS stronghold

Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Hernando Iriberri maintained they have not found direct evidence that some militant groups are members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. photo 

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines -- Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Hernando Iriberri said the government forces will disrupt any emerging militant groups establishing a local base for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Iriberri, who was here since Friday to assess the military operations against the Abu Sayyaf group, reacted to the report that several terrorist groups are allegedly training to build the ISIS caliphate in southern Philippines.

He said that even before the video footage showing fighters in training while hoisting the black flag came out, the AFP has already initiated operations that led to the neutralization of terror leaders and members.

“We have been always tried our best to neutralize the group,” he said.

The AFP, upon the discovery of Ansar Al-Khalifa (AKP), a notorious armed band linked to the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, carefully planned the attack against the group, said Iriberri. Marines in Sultan Kudarat neutralized eight of its members last year.

Iriberri also mentioned about the operations conducted against the faction of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and Malaysian bomb expert Mohammad Najib Hussein alias “Abu Anas” in Al-Barka town, Basilan.

Anas, together with 25 Abu Sayyaf bandits were killed, after a week-long offensive which began on Dec. 12, 2015. Troops were successful in disrupting the training and seizing the rebel training camp at Sitio Bohe Buug.

But troopers suffered three soldiers dead and 26 others wounded as a result of the offensive operations.

“Our armed forces are trying their best. Every time we have the information, we validate it and we take action just to make sure we will prevent whatever terror acts they are planning to do,” Iriberi said.

The AFP chief also appealed to the public to take extra vigilance and help the security forces to prevent terror acts.

Despite the operations, Iriberri maintained that the AFP has not yet gathered direct evidence that would prove the two militant groups are members of the ISIS.

“We have not established a direct link between them and the ISIS. Why? Because we have not receive any report yet whether they are already taking orders from the ISIS,” he said.

AKP in Central Mindanao and Basilan’s Dalw’tul Islamiyah W’liyahtul Masik have only declared support to the ISIS. Neither financial nor logistical support coming from ISIS had been confirmed.

Iribeeri also said that the organizational support of the ISIS is purely Sunni.

“Ito bang conglomeration of groups are they really acceptable of ISIS na pure Sunni? Has that been established? Remember ISIS was formed of the interest to establish caliphate based on Sunni faith. That is one we have not established,” Iriberri said, dismissing the report about the emergence of the ISIS in the country.

Noy bribed by Washington on EDCA—LFS

From the Daily Tribune (Jan 16): Noy bribed by Washington on EDCA—LFS

President Aquino could have been allegedly “bribed” by Washington over his lobbying of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) which was recently ruled as constitutional by the Supreme Court despite criticisms and the lack of ratification from the Senate as required by no less than the Constitution, which alleged bribe was worth $300 million, militant groups charged yesterday.

Youth group League of Filipino Students (LFS) said that its suspicion stems from a New York Times (NYT) report published on Sep. 20, 2015 that noted Aquino’s solicitation of $300 million from the US government to finance defense efforts against potential threats from China. 

It was during that period last year when tensions over contested territories against Beijing and Manila were high.

“In private talks, the government of President Aquino had pressed the United States for up to $300 million in aid this year, arguing that it needs a substantial buildup of planes and ships to deter Chinese expansionism, according to a senior Philippine official who spoke on condition of anonymity because United States officials have asked to keep the talks confidential,” the NYT news story said.

The same report also said that US President Barack Obama refused the said offer because of fears of corruption in the Republic, and that the Philippines too, is the biggest aid recipient of the US in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia and other South East Asian countries get more by way of US aid and military aid.

In a phone interview, Charisse Bañez, LFS chairman, told The Tribune it is very likely that Aquino’s lobbying paid off, which is a “form of pawning national sovereignty to the hands of Uncle Sam”.

Bañez dared Aquino to talk about the allegation and “not just let it pass as if it’s another joke that he can’t stand” since “it wasn’t seemingly considered a serious story”.

“Have you been bribed, Mr. President? We don’t think that this is a mere joke since you now appear as the American government’s most diligent ally and puppet of the US here in the (Southeast Asian) region,” Bañez said as a response to The Tribune’s query on what her group has to say to such accusation.

She also debunked EDCA apologists’ claim that the said treaty will be helpful to the Philippines if ever the tension against China heightens further by saying that the US government will ultimately benefit the most in the EDCA despite Philippine state security heads’ belief that it will help in the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

“Contextually, the EDCA is very disadvantageous to the Philippines because it opens wide the gates to US bases which was collectively rejected by the people in 1991.
Why? Are we preparing for war against China? Our legal battle before the UN tribunal and the efficient support of the international community will help us win a winnable fight. The subliminal option lobbied by the Aquino government and perhaps by Obama is one that will surely put the Philippines into a definite defeat. Either way, it will be the US and China that are going to win. WE are merely pawns and the EDCA allows it,” Bañez said.

“Modernization from the help of Americans? What a joke! The help they are providing are second hand recycled pieces that could be sold to junk shops. If that’s the standard of Noynoy and the AFP, well, they’re obviously swallowing blatant insults on our nation’s dignity,” she added.

The LFS leader also quipped that if US assistance is helpful, why has the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) not been effective in stopping Chinese incursions and construction of man-made islands - which turns out to be naval bases - in the disputed portions of the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).

The EDCA allows US troops into the Philippines for extended stays and allows them to build and operate facilities on Philippine bases, for both American and Philippine fores. It is also a supplemental agreement to the previous VFA.

The agreement also allows US forces and contractors to operate out of “agreed locations,” which are defined as: “facilities and areas that are provided by the Government of the Philippines through the AFP and that United States forces, United States contractors, and others as mutually agreed”.

These identified locations which include Clark, Subic, Fort Magsaysay and facilities in Palawan, will be the site of new US bases. These facilities are not ordinary civilian structures. Control over these bases will remain with the US, it was pointed out.

Meanwhile, Anakpawis Party list Rep. Fernando Hicap warned that with the EDCA’s identified locations, it is paving the way for a return of the US military bases.

“Clearly the Aquino and the US government wasted no time to exploit the SC decision in favor of EDCA on their plan for creating de facto American military bases in PH soil. The so called agreed locations not only serve as a rotational venue for US servicemen but it will also be used as warehouse of their destructive weapon stockpile,” Hicap said.

Hicap also said that just like the US Embassy, the said selected military locations will be exclusively under US military control even it will be built inside major AFP camp adding that AFP officials even high ranking government officials cannot easily access to inspect these facilities without the US government’s permission.

“We are deeply wary that vessels such as carriers and subs may contain nuclear weapons which under the constitution clearly prohibited,” he added.

The EDCA is effective for an initial period of ten years, and thereafter, it shall continue in force automatically unless terminated by either Party by giving one year’s written notice through diplomatic channels of its intention to terminate the agreement (Article XII, Sec. 4 of EDCA).

Noy: EDCA a “practical” tool to improve AFP

President Aquino yesterday shielded the EDCA and played up the pact as a “very practical” way of improving the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) rather than engage in a mind game to threaten anyone in keeping ties with the United States.

Aquino, in a press conference at the Manila Hotel, echoed the Palace statement on the measure, describing it as an “enhancement” of the Philippines and United States’ defense capabilities.

“The basic logic behind EDCA is interoperability, and anybody who is reasonable will see that this agreement is an enhancement of both our countries’ abilities, rather than a threat to anyone else,” he said.

“All the modern hardware carries a significant price tag; yet with EDCA, we have a chance to try the cutting-edge equipment and see just how suitable they are to our needs, without having to buy them first,” Aquino added.

He added that while the AFP can learn from an advanced military force, the US “gets to learn how to make do with fewer resources, which in a conflict situation is always a high probability if not an intense possibility.”

The President’s statements came after militants rained tirades on the administration’s perpetration of ties with the United States which was more described as Aquino being a puppet of the Federal government.

Groups have scored Aquino over his soft stance with Americans and have lamented the Supreme Court’s (SC) recent decision attesting to the validity of EDCA as an executive agreement than a treaty which its critics suggest.

While Aquino was focused on justifying the EDCA, the Philippines irked China anew after the High Tribunal’s decision on the agreement, which the Chinese state claimed would 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.

The EDCA seeks to increase military presence in the Philippines through allowing entry of American forces at a rotational basis. It also sought to allow the Federal forces to make use of Philippine military bases, which some claimed would spell the return of US bases in the country.

In 1992, the Senate voted to eject foreign military bases in the country, as it poses danger of being targets of the enemies made by the United States.

China nearly completes 2 more runways in S. China Sea: U.S. think tank

From ABS-CBN (Jan 16): China nearly completes 2 more runways in S. China Sea: U.S. think tank

China has nearly completed two more runways on artificial islands in a disputed area in the South China Sea, a U.S. think tank said Friday, adding that Beijing appears to be speeding up construction work to claim sovereignty in the area.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a major think tank in Washington, revealed the finding after China conducted a first series of test flights earlier this month on a runway it already built in the Spratly Islands.

The United States believes China has built or is building airstrips on artificial islands on at least three reefs through massive reclamation in the Spratlys, where China is involved in territorial disputes with other claimants such as the Philippines and Vietnam.

According to the CSIS, in addition to an airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef, where China did the test flights, China has almost finished the construction of an airstrip with a 2,644-meter runway on Mischief Reef and another with a 3,250-meter runway on Subi Reef.

The airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef took at least seven months to construct, but "at Mischief, where grading began in September or October, construction is already approaching completion just three to four months later," the think tank said.

The Philippines says Mischief Reef lies within its exclusive economic zone.

China has also constructed various facilities on Subi Reef, including a seawall, docks and a tower reaching some 30 meters high, the CSIS said.

The United States has said that under a U.N. convention, no territorial claim can be recognized to artificial islands built on submerged reefs, and has urged China to refrain from any acts that could raise tension in the area.

All three reefs were submerged before China began reclamation.

PH policies help hinder terrorism, says expert

From ABS-CBN (Jan 15): PH policies help hinder terrorism, says expert

An expert on terrorism explained how Philippine law enforcement policies have helped prevent large-scale terror attacks in the country, similar to those that happened in Paris, France and more recently in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Speaking to ANC, Professor Rommel Banlaoi of the Philippine Institute For Peace, Violence and Terrorism, said terrorism and extremism in the Philippines are being hindered by laws like the Anti-Money Laundering Law and the existence of the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

"We already have an established institution that aims to counter the financing of terrorism in the Philippines. We have the Anti-Money Laundering Council and the Anti-Money Laundering Law that aims to really counter the financing of terrorism in the Philippines, and that is why the transfer of funds from ISIS is very difficult to reach the Philippines right now. But terrorist groups and ISIS have a new innovative way to transfer their resources...For example, one area that they are trying to use is the remittances of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs)," Banlaoi said.

For Banlaoi, it is more difficult for ISIS to send large resources to the Philippines via remittances.

"ISIS followers in the Philippines, particularly those associated with Abu Sayyaf Group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and other self-proclaimed ISIS followers, they have relatives and friends working, Filipino workers overseas, they can just use them to remit those money, and they have done that already but in a small scale. But if the delivery of large-scale amount will be involved, then it would be very difficult to do that through OFWs," he said.

He, however, did not deny the existence of self-proclaimed ISIS followers in the Philippines, adding that there are some groups here who are engaged in training fighters on bomb-making.

"Bomb-training is already happening, there are already ISIS followers who are giving training to the Abu Sayyaf Group. For example, the five Malaysian terror suspects wanted by the Malaysian government, they are already operating in Basilan. They conduct not only Islamic propagation activities, but also bomb-making activities," Banlaoi said.

"There are no intelligence reports, but it doesn't mean that there are no activities happening. There is just no intelligence report. The intelligence is not just monitoring them, the intelligence is not just recognizing them or they are not just identifying them, but it doesn't mean the absence of a threat, absence of activity, or absence of any imminent threat," he also said.


President Benigno Aquino III on Friday said there is no credible and imminent terror threat in the Philippines.

In an interview, Aquino said that while there were Filipinos who have identified themselves on social media as members of the terror group Islamic State, these people never lived in the country.

"One was in Saudi Arabia and another in Lebanon but they have never lived in the Philippines," he said.

The President said government intelligence agencies are monitoring the possible entry of ISIS militants in the Philippines and coordinating with other intelligence agencies.


According to Banlaoi, Philippine law enforcement authorities have been able to deny terrorist groups an opportunity to launch large-scale terror activities.

"As far as I am concerned, I've been observing terrorism activities in the Philippines for the past 15 years. The intent is there, the capabilities of the group are there, they are just waiting for the right opportunities, and I'm very happy that law enforcement authorities have denied them the opportunities to carry out large-scale terrorist activities in the country, similar to the Jakarta bombing and the Paris bombing," he said.

He also explained that terrorists in Indonesia are better trained and are more committed to the cause than those in the Philippines. They were also able to find an opening, making it easier for them to launch the attack in Jakarta.

"They found an opportunity in Jakarta. In this particular case in Jakarta, the terrorist group linked with ISIS just outsmarted the law enforcement authorities. I have been saying this, these terrorist groups are really composed of smart individuals, so the challenge for law enforcement authorities worldwide is to really outsmart them," Banlaoi said.

"There are extremists there (in Indonesia), they are well-trained, they are highly committed, and the level of their commitment to advance the extremist cause of Islam is higher compared to the Muslim followers in the Philippines because the vast majority of Muslim followers in the Philippines remain to be predominantly moderate and secular in outlook, and those few individuals claiming to be followers of ISIS, their level of extremism is still not that extreme compared to the followers in Indonesia and Malaysia," he added.

For Banlaoi, having a stronger foothold in the Philippines is also essential for the propagation of extremism.

"They want the Philippines to be the center of jihadist training because they want to take advantage of the local grievances and they want to really push to strong Islamic propagation to really intensify their commitment to this brand of Islam," he said.


Banlaoi also cannot confirm whether Abu Sayyaf Group leader Isnilon Hapilon has been recognized by ISIS.

"Well, that is the intention of ISIS, or ISIL, to have a strong foothold in Southeast Asia, particularly in the context of the growing number of self-proclaimed followers in the region. And the only thing that followers are waiting from ISIS is to recognize their overall leaders in Southeast Asia, and apparently from the recent video that was released last week, Isnilon Hapilon, who is a commander of Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan, has been reportedly recognized by ISIS as the overall leader of four battalions operating in Mindanao. But whether or not Isnilon Hapilon is a recognized leader in Southeast Asia, that is yet to be confirmed and officially recognized by ISIS itself," Banlaoi said.

"If there will be an official recognition from ISIS that the one proclaimed in Basilan is the ISIS branch in Southeast Asia, then that would imply delivery of resources to sustain that ISIS branch. And I hope that kind of scenario will be prevented by our law enforcement authorities from happening," he also said.

Following the attack on the Indonesian capital, experts agree that there is a growing threat from radicalized Muslims inspired by Islamic State, some of whom may have fought with the group in Syria.

However, they said the low death toll in Jakarta on Thursday pointed to the involvement of poorly trained local militants whose weapons were crude.

Seven people were killed in the three-hour siege near a busy shopping despite multiple blasts and a gunfight, and five of them were the attackers themselves.