Tuesday, January 19, 2016

ASG war materiel seized in Luuk, Sulu

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 20): ASG war materiel seized in Luuk, Sulu

An arms cache, belonging to fleeing Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits under sub-commander Idr Alhabsy Misaya, was seized by troopers from Joint Task Group Sulu Tuesday afternoon.

This took place at 4:45 p.m. at Barangay Guimbaon, Luuk town.

Joint Task Group Sulu commander Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado said troopers from the 35th Infantry Battalion were conducting clearing operations in the area when they stumbled upon an abandoned hut containing the arms cache.

Seized were an M-16 automatic rifle and a magazine containing 20 bullets; an extended aluminum M-16 magazine; two plastic M-16 magazines; a 40mm grenade; three bandoliers and the lower garment of a battle uniform.

Witnesses said the bandits abandoned their weapons upon learning that government troops were about to conduct "focused military operations" in nearby Kalinggalang, Caluang.

Pursuit operations are still ongoing.


Civilians take up arms vs ISIS and BIFF in Mindanao

From Rappler (Jan 19): Civilians take up arms vs ISIS and BIFF in Mindanao
In a gathering somewhere in the mountains of Central Mindanao, Brother Asiong, spokesman for Red God's Soldiers, leads over 300 men in burning the ISIS flag
RED GOD'S SOLDIERS. Members of armed Christian group Red God’s Solders set on fire a flag of ISIS during a gathering Tuesday, January 19, 2016 somewhere in Central Mindanao mountains. Photo by Jef Maitem.
RED GOD'S SOLDIERS. Members of armed Christian group Red God’s Solders set on fire a flag of ISIS during a gathering Tuesday, January 19, 2016 somewhere in Central Mindanao mountains. Photo by Jef Maitem.
CENTRAL MINDANAO, Philippines – Members of an armed Christian group here burned a flag of the Islamic State (ISIS) on Tuesday, January 19, to show their opposition to attacks by ISIS-inspired organizations against civilians and the reported plan of the terror group to set up its own province in the region.

They call themselves “Red God’s Soldiers."

They vowed to defend their lands, families, and people from continuing attacks by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s largest rebel group engaged in peace talks with Manila.

In a gathering somewhere in the mountains of Central Mindanao, Brother Asiong, spokesman of the group, led his more than 300 men in burning the ISIS flag as they raised their weapons and shouted, "Long live to Reds and the Philippines."

“Because we are always under attack even as we are just working in our farms. We were forced to arm ourselves. We don’t want to die without doing something. The military is not always around to help us,” said Asiong.

Asiong said they only want the government to address their problem.

“We appeal to our President in Manila to give us importance, especially small people like us. We farmers are the ones providing food for the people and we are always under attack,” he said. “We wanted him to address our land conflict that is now more complicated due to the existence of BIFF,” he added.

He said their lands were given by the government to their forefathers, but now the rebels are taking them back.

FIGHTING ISIS. Members of newly formed armed Christian group calling themselves Red God’s Soldiers are seen during a gathering Tuesday, January 19, 2016 somewhere in the Central Mindanao mountains. Photo by Jef Maitem

FIGHTING ISIS. Members of newly formed armed Christian group calling themselves Red God’s Soldiers are seen during a gathering Tuesday, January 19, 2016 somewhere in the Central Mindanao mountains. Photo by Jef Maitem

Contrary to reports, Asiong said they are not members of Ilaga or Tadtad that became infamous in the 1970s.

The Ilaga, a Christian group known for its bloody attacks and human rights abuses in Mindanao in the 1970s, were tapped in the 1970s to battle Muslim rebels. They were accused of atrocities against Muslim communities, the bloodiest of which was in June 1971, when 65 men, women and children were massacred in a mosque in Barangay (village) Manili in Carmen, North Cotabato.

On the other hand, the Tad-tad cults, known for their ferocity, first rose to prominence in the 1970s in reaction to the armed Moro separatist campaign in Mindanao. Human rights advocates charge that the government used these cults as vigilante fighters, first against Moro guerrillas and then against communist insurgents and their suspected sympathizers.

Military knows?

“We have rituals and our strength comes from our Lord. The military knows our existence and we are not violating any law because we are using our weapons within our community…not outside,” he said.

Asiong clarified that their weapons did not come from any politician or group. They supposedly acquired them from some "moles" in the MILF.

Since 1970s, he said more than 60 people have been killed by rebels.

On December 23, 2015, 11 civilians, mostly farmers, were killed in the attacks in the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and North Cotabato, incidents later claimed by the BIFF. The series of attacks prompted the military to deploy more troops to Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

The BIFF broke away from the MILF in 2008 and has vowed to continue the uprising, claiming that the Malaysian-brokered talks would not lead to a separate Bangsamoro homeland in Mindanao.

ISIS, which claimed responsibilities for the Paris and Jakarta attacks, earlier announced in a video they released that they have forces in the Philippines and are planning to set up their territory in Mindanao.

Danger Of Southeast Asian Jihadi Returnees: Need For An ASEAN-Wide Policy – Analysis

From the Eurasia Review (Jan 19): Danger Of Southeast Asian Jihadi Returnees: Need For An ASEAN-Wide Policy – Analysis (by Jasminder Singh)

Member states of ASEAN. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

Member states of ASEAN. Source: Wikipedia Commons

More than 1,000 Southeast Asian combatants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are poised to return home in the near future. Much needs to be done to pre-empt the serious political and security implications that these returnees will pose.

Of the more than 1,000 Southeast Asian combatants for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, together with 2,000-3,000 camp followers, some are poised to return home in the near future. This is likely to have serious political and security implications for the region.

The majority of Southeast Asian fighters are from Indonesia and Malaysia with a token presence from Thailand, Philippines, and possibly Myanmar. About 70 Southeast Asians are believed to have been killed in combat while another 200 or so are said to have returned. Many of the returnees in Southeast Asia were captured in transit en route to Syria. For example, more than 170 Indonesians were detained on the Turkish-Syrian border before they could cross into Syria. What is in store for Southeast Asia with IS returnees is far more serious than the Afghan returnees in the 1980s. Only a coordinated regional policy will be able to manage this potentially grave threat. This is because Southeast Asia will have to overcome a regional and extra-regional terrorist threat under the auspices of Katibah Nusantara, the IS’ affiliate in the region, besides many Southeast Asians fighting for other groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate.

Reasons for Returning from the Islamic State

While for some, the aim was to permanently stay in the so-called Islamic State (IS) under its self-appointed Caliph, the geo-political and military realities, however, have dictated many to return home, with more likely to join the train. Many have returned due to disillusionment with IS. For them the dream of an Islamic paradise was shattered by the brutalities and atrocities they witnessed, especially the beheadings and wanton killings of civilian Muslims, Shias and Sunnis alike.

The highly disciplined, demanding and rigorous life style of IS was something many had not expected, especially in an environment where the Southeast Asians were a minority. Many who also hoped for glamorous jobs and assignments were given menial tasks that also disenchanted them forcing them to abandon IS.

Danger of the Returnees

The danger posed by IS returnees is three-fold. The first is dealing with individuals who have adopted and been exposed to the radical ideology of IS; it promotes intolerance and hatred towards non-believers who can be killed for not accepting its ideology. The fear is that the returnees who are steeped in radical ideology would promote the ‘ISISification’ of Southeast Asian religious tenets and practices, leading to cognitive and ideological shifts that would promote inter and intra-religious conflicts. It would also lead to the spread of the IS’ ideology and propaganda in an attempt to win new adherents. With many issues and challenges facing local Muslims, this could pose a danger to moderate mainstream Islam in the region.

Secondly, there is also the danger that the returnees would be accepted as natural leaders of militant movements in the home country as happened following the return of fighters from Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s. The returnees’ prestige of having fought in ‘Bumi Allah’ (God’s Land) can be expected to draw many recruits who have already been radicalised towards the cause of IS and greater radicalisation and terrorism. The battle-hardened and ideologically fortified returnees, with experience of having lived in the ‘Islamic Caliphate’, would also be able to act as a powerful magnet to recruit supporters and fighters for local militant groups and even IS.

Finally, and probably the most dangerous consequence, could be the launching of terrorist operations at home by these returnees. Armed with battlefield experience, adept in technical skills of weapons’ handling, and bomb making, including killing of combatants and civilians, these combat veterans will pose an existential threat to their home countries and the wider region. They may want to continue their violent struggle against local political and religious leaders, and communities dubbed as ‘enemies of Islam’ and pursue a struggle in support of the IS as part of its effort to establish an Islamic Caliphate. There is also the possibility of other combatants from outside Southeast Asia entering the region in support of regional operations as seen with the Uighurs’ support for Indonesian militants.

What Can the Returnees Do?

There are at least three scenarios of possible actions by returnees:

1. Regroup in the Philippines with old jihadi networks such as Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in the Philippines;

2. Resume violence and sectarian conflict in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia;

3. Target foreigners in the region including foreign embassies and iconic Western economic and political interests such as hotels and shopping malls. Revive dormant groups such as Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia, Rohingya Solidarity Organisation, Arakan Rohingya National Organisation and the Pattani United Liberation Organisation. Escalate domestic violence against governments seen as pro-Western or being anti-Islamic.

The returnees’ military attacks could possibly be undertaken through the following avenues:

a. By a single terrorist, either local or external;

b. By a single group, say the East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT);

c. By a combination of groups as is currently ongoing in the Philippines involving the BIFF, Abu Sayyaf Group, MILF faction, Ansar Khalifa Philippines and various Malaysian and Indonesian elements; and/or

d. By a combination of local and external terrorists, say a joint operation between the MIT and Uighurs.

What Needs to Be Done?

It has become clear that no one state can manage the threat posed by IS. It will require regional and international cooperation, including the need to get assistance from Turkey and Iraq to send captured local fighters back for charges. To begin with, states would need strong legislations to criminalise citizens fighting for terrorist groups, involvement in war or military operations other than for national purpose, and even pledging of loyalty to another state an act of betrayal and crime.

In addition to strong and deterrent punishment, Southeast Asians should be stripped of their citizenship for participating in criminal acts on behalf of another state. There would also be the need for effective de-radicalisation measures in order to rehabilitate and reintegrate returnees into the society at large.

The danger posed by the ‘Daesh Alumni’ (as IS-linked militants are also referred to) and returnees is real and this should be addressed head-on to prevent these ideological and battle-hardened individuals from causing damage to their respective societies. This would, however, require an ASEAN-wide effort to neutralise the threat from IS in the region.

[Jasminder Singh is a Senior Analyst with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.]


Pols terrorizing island town in Sulu

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 19): Pols terrorizing island town in Sulu

Residents feel exec’s wrath after rooting for new blood in local gov’t

Terror is stalking residents of the island town of Pata in Sulu and it’s not coming from extremists, but politicians.

Residents appealed for government help to prevent another attack on their island community which one of them said was triggered by the residents’ refusal to commit support to the incumbent mayor, Anton Burahan.

“We are powerless,” said 60-year-old Bidin Jubail, a resident of Saimbangon, one of the villages on Pata island.

Jubail recalled an attack on the island town allegedly by followers of Burahan on Jan. 2 who were armed with M203 grenade launcher, and M-14 and M-16 rifles.

“They got mad at us because they learned we are supporting young professionals who we believe have the potential to bring development to our town,” Jubail said.

During the Jan. 2 attack, armed villagers tried to fight back and the clash lasted for at least 16 hours.

The gun battle ceased only after soldiers and policemen reached the place in the afternoon of Jan. 3.

Julamin Jubail, Bidin’s son, described the attack as “one-sided because their weapons were high-powered and they had enough ammunition.”

“We are very afraid now,” said the younger Jubail.

“All we are asking from the national government is to send more soldiers, and not police forces as they are controlled by the local government,” he said.

He added that classes in the town’s elementary and high schools have been suspended as teachers, fearing they would be caught in the cross fire, refused to report for work.

Vice Mayor Alrasdy Sarapuddin, 34, denied an earlier report that he was behind the attack as Sulu Vice Gov. Abdusakur Tan had claimed.

“It’s not true. We were the ones who were attacked,” he said.

Sarapuddin, a nephew of Mayor Burahan, is running for mayor. The younger Jubail is Sarapuddin’s running mate and is facing the mayor’s wife, Nurmina, in the May elections.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri, in an interview, said he would check why local government officials were armed and attacked civilians on Pata island.

“It is only now that I learned that our Armed Forces and the police did not immediately act on it,” said Iriberri.

“We will look into that and I am sure our commanders will never allow our civilians to be threatened and harassed by a group,” Iriberri said.


Malacañang defends PH-US defense ties

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 18): Malacañang defends PH-US defense ties

Malacañang on Monday defended the Philippine government’s defense ties with the United States amid calls from Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
Santiago earlier also said the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the US is invalid.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., however defended the closer defense ties between the US and the Philippines.
“Ang VFA, Mutual Defense Treaty at EDCA ang mga sandigan ng US-Philippines strategic partnership at batayan ng pagpapatatag sa seguridad ng bansa [The VFA, the MDT and EDCA are the pillars of the US – Philippines strategic partnership as well as the basis for strengthening the security of our country],” Coloma said.
Santiago had called the Aquino administration to scrap the VFA, saying that the Supreme Court (SC) failed to rise from its problematic 2009 ruling on the VFA by also upholding as constitutional the EDCA.
She said a resolution without Senate concurrence, any treaty or international agreement, including the EDCA, is invalid.
Last week, the SC upheld the constitutionality of the EDCA.
Several groups filed a petition before the SC contesting the constitutionality of the EDCA and asking for the issuance of a temporary restraining order on the implementation of the EDCA, saying that it violates provisions on national sovereignty, territorial integrity and interests, freedom from nuclear weapons and autonomy of local government units in the charter.
The EDCA is an agreement between the Philippines and the United States which is envisioned to advance the implementation of the Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty.
President Aquino had said that the increased rotational presence of US troops here will be beneficial not just in the area of defense but also for the economy of both countries.

AFP chief wants Abu Sayyaf finished off before PNoy term ends

From GMA News (Jan 18): AFP chief wants Abu Sayyaf finished off before PNoy term ends

Armed Forces chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri has ordered the military unit in Sulu to finish off the Abu Sayyaf before the end of President Benigno Aquino III's term in June.

Col. Alan Arrojado, commander of the Joint Task Group Sulu, said Iriberri gave the order during his visit to the province last Friday.

"He said we should continue our relentless operation," Arrojado said, referring to Iriberri. "If we can finish the Abu Sayyaf during the term of President Aquino, we should do it as soon as possible."

Arrojado, who described the mission as "doable," said he told Iriberri that they will "try our best to accomplish our mission."

"We will exert our best effort. We have no choice but to do it," he said.

The Abu Sayyaf is a loosely organized band of Islamic fundamentalists known for carrying out kidnapping, including of foreigners, and bombing operations in the past.

At present, the group is holding several foreign and Filipino hostages in Sulu, including a Dutch wildlife photographer kidnapped in Tawi-tawi in February 2012.

The military estimates the number of active Abu Sayyaf members to about 200, most of them operating in Sulu.

Arrojado said for their mission to succeed, they will need the help of local government units.

"This actually requires a whole of nation approach, including the local government. We are just part of the solution," he said.


SurSur declared as “Conflict Manageable and Development Ready” province

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 19): SurSur declared as “Conflict Manageable and Development Ready” province

Surigao del Sur has been declared “Conflict Manageable and Development Ready” province during the First Quarter Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) meeting held at the headquarters of the 36th Infantry Battalion at Barangay Dayoan, Tago town, this province on January 15, 2016.

Governor Johnny Pimentel, PPOC chair, who was presiding over the entire proceeding, banged the gavel to mark the unprecedented declaration as the meeting was nearly coming to an end.

 “So the resolution, if there is no objection, is unanimously seconded and hereby approved declaring the province as ready for investment and conflict manageable,” the governor stressed.

This was on motion of Board Member Henrich Pimentel, Peace and Order Council member and chair of the Peace and Order Committee of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, taking the cue from the proposal of Col. Isidro Purisima, 402nd Infantry Brigade commander, after the latter concluded his “Updates on Peace and Security” report by posing a question to the body whether Surigao del Sur, his area of responsibility (AOR), was indeed “Conflict Manageable and Development ready?”

But right after the report of Purisima, the governor had already made his compliment, saying “I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate the 402nd Brigade and the attached battalions for a big accomplishment.”

Beforehand, the brigade chief pointed out “six conditions” before coming up with the move, citing “Civilian authorities take responsibility in issues on peace, security and development; Security condition is conducive for business and investment to flourish; Effective control of armed violence; Peace and Order Council (POC) effectively working, functioning and operational; LGU and PNP effectively addressing the local criminality problem; and Security situation paves way of the entry of investors and infrastructure development projects.”

In addition, Governor Pimentel acknowledged the fact that the army was instrumental in successfully thwarting the holding of the New People’s Army (NPA) of the 47th founding anniversary celebration of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) here in the province.

For the first time in 15 years, the holding of the anniversary of the NPA was cancelled because of their efforts.  We have observed that Surigao del Sur has been a favorite place wherein they would like to conduct their anniversaries. But for the first time in how many years they were able to prevent the holding of the anniversary.  This is already a big accomplishment and I believe a big blow to the propaganda of the New People’s Army,” the governor remarked.”


PMA superintendent to retire Feb. 17; selection process for successor starts

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 17): PMA superintendent to retire Feb. 17; selection process for successor starts

The Philippine Military Academy will be having a new superintendent next month with the retirement of its current chief.

Maj. Gen. Oscar Lopez is set to retire on February 17 upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56 for uniformed personnel.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines said a selection process has started to name Lopez’s replacement as the overseer of the premier military school.

“As part of the changes that are forthcoming, there is an ongoing selection process. But the name will not be revealed until the President decides,” said Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, AFP spokesperson.

Lopez assumed the post of PMA superintendent on February 15, 2014 as its 56th superintendent.

Aside from Lopez, another top military official is set to retire in the coming months.

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Delgado, the commanding general of the Philippine Air Force, will be turning 56 on March 20.

Padilla said the process of selecting the replacement of the retiring military officials has always been a closely guarded confidential matter of the Board of Generals, which has been making the recommendations subject to the final approval of the President.

Northern Mindanao poll violence watchlist: 47 towns, 7 cities

From Rappler (Jan 17): Northern Mindanao poll violence watchlist: 47 towns, 7 cities

Local governments on the list are monitored because of insurgency problems, rido or clan war, historical political rivalry, and the presence of private armed groups   

The police command of Northern Mindanao has identified 54 municipalities and cities in the region as Election Watchlist Areas (EWAs), its spokesman said this week.

At the first joint multi-stakeholder’s peace and security forum here on Thursday, January 14, Police Superintendent Ronnie Francis Cariaga gave a breakdown of localities being monitored in each of the 4 provinces for being prone to election-related violence.

EWAs – formerly known as election hotspots – are placed under any of the following 3 categories:

Category 1 - there is a high possibility of politically-motivated incidents without the involvement of terror groups

Category 2 - there is threat from armed groups

Category 3 - has the elements of categories 1 and 2

Cariaga clarified that LGUs on the watchlist do not necessarily have violent incidents already. They are, however, being monitored because of their insurgency problems, rido or clan war, historical political rivalry, and the presence of private armed groups which may be used by politicians to advance their agenda.

Election-related incidents in the region have been increasing in the last 3 elections: 11 in 2007, 13 in 2010, and 17 in 2013.

For 2016, Lanao del Norte has the highest number of EWAs, owing to family and political rivalries among the Maranaos.

Below are the election watchlist areas in each province:

2 cities, 14 municipalities










Manolo Fortich

San Fernando





The New People's Army (NPA) has presence in Bukidnon. The special forces of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, including the 1st Special Forces Battalion, Scout Ranger Regiment, and the 403rd Brigade of the Philippine Army have headquarters in the province.

In recent years, rebels and government forces have clashed in Bukidnon, leading to the displacement of indigenous people's communities or the Lumad. A number of Lumad were killed in military operations, with government troops claiming that those natives were members of the NPA's armed group Pulang Bagani Command.

Lanao del Norte
1 city, 20 municipalities

Iligan City
















Sultan Naga Dimaporo




Pantao Ragat

The presence of private armed group and clan wars are common in these Maranao town.

Towns like Pantar and Salvador are heavily militarized to prevent the eruption of violence between clans and even family members. Rido or clan wars commonly occur in Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur.

For 2106, Imelda Dimaporo is running for governor to replace her son Khalid Dimaporo, whose term expires. Imelda will be facing Eleanor Dimaporo Lantud, the first cousin of Imelda's husband Adbullah Bobby Dimaporo.

The Dimaporos have been trying to unseat the husband and wife who have ruled Pantao Ragat town.

Misamis Occidental
3 cities, 6 municipalities




Don Victoriano

Lopez Jaena


Sapang Dalaga



In Misamis Occidental, private armed groups exist, including the criminal gang Kuratong Baleleng, which operates in Tangub and Ozamiz cities.

Misamis Oriental
1 city, 7 municipalities

Gingoog City








The NPA's permit-to-campaign policy is enforced in Misamis Oriental. Although the province was proclaimed NPA-free in 2011, the NPA recovered the territory it lost.

In 2013, the convoy of former Gingoog City Mayor Ruthie Guingona was ambushed by the NPA, critically wounding the mother of Senator Teofisto Guingona III and killing her bodyguard.

In April 2015, former Gingoog Councilor Mark Anthony Pelaez Bagaipo was murdered. He was then a front runner in the mayoral race.

Extortion by NPA

Major General Oscar Lactao, commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, said that the NPA, the armed group of the Communist Party of the Philippines, violates the law when it asks candidates to pay for a Permit to Campaign before entering their “area of influence.”

“What the NPA is doing is pure extortion which undermines the electoral process and our democracy,” he said. “If a candidate would pay the NPA, where would he get the money? He would resort to corruption, stealing money from the people.”

Lactao also cautioned candidates that the money they pay for permits to win will be used by the communist guerillas to buy arms and bullets, which would be use to kill soldiers and police officers and voters.

“We should condemn this activities,” Lactao said.

Discerning voters

Cagayan de Oro City Archbishop Antonio Ledesma called on candidates to observe the diocese’s campaign for Clean, Honest, Accurate, Meaningful, and Peaceful Election (CHAMP).

Ledesma said that they are identifying areas in Cagayan de Oro and Misamis Oriental for the CHAMP campaign.

“We would really like to present to our voters why they should really look at the track record, qualifications, and platforms of candidates. It is not an easy job, they should listen...and study the backgrounds of the candidates,” Ledesma said.

Ledesma also appealed to the candidates to focus on the problems of the people. “They should...focus on what Pope Francis talked about: mercy for the people, to deliver public service and [serve] the common good.”


Philippines plans tracking system for civilian flights over disputed sea

From Reuters (Jan 18): Philippines plans tracking system for civilian flights over disputed sea

An aerial photo taken though a glass window of a Philippine military plane shows the alleged on-going land reclamation by China on mischief reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, Philippines, May 11, 2015.  REUTERS/Ritchie B. Tongo/Pool

An aerial photo taken though a glass window of a Philippine military plane shows the alleged on-going land reclamation by China on mischief reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, west of Palawan, Philippines, May 11, 2015.  Reuters/Ritchie B. Tongo/Pool

The Philippines plans to install a $1-million satellite-based system to track commercial flights over the disputed South China Sea, after China landed its first test flights this month on a reef it built in the Spratly islands.

China's increasing military presence in the Spratlys has stirred fears it could lead to an air defense zone the country controls, which would escalate tension with other claimants, and the United States, in one of the world's most volatile areas.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to have huge oil and gas deposits, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the sea, through which about $5 trillion in trade passes every year.

"In the absence of a radar in the area, the system will help track aircraft movements, enhancing safety and security," said Rodante Joya, a deputy director-general of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines.

Joya said the Philippines would install the 50-million-peso ($1.05-million) surveillance system on the island of Thitu, calling it by its Philippine name of Pagasa, to track about 200 commercial flights through the area each day.

The area in the South China Sea is among the blind spots in the Philippines' airspace, he added.

The Philippines and Vietnam protested against China's test flights on the Fiery Cross reef this month, saying Beijing might impose an air defense identification zone, restricting flights by commercial airlines over the South China Sea.

On January 7, China warned a small civilian plane carrying Philippine aviation officials who inspected Thitu, where the surveillance equipment is to be set up this year, as their craft flew near Beijing's man-made island.

"The foreign ministry has been informed about the reported incident involving our civil aviation team," presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma told reporters, adding that the foreign ministry was expected to make a statement on the matter.

The Philippine civil aviation agency has limited radar coverage and the military is expected to sign a deal this year for three aerial radars to detect airspace intrusions as far as 250 miles (402 km) away, beyond the exclusive economic zone.

Joya said the agency was waiting for approval from security and foreign affairs officials as the tracking system, or automatic dependent surveillance broadcast system, as it is called, is to be located on a military base in a disputed area.

Seven civil aviation radar stations will also be added, he said.

($1=47.6700 Philippine pesos)


Naval base on Palawan’s Oyster Bay being developed

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 18): Naval base on Palawan’s Oyster Bay being developed

May 26, 2014 Oyster Bay Palawan- Philippine Navy Vessels are scattered around the Oyster Bay and Ulugan Bay fronting the West Philippine sea, and is being deveopled as a "mini Subic" where the country's two former U.S. Coast Guard cutters would be based. Oyster Bay is only 160 km (100 miles) from the disputed Spratly islands, where China has been reclaiming a reef known as Johnson South Reef, and building what appears to be an airstrip on it. INQUIRER/ MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

Oyster Bay Palawan- Philippine Navy Vessels are scattered around the Oyster Bay and Ulugan Bay fronting the West Philippine sea, and is being deveopled as a “mini Subic” where the country’s two former U.S. Coast Guard cutters would be based. Oyster Bay is only 160 km (100 miles) from the disputed Spratly islands, where China has been reclaiming a reef known as Johnson South Reef, and building what appears to be an airstrip on it. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO/ MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—If there are efforts to develop a new military base in Palawan that can host US troops, no confirmation is coming from local military and civilian officials here.

But the development of an existing naval facility located on Oyster Bay, acknowledged to be the most suitable to host US troops, is quietly going on, aimed at what Philippine Navy officials have described as creating a “mini Subic” in Palawan.

Subic is a former US naval base in Zambales province. It was shuttered together with Clark Air Base in Pampanga province in 1992 after the Senate voted to terminate the US-Philippine Military Bases Agreement.

Close to Spratlys

Located on the edge of the primary forest reservation facing the South China Sea, the Naval Forces West (Navforwest) facility on Oyster Bay is close to the islands and reefs that the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, China and Taiwan are disputing.

Previously accessible only by sea from the pier of its local host community, Puerto Princesa’s northern village of Macarascas, Oyster Bay will soon be linked to the urban center by a highway now under construction.

Work on the 12-kilometer access road is being undertaken by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for Navforwest.

“The purpose of this road is for easy access of our troops from Oyster Bay to Puerto Princesa, transporting materials for construction of new barracks for our troops and accessibility of Navy ships,” Lt. Ariesh Climacosa, spokesperson for Navforwest, told the Inquirer.

The road is expected to be completed in October. By then, the base would be less than an hour’s drive from Puerto Princesa.

Some local officials, however, have complained of the “haste” by which the road project was started.
Community Environment and Natural Resources (Cenro) officer Emer Garraez said the project proponent had been cited for bypassing the agency in seeking permits.

He explained that the project required the clearing of primary forest vegetation to make way for the road.

“They started it without a tree-cutting permit,” Garraez said.

The project, however, received endorsement and approval of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) when the matter was taken up late last year.

Waiting for Americans

In the fishing village of Macarascas, the present jump-off point to Oyster Bay and host of the main headquarters of the Western Command’s naval arm, the residents are waiting for the arrival of the Americans.

“There used to be opposition to the naval base here, but now the people are used to the presence of the military,” said Sebastian Labrador, barangay captain of Macarascas.

The move to develop the Oyster Bay naval base into a modern naval facility started in 2014. The base was the Philippine Navy’s sole shipyard facing the South China Sea, but it was rundown and starting to surrender to the elements.

Nestled among old-growth mangrove forests and limestone cliffs on the western flank of Palawan’s central region, Oyster Bay is the Philippine Navy’s staging point to the Kalayaan Islands in the disputed Spratly archipelago.

The Oyster Bay development plans came as tensions were increasing between the Philippines and China over China’s aggressive assertion of ownership of almost the entire South China Sea, including waters within the Philippines’ 370-km exclusive economic zone known as West Philippine Sea.

‘Capability upgrade’

The new infrastructure components, including the 12-km access road from the mainland, were described by Commodore Joseph Rostum Peña, the then Navforwest commander, as “capability upgrade.”

Once completed, the facility will have a new wharf that could accommodate as many as four large naval vessels, according to Navy officials.

But even then, Peña and other Navforwest officials avoided discussion of the South China Sea dispute.

Peña said at the time that part of Navforwest’s capability upgrade would come from the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ modernization program. The upgrade would include installation of high-powered radar systems in strategic areas from north to south of Palawan facing the South China Sea, he said.

The radar systems would allow Navforwest to closely monitor developments in the disputed areas of the Spratlys, he said.

“The coastal watch program should allow us eventually to monitor our seas in real time,” Peña had said.

‘Mini Subic’

Once completed, Oyster Bay would be “a mini Subic,” he said.

Like the former US naval base in Zambales, Oyster Bay has physical characteristics ideal for hosting large warships. “It is also ideal as a base for our Marines. It has vast jungles suitable for training,” Peña had said.

He was mum, however, on the suitability of Oyster Bay for use by US naval ships, saying only that the facility would be “suitable for large warships.”

Top priority

In May last year, then Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Catapang was quoted by Reuters as saying that it was the AFP’s top priority to build a naval base on the country’s western coastline, opposite the disputed Spratly archipelago.

According to Reuters, Catapang said American, Japanese and Vietnamese naval vessels would be allowed to make port calls once the facility at Oyster Bay was completed.

Catapang said P800 million was needed for the initial development of Oyster Bay and P5 billion to turn it into a major operating base.

Residents of Philippines' Muslim south fear Daesh influence

From the Daily Sabah (Jan 17): Residents of Philippines' Muslim south fear Daesh influence

Hundreds of thousands of barefoot devotees attend the annual religious procession in Manila in one of the worlds biggest Catholic parades honoring an ebony statue of Jesus Christ they believe has miraculous powers.

Hundreds of thousands of barefoot devotees attend the annual religious procession in Manila in one of the world's biggest Catholic parades honoring an ebony statue of Jesus Christ they believe has miraculous powers. AFP Photo

Days after eight people died in a Daesh-affiliated attack in Indonesia's capital Jakarta, residents of a predominantly Christian city at the foot of the Philippines Muslim south say they are in fear of the Syria-based extremist group inspiring attacks in their midst.

Zamboanga residents frequently discuss their fears on the streets, while some have taken to Facebook to underline their angst. Three years ago, many were victims of a two-week siege by a militant group opposed to the country's ongoing peace process that left more left more than 300 people dead and thousands displaced.

"With the persistent terror threats and reported allegiance of the Abu Sayyaf to IS [Daesh], nobody knows, God forbids we too could fall victim to terror spillover," one resident posted on the online social networking service Sunday.

"I pray that no spillover of ISIS [Daesh] terror attack to us. The Abu Sayyaf and BIFF [Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters] terrorists who claim connections with ISIS is not something to be taken lightly by authorities, they should do something to contain the threats."

The Abu Sayyaf has pledged allegiance to Daesh, while BIFF -- another armed group in the South -- has also offered its support.

Philippine security officials, however, have downplayed the link, saying they don't see a possibility of the attacks in Jakarta spilling over into the Philippines and vowing not allow any local group to establish a local base for Daesh.

The Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country -- has a concentration of Muslim rebel groups in its southern regions. Some -- such as the Abu Sayyaf -- have had previous ties to international terrorist groups.

In a press conference at National Police General Headquarters in Manila, spokesman Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor told reporters Saturday that intelligence services are working 'round-the-clock gathering information and monitoring the movement of such possible groups.

"This is especially so in the southern part of the country," InterAksyon.com quoted Mayor as saying

He added that he is in touch with the Directorate for Intelligence about coordination with their counterparts in Muslim-majority Indonesia regarding the aftermath of the Jakarta bombings to ensure "terrorists" hiding in Indonesia are unable to slip over the border and into Philippines territory.

Mayor sought to assure that as the Philippines and Indonesia are both members of Association of South East Asian Police (ASEANAPOL) there is a constant exchange of information to safeguard against the threat of terrorism.

The Philippines raised the alert level status of its forces nationwide Thursday after the deadly bombings in Jakarta, that were later claimed by Daesh.

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.


Tribal leader says Alamara not behind killing of Lumad student

From MindaNews (Jan 19): Tribal leader says Alamara not behind killing of Lumad student

TALAINGOD, Davao del Norte – Members of the paramilitary group Alamara were not responsible for the killing of a 15-year old Lumad student in a village here on Sunday, a tribal leader said.

In an interview on Tuesday, Datu Lumansad Sibogan, member of the council of elders of the Ata-Manobo Tribal Council of Elders Association of Talaingod, said Alibando Tingkas was killed during a “pangayaw” or tribal war in Sitio Laslasakan, Brgy. Palma Gil, Talaingod.

He said Tingkas, his grandson, was killed by Joven Salangani who took revenge against the victim’s family after his uncle, Donato Salangani, was killed by alleged members of the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) on the same day.

Donato was allegedly shot by Luib “Bagani” Daus, Dalahis “Carlos” Manlulugpis, and Tudtud Ladahay under one Commander Jose of the NPA for turning his back on the group.

In a press release, the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network also named Joven Salangani, whom it tagged as an Alamara member, as a suspect in the killing.

In an emailed statement, the 10th Infantry Division said Donato Salangani declared a pangayaw after learning that his daughter, Tessie, 18, died inside the Haran Evacuation Center in Davao City, a facility run by United Church of Christ of the Philippines but he had not seen her remains.

It said the 10th ID received reports that Donato was harvesting abaca with his wife, daughters and other companions “when he was shot to death by a group of NPAs at Sitio Sambulangan, Barangay Baugan.”

It added Tingkas was a member of the tribe to which the suspects in Donato’s killing belong.

Citing a blotter report obtained at the Office of the Ata-Manobo Council of Elders of  Talaingod,  the statement read that Colorot  Salangani,  the  wife  of  Donato,  reported they were ambushed by rebels using M4,  AK-47  and  M14  rifles  at  Sitio Sambulongan, Barangay Baugan.

“The council  of  elders  resolved  to  call  the  two  sides  to  the  office  of  the  tribal elders to settle the killings through their tribal justice system,” it said.

Alamara or not?

Sibogan denied the presence of Alamara in their community and said it was the NPA that caused the conflict.

He added that Tingkas had already stopped from attending classes at the Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center, a Lumad-run school about two years ago.

The school is located in Sitio Km. 30, Barangay Dagohoy in Talaingod.

Rius Valle of SOS Network said Alibando was shot in the chest twice.

“We are enraged and saddened by this incident. The paramilitary group and their military cohorts will not stop from attacking and even killing lumads in the name of their counter-insurgency operations, even children are not spared anymore” Valle said.

“Witnesses said they were on their way home, walking from Sitio Nasilaban, Brgy. Palma Gil heading towards Sitio Bayabas, when suddenly they were fired upon in Sitio Laslasakan, just a half-an-hour walk from Sitio Nasilaban,” he said.

He noted that the suspect is from Sitio Barobo, “a known Alamara territory where a detachment of the 68th Infantry Battalion (is) located.”

He said the community believes that the Alamara was organized and funded by the 68th IB, an allegation the 68th IB commander denied.

In statement, MGen Rafael Valencia, commander of the 10th ID, refuted the allegations saying his soldiers and members of the Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit abide by the law and were not near the site where the killing happened.

He called SOS Network’s allegation “another deceptive attempt to put the AFP in the bad light.”


Basilan port terminal bombed

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jan 19): Basilan port terminal bombed

An improvised explosive went off at a port area in the troubled province of Basilan in the Muslim autonomous region in southern Philippines, but police said there were no casualties in the attack.

The bombing late Monday damaged a water tank and windows of the terminal building in Lamitan City.

No individual or group claimed responsibility for the bombing, but previous attacks in Lamitan had been largely blamed by authorities to the Abu Sayyaf group which is fighting for a separate Islamic state in the South.

Police collected debris at the terminal to determine what type of explosive was used in the attack. It said an investigation is also going on.

In October last year, a powerful Abu Sayyaf bomb – made from ammonium nitrate and fuel oil and packed with iron nails, and rigged to a blasting cap and cell phone – was also discovered along Rizal Avenue in downtown Lamitan.

Prior to that, an improvised bomb planted outside the police headquarters in Lamitan City also exploded, although no was injured or killed in the attack blamed to the Abu Sayyaf which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq of Iraq and Syria.


Mindanao power pylon bombed anew, 2nd attack in four days

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jan 19): Mindanao power pylon bombed anew, 2nd attack in four days 

Another steel pylon was bombed – the second attack in a span of four days – in the restive southern Philippine region of Mindanao where security forces are battling separatist insurgents.

The privately-owned National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) operates dozens of power pylons in Mindanao and most of the attacks – blamed on various rebel groups and extortionists – occurred in the Muslim autonomous region and nearby provinces.

Elizabeth Ladaga, NGCP’s spokeswoman, said the blast hit the Tower 50 of the Agus 2-Kibawe 138 kilovolt line in Lanao del Sur’s Dimayon Bubong town on Monday.  She said the repair of the tower would start soon. “Restoration of Tower 50 will commence as soon as the area is secured,” she told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

Last month, Tower 25 also of the Agus 2-Kibawe 138 kilovolt line in Ramain town in Lanao del Norte province was also toppled by a bomb explosion and since then remains unrepaired.

On January 14, a power pylon of the Kabacan-Sultan Kudarat 138 kilovolt line was also bombed in Aleosan town in North Cotabato province. Two improvised explosives had been detonated by suspected rebels, but they failed to topple the steel tower, although the blast seriously damaged the transmission facility, but eventually repaired recently.

No individual or group claimed responsibility for the latest bombing, but the region is a known lair of several rebel groups – the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and jihadists.

It was unknown why NGCP failed to detect or stop the latest bombing despite repeated attacks since last year, but it appealed to the military to protect the towers. The 6th Infantry Division said NGCP has its own personnel guarding the steel pylons.

NGCP also repeatedly blamed owners of private lands where the towers are located and accusing them of preventing their personnel to repair bombed power pylons. The NGCP proposed to “criminalize the planting of trees and other activities beneath transmission lines.”

NGCP said it has teamed up with local governments in Mindanao to solve the escalating right-of-way violations in the region by lobbying for the passage of a provincial ordinance to back up its proposals. It said the intentional planting of trees under transmission lines adversely affects power delivery to the provinces of Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Bukidnon, North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Zamboanga City, and the rest of the grid.

Land owners have repeatedly rejected NGCP’s demand unless it pays them for the use of their estate. NGCP holds the 25-year concession contract to operate the country’s power transmission network.


Police, military retirees in Pangasinan hold thanksgiving rally

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 19): Police, military retirees in Pangasinan hold thanksgiving rally

Hundreds of retired members of the police and military services in the province held on Tuesday a thanksgiving rally to thank Philippine senators for their support to them all these years.

The activity, which was conducted in front of the provincial capitol building here, was led by retired Col. Sonny Verzosa, president of the Pangasinan PNP Retirees Association,Inc.

Verzosa said the activity coincided with the nationwide thanksgiving rally by the AFP/PNP Retirees.

He said that the former police and military personnel thanked the senators especially Sen.Juan Ponce Enrile, who supported the retention of pension indexation in the proposed Salary Standardization Law of 2015.

Others who joined the peace and thanksgiving rally were retired members of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology(BJMP), Bureau of Fire Protection(BFP), and the Philippine Coast Guard(PCG).

They said that this is unprecedented for pushing the indexation of retirees in the police, military and other uniformed personnel.

The group also thanked former Senator Panfilo Lacson for helping them and the PNP Retirees Association,Inc.(PRAI), Association of Generals and Flag Officers, Inc.(AGFO), and the Coalition of Uniformed Services Retirees.