Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Infighting, hunger lead to surrender of communist rebels in Davao

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 21): Infighting, hunger lead to surrender of communist rebels in Davao

MALITA, Davao Occidental – Infighting and hunger had driven 9 communist rebels operating in this province and nearby areas to yield, a military official said Wednesday.

Col. Ronnie Babac, commander of the Army’s 73rd Infantry Battalion – which also has jurisdiction over several areas of Sarangani province – said the latest to surrender were Ka J-M and Ka Dyagan, who had reasoned out they could no longer endure, among others, the scarcity of food in the hinterlands.

Prior to the duo’s surrender, three New People’s Army rebels, whom Babac identified only as Ka Kobe, Ka Jerome and Ka George, sought the help of village officials in Barangay Little Baguio here on January 13 and yielded to the military.

Like those who have surrendered before them, including couple Ka Ariane and Ka Ryan, the three rebels said they have grown tired of fighting the government because of lack of support from their leaders, Babac said.

“On January 4, Ka Vanvan and Ka Dahon – both residents of Barangay Culaman in Jose Abad Santos, Davao Occidental – also yielded with the help of Mayor Jimmy Joyce,” he said.

Babac said the two rebels cited infighting as the main reason for their surrender.
“Prior to their surrender, they were ambushed by their own comrades,” Babac said.

NORPPO secures beach resort after ‘arson' try

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jan 21): NORPPO secures beach resort after ‘arson' try

Senior Supt. Harris Fama, officer-in-charge of the Negros Oriental Police Provincial Office, said yesterday he has deployed two uniformed police personnel to secure a resort in Dauin town after an alleged arson attempt.

An initial police report said a security guard on duty at the Sea Dream Resort in Masaplod Sur, Dauin, saw two unidentified men going inside rooms 2 and 3 near the swimming pool at around 1:30 a.m. Monday.

The security guard, identified as Renoir Gonzales, trained his flashlight on the two, who then fired at least four times at him with a gun that appeared to be used with a silencer before they fled on foot towards the beach before disappearing out of sight, the police report said.

Gonzales had fired back at the suspects but unfortunately his firearm had jammed.
Recovered from the location of the incident were three cartridges and a live round of unidentified caliber and a bag that contained two bottles containing flammable liquid that appeared to be crude incendiary devices.

Fama also said his office is also validating reports of text messages that are being circulated regarding alleged extortion activity targeting resorts.

A resort owner had, in fact, reported to the police having received a text message that carried the name of the New People's Army, warning that if he failed to pay them the money they demanded, they would burn down his business establishment.

The text message also instructed the resort owner to make the payment via courier service.

The resort owner also alleged that the police had told him the text message was a hoax.

However, Fama assured that whether real or not, the police are giving this attention as anybody could be taking advantage of the election season through extortion activities and using the name of the NPA.

But, Fama also announced that the police and the military are also vigilant over the possibility the NPA would demand the payment of so-called permit-to-campaign fees from political candidates seeking election this May.

So far, the government security forces in Negros Oriental have not confirmed any such activity by the NPA.

Delfin: Army to check five election ‘hotspots’

From the Sun Star-Bacolod (Jan 21): Delfin: Army to check five election ‘hotspots’

COLONEL Francisco Delfin, commander of the Army’s 303rd Infantry Brigade, said on Wednesday, January 20, that his troops are giving weight to the statement of Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. that there are five election hotspots in Negros Occidental.

“We will verify and check that, especially that (the reports) came from the governor,” Delfin said.

Marañon did not identify the five areas, saying the police already know about it.
The Provincial Joint Security Coordinating Center composed of the Commission on Elections, Armed Forces of the Philippines, and Philippine National Police earlier declared that there were no election hotspots in the province. The governor, however, believes there are at least five.

Delfin said he has not discussed the matter with the governor personally.

Meanwhile, Delfin said there was no let-up in the Army's manhunt operation against the New People's Army, especially after a running gun battle on Monday, January 18, between the military and the rebels in Himamaylan City, where a soldier was wounded.

Revenge killing

From Tempo (Jan 21): Revenge killing

Vengeance was the motive behind the killing of a 15-year-old lumad student on Monday in Sitio Laslasakan, Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod town, Davao del Norte, a nearest kin of the victim said in an interview on Tuesday.

Victim Alibando Tingkas was walking on the way home with two other companions when fired upon by a certain Joven Salangani.

Tingkas died on the spot while his two companions managed to escape unharmed.

Datu Lumansag Sibugan, grandfather of the victim and a tribal leader of Ata-Manobo tribe in Talaingod, said the killing was a vengeance since a family member of the suspect was previously killed by the kin of Tingkas.

Last January 17, Donato Salangani, a lumad farmer and a cousin of Joven, was ambushed and killed in Sitio Sambulongan, Barangay Baugan, by Tingkas’ relatives identified as Luib Daus alias Bagani, Dalahis Manlulugpis alias Carlos and Tudtud Ladahay, who are active members of the New People’s Army (NPA) belonging to Guerrilla Front 55 of the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee (SMRC).

Sibugan emphasized that Joven is not a member of Alamara group as claimed by the Save Our School Network (SOS) who earlier issued a statement condemning the killing of Tingkas.

Of General Intel Interest: Jakarta and terrorism’s top dogs – Zachary Abuza

Posted to the Malaysian Insider (Jan 20): Jakarta and terrorism’s top dogs – Zachary Abuza

The attack in Jakarta that killed eight and wounded 25 should have been no surprise.

 Since 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or ISIS) has increased its base of support across Southeast Asia and revitalised terrorist networks that had been in disarray. Many point to the similarities between this attack and the recent attacks in Paris; barricade-style assaults, in which a few gunmen swarm into an area, kill as many civilians as possible before confronting responding security forces,

The attraction of this type of attack is clear: it requires low technical sophistication, often without any IEDs whatsoever, a limited amount of small arms training and a lot of testosterone. It requires little skill or even training. The barriers to entry are low, the opportunity to inflict a large number of casualties at the place of choosing is high, and the ability to garner media attention to your cause is, likewise, very high.

Jakarta was a case in point, a handful of men, with little training and very old weapons, were able to cause mass casualties and engage security forces in a two-hour standoff.  The quick response of the security forces prevented what could have been a much larger tragedy.

But one should recall, this was not a mere emulation of Paris. The large Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) cell that was broken up in 2010 had a camp in Aceh to train for the same style of attack, first embraced by the Lashkar e-Taiba in Mumbai in November 2008. Indeed, one of the four militants killed in the Jakarta attack, Sunakim, had previously been arrested for training in that camp.

This style of attack will become a ready tool in the toolbox in Southeast Asia. Most Southeast Asian militants who fight with Isis are front-line troops, with nothing more than small arms training. And for those who are unable to travel to Iraq and Syria due to proactive policing, these attacks can still be adopted, with some degree of success.

But it will not be the only tactic. There have been four IED plots disrupted in Malaysia, including an attempted suicide bombing late last week. In March 2015, a returnee from Syria tried to detonate a chlorine bomb in a Jakarta shopping mall. There is a danger in preparing for only the last type of attack.

There has and will continue to be much ink spilled on what the attack in Jakarta means. Was it an Isis attack, or merely an IS-inspired attack?  For me, the attack is significant for one reason, and one reason only; it is as an attempt to create a new leadership for Southeast Asian militancy.

JI was systematically taken apart following the 9/11 attacks on the United States and the October 2002 Bali bombing. JI perpetrated attacks in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009.  But each attack ended up weakening the group and each arrest garnered more intelligence.  There were well over a 1,000 arrests across Southeast Asia.

More importantly, those arrests led to intense factional debates within the organisation. Malaysian bomb-maker Dr Azahari bin Hussin was frustrated with the slow pace of attacks, roughly one a year, and wanted to increase the tempo, with more, though smaller suicide attacks, as happened in Bali in 2005. His protégé, Noordin Mohammad Top, doubled down on the al-Qaeda line of targeting the “far enemy” until his death in 2009. Abu Dujana and others weren’t morally opposed to those attacks, but saw them as counterproductive in the current context, and pushed for a resumption of sectarian conflicts in Sulawesi and the Malukus. Neither side was able to garner enough support or effectively execute their strategy and both were taken apart by Indonesian security forces.

Dulmatin and Umar Patek tried to bridge the divide in 2010, with the Aceh cell that wanted to launch frequent, low cost, low tech barricade style attacks. But security forces broke up their cell, arresting or killing over 125 people in early to mid-2010, including the leadership, and their financier Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, once JI’s amir, or spiritual leader. From that point on, JI ceased to being an organisation with any centralised leadership.

This development mirrored debates within al-Qaeda, between Osama bin Laden, who wanted a centralised organisation, and Musab al-Suri, who saw that as being a strategic weakness. He argued that al-Qaeda should be nothing more than an ideology to inspire self-radicalised groups. And while he was correct in arguing that a formal organisation was a strategic weakness, the reality was that small cells and lone wolves were never more than the sum of all parts.

And that was particularly true in Southeast Asia.

By 2010, the pieces of the JI organisation and affiliated groups and charities remained divided over strategy and tactics, ego, limited resources and the impossibility of reconstituting itself under intense dragnets by security forces that had accumulated vast intelligence and knowledge, and were working with one another more effectively.

There were many successor organisations or splinters, but they varied greatly in terms of their capabilities, size and ability to engage in sustained violence. Some, such as the Eastern Indonesian Mujahideen (MIT), under the leadership of Sentoso, remain consistently lethal though geographically contained.

More importantly, each group has tried and failed to assume the leadership mantle and unify disparate organisations. And that’s where Isis comes into play.

Although more Southeast Asians joined al-Nusra at first, recruitment into Isis has grown, owing to the latter’s control of resources and territory, as well as its slick propaganda and, until recently, battlefield successes.

Isis reinvigorated and revitalised dormant terrorist networks, charities and social organisations. It allowed militants to travel overseas, gain combat experience and, more importantly, organise.

Many groups across the region have pledged bai’at (allegiance) to Isis, including the Abu Sayyaf, Anshaur al Khalifah and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in the Philippines, and the Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) and MIT in Indonesia.

Some did so for opportunistic reasons, others to garner media attention or in the hopes of gaining financial support from Isis. In the case of the Abu Sayyaf, the spectre of beheadings of captives was seen as a way of raising the psychological pressure to command higher ransoms.

And yet, these groups remain largely autonomous and divided. However, the growth in stature of the Bahasa-speaking company of Isis, Katibah Nusantara, is changing that. Indonesians Bahrun Naim and Malaysian Muhammad Wanndy Mohamad Jedi, founding members of Katibah Nusantara, are using the group as the nucleus of a new leadership.

While their battlefield success against Kurdish Peshmerga or the recent suicide attacks that killed more than 30, including 12 Iraqi police, both by Malaysians, are important, they need to act at home to begin to consolidate power. That’s why the attack in Jakarta is so important.

In the terrorism literature, there is a concept of “outbidding”. While we may be aghast at attacks against innocent civilians, or the beheadings of captives, they resonate deeply in the jihadist milieu. They are a source of empowerment.

More significantly they are a way to prove your leadership through actions. And for someone to garner the attention of both Southeast Asia’s militants as well as Isis leadership, one must command a sustained campaign of violence. Nothing else, including fiery oration by known Isis clerics such as the incarcerated Abdurrahman Aman, matters.

The Jakarta bombing was not just an attack against civilians or meant to discredit the Indonesian government or an act of revenge for the concerted campaign against MIT. Nor was it merely revenge for the arrest of some 11 suspects who were planning a wave of sectarian attacks against the small Christian and Shia communities in December. This attack was a move to make Katibah Nusantara the new leadership within Southeast Asian jihadist circles.

But the logic of “outbidding” is that because of the zero sum competition between Isis cells and al-Qaeda, as well as an alphabet soup of other groups, there must be more violence to stay relevant.  This is an ideological battle to be the vanguard organisation in Southeast Asia. But deeds speak far louder than words.

[Zachary Abuza is a professor at the National War College, Washington DC ]

Coast Guard warns of new kidnap threats

From MindaNews (Jan 20): Coast Guard warns of new kidnap threats

The Philippine Coast Guard on Wednesday said they have received reports of kidnapping threats by groups in Sulu directed at Samal Island and other areas in Mindanao like Surigao del Norte.

Speaking in Wednesday’s AFP-PNP press conference, PCG Southeastern Mindanao chief Commodore Joselito F. Dela Cruz said they will meet with the management of Holiday Oceanview Resort in Samal on Thursday morning to beef up security measures.

On Sept. 21 last year, suspected Abu Sayyaf members kidnapped three foreigners and a Filipina at the resort and took them to Sulu.

The victims were identified as Kjartan Sekkingstad, 56, a Norwegian; Canadian nationals John Ridsdel, 68, and Robert Hall, 50; and Hall’s Filipina partner Marites Flor.

Ridsdel is president of TVI Minerals Processing, with main office in Pasig City but with business interests in Mindanao. He is a member of the board of trustees for 2015-2016 of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc.

Captors demanded a P4-billion ransom for the four victims.

Despite the incident foreign visitors who own yachts continued to dock at the resort, dela Cruz noted.

He said they are planning to assign a patrol boat near the resort to ensure the safety of the foreign visitors.

He said the patrol team was stationed at Babak District but they are yet to move it to the northern part of Samal to monitor illegal fishing.

In the same press conference, Capt. Rhyan Batchar, spokesperson of the 10th Infantry Division, denied reports the region has been infiltrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The 10th ID covers 1,681 barangays in Davao Region, parts of Region 12, Trento in Agusan del Sur and Lingig in Surigao del Sur.

Col. Ricardo Nepomuceno, commander of 1003rd Brigade, said local terrorist groups who claimed allegiance to ISIS might have done so to sow fear among the locals, although this should not be taken lightly.

“They might have taken advantage of this,” he said.

He encouraged the public to share information on the possible presence of terrorist groups.

Davao del Norte Tourism Council president Araceli Ayuste said resorts in Samal suffered a 50-percent decrease in occupancy rate two weeks after the kidnapping incident.

Ayuste, who owns Punta del Sol Resort, previously cited she had 15 bookings cancelled, roughly equivalent to P75,000 in revenue losses.

She said this is far worse than during the lean period from July to October when the occupancy rate in most resorts was at least 70 percent.

She said it was an unusual drop and the biggest in the history of Samal tourism because no rebookings have been made unlike in the past when there were typhoons that hit Davao Region.

The worst typhoon that ever hit the region in recent memory was “Pablo” in December 2012.

7 Abu Sayyaf bandits surrender in Basilan

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 21): 7 Abu Sayyaf bandits surrender in Basilan

ISABELA CITY, Basilan – Seven Abu Sayyaf members had surrendered to the military here early this week, an official said Thursday.

Colonel Rolando Joselito Bautista, commander of the Joint Task Group Basilan, said the surrender took place on Monday and Tuesday in Sitio Bohe-bohe Pahu in Barangay Camalig in Ungkaya Pukan town.

“The ASG members realized that fighting the government and enduring [a] hard life in the mountains is a lost cause,” Bautista said.

He identified the seven suspected bandits – all surnamed Kasaran – as Sulaiman alias Abu Jaid; Marwin Asan alias Hadjie; Derwin Asan alias Dikki; Halid Asan alias Nasirin Awwalin; Hadzmin Kuluman alias Ammin; Faisal Laudmin alias Issa-Ballie; and Salman Najallon alias Sat-Mhanz.

Bautista did not say how the suspects were related.

Major General Gerardo Barrientos Jr., commander of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, said the surrender of the seven suspected bandits was “a clear victory for the people of Basilan, who yearn for peace and desire to live lawfully and peacefully.”

Barrientos also said it was the first time that an Abu Sayyaf member had surrendered to the government.

Analyst: Southeast Asian fighters of ISIS may regroup in PH

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 20): Analyst: Southeast Asian fighters of ISIS may regroup in PH

A security analyst warned of the serious implications of Southeast Asian fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) located in Iraq and Syria who are poised to return to their home countries in the future.

Jasminder Singh, a senior analyst of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said in the RSIS publication this week that there is a possibility of these combatants to regroup in the Philippines.

To date, there are more than 1,000 Southeast Asian fighters of the ISIS in Iraq and Syria, with 2,000 to 3,000 camp followers. Majority of these Southeast Asian combatants are from Indonesia and Malaysia. Thailand, Philippines and a possibility of Myanmar are also represented, Singh wrote.

However, Philippine authorities have never confirmed if there are Filipino fighters of the ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

There are also videos of armed groups in the Philippines pledging their allegiance to the ISIS, however, the military has dismissed these as propaganda.

One of the dangers that these returnees will do, once they are back home, Singh said, is to regroup in the Philippines.

Singh said these fighters may regroup with old jihadi networks such as the Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines.

Furthermore, they could “resume violence and sectarian conflict in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia.”

It is also possible that they will target foreigners in the region, including foreign embassies and busy districts with economic and political interests such as hotels and shopping malls.


The ISIS fighters have been returning home “due to disillusionment of with ISIS.”

“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,” Singh said.

“The danger posed by the ‘Daesh Alumni’ (as ISIS-linked militants are also referred to) and returnees is real and this should be addressed head-on to prevent these ideological and battle-harderned individuals from causing damage to their respective societies,” Singh said.

He added that many of these Southeast Asian fighters expected glamorous jobs, however, they were only given menials tasks.

ASEAN-wide effort

This danger posed by the returnees is real and should be addressed head-on, Singh said.

Defeating the ISIS in the region must be an Association of Southeast Asian Nations-wide effort.

“It has become clear that no one state can manage the threat posed by IS (or ISIS). 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,” Singh said.

“To begin with, states would need strong legislations to criminalize 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,” he added.

Indonesian arms dealer back in Philippines?

From the Philippine Star (Jan 20): Indonesian arms dealer back in Philippines?

An Indonesian explosives expert tagged as an al-Qaeda arms dealer deported two years ago after serving a 10-year sentence may have returned to the country and resumed his “trading business,” a source revealed yesterday.

The source said Agus Dwikarna, listed by the UN Security Council as being associated with Osama bin Laden as an arms supplier for Jemaah Islamiyah, vowed to return to the Philippines after his release and deportation in January 2014.

“Agus vowed to return to set up a trading business and reunite with his Filipina wife,” the source said.

Dwikarna and his three companions were arrested on March 13, 2002 while attempting to board a flight at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport to Bangkok, Thailand. Airport security found bomb-making equipment in his suitcase.

The Pasay City court sentenced Dwikarna to 10 to 17 years in prison for possession of explosives. On Aug. 23, 2003, he was brought to the National Bilibid Prison to begin serving his jail term.

The source said Dwikarna became a member of the “Batang City Jail” gang and learned to speak several local dialects while serving his prison term.

He was also a good trader while in prison, buying and selling groceries and other items to fellow inmates, the source said.

The source, however, cannot say if Dwikarna was involved in the smuggling of high-powered firearms inside the prison complex.

“It’s possible that he was able to travel back and forth using the southern backdoor to re-establish contact with his wife, a social worker from the Visayas,” the source said.

Dwikarna was reported missing by the Indonesian police two months after his release and deportation, according to Indonesian news website Khabar.

Dwikarna returned to Makassar, the provincial capital of South Sulawesi, but later disappeared.

Last year, the news website quoted Central Sulawesi spokesman as saying that Dwikarna could have threatened members of the Indonesian police after his release from the Philippines.

A Philippine security official also admitted they lost track of Dwikarna after he was released from prison.

However, the official gave assurance the Philippines would be relatively safe.

“Despite what is happening now in Indonesia and Malaysia, so far there’s no confirmed or validated terror threats in Metro Manila and other key areas across the country,” the security official said.

Daily security updates showed Metro Manila and other urban centers are generally peaceful, except for some areas of Mindanao like Sulu and Basilan.

On reports that Dwikarna could have returned to the country, the official said that as far as their unit has not received any report.

“But that is always possible if Dwikarna still enjoys the support of some Muslim leaders in Mindanao,” he said.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) is coordinating with its Indonesian counterpart amid reports that the guns used in the terror attack in Jakarta last week came from the Philippines.

According to The Wall Street Journal on Sunday, Indonesian national police spokesman Anton Charliyan said 12 people arrested in the raids revealed the guns, described as “well-built,” came from the Philippines.

Charliyan added another nine guns seized in the counterterrorism raids in Jakarta since Thursday came from another neighboring country.

PNP chief Director General Ricardo Marquez said the information was new because what they have heard was that several firearms from the Philippines were being smuggled into Taiwan and Japan.

Customs commissioner Alberto Lina said the bureau would conduct its own investigation to help verify if the firearms came from the Philippines.

Lina said the BOC is looking into reports that the firearms did indeed slip out of the Philippines undetected.

He said it was possible that the guns were slipped out of the country through southern Mindanao.

Youth decries plan to allow US military in CDO

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 20): Youth decries plan to allow US military in CDO 

The militant League of Filipino Students (LFS) has denounced City Mayor Oscar Moreno’s idea of allowing the Lumbia airport here as facility for United States military troops.

In an interview with the local media, Kristine Cabardo, the LFS chair for Northern Mindanao, said that that Moreno’s statement was an obvious manifestation that the city mayor was going through a historical amnesia.

“We challenge Moreno and his administration to reconsider his decision. Moreno should put into consideration the interests of the Cagayanon, which might be at risks if he allows the US military to use the facilities of the Lumbia airport,” Cabardo added.

“We call on the youth not to put into waste what our heroes have gallantly fought for. Together with all nationalist and patriotic Filipino people, let us once again fight for genuine freedom as what we have done in the course of history.” said Cabardo.

Cabardo urges the youth to unite and defend national sovereignty, living up to the challenge of our national heroes who fought hard for our freedom and independence.

The inoperative Lumbia airport in Cagayan De Oro has been reportedly shortlisted as possible US military station among the eight areas in the Philippines after the approval of the Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

The more than 500-hectare Lumbia airport was closed after the new airport in the municipal town of Laguindingan in Misamis Oriental started to commercially operate on June 2013.

16 of 18 NGCP towers damaged by bomb attacks fully restored

From GMA News (Jan 20): 16 of 18 NGCP towers damaged by bomb attacks fully restored

Sixteen of the 18 towers of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines damaged by bomb attacks last December and this January have been restored.

In an interview on "News To Go" Wednesday, NGCP spokesperson Cynthia Alabanza said 10 towers were toppled and six were damaged by the attacks in December that targeted 19. Explosives planted in  other three towers failed to go off.

On the other hand, of the two towers damaged by the attacks this month, one has been fully restored. Alabanza said.

The two towers that have not been repaired yet are Tower 25, blasted last December, and Tower 50, bombed on January 18.

Restoration effort for Tower 25 has been hampered by a right-of-way issue and some questions by owners of the land where the tower is erected.

Meanwhile, repair of Tower 50 is on hold until the area is declared safe by the police and the military.

Asked about possible motives for the attacks, Alabanza said the NGCP administration has no idea, saying "we have not received any extortion letter or any note expressing grievances of the attackers."
Moreover, she said the attacks on the transmission towers only have a slight effect on the consumers, so far.

200 schoolchildren in Cotabato remain 'displaced'

From GMA News (Jan 19): 200 schoolchildren in Cotabato remain 'displaced'

At least 200 schoolchildren remained "displaced" due to tensions created by the presence of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) near their school in Pigcawayan, Cotabato.

Superintendent Omar Obas, division head of the Department of Education in Cotabato, said pupils of Buricain Elementary School have been refusing to attend classes out of fear of the BIFF's presence.

“Yes, we still have pupils displaced in the recent armed conflict in Pigcawayan town who do not want to return to school due to the presence of armed men,” Obas said.

Obas said that he himself advised teachers against returning to the elementary school.

“As long as the school is still not safe, I don’t recommend holding classes in that area,” Obas said.

At least 20 heavily armed BIFF fighters stormed the village of Buricain and held hostage residents attending the Christmas Eve Mass at the chapel.

Meanwhile, schoolchildren displaced due to family feud (rido) in the towns of Midsayap, Pikit and Matalam have started attending classes since Monday last week.

Obas, however, admitted that several pupils could not attend classes because their school uniforms and educational materials were destroyed after the warring clans torched their homes.

He said that they could not force the pupils to attend classes because their parents may be preventing them due to fears of possible breakout of hostilities again.

Obas said they remain hopeful that security forces will be able to restore peace and order in towns in Cotabato.

Philippines, United Kingdom explore defense ties

From the Business World (Jan 18): Philippines, United Kingdom explore defense ties

THE PHILIPPINES and the United Kingdom are seeking to forge a new defense agreement this year.

British Ambassador to the Philippines Asif Ahmad said both countries are currently exchanging draft agreements following high-level talks last year.

“It’s actually being redone now. We actually have an existing one but by the end of this calendar year we want to establish a new one,” Mr. Ahmad said.

Mr. Ahmad said the agreement will touch on the interoperability of Philippine and British troops when it comes to disaster response and recovery, as well as protocols governing British troops when in Philippine soil.

“Treat it more like an umbrella under which we can do many, many things. But at least there’s permission within that. It’s not as complicated as the one with the US,” he said.

Mr. Ahmad also said the UK is not ruling out the possibility of a strategic partnership.

“I don’t rule that out. But right now, it would be wrong for me to say that’s next on the horizon because we are at all sorts of stretches of commitment. But there are lot of military exchanges today,” he said.

Meanwhile, the government will install a P50-million surveillance equipment to monitor the airspace of the disputed Pag-asa Island in Palawan province, in a bid to protect commercial planes flying above it amid a long-standing maritime dispute with China.

“On Jan. 7, 40 miles away from Rancudo airstrip, an alleged Chinese navy [ship] said ‘Foreign military aircraft, this is the Chinese Navy. You are threatening the security of our station!,” Rodante S. Joya, officer-in-charge of the Office of the Deputy Director-General for Operation, told a media briefing yesterday at the agency’s Pasay City headquarters.

“This was relayed to our pilot and he ignored this message knowing he is traveling inside Philippine territory.”

The remote Pag-asa Island is situated in the Kalayaan Group of Islands in the West Philippine Sea, an area that several countries are claiming as part of their territory.

The P50-million Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) equipment will be installed at Rancudo Airfield, Municipality of Kalayaan and will cover 150 to 200 nautical miles.

The plan is awaiting clearance from the Foreign Affairs department, and installation will take three to six months.

Mr. Joya said the West Philippine Sea airspace is one of “busiest” in the country. Around 200 commercial flights fly above it every day, carrying a total of 400,000 passengers.

The international community calls the Philippine airspace a “black hole” because of the absence of a system that allows pilots to communicate with local air traffic controllers once they enter Philippine territory.

Nakakatakot din na lumilipad ka sa gitna ng dagat at wala kang makausap (It is scary to fly in the middle of the ocean without anyone to communicate with),” Mr. Joya said.

At present, the country can only monitor a third of its 3-million-square-kilometer airspace.

By November, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines will replace its three existing radars with 10 new ones through its P13-billion Communications, Navigation, Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) system.

Once the installation of the ADS-B and CNS/ATM is complete, Manila will increase its surveillance coverage to around 80% to 90% of its entire airspace, Mr. Joya said.

The monitoring systems can also locate an aircraft that encounters an accident.

Beijing says Manila exaggerating tensions

From the Business World (Jan 19): Beijing says Manila exaggerating tensions

CHINA accused the Philippines on Tuesday of deliberately trying to scare people by saying China had warned a small civilian plane carrying Philippine officials it was trespassing as they inspected an island in the disputed South China Sea.

The Philippines said the incident happened on Jan. 7 to an aircraft inspecting Thitu Island in the Spratlys, where Manila plans to set up surveillance equipment this year, as their aircraft flew near a Chinese man-made island.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei repeated that China has sovereignty over the Spratlys and that the Philippines had illegally occupied eight islands there since the 1970s, including Thitu, and had been building on them.

“The Philippines’ comments are just frightening words to scare people, deliberately exaggerating regional tensions with treacherous intent, and its plots will not succeed,” Mr. Hong said, when asked about the warning to the Philippine aircraft.

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

Mr. Hong said any activities by the Philippines on the islands it occupies were illegal.

China’s increasing military presence in the Spratlys has stirred fears it could lead to an air defense zone, 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.

The Philippines and Vietnam protested against China’s test flights on the Fiery Cross Reef this month.

“The concerns about the recent activities of China along with the reclamation activities and construction of airstrips in the disputed territory is shared by other countries as it adds to the tension in the region,” said Herminio B. Coloma, Jr. Philippine presidential communications secretary.

It “causes concern about the freedom of freedom of navigation and overflight in the area”, Mr. Coloma added.

Angeles group on Edca: Why not Sangley Point?

From the Business Mirror (Jan 18): Angeles group on Edca: Why not Sangley Point?

ANGELES CITY—Why not (offer) Sangley for Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) with the US]?

This was the question posed by the Pinoy Gumising Ka Movement (PGKM) on the proposed location of the US facilities to store equipment and supplies under the agreement.

PGKM, a multisectoral cause-oriented group advocating for the immediate and full development of the Clark International Airport (CIA), said Sangley Point in Cavite is an ideal site for Edca, since it is a former US naval base which has a seaport and where an airfield could also be constructed for defense purposes.

“Why is Abaya not suggesting Sangley for Edca?” asked PGKM Chairman Ruperto Cruz, referring to former Cavite Liberal Party congressman and now Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio A. Abaya. “The former US facility can have a seaport and an airport,” Cruz  said.

Sangley Point is in Abaya’s district, and he earlier offered it to San Miguel Corp. for development into an international airport to replace the present Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila.

“Why are they telling us what to do by pointing to Clark as a site for Edca?” Cruz asked
“If they really want a permanent base for Edca, then Sangley is the best location,” he added.

Cruz said Clark and Subic are already declared by law as free ports, and if they will be considered for Edca, there will somehow be some disruptions in their operations.

On the other hand, nothing will be interrupted at Sangley, he pointed out. “The retardation of any development will not happen at Sangley,” he explained.

Cruz said the PGKM has been consistent ever since with its advocacy of a dual airport, because Clark airport is the catalyst for development of not only Central but also Northern Luzon.

“We welcome Edca for our defense but Clark and Subic should be spared,” he said.

Cruz said if there are seven Air Force wings at Clark, then six must go to Sangley and only one should remain for security purposes.

Cruz also clarified that the PGKM is not suggesting other provinces for the Air Force, “just because we don’t want them here.”

Cruz said in the not so distant past, the Americans had said that they would give up Clark but not Subic because the latter has a deep seaport and their requirement for a runway can also be accommodated in Subic.

But the abrogation of the Military Bases Agreement in 1991 has made that moot, he recalled.
Now, because of vested interests, they want to disrupt the economic development of Clark, and Subic, by offering them as sites for Edca, he said.

“Obviously, Abaya has conveniently forgotten Sangley, because he wants to sabotage the development of Clark and Subic,” he said.

Cruz said Sangley Point can be a base for US military purposes for long-term use. The same can also be true with Poro Point in La Union or even Palawan, he added.

Based on reports, the Aquino administration had offered the US eight bases where it may build facilities to store equipment and supplies under Edca.

The facilities offered to the Americans were Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga; Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija; Camp Antonio Bautista and a naval base in Palawan; Camp Benito Ebuen and the naval base in Cebu; Lumbia air field in Cagayan de Oro; and Clark.

The Americans are also seeking access to three civilian seaports and airfields on Luzon, including Subic Bay, which is a former US naval base.

NDF hits military for arrest of ex-NPA rebel

From the Business Mirror (Jan 18): NDF hits military for arrest of ex-NPA rebel

MARIA ROJA BANUA of the National Democratic Front-Bicol (NDF-Bicol) has urged the military to release Romeo R. Recierdo, who has been accused of being a top cadre of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Camarines Sur.

Banua revealed that Recierdo formally “rested” from his revolutionary work more than 10 years ago.

“We belie the claim of the 49th Infantry Batallion of the Army and the National Police that Recierdo is an active NPA member. He is not a secretary of any Komiteng Larangang Gerilya  of Front Guerrilla Committee [FGC] in Bicol,” Banua claimed.

“Recierdo used to be a member of the NPA but he rested from his work and has been living as a civilian and working as a farmer in his town. He lives with his family. Recierdo has been striving to become a good neighbor and citizen in Zone 3, Barangay San Ramon, Lupi, Camarines Sur,” Banua added.

“His so-called arrest is but another ‘dramatic’ show masterminded by the Aquino administration consistent with the military declaration that Camarines Sur and other Bicol provinces will be conflict-manageable areas by the time President Aquino leaves Malacañang,” Banua disclosed.

“NDF-Bicol clarifies that the basis of membership with the NPA, the Communist Party of the Philippines or other revolutionary organizations is purely voluntary. Membership is anchored on the firm belief by candidates on the correctness of the armed struggle and the acceptance of an arduous life in the struggle, which includes not only hardship but even supreme sacrifice, or martyrdom,” she said.

Another political detainee dies in prison

From the periodically pro-CPP Bicol Today (Jan 18): Another political detainee dies in prison

Sorsogon Provincial Jail. Photo from Google

Sorsogon Provincial Jail. Photo from Google

While protest actions in Manila and hunger strikes in detention centers are being waged this week over the death of political detainee Eduardo Serrano, another political prisoner died in Sorsogon Province, and he was buried Thursday.

According to Kaarapatan- Sorsogon, political detainee Willy Geocado died of diabetis.
Geocado was detained at Sorsogon Provincial Jail (SPJ) since 2011.

As in the case of Eduardo Serrano who was accused of crimes intended for another person, Geocado was imprisoned on trumped-up charge of “rape”, but military and police authorities took turns grilling him about his “alleged rebel connections.”

Karapatan said Willy was an ordinary peasant residing at Barangay Monte Calvario, Bulan, this province. He was an elected village councilor. It was a normal village life for him, but in June 2011, his fate had twisted and ran into tragic course.

One day in June, 2011, elements of 509th police battalion arrested him on trumped-up charges of rape as stated in a warrant of arrest, but when investigated by the police, the questions zeroed in with his “alleged” connections with NPA rebels, and his being a “rebel sympathizer”.

He was never investigated on the “alleged rape complaint” as stated in the warrant of arrest, Karapatan-Sorsogon narrated to online news

That time, human rights group Karapatan-Sorsogon had already intervened to help Willy find justice.
Willy died in prison on January 6, this year, and was buried Thursday, January 14.

His tragic fate was similar to Serrano of Naga City, who died in prison on trumped-up charges intended for an alleged rebel named “Rogelio Villanueva” who was never seen publicly, but exists only in the “military mind.”

(See related link: Remains of political detainee Eduardo Serrano to Naga City; fellow prisoners on hunger strike, protests shaping up ).

Serrano’s remains will be buried Sunday in Naga.

Aside from Geocado and Serrano, there are several hundreds of political prisoners languishing in State prisons, and many of them are accused of “trumped-charges”, a ploy by the military establishment to silence citizen’s dissent.

Youth group Anakbayan suspects Aquino got $300M to reinstate US bases

Posted to the periodically pro-CPP Bicol Today (Jan 18): Youth group Anakbayan suspects Aquino got $300M to reinstate US bases

Bicol workers, militants on Labor Day rally against U.S. meddling. BICOLTODAY.COM PHOTO

Bicol workers, militants on Labor Day rally against U.S. meddling. BICOLTODAY.COM PHOTO

CITY OF NAGA, Bicol Region – It is military base “value for money.” Aquino is asking $300 million in exchange for US right for military bases in Philippine soil.

Youth group Anakbayan on Sunday asked if President Aquino got $300 million or P13.9 billion from Washington in exchange for the reopening of the US bases in Clark and Subic, and the offering of other locations for the stationing of unlimited personnel, weapons, and facilities.

Anakbayan national chairperson Vencer Crisostomo recalled a September 20, 2015 New York Times (NYT) report which exposed secret negotiations between Washington and the Aquino government to revive the US bases through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

According to the NYT expose, a senior Philippine official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, revealed that the Aquino government asked Washington for $300 million in military aid to modernize the Philippine military to supposedly counter Chinese excursions in the West Philippine Sea.

“The Aquino clique pulled all the strings to make the Supreme Court (SC) decide to make EDCA constitutional. Immediately a day after the SC ruling, the Aquino government announced the offering of 8 bases to US forces.

Did the Aquino government get the $300M after all?”” said Crisostomo.

He said that EDCA may be Aquino’s gift to the US in order to secure its endorsement for the ruling Liberal Party’s unpopular standard bearer Mar Roxas and the $300 million as part of the administration party’s campaign kitty.

“Aquino has done an Aguinaldo and sold our sovereignty for personal gains. The yarn about EDCA modernizing our military to defend against Chinese aggression is just a cover story. EDCA is pact –with- the- devil turning the country into one big, rent-free US military base in exchange for US support for the Liberal Party’s bet.

"It really is all about the money,” he said.

The youth leader called on all other presidential candidates to stand for national sovereignty by vowing to junk EDCA and reject the return of US bases in the country.

He likewise called on presidential candidates to push for a policy of national industrialization to develop the country’s economy so it can have the capacity for defense against foreign aggressors.

State troops kill 2 NPA rebels, seize weapons in Caramoan, CamSur firefight

From the periodically pro-CPP Bicol Today (Jan 18): State troops kill 2 NPA rebels, seize weapons in Caramoan, CamSur firefight

Caramoan, Camarines Sur

CARAMOAN, Camarines Sur  – Police in this town reported a firefight took place Monday morning (Jan. 18, 2016) between state troops and NPA rebels at sitio Panag, barangay Gibgos, this town.

The firefight happened near the international famous tourist haven Gata Beach, the location site of “Survivor” reality TV series, about 30 minutes boat ride.

The rebels sustained losses in the firefight with 2 dead and losing several weapons to state forces.

Initial police report said combined elements of 83IB, 91st DRC, 97MICO, 22IB of 9th ID PA encountered 14 members of NPA under Francisco Mendoza alias Pedio.

After the firefight, state troopers recovered 2 dead bodies, identified as Mike Rebuya alias Nike, and a certain “Ronel”.

State troopers also seized 3 M16 rifles, 1 baby Armalite, 1 M203, backpacks, 3 landmines, and subversive documents.

Police report said there was no casualty on the state forces’ side. Additional details are still not available as of press time.

CamSur NPA owns killing 2 CAFGUs in Sangay, Balatan towns; justice for murdered Greenpeace advocate

From the periodically pro-CPP Davao Today (Jan 19): CamSur NPA owns killing 2 CAFGUs in Sangay, Balatan towns; justice for murdered Greenpeace advocate

Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) 47th founding anniversary. Photo by Edwin G. Espejo

Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) 47th founding anniversary. Photo by Edwin G. Espejo

PILI, Camarines Sur – The New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Camarines Sur owned the killing of two (2) military assets in Sangay and Balatan towns. In Sangay, the NPA shot dead a paramilitary man tagged as the murderer of an environment, anti-illegal trawl fishing advocate who was also a nursing mother.

A statement posted in the internet from the regional level NPA Romulo Jallores Command (RJC-NPA) said the Rinconada district Edmundo Jacob Command (EJC-NPA) implemented the death verdicts on William Versoza, 38 years old, in barangay Patitinan, Sangay, on January 14, 2016; and on military asset Bryan (Jaime) Rabino, 30 years old in barangay Sagrada, Balatan, on January 6, 2016.

The NPA statement said paramilitary CAFGU member William Versoza murdered environment NGO advocate and “bantay dagat” member Menchie Alpajora of Bangalon, Sangay.

Last August, 2015, several prestigious international environment NGOs such as World Wildlife Fund Philippines, Greenpeace Philippines, and attached groups strongly condemned the senseless killing of Alpajora on July 29, and the groups sent letters to various Philippine authorities for early solution of the murder and to apprehend the killer for justice. (See related news link: Environmental group seeks justice in death of Bicolana anti-illegal fishing activist)

Local authorities failed to arrest Versoza, but a police source, refusing to be named, said Versoza was being coddled by the San Pedro Army Detachment where he was assigned in Buhi, this province.

Versoza had guided Army patrols and terrorizing local folks by firing his gun in the community and threatening people suspected as NPA sympathizers.

Ramona Caceres, identifying herself as NPA spokesperson, also denounced the spokesperson of 9th ID Philippine Army Major Virgilio Perez for denying Versoza as Cafgu member, who had said that “Versoza was already AWOL since December 10, 2015 and was automatically delisted from the roster of Citizens’ Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) under the 22nd Infantry Battalion, PA.”

In Balatan, Rabino was shot dead by NPA operatives for serving as guide to Army patrols and posing as “NPA impostor” who extorted money from businessmen and fish catch from fishponds in the Rinconada district. (See related news item: Dancing man shot dead during village fiesta celebration in Balatan, CamSur )

The NPA said that Rabino was a former NPA member from 2004 until 2007, but he was disciplined and punished several times by the leadership for “actions in violation of proper conduct and regulations."

When he was punished, Rabino joined the 22nd IB in 2006 and was assigned at Cabanbanan Army Detachment in Balatan, transferred to Panoypoyan Detachment in Bula, then to Nababarera, Baao, and finally to his last post in Inoyonan Detachment, before receiving the death penalty.

Lamitan City police kill bombing suspect in shootout

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 20): Lamitan City police kill bombing suspect in shootout

A suspected bomber was killed in a shootout with policemen in Basilan province, a police official said Wednesday.

Chief Insp. Gean Gallardo, Lamitan City police chief identified the slain suspected bomber as a certain Jabier Pinglias, a resident of Sitio Tinabacan, Barangay Maganda in that city.

Gallardo said Pinglias was killed in a shootout around 7:20 p.m. Tuesday in Sitio Tinambacan, Barangay Maganda, Lamitan City.

Gallardo said the shootout ensued after Pinglias pulled a caliber .45 pistol and fired on the approaching policemen who went to Sitio Tinambacan, Barangay Maganda to serve an arrest warrant against the suspect.

Gallardo said Pinglias has a standing warrant of arrest as the latter is facing a criminal case before a court in Basilan province.

He said Pinglias was rushed to the Lamitan City District Hospital but was declared dead on arrival by the attending physician.

He said they recovered from the possession of Pinglias a caliber .45 pistol with ammunition, a bladed weapon, parts of improvised bomb, a mobile phone battery attached to a circuit board, and two sachets of methamphetamine hydrochloride locally known as shabu.

Gallardo disclosed that Pinglias was allegedly involved in the Lamitan City port bombing and in the bombing attempt at the police station.

A water tank and window glasses of the passenger terminal building were destroyed when an improvised bomb exploded around 9:20 p.m. Monday at the port located in Barangay Kulay Bato, Lamitan City.

Another improvised bomb, which failed to explode, was recovered around 7 p.m. Monday in front of the police station in Barangay Matibay, Lamitan City.

Military: No ISIS in Northern Mindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 20): Military: No ISIS in Northern Mindanao

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY -- The military on Wednesday belied the presence of members of the terror group Iraq-Syria Islamic State (ISIS) in Northern Mindanao, Capt. Patrick Martinez said.

Martinez, the spokesperson of the army’s 4th Infantry Division here, issued the statement to dispel suspicions that the ISIS has already taken root in the region.

“Our intelligence community has not reported the presence of ISIS in the region, although the military and police are not taking chances,” Martinez said.

He said that the military and police have stepped up intelligence gathering in the region to check on terror groups, particularly ISIS members.

Martinez, however, said that the military is also appealing to the civilian populace to be on guard against suspicious groups or activities in their areas.

The military would immediately respond to any form of threat that might evolve with the presence of suspected terror groups in any part of Northern Mindanao, he said.

The military’s 4ID covers the 10 provinces and about 12 cities, including the port capital city of Cagayan De Oro in Northern Mindanao.

9 PAF 'Huey' up for repairs

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 20): 9 PAF 'Huey' up for repairs

In line with efforts to ensure the airworthiness of all its available air assets, nine UH-IH "Huey" combat utility helicopters of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) will be undergoing repair and maintenance this first quarter.

In line with this, PHP20,102,165.72 was allocated for the acquisition of spares for Huey helicopters with tail numbers 370, 308, 507, 853, 516, 929, 091, 508 and 513.

Pre-bid conference is scheduled on Thursday, 9:00 a.m. PAF Procurement Center Conference Room, Villamor Air Base, Pasay City.

While submission and opening of bids is on Feb. 2, 9:00 a.m. at the same venue.

The PAF is known to operate 41 variants of the UH-I helicopters for its transport, medical evacuation and ground support missions.

PA mulls filing of libel raps against militant NGO

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 20): PA mulls filing of libel raps against militant NGO

The Philippine Army (PA) is looking into the possibility of filing libel charges against the Save Our Schools Network (SOSN) after publishing reports claiming paramilitary units killed a 15-year-old on January 17.

The group, in its website, claimed Alibando Tingkas, was killed by the Alamara, a militia unit allegedly raised and funded by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

"This is another deceptive attempt of the SOSN to put the AFP in a bad light,” 10th Infantry Division commander Major Gen. Rafael C. Valencia said.

The AFP earlier denied any links with the Alamara.

"Based on our investigation, it was another local conflict instigated by the New People’s Army (NPA), a cohort of SOSN,” he added.

"We are now planning to file a libel case against SOSN. We hope this will give clearer information to their donors on what SOSN is really doing," Valencia stressed.

The incident started when NPAs belonging to Guerilla Front 55 of the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee identified as Luib Daus alyas Bagani, Dalahis Manlulugpis alyas Carlos and Tudtud Ladahay ambushed and killed a Lumad farmer, Donato Salangani in the morning of January 17.

Salangani's death reportedly triggered a retaliatory attack that led to the killing of Tingkas, a student of Salugpungan school in Talaingod, Davao Del Norte in the afternoon of the same day.

Valencia said these were all recorded in a blotter at the Office of the Ata-Manobo Council of Elders of Talaingod who is now conducting a thorough investigation on the matter.

“SOSN has a history of blaming the military of every incident in Mindanao. We have evidence to show that this is their strategy in getting attention from international organizations to raise funds," he added.

It can be recalled that in 2015, the SOSN posted in their Facebook page a picture of soldiers behind a white helicopter at a far-flung elementary school in Paquibato District, Davao City with a caption saying that the military is transforming the school as a landing platform for combat operations.

The post was immediately removed in the SOSN FB page when the netizens protested after learning that the helicopter was used by Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in going to the area to attend a ceremony in line with the commemmoration of Independence Day.

Trillanes seeks amendment of laws on retirement benefits, pension of uniformed personnel

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 20): Trillanes seeks amendment of laws on retirement benefits, pension of uniformed personnel

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV has pushed for the passage of a bill amending the "pertinent laws" on the retirement benefits and pension of the uniformed personnel of the country’s uniformed services.

In his sponsorship speech, Trillanes said Senate Bill No. 3088 or the “Unified Uniformed Personnel Retirement Benefits and Pension Reform Act of 2015" will allow the government to fulfill its duties to the retirees by implementing reforms in the country’s pension system.

”It is therefore our responsibility to ensure that these retirees continue to receive benefits commensurate to the service they have rendered and that said benefits allow them to live comfortably during retirement,” Trillanes, chairman of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, said.

The bill seeks to establish a “seed fund” to be known as the Uniformed Personnel Retirement Fund that will be managed by the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).

Trillanes said the absence of seed fund under the existing retirement laws “eventually led to the ballooning of pension costs, which may no longer be sustained by our meager government resources in the coming years.”

The bill, he said, also intends to terminate the automatic adjustment of retirees’ pension based on the prevailing scale of based pay of the active uniformed personnel.

Under the bill, Trillanes proposes to standardize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) monthly retirement pay equivalent to two-and-a-half percent for each year of active service rendered, but not exceeding 90 percent of the monthly base and longevity pay of the grade next higher than the permanent grade last held.

Trillanes clarified that only the new entrants or new army members will be covered upon the passage of the bill, adding the active members and current retirees will still be under the current retirement laws.

“Passing this measure is the least we can do to honor the sacrifices of our heroes and to recognize their unwavering fidelity and their life of service to the country, while we take into the consideration the government resources’ capacity to support their needs,” Trillanes said.

Aside from the AFP, the country’s uniformed services include Philippine National Police, Philippine Coast Guard, Bureau of Fire Protection, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Bureau of Corrections and National Mapping and Resource Information Authority.

SSVs has provision for defensive weaponry

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 20): SSVs has provision for defensive weaponry

The country's sealift strategic vessels (SSVs) have provisions for the installation of defensive weaponry.

This was disclosed by Defense undersecretary for finance, munition and material Fernando Manalo in reply to queries on whether the first SSV, which is scheduled for delivery this May, are fitting with defensive armaments.

"No but it will have provisions for the installation of defensive weapons," he said.

This means that some parts of the SSV, especially the bow and stern, are already capable of being fitted with weapons.

Weapons eyed for the Philippines' first SSVs are 76mm Oto Melara main guns and 25mm automatic cannons.

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," Armed Forces of the Philippines' spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla earlier said.

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 PhP3,870,000,000 which will be 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 (DND) declared Persero as the Single Calculated Responsive Bidder with a bidding price of PhP3,870,000,000 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.

Youth urged to help eradicate biases vs Muslims through social media

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 20): Youth urged to help eradicate biases vs Muslims through social media

If you have an online account, be a peace ambassador!

This was the challenge issued by Bai Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman, a member of the National Peace Council and founder of the youth group Teach Peace, Build Peace Movement, to young Filipinos as peace advocates await Congress’ approval of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Usman called on young Filipinos to take on a bigger role in eradicating biases against Muslims as she noted that responsible and pro-active use of social media accounts by young people could help break barriers set up by differences in religion, help build bridges of understanding among peoples, and help correct individual prejudices.

“[I]f you have 3,000 or 4,000 friends in [your] social media [accounts], let’s contradict those negative messages or barriers [between religion and culture] by posting all those that we have learned everyday about peace and understanding,” Sumndad-Usman said.

Sumndad-Usman is a member of the National Peace Council, a group composed of respected community leaders assembled by President Benigno S. Aquino III that led a national discussion to help people understand the bill aimed at establishing a new parliamentary regional government that will replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The peace council member and youth leader stressed “the importance of building a culture of peace in creating different generations of peace builders.”

“Through peace education, you are able to create a space for every Filipino to understand each other. You can make love and understanding beginning with the younger generation. Continuously, engage yourself not just in the Bangsamoro course but also in the peace discourse,” Sumndad-Usman advised.

Focusing on the Bangsamoro peace process, Sumndad-Usman implored the youth to help end the conflict once and for all. “The need for peace and social justice in Mindanao should be cleared or else the next generation will inherit the conflicts. Our goal is that someday the future generation wouldn’t know what war is.”

Social injustice is root of conflict

“To answer the Bangsamoro question, we must know and realize what the Bangsamoro is. The problem of Mindanao is rooted in social injustice,” Sumndad-Usman commented, stressing that the biases against the Moro people and the Bangsamoro is the cause of the armed rebellion in Mindanao.

“The Mindanao conflict is the second longest internal conflict in the world. The massacres of the Moro people are the reason for the call of Muslim Independence by the armed groups. This can be traced within the historical context,” she said.

Visayan youth groups call for BBL passage

“Youth development can only thrive in a climate of peace. Conflict is a deterrent to the realization of young people’s full potentials,” National Youth Commission (NYC) Assistant Secretary Perci Cendaña stressed in a parallel event held elsewhere.

The NYC executive added that peace was a key investment in youth development and that conflicts prevented them from attaining their aspirations. “The Philippine Youth Index in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is very, very low and it has the highest unemployment rate in the youth. Ang Mindanao ay isa sa pinakamayamang land source sa Pilipinas pero sila rin ang may mataas na poverty incidence (The Mindanao is one of the richest land sources in the Philippines but they also have the highest poverty incidence),” Cendaña noted.

Meanwhile, Federation of Muslim Students Association Vice President Jabar Sabdullah reiterated that the BBL would end the inequality to the Moro people and that now was an opportunity to know our Muslim brothers and sisters. “We must give peace a chance; after all, if war is the answer we are asking the wrong question.”

“Further, it is high time to realize the grievances of the Bangsamoro and to translate our visions of peace into reality in the form of BBL,” Sabdullah said, expressing his hopes that the BBL was a chance to end the conflict in Mindanao and to correct social injustices in the Bangsamoro.

Student Ronald Ray Ensalada of Cebu Normal University Publication voiced his concern on the delayed passage of the draft law in Congress and appealed to enact it before the administration ends. “We have to rush the passage of the BBL under President Aquino’s administration because the next President might not be able to put this in priority and delay more the step in achieving peace in Mindanao,” he said.