Monday, January 25, 2016

Airman killed in Batangas clash with suspected NPA rebels

From GMA News (Jan 26): Airman killed in Batangas clash with suspected NPA rebels

An airman was killed following a clash with suspected New People's Army rebels in Batangas Monday night, a regional military spokesman said Tuesday.

Armed Forces Southern Luzon Command's Maj. Angelo Guzman identified the fatality as Airman 1st Class Cliff Arvin Alama of the 730th Combat Group of the 710th SPOW under the Joint Task Group Finisher Warrior.

Citing field reports, Guzman said that at 7:49 p.m. Monday,  patrolling government troops engaged 15 rebels in Barangay Toong in the municipality of Tuy.

Guzman said Alama was hit in the left shoulder and immediately brought to a hospital in Balayan town. Attending physicians, however, declared him dead on arrival.

There were no reported rebel casualties.

Government troops have since launched pursuit operations against the insurgents.

MILF hopes Mamasapano hearing will not take toll on BBL

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 25): MILF hopes Mamasapano hearing will not take toll on BBL

CAMP DARAPANAN, Sultan Kudarat –- Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Al Hadj Murad Ebrahim remains optimistic there is still time for Congress to pass the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), hoping however that it will not be affected by the planned re-opening of the Mamasapano case.

It has been reported that Senator Grace Poe said the two committees that investigated the Mamasapano incident would reconvene after Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile demanded the reopening of the Mamasapano probe to cull new information and evidence from the deadly operation of the Special Action Force (SAF) that resulted in the death of 44 SAF troopers, 17 MILF members, some civilians and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

In a press conference after the Mindanao Peace Summit here Sunday, Murad said the fate of BBL is now dependent on Congress and it is no longer in the hands of the MILF.

Murad said Mamasapano is a closed case. He said there has been investigation on the incident conducted by the Department of Justice (DOJ), International Monitoring Team (IMT) and the MILF, which already completed its probe.

“I hope hindi ito (re-investigation) maging dahilan para itong BBL ay maapektuhan (it will not be a reason in order this BBL will not be affected),” Murad said. He is also hoping that the original provisions, especially the substantive ones, would be restored in this period of amendment.

The MILF had been seeking the restoration of the 28 provisions of the BBL that were removed by the House of Representatives and the Senate that reportedly included the one that would give the prospective Bangsamoro autonomous region P75 billion in initial budget.

Murad is also hopeful that Congress will realize and will give importance to BBL not only to the entire Bangsamoro but also to the entire Filipino people.

Remaining optimistic that Congress will pass BBL despite the short remaining days to tackle BBL, Murad however feared this will be derailed by some “spoilers”. Congress has only six remaining sessions.

“Some spoilers are trying to delay na hindi ma-ipasa…spoliers na gusting i-delay ang proseso (that it will not be passed…spoilers who want to delay the process). We are appealing on behalf of the MILF bigyang halaga…meron pang panahon ipasa ang BBL ang original na BBL (give importance…there is still time to pass the BBL...the original BBL),” Murad said.

He underscored that if there is political will the legislators can pass the original BBL with remaining sessions.

“Meron pa ring oras (There is still time). It is only a matter of political will,” he pointed out.

If it does not pass, Murad assured that the MILF will continue its struggle to have peace and implement some provisions of the Comprehensive Bangsamoro Agreement (CAB) and the Framework Agreement of the Bangsamoro (FAB).

He said the government has also the obligation to implement the CAB and FAB.

Murad stressed though that BBL is important for other process of the peace agreements to move forward such as the decommissioning of the MILF and others in the normalization process.

“But we will continue to search for peace,” Murad assured.

Meanwhile, Murad said MILF will remember the people who died in the Mamasapano incident last year, through prayer. He however explained that MILF does not commemorate incidents such as the Mamasapano because it is not in accordance with Muslim traditions.

Army certifies Marcelino as part of its intelligence network

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 26): Army certifies Marcelino as part of its intelligence network

The Philippine Army tells the Department of Justice (DOJ) that Lt. Col. Ferdinand L. Marcelino, an official of the Philippine Marines and a former official of the Special Enforcement Services of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), is part of the Army's Intelligence and Security Group.

Marcelino was arrested in a drug bust operation in Sta. Cruz, Manila last week.

The DOJ on Monday received a certification, dated Jan. 22, 2016, from the Army's (PA) Intelligence and Security Group signed by Col. Marlo Guloy.

The certification states that Marcelino was part of the intelligence information in the Intelligence and Security Group of the Philippine Army from November 2015 to December this year in connection with the suspected members of the Philippine Army, who were involved in the use of illegal drugs and other activities involving illegal drugs.

It added that it was pursuant to the directive of the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Task Force Moses and the Philippine Army Task Group Midas.

Marcelino last Friday asked for a preliminary investigation of his case to give him the opportunity to submit a counter-affidavit and pieces of evidence to prove that his presence in the said laboratory of illegal drugs in Sta. Cruz, Manila was a legitimate operation.

Marcelino was arrested by the combined forces of the PDEA and the Philippine National Police-Anti-Illegal Drugs Group (PNP-AIDG) right there and then in the said illegal drugs laboratory.

ASG materiel seized in Patikul operations

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 26): ASG materiel seized in Patikul operations
Troopers from Joint Task Group Sulu have recovered several items believed to be owned by an Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandit during patrol operations in Patikul town Monday afternoon.

Recovered were an ICOM radio, three antennas, a charger, a complete battle dress uniform, a pair of combat boots, two hammocks, a laminated sack, and unmarked motorcycle.

Joint Task Group Sulu commander Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, in a message to the PNA, said troops from the 35th Infantry Battalion were patrolling in Bud Uwak, Barangay Bangkal when they discovered these items, reportedly owned and abandoned by ASG member Apal Hassan, around 4:20 p.m.

He added the bandit was brought by his relatives to a still undisclosed hospital after suffering from some kind of illness.

Arrojado said troops are still scouring the area for signs of Hassan.

AFP holds Condura Skyway Marathon 2016 on Feb.7

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 26): AFP holds Condura Skyway Marathon 2016 on Feb.7

The Armed Forces of the Philippines will conduct the Condura Skeyway Marathon on February 7, in line with government efforts to aid families of soldiers killed and wounded in action.

AFP public affairs office chief Col. Noel Detoyato said the event, which was started in 2008, aims to raise funds for the benefit of families of military personnel killed and wounded in battle.

The Condura Skyway Marathon 2016 is expected to attract 15,000 runners to participate in four categories of 6K, 10K, 21K and 42K runs.

It will be held in Filinvest City, Alabang.

Raul Patrick Concepcion, Vice President for Service of Condura Inc., said that the organizing group of Condura Inc. chose to donate the proceeds of the marathon again to the HERO Foundation.

Last year, over 15,000 runners were able to raise funds also for the beneficiaries under HERO Foundation Inc. with the aim to help the children of fallen heroes from the AFP.

The race highlighted the heroism of the Filipino soldiers and honor their bravery and sacrifices.

The Condura Skyway Marathon was acclaimed as the most organized annual race in the Philippines. It started in 2008 with 2,000 runners and raised money for the Tubbataha Park Rangers.

In 2009, it was able to attract 6,200 runners and raised funds for the Donsol Whale Sharks Visitors Center.

By 2010, runners participating in the race went up to 8,500, contributing funds which benefited the Ayala Foundation for the Bohol Dolphins Condura Wharf.

During the past years, the marathon raised funds for the research and marine mammal museum through the Ayala Foundation and Siliman University with 13,500 runners in 2011, and the planting of mangroves in Zamboanga de Sibugay with 13,000 runners in 2012. In 2013, 13,300 more runners raised additional funds for more mangroves to be planted in Zamboanga de Sibugay.

The AFP, as a partner of Condura Inc. in the realization of Condura Skyway Marathon 2016, will provide 20 soldiers to participate as runners to show support to the children of their fallen heroes. Other units of the AFP will also be engaged to provide security during the conduct of the event.

The Philippine Navy Drums and Bugles, Philippine Air Force Marching Band and Philippine Army Combo will also be in the event to provide entertainment.

Editorial -- Securing NGCP transmission towers

Editorial posted to the MILF Website (Jan 24): Editorial -- Securing NGCP transmission towers

Anything that promotes the well-being of the people is part of the grand agenda of the MILF, being a people-based revolutionary movement. Serving the people is one of our reasons why we exist. We do not want them to suffer and everything we undertake has their interests as primordial consideration.
Having light in every home is a basic necessity. People must not be deprived of it. At all times, this must be sought. But securing the transmission lines of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) for people to continue access to power can well be a recommended act. But for the MILF to simply announce that we commit to help secure these lines is more problematic than what meets the eye. Both the short and long term implications and complications have far-reaching effects.

What are the consequences? If the bombing stops, then some people might suspect that the MILF is behind the act, because it had stopped it; if the bombing continues, then the MILF would be pictured as inutile or has not done enough to prevent it from happening. “Damn if you do, damn if you don’t” is still the rule here.

Besides, the MILF has no gain in the destruction. We are upholding the integrity of the ceasefire and the peace process. In addition, the NGCP is a private corporation that maintains and operates the power transmission network of the Philippines. It is a joint venture of the State Grid Corporation of China, Monte Oro Grid Resource of the Philippines and Calaca High Power Corporation. The NGCP took over TransCo on 15 January 2009. The corporation was inaugurated in Manila by Zheng Baosen, vice-president of the State Grid Corporation of China. This venture is the biggest investment made by China in the Philippines, in which 40% is owned by China.

More importantly, the MILF is not yet a full-fledged partner or part of the state; peace partners, yes. The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is still pending in Congress and its non-passage is more expected than its passage. If the BBL becomes a law, the MILF which is leading the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) will have the legal mandate to undertake this responsibility. However, this is not as easy as it is said here. The success of this undertaking is still contingent to other considerations, say a good and effective Bangsamoro police, because by that time, the MILF weapons and combatants are decommissioned already.

If the NGCP is really serious in seeking the intervention of the MILF, then perhaps the better part of judgment is to send a formal request for a meeting, or better still, to send someone to discuss the issue with the MILF. In such a way, any agreement can be part of the overall scheme to promote peace in the region, and can be linked to relevant organs of the GPH-MILF peace process especially the ceasefire committees of the government and MILF. The MILF is not expert in making casual arrangements.

Anent to this, we are happy to note the positive statement of Senator and Vice-Presidential aspirant Francis Joseph “Chiz” Escudero on the MILF, in contrast to previous statements attributed to him, correctly or incorrectly, way back in 2008 at the time the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) was under intense discourse, when he said that the Moros do not even know how to bake pan de sal (the quintessential bread roll of Filipinos), and therefore not fit to run a government. Of course, this has long been part of the dustbin of history. What is important is that he is supporting the passage of BBL in the Senate.

Escudero urged the MILF to help the government secure these transmission towers in the upcoming May 2016 elections. At the very least, this is an admission of the capability of the Moros to do more difficult talks than just being able to bake pan de sal.  This indeed is a welcome remarks! Thank you Mr. Senator!

MILF: Bangsamoro from North Cotabato attend International Peace Summit

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 25): Bangsamoro from North Cotabato attend International Peace Summit

Bangsamoro from North Cotabato attend International Peace Summit

Bangsamoro from all walks of life  patiently stay under the scorching heat of the sun just to show their deep support in achieving genuine peace in the Bangsamoro homeland.

An estimated total of One thousand three hundred fifty Bangsamoro men and women attended during the International Peace Summit hosted by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) held on January 24, 2016 at Camp Darapanan, Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, Philippines.

Participants from North Cotabato who were members of the Provincial Political Committee, members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, traditional and religious leaders, SWC, Women and youth Sectors represented its eight municipalities. The group’s convoy was spearheaded by the Vice-Chairman for MILF-Political Committee of North Cotabato.

Despite the scorching heat of the sun, the participants patiently witnessed the whole-day program which was graced by the Chairman of the Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL) Man Hee Lee from South Korea and the Chairwoman of the International Women Peace Group Nam Hee Kim.

The said event unveiled the historical peace monument which signifies the end of oppression and the reign of genuine peace in the Bangsamoro Homeland.

Five members of North Cotabato Information Committee also served as members of the documentation committee.

The said activity became very meaningful as it is the first time ever in the history of the Bangsamoro to host an international event in its present biggest camp.

MILF: “BBL is more important than elections”: Al Haj Murad

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 25): “BBL is more important than elections”: Al Haj Murad

MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim stressing a point during an exclusive interview with German media based on January 23, 2016( Photo by Mubarak Dumato)

MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim stressing a point during an exclusive interview with German media based on January 23, 2016( Photo by Mubarak Dumato)

Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told a press conference on Sunday after the unveiling of a peace monument built inside the camp that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is more importante than the national elections.

“It is not only the fate of politicians but the Bangsamoro and Filipino in general that are at stake”,  Murad said when asked on the status of BBL as the election campaign period is fast approaching.

Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the BBL told Mindanews last week that the 28 essential provisions of BBL that the committes deleted and wanted to be restored by the  Bangsamoro Transition Commission will not happen.

“Not one of the 28 provisions will be restored,” Rodriguez said as quoted by Mindanews.

Al Haj Murad told the media that Rodriguez is not in position to represent the members of the congress for it is a collective body  that agrees and enacts  laws.

The MILF Chair admitted that the time is very short but he pointed out that there is still enough time for congress to pass the original BBL if they are really decided.

The House of Representastives had agreed to vote on the bill this Wednesday, January 27.

The press conference held at the plenary hall of MILF Central Committee in Camp Darapanan was attended by local and national print, radio  and TV reporters.

MILF: There is a chance to pass the BBL if the lawmakers have the will: MILF

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 25): There is a chance to pass the BBL if the lawmakers have the will: MILF

There is a chance to pass the BBL if the lawmakers have the will: MILF

“If the lawmakers have the will to pass the BBL, there is a chance to pass it,” Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Central Committee Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said during a press conference held at Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on January 24, 2015.

The MILF Chair hoped that the reopening of the Mamasapano investigation in Senate will not affect the passage of the proposed measure which will provide the establishment of the Bangsamoro autonomous government as enshrined in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

“For the MILF, the Mamasapano incident is a closed case,” he said. Ebrahim noted the International Monitoring Team and the Department of Justice did their respective investigations adding, “Even the MILF has completed its investigation.”

He described the Mamasapano encounter, where 44 members of Special Action Force (SAF), 18 MILF combatants and five civilians died, as “unfortunate incident that should have not happened.”

The event happened on January 25 last year when members of the SAF conducting an operation to capture or neutralize wanted Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, clashed with the members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (MILF’s military wing) and other armed groups at Mamasapano.

It also delayed the deliberation of the BBL in the Senate and House of Representatives.

The MILF leader appealed to the lawmakers to give importance to the proposed legislation. The Front reiterates that the BBL should be compliant with the CAB for it will give meaningful autonomous government for the Bangsamoro.

Ebrahim said at stake with the BBL passage is the fate not only of the entire Bangsamoro people but of the Filipino people as well.

The MILF and the Philippine government signed the CAB in a bid to end the decades of conflict Mindanao that has claimed thousands of lives. The peace deal drew support from the international communities.

The press conference culminated the MILF-HWPL (Heavenly Culture, World Peace and Restoration of Light) International Peace Summit which gathered the Korean peace activists and thousands of Bangsamoro people at Camp Darapanan.

MILF: MILF, EU and CHD launch “Journey to the Bangsamoro” publication

Posted to the MILF Website (Jan 25): MILF, EU and CHD launch “Journey to the Bangsamoro” publication

MILF, EU and CHD launch “Journey to the Bangsamoro” publication
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Peace Panel, in cooperation with the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD)-Philippines and with support from the European Union Delegation to the Philippines (EU), launched a historic publication named “Journey to the Bangsamoro” on January 25, 2016 at Makati City. His Excellency Ambassador Franz Jessen of the European Union (EU) delivered the welcome address.

GPH Peace panel chair Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, MILF Peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal and Sec. Teresita Quintos-Deles of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) delivered their respective personal insights from the peace negotiation.

Camilo Montesa Senior Programme Manager of the CHD-Philippines made the acknowledgements and delivered the closing remarks.

A press release by CHD said that the publication consists of three volumes outlining different historical phases in the GPH-MILF Peace process.  It also compiles all the signed agreements between the GPH and the MILFand is accompanied by unique narratives detailing the history of the peace negotiations.

In total 2,000 copies of the publication have been printed for wide dissemination.  

Both the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and the European Union Delegation to the Philippines are providing extensive support to the peace process and are strongly committed to supporting lasting peace in Mindanao. HD remains a neutral mediator and advisor to the parties and at all times ‘dedicated and partial to peace’.

Ambassador Jessen said “That the EU Delegation to the Philippines welcomes this initiative as it is a fitting inspiration to all peace stakeholders in the country”.

He reiterated EU's eagerness and readiness to support the calls for a negotiated political settlement in Southern Philippines.

The launch comes at a critical time in the Peace Process, which is currently in its final but crucial stage of implementing the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB). The event will provide an opportunity for key players from the Peace Process to share their experiences and anecdotes and jointly look back on lessons learned during nearly two decades of peace negotiations. It is aimed at informing different stakeholders about the historical significance of the process, while also highlighting important achievements and the need for continued commitment to the overall Peace Process and its signed agreements.

Cempron, Tabdi: SAF 44’s men of valor

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 25): Cempron, Tabdi: SAF 44’s men of valor

He was a policeman. She was a doctor. An unusual pair.

At first, PO2 Romeo Cempron thought it was a “suntok sa buwan (impossible)” to marry a doctor, said his widow Christine.

“We can never really underestimate the power of humor. It’s really powerful,” a laughing Christine told in a recent interview as she recounted how she developed feelings for Romeo.
After dating for six months, Romeo and Christine decided to get married.

“He had a gift. He gave that feeling na kapag nakilala mo siya, parang close na agad kayo,” she said.

Romeo was described by his colleagues at the 55th Special Action Company (SAC) in Zamboanga City as the “loudest” in their camp. He had a knack for cracking hilarious jokes.

Losing the loudest one in the group was difficult for the members of the unit. “It was like a ghost town here days after we learned about their deaths,” said one officer.

On Monday, the first anniversary of the Mamasapano tragedy, Romeo was awarded by President Aquino himself the Medal of Valor—the highest medal a police officer could ever receive.

Cempron distracted the enemy and took the bullet for PO2 Christopher Lalan, who became the lone survivor from 55th SAC.

As the wife of the late cop, Christine received the award for her husband.

The awarding of the posthumous Valor medal to Romeo didn’t go smooth for Christine.

In August last year, she flew to Manila from Cebu after she was informed that the President will give her husband the award during the 25th police service anniversary at Crame. She even bought a Filipiniana attire for the event.

When she arrived in Manila, she was told that the awarding would have to be postponed as the awards board had yet to finish their deliberation.

But a ranking police official told that it was an order from Malacañang to remove Cempron and survivor Supt. Raymund Train in the list “because the President didn’t want to remember the Mamasapano incident.”

The Malacañang and the PNP belied this claim and said the deliberation for Romeo’s award had yet to be finished.

Unfinished house

In Benguet, the concrete walls of the house of the Tabdis were unpainted. Garcia, father of late Chief Inspector Gednat Tabdi, said his son promised to help the family finance their house renovation.

The father showed around their house which had three floors — the topmost storey of which was bare.

“Look at this floor. It’s bare. When Ged was still alive, he said he would help in renovating our house,” he said.

From their penthouse, one can see the famous strawberry field in La Trinidad where Garcia and his wife Edna sell strawberry products and all sorts of “pasalubong.”

Now the Tabdis will have to continue the renovation on their own.

On Monday morning, Cemprom and Gednat posthumously received the Medal of Valor in Camp Crame for their outstanding bravery and gallantry during the operation against Islamic terrorists in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on Jan. 25, 2015.


Gednat was given his first challenge on January 25 last year as the new commanding officer of the US-trained 84th SAC or Seaborne.

He may not have hurdled the challenge of bringing back his men home alive after taking down terrorist Zulkifli Bin Hir or “Marwan” but Gednat dauntlessly led his team until his last breath.

Citing the account of survivors from Seaborne, SAF chief Director Moro Virgilio Lazo said Gednat continued to lead and motivate his men to get out of the target area and survive.

“Coming from Marwan’s hut, there were sporadic exchanges of gunfire as they exited toward the safe area. It reached a point na napagod na ‘yung ibang wounded lalo na yung situation na hindi expected kasi walang tulong na dumarating,” he said.

Besides his duty as a leader of the team, Gednat took over the roles of his heavily-wounded comrades and became the radioman, the navigator, and the lead scout.

Despite being in the safe area, Gednat was killed after a bullet pierced his Kevlar helmet.

Suspect in killings of lumad leaders seen with soldiers in Agusan Sur – NDF

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 25): Suspect in killings of lumad leaders seen with soldiers in Agusan Sur – NDF

One of the suspects in the Sept. 1 killing of a school director and two lumad leaders in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, was recently seen in the company of government troops, the National Democratic Front (NDF), the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army, said.

Ka Maria Malaya, spokesperson of the NDF-Northeastern Mindanao, in a press statement said the suspect, a leader of the paramilitary Magahat-Bagani, was seen accompanying the Philippine Army’s 3rd Special Forces Battalion during clashes with New People’s Army rebels in a remote village in Prosperidad town last week.

But Col. Alexander Macario, commander of the 401st Army Brigade, said the NDF’s claim was plain propaganda.

“No sensible soldier would ever sit beside wanted persons,” Macario told local mediamen in an interview.

Macario said no military official in his right mind would ever allow his career to be tainted by coddling criminals.

Malaya said that seen during the encounter was Bobby Tejero, one of the suspects in the killings of Emerito Samarca, the director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev) school, and tribal leaders Dionel Campus and Datu Jovello Sinzo.

Tejero, his brother Loloy and Garito Layno have been tagged as leaders in the Sept. 1 killings.

Warrants for their arrest have been issued by a local court, but they have remained at large.

Aside from Bobby Tejero, Anit Belandres, brother of Marcial Belandres, the suspect in the killing of lumad leader Henry Alameda in October 2014, was also spotted in the same encounter.

“Definitely, they are not here with us,” Macario said in a chance interview on Saturday.

The provincial government of Surigao del Sur has been supporting close to 3,000 lumad evacuees who have been staying at the sports complex in Tandag City for more than four months now. The evacuees come from different towns where the para-military group Magahat-Bagani has been operating.

Most of the evacuees are from Lianga, Surigao del Sur. They fled their homes after members of the Magahat-Bagani swooped down on Sitio Han-ayan in Barangay Diatagon and killed Samarca, Campos and Sinzo. Pimentel earlier said the Magahat-Bagani was created, trained, armed and funded by the military, an allegation that the Armed Forces of the Philippines denied.

Pimentel said members of the paramilitary group were freely roaming the towns of Surigao del Sur, and yet the military failed to arrest them.

Maj. Gen. Rey Reynaldo Guerrero, chief of the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command, admitted that they received intelligence reports about the Magahat-Bagani’s locations and sightings, “But our efforts to arrest them have yet to yield positive results.” Guerrero said intelligence reports they received about Magahat’s movements were usually late, so their responses would already be “after the fact.”

Last week, troops belonging to the 16th Infantry Battalion, which was based in Oriental Mindoro, arrived in Surigao del Sur.

But Pimentel said the 16th IB was deployed for counter-insurgency operations, not to go after the Magahat-Bagani.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), in a recent circular, announced the putting up of a P3.6-million bounty or P1.2 million each for the arrest of the Tejero brothers and Layno.

Malaya earlier claimed that eight soldiers were killed and seven were wounded while only one NPA rebel was slightly wounded in three separate clashes between government troops and communist guerillas in Barangay (village) Mabuhay on January 15 and 16.

Macario, however, refuted this, saying no Army soldier was even hurt in the encounters and instead they seized an NPA encampment where they discovered a huge arms cache and volumes of subversive documents.

The animosity between the Army and the NPA came in the wake of the surrender of Datu Calpet Egua, the highest ranking leader of the Magahat-Bagani tribal warriors who immediately posted P80,000 in bail for the robbery charges he faced at the local court in Lianga last year.

A militant tribal group, Kahugpungan sa Lumadnong Organisasyon-Caraga (Kasalo-Caraga), said Egua’s surrender was only meant to pacify the clamor for justice for those killed in the atrocities done by the paramilitary Magahat-Bagani.

“Robbery is a bailable offense. It is easy for an arrested person who controls gold mining and falcatta plantations in Manhulayan in the boundaries of Prosperidad town and Bayugan City to post bail so he can avoid imprisonment and continue leading the bandit Magahat-Bagani in committing crimes,” Kasalo said in a statement.

NPA extortion eyed as motive for burning of construction equipment

From the Manila Bulletin  (Jan 25): NPA extortion eyed as motive for burning of construction equipment

The military has launched a manhunt against a group of New People’s Army (NPA) members who allegedly burned a fleet of heavy equipment owned by a private contractor while undertaking the construction of a private airport in T’boli, South Cotabato last Friday night.

Lt. Col. Ronald Jess Alcudia, 27th Infantry Battalion commander, said security forces have been dispatched to track down at least 10 NPA rebels responsible for torching the fleet of heavy equipment which consisted of grader, back hoe, dump truck and compact roller.

The equipment were owned by AJ Construction Corp. which is constructing the airstrip of Sumifro Corp., a multi-national fruit processing firm in Barangay Edwards in T’boli town.

Police said at least 10 heavily armed NPA rebels stormed the construction site inside the banana plantation owned by the company  and held the four security guards at gun point before setting on fire the heavy equipment worth P20 million.

Police eyed extortion as the possible motive for the attack as the contractor and Sumifro management had reportedly received extortion letter from the NPA prior to the incident.

Councilor ‘really killed’ by leftist armed group

From the Manila Times (Jan 25): Councilor ‘really killed’ by leftist armed group

Councilor Merlin “Tiger” Mañalac of Malabon City (Metro Manila) was “really killed” by an armed group of the Marxist-Leninist Party of the Philippines (MLPP), according to a source of The Manila Times.

The source on Monday said leaflets left by the Partisano at the place where Mañalac was shot on Saturday afternoon were “enough” basis that the group killed the city councilor.

 Partisano is supposedly the armed wing of the MLPP.

It was said to have been established in 2004 to carry out urban guerrilla warfare similar to that undertaken by the Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB) under the New People’s Army (NPA) that was active until the 1990s, not 1980s as this paper previously reported.
The ABB was under the command and control of the Communist Party of the Philippines Manila-Rizal (CPP-MR), whose known leader was the late Filemon “Popoy” Lagman.

The CPP-MR, together with the ABB, separated from the CPP in 1993 over policy differences, mainly with party founder Jose Maria “Joma” Sison, who has been based in The Netherlands.

“Kadalasan leaflets lang. Alam ng pulisya ang pattern. Sila ang makapagsasabi [Most of the time, it’s only leaflets that are left at the scene by Partisano. The police know the pattern. They could tell],” the source said when The Manila Times insisted on an interview with the group’s leader or even the group’s spokesman.

Mañalac was shot several times reportedly by two motorcycle-riding men near his house on Perlas Street in Barangay Tenejeros.

He was brought to the Manila Central University Hospital in Caloocan City (Metro Manila) where he died around 4 p.m.

In an interview, Senior Supt. Severino Abad Jr., chief of Malabon police and deputy chief of the Special Investigation Task Group Merlin (SITG-Merlin, told The Manila Times that there was “indeed a pattern” in the killing operations of the Partisano.

SITG-Merlin was put up upon orders of Director Eric Reyes, chief of the Northern Police District (NPD).

It is headed by Senior Supt. Rolando Anduyan.

Abad said leaving leaflets at the crime scene is just one of the Partisano’s patterns.

 He disclosed that Mañalac was actually the fifth victim of the armed group in Malabon City alone.

Abad, however, said leaflets were left by the Partisano in only three of the five cases to confirm that they indeed carried out the attacks.

The armed group said Mañalac was involved in the killing of Peter Villasenor in 2010 and in illegal activities, including drug trafficking and prostitution.

Police records showed that Villasenor was murdered on February 7, 2010 in Barangay Tenejeros.

He was reportedly a former member of the NPA, the armed wing of the CPP, who later joined the Partisano.

Abad said they are not ruling out other angles like the role of politicians in the killing since Mañalac was a politician.

Mañalac was reportedly seeking reelection under the party of Mayor Antolin Oreta 3rd.

Identities of the suspects could be known within two days as a CCTV footage on them has been submitted to experts for review

Philippine Muslim rebels say concerned at rising radicalism

From Reuters (Jan 25): Philippine Muslim rebels say concerned at rising radicalism

Philippine government and Muslim rebel peace negotiators both expressed concern on Monday over the spread of radical Islamic ideology in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic nation, warning it could reverse gains in the peace negotiations.

They urged lawmakers to immediately pass a new Muslim autonomy law in a region of southern Mindanao to counter radicalism, especially among young Muslims.

Muslim rebels have been fighting for self-determination in the south for more than four decades. The conflict has killed more than 120,000 people, displaced two million and stunted growth in one of the poorest regions of the country.

"The flags have been raised, the danger signals are already there," said Miriam Coronel Ferrer, government chief negotiator with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country's largest Muslim rebel group.

Chief rebel negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said his group was also worried the delays in the passage of the law could frustrate the "rank and file of the MILF".

"It's a fact that there is rising radicalism among the youth in Mindanao," he said. "It's there, the videos are spreading and it's very hard to combat ideas."

Security forces say there is no evidence that local Islamist groups have links with Middle East-based militants despite some videos showing Abu Sayyaf rebels pledging allegiance to Islamic State.

Philippines joining Cope North for first time on Guam next month

From the Stars & Stripes (Jan 25): Philippines joining Cope North for first time on Guam next month

U.S. Air Force, Japan Air Self-Defense Force and Royal Australian Air Force aircraft fly in formation during a Cope North exercise, Feb. 17, 2015, off the coast of Guam. The Philippines will take part in this year's training, which will begin with a two-day, table-top humanitarian and disaster-relief exercise. Focus will then shift to fighter-versus-fighter air combat tactics, air-to-ground strike missions and large-force employment training.    

The Philippines will take part for the first time in Cope North, a large-scale air exercise with the U.S. and four other nations in the western Pacific.

Philippine airmen will join more than 1,800 personnel from the U.S., Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand for the exercise, which runs Feb. 10-26 out of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.

The announcement comes less than two weeks after Philippine military officials announced that the island nation would offer the U.S. military use of eight bases, which could pave the way for an increased U.S. presence in the Philippines.

Cope North 2016 will begin with a two-day, table-top humanitarian and disaster-relief exercise. Focus will then shift to fighter-versus-fighter air combat tactics, air-to-ground strike missions and large-force employment training, an Air Force statement said.

Five Philippine Air Force planners will assist with humanitarian assistance and disaster response drills on Rota and Tinian islands, setting up a base and medical center and conducting combat search-and-rescue drills in the exercise’s first week, said 1st Lt. Christen Ornella, Pacific Air Forces spokeswoman.

“This is the largest Cope North to date with more aircraft than ever,” she said of the exercise, which began in 1978 as a quarterly bilateral exercise at Misawa Air Base, Japan, and moved to Guam in 1999.

Seventy-four aircraft from the U.S., 22 from Japan, nine from Australia and one from South Korea will take part in the event. The U.S. aircraft, which will come from bases in mainland Japan, Okinawa, Alaska, Guam and the continental U.S., include F-15 and F-16 fighters, B-52 bombers and C-130 cargo planes, Ornella said.

The 353rd Combat Training Squadron from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, participating in the exercise for the first time this year, will conduct multilateral survival training, the statement said.

The Philippines’ participation is significant, given China’s recent occupation of disputed territory in the South China Sea, said Australian national security consultant Ross Babbage. However, he noted that the country’s air defense capabilities are rudimentary.
“I’m not sure how much they can contribute in terms of air defense,” he said. “Their fighter aircraft are barely serviceable, if that.”

Philippines officials have expressed a desire for the U.S. to provide them with advanced aircraft in response to China’s island grabs in the South China Sea. The U.S., Canada and Australia sent the Philippines several warships and a fleet of helicopters last year.

However, it’s unclear whether the Philippine military can absorb, sustain and maintain much more advanced military equipment, Babbage said.

It might be better to provide them with less advanced aircraft similar to the A-29 Super Tucano fighter jets recently acquired by Afghanistan, he said, because they might prove to be a useful tool for Filipino troops battling Islamic insurgents in the south of the country.

Earlier this month, the Philippines’ highest court upheld the Enhanced Defense Co-operation Agreement, which was signed by the U.S. and Philippines in 2014. U.S. military forces left the country in 1992, when the Philippine senate voted to end leases to bases there. Under the provisions of the 2014 security pact, the U.S. would have access to air and naval facilities, but it does not authorize the return of U.S. bases.        

MILF confirms ISIS recruitment in Central Mindanao

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 25): MILF confirms ISIS recruitment in Central Mindanao

Yes, individuals claiming links with the Islamic State (IS) are recruiting Moro youths in Central Mindanao, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) confirmed this on Monday.

“What is confirmed right now is there is ongoing recruitment of young people in the various provinces, especially in Maguindanao and Cotabato City and also in Marawi City (in Lanao del Sur,” said Mohagher Iqbal, chief negotiator of the MILF, said.
“That is confirmed,” he emphasized.

“But whether or not there is already a formal foothold of the ISIS in Mindanao, that is still a subject for validation, we have not confirmed that,” said the MILF leader.

He added that some groups — which he did not identify — in Lanao del Sur and Cotabato — have been claiming to have formed groups that are attached to the ISIS.

He said the provinces where the said recruitment is being conducted are Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, both components of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Iqbal made the confirmation as 26 Muslim religious leaders in ARMM also admitted last week that “tentacles” of extremist groups, referring to the ISIS, or IS (Islamic State), have reached ARMM.

The religious leaders said, “these extremist groups have extended its tentacles in conflict-affected Muslim Mindanao,” adding they gained supporters from youths who felt deceived by the non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress.

For his part, Iqbal, who chairs the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the original BBL, clarified that they still cannot confirm if the ISIS has planted a “formal foothold” in Central Mindanao.

Whether the rise of extremism in the said area is because of the BBL’s uncertain fate, the MILF leader said that it could be both.

“It can be part of the delay in BBL, or it can be part of a global situation, where in the Middle East there is no peace,” he said.

Iqbal said what is happening in the Middle East, practically a civil war among Muslims, “is a global problem and, for the MILF, we do not want the problem in Mindanao, not the MILF (but radicalism), to be a part of this global problem.”

He suggested that the national government, referring to Malacanang, Senate, and House of Representatives, address the problem in Mindanao before it becomes a larger and more serious global concern or problem.

Meanwhile, he said the MILF considers the Mamasapano incident a closed case, and that the Front has nothing more to add.

Iqbal said their investigating team completed its investigation on the encounter between the MILF and the commandos of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) that killed 44 SAF men, 18 MILF fighters, and five or seven civilians.

“If the investigation is to get justice, the MILF casualties and the civilians also deserve justice,” he said, citing in particular a child who was killed in the fighting that also involved the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) and Ustadhz Ameril “Umra” Kato.

Muslim religious leaders confirm IS presence in Mindanao

From UCA News (Jan 25): Muslim religious leaders confirm IS presence in Mindanao

Genuine regional autonomy would assist in bringing peace to the troubled region, they say

Muslim religious leaders confirm IS presence in Mindanao

A file photo of members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, who pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State, somewhere in the central Mindanao. (Photo by Mark Navales)

Muslim religious leaders in the Philippines have confirmed the presence of the group that calls themselves the Islamic State (IS) in Mindanao.

"These extremists have extended their tentacles in conflict-affected Muslim Mindanao, gaining supporters in communities of disillusioned Moro people," said the religious leaders in a statement on Jan. 24.

The statement said the Moro people of Mindanao felt "deceived" by the failure of the Philippine government to pass a law that is supposed to create a Muslim region in the southern part of the country.

The Philippine Congress has up to Feb. 1 to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law that will establish a proposed new autonomous political entity known as the Bangsamoro in Mindanao.

"The fighters believe that the peace process has been betrayed by imperial Manila," the religious leaders said.

The statement obtained by called on the Philippine government "to help us bring just and lasting peace by legislating genuine autonomy" in Mindanao.

"We also call on all Muslims in the country to refrain from joining angry groups that espouse unjust killings or terrorism to advance their cause," the religious leaders said.

Christians in Jolo not arming

A Catholic priest in Mindanao, meanwhile, expressed alarm over local media reports that Christians in the province of Sulu are arming themselves to protect their communities from Islamist terror groups.

Oblate Father Bert Layson told that the some media reports in Manila "misquoted" Bishop Angelito Rendon Lampon of Jolo as saying that Christians in Jolo are taking up arms for self defense.

"There is no such thing in Jolo now," said Father Layson who is the head of Oblates of Mary Immaculate office for interreligious dialogue in Mindanao.

Bishop Lampon issued a statement Jan. 22 warning of a "desperate attempt by Christians" in central Mindanao who are being attacked by armed groups.

"He did not mention Jolo (or) Sulu civilians taking arms," Father Layson said, adding that he received calls from priests and lay people of Jolo expressing concern over media reports.

"We are so concerned on the consequences of these reports knowing that Christians are a minority in (the province of Sulu)," he said.

In 1997, suspected Islamist rebels shot and killed Bishop Benjamin de Jesus of Jolo. He was the highest-ranking church leader killed in the region where several foreign Catholic missionaries have also been kidnapped.

BBL passage will change Mindanao’s violent narrative – Deles

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 25): BBL passage will change Mindanao’s violent narrative – Deles

The much-awaited passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) will not only improve the fate of the Bangsamoro region but will also change the discourse on Mindanao as it will signal the closing of the armed conflict with the largest Moro rebel group in the country, said Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles.

“Yung kailangan siguro sa panahong ito talaga yung big picture ang tinitingnan. ‘Yung farsightedness… dahil sa totoo lang itong batas na ito hindi lang pang ngayon [but] it will [also] affect the future of the Bangsamoro (What we need to see at this point in time is the big picture. The farsightedness… because, in reality, this law is not only for the present but it will also affect the future of the Bangsamoro),” Deles said in an interview on national television.

"Mapapalitan na natin ang narrative nitong lugar na ito from one of distrust, despair, violence to one na meron kang bagong opportunities [and] new hopes (We can change the narrative of this place from one of distrust, despair, violence to one with opportunities [and] new hopes)," she added. "[The two peace] parties and a large constituency, church leaders, civil society, even business leaders have come to a consensus on this, not to mention [that the] international community is so ready."

Deles emphasized that the passage of the BBL should not be passed on to the next administration, but rather the final decision and action to the Mindanao armed conflict depends on the current Congress and the political will of the legislators.

"[M]as nakasalalay dito sa mga nakaupo mismo ngayon na sila ang kailangan talagang magpasya na... umabot na [tayo sa] mahabang panahon, [kaya] hindi lang ito yung sinasabing minadali. Ang tagal nila [at] andaming consultations nangyari [kaya] halos lahat na ng tanong ay nandiyan na (It really rests on the incumbent political leaders we have today to decide... this has gone on for such a long time, that is why they can't say that there has been any railroading. It has been so long and various consultations have been made to ensure that all questions are answered)."

Despite the limited timeframe of Congress for BBL passage, Deles remains positive that it can still be done under the Aquino administration. "[W]e will keep on pushing and not give up hope on this. It's a very tight window but those who know the legislative process said that it is still possible."

Cagayan de Oro City Representative Rufus Rodriguez, who serves as chairman of the ad hoc committee on the BBL, announced earlier that the House agreed to vote on the bill on
27 January.
During the course of the interview, the OPAPP secretary was also asked about the re-opening of the Senate probe on the Mamasapano incident.

Deles welcomed the motion of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile to reopen the Mamasapano investigation at the committee level to put closure on the issue.

“[W]e will respect Senator Enrile na siya yung nagtulak nito na mayroon nga siyang mga tanong na inaasahan nating makakatulong sa pag-intindi sa nangyari (We will respect Senator Enrile who is pushing for this because he still has questions that would help in making us understand what really happened),” she said.

“Kung kailangan buksan [dahil]  may mga issue pang pag-uusapan, may mga tanong, i-focus doon (If we are going to open because there are issues still to be addressed, all questions should focus there). [I am hoping that] it will be factual and it will help to [give the] big picture of what really happened.”

She reminded lawmakers that the BBL passage should not be affected with the Mamasapano probe re-opening and that the remaining session days would be used to focus on important bills currently pending for legislation. (OPAPP)

5 killed in an encounter with lawmen in Nueva Ecija

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 25): 5 killed in an encounter with lawmen in Nueva Ecija

SCIENCE CITY OF MUNOZ, Nueva Ecija -- Five people were killed in an encounter with lawmen in a Philippine National Police-Commission on Elections (PNP-Comelec) checkpoint in Barangay Sapang Cauayan here at about 3 a.m. Monday.

Senior Supt. Manuel Cornel, Nueva Ecija police director, said police have yet to establish the identities of the fatalities.

Cornel said 15 personnel from the Regional Public Safety Battalion (RPSB) and the local police led by Supt. Ponciano Zafra were conducting checkpoint when they noticed a speeding tricycle.

When flagged down for inspection, Cornel said “they even increased their speed and hit the Comelec checkpoint signage and fired upon the police officers manning the checkpoint.”

All five of the suspects were killed during the exchange of fire, he said.

No one was hurt on the part of the lawmen even as the police patrol was hit by bullet from the suspects.

Investigators have yet to recover the unspecified caliber of handgun used by the suspects.

MILF offers prayers for its fallen fighters, SAF, civilians in Mamasapano debacle

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 25): MILF offers prayers for its fallen fighters, SAF, civilians in Mamasapano debacle

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Monday remembered their fallen comrades and members of the police special unit and civilians who perished during the Mamasapano debacle through prayers, the MILF chieftain said.

We do not commemorate in grandest fashion, we simply offer prayers for our slain fighters which we believed is the best,” MILF chief Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said in a news conference.

”We pray for all, SAF, MILF and civilians, they came ahead of us because of the circumstances beyond our control,” he said in Filipino.

“We remember them in our prayers,” he added.

The MILF chief also admitted that relatives of fallen MILF fighters who he described as “mujahidden’ (freedom fighters) have received “little amount of assistance from the MILF,” unlike members of police Special Action Force (SAF).

Aside from the MILF, Murad said, wealthy Moro civilians have extended assistance.

”Our assistance was never enough,” he lamented.

He reiterated the MILF stance on the reopening of Mamasapano incident, saying “it will only add insult to injury that has already been healed as far as the MILF is concerned.”

Reopening the probe could be used to dampen Bangsamoro peoples’ hope on the passage of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL)

The draft bill, a product of 17 years of peace negotiations, remained unacted upon by the Philippine Congress.

”The issue could be used by some for political gains,” Murad said, adding that so many probes have been made, citing the Senate probe, the MILF’s investigation with the result forwarded to the government panel, the Department of Justice investigation and the International Monitoring Team inquiry.

”We hope it will not be used to junk the BBL,” Murad said.

Army reservists conduct 'Oplan Bayanihan' in Calamba City

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 25): Army reservists conduct 'Oplan Bayanihan' in Calamba City

The 1701st Ready Reserve Infantry (Tagasagip) Brigade, 4th Regional Community Defense Group, Army Reserve Command (ARESCOM) stationed at Camp Eldrige, Lalakay Village in Los Baños town, conducted a “3 in 1” project or “Oplan Bayanihan” on Sunday (Jan. 24) at Villa Palao Subdivision Banlic Village in this city.

The Philippine Army (PA) Reserve group conducted simultaneous cleaning of the perimeter of the covered court, trimming of trees along the roads of the subdivision that cover electric wires and disrupt the way of large vehicles as part of their “clean and green” program; training of the village Quick Response Team (QRT) on disaster rescue and first aid; and feeding program to village children and mothers in cooperation with the Knights of Rizal (KOR) Calamba City Chapter.

”Our group (Reservist) focuses on environment and disaster concerns based on requests from community leaders,” Lt. Col. Evenizer M. De Ramos (Res) PA Executive Officer, said.

”Activities like this today is part of the ‘bayanihan' program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to win the hearts and minds of the people in communities,” De Ramos added.

The initiative, according to Captain Rodolfo Barboza (Res) PA, operation and training officer, came from Rafael Feria, president, Villa Palao Homeowners Association Inc. (VPHAI) who requested for the Reservist to trim 34 trees that pose potential hazards and disruption to the flow of vehicles.

”We also welcome organizations who are involved in disaster and rescue activities to be trained by our members, with a request,” Barboza said.

Meanwhile, Edo Junio, chapter commander, KOR Calamba City Chapter, said that the “feeding program has been adopted by the organization as part of community service at the same time a chance to spread the teachings of Dr. Jose Rizal to the children.”

”This is the second project we had with the Reservist, the first was tree planting at Casili Village in Cabuyao City,” Junio added, “as some of the members of KOR are also active reservists.”

During the feeding, Junio conducted a question and answer game about Rizal and realized how little their knowledge were about the national hero, prompting him to comment that the same activity shall be done on a monthly basis to get more involvement with the children relative to Rizal’s life and works.

8th ID commander appoints 2 new battalion commanders

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 25): 8th ID commander appoints 2 new battalion commanders

Major Gen. Jet B. Velarmino, 8th Infantry Division commander, appointed two new commanders of the 14th and 20th Infantry Battalions during short ceremonies at the 8th ID Multi-Purpose Hall in Catbalogan City, Samar.

In a statement forwarded Sunday by Capt. Ian Andres Fabellon, 8th Infantry Division spokesperon, the newly-appointed officers were identified as Lt. Col. Ronie T. Ebarita and Lt. Col. Hilarion Palma, respectively of the 14th and 20th Battalions.

Ebarita replaced Lt. Col. Peter Burgonio who was appointed to the 8th Infantry Division staff.

Ebarita was previously assigned in Camp Lapu Lapu in Cebu City and is known for numerous peace-building efforts in the Central Visayas.

Ebarita earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education in Tanjay, Negros Occidental and Master of Public Management in Development Academy of the Philippines in Ortigas Center, Pasig City as well as Command and General Staff Course in Armed Forces of the Philippines, Command and General Staff College in Fort Andres Bonifacio, Taguig City.

Palma replaved Lt. Col. Miguel E. Ceballos who was also appointed to the division staff.

He was previously assigned in General Headquarters Support Command Armed Forces of the Philippines in the National Capital Region. He is a service oriented and dynamic military officer which led numerous developmental initiatives in Luzon.

Palma earned his Bachelor of Science in Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City and Master's Degree in Public Management Program Major in Development and Security in Development Academy of the Philippines in Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

Both newly installed commanders earned numerous significant awards from civilian and government sectors, as well as decorations for their excellent achievements that contributed much to the attainment of our vision of a World Class Army that is a source of National Pride by 2028.

Sailing crew, officers of SSV now formed, ready for deployment

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 25): Sailing crew, officers of SSV now formed, ready for deployment

The sailing crew of the country's first strategic sealift vessel (SSV) has already been formed and will be deployed to Indonesia to pick up the ship this coming March.

The SSV's sailing crew is composed of 98 enlisted personnel and 17 officers, including the ship's captain.

This was disclosed by Philippine Navy (PN) spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo Sunday.

He added that the commanding officer of the first SSV, also known by the designation of "LD-601," has already been selected by a PN committee.

Arevalo did not name disclose the name of this pioneering commanding officer as this is still subject for confirmation.

The SSV's trials are scheduled to start in March.

This is to determine on whether all the ship's systems are operational for the voyage to the Philippines.

"It's akin to a car doing road test. The facilities and other navigational instruments are being tested to ensure seaworthiness especially before its embarks on its voyage to the Philippines," Arevalo added.

The first SSV was launched at the PT PAL (Persero) shipyard in Surabaya, Indonesia last Jan. 17.

The Philippines has a two-SSV order with PT PAL (Persero) for PHP3.87 million which is sourced from the AFP Modernization Fund.

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

The Department of National Defense declared Persero as the Single Calculated Responsive Bidder with a bidding price of PHP3.87 million on November 18, 2014.

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

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

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.

MILF chief negotiator says no to reopening of Mamasapano probe, sees slimmer chance of BBL passage

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 25): MILF chief negotiator says no to reopening of Mamasapano probe, sees slimmer chance of BBL passage

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal on Monday thumbed down the reopening of the Mamasapano probe, a year after the ill-fated operation.

The MILF chief negotiator is not in favor of the Senate reopening its investigation on the Jan. 25 Mamasapano incident, scheduled Jan. 27, saying that it is already a "closed case."

"It is a closed case as far as the MILF is concerned. We have already conducted an official investigation and now our investigation team had come up with an official report," Iqbal told reporters on the sidelines of the launching of a historic publication named "Journey to the Bangsamoro."

"For us, we do not want to revive the animosities, hatred, emotions of the relative of the fallen SAF commandos and MILF combatants," Iqbal added.

Although he respects the prerogative of the Senate to reopen the case, Iqbal said that he will "politely turn down" invitations to attend the probe.

Further, the chief negotiator noted that justice should be for all rather than selective.

"To have real justice, it has to be applied to all. It's not only the SAF Commanders who had left their widows and children and all other dependents, but even the MILF combatants also left their widows, their parents, their children and relatives," Iqbal stressed.

To recall, 44 members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force, 17 MILF members and five innocent civilians were killed in the Mamasapano clash.

"For the SAF commandos and for the MILF, although it was an unfortunate incident, that is expected in war," the chief negotiator said, noting that it was part of the whole struggle.

Iqbal, however, stressed that the civilians who died during the encounter deserve more justice for they have nothing to do with the conflict.

As for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), Iqbal sees dimmer prospects for the political documents--the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro--to be translated into legal documents since the said bill is still pending in Congress.

"Chances are high that it will not pass at all," Iqbal said.

Mamasapano tragedy underscores imperative of peace – Deles

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 25): Mamasapano tragedy underscores imperative of peace – Deles

A year after the Mamasapano incident that claimed 67 Filipino lives including that of an eight-year-old child, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles stressed anew that the unfortunate event only served to strengthen the agency’s resolve to continue pushing for peace in Mindanao.

"The unfortunate incident in Mamasapano, which plunged the Filipino nation in deep grief, showed the fragility of the path to peace. The forcible deconstruction triggered by the tragedy compels us to a reconstruction, a recovery, a rethinking that must go deep and far and wide if we are to do justice to the truth and the pursuit of peace,” Deles said.

“The bloodbath at Mamasapano does not debunk the imperative of peace. On the contrary, Mamasapano tells us – and may I paraphrase the poet E.E. Cummings here – that, of peace, we must be more careful than of anything else. It is a beacon but it is also a fragile flower. It lives in the hearts of men and women but, stunted, it can also turn toxic.”

“They say that peace is not an easy path, sometimes it’s like walking a tightrope. But there is no alternative to peace. War cannot end war. Religious officials, civil society leaders, business persons, academicians who live and work in Mindanao have spoken out,” she said. “They know how destructive war is, and how fragile peace is. That is why, to a person, they have issued calls for peace very early on when thick haze still hung over Mamasapano.”

She added that the tragedy brought out many Filipinos’ long-stemmed antipathy and discrimination towards the Filipino-Muslim community. “We must unlearn this dualism so we can move beyond our superficial analyses to a more discerning view of the peace process and our stakes in it.”

Peace process demonized

At the height of the controversy, the peace adviser remembered how the peace process got badly demonized by critics in mainstream and social media, mostly due to political dynamics and agenda that sought to undermine the Aquino administration at a time that they saw it to be most vulnerable.

“Many have already pointed out in public that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) became a casualty of the Mamasapano incident as were those who perished. It became a subject of such intense negative propaganda that those who worked so hard to bring the peace process at the height of its success became the devil in the eyes of the angry public. Most of us, if not all, were called to resign, and by those who would not have experienced the armed conflicts first hand. They have criticized the mechanisms without knowing the history behind its implementation." recalled Deles.

She said she found it oddly strange that those who spoke for peace were so viciously assailed by the people.

Alleged advice to PNoy never happened

Recently, news reports in mainstream and social media surfaced again alleging that Secretary Deles advised President Benigno S. Aquino III to not send back-up troops to aid the members of the Philippine National Police–Special Action Force (SAF) at the height of the Mamasapano encounter.

“That is such a lie, a malicious lie, which was a product of an imaginative mind that served to portray the peace process as the villain. As I have said before, the most vociferous voices call for a stop to the BBL hearings, call for a revamp of the peace infrastructure in midstream. Perhaps the most charitable thing to say is that they do not know whereof they speak."

In a press statement released last year, OPAPP clarified that no such advice to the President was sought nor given by Secretary Deles who was never a part of any stage of the Marwan operations, nor any other security enforcement operations.

Not even a suggestion of a "whitewash" - Marcos on illegal audio

Another issue that confronted the peace adviser due to the Mamasapano incident was the release on social media of an audio recording with a controversial and fake title -- "Bbm And Deles.m4a: Audio recording on Mamasapano "whitewash."

Deles said that with the incident's anniversary, they have seen the resurgence these days of old lies and propaganda that were thrown at them, including the illegally recorded audio of her meeting with Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos.

"They are even packaged as new information, instead of the old lies that they were," she said.

"People who wanted again to hit the administration through the peace process, released and shared under false headline the recording of my meeting with Senator Marcos, making it appear that the conversation was about a whitewash and a cover-up instead of an innocent conversation about the incident in which it was clear that we were both trying to make sense of what happened, given the details available at that time, and concluded with an agreement to wait for more information," Deles said.

"I have said this before and I will say this again, those allegations of whitewash and cover-ups are false. It was a disservice then, as it is a disservice now to our people to mislead, confuse and lie to them."

OPAPP on February 14, 2015 came out with a media release that assailed the malicious misinformation being spread on social media alleging that she talked to a legislator mentioning an intent to "whitewash" the tragic events that unfolded in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on January 25, with details of the meeting being referred in the audio, and recalled meeting with two senators the day after the Mamasapano incident. One was with Senator Marcos and the other with Senate President Franklin Drilon.

"I never adverted to anything about a plan to ‘make the incident disappear’ or for a ‘whitewash. This issue was proven to be false and mere political gimmick when it came out such that the legislative committees conducting hearings on the Mamasapano incident in aid of legislation at that time no longer included it in their investigations. The full illegal recording was out there in social media uploaded by an anonymous person, and people who listened to it confirmed that they could not find any reference to a whitewash or cover-up, unless it was tampered and spliced." Deles clarified.

Deles' claim was further affirmed when in a separate statement issued February 15, 2015, Marcos debunked allegations of "whitewash" on the Mamasapano investigation.

"The claim doing the rounds in social media that OPAPP Secretary Teresita “Ging” Deles saw me in my office on January 26, the day after the Mamasapano incident, to “whitewash” the investigation is definitely not true. There could not even be any suggestion of a “whitewash” because there was no investigation yet at that time.”

Atty. Jomer Aquino, a legal consultant of OPAPP, recalled that the digital recording became the subject of a legal consultation last year. The matter was also reported to the NBI. According to him, the said audio actually breaks the illegal wiretapping law of Republic Act No. 4200. Anyone who recorded the audio without expressed permission from those identified in it can be prosecuted for violation of the said law." said Aquino. He also said that he who possesses and distributes the said audio may also be prosecuted for violation of Ant-Wire Tapping Act. He said that they will discuss again the possibility of pursuing legal action if it becomes an issue again.

Commemoration should focus on seeking justice

Deles maintained that the commemoration of the Mamasapano tragedy should focus solely in seeking justice for the deaths of the elite cops, Moro combatants and innocent civilians instead of politicking the ill-fated incident for personal motives.

“In remembering Mamasapano we are making a fervent prayer - for justice for those who perished and negatively affected by the tragedy, for healing and peace for the families and communities, and of the nation, and clarity of mind and wisdom for fellow Filipinos that they may always see and discern the truth from deception - for our country and the just and lasting peace it deserves,” Deles concluded.