Thursday, January 28, 2016

Think-tank on anti-terror drive: ‘Rethink role of rewards’

From the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Jan 28): Think-tank on anti-terror drive: ‘Rethink role of rewards’

The capture of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, whether dead or alive, had a hefty price tag of $5 million from the United States Government which has been aggressively pursuing global jihadis after the deadly 9/11 attacks in New York.

How the bounty influenced the overall conduct of the operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao is not yet established.

But using the experience with Marwan, a Jakarta-based think-tank urged a rethinking of the role of rewards in the drive against Southeast Asian terrorists.

In its March 2015 report Killing Marwan in Mindanao, which drew only little attention then, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (Ipac) noted that the momentum in the hunt for Marwan was “driven in part by the bounty, (and) in part by what appears to have been a single-minded focus on his death—not his arrest.”

IPAC added that these “may have militated against any serious effort to think about (the) impact” of the operation.

The raid against the Malaysian terrorist last year led the commandos of the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force (SAF) to a battle scene where it engaged, on one hand, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters who have been coddling Marwan, and on the other, MILF fighters who were surprised to see government security forces in their midst.

The fighting left 44 SAF commandos, 17 Moro guerrillas, and five civilians dead, and precipitated a national controversy that jeopardized almost two decades of peacemaking efforts with the MILF.

As with other terrorists, the bounty for Marwan’s capture was put up by the Rewards for Justice program of the US government.

The program was credited for aiding the downfall of key Abu Sayyaf leaders by encouraging the availability of information that led authorities to their locations.

As of 2012, the Texas-based intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (Stratfor) said more than $11 million in bounties were paid in the Philippines by the program.
The program’s website listed as part of its success stories the capture of Philippine-based terrorists, all key figures of the Abu Sayyaf: Toting Craft Hanno, Khadaffy Janjalani, Abu Solaiman and Hamsiraji Marusi Sali.

It paid $100,000 for Hanno, $5 million for Janjalani, $5 million for Solaiman, and $1 million for Sali.

“The huge bounties placed on the heads of foreign jihadis have helped to burnish their reputations as world class terrorists, perhaps out of proportion to their actual roles,” Ipac said.

“They encourage killing high-value targets rather than making any effort to arrest them alive,” Ipac added.

A Brussels-based think-tank already warned in 2008 about the distorting effect of monetary rewards in the drive against terrorists in the country.

In its report Counter-Insurgency vs. Counter-Terrorism in Mindanao, the International Crisis Group (ICG) noted how military informants “equate amount of bounty with the importance of the individual concerned.”

It cited the case of then Philippine-based Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) operatives Umar Patek and Dulmatin.

Dulmatin, who reports to Umar Patek, commanded $10 million in reward for his capture while his boss only fetched $1 million.

ICG also cited the views of an unnamed senior official of the Philippine National Police (PNP) who said that the bounties “were leading to undue focus in individuals at the expense of more carefully thought-through strategies.”

Ipac suggested that the bounties led to “many false alarms.” However, the ICG was more explicit in saying that the rewards, or the rush to claim these, led to premature pronouncements of the deaths of high-prized targets.

Examples of this were the many death announcements by authorities of Marwan and Dulmatin.

Today, the Rewards for Justice program listed four wanted terrorists in East Asia and the Pacific region whose capture will merit its bounty.

They are Isnilon Hapilon of Abu Sayyaf, up to $5 million, Radullan Sahiron of Abu Sayyaf, up to $1 million, and Indonesian JI operative Aris Sumarsono alias Zulkarnaen or Daud, up to $5 million.

Abdul Basit Usman of the Maguindanao-based Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), who was killed last year, was still in the list, with a reward of up to $1 million.

“Other aspects of the US role have been examined since the Mamasapano incident took place, but Rewards for Justice has not come under much scrutiny,” Ipac noted.

‘Peace Conversation’ to push all-out peace

From the Business World (Jan 28): ‘Peace Conversation’ to push all-out peace

Amid the bleak chance of the proposed Bangsamoro law getting passed in Congress under the current administration, a peace movement in Mindanao is calling for continued discussions on peace and how the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) could be used as an instrument of real change.
The University Community Engagement and Advocacy Council (UCEAC), along with the Al Qalam Institute, both based at the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU), are pursuing the project “Peace Conversation,” a regular round table dialogue wherein students and representatives of nongovernment organizations, Muslim groups and government agencies are invited to talk about various issues relating to peace in the south.
Romeo T. Cabarde, Jr., UCEAC chairperson, said in an interview the overall sentiment of stakeholders is to neutralize calls for an “all-out war” and instead push for “all-out peace.”
“Peace Conversation was organized merely to converse. We also encourage the teachers to discuss the issues in the classroom,” he said.

As an offshoot of the Peace Conversation, the #HearMindanao campaign was launched on social media as a venue for telling stories on how difficult it is to live in a situation of constant armed conflict and that peace is achievable.

“Students shared narrative stories on how they relate with the IPs (indigenous peoples). They also shared that it is not impossible to live with the Moros,” Mr. Cabarde said.

The discussions and conversations are documented, collected, and compiled by Al Qalam, an institute for Islamic identities and dialogues at the ADDU.

The compilation is used as basis for formulating activities and programs relating to the peace advocacy.

Mr. Cabarde said their discourse now focuses on the legislative process and their recommendations on the provisions of the BBL.

He added that no matter the BBL’s fate, they will continue to call for the pursuit of peace and a new law that is in line with the agreement signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Beijing rejects Spratly militarization accusations

From The Daily Tribune (Jan 28): Beijing rejects Spratly militarization accusations

China has downplayed claims that its words are not being matched by actions in the South China Sea as it has promised not to engage in militarization.

China has already committed to not engage in the so-called militarization, and we will honor our commitment. We cannot accept the allegations that China’s words are not being matched by actions,” China Daily quoted Foreign Minister Wang Yi said as saying.

China is seen by other Spratly claimants, including the Philippines, as the biggest threat in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).  

The official made the comments when addressing a joint press conference with visiting United States Secretary of State John Kerry following their prolonged talks — which lasted for nearly five hours — on the strategically vital South China Sea, where Beijing has built up artificial islands capable of hosting military facilities in disputed waters.

The dialog was delayed for around three hours, but Wang stressed they had a “positive, candid and constructive meeting.”

On the islands and reefs stationed by China in the South China Sea, he said Beijing has built up “quite a few civil facilities that are able to provide public services, and in addition to that, there are some necessary facilities for self-defense.”
“But international law has given all sovereign countries the rights of self-protection and self-defense,” Wang said.

If one equates such rights to militarization, then the South China Sea may have been militarized long ago, and China may not be the first party to start the militarization,” he added.

On the South China Sea issue, Wang said he told Kerry that the South China Sea islands have been Chinese territory, and China has the right to protect its own territorial sovereignty and lawful and legitimate maritime rights and interests.

“At the same time, China is ready to uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea, be committed to managing differences through dialog and seeking a peaceful settlement of the disputes through negotiations and consultations,” he stressed.

It is important that the “two sides manage these sensitive issues in a constructive way so that they (the issues) will not detract from the overall interests of China-US cooperation,” the official said.

The official news agency Xinhua, meanwhile, issued a commentary blaming the US’ “meddling in the issue” which it said is an ill-considered move that could boomerang and escalate regional tensions.

Before visiting China, Kerry stopped in Laos — the 2016 chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) — and Cambodia, two important neighbors and trade partners of China.

“Kerry’s calculated decision to visit Laos and Cambodia demonstrates the US’ ulterior motives in counting on Asean to pressure China on the South China Sea issue, mere wishful thinking on the part of Kerry and Washington,” the editorial stated.

Although Washington says it supports a peaceful resolution, its actions — from criticizing Beijing’s construction activities on Chinese-owned islands to signing a military deal with the Philippines — only serve to undermine regional peace and stability, it added.

The Chinese government has repeatedly called on all related parties to solve any maritime dispute through negotiations and earnestly implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

“Disputes in the South China Sea should not be of concern in a China-US relationship, one of the world’s most important. Together, the two countries play a significant role in safeguarding world peace and stability.”

“Therefore, it is highly advisable that Washington plays a constructive role in promoting peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, of which the United States is an important part, instead of sowing discord, because muddying the waters in the South China Sea could blow up in Washington’s face,” it stressed.

Airport police give leaflets, stickers on anti-terror drive

From the Mindanao Times (Jan 29): Airport police give leaflets, stickers on anti-terror drive

THE DAVAO Airport Police, under the Aviation Security Group, yesterday distributed leaflets and posted stickers on taxi cabs to raise awareness of their anti-terrorism campaign.
Chief Insp. Eugene A. Balugo, commander of Airport Police, in an interview yesterday at the Francisco Bangoy International Airport, said the activity was also part of their security measure on the election gun ban.
“It is part also of our campaign most especially after the bombing incident on Jakarta, Indonesia,” he said. “At the same time, this is also an information drive to encourage passengers to be always aware of their surroundings.”
The distributed leaflets contain tips on how to detect suspicious persons and objects, as well as what to do in emergency situations.
They also set up a tarpaulin right in front on the departure area.
Passengers are urged to report to the Airport Police through their PNP-DIAPS hotline number 0910-439-4520 and 232-8043, or email at

P200-M reward for Marwan capture remains unclaimed

From the Philippine Star (Jan 28): P200-M reward for Marwan capture remains unclaimed

The reward for the arrest of slain Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, estimated at over P200 million put up by the United States and Philippine governments, has not been handed over to the informant.

“The reward is not yet claimed, but it is now in the process and it will go to the informant that led to the location of Marwan,” Philippine National Police Intelligence Group chief Director Fernando Mendez said yesterday during the resumption of the Senate public hearing on the incident in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25, 2015 where 44 police commandos were killed.

It was Sen. Vicente Sotto III who asked the police officials about the $5-million reward put up by the US government for Marwan’s arrest. The Philippine government offered a counterpart bounty of P7 million.

Members of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) launched the operation to get Marwan and Filipino cohort Basit Usman in Mamasapano. The raiding team killed Marwan in the operation. Usman escaped but was later killed in another encounter.

The SAF troopers pulling out from Marwan’s hideout clashed with Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and private armed groups that resulted in the death of the 44 policemen, 18 rebels and five civilians.

A year after the incident, Mendez said the grant of the reward is still being processed at the Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command.

The police official was also quick to deny reports that police officials might be interested in getting a share of the reward.

Rules bar military and police officers from collecting bounties for the capture of fugitives.

SoLCom lauds return of U5 assistant chief from training abroad with distinctions

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 28): SoLCom lauds return of U5 assistant chief from training abroad with distinctions

CAMP GUILLERMO NAKAR, LUCENA CITY, Quezon -- The Southern Luzon Command (SoLCom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), headed by Lt.Gen Ricardo VIsaya AFP, commander, welcomed the return of Colonel Lloyd S. Cabacungan, Philippine Air Force, (PAF) to the command after successfully completing training abroad with distinctions.

”Lt.Gen Visaya praised the achievement of Col. Cabacungan who garnered the highest and overall grade on his recent schooling and training abroad. As assistant chief of the Unified Command Staff (U5) for Plans and Programs, his training will prove to be useful in the plans and programs of the SoLCom,” Major Angelo Guzman, chief, Public Information and spokesperson said in his message today.

“Having learned of these new concepts and cascading them to subordinate units will be very beneficial to SoLCom and the AFP by broadening our knowledge on national security, “Guzman added.

“Certainly, it widens SoLCom's understanding on the military’s role in combating various threats and complements our view on how to protect our people and vital assets in the CALABARZON, MIMAROPA and Bicol Regions,” Guzman said.

Cabacungan eceived the Certificate of Completion from Dr. Michael Bell, Chancellor of the College of International Security Affairs during the Homeland Defense Fellowship Program (HDFP) graduation held at the National Defense University, Fort Lesley McNair, Washington DC, USA on Dec. 16, 2015.

The HDFP was held from Sept. 8 to Dec. 16, 2015 and has three courses namely: Organizing of Homeland Defense, Law Enforcement and National Security, and Critical Infrastructure Protection. Reinforcing the theories of these three courses is the Homeland Defense Practicum.

Normalization process to push through with or without BBL

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 28): Normalization process to push through with or without BBL

The Philippine government (GPH) peace panel has assured that all other components stipulated under the Annex on Normalization of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) will be implemented except for the decommissioning of weapons.

In a press conference on Thursday, GPH peace panel member Senen Bacani said that even without the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the normalization process, which seeks to restore peace and livelihood in the communities affected by the decades-long armed conflict in Mindanao, will still take effect.

“Regardless of what happens, the many other components of the normalization process will continue,” said Bacani.

The process of normalization involves three main components including the security aspect, socio-economic development and transitional justice.

Bacani, however, noted that the security aspect, particularly the decommissioning of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces and weapons, will not be implemented if the BBL is not passed.

“The main problem in case there will be no BBL in this administration is the decommissioning,” said Bacani.

The next phase of the decommissioning will only take effect upon the legislation of the new law on the Bangsamoro, as stated in the CAB peace agreement.

Bacani still ensured that the socio-economic development programs will be undertaken for the rehabilitation, reconstruction, and development of the Bangsamoro. In particular, socio-economic programs will be instituted to address the needs of BIAF members, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and poverty-stricken communities.

Furthermore, transitional justice mechanisms will also be put in place to address the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people, correct historical injustices, and address human rights violations – with the end in view of healing the wounds of conflict.

For her part, GPH chief negotiator Mirriam Colonel-Ferrer supplemented Bacani’s claim by stating that most of the components in the annex on normalization will be administered by the executive branch.

“With or without the BBL, I’m proud to say that through the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, all the mechanisms are in place,” said Ferrer.

As for the BBL, Ferrer is still urging legislators to pass the bill before the Congress adjourns on Feb. 5 in preparation for the May elections. The sessions will then resume by May 23 until June 10.

“If you can do it in February, why wait for May to June?” said Ferrer.

Ferrer added that as long as the important features of the BBL, such as the parliamentary system and annual block grant, are preserved then there will be a significant difference between the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the Bangsamoro.

PA welcomes 93 newly-hired civilian employees

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 29): PA welcomes 93 newly-hired civilian employees

The Philippine Army (PA) formally welcomed the appointment of 93 newly-hired civilian employees during simple oath taking ceremonies at the PA Officers Club House on Wednesday.

PA chief-of-staff Major Gen. Benjamin R.Madrigal administered the oath of these newly-hired civilian employees, Army spokesperson Col. Benjamin Hao said Friday.

He added these new employees are nurses, medical practitioners, researchers, accountants, and administrative personnel.

In line with this, Madrigal also administered the oath of 35 newly-promoted civilian personnel.

"The long awaited day of being recognized for the hard work and dedication you have given to the Philippine Army has finally come. You have been carefully chosen. By your merits, you have been entrusted the position which we believed where you can best support and serve the Army," he added.

Madrigal also emphasized the role of the civilian workforce in the attainment of the strategic goals of the Army Transformation Roadmap and Internal Peace Security Program "Bayanihan".

"Let the Army's status as an Island of Good Governance inspire you to elevate the brand of civil service within the Philippine Army to greater heights, and make it an exemplar for other civil agencies and offices in our government," he stressed.

MILF gets preachers to thwart ISIS recruitment efforts

The Straits Times (Jan 28): MILF gets preachers to thwart ISIS recruitment efforts

Philippines' President Benigno Aquino reviews a military platoon at the 80th founding anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, on Dec 21, 2015.

Philippines' President Benigno Aquino reviews a military platoon at the 80th founding anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, on Dec 21, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

Philippine military welcomes Muslim rebel group's move to counter 'distortions' of teachings

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has formed a task force to counter purported efforts by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to recruit fighters in the restive southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

Mr Mohagher Iqbal, the spokesman for the group, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that recruitment videos released last month by local Islamist groups which have pledged allegiance to ISIS were "authentic".

But he said the 12,000-strong MILF, which signed a peace deal with the government in March 2014 after fighting a decades-long secessionist war, has yet to verify whether there is already a "formal ISIS organisation" in Mindanao.

Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, the Philippine military's spokesman, told The Straits Times that the creation of the MILF task force is a "welcome development".

"Any effort aimed at controlling extremism, especially within their organisation, is a welcome development," he said.
Mr Iqbal said the task force consists of Islamic preachers tasked to counter ISIS' "distortions" of the Quran and Islamic teachings.

He believes ISIS has been gaining ground, especially among Muslims in the Philippines who are frustrated over political wrangling that has derailed efforts to create an autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao.

Counter-terror expert Richard Javad Heydarian, of De La Salle University, said that the MILF, in creating the task force, may be taking steps to prevent extremists seeking to sabotage its peace deal with the government from recruiting "loose cannons" from within its ranks.

"A mixture of strategic and ideological disputes are at play here. The MILF leadership is portraying itself as a partner for peace and a bulwark against radicalisation in Mindanao," said Mr Heydarian.

Brig-Gen Padilla said earlier that security forces were "well aware of the emerging threat (from ISIS), and have been conducting operations to prevent terror acts anywhere in the country".

But he dismissed as "propaganda" the recruitment videos released by Muslim extremists in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia in the past month.

"There remains no credible and direct connection to the bigger group in the Middle East up to this time," he said.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino had hoped a Bill creating the Muslim region - the cornerstone of the MILF peace deal - would become a law before he steps down in June this year.

But a botched operation to arrest Malaysian extremist Zulkifli Hir, alias Marwan, last year provided opportunities for opposition lawmakers to stonewall the proposed law.

More than 40 police commandos who fought hundreds of Muslim fighters, including some who belonged to the MILF, were killed in that operation, provoking public outrage and fuelling opposition to the Mindanao peace pact.

With the campaign season for this year's elections set to kick off later this month, the Bill will likely be passed on to the next Congress, where it will again go through a series of hearings.

Recent intelligence reports suggest that the Philippines is becoming a breeding ground for Islamist fighters seeking to join ISIS.

Two videos released in the past month sought to show the militants' purported strength.
A three-minute video posted on Dec 20 showed a group of men, clad mostly in black and with the ISIS flag as their background, coaxing Muslims to travel to Syria and fight for ISIS.

A spokesman said that they were members of Ansar Khalifa Philippines, a group believed to be sheltering at least three South-east Asian extremists who have returned after fighting with ISIS in Syria.

The video also showed footage of what appeared to be a training camp on a clearing in the middle of a jungle somewhere in Mindanao.

A second video, released early this month, claimed that four battalions of militants from the Philippines and Malaysia have merged into a single unit under a leadership council now being steered by Abu Sayyaf ideologue Isnilon Hapilon.

The council is said to be paving the way for the declaration of a South-east Asia "wilayat", or province, of ISIS.

Unplanned Encounters in the South China Sea: Under Control?

From The Diplomat (Jan 25): Unplanned Encounters in the South China Sea: Under Control?

There’s some good news in the South China Sea, despite rising tensions over disputed maritime claims.

Unplanned Encounters in the South China Sea: Under Control?

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Harry Marsh, left, commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63), bids farewell to Peoples Liberation Army Navy Senior Capt. Jin Wei, director of the General Office of the North Sea Fleet, after a port visit to Qingdao, China.  Image Credit: Flickr/ U.S. Navy 
U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson and his Chinese counterpart Admiral Wu Shengli regularly confer via teleconference to share their views on how the U.S. and Chinese navies are progressing in their military-to-military contacts. Last week, both officials held a two hour conference in which they expressed their satisfaction with a mechanism their two countries established in spring 2014 to prevent miscalculations and unanticipated escalations of encounters at sea. The so-called Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) between the United States and China, among other states, governs communications protocols for  naval crews and is a proving to be a useful mechanism between the U.S. and Chinese navies–certainly in the South China Sea.

Wu had originally called CUES a “milestone document” when it was concluded, at the end of the biennial Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS) in Qingdao, China in 2014. CUES was unanimously approved by the 25 participating countries in the 2014 WPNS after having been originally proposed in the early 2000s. (China had originally shown some trepidation over the use of the word “code” in the document’s title, suggesting legal force.) As my colleague Shannon Tiezzi explained at the time, CUES “is a non-binding, voluntary agreement to follow certain set procedures for communicating with other military forces encountered at sea or in the air.”

In retrospect, the timing of the conclusion of CUES was fortuitous. In the months after the 2014 WPNS, the world learned of China’s unilateral artificial island construction activities in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, leading to growing tensions in the region over the dispute. This process ultimately culminated with the October 2015 U.S. freedom of navigation patrol in the vicinity of Subi Reef, among other disputed features in the Spratlys. It’s worth noting that despite these tense times in the South China Sea, a major misunderstanding between U.S. and Chinese forces has not taken place. With CUES in place, short of a few dangerous aerial maneuvers by Chinese fighters, we haven’t quite seen incidents at sea similar to USS Cowpens encounter with a People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) amphibious dock ship. Regarding the issue of unsafe aerial intercepts, the United States and China finalized bilateral rules for aerial encounters as well, building on CUES’ communication protocols.

CUES, of course, is a fairly modest stabilizing mechanism in Asia’s disputed waters. It encourages communication between competing navies, ensuring that intent isn’t misinterpreted. For a look into how the U.S. and Chinese navies interact under CUES, one recalls the USS Lassen‘s Commander Robert Francis’ account to Reuters. Instead of a provocative pass within 500 meters, PLAN crews reached out with a simple inquiry: “‘Hey, you are in Chinese waters. What is your intention?’” Francis continues, revealing the down-to-earth communication taking place between at least some U.S. Navy and PLAN crews:
A few weeks ago we were talking to one of the ships that was accompanying us, a Chinese vessel … [We] picked up the phone and just talked to him like, “Hey, what are you guys doing this Saturday? Oh, we got pizza and wings. What are you guys eating? Oh, we’re doing this. Hey, we’re planning for Halloween as well.”
The intent of all this is valuable both tactically and strategically. On a tactical level, it creates a safer environment for sailors. Francis told Reuters in November 2015 that for his crew, this was a way of showing the PLAN “that we’re normal sailors, just like them, have families, just like them.” On a strategic level, it’s stabilizing to have open channels and established protocols for communications at a time of record-high tensions in the South China Sea. In particular, for the United States, the existence of CUES makes the prospect of increasingly frequent freedom of navigation patrols a more palatable policy option. Asia’s disputed waters grow all the more crowded with time and several states continue to expand their collection of naval assets. Despite high tensions, cordial and clear communication should reduce the odds of miscalculated and unintentional escalation.

Why the New US-Philippine Defense Pact Could Be a Double-Edged Sword

From The Diplomat (Jan 27): Why the New US-Philippine Defense Pact Could Be a Double-Edged Sword (By

The EDCA does little to boost Manila’s security and may end up exacerbating superpower rivalry.

Why the New US-Philippine Defense Pact Could Be a Double-Edged Sword

US President Barack Obama makes remarks on board a Philippine vessel during a visit to the country last November. Image Credit: Flickr/US Embassy Manila 
An already growing security alliance between the Philippines and the United States received a huge boost when the Philippine Supreme Court cleared a legal obstacle to the implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). For about a year, the new agreement, which was signed shortly before U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to the Philippines in mid-2014, was stuck in a constitutional limbo.

The Philippine Senate had adamantly demanded that the EDCA go through the ratification process, deeming it as a treaty agreement that mandates the concurrence of the upper chamber. Meanwhile, progressive groups challenged the constitutionality of the new security agreement, characterizing it as an affront to the Philippines’ national sovereignty. After extensive deliberations, members of the country’s highest court overwhelmingly (10-4) voted in favor of EDCA’s implementation.

The agreement paves the way for a massive increase in the American military footprint on Philippine soil, particularly across a series of much-prized bases, some of which are close to the South China Sea. Yet there is no assurance that this will significantly enhance Manila’s hands in the disputed waters. If anything, the regional maritime disputes could get even more complicated as two superpowers, China and the United States, move dangerously close to each other.

Much ado about nothing

One of the biggest misconceptions about the EDCA is that it paves the way for the re-establishment of U.S. military bases in the Philippines. Even the organizers of the Miss Universe contest seem to have fallen for this mischaracterization. A closer look at the agreement actually reveals that we are instead looking at a new generation of American overseas military access.

The EDCA provides U.S. forces rotational, negotiated, and limited access to a number of mutually-agreed upon locations. So far, the Americans have zeroed in on at least eight prime military bases, including Subic and Clark — the site of largest American military bases during Cold War — as well as Oyster Bay in Palawan, strategically close to disputed land features and waters in the South China Sea.

Instead of permanent U.S. bases, we are instead looking at the establishment of forward operating sites and cooperative security locations, where the host nation (theoretically) enjoys considerable supervision and control over the activities of visiting forces. The EDCA is particularly beneficial to the United States, because it will no longer have to pay huge sums to rent out Filipino bases à la Cold War days, not to mention that the Philippines will actually end up paying for the transportation and utility costs of visiting forces.

In short, the Pentagon will enjoy low-cost and flexible access to premium locations in the Philippines. So what is the Philippines is getting in exchange? There is nothing in the EDCA that compels the United States to come to the host nation’s rescue as far as Sino-Philippine territorial disputes are concerned. The Obama administration has consistently reiterated that the agreement is not aimed at China, but instead is aimed at enhancing the two allies’ capabilities in the realm of humanitarian relief and disaster-management operations.

A gray area in the alliance
A cursory look at Washington’s diplomatic position reveals that throughout the past decades, various U.S. administrations refused to clarify whether the U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) will be applied in the event of a conflict over Philippine-claimed/occupied territories in the South China Sea.

No less than Henry Kissinger, in a diplomatic cable, made it clear that “there are substantial doubts that [Philippine] military contingent on island in the Spratly group would come within protection of (MDT),” limiting America to offering only “helpful political actions” in an event of emergency. Unless the Philippines and other claimant states legally and/or diplomatically settled their disputes, Kissinger notes, “[we] do not see legal basis at this time, however, for supporting the claim to Spratlys of one country over that of other claimants.”

This is the bedrock of the Obama administration’s policy of neutrality vis-à-vis sovereignty disputed in the South China Sea, although the United States has effectively negated Chinese claims over certain low-tide elevations by conducting Freedom of Navigation (FON) operations within their 12 nautical miles radius. The Philippines’ ongoing arbitration case against China, meanwhile, isn’t expected to definitively resolve the sovereignty-related aspects of their maritime disputes, since the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea has no jurisdiction over such concerns.

The Philippines, however, hopes that an increased U.S. military footprint on its soil will nonetheless provide some element of ‘latent deterrence’ against further Chinese provocations. Although legally not obligated to do so, Washington will surely come under tremendous political pressure to help the Philippines in an event of contingency in the disputed waters. Furthermore, EDCA facilitates the expansion of joint military exercises, the enhancement of interoperability among the two allies, and the transfer of more U.S. funds and military equipment to Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The two allies are also looking at the possibility of conducting joint FON patrols in the contested waters, both negating Chinese claims over certain land features as well as pushing back against Beijing’s purported efforts at restraining freedom of navigation and overflight in the area. As evident in Chinese state-owned media’s fiery rhetoric, Beijing sees the EDCA as nothing but a springboard for greater U.S. interference vis-à-vis the South China Sea disputes.

Anticipating a growing American military presence in the area, China could very well respond by accelerating its construction activities in the disputed features, stepping up its para-military and military patrols, and augmenting its own military footprint in the area. The stage is set for a new phase of Sino-American rivalry in the region.

[Richard J. Heydarian teaches political science at De La Salle University, the Philippines, and is the author of Asia’s New Battlefield: US, China, and the Struggle for Western Pacific (Zed, London).]

Mamasapano mission defective from the very beginning -- PNP chief

From GMA News (Jan 28): Mamasapano mission defective from the very beginning -- PNP chief

Philippine National Police Director-General Ricardo Marquez on Wednesday highlighted the loopholes in Oplan Exodus or the ill-fated mission aimed at neutralizing high-profile terror suspect Zulkifli Bin Hir alias Marwan at Wednesday's reopening of the Mamasapano incident of 2015.
“There was actually no planning team. The plan was defective from the very beginning because of following: poor analysis of the area of operation; unrealistic assumptions; poor intelligence estimate; absence of abort criteria; lack of flexibility on the concept of operation; the application of the 'time on target' manner of coordination was inappropriate; and the absences of prior coordination,” Marquez said.
Marquez was reiterating the findings of the PNP Board of Inquiry (BOI) that conducted an investigation into the Mamasapano incident, the January 25, 2015 encounter between policemen from the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) and several armed groups that included fighters from the  Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its splinter group the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Marquez, who was the PNP's director for operations at the time the Mamasapano incident took place, said that proof of the lack of proper planning for the operation was the absence of written contingency measures for unexpected turn of events.
Marquez, during the Senate hearing, reiterated that he too was kept out of the loop in the planning and execution of Oplan Exodus which was purportedly designed by then suspended PNP chief Alan Purisima.
“There was no indication that a real contigency planning was done. In a high-risk operation, like Exodus, I think that a real contigency planning should have been done,” Marquez said.
Marquez said the high number of fatalities, which included 44 elite SAF commandos, could have been prevented if only SAF commander, then police director Getulio Napeñas, sought some inputs from the higher ups, especially from officials in the PNP National Headquarters (NHQ) .
“We also surmise, that for a high-risk operation like Exodus, we felt that the National Headquarters, the director and staff of NHQ could have contributed into the thoroughness of the plan,” Marquez said.
“We could have provided some strategic inputs in so far as the primacy of the peace process is concerned. Because the BOI report was very clear in saying that the peace process was never discussed during the whole planning process,” Marquez added.
Marquez said that as the then head of the PNP Directorate for Operations, he could have “insisted” on conducting a full-scale contigency planning for Oplan Exodus.
“As a Director for Operations, I could have insisted the conduct of a full-scale contingency planning. When I say full-scale contigency planning, scenarios should be debated, actions plans should be listed, resources needed should be made available on the ground and a mechanism for decision-making should been put in place,” Marquez said, adding that such type of police contingency planning was observed during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) event held in Manila in November last year.
'I beg to disagree'
Napeñas, however, was quick to dispute Marquez' allegation that no proper planning was done in Oplan Exodus.
“We have contingency plans, we have abort criteria. Nakalagay po iyan during the briefing presentation and deliberation,” Napeñas said, showing a copy of his Oplan Exodus briefing paper.
“I beg to disagree that there was no mission planning team...I would like also to disagree that there was no contingency and there was no abort criteria, there were,” Napeñas said.
Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile also came to Napeñas' rescue, pointing out that Oplan Exodus was no ordinary operation that followed the normal chain of command.
It has earlier been established that then acting PNP chief Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina and then Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II were not informed about the operation.
“If it is a normal procedure that goes into a command system then you can put your inputs. But this operation was exceptional, it was compartmented by the President (Benigno Aquino) himself,” Enrile said.
“I believe that the director of SAF could ask for inputs, I don't think that the President prevented him from asking inputs from asking other officers in developing that plan,” Marquez responded.

Napenas: US gov’t, CIA part of “Oplan Exodus” to get Marwan

From MindaNews (Jan 27): Napenas: US gov’t, CIA part of “Oplan Exodus” to get Marwan

The Special Action Force (SAF) of the Philippine Naitonal Police (PNP) did not coordinate with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the peace process mechanisms when they launched “Oplan Exodus” on January 25, 2015, but it did with the United States government and its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), former SAF Director Getulio Napenas told the Senate Committee probing the Mamasapano Tragedy on Wednesday.

Napenas said the US assisted with intelligence support on real time, training, equipment, humanitarian and medical evacuation “and also investigation.”

When Senator Juan Ponce Enrile asked Napenas what he meant by investigation, Napenas replied it had something to do with the severed finger of Malaysian Zulkfli bin Hir aka Marwan, the main target of the operation which was handed over to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation for confirmation if its DNA matched with Marwan’s brother who is in detention in the US.

“Oplan Exodus” was launched purportedly to arrest Marwan, who was on the list of the US government’s most wanted terrorists. Marwan had been reported killed in 2012 in what media reports described as a “US-backed airstrike” in Jolo, Sulu.

The United States’ National Counterterrorism Center in its website described Marwan, 49, as an engineer trained in the United States, and believed head of the Kumpulun Mujahidin Malaysia, allegedly a terror group, and a member of the Jemaah Islamiyah’s central command.

Marwan was killed in that dawn operation on January 25, 2015 but 66 others were also killed – 44 from the SAF, 17 from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, and five civilians.

Asked who conducted the training for the operations, Napenas said members of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) and some “civilian components,” prompting Enrile to ask if they were from the CIA.

Napenas said “to my knowledge, they should be working in that outfit,” later adding that “the word CIA (was) never mentioned in our dealings.”

Evacuation of dead and wounded
Napenas’ testimony at the reopened investigation on the Mamasapano tragedy came exactly one year after Kurt Hoyer, Press Attache and spokesperson of the US Embassy in Manila, denied US participation in the operation.

Hoyer on January 27 last year said US service members serving in the JSOTF-P merely “responded to assist in evacuation of dead and wounded after the firefight in Maguindanao.”

Enrile asked if the Visiting Forces Agrement (VFA) was the basis for this cooperation “or some other agreement with the US” but Napenas replied, “honestly, I don’t know, Your Honor.”

Enrile said the VFA “to my recollection deals only with military cooperation between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States and does not cover police operations which is nothing more than enforcement of criminal laws in the Philippines handled by the police organization of the country and these criminal laws are territorial except for some exceptions.”

“Why did they allow police matter to include US participation? Am not saying I am correct but this has to be looked at,” Enrile said.

“Big elephant”
Reacting to Napenas’ testimony, Bayan Muna Rep. Karlos Isagani Zarate told MindaNews that the “active direction, not just involvement, of the US in that war on terror operation is the big elephant in the room that the Aquino administration is desperately covering up.”

“The cover up includes the involvement of contract personnel — euphemism for mercenaries like the notorious Blackwater of Iraq — for easy deniability when things went wrong,” Zarate said.

He said President Aquino “treated like dispensable floormat the sovereignty provision of our Constitution for as long as he can please his US master, even at the expense of 66 Filipino lives and the fragile peace process in Mindanao.”

On the first anniversary of the Mamasapano Tragedy last Monday, Bai Ali Indayla, Gabriela Women’s Party spokesperson for Mindanao said the victims of “this botched US-hatched operations.. have yet to see justice.”

“Now a year has passed and clearly it is Aquino’s cover-up of the role of his trusted officials and that of the US government that is keeping victims away from the truth and justice,” she said.

Reward money

Senator Ralph Recto wanted to know if the finger severed from Marwan was like a lotto ticket that would be presented “to redeem a prize.”

Napenas said the finger was needed to confirm if the person killed was indeed Marwan.

Marwan carried a 5 million US dollar bounty (220 million pesos at the January 2015 exchange rate of 44 pesos to one US dollar) for anyone who could provide information leading to his arrest.

Napenas said a 7 million peso reward was also offered by the Philippine government.
Senator Francis Escudero asked if the Americans knew about the operation, Napenas said yes, that the JSOTF-P headed by Col. Eric Brown knew.

Enrile asked Napenas what the US government’s interest was over Marwan. Napenas replied, “giving justice for people who died in Bali. More than 200 perished including Americans.”

The Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) in its March 5, 2015 report, “Killing Marwan in Mindanao,” said Marwan was over-rated.

“Marwan by all accounts was not a leader in Mindanao and had no special bomb-making skills; those he had were in sharp-shooting. A tendency to panic in crisis situations made him unwanted in battle. He was never a member of the once-feared terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), though he had been radicalised by its Malaysia-based members and occasionally worked with them. He was a senior member of the Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia, never its leader. Despite many reports suggesting he was involved in the 2002 Bali bombings, he had no role whatsoever, and in any case was already in the Philippines when they took place. He was often more a burden than an asset to those who helped hide him,” the IPAC report said.

‘Oplan Exodus’ vs Marwan missed antiterror lessons

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 28): ‘Oplan Exodus’ vs Marwan missed antiterror lessons

WRITING ON THE WALL Graffiti painted on a wall in the village of Tukanalipao in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province, expresses the sentiments of residents of the site of the slaughter of 44 Special Action Force commandos who were sent on a mission to capture international terrorist Marwan on Jan. 25 last year. The slaughter set back the government’s timetable for the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. PHOTOS BY JEOFFREY MAITEM/INQUIRER MINDANAO

WRITING ON THE WALL Graffiti painted on a wall in the village of Tukanalipao in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province, expresses the sentiments of residents of the site of the slaughter of 44 Special Action Force commandos who were sent on a mission to capture international terrorist Marwan on Jan. 25 last year. The slaughter set back the government’s timetable for the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. PHOTOS BY JEOFFREY MAITEM/INQUIRER MINDANAO
(Last of two parts)

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—Over the last decade, the protracted peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have been replete with lessons on the conduct of counterterrorism initiatives in the context of an insurgency that is in the process of being resolved.

In May 2008, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) came out with the report titled “Counter-Insurgency vs Counter-Terrorism in Mindanao” that looked into the merits of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (Ahjag) as a mechanism to fight terrorism.

ICG cited the Ahjag for its success in expelling key figures of the ASG out of mainland Mindanao in 2005 while avoiding “accidental clashes” between pursuing government forces and MILF rebels.

This was after the MILF agreed to cooperate with Philippine authorities, upon the prodding of the US government, in going after top ASG figures suspected to be lurking in its strongholds and threatening to spread terrorism in Central Mindanao. (In turn, the United States stepped up its behind-the-scenes role in helping move forward the peace negotiations between the MILF and the government.)

The ICG noted that for more than two years, the Ahjag “helped prevent conflict from escalating in the MILF’s heartland as Philippine forces searched for terrorists,” as well as “forced key ASG and jihadi targets back into their corner on Jolo” where they were hunted down.

The 2008 ICG report said the government-MILF cooperation “prompted the MILF’s leadership to discipline its own extremists who were harbouring jihadis” in a demonstration of rebel chief Murad Ebrahim’s “willingness to control extremists in his own fold.”

The Jakarta-based Institute for the Policy Analysis of Conflict (Ipac) shared the same view.

That international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, was on the run since 2005 “shows clearly how MILF leaders rejected the presence of foreign jihadists and tried to ban activities that could threaten negotiations,” read the Ipac report, “Killing Marwan in Mindanao.”

“They were not always successful and there were occasionally rogue commanders who provided refuge and other forms of support, but the message was clear that terrorists were not welcome,” it added.

Chaff and grain

Even if Ahjag did not result in the terrorists’ capture, the ICG said the cited outcomes were already good enough for a mechanism that was still a work-in-progress.

Its 2008 report recommended the setup of a similar mechanism with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Sulu where the operations against the ASG, it observed, tend to lump insurgents and terrorists together.

The ICG said a similar mechanism “is needed there (in Sulu) as the fugitives disappear into MNLF territory.”

“Mass-based insurgencies like the MILF and MNLF rely on supportive populations. By extension, small numbers of terrorists rely on sympathetic insurgents,” the ICG observed.

“Counterterrorism’s central task in a setting like that in the Philippines is to isolate jihadis from their insurgent hosts—not divide insurgents from the population,” it pointed out. “Where distinguishing between insurgents and terrorists is possible, encouraging the first to cooperate against the second, rather than collude with them, must be a central pillar of counter-terrorism programs.”

With respect to the MILF, Ahjag was the mechanism to achieve that cooperation. Ipac asserts: “Without the MILF’s active involvement, no long term solution to extremism in the Philippines is thinkable.”

Lessons not learned

Absence of prior coordination with the MILF in the conduct of law enforcement actions has proven to be fatal in the past, not only for the security forces but also for civilian communities and the general atmosphere of the peace process.

Such sorry outcomes are the principal reason the Ahjag was designed to avoid.

One example is the July 10, 2007, encounter between MILF rebels and troops of the Philippine Marines in Al-Barka, Basilan, that resulted in the death of 23 soldiers, some of whom were later beheaded by ASG forces. The government forces were then searching for kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi.

Another instance was in October 2011 when 19 neophyte Scout Rangers were killed, also in Al-Barka, when they engaged MILF forces who were surprised at their presence. The government troops were out to arrest a suspected ASG leader who is also an MILF commander.

In both incidents, the peace process came out bruised by calls for another war against the MILF, and soured, to a certain extent, the atmosphere for negotiations.

In July 2004, when work to make operational the Ahjag was still underway, an ICG briefer emphasized: “Attempts to move directly against terrorists embedded in MILF-controlled territory risk an escalation of violence and a breakdown of talks.”

“Yet without a successful peace agreement, the region will continue to be marked by a climate of lawlessness in which terrorism can thrive,” it added.

The ICG dubbed this “the central paradox” of the peace process with Moro rebels.

If Ahjag had worked in the past when the government and the MILF were still in the thick of negotiations, how come the Special Action Force (SAF) command thought it won’t be helpful for the Mamasapano operation when the parties already forged a peace pact and have considered each other as partners?

MOTORISTS cross a new steel bridge that took the place of one in Tukanalipao village, Mamasapano town, that became infamous for being the site where many of the SAF 44 commandos were killed.

MOTORISTS cross a new steel bridge that took the place of one in Tukanalipao village, Mamasapano town, that became infamous for being the site where many of the SAF 44 commandos were killed.

Blown-up image

Ipac partly attributes this to a distorted view of who Marwan really is.

It challenged the characterization of Marwan as some big catch. Saying it interviewed five Indonesians who knew Marwan and his activities in Indonesia and the Philippines, it stood that he “was not the world-class terrorist he was made out to be” but rather “a snake who has been blown up into a dragon.”

This was helped in large measure by the US government’s Rewards for Justice Program, which tagged a $5-million price for Marwan.

Ipac debunked the description by then SAF commander Getulio Napeñas of Marwan during the Feb. 9, 2015, Senate hearing as “the most notorious bomb expert not just here in Southeast Asia but also in the entire world.” It said Marwan only had “some rudimentary bomb-making skills” gained through his involvement in the sectarian conflict in Maluku, Indonesia, in 2000.

In that same Senate hearing, Napeñas also referred to Marwan as one of the “technical masterminds behind the 2002 Bali bombing,” which Ipac said was “erroneous” because “in any case (he) was already in the Philippines” when this happened.

But Ipac said Marwan “was a source of funds and equipment for friends in both the MILF and the ASG, and he unquestionably aided and abetted terrorist attacks.”

It said Marwan could have been mistakenly characterized as a big fish because he was associated with the “major players,” like Umar Patek and Dulmatin. “The more times he was declared dead and then proved to be alive, the more dangerous he seemed to become.”

“(Thus) it became imperative to get this man who had grown into a monster that for the security forces involved, it was apparently worth bypassing the (peace) mechanisms …,” Ipac explained.

Imperative of peace

Achieving peace with Moro rebels is the only lasting solution to denying Southeast Asian terrorists a sanctuary in Mindanao as well as ending the social condition that spawns radicalization.

Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) noted that the growth of regional terrorist networks like Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) partly owes to the “outbreak and escalation of conflict” in the Asian neighborhood.

“The war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, sectarian conflicts in Indonesia, and violence in the southern Philippines were crucial to radicalizing, training and mobilizing the JI network,” said a November 2011 report that examined the historical development and future prospects for al-Qaida and its associated movements.

“The most likely combat opportunities for JI operatives in the future are the insurgencies in the southern Philippines, southern Thailand and Burma (Myanmar), or a fresh round of sectarian bloodshed in Indonesia. Significant involvement in these conflicts could reinvigorate JI,” said the report, which was authored by David Gordon and Samuel Lindo.

“The most violent and active JI splinters will probably remain anchored in the ungoverned corners of southern Philippines,” it further said.

It, however, hoped then that a positive outcome of the peace process between the government and the MILF will render their Mindanao safe haven “unviable.”

But the missteps in the Mamasapano operation dealt a heavy blow to the peace process in Mindanao, creating sociopolitical crevices that can be filled by the dangerous seeds of extremism which can threaten the country and its Southeast Asian neighbors.

Marwan could be laughing in his grave.

On January 25, 2015, 44 members of the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force (SAF) were killed in the hunt for Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Abdhir, aka “Marwan,” in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province. Their mission may have succeeded, but one year later families of the slain SAF44 and affected civilians today continue to seek justice from a government which allegedly broke chain of command and poorly handled the mission. Visit the INQUIRER tribute site at

After 8 years, government-MNLF peace pact review ends

From the Philippine Star (Jan 28): After 8 years, government-MNLF peace pact review ends

Teresita Quintos-Deles said the Philippine government, MNLF and the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) formally signed the Joint Communiqué that marks the conclusion of the Tripartite Review Process, which took more than eight years. OPAPP

The tripartite review of the government’s 1996 peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) ended at a meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.

Teresita Quintos-Deles said the Philippine government, MNLF and the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) formally signed the Joint Communiqué that marks the conclusion of the Tripartite Review Process, which took more than eight years.

Deles, presidential adviser on the peace process, said the communiqué identified four key areas the parties agreed to implement: establishment of the Bangsamoro Development Assistance Fund to be used for socio-economic development projects in MNLF communities; referral of the agreement on the co-management of strategic minerals to the Oversight Committee created by Republic Act 9054; for the MNLF to participate in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission of the envisioned Bangsamoro Parliament, and for the creation of a tripartite implementation monitoring committee.

Peace Process Undersecretary Jose Yusuf Iribani Lorena, MNLF principals Randolph Parcasio and Muslimin Sema, and OIC Secretary General Iyad bin Amin Madani signed the communiqué.

“This is an important milestone we have reached as it sets the convergence of the two Bangsamoro peace processes,” Deles said.

Lorena said the parties could now move forward towards implementing the agreements after the eight-year long review.

Nur Misuari, founding chairman of the MNLF, was absent during the signing.

He earlier opposed the closure of the review process and the merging of the MNLF with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which was reported as having a hand in the death of 44 members of the police Special Action Force that went to Mamasapano in Maguindanao to serve a warrant against international terrorist Marwan a year ago.

The ministerial meeting of the tripartite review process in Jeddah was held to define a road map “towards the completion of the review process and identify ways and means of coordination and collaboration for the implementation” of what was agreed on.

Napeñas ‘detached from reality’ in Oplan Exodus

From Rappler (Jan 28): Napeñas ‘detached from reality’ in Oplan Exodus
Special Action Force chief Getulio Napeñas is also hit by the AFP for allegedly being 'unaware of the magnitude of the SAF casualties' in Mamasapano
NAPEÑAS. SAF chief Getulio Napeñas is hit during the Senate hearing on Mamasapano on January 27, 2016. Photo sourced by Rappler
NAPEÑAS. SAF chief Getulio Napeñas is hit during the Senate hearing on Mamasapano on January 27, 2016. Photo sourced by Rappler
The gloves are off.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday, January 27, hit back and lashed out again against Special Action Force (SAF) chief Getulio Napeñas, during the reopening of the Senate probe into a controversial police operation that claimed the lives of more than 60 Filipinos, including 44 elite cops.
"Detached from the reality of the SAF operation" and "unaware of the magnitude of the SAF casualties" were among the choice phrases the military used to describe the retired police general, who led the Philippine National Police (PNP)'s elite anti-terrorism unit when it launched "Oplan Exodus" on January 25, 2015.
Exodus was launched to target terrorists wanted by both the Philippines and the United States. While the SAF troopers were able to neutralize one of its targets, the operation triggered clashes between cops and Muslim rebels in the area, claiming the lives of more than 60 Filipinos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
The Mamasapano encounter is the biggest blow to the Aquino administration. It pulled down the President's approval and trust ratings to their lowest a couple of months after the incident, though he managed to bounce back by June.
During the tail-end of the Senate hearing, the line of questioning focused on one question: Is the army to blame for failing to send much-needed help to the pinned down SAF troopers?
The AFP has long denied these insinuations, pointing out that they did not have the necessary information to launch artillery. The SAF specifically decided not to coordinate with the military, fearing information leaks.
The SAF, however, insist they gave local military forces enough information the morning of January 25, 2015.
AFP presentation
In a presentation before the Senate committee during the Wednesday hearing, the AFP laid out the operational conditions in the area to explain why much-needed artillery support could not be given:
  • Redeployment of AFP forces prior to incident. At least 5 battalions were redeployed outside the area of operation so the 6th Infantry Division was "thinly dispersed." No air assets were in the area, and another military operation was also ongoing elsewhere.
  • The SAF "deliberately" withheld information about the SAF operations "which misled the AFP and other local PNP forces".
  • Radios used by the police and military were not interoperable
  • Different maps were used
  • No established SAF Tactical Command Post
  • SAF not knowing AFP's Call for Fire procedures and ceasefire protocols
  • No coordination
  • No tactical plan presented to the AFP
The AFP reserved their harshest reason for last. "No sense of urgency on the part of Napeñas in conveying critical information on the condition of engaged SAF troops," the AFP presentation showed.

The AFP then showed a photo of Napeñas, former SAF Deputy Director Noli Taliño, ARMM Regional chief Senior Superintendent Noel Armilla, and military colonels Gener Del Rosario and Melquiades Feliciano at the 1st Mechanical Brigade headquarters at around 4:14 pm on January 25, 2015.

Both Napeñas and Taliño were in civilian attire in the photo, supposedly taken more than 12 hours since "Exodus" was launched. Around this time, all but one of the 55th Special Action Company (SAC) troopers were already dead while the 84th SAC were still trapped by hostile forces.

Napeñas, said the AFP, had a "walk-in-the-park" mindset and lacked a grasp of the gravity of the situation. That he was in civilian attire, the AFP claimed, meant he had "no intention to lead from the front."

"[He] failed to exercise combat leadership [and] blamed everyone but himself," said the AFP in the presentation.

"This kind of attitude and mindset was the root of the problem that led to the debacle suffered by the SAF 44," the military added.

The AFP also showed a video supposedly showing SAF troopers from other companies doing nothing as military forces arrived to support the beleaguered SAF troopers.

Military EOD team disarms bomb found at Maguindanao bus terminal

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 28): Military EOD team disarms bomb found at Maguindanao bus terminal

Military bomb disposal experts on Thursday safely disarmed a bomb found at the public bus terminal in Barangay Poblacion, Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao.

A report from the military’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit said the bomb was rigged from a 61-mm mortar explosive that was placed inside a black bag and left at the passengers’ lounge of the terminal.

Alert bus terminal personnel reported to authorities on the discovery of the bomb around 2:15 p.m, which prompted the EOD team to rush to the scene and safely cordoned the area from the public.

Aside from the mortar explosive, also recovered from the bag were an MK2 hand grenade, a blasting cap, detonating cord, and a nine-volt battery.

Authorities are still verifying reports that a young boy earlier dropped off the bag containing the bomb at the terminal.

DND allocates Php50-M to build military camp in Zambo

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 28): DND allocates Php50-M to build military camp in Zambo
The national government through the Department of National Defense (DND) has allocated Php50 million for the construction of a military facility in “ground zero” area.

The military facility that will take charge of the security measures in the barangay and its neighboring areas will be constructed in Barangay Rio Hondo.

Barangay Rio Hondo has been dubbed as a ground zero area as it was the center of skirmishes between the government forces and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members during the 21-day September 2013 siege.

Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar said the acquisition of the Mindeva property in Barangay Rio Hondo where the military base will be constructed has already been finalized.

Salazar said the property cost of Php50 million will be funded by the national government through the DND in coordination with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

She said the groundbreaking ceremony will take place soon with DND Undersecretary Alexander Pama, who is also the executive director for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), leading the rites.

The military facility forms part of the Zamboanga City Roadmap to Recovery and Reconstruction (Z3R) plan intended to improve the overall environment of the affected communities, minimize adverse impacts and relocation and improve public safety and security of the community.