Wednesday, February 3, 2016

3 troopers slain, 2 others wounded in Compostela Valley clashes

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 4): 3 troopers slain, 2 others wounded in Compostela Valley clashes

A lieutenant and two soldiers from the 46th Infantry Battalion were killed while two others were wounded in two separate encounters with New People's Army (NPA) bandits in Panutukan town, Compostela Valley Wednesday.

Capt. Rhyan Batchar, 10th Infantry Division public affairs office chief, said the first incident happened at Sitio Sapang Tin-aw, Barangay Tibagon, Pantukan at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

Government troops were on routine security patrol when they encountered an estimated 60 NPAs belonging to the Pulang Bagani Command 3 of the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee.

The rebels retreated after a 30-minute firefight. However, as 46th Infantry Battalion troops were conducting clearing operations, the NPAs detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) which killed two troopers and wounded two others.

Batchar identified the slain troopers as 1st Lt. Ralph Pantonial and Pfc. Eulezys Bantulo and those wounded as Pfc. Sabido and Cpl. Velunta.

The second encounter took place 6 p.m. at Sitio Biasong, Barangay Napnapan, Pantukan when around 10 NPAs fired upon a platoon of soldiers from Bravo Company, of the 46th Infantry Battalion.

After a five-minute firefight the rebels withdrew going north and burned two houses at Purok 7 of the same area during their escape.

Killed in the second clash was Pfc. Moreno. Pursuit operations are still ongoing as of this posting.

UN undersecretary Dieng visits AFP headquarters

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 4): UN undersecretary Dieng visits AFP headquarters

The United Nations Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Undersecretary Adama Dieng, paid a visit to AFP headquarters, Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City Wednesday afternoon.

Dieng met with AFP deputy chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Edgar Fallorina at the Hall of Flags of Camp Aguinaldo’s General Headquarters Building at 2:30 p.m.

The UN official is in the country as resource speaker in the 2nd International Meeting Against Mass Atrocity Crimes which started last Feb. 1 and will end on Feb. 5.

The Philippines is hosting the event that is annually spearheaded by the Global Action Against Mass Atrocity Crimes (GAAMAC), a global inclusive state-led initiative to prevent mass atrocity crimes (genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity).

The GAAMAC provides a platform for exchange, dialogue, and dissemination of learning and good practice on prevention among representatives of UN Member States to build their capacities to prevent mass atrocity crimes as well as to develop and implement national preventive strategies.

Also Wednesday, Amanda Gorely, Ambassador of Australia to the Philippines, paid a courtesy call to AFP chief Gen. Hernando DCA Iriberri at 10 a.m. at the Hall of Flags.

Gorely paid her first visit to Iriberri after recently assuming her position. She replaced former Ambassador of Australia to the Philippines Bill Twedell.

Gov’t negotiators, MILF set meeting after Congress shelves BBL

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 3): Gov’t negotiators, MILF set meeting after Congress shelves BBL
COTABATO CITY, Philippines – An emergency meeting has been set between Philippine government officials and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace negotiators following Congress’ decision not to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the rebel group’s chief negotiator said Wednesday.

Mohagher Iqbal did not say when the meeting would take place but added that it would discuss the next move of the two panels after the non-passage of the proposed law.

Iqbal said the two panels would also come out with a joint declaration in the light of the new development.

But he said the emergency meeting would not usher in a new round of negotiations.

“We are done with the negotiations with the government when we signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro,” Iqbal said.

The CAB was the five-page 12-point agreement that was made the basis for the crafting of the BBL.

On the other hand, the FAB, signed Oct. 12, 2012, outlined the “political settlement” between the Philippine government and the MILF; and the process of transition from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to the new Bangsamoro autonomous political entity.

Iqbal said the peace panels were supposed to meet over the issue of the delay in the BBL’s passage as early as December but the meeting was postponed. He did not say why it was postponed.

He said the MILF had already foreseen the non-passage of the proposed as early as 2015, and it wanted to discuss it with the government.

“The challenge now is how to manage the frustration of the people,” Iqbal said.

Six attack copters to boost ESSCOM security

From the Free Malaysia Today (Feb 4): Six attack copters to boost ESSCOM security

The “Little Birds” will be deployed to support army operations in Sabah's east coast.


PETALING JAYA: Six MD530G light scout attack helicopters, known as “Little Birds”, are set to boost security in the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM).

In a statement, military helicopter manufacturer MD Helicopters Inc announced that it would supply six of the helicopters to the Malaysian Army’s aviation unit from the fourth quarter of 2016, with the full fleet delivered by the end of the first quarter of next year.

The MD530G helicopters are expected to be deployed in ESSCOM to perform attack, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and security missions in support of the army operations there.

Described as highly agile and capable scout attack helicopters, the “Little Birds” have a top speed of 130 knots (240kph) and can be configured to include advanced avionics, forward-looking infrared sensors, guided and unguided rockets, and onboard machine guns.

The six helicopters will have a customised weapons package, advanced communication capabilities and state-of-the-art detection devices to identify and engage a wide range of threats.

MD Helicopters chief executive officer Lynn Tilton said the company was committed to advancing the local capabilities in relation to long-term service, support and effective operations of the fleet.

ESSCOM covers 1,400km of the coastline, stretching from Kudat to Tawau. It was established after the 2013 intrusion by Suluks from the southern Philippines.

M’sia buys US copters in biggest arms deal since 1993

From Today (Feb 4): M’sia buys US copters in biggest arms deal since 1993

KUALA LUMPUR — The Malaysian government has ordered six advanced scout attack helicopters from an American aircraft maker, in what is believed to be the biggest arms contract between Washington and Kuala Lumpur in more than 20 years.

In a press release earlier this week, MD Helicopters (headquartered in Mesa, Arizona) said it is “pleased to announce that it has succeeded in its bid to supply six MD 530G scout attack helicopters to Malaysia’s Ministry of Defence”.

The company said that it will deliver the aircraft to Malaysian Army Aviation beginning the fourth quarter of this year, with the full fleet to be delivered by the end of the first quarter of 2017.
“Our legacy is firmly rooted in service of the warfighter; delivering fast, agile, highly-capable scout attack helicopters for the protection of the United States and our partner nations,” said Ms Lynn Tilton, said the firm’s chief executive officer in the press release.

“Perfectly suited for Malaysia’s operational environment, we are honoured that the MD 530G — our next-generation light scout attack helicopter — was selected by the Malaysian Prime Minister, Minister of Defence and the Chief of Defence Force to be the newest addition to the Malaysian Armed Forces.”

The Diplomat, a foreign policy publication, reported that the contract for the six helicopters is the biggest US-Malaysia arms deal since Kuala Lumpur placed an order for eight F/A-18DS fighter aircraft in June 1993.

Last year, the US State Department reportedly approved a US$21 million (S$30 million) missile sale to Malaysia.

The MD 530G gunship was first revealed to the Malaysian public at the March 2015 Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition. According to IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, the helicopter is powered by a Rolls-Royce 250-C30 turbine engine, has a top cruising speed of 240kmh, and can carry a load of 862kg over a range of 519km.

MD Helicopters said the Malaysian Army’s fleet of MD 530G helicopters will include a custom weapons package, advanced communications capabilities, and state-of-the-art electro-optical/infrared tech to detect, identify, and engage various threats.

The new helicopters will be deployed to eastern Sabah, where they will perform attack, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and security missions.

PNP names MILF men in bombing

From The Standard (Feb 4): PNP names MILF men in bombing

POLICE identified three suspects in Tuesday’s  bomb attack in Tacurong City as being members of a faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The suspects were identified as Hairodin Abubakar, Lok Oteng and Daud Kansi, and were said to have had one other companion.

Police said the improvised bomb was brought from Matanog, Maguindanao to Tacurong City through Lambayong, Sultan Sa Barongis, Maguindanao.
Girding for war. These are some of the soldiers belonging to five Army battalions and three Marine battalions deployed recently to Sulu province to go after an estimated 200 fighters of the Abu Sayyaf terror group. MARINES PHOTO
The military, on the other hand, said the blast, which injured several civilians, was the handiwork of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters rebels.

The bomb held concrete nails and metal fragments and was concealed in the bumper of a black Toyota car parked at a vacant lot near the city center.

Police and the military said they were tracking the assailants.

The blast, one security expert said, could be a prelude to wide-scale hostilities between the MILF and security forces after the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the lynchpin for a peace agreement between the government and the rebels, failed to pass in Congress.

The rival Moro National Liberation Front said it would not be dragged into a shooting war with government forces.

“We will not permit the war from spilling over to our areas,”  MNLF spokesman Absalom Cerveza said amid signs that the MILF was preparing for war.

Reports said the Tacurong bombing was a unilateral action by Abdullah Macapar, alias Commander Bravo of the MILF, who was reportedly massing fighters in Central Mindanao following the collapse of the BBL.

Cerveza said the prospects for peace in Mindanao depends on how the military handles the situation.

“If the government will be stupid and go on a wanton assault, then widespread war could start,” Cerveza said.

Earlier, chief government peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer warned that failure to pass the BBL could spark violence.

“That’s the danger, that’s why we are taking steps, calling for sobriety,” she said.
Ferrer said indifference and chronic absenteeism in the House torpedoed the passage of the BBL.

“Let me state the fact: The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, in whatever shape or form, did not make it out of the 16th Congress,” said Ferrer.

“The sheer indifference and chronic absenteeism of majority of the legislators manifested in the lack of quorum almost on a daily basis in the House of Representatives, and the prolonged and repetitive interpellation of oppositors ate up the remaining sessions,” Ferrer said.

The 10,000-strong MILF signed a peace accord with the government in 2014 to end its struggle for independence, which began in the 1970s.

Under the accord, the rebels would have only given up their arms after the BBL was passed creating the autonomous homeland and a regional government was elected. The vote was meant to take place alongside the May general election.

After the collapse in 2008 of the last attempt to seal a peace deal with the MILF, hardline rebels raided Christian farming villages, triggering fighting that left more than 400 people dead and 600,000 displaced.

Chief MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said  Wednesday  the rebel leadership was working hard to avoid a repeat, and vowed to continue working for peace with Aquino’s successor.

He told ABS-CBN television there could be a feeling of “repression” within the MILF ranks, but the leadership was countering with “massive engagement.”

“We just explain to them that here lies the problem in the peace process. We will never cease engaging in the peace process,” he told ABS-CBN television.

Most political analysts say Aquino lost lawmakers’ support for the autonomy bill after a police raid in MILF territory in Mamasapano last year killed a Malaysian bomb maker on the United States’ list of most-wanted terrorists.

However, the raid led to a day of intense fighting with the MILF and other rebels that left 44 police commandos dead.

US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said  Wednesday  the US did not carry out that operation.

At a forum in Quezon City, Goldberg said while the US will continue to work closely with the Philippines in monitoring local terrorism linked to international jihadists, the Mamasapano raid was not a US-designed operation.

He said the US and the Philippines, along with the other countries, have been cooperating with one another to share information to fight terrorism.

At the same forum, he would not confirm nor deny the presence of some US soldiers during the rescue operation after 44 SAF members were killed in a clash with the members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

Although the US supports peace, Goldberg said, it would not comment on the BBL.

“We have said all along that the BBL is domestic legislation. It’s intended to carry out the comprehensive agreement on Bangsamoro. It is a domestic issue not for me to comment,” he said.

Philippine government's peace deal with Moro rebels under threat

From the Straits Times (Feb 4): Philippine government's peace deal with Moro rebels under threat

Islamist militants sow discontent as autonomy did not materialize

In March 2014, with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak as witness, the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a historic pact to end a decades-long secessionist war that had cost at least 120,000 lives.

Two years later, the cornerstone of that deal - the Bangsamoro Basic Law creating an autonomous Muslim region in the restive southern island of Mindanao - has run its full course in Congress.

"It did not make it out of the 16th Congress," Ms Miriam Ferrer, the government's chief negotiator, said in a statement yesterday as Congress held its last session, prior to the start of the campaign season for the May elections next Tuesday.

The peace deal started on strong legs. But a botched operation to arrest Malaysian extremist Zulkifli Hir, alias Marwan, in January last year provided opportunities for opposition lawmakers to stonewall the proposed Bangsamoro law.

More than 40 police commandos who fought hundreds of Muslim fighters, including some from the MILF, were killed in that operation, provoking public outrage and fuelling opposition to the Mindanao peace deal.
But for Ms Ferrer, it was the "sheer indifference and chronic absenteeism" among lawmakers that doomed the Bangsamoro law.
What happens now?

The MILF has said it is not the end of it all, that the next government is legally bound to honour its commitments. But a new administration fresh from securing a mandate from voters is unlikely to touch on such a polarising issue early in its term.

In its current form, the peace deal calls on MILF fighters to lay down their arms and transition into politicians who will lead Mindanao's independent region for Muslims: the Bangsamoro.

The region will have its own police force, a regional Parliament and power to levy taxes.

President Benigno Aquino's successor will have to decide whether to honour these terms or start from scratch. Then, any peace deal will again have to go through lengthy deliberations in Congress, which may take years.

Islamist militants are seizing this opening to sow seeds of discontent.

Ms Ferrer has called the Bangsamoro law a "containment measure against jihadists' extremism". Now, "some groups may head to a different direction, and that's the direction we are all afraid of", she has warned.

It is not even certain now if the 12,000-strong MILF itself will remain on board, as grumblings within its ranks become louder and those who have opposed the deal gain moral ascendancy.

The MILF has had to form a "task force" of Islamic preachers to prevent militant groups that have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from raiding its ranks.

The immediate threat is from extremist groups that have recently coalesced in an effort to declare a South-east Asia "wilayat", or province, of ISIS.

Then there is the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway faction of the MILF. It has been raiding remote villages in Mindanao, prompting hundreds of farmers there to arm themselves and form a militia they are calling "Red God's soldiers".

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), of former secessionist champion and now fugitive Nur Misuari, is also at play.

It still commands enough fighters to lay siege to an entire city. In September 2013, it attacked the southern port city of Zamboanga, sparking a three-week-long battle that left at least 244 people dead and 116,000 civilians displaced.

The MNLF has reportedly formed an alliance with the BIFF and the more brutal Abu Sayyaf, which has carried out abductions, beheadings and bombings in the past.

Mr Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF's spokesman, said "it is not the end of the world for us".
Congress' stonewalling of the proposed Bangsamoro law "is only a confirmation of what we have been foreseeing since December last year… We will continue pursuing a settlement", he said.

But for now, with peace again up in the air, the MILF is holding on to its guns.

Army junior officer, 2 soldiers killed in ComVal clashes vs NPA

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 4): Army junior officer, 2 soldiers killed in ComVal clashes vs NPA
An Army junior officer and two soldiers were killed in a series of clashes with communist rebels in Compostela Valley on Wednesday.

Captain Rhyan Batchar, public affairs officer of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division (10ID), said on Thursday that the first incident took place in Sitio (sub-village) Sapang Tin-aw in Barangay (village) Tibagon in Pantukan town around 1 p.m.

A platoon of soldiers from the 46th Infantry Battalion encountered around 60 members of the New People’s Army (NPA) belonging to the Pulang Bagani Command 3 of the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee for 30 minutes.

When the soldiers were clearing NPA positions, the withdrawing rebels set off improvised explosive devices, which killed two soldiers and wounded two others.

First Lieutenant Ralph Pantonial and Private First Class (PFC) Eulezys Bantulo were killed from the blast, while PFC Sabido and Corporal Velunta were injured.

Pantonial, 28, commanding officer of the Charlie Company, is a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 2010.

Meanwhile, the second incident happened at Sitio Biasong in Barangay Napnapan, also in Pantukan around 6 p.m, Batchar said.

Around 10 rebels fired at a platoon of soldiers from the Bravo Company of the same battalion.

“After a five-minute firefight, the rebels withdrew and burned two houses at Purok 7 of the same sitio during their escape,” Batchar said.

PFC Moreno lost his life in the second incident.

“These incidents confirmed the assessment of the 10ID that large formations of NPAs are in Pantukan,” Batchar said.

The NPA is believed to be strongest in Davao region. The military estimated that there are still around 4,000 communist rebels in the whole country.

PDEA: Marcelino's denial, frame-up claim are 'weak defenses'

From GMA News (Feb 4): PDEA: Marcelino's denial, frame-up claim are 'weak defenses'

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on Wednesday maintained that there was nothing illegal in the arrest of Lt. Col. Ferdinand Marcelino inside a clandestine drug laboratory in Manila last month.

In a joint affidavit submitted at the resumption of the preliminary investigation on the case, the PDEA said Marcelino’s denial, alibi, and claim of a frame-up are inherently weak defenses.

"A perusal of the respective counter-affidavits of the respondent shows that the allegations contained therein are purely alibis that deserve scant consideration in law,” according to the PDEA, through its agents PO3 Adrian Galang and IO1 Ronald Gogoc.

The agents are among the complainants who filed charges against Marcelino.

Marcelino, who was arrested last January 21 in an anti-illegal drug raid in Manila, was charged with violating Sections 8 and 11 of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

A former PDEA official, Marcelino claimed that he was performing surveillance work when arrested together with a Chinese national in the raid on a townhouse that turned out to be a shabu lab.

“The logical conclusion is that the respondents were validly arrested on January 21, 2016 in flagrant in full control and dominion of a clandestine laboratory for the manufacture of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu,” said the PDEA.

Both Marcelino and Yan Yi Shou, also known as Randy, were present during Wednesday’s preliminary investigation.

The PDEA described as “self-serving" Marcelino’s accusation that his arrest was linked to PDEA Director General Arturo Cacdac’s personal grudge against him.

The PDEA said Marcelino failed to show any proof of ill-motive on the part of Cacdac.

The agency added that Marcelino’s alleged surveillance operations on illegal drug activities was not part of his job description as a commandant of the Philippine Navy Officer Candidate School in Zambales.

He is likewise not a member of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines or the PDEA, which is the lead agency in the enforcement of the provisions of Republic Act 9185.

“It is worth emphasizing that respondent LTC Marcelino is not duly authorized to conduct any anti-illegal drugs operation when he was arrested,” said the PDEA.

The agency also insisted that Randy, who was arrested along with Marcelino, is not documented and authorized as an action agent, confidential informant or asset of the PDEA.

The PDEA said that assuming Marcelino was indeed on a legitimate surveillance operation, he should have at least complied with the protocol and requirements on coordinating with the agency.

The DOJ set the next hearing for February 10. Randy's camp, meanwhile, asked for more time to file a counter-affidavit.

Do you know this? Philippine Navy launches first SSV: BRP Tarlac

From the Manila Channel (Feb 3): Do you know this? Philippine Navy launches first SSV: BRP Tarlac

Surabaya, Indonesia- The Philippine Navy formally launched its first Strategic Sealift Vessel (SSV) in PT PAL Indonesia’s shipyard in Surabaya. Named the BRP Tarlac, the SSV will serve as the largest strategic vessel in the Philippines.

According to Navy Spokesperson Col. Edgardo Arevalo, the SSV is named after a city, similar to BRP-Dagupan (LCC-551) and BRP Bacolod City (LCC-550), which are both Logistics Support Vessels. This sets these vessels apart from frigates and other surface combatants under the Navy, as these are named after Filipino heroes and outstanding military personnel.

The BRP Tarlac is set to undergo sea trials and will be brought back to the shipyard for fine tuning. It is expected to arrive in the Philippines this coming May.

The country’s second SSV also went through a milestone ceremony around the same time as the launch of the BRP Tarlac, the Keel Laying Ceremony.

But what exactly is an SSV?

The BRP Tarlac Specification:

BRP Tarlac Specification

An SSV is a class of sealift vessels under the Philippine Navy, and is composed of four vessels that are intended to be the largest in the country. These ships are meant for amphibious operations and special transport duties in service to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, but can likewise be used for Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) and Search and Rescue (SAR) operations of the military.

The BRP Tarlac, also known as the SSV-1, was constructed to an overall length of 123.0 m, with a length waterline of 114.6 m, and a length between perpendiculars at 107.5 m. It has a breadth of 21.8m, depth of 11.3m, and a draft of 5.0 m.

The SSV-1 has an endurance of 30 days straight operation, and has an operating range of 9360 NM, with power required 2 x 2920 kW. It can accommodate a total of 621 persons, or troops of 500 persons. It likewise has a helipad and a VIP cabin for 121 persons, and displacement of 7,200 tons.

The SSV-1 can run up to 16 knots max, and cruising speed of 13 knots max.

Defense chief visits Eastmincom

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 3): Defense chief visits Eastmincom

As part of his unified command visits and to assess the security in the region. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin visited the headquarters of the Eastern Mindanao Command yesterday (February 2).

The Eastmincom headquarters is located inside the sprawling Naval Station Felix Apolinario in Panacan, Davao City the home of the Philippine Navy’s  Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao.

Gazmin highlighted the current updates of the Armed Forces’ modernization program and emphasized the role of the military in the coming 2016 national and local elections. “You have to remain apolitical and not get involved in any partisan political activity.” The DND chief said.

The Secretary also commended Eastmincom under the leadership of Major General Rey Leonardo Guerrero for taking the right direction in winning the peace, he also congratulated the command for its accomplishments in the previous year.

After the talk, Sec. Gazmin had boodle lunch with field commanders, soldiers and civilian personnel of Eastmincom.

The unified command covers the regions of Southeastern Mindanao, Northern Mindanao and parts of Central Mindanao.

Tension between Army troops, MILF defused in Lanao del Norte

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 3): Tension between Army troops, MILF defused in Lanao del Norte

Commander Bravo and men agreed to cancel visit to old MILF camp in Kauswagan town -- MILF

COTABATO CITY – The tension between soldiers and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces in Lanao del Norte has been defused and the situation has gone back to normal, an MILF official said Wednesday.

Toks Ibrahim, head of the MILF’s normalization secretariat, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone that the tension subsided when Commander Abdullah Macapaar, also known as Bravo, agreed to pull out from Kauswagan town following negotiations.

Ibrahim said the tension started when Bravo wanted to visit his old camp in Kauswagan after attending an event in connection with the normalization process on Monday.

The event was properly coordinated with the government but not Macapaar’s visit.

Since the planned visit was not coordinated, soldiers from the 15th Infantry Battalion and 2nd Mechanized Brigade based in Kauswagan positioned themselves on Macapaar’s route to the old MILF camp in Barangay Delabayan.

“This caused tension. It (the planned visit to old camp) was not covered by the prior coordination made with the military,” Ibrahim said.

Ibrahim said Macapaar eventually agreed to move out of Kauswagan and to coordinate any visit to the old MILF camp in the future.

Von Al Haq, MILF spokesperson, said members of the MILF’s ceasefire committee talked with Macapaar and made him understand he had to back out unless he properly coordinated any visit.

Macapaar was among MILF commanders, who led a string of deadly attacks in Mindanao when the government dilly-dallied on the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain in 2008.

Fears about renewed attacks by his group largely fueled Monday’s tension in Kauswagan as his presence in the town came after Congress refused to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

But MILF leaders said Macapaar’s unplanned visit had nothing to do with the BBL, as Macapaar only wanted to visit the village, where he was born and where he grew up.

US keeping an eye on ISIS threat in PH, SE Asia

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 3): US keeping an eye on ISIS threat in PH, SE Asia

The US is closely monitoring the threat of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Philippines and in the entire Southeast Asian

US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg said in a forum on Wednesday that they are on guard against groups that have claimed links with the ISIS.
READ: Regional leaders warn of IS expansion in SE Asia

“We all have to be on guard against groups that pledge allegiance to ISIS, that say they want involvement in the kinds of activities and ideology represented by the ISIS,” he said.

Among the local groups that have pledged allegiance to the ISIS are Abu Sayyaf, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and Ansar al-Khalifa.

READ: BIFF, Abus pledge allegiance to Isis

Videos of such groups have been posted online, taking an oath and announcing their support to ISIS.

“We are watching that, as is the Philippines very closely, and we need to do so to make sure that whatever rhetorical support, or whatever happening behind the scenes, is not something that becomes a danger to the Philippines or the region,” Goldberg said.

He also acknowledged that social media is one of the tools where ISIS can expand beyond its borders.

“What we can tell you is that the groups that pledge allegiance will be in the sights of all of us,” Goldberg said.

He justified that the Philippines and US cooperate on counterterrorism and share information because of threats like these.

ISIS, an international terror organization, is known for its propaganda and influence, with videos of its brutal tactics, such as bombings, stoning and beheadings, posted on the Internet.

US envoy urges Pinoys: ‘Reinvigorate’ peace efforts despite BBL’s ‘death’

From GMA News (Feb 3): US envoy urges Pinoys: ‘Reinvigorate’ peace efforts despite BBL’s ‘death’

US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg on Wednesday urged Filipinos to “redouble efforts” to carry out the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) despite Congress’ failure to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

While Goldberg refused to comment on the fate of the Bangsamoro bill, he said the US would like to continue seeing progress in the peace process in Mindanao.

“What we would urge everybody is to reinvigorate efforts to carry out the peace agreement. I’m not going to discuss the BBL because that is domestic legislation. That’s for Congress to do. But we all can say without hesitation that we’d like to see the peace process go forward,” he told reporters at a press conference.

“It’s clear that the more people, the more members of the Muslim community in Mindanao enter into the peace process, the better,” Goldberg added.

Leaders of both the Senate and House of Representatives have sounded the death knell on the proposed BBL ahead of the adjournment of sessions today, with Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. saying they no longer have time to pass the measure in plenary.

The Bangsamoro bill, a product of the peace pact signed by the government and the MILF, seeks to formalize the creation of a new political entity that will replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Despite Congress’ admission of its failure to pass the proposed BBL,

Malacañang said the Aquino administration remains committed to proceed with the peace process.

“Whatever the final fate of the proposed BBL, government was determined to support the peace process and encourage all stakeholders to give peace a chance,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said last week.

Muslim clerics, Maguindanao gov’t work together to fight extremism

From the Philippine Star (Feb 2): Muslim clerics, Maguindanao gov’t work together to fight extremism

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu presides over a dialogue with Muslim preachers whose support in addressing religious extremism he had enlisted. Unson

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines - More than a thousand clerics, many of them women, convened here Monday and promised to help the provincial government prevent Islamic extremism from spreading through Maguindanao’s 36 towns.

The activity, organized by Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu and moderate preachers led by Ustadz Ishaq Katambak, was meant to build consensus among participating Islamic theologians and organizers on how to effectively quell religious extremism in the country’s south.

Mangudadatu had cautioned certain groups for insinuating that the failure of the House of Representatives to approve the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) could worsen Islamic extremism in areas the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) wants to group together under a Bangsamoro government.

“Let us not insinuate about war, about religious extremism. Why don’t we insinuate about prospects of peace, about the BBL’s not being dead? It’s still pending in Congress, awaiting approval,” Mangudadatu said.

Mangudadatu told clerics present in Monday’s convention on Islamic teachings on peace and co-existence, held in Buluan town, it is free education for children, via mainstream and religious schools offering subjects on Islamic concepts on respect for life and religious tolerance that can effectively defeat extremism.

Katambak said it is improper for people disappointed with the non-passage of the draft BBL to beat war drums and instigate uprising, or warn of rise of religious extremism in Southern Muslim communities as its consequence.

Like Mangudadatu, Katambak is also convinced that education is a good antidote for religious extremism.

Mangudadatu said his scholarship thrust for his constituent-youth sectors, the Maguindanao Program for Peace and Community Empowerment (MagPEACE), which now has more than 5,000 college scholars, is open to children of Islamic missionaries working in far-flung areas.

Clerics present in the convention assured the provincial government of their support in addressing religious extremism.

A woman who had studied Islamic theology, Fatima, said extremists have alarmingly been circumventing Islamic teachings on religious solidarity to suit their vested interests.

“Prophet Mohammad had told his followers that he or she who kills a non-Muslim in aggression, over religious division, can never smell the fragrance of paradise,” she said.

Child soldier numbers seen rising amid Daesh recruitment

From the Gulf News (Feb 4): Child soldier numbers seen rising amid Daesh recruitment

Rights groups say this could be averted if government continues pursuing peace

The number of child soldiers in the Philippines could further increase, amid reports the Daesh group is recruiting young Filipino-Muslims in the south, officials said on Tuesday.

The Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) said this could be averted if the government continues to pursue the peace process by engaging in talks with various rebel groups. “Mindanao in the south has many armed groups. If the ISIS [Daesh] has recruited Filipino-Muslims there, I’m sure these would include children,” Romeo Dongeto, Executive Director of (PLCPD), which has taken the cudgel for children caught between warring parties in conflict areas, told Gulf News. “During political conflict children die, or they lose families, health facilities, schools, and are vulnerable to sexual abuse and recruitment by warring parties,” said Dongeto, adding, “Children seized by government security forces in war zones are woefully rehabilitated — they become assets of drug lords and gun runners, or part of military apparatus as spies and cooks.” “The peace process is one option to spare our children from war,” said Congressman Teddy Baguilat, adding the non-passage of a proposed law to implement the 2014 political settlement between the Philippine government and the 38-year old Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf rebels) “should not discourage the government and peace advocates from pushing for peace and the legislation of peace settlements”.

At the same, 61 PLCP members from the lower house of Congress, and five senators at the upper house of Congress “will work harder for full implementation of three Philippine laws that protect children and women from being recruited as war soldiers,” said Baguilat, adding the remedy is “doable to save Filipino children in war zones”. According to Unicef, from 2011 to 2012, an estimated 80 Filipino children became soldiers of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA); the Moro National Liberation Front; the Milf rebels; and the Al Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf Group. as well as pro-government paramilitaries nationwide. The UN children’s agency also said about 30,000 to 50,000 children are displaced by violence and conflict annually in the southern Philippines alone. “Getting the right data on children soldiers in the Philippines is challenging,” Baguilat admitted, hinting the number of child soldiers could breach “more than 100”. About 3.5 million people have been displaced by political conflict in the south since 2000, said the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). About 250,000 children are fighting wars worldwide, 40 per cent of whom are girls, other rights sources said, adding they are active in 14 counties including Burma, Philippines, and Thailand in Southeast Asia; and also in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, DR Congo, India, Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen.

US 'open' to joint patrols with PH in disputed sea – envoy

From Rappler (Feb 3): US 'open' to joint patrols with PH in disputed sea – envoy

US Ambassador Philip Goldberg declines to give a categorical response to the Philippine proposal but says, 'I don’t think there are limitations to what the US can do'

ARTIFICIAL CHINESE ISLAND. China's artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, such as the one in Mabini (Johnson) Reef, has prompted calls for more checks on the country's activities in the area

ARTIFICIAL CHINESE ISLAND. China's artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, such as the one in Mabini (Johnson) Reef, has prompted calls for more checks on the country's activities in the area

The United States is open to the proposed joint patrol with the Philippines in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), US Ambassador Philip Goldberg indicated on Wednesday, February 3.

“I don’t think there are limitations to what the US can do. I could say yes,” Goldberg said in a press conference, when asked about the Philippine suggestion to have joint patrols with the superpower in the disputed area.

The Philippines had earlier raised the possibility of such joint patrols, after its Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the two countries.

Goldberg refused to categorically say if there would be joint patrols in the disputed waters, as he maintained that EDCA is not meant to solve maritime disputes in the region.

But he reiterated that the US will continue to follow international law and exercise freedom of navigation in the contested waters.

I’m not going to announce anything about joint patrols. I’m going to say we will continue to exercise freedom of navigation, operations. I don’t want to prejudge how we will carry out the defense relationship. But we have a deep interest in assuring freedom of navigation in those waters,” Goldberg said.

Beijing earlier slammed Washington for sailing near the islands claimed by China.

(READ: China: US island sail-by 'dangerous and irresponsible')

Philippine officials earlier suggested the joint patrol, citing the "need for more collaborative presence in the South China Sea," but did not specify the area where this would be carried out.

The Philippines and China are claimants to the South China Sea, along with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

PH is observer in US, Aussie military exercise

From Malaya Business Insight (Feb 4): PH is observer in US, Aussie military exercise

THE Philippine Air Force will take part as an observer in a major exercise dubbed as Cope North that will feature some of the most powerful militaries from Feb. 10 to 16 at the Anderson Air Base in Guam.

Thousands of troops and hundreds of assets from the Unites States, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand will participate in the exercise.

This is the second time the PAF will participate in the major multi-lateral exercise.

The US Pacific Air Forces said Cope North “serves as a keystone event to promote stability and security throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region by enabling regional forces to hone vital readiness skills critical to maintaining regional stability.”

Air Force spokesman Col. Enrico Canaya said four aero-medical planners will take part in the HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster relief) portion of Cope North.

Last year, the Air Force also sent observers, mostly medical personnel, for the HADR phase of the exercise.

“There will be no aircraft (to be sent),” said Canaya, adding the Air Force involvement in the exercise is being done on a “progressive” manner. 

“From these observers, we are hoping we can elevate our participation, until we’ll have active participation, including on the operational side,” Canaya added.

The Air Force is in the process of implementing a modernization program which calls for the acquisition of modern aircraft and radars.

Last November, two FA-50 fighters, part of the 12 FA-50s being acquired from the Korea Aerospace Industries for P18.9 billion, arrived.

Militants simply not giving up on EDCA

From Malaya Business Insight (Feb 4): Militants simply not giving up on EDCA

REPRESENTATIVES of Bayan Muna party-list yesterday asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its earlier affirmation of the constitutionality of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between Manila and Washington.

In an 83-page motion, Bayan Muna party-list Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Isagani Zarate asked the High Court to reverse its decision last month and declare EDCA unconstitutional.

The petitioners reiterated their position that EDCA is a treaty that needs the concurrence of the Senate and not an executive agreement and that the 10 magistrates of the High Court, who voted in favor of the EDCA, erred in ruling that it is an Executive agreement.

“The decision lacks legitimacy, especially in light of the Senate’s demand to submit EDCA for deliberation by the legislature,” they said.

They also stood firm in their belief that EDCA would lay down the ground for the establishment of US military bases in the country despite clear prohibition under the Constitution and the Visiting Forces Agreement.

Those who voted against the EDCA were Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Arturo Brion, Estela Perlas - Bernabe and Marvic Leonen.

Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza took no part since he defended the government’s position on the agreement when he was still Solicitor General.

The petitioners also said contrary to the position taken by the majority who voted in favor of EDCA, the agreement would not benefit the country in boosting its military capability amid the ongoing territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).

“We cannot expect the US to fly to our side the moment confrontations escalate to defend our home front. No such promise has been made, nor will be fulfilled,’’ they said, adding that the EDCA is a treaty that expands the coverage of the MDT and the VFA.

In affirming the constitutionality of the agreement, the SC said in its decision penned by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno that under Article XVIII, Section 25 of the 1987 Constitution, the President can enter into an executive agreement on foreign military bases, troops, or facilities if “it is not the instrument that allows the presence of foreign military bases, troops or facilities, or it merely aims to implement an existing law or treaty and holding that the
Edca is one such executive agreement.”

The SC further ruled that EDCA is not the instrument that allows US “troops or facilities” to enter as the Visiting Forces Agreement already has done that, citing its earlier decision in Lim v. Executive Secretary, where it also stated that the Constitution continues to govern the conduct of foreign military troops in the Philippines.

Under the EDCA, the US will be allowed to build structures, store as well as preposition weapons, defense supplies and materiel, station troops, civilian personnel and defense contractors, transit and station vehicles, vessels, and aircraft for a period of 10 years.

Kiram II installed, crowned sultan Saturday

From the Daily Tribune (Feb 4): Kiram II installed, crowned sultan Saturday

Sultan Phugdalon Kiram II will be officially installed and crowned as 35th Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo during simple spiritual ceremony on Saturday.

Abraham Idjirani, secretary general and spokesman of the Royal Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo, said that “spiritual installation” and crowning of Sultan Phugdalon is in accordance with centuries-old royal protocols.

“His installation follows two historic protocols — the 600-year-old Royal Genealogy and the Law and Order of Succession,” Idjirani told the Tribune.

Prior to his ascension to the Sulu crown, Sultan Phugdalon II was known as Datu Phugdal.

“He adopted the name of his great grandfather, Sultan Phugdalon to clear out the claims of pseudo claimants to the royal lineage of Sultan Phugdalon I,” said Idjirani.

Sultan Phugdalon ruled the Royal Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo from 1844 to 1862.

There are several claimants to the throne of Sultanate of Sulu, which claims ownership of Sabah.

Idjirani said that Sultan Phugdalon Kiram II will continue the sultanate’s claim over Sabah.

“Sultan Phugdalon Kiram II assured the Bangsa Suluk and the Filipino nation that he will pursue the case of Sabah in conformity with the decree of their late father Sultan Punjungan Kiram and the expectation of the entire nation,” said Idjirani.

In 2013, more than 200 members of the Royal Security Forces, led by Rajah Mudah Agbimmudin Kiram, the crown prince, laid siege on Sabah to reclaim ownership of the oil-rich territory from Malaysia.

The standoff led to a bloody confrontation that ending in the killing of dozens of RSF fighters and Malaysian troops. Agbimmudin Kiram escaped from Sabah and died months later in Tawi Tawi due to illness. Sultan Esmael Kiram II became the crown prince and assumed as 34th sultan following the death of Sultan Jamalul Kiram II.

Sultan Esmail, however, died months later due to kidney ailment, passing the crown to Sultan Phugdalon Kiram II, who is married to former Hadja Nawal Tan, a cousin of Sulu Vice Gov. Abdusakur Tan.

US says SE Asian summit ‘not anti-China’

From the Daily Tribune (Feb 4): US says SE Asian summit ‘not anti-China’

A summit with Southeast Asian leaders that President Barack Obama is hosting later this month is “not anti-China,” a State Department official said Tuesday.

The meeting will bring leaders from the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) at the Californian resort of Sunnylands on February 15 to 16.

This summit is not about China. It’s about the US and Asean,” US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Daniel Russel said in an interview with the AP, Reuters and AFP news agencies.

“This is not about China, this is not anti-China.”

The US administration has focused on bolstering Asean as a counterpoint to Chinese regional power.

“This is the culmination of a seven-plus-year investment the United States has made first and foremost in the Asia pacific region, but also in Asean in particular,” Russel said.

“I think it demonstrates that the rebalance has reached cruising altitude,” he added, referring to the Obama administration’s focus on its “pivot” toward Asia since 2009.

Several Asean states are embroiled in an increasingly bitter spat with China over disputed territory in the South China Sea.

The US says it takes no position on ownership of the various reefs and islets under dispute, but insists freedom of navigation in the vital shipping lane must be maintained.
“This set of challenges in Southeast Asia, particularly the disputes over land features and maritime entitlement in South China Sea isn’t a zero-sum game, this is not a proxy war between China and the United States,” Russel said.

“This is a direct challenge to the question of whether the countries in the region and the claimants in the South China Sea, and particularly China... would be guided by the universal principles and the rule of law.”

He insisted that Asia was “not certainly a battleground for big powers’ competition.”

Groups appeal SC ruling on EDCA

From the Daily Tribune (Feb 4): Groups appeal SC ruling on EDCA

Petitioners challenging Malacañang’s latest agreement with the United States for military cooperation in the country have asked the Supreme Court (SC) to reconsider its decision upholding the pact known as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

In their 82-page motion for reconsideration the petitioners led by the left leaning Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), among other things, said the agreement,contrary to popular belief, does not provide a counter balance to the encroachment by mainland China on Philippine territorial waters.

“EDCA will not defend the Philippines against an armed attack by China. This was categorically stated by US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg when he was interviewed after the release of the Decision on EDCA by the Honorable Court,” the petitioners said in their appeal.

Quoting news reports on Goldberg,  Bayan’s lawyers cited that Goldberg has clarified that the disputes in the South China Sea are not covered by EDCA.

“EDCA isn’t directly related to the South China Sea issues. It’s about the United States helping its ally, the Philippines, as it goes about building a minimum credible defense,” Goldberg was quoted by the petitioners adding that in case of a “shooting war” due to the sea disputes, the envoy said that the US will be ready to abide by the Mutual Defense Treaty that it signed with the Philippines in 1951.

“Certainly, this is so because there is nothing in EDCA that assures automatic US involvement in an armed conflict between the Philippines and China.”the petitioners said adding that since  the largest foreign holder of US debt is China, which owns more about $1.2 trillion in bills, notes and bonds,
according to the US Department of Treasury, adding that under such a scenario it would make it very unlikely for the US to go to war against China.

The group added that an agreement like EDCA that derogates the Constitution and various laws and international law principles should be struck down for being unconstitutional.

The petitioners cited EDCA’s  silence on its compliance on the Philippine constitution’s ban on nuclear weapons.

The group said that Article IV, par. 6 of the EDCA does not prohibit nuclear weapons. It merely provides that nuclear weapons will not be among the prepositioned materiel and that nowhere in the EDCA is it provided that warships and aircrafts carrying nuclear weapons are absolutely barred from Philippine territory.

US envoy blasts Poe handling of SAF probe

From the Daily Tribune (Feb 4): US envoy blasts Poe handling of SAF probe

Sensitive matters exposed -- Goldberg

Saying that it can’t happen in the United States, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg criticized the manner by which the Senate probe, under Sen. Grace Poe’s committee on public order, was conducted that resulted in “sensitive matters” which exposed the government to “people who should like to know that information.”

In the reopening of the Senate probe on the Mamasapano debacle, information volunteered included the apparent lack of coordination between the police and the military and the deep involvement of not only US military forces but also “civilian types” whom the sacked head of the Special Action Force (SAF) surmised were members of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The revelations made as a result of the arguments between the former SAF commander Getulio Napeñas and top Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) generals elicited a warning from Sen. Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan that sensitive information about military operations was being exposed in the hearing.

Goldberg said “sensitive matters should be discussed in closed session.

“We have a process of doing that in the US,” Gorldberg said in a forum yesterday.

“We discuss these in secure areas of the US,” he added.

“Mamasapano was a tragedy, the objective of removing an international terrorist was accomplished and then the tragedy occurred when brave men were killed while they were withdrawing,” Goldberg said.

Operation Plan Exodus launched in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, in January 25 last year succeeded in killing Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan but resulted in the death of 44 SAF commandos.

The incident had a direct bearing on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that sought to create a Bangsamoro substate which was contained in a peace agreement under the government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Goldberg refused to comment on the failure of the bill to pass saying that “the BBL is a domestic issue and not one for me to comment on.”

He, nonetheless, said it is important to continue pushing the peace process and even praised the MILF for its pledge to pursue the peace process.

Blame game continues

The fingerpointing which started in the Mamasapano debacle had also spread to the demise of the BBL as the chief government negotiator and Senate President Franklin Drilon has pinpointed Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.,  chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government, and who is in charge of the bill’s deliberation, as culprits for the failure of the bill to pass in the Senate although he earlier conceded that the bill should have emanated from the House, which failed to pass a similar proposal.

Government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferrer also blamed “sheer indifference and chronic absenteeism of majority of the legislators” for the death of the BBL.

Coronel said the indifference of legislators manifested in the lack of quorum almost on a daily basis in the House of Representatives, and the prolonged and repetitive interpellation of oppositors ate up the remaining sessions.

“In the Senate, the intermittent absence of the bill sponsor (Marcos) and the remaining interpellator (Enrile) stalled the deliberation. Moreover, a belated change in procedure was entertained. Only last December 2015, the Senate practically conceded that the Bangsamoro bill is of local application and therefore the upper chamber should have just waited for the House version to be remanded to it,” she said.

Coronel said in all, 40 public hearings and 14 plenary deliberations conducted by the House ad hoc committee chaired by Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, and 15 public hearings and 14 sessions of plenary interpellations led by local governments committee chairman Marcos “amounted to nothing, along with the millions of pesos of taxpayers’ money used up to finance these drawn-out proceedings.”

“The reality is that Senator Enrile had a thick file of questions to ask Senator Marcos, the (elections) campaign caught up with him, Senator Marcos became busy and could not attend all the sessions and Senator Enrile – because he was not there during the committee hearings – had so many questions,” Drilon said in a television interview.

He also blamed the focus of legislators on the elections in May which he said changed the political environment.

“And then the political environment, given that we are nearing elections, did not add to an environment conducive for the passage of the law. But the fact that the Bangsamoro Basic Law was not passed does not mean the end for the peace process. I would urge whoever is elected President – and I think it makes a lot of sense for him or her – to pursue this peace process and bring it to its conclusion,” he said.

He said that the bill can be refiled in the next Congress which will have an easier task on deliberations since “all the experts opinion, all the testimonies of the resource persons, need not be taken again, it can incorporated in the present law.”

Drilon said appropriations for the Bangsamoro autonomous region under the 2016 budget will revert to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which it sought to replace.

“The ARMM budget is there, and the contingency was that if we pass the BBL, the budget of the ARMM will be moved to the new structure. In fact it is not just the budget.  Do not forget, there is an election in May, and the local officials will be elected on the basis of the old law, so you would still have the governor for the ARMM, etc. Life will continue, and the peace process will continue,” Drilon said.

Aquino, whose six-year term ends in June, had lobbied hard for the passage of the bill, which would have granted the nation’s Muslim minority an autonomous homeland.

However he was unable to muster enough support in the lower house of Congress to even secure a vote by yesterday, the final day of Congress before it adjourns ahead of national elections in May.
Failure to pass the bill means it can not be passed under Aquino, who is limited by the Constitution to a single term, with no certainty over whether his successor will even pursue a peace deal.

Asked if the failure to pass the bill could spark violence, chief government peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer told Agence France Presse: “That’s the danger, that’s why we are taking steps, calling for sobriety.”

The nation’s largest Muslim rebel group, the 10,000-strong MILF, signed a peace accord with Aquino’s government in 2014 to end its struggle for independence, which began in the 1970s.

Under the accord, the rebels would have only given up their arms after the law was passed creating the autonomous homeland and a regional government was elected. The vote was meant to take place alongside the May general election.

After the collapse in 2008 of the last attempt to seal a peace deal with the MILF, hardline rebels raided Christian farming villages, triggering fighting that left more than 400 people dead and 600,000 displaced.

Chief MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said Wednesday the rebel leadership was working hard to avoid a repeat, and vowed to continue working for peace with Aquino’s successor.

He told ABS-CBN television there could be a feeling of “repression” within the MILF ranks, but the leadership was countering with “massive engagement.”

“We just explain to them that here lies the problem in the peace process. We will never cease engaging in the peace process,” he told ABS-CBN television.

Most political analysts say Aquino lost lawmakers’ support for the autonomy bill after a police raid in MILF territory last year killed a Malaysian bomb maker on the United States’ list of most-wanted “terrorists”.

However the raid led to a day of intense fighting with the MILF and other rebels that left 44 police commandos dead.

MILF trains eye on Congress

The MILF is blaming Congress but absolved Aquino for the “death” of its proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

The MILF particularly questioned the leadership in the House of Representatives for the non-passage of the BBL, agreed upon by the government and MILF peace panels.

“Why did the leadership in the House allow the enemies of the BBL to filibuster its passage?” asked the MILF.

The BBL was considered “dead” as the current Congress failed to pass the bill into law.

“The Bangsamoro Basic Law has fallen on the wayside. Congress has snuffed its life, citing various, if not shallow, reasons. Lack of time is merely an alibi,” the MILF stated in an editorial.

On the other hand, the MILF remains trusting Aquino.

“If the BBL did not pass Congress, we don’t see any role of President Benigno Aquino in it,” the MILF said.

“It is not to his interest that the legacy of peace through the BBL will not be realized. In fact, he pushed for it vigorously through to the end,” it added.

The MILF, however, noted that BBL was not the first agreement between Moro groups and the government that was not implemented. It cited the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 Final Peace Agreement –both between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) in 2008 between the MILF and the Arroyo government.

“Is this coincidental or part of the pattern, say, a conspiracy? We will never know the true answer but just the same, the BBL was not enacted into law,” the MILF said.

The MILF acknowledged that the January 25, 2015 launching of Operation Plan (Oplan) “Exodus” by the police’s elite Special Action Force (SAF) contributed to the “hatred, biases and prejudices” against the Moros that somewhat affected the fate of BBL.

“Nobody wanted the incident to happen, especially the MILF, but it happened. This is the reason the MILF, without distinction, expressed deep sympathy and condolence to all those who have fallen in Mamasapano,” the MILF said.

Military girds for breakout of hostilities in Mindanao

From the Business Mirror (Feb 3): Military girds for breakout of hostilities in Mindanao

THE military is beefing up security efforts in Mindanao owing to the nonpassage of the Bangsamoro basic law (BBL) that was promised by President Aquino to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the elections in May.

National issues with underlying security implications, such as the “dead” BBL that gives the MILF greater powers in the south; the presidential elections that would come in three months; and even the continuing problem of terrorism in Mindanao, have forced the military to readjust its security posture.

On Tuesday Defense Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin visited the headquarters of the Armed Forces Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom)based in Davao City, where he was given a rundown of the threat situation within the command’s operational areas, as well as the security plans and responses of the commanders on the ground to various threats.

“Secretary Gazmin’s visit is part of his field visits to the unified commands to personally meet military field commanders and units, and to assess the security situation in the area,” a statement from the Eastmincom said.

On Monday Gazmin was at the headquarters of the Army’s Fourth Infantry “Diamond” Division in Cagayan de Oro City, where he was, likewise, briefed with the prevailing security situation in Northern Mindanao, along with the military’s plans in dealing with emerging security scenarios.

Gazmin’s presence in the area of Eastmincom was marked by the detonation of a homemade bomb in Sultan Kudarat, which injured three persons, and it happened just as the Liberal Party (LP) vice presidential candidate, LP Rep. Leni Robredo of Camarines Sur, left the province.

The homemade bomb, whose warhead was made of nails and cut 8-millimeter steel bars with AA size batteries and an alarm clock as detonator.

On Wednesday an unexploded homemade bomb was recovered in the province.

In both visits, Gazmin told military commanders to hasten and strengthen their security measures in response to the upcoming elections and other national concerns, including the existence and operations of threat groups.

A senior military official said the defense chief’s visit to Mindanao was called by the urgency of the Armed Forces’s taking up plans against possible scenarios that may occur as a result of the Congress’s failure to pass the BBL.

“We have to take into account all possible scenarios,” a senior military official who requested anonymity said, even pointing to the bombing on Tuesday and the discovery of another bomb.

The nonpassage of the BBL has put security forces, particularly in Central Mindanao, on a defensive mode, although the MILF has assured it would no longer revisit its bloody past of waging a conflict in pursuit of a greater autonomy for the Moros.

Misuari calls for 2nd MNLF assembly in Sulu

From ABS-CBN (Feb 3): Misuari calls for 2nd MNLF assembly in Sulu

Nur Misuari, the founding chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front, is calling for another assembly of his followers in Zamboanga Peninsula, Central Mindanao and Basulta (Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-tawi) area on February 7 in one of the main MNLF camps in Sulu.

Habib Mudjahab Hashim, chairman of the Islamic Command Council of the MNLF, said the assembly will be an avenue for MNLF leaders to discuss and inform their members about the results of the tripartite review meeting between the government of the Philippines, MNLF and Organization of Islamic Cooperation held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia last January 25 to 26.

Hashim said the MNLF leaders need to explain to members the four important consensus of the meeting, which will be implemented with the strict monitoring of the OIC.

Hashim said among the consensus signed during the 5th and final tripartite review is the establishment of a Bangsamoro Development Assistance Fund that will be used to initiate socio-economic and development projects in MNLF communities.

The government of the Philippines will allocate P100 million while the OIC will also donate an additional P100 million to jumpstart the projects needed in MNLF communities.

Hashim said the money allocated to implement these projects should be strictly monitored by tripartite implementation monitoring committee which will be organized consistent to the terms of reference agreed by both parties during the tripartite review process.

The MNLF and GPH also agreed to the co-management of strategic minerals and participation of the MNLF to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, which will be set up in the creation of a new autonomous region, referring to the proposed Bangsamoro government.

But Hashim said the transition government should be managed solely by the MNLF as stipulated in the 1996 peace agreement signed by the MNLF and GPH.

He said their proposal to create another autonomous government for MNLF was never considered and discussed during the tripartite review meeting.

"In negotiations, it is a game of give and take. This is better than nothing," Hashim added.

Thousands of MNLF members are expected to attend the second assembly in Sulu called by their top leader.

The commander of Task Force Zamboanga, Colonel Jubymax Uy, said they have alerted all their personnel to strictly monitor the movements of the MNLF in Zamboanga City, as they are expected to pass through the city going to Sulu province.

Uy said they will have to escort the MNLF members from the boundary of Zamboanga City in the east coast to the local port just to assure the public that no other activity will be conducted by the group in the city.

Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar reiterated her order to the local police and military to make sure those MNLF members entering Zamboanga City with firearms and bladed weapons will be arrested.

Climaco said she will also not allow any assembly of the MNLF to be held in Zamboanga City as this will create panic among residents who are still traumatized from the 2013 Zamboanga siege.

Climaco also denounced the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process for allegedly failing to establish a protocol of coordination with the MNLF and other rebel groups, in relation to their movements and activities which might create security concerns among local government units in Mindanao.

She said OPAPP should be abolished by the government if they cannot execute well their responsibilities as a government agency.

She also questions law enforcement agencies of not exerting effort to arrest Misuari who has been hiding in Sulu. Misuari has standing arrest warrants for a rebellion case and violation of international law in connection to the 2013 Zamboanga siege.