Friday, February 12, 2016

Clash claims life

From the Mindanao Times (Feb 12): Clash claims life

Another alleged NPA rebel killed in ComVal encounter

A REPORTED member of the New People’s Army was killed after an encounter with soldiers in two separate incidents in Compostela Valley at 10 a.m. on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, government troops were able to recover two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) at the encounter sites.
Capt. Rhyan Batchar, spokesperson of 10th Infantry Division, said patrolling soldiers of 67th Infantry Battalion chanced upon around 30 NPAs belonging to Guerilla Front 25 of the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee in Tabon–tabon, Sitio Putingbato, Barangay Ngan at 10 a.m.
A firefight ensued which lasted for about 20 minutes. The rebels reportedly withdrew, leaving behind their unidentified comrade.
Prior to the encounter, troops under the 46th Infantry Battalion were already engaged in a firefight against the NPAs under alias Raden at Sitio Panganason in Barangay Napnapan in Pantukan at 9:55 a.m.
Troops belonging to the 46th and 67th Infantry Battalions are now conducting pursuit operations.
The 10th Infantry Division has already  intensified its security operations in Davao Region resulting to a series of armed clashes against the NPAs, particularly in Pantukan where one NPA was killed.
Allegedly, another 14-year-old boy was rescued and an M16 rifle recovered by soldiers on Tuesday.
Maj. Gen Rafael Valencia, commander of 10th ID, lauded the bravery of soldiers and reiterated his appeal to the communist guerillas to surrender.
“Our use of legitimate force against the NPAs shall continue until the NPA abandons violence and pave the way for peace and development in Compostela Valley province,” Valencia said.

Soldiers, local officials give slippers to pupils

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 13): Soldiers, local officials give slippers to pupils

Almost  200 children in barangay Can-eo, Bontoc, Mountain Province  received a pair of slippers in a gift giving activity  by soldiers of  the 5th Infantry Battalion (Magilas) based in this town and municipal officials of Bontoc.

These beneficiaries consist of some out-of-school youths and pupils of the Can-eo Elementary School (CES) headed by Cesar Wagiyen.

Wagiyen expressed his gratitude to the soldiers saying these gifts will surely bring smile to the faces of the students. “Ad-adu kuma pay ti maparagsakyo, iti daytoy nga ub-ubraenyo,” he added.

Vice Mayor Peter Puma-at challenged the pupils to excel in their studies for a brighter tomorrow . This  activity he hopes  would inspire the pupils  to study hard and dream more for their future.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Colonel Nicolas Quemado, Jr. acknowledged the collaborative participation of the different partners like the local government officials and police personnel of Bontoc and other individuals.

“This simple activity where we joined together will bring more meaning to the pupils. They don’t just have their slippers, but they also have a team who will look into their welfare.” Quemado said.

The early valentines gift giving is an initiative of the 54IB to at least provide simple tokens to the pupils who needed them most. Each Magilas soldier voluntarily sponsored a pair of slippers every month and distributed to  randomly selected schools.

The said activity was also witnessed by 2Lt Keith Gabriel B Paquibot, Platoon Leader of Charlie Coy, 54IB, Sangguniang Bayan members Herman Farnican and Esteban Ngoddo, police personnel headed by P/Inspector Faith Ayan Igualdo, Barangay Captain John Hewan and teachers of CES.

The 54th IB explained that the event was first organized in August 2015 and reached out to more than 1,800 students from ten schools its area of responsibility.

Peace parties agree to renew Joint Action Group mandate until March 2017

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 13): Peace parties agree to renew Joint Action Group mandate until March 2017

The Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) agreed to renew the mandate of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group until 31 March 2017 to ensure the longstanding ceasefire between both parties.

“This mechanism has proven time and again its importance in isolating and interdicting criminal syndicates/kidnap-for-ransom groups and terrorist groups operating in Mindanao,” GPH and MILF said in a joint statement issued Thursday.

Presidential Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma meanwhile said that the renewal of the joint action group “fortifies the peace infrastructure as these bodies (GPH and MILF) have been instrumental in bringing about salutary results in peace-keeping as well as in sustained campaigns against criminal and terror elements.”

Coloma said the continuation of other normalization programs on transitional justice and reconciliation, camps transformation and provision of socio-economic packages serve to strengthen confidence on the sustainability of the Bangsamoro peace process.

The GPH and MILF Peace Panels concluded a two-day Special Meeting on Thursday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia wherein they expressed disappointment over the non-passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law and reaffirmed their commitment to the peace process.

More Army, PNP troops sent to beef up Isabela policemen

From the Visayan Daily Star (Feb 13): More Army, PNP troops sent to beef up Isabela policemen

Soldiers of the 11th Infantry Battalion and troopers of the Negros Occidental PNP Public Safety Company beefed up the local police of Isabela, after the recent ransacking of the house of a barangay captain in a hinterland barangay.

Col. Francisco Delfin, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, and Senior Supt. William Señoron, officer-in-charge of the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office, however, said there is nothing to be alarmed about, as the Philippine Army and National Police are on top of the situation.

Alleged New People's Army rebels ransacked the house of barangay chairman Aurelio Tolero in Brgy. Mansablay, Isabela, Thursday night, and took a .45 caliber pistol and a homemade shotgun.

Another group of armed men, who claimed to be NPA rebels and serving as a blocking force, also intercepted and disarmed Jail Officer 1 Christopher Venus of his 9mm service pistol, an Isabela police report showed.

Fortunately, Tolero was not at his residence, when it was raided by the alleged NPA rebels, although he admitted that his family members were traumatized by the incident.
Delfin said 11IB troopers are pursuing the armed group.

Initial reports said that about 60 alleged rebels participated in the ransacking incident, including those who had disarmed the BJMP personnel.

Delfin and Señoron, however, said they are still confirming if indeed, the armed group are NPA members. Both expressed doubts that the NPA could muster such number, without being detected, as Army soldiers are patrolling the hinterlands.

Señoron raised the possibility that somebody may have been creating a scenario, for personal interest but did not elaborate.

Sharing the police assessment, Delfin also said there could be an attempt to mislead authorities.

Isabela Mayor Enrique Montilla III issued an appeal for sobriety among Isabeleños, as he believes that the Army and police are on top of the situation.

Tolero said he believes the armed men were after him.

He also does not believe that the suspects are NPA rebels as he has not done any wrong to them.

Tolero said they are entertaining the possibility of seeking refuge at the town poblacion.

Tolero and San Agustin barangay chairman Agapito Euroba, who claimed that his house was also ransacked by alleged NPA rebels on Jan. 23, are supporters of Montilla.

Batangas town council bet slain

From Tempo (Feb 13): Batangas town council bet slain

STO. TOMAS, Batangas – A candidate for municipal councilor was shot dead yesterday morning by a motorcycle-riding gunman in front of his house at Valle Pio subdivision, Barangay San Pablo, this town.

Superintendent Noel Sanchez, Sto. Tomas police chief, said the victim, Domasino “Caloy” Mabilangan, Jr., 51, who was running under the ticket of Mayor Edna Sanchez, died on the spot from bullet wounds.

Police said the victim was a brother of former New People’s Army’s Banahaw Command leader Leopoldo “Ka Hector” Mabilangan, who was gunned down by his former comrades in 1994.

Based on initial investigation, the victim was doing his regular jogging at about 6:30 a.m. when the gunman shot him several times in front of his residence.

The suspect fled on board a motorcycle as the victim slumped dead on the pavement.
Police probers are looking into a land property dispute and politics as among the motives behind killing.

The victim reportedly received death threats when he was the president of a farmer’s association years ago.

The Philippines: Is the Peace Process in Muslim Mindanao Collapsing?

From Stratfor (Feb 11): The Philippines: Is the Peace Process in Muslim Mindanao Collapsing?

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front's chairman attends a firearms decommissioning ceremony in the Philippines' Sultan Kudarat province in June 2015. (MARK NAVALES/AFP/Getty Images)


  • The failure of the Philippine Congress to approve a core part of a recent peace deal with rebels in the southern Philippines will complicate the fragile settlement and risk at least a short-term surge in violence.
  • The need to devote security resources to combat other internal threats and to reorient its defense posture to external threats — namely those posed by China — will prevent Manila from abandoning the peace process altogether, regardless of who wins the presidency in May. 
  • Evolving dynamics within the various militant camps will also continue to open opportunities for a long-term resolution.


Peace has long eluded the predominantly Muslim areas of the southern Philippines. For centuries, an ever-shifting mix of rebel groups have waged violence, leaving more than 150,000 people dead in the past four decades alone. The government's efforts to stabilize the archipelagic region took another hit last week. With an eye on the elections in May, the 16th Congress of the Philippines adjourned without approving the Bangsamoro Basic Law, a core aspect of a comprehensive peace agreement signed in 2014 with the strongest remaining insurgent group and the one most capable of governing the region, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). This effectively killed any chance of passage while President Benigno Aquino III, a main driver of the peace process, is in office. Whether the next government will revive the legislation when it takes power in July is unclear. Aquino's chosen successor, Mar Roxas, is trailing in the polls, and none of the other candidates have demonstrated much intent to spend political capital on the proposed law in its current form.

Violence spiked in 2008 after the Philippine Supreme Court ruled an earlier version of the law unconstitutional, displacing an estimated 600,000 people in Mindanao. So does the collapse in momentum herald a similar surge in fighting?

Near-Term Uncertainty

As in much of Southeast Asia, an array of ethnicities, clans and religions sharing a fractured geography has historically complicated stability in the Philippines. In the isolated southern region of Muslim Mindanao, a former sultanate with strong geopolitical ties to Malaysian Borneo and parts of Indonesia, local communities have long taken up arms to resist subjugation by the distant central government or foreign occupiers. In the modern era, Manila has sought to slowly whittle the southern insurgency by signing accords with parts of groups, turning factions against one another, and isolating the fractured components. This strategy has divided and weakened the separatist movement, but the splintered environment has been less than conducive to a comprehensive settlement. As a result, violence has persisted despite agreements such as a landmark 1996 accord granting control over a semi-autonomous region to the MILF's parent organization and now rival, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

The 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro is Manila's most ambitious attempt at a lasting resolution. At its core is the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which would create a MILF-led administrative region to be known as Bangsamoro, covering the southwest of Mindanao and nearby islands. In addition to a largely independent parliament, police force and civil judiciary, the proposed law would grant the region a greater share of resource and tax revenues.

The Aquino administration submitted the draft law to Congress in September 2014, but it immediately ran into opposition from Philippine nationalists and drew Supreme Court concerns about its constitutionality — as well as resistance from holdout separatists in Mindanao. Deliberations were suspended altogether in January 2015 when 44 police commandos were killed during a counterterrorism operation in the ostensibly MILF-controlled municipality of Mamasapano. Government and MILF leaders scrambled to keep the deliberations on track and were helped by the killing of Abdul Basit Usman, a notorious bombmaker with links to multiple jihadist groups in Southeast Asia, for which the MILF claimed credit. But even this was not enough to overcome political resistance in Manila.

In the near term, the failure to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law will heighten the risk of violence in the region as various groups recalculate and seek leverage amid the uncertainty. The delay will halt efforts to disarm MILF fighters — an already tenuous process (fewer than 100 weapons have reportedly been turned over so far). It will also help holdout groups recruit in Muslim Mindanao, tapping into widespread skepticism about Manila's sincerity. The congressional adjournment sparked protests by Bangsamoro youths in the southern city of Marawi. Attacks by the Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a radical MILF splinter group that formed after the 2008 Supreme Court decision, have picked up in recent weeks. (In fact, a high-ranking BIFF commander was captured earlier this week.)

MILF leaders warn that if they cannot demonstrate the tangible benefits of the peace process, they will lose the ability to prevent disaffected younger generations from taking up arms and challenging the MILF's nascent authority in the region. Indeed, the botched Mamasapano raid highlighted the difficulty the group will have controlling its own fighters or policing the area. The incident also illustrated the overlap in membership between the MILF and the BIFF.

The delay may also mean a missed opportunity to take advantage of a shift in the MNLF, the MILF's separatist rivals. The MNLF has long opposed the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which would effectively replace the 1996 administrative structure that favors the secularist group. In 2013, while the law was being finalized in Malaysia, MNLF fighters attacked Zamboanga City to demonstrate their opposition. But the group has appeared increasingly divided and territorially isolated. And over the summer, an MNLF faction began calling for the law's passage, seeing cooperation with the MILF as its best chance to gain a share of regional power and material wealth unlocked by the law. Nonetheless, the MNLF's core welcomed the failure to approve the draft law and is still apparently allied with jihadist group Abu Sayyaf and the BIFF. Stalled progress on Bangsamoro may weaken the factions more willing to cooperate in favor of those that sense an opportunity to undermine their Moro rivals.

Long-Term Imperatives for Peace

But the peace process in Mindanao has always been, at best, about incremental gains, and it will continue to lurch forward in fits and starts despite the latest setback. Though lawmakers are demanding changes to the Bangsamoro Basic Law — the sort that would threaten its prospects in an eventual referendum in the new region — there have been few calls for a withdrawal from the broader peace deal altogether. After the Congress adjourned, the MILF pledged to remain committed to the peace deal, and the group resumed dialogue with the Manila's negotiators on Feb. 10 in Kuala Lumpur. These symbolic gestures reflect, in part, the longer-term dynamics that will continue to generate momentum for a solution.

Foremost among Manila’s imperatives is the need to free up resources to deal with other security threats, both internal and external. Over the longer term, the Philippines needs to reorient its security posture from internal stabilization to external defense. Even though the country consists of more than 7,000 islands and some 36,000 kilometers (22,000 miles) of coastline — and despite the weight of Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea — security spending in the country is still focused on domestic threats. In 2015, for example, the army received three times the funding of the navy.

But the army's attention will continue to be pulled in multiple directions, reducing its ability to reorient toward external defense until it can deal with threats at home. A lasting peace settlement with the MILF would free the Philippine military to focus its divide-and-conquer tactics elsewhere. Most concerning to Manila is the persistence of the 4,000-strong New People's Army, a Maoist group that operates with much greater range than the Moro groups and often targets business interests, earning it greater attention from stakeholders in the capital. The government also wants to deny recruiting grounds or space to operate to local militants aligned with or inspired by the Islamic State, a fear Bangsamoro Basic Law advocates on both sides have voiced repeatedly in recent months. As in Indonesia, this is a real but often overstated threat, but the military is nonetheless keen to focus on surgical operations against more virulent jihadists.

Powerful economic incentives to stabilize the region remain as well. Central to Manila's argument for the Bangsamoro law has been Mindanao's wealth of untapped mineral resources, namely gold, copper, nickel, manganese, lead, zinc and iron ore deposits, plus oil and natural gas potential. Violence in Mindanao has been linked explicitly to difficulties attracting the foreign investment needed to exploit these resources. In addition to its benefits to the broader Philippine economy, the Bangsamoro law would provide a framework through which to dole out patronage to woo the support of local warlords and political oligarchs and isolate the holdouts.

For its part, the MILF cannot afford to miss its best chance at reaping the fruits of its decades-long fight. Since dropping its demand for full independence in 2003, the group has transformed itself into a primarily political organization. Its moderate leadership is aging, and its militant capabilities have eroded somewhat. At this point, withdrawing from the peace agreement would threaten an opportunity for the MILF to solidify local support for its fragile authority by delivering greater autonomy to the region. This is why the group has remained engaged and continues to make concessions despite seeing Manila repeatedly renege on agreements. And it will return to the negotiating table if the next administration in Manila opts to redraft the Bangsamoro law. Over the past two years, it has become increasingly evident that MILF leaders lack the leverage to walk away — or the will to return to a full-fledged armed struggle.

Commentary: No man is a (Jolo) island

Commentary in the One Man's Meat column by Philip Golingai in The Star Online (Feb 13): No man is a (Jolo) island

Malaysian soldiers firing at Sulu gunmen at Tanduo village in Lahad Datu.

Malaysian soldiers firing at Sulu gunmen at Tanduo village in Lahad Datu.

THREE events that played out on three consecutive days last week in Kota Kinabalu and 558km across the Sulu Sea on Jolo island might have treacherous consequences for Malaysia’s future.

On Feb 5, the Kota Kinabalu High Court ordered a son of the late Esmail Kiram, a self-styled Sulu Sultan, and 15 Filipinos to enter their defence for various offences related to the 2013 intrusion of Lahad Datu.

The next day, Phugdalun Kiram II was installed in Jolo island as the 35th “sultan” of Sulu and North Borneo.

And on Sunday in Jolo island, the Moro National Liberation Front, in a leadership assembly, declared a son of its founder Nur Misuari as the No. 2 man in the armed organisation.

Days before the High Court made its ruling on whether 27 Filipinos and three Malaysians charged with waging war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong will have to enter their defence, some Sabahans were in a state of near panic.

Armoured Personnel Carriers and helicopters were seen at and above the Filipino Market in Kota Kinabalu, sparking rumours that the security forces were on the alert for another Sulu invasion. (The market along the city’s waterfront was built in the 1970s for the refugees fleeing southern Philippines during the MNLF war against Manila in the 1970s.)

Apart from the usual WhatsApp rumours, there was a voice message by a “concerned” woman to her family members about a potential reprisal by people linked to the Sulu intruders.

Here’s a sample of a WhatsApp rumour: “Folks ... I heard some disturbing news. The Tanduo intruders will be produced at the High Court tomorrow and they will be sentenced to death.

“Their relatives n supporters have threatened to create ‘ISIS’ havoc ... any truth? Safer to avoid KK town tomorrow?”

My reply to that viral message was: “1) Trial is in Kepayan prison (near Kota Kinabalu). 2) Decision tomorrow is whether to call them to enter their defence. No sentencing. Factually wrong. But people are frightening their loved ones by sharing that fake message.”

But some Sabahans were still not convinced. They were still frightened of their bogeyman (the pendatang or illegal immigrants living or coming to Sabah who were the musuh dalam selimut or sleeping with the enemy).

The Tanduo intrusion and cross border kidnappings on the east coast of Sabah justified their worst nightmare – that their Sulu neighbours posed a security threat.

Intelligence officers told me that the rumour of a retaliation was intensified with chatter that Alinapiah @ Datu Piah, the brother of Sultan Phugdalun, was in Sabah to seek revenge for his nephew Datu Amirbahar Hushin Kiram.

Amirbahar is facing the death penalty for waging war against the King during the Tanduo intrusion to claim Sabah by force.

In February 2013, Phugdalun’s brother (the late) Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram led some 200 gunmen of the Royal Sulu Army in the occupation of Kg Tanduo in Lahad Datu.

Some 60 people, including nine Malaysian security personnel, were killed in the operations against the gunmen, some of whom were MNLF soldiers.

After 240 days of trial, the High Court ordered Amirbahar to enter his defence for several offences.

Amirbahar is the son of the self-styled Sultan Esmail Kiram who died in September last year.

The day after the trial, Phugdalun Kiram was installed as Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo to replace Sultan Esmail Kiram. (North Borneo was the name of Sabah before it formed Malaysia in 1963.)

On that Saturday, photographs emerging from Jolo island showed that Alinapiah had attended the spiritual installation of his brother.

Intelligence assessment reveals that Phugdalun is more “peace-loving” than his brother.

Sultan Phugdalun, who is among the many claiming to be the legitimate Sultan of Sulu, is seeking a peaceful resolution to his family’s claim over Sabah.

If there were any armed attempts, it would come from Alinapiah.

Some intelligence officers do not want to make the same mistake they made assessing the capability of this particular Kiram lineage to wage war against Sabah.

Some thought they did not have the resources to do so until they landed on the shore of Tanduo.

The following day, MNLF founding chairman Misuari met 2,000 of his followers on Jolo island.

His 30-something son Uto Karim Misuari was declared vice chairman of the MNLF central committee, making him the number two man. Intelligence officers are keeping tabs on Uto Karim, trying to determine his position on Sabah.

After Putrajaya handed Misuari to Manila after he fled to Sabah in 2001 following a failed rebellion in southern Philippines, Misuari has had his eye on Sabah.

In the minds of intelligence officers is: will Misuari, who Malaysia supported in the MNLF war against Manila in the 1970s, take revenge on Putrajaya for “betraying” him in 2001?

To get an idea, I contacted Catholic priest Eliseo Mercado who attended the MNLF leadership assembly.

The Institute for Autonomy and Governance director is a personal friend of Misuari.

“Is Misuari still relevant? Is the MNLF still relevant?” I asked the peace advocate via email.

“No peace deal in (southern Philippines) is ever possible and sustainable without Nur Misuari and the MNLF,” he said.

“The MNLF is ever alive and a strong force on the ground notwithstanding the split among some leaders and forces like Mus Sema (Muslimin G. Sema who chairs his own MNLF group). But no doubt Nur Misuari’s MNLF is the strongest, largest and formidable force on the ground.”

The MNLF under Misuari, according to Mercado, will continue – as always – to discuss North Borneo since the MNLF is a stakeholder in the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo.

“North Borneo is an integral part of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo. Nur and the MNLF are stakeholders and ‘heirs’ to the Sultanate,” he said.

“Is Misuari still angry with Malaysia for turning him over to Manila in 2001?” I asked.

“That perfidy is remembered and NOT forgotten ...,” he said.

Sabah and Jolo are interlinked. Sometimes a ripple in the notorious island can be felt in Sabah. At times it is bloody.

'Don't cast aside Manila-MILF peace pact'

From The Star Online (Feb 12): 'Don't cast aside Manila-MILF peace pact'

President Benigno Aquino's successor risks war with disparate armed groups in the restive southern island of Mindanao if the peace pact Manila signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is cast aside, the government's peace negotiators have warned.  

Such a conflict could help Islamist extremist groups get fresh recruits and turn Mindanao into a more fertile militant training ground, and also allow militants to mount more attacks across South-East Asia, they said.  

After the terror attacks in Central Jakarta last month, media reports said the attackers received some support from militants operating in Mindanao.  

The Philippine Congress ended its term last Friday, and the country went into the election cycle for the May 9 polls to pick a new president and elect candidates for thousands of other political posts.  

But lawmakers failed to approve the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law - the cornerstone of a deal Manila and the MILF signed in 2014 - aimed at ending a decades-long secessionist war in Mindanao, in which more than 120,000 died.  

The government's chief peace negotiator, Miriam Ferrer, said: "There's no incentive for the next administration to go to war. But the idea of saying you will not any more continue with the peace process is conducive to that kind of an outcome."  

The MILF has said it will continue working with the government to keep the peace, but also sounded out on discontent from the ground.

MILF spokesman Mohagher Iqbal said there has been "widespread frustration" among its fighters and civilian supporters.  

He added that a growing sentiment within the MILF is that "the government is resorting again to delaying tactics, and just managing the conflict in Mindanao".  

Tempers are already on a hair trigger. On Wednesday, an MILF unit clashed with government forces pursuing militants from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway MILF faction that has pledged allegiance to the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  

Teresita Deles, President Aquino's chief adviser on the peace process, said the MILF had staked its reputation on the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. Without the deal, she said, the MILF could break into "hundreds of smaller armed bands".

Ferrer said: "Some people think that if the MILF disintegrates, they can still get a handle on the situation, which is completely the opposite (of what would happen). That's why you have this problem with Al-Qaeda and ISIS, because you don't have a handle on the situation."  

BIFF is seeking "full independence" for Muslim-held areas in Mindanao, rather than just autonomy. Last week, it ambushed government troops trying to defuse a bomb strapped to a bridge project in Maguindanao province.  

Another group taking advantage of the stalled peace process is the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).  

Its ageing ideologue leader Nur Misuari, 76, a former university professor, was reported to have met some 2,000 followers on Sunday to plot the group's resurgence.  

The MNLF, once the largest fighting force in Mindanao, has now been decimated by defections, but it still commands enough fighters to create instability, as it did when its forces laid siege to a major port city in Mindanao in 2013.  

Both BIFF and MNLF are said to have formed unwieldy ties with the Abu Sayyaf militant group that, along with other extremist elements in Indonesia and Malaysia, reportedly plans to form an ISIS province in South-East Asia.  

Ferrer said governments in the region would be leaning on Aquino's successor to honour the government's peace deal with the MILF. "They don't want the problem in their own backyard. If it's already there, they don't want it getting worse or spreading," she said. - The Straits Times/ ANN

UN chief alarmed over Islamic State sympathy in Southeast Asia, Philippines

From the Philippine Star (Feb 12): UN chief alarmed over Islamic State sympathy in Southeast Asia, Philippines

In this Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016 photo, Iraqi security forces clear central Ramadi of Islamic State fighters, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq. AP Photo

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon warned security officials of member nations of the gravity of threat and expansion of the so-called Islamic State (IS) in many parts of the world, including Southeast Asia.

In a report to the UN Security Council, Ban said the IS has rapidly stretched its sphere of influence in just 18 months across West and North Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia.

"The complexity of the recent attacks and the level of planning, coordination and sophistication involved raise concerns about its future evolution," Ban said in the report delivered on January 26 and released this week.

He noted other terrorist groups in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, including Ansar al-Khalifah in the Philippines, have sworn allegiance to the IS.

The United Nations Security Council holds a debate on the working methods of its sanctions committees on Feb. 11, 2016. UN photo/Manuel Elias

"[The groups] are sufficiently attracted by [the IS's] underlying ideology to pledge allegiance to its so-called caliphate and self-proclaimed caliph," Ban said, referring to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

"It is able to adapt quickly to the changing environment and to persuade or inspire like-minded terrorist groups in various regions of the world to facilitate and commit acts of terrorism," he added.

Southeast Asian politics expert Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in Washington, said the effective propaganda of the IS is a main reason why the group is a matter of concern in the region.

"ISIS propaganda is very slick, well-produced, and on message to the target demographic, creating a sense of triumph. It is designed for mobile platforms, ubiquitous in the region," Abuza said in a commentary published by the think tank Center for Strategic and International Studied.

"It is tailored for recruitment in Southeast Asia," Abuza added.

Abuza said said IS ideology has influenced Mindanao-based terror organization Abu Sayyaf, which has released two IS-inspired videos.

As early as 2013, the security community has been watching the spread of IS influence in the country, notably through what seemed to be a Black Flag Movement in southern Philippines.

READ: ISIS popularity growing in Philippines

In April last year, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario bared before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations reports of IS threat , while the United States admitted it is closely monitoring reported threats in the Philippines.

Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri said the military has launched efforts to contain homegrown extremist groups sympathetic to the IS.

Soldier kills alleged jihadist in Sulu

From The Standard (Feb 3): Soldier kills alleged jihadist in Sulu

A suspected Islamic jihadist was shot and killed by an Army officer after the former attacked and wounded the latter while patrolling the vicinity of their camp before dawn Friday in Barangay Bunhanginan, Patikul, Sulu.

Joint Task Group Sulu commander Brigadier General Alan Arrojado said the body of the jihadist had been turned over to the police for identification and proper disposition.

He said Master Sergeant Esmeraldo Manugay, although he only suffered minor hack wounds on his head and back, was rushed to the hospital for medical treatment.

“It was Manugay himself who shot and killed the jihadist,” Arrojado said.

Manugay of the 10th Infantry Battalion, was doing his rounds at 5:15 a.m. in the periphery of their headquarters when the jihadist attacked him from behind.

“The jihadist hacked the duty officer and tried to grab his firearm. They scuffled and when Manubay had the chance he shot the suspect in the head who died on the spot,” Arrojado said.

The gunshot woke up the entire headquarters and the battalion commander immediately sent two companies of soldiers to conduct route security to make sure no more enemies lurking in and outside the headquarters’ vicinity.

The island province of Sulu, like Basilan, is the lair the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group. According to the military, there at least more or less 200 ASG fully armed members who were subjects of intensified operations by nearly division-size government troopers.

Troops kill Muslim man who attacked sentinel in Sulu province

From the Mindanao Examiner (Feb 12): Troops kill Muslim man who attacked sentinel in Sulu province

Government soldiers killed a Muslim man who attacked and wounded a sentinel on a military post on Friday in southern Philippines, officials said.

Officials said the man, who was armed with a bolo, attacked the soldier in the village of Buhanginan in Sulu’s Patikul town. Other soldiers guarding the post shot and killed the man.

The motive of the attack was unknown, but villagers have decried human rights violations by the military in Sulu, one of 5 provinces under the restive Muslim autonomous region.

Just last week, troops – on orders from the Western Mindanao Command – stopped a boat owned by Governor Toto Tan’s family in the middle of the sea and inspected its cargo of soft drinks. Tan was also on the boat when soldiers intercepted the vessel.

It was not the first time the military harassed Tan. Just this week, soldiers under the Western Mindanao Command also boarded the same boat while it was anchored at the Port of Zamboanga just this week. Heavily-armed troops inspected its cargo of soft drinks, but did not inspect other boats at the pier.

The incidents were also reported by Doctor Raden Ikbala, of the Sulu Provincial Hospital, and he called on the public to condemn the military harassment. “We can think of only one reason why the military would harass our honorable Governor: it is being paid millions and millions of pesos by those who oppose the governor and his family,” Ikbala said.

“Last Tuesday, the Governor was aboard their family-owned Coca-Cola boat bound from Zamboanga to Jolo when suddenly the military conducted a surprise inspection. That was okay with the Governor, but the other boats docked at Zamboanga wharf were not inspected. The Coke ferry was singled out,” he said.

“Last Sunday, the patrol boat radioed the same boat and instructed the captain to stop at the sea fronting Tanduh (in Sulu) while the Governor was aboard. Governor Toto Tan immediately called General (Alan) Arojado (commander of military forces in Sulu), who reasoned out that they thought the Coca-Cola boat was a Jungkung (wooden boat) carrying illegal cargoes. What? That boat is humongous and Jungkung is microscopic when compared to the Coca-Cola boat,” Ikbala added.

Past military commanders in Sulu had reportedly interfered with local politics to protect their own interests and favored politicians, especially during the time of President Gloria Arroyo. The military also – in many occasions – allegedly facilitated or assisted in the payment of ransoms to Abu Sayyaf for the safe release of mostly foreign and wealthy kidnapped victims.

DSWD-12 honors partners of successful Kalahi-CIDSS program implementation

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 12): DSWD-12 honors partners of successful Kalahi-CIDSS program implementation

For supporting government programs that helped improve communities in Region 12, the regional office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD-12) has recognized individuals and agencies, a DSWD-12 official Friday said.

Gemma N. Rivera, DSWD-12 assistant regional director, said the recognition was the agency's way of recognizing selfless contribution of individuals and agencies in the successful implementation of the agency’s flagship poverty-reduction programs, Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan - Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS).

Rivera, in a statement, said the "BayanIKA! Awards" was aimed at recognizing the exemplary efforts of community volunteers and local government unit (LGU) partners in ensuring not only the completion of their identified sub-projects, but also in actively supporting citizen participation in local governance and poverty-alleviation initiatives.

Rivera identified the awardees as Marcelo Gusanan, a B’laan volunteer from Barangay Eday, Columbio, Sultan Kudarat, who hailed as Best Community Volunteer.

She said Gusanan was recognized for his leadership in the transformation of Barangay Eday, a 100 percent Indigenous Peoples’ community, from being known as one of the hardest to reach and less privileged village to now one of the progressive places in town by harnessing “people’s power” for peace and development.

Honored as Best Barangay Local Chief Executive was Jeric Santillana, the barangay captain of Tambilil, Kiamba, Sarangani Province. Santilla was recognized for his passion and commitment to serve beyond the usual call of duty.

He is known as among the new breed of young good leaders in Saranggani who practice and promote honesty, integrity, courage and lead with conscience.

Diosdado Pallasigue, the last termer municipal mayor of Isulan, Sultan Kudarat, was recognized as Best Municipal Chief Executive.

For embodying the “Mahusay at Matino” concepts in the implementation of various programs and projects, especially of Kalahi-CIDSS, DSWD-12 hailed Pallasigue.

"Pallasigue’s kind of governance has translated valuable gains to the various sectors of town, especially the poor and less privileged individuals," Rivera said.

DSWD also gave advocacy awards to individuals and partners organizations in popularizing Kalahi-CIDSS in the region.

Region 12 is composed of the provinces of North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato and Saranggani and the cities of Kidapawan, Cotabato, Tacurong, Koronadal and Gen. Santos.

Other awardees include Notre Dame Broadcasting Corporation (NDBC) as Best Media Partner; Philippine Information Agency (PIA) Region-12 as Most Supportive Government Agency; the Municipal Local Social Welfare Office (MLSWO) of Columbio as "Best BayanIKa! Partner."

Angelita Albarina of Maasim, Sarangani was recognized as Gender Champion for her contribution in advocating women equality by providing opportunities for women in taking active roles in community activities through Kalahi-CIDSS.

Under the Kalahi-CIDSS program, citizens are empowered and and tightened their links with their LGUs so that they can work together to ensure progress in their respective village.

Rivera said through this strategy, people are given the power and the resources so they can address their issues that affect or worsen their poverty situation.

DSWD-12 is among the leading regional offices that successfully implemented Kalahi-CIDSS.

Police, military neutralize 'criminal gang', seize cache of firearms in Negros Oriental

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 12): Police, military neutralize 'criminal gang', seize cache of firearms in Negros Oriental

Law enforcement authorities have neutralized an alleged criminal gang in southern Negros Oriental, tagged as “Haring Bakal”, and confiscated a cache of firearms following the arrest of its alleged leader and two members.

Two other suspected gang members were not around when the search warrants were served at a hinterland barangay in Sta. Catalina, Negros Oriental.

Seized Thursday during a joint police and military operation led by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) in Negros Oriental were three homemade 12-gauge shotguns, a cal. 38 homemade revolver, and several rounds of ammunition of different calibers.

Joint elements of the local CIDG headed by Chief Insp. Julius Tuban Garcia, with support from the 79thInfantry Batallion, the Provincial Public Safety Company (PPSC) and the Sta. Catalina police station, served three search warrants in the hinterland barangay of Talalak in Sta. Catalina on Thursday.

The suspected members of the alleged criminal gang were said to be residing in the sub-villages (sitios) of Lo-as, Ondol and Tamlang, several kilometers apart from each other in Barangay Talalak.

It took the operatives more than ten hours to walk on foot to reach the residence of Franco Delicano, 59 years old, married, in Sitio Ondol, who is the alleged leader of the group.

Afterwards, the law enforcers proceeded to Lo-as to serve the search warrant for Edwin dela Cruz, 49 years old, married, and who has a pending warrant of arrest for attempted murder issued by Regional Trial Court Branch 36 Judge Ananson Jayme in Bayawan City, and another search warrant for Herman Cadayday.

Delicano, Dela Cruz and Cadayday were all taken into custody by the law enforcers.

However, the fourth search warrant for Maning Oblemo and Nelson Oblemo was also served but the subjects were not around.

Recovered from the residence of Delicano was one homemade shotgun with magazine, 18 pieces live ammunition of 12 gauge shotgun, one Cal. 38 revolver with four live ammunition and 16 pieces live ammunition for cal. 45 pistol. When asked where he placed the Cal. 45 gun, Delicano said it was damaged when test fired.

One homemade shotgun, with one live ammunition, was confiscated from Cadayday. He was accused by his own sister, Lilia, of attempted murder and the suspect in the shooting to death of his nephew Jo-onn Laurente in August of 2014.

The suspects will be charged with violating provisions of RA 10591 otherwise known as the Comprehensive Firearm/Ammunition Regulation Act and Commission on Elections (Comelec) Resolution No. 10015, otherwise known as the Comelec gun ban.

CIDG Negros Oriental officer-in-charge Chief Insp. Garcia said Delicano was a subject of Oplan Paglalansag Omega Salikop.

Dela Cruz, meanwhile, was a subject of Oplan Pagtugis as among the top ten wanted persons in their area of jurisdiction and all of them was part of the One Time Big Time operation of CIDG.

In an interview, Delicano vehemently denied they were members of Haring Bakal group or a private armed group, stressing that he is just an ordinary farmer in the area.

He claimed the shotgun is for self-defense and was not used to kill anybody but wild pigs locally known as “bakatin” in their area.

Delicano, however, disclosed his brother was a member of the rebel New People’s Army.

Cadayday on the other hand said they bear arms due to unabated theft of animals and cattle rustling in their barangay and also for self defense.

He is a former member of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB).

Garcia said the group has been under surveillance for their alleged involvement in robbery-hold up incidents in the area and for suspicion they belong to a gun-for-hire group that can be utilized as goons in the forthcoming elections.

Military, police foil attempt to bomb Maguindanao founding anniversary festival

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 12): Military, police foil attempt to bomb Maguindanao founding anniversary festival

Police and military authorities here Friday foiled an attempt by what it described as saboteurs to disrupt the joyful celebration of Maguindanao foundation anniversary.

The powerful bomb was safely defused by Army bomb experts, according to Army Lt. Colonel Ricky Bunayog.

Bunayog, 33rd Infantry Battalion commander, said the powerful improvised bomb was made of 81 mm mortar with an alarm clock as trigger mechanism. It was placed inside a black backpack and left in front of the provincial risk reduction and management office in Poblacion Buluan.

Civilians noticed the black backpack left close to the disaster office at about 8 a.m. They quickly alerted the Buluan Police Office and soldiers of the 33rd IB providing security during the "Sagayan Festival" (celebration of successes and blessings of Maguindanaons).

Bunayog said soldiers immediately cordoned off the area while waiting for Army bomb experts.

The IED was safely disrupted and defused.

No one has claimed responsibility but Bunayog said the bomb has the signature of lawless Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who are the subject of military law enforcement operation in nearby Datu Salibo town, about 30 kilometers west of Buluan town.

Bunayog told reporters he believed the attempt was meant to disrupt the 5th Sagayan Festival in celebration of Maguindanao’s foundation anniversary.

Several festive activities have been on going in the capitol grounds when the IED was discovered.

Bunayog lauded the civilians who found the IED and for quickly informing authorities.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Toto Mangudadatu condemned the attempt and called on everyone to stay on alert.

He also appealed to the bombers to do away with the un-Islamic practice and instead join the celebration peacefully.

GPH, MILF renew ceasefire mechanism until 2017

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 12): GPH, MILF renew ceasefire mechanism until 2017

The Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels agreed on Thursday to renew the mandate of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) to implement security mechanisms in conflict-affected areas of Mindanao.

During a two-day special meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, both parties agreed to extend the mandate of the ceasefire mechanism until March 31, 2017.

According to a joint statement, both GPH and MILF see its valuable contribution “in isolating and interdicting criminal syndicates/kidnap-for-ransom groups and terrorist groups operating in Mindanao.”

The statement added that it is part of their efforts to “preserve the gains of more than 17 years of negotiations” and a means to advance the Bangsamoro peace process in light of the 16th Congress failure to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

The AHJAG is a cooperative mechanism established in May 2002, through a joint communiqué between the GPH and MILF‎ and formally organized in 2005.

Its mandate is to coordinate, monitor and disseminate information between and among the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) for the Government, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) for the MILF, to effect the apprehension and arrest of the identified selected criminal elements within the "MILF areas/communities."

Both parties also recognized the International Monitoring Team (IMT) for the effective monitoring of the implementation of cessation of hostilities between the GPH and MILF forces.

In view of the significant input of the IMT in building confidence and supporting the maintenance of the ceasefire mechanisms, the parties agreed to renew the mandate of the IMT for another year until March 2017.

The IMT also monitors the humanitarian, rehabilitation, development, and socioeconomic assistance aspects of the signed agreements, the observance of international humanitarian laws and respect for human rights, as well as the verification and reporting on basic undertaking of the GPH and MILF to protect civilians and civilian communities.

No plans for joint maritime patrol with India: US

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 12): No plans for joint maritime patrol with India: US

The US and India have a shared vision of peace, stability and prosperity in Asia, a top American official has said but dismissed reports that the two countries were planning a joint maritime patrol in the Indian Ocean or South China Sea.

"At this time, I can say there is no plans for any joint naval patrols," State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner told reporters at his daily news conference yesterday.

"The US and India do have a shared vision of peace, stability and prosperity in Asia. We are committed to work together with others in the region to achieve our shared goals in an open, balanced and inclusive security structure," he said.

Toner was responding to a question on news reports that India and the US were considering joint naval patrol.

According to the State Department official, no such decision has been taken either in the Indian Ocean or South China Sea.

When asked, "No plans for naval patrol on South China Sea or anywhere?," Toner replied in the negative.

"Even in the Indian Ocean, there is no plan," Toner was asked again, to which he said "No".

Recently, there were some media reports which said that India and the US have held talks on conducting joint naval patrols in areas including the South China Sea where Beijing has maritime and territorial disputes with several neighbours.

The US wants its regional allies to adopt a more united stance against China over the South China Sea, where tension has spiked since China's construction of seven islands in the Spratly archipelago.

China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, resulting in overlapping claims with several other Asian nations like Vietnam and the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

They accuse China of illegally reclaiming land in contested areas to create artificial islands with facilities that could potentially be for military use.

Joint agreement between PHL-MILF show shared commitment on peace process, says Palace official

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 12): Joint agreement between PHL-MILF show shared commitment on peace process, says Palace official

Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. on Friday said the recent signing of a joint agreement by the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia shows that both parties are committed to achieving lasting peace in Mindanao.

"The joint agreement signed by the Government of the Philippines and the MILF reflects the shared commitment of both parties to the attainment of the Bangsamoro’s aspirations on long-term peace and progress," Coloma said in a statement.

The Palace official noted that the renewal of the mandates of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group and the International Monitoring Team until March 31, 2017 “fortifies the peace infrastructure as these bodies have been instrumental in bringing about salutary results in peace-keeping, as well as in sustained campaigns against criminal and terror elements".

He further said that the continuation of other normalization programs on transitional justice and reconciliation, camps transformation and provision of socio-economic packages serve to strengthen confidence on the sustainability of the peace process.

"Finally, both parties will persevere in continuing efforts to create awareness and build consensus so that the next steps -- including the enactment of a basic law and the setting up of a new governance framework -- may be vigorously pursued and fully implemented in the near future," Coloma said.

In their joint statement issued on Thursday, the government and the MILF expressed their disappointment over the non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law but reaffirmed their commitment to the peace process and “to preserve the gains of more than 17 years of negotiations and the implementation of the CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro), believing that it continues to provide a viable roadmap and comprehensive approach towards resolving armed conflict in Mindanao”.

According to their statement, both sides agreed that the “means forward is the early passage of this legislation in the next Administration and Congress, which is a requirement for implementation of significant aspects of the CAB including the decommissioning of MILF weapons and combatants”, and towards this end, both parties “shall exert further efforts to promote understanding and greater acceptability of the proposed basic law”.

Palace hails joint agreement between PHL, MILF

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 12): Palace hails joint agreement between PHL, MILF

Malacanang on Friday hailed the joint agreement signed between the Philippine government peace panel (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Kuala Lumpur.

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the joint agreement reflects the shared commitment of both parties to the attainment of the Bangsamoro’s aspirations on long term peace and progress.

Coloma said the renewal of the mandates of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group and the International Monitoring Team until March 31, 2017 “fortifies the peace infrastructure as these bodies have been instrumental in bringing about salutary results in peace-keeping as well as in sustained campaigns against criminal and terror elements.”

”The continuation of other normalization programs on transitional justice and reconciliation, camps transformation and provision of socio-economic packages serve to strengthen confidence on the sustainability of the peace process,” he added.

The Palace official said both the GPH and the MILF will persevere in continuing efforts to create awareness and build consensus so that the next steps --- including the enactment of a basic law and the setting up of a new governance framework --- may be vigorously pursued and fully implemented in the near future.

The Kuala Lumpur meeting was held after Congress failed to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which is a codification of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed between the government and the MILF in March 2014.