Monday, February 15, 2016

Gunmen kidnap fishing boat crew in south Philippines

The Journal of Turkish Weekly (Feb 15): Gunmen kidnap fishing boat crew in south Philippines

Unidentified gunmen have abducted a fishing boat operator and two crewmembers in the Philippines’ troubled south, according to police Monday.

Chief Inspector Rogelio Alabata, Police Regional Office 9 spokesperson, said in a statement that the vessel had been commandeered while fishing in the seas between the Zamboanga peninsula and the island province of Basilan -- a known stronghold of an al-Qaeda-linked militant group.

The regional police office based in Zamboanga, a predominantly Christian city from where the boat departed Sunday, said the wife of the skipper, Ronnie Lantikse Bancale, reported having received a phone call from her husband.

Marilou Mangudlay, 39, told the police station in Pitogo town, in nearby Zamboanga del Sur province, that her husband said the kidnappers had initially demanded P50,000 ($1,055) in exchange for their safe passage before deciding on a P1,000,000 ransom.

Police suspect the gunmen belong to a small group, and are trying to verify whether they have links to the Abu Sayyaf or organized kidnap-for-ransom gangs in the country’s south.

Kidnap-for-ransom gangs frequently operate in the Zamboanga Peninsula and the island provinces of Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi.

They use isolated sea-lanes and coastal areas to grab their victims, who are then held captive in isolated villages in the peninsula.

The kidnappers are known to hand over their captives to the Abu Sayyaf and negotiate for a ransom that, if paid, is shared with the group.

The Abu Sayyaf is still holding several captives, including two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina kidnapped from a resort in September for whose release it has demanded a ransom of more than $60 million.

Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortions in a self-determined fight for an independent Islamic province in the Philippines.

It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.

IS releases video of Malaysian militant minutes after he was shot in PH

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 16): IS releases video of Malaysian militant minutes after he was shot in PH

Gunned down: A screen grab of Abu Anas (Mohd Najib Hussein) in his final moments. THE STAR ONLINE/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Gunned down: A screen grab of Abu Anas (Mohd Najib Hussein) in his final moments. THE STAR ONLINE/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
PETALING JAYA — Islamic State has released a video capturing the final moments of a Malaysian bookshop owner turned bomb maker in southern Philippines.

The video, lasting seven minutes and 40 seconds, confirmed reports that Mohd Najib Hussein was killed on Dec. 16 last year.

He was reportedly among 13 Abu Sayyaf gunmen killed in a clash with the Philippine military on Basilan island.

READ: Malaysian bomb maker believed killed in Basilan

The 37-year-old electrical engineering graduate, who ran his bookshop at Universiti Malaya, was known as Abu Anas al Muhajir (Anas the immigrant).

In southern Philippines, he was identified as one of the emirs of the Khalifah black flag group linked to the Abu Sayyaf.

The video, released by Islamic State’s (IS) Russian speaking media channel Al Furat Media, tries to portray him as a martyr.

It opens with a group of South-East Asian militants carrying the IS flag in a forested area and reciting a pledge of loyalty to the terror group.

A narrator describes the scene in Arabic: “Abu Anas al Muhajir, one of the truthful youths of Indonesia, was befallen by harm.”

The term “Indonesian youth” used is understood to also refer to Mohd Najib.

The narrator explains that Mohd Najib traveled to the Philippines where he founded a militant group, which was among the first to swear allegiance to IS.

The video then cuts to a young man on his knees being beheaded by gunmen wearing ski masks.

“Just as Abu Anas was merciful to the believers, he was severe with the disbelievers. And when he saw that uniting the brigades and groups in the Philippines had become an obligation, he strived to bring together the oaths of the Mujahideen, and uniting them under the obedience of one Amir (leader),” the narrator says.

The caption, “Brother Abu Anas al Muhajir, Amir of the Ansar al Shariah Brigade” then appears below a mugshot of Mohd Najib.

The camera pans back to the group before changing to a battle scene recorded by what is believed to be a mobile phone.

In the video, three armed men are seen wearing vests or camouflage fatigues, and gunshots can be heard in the background.

The scene is believed to show the shootout between the militants and the Philippine military in the jungles of southern Philippines.

“Before they decided to raise the call to duty, some hypocrites informed the taghut (apostate tyrants) and led them to the Mujaideen strongholds,” the narrator says.
He adds that Mohd Najib was killed, but the militants succeeded in “killing tens of enemies, destroying war machines and helicopters.”

In another scene, a wounded Mohd Najib is seen being carried by his companions.
The camera zooms in on his face and another man is seen touching his face with a bloodied hand while saying a prayer.

According to an intelligence source, Mohd Najib, a father of five, died a few hours later, from a gunshot wound.

He was a key figure in the IS Black Flag cell led by Universiti Malaya professor Dr. Mahmud Ahmad alias Abu Handzalah, who has been hiding out with the Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines.

Known as Dr. Mahmud’s right hand man, Mohd Najib was believed to have been running a “IED SME” (Improvised Explosive Device, Small Medium Enterprise) factory in the Philippines and had been using the Abu Sayyaf hideouts in Basilan and Jolo as bases for IS operatives in South-East Asia.

Mohd Najib fled Malaysia with Dr. Mahmud, 36, and several other IS terror suspects in July 2014.

It was learnt that Mohd Najib had performed the Bai’ah (oath of allegiance) to support IS, with other Abu Sayyaf members.

READ: ISIS officially recognizes oath of allegiance from PH militant groups

The authorities also believe that he was responsible for arranging safe passages for four Malaysian militants to Syria to join IS.

Dr. Mahmud was not with the group at the time of the shootout.

General, 3 other officers ordered arrested

From The Standard (Feb 16): General, 3 other officers ordered arrested

THE Sandiganbayan has ordered the arrest of a former Marine commandant and three other military officers for  allegedly pocketing P36.77 million in clothing and equipment allowance of soldiers in 1999.

In a resolution, the anti-graft court’s Third Division rejected the respective motions of judicial determination of probable cause of the accused—Maj. Gen. Renato Miranda, Lt. Col. Jeson Batbat, Major Adelo Jandayan and Capt. Felicisimo Millado—and issued arrest warrants on them.

The decision was penned by Associate Justice Sarah Jane Fernandez and concurred by Presiding Justice and Third Division chairperson Amparo Cabotaje-Tang and Associate Justice Samuel Martires.

“In fact, accused Miranda and Jandayan need not file a motion for judicial determination of probable cause, it being a mere superfluity,” it read.

Miranda and company are facing charges of malversation through falsification.
In April 2015, the Office of the Ombudsman indicted the five former officers of the Philippine Marines for their alleged involvement in anomalous transactions of P36,768,028.95 worth of allowances.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said the respondents violated Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) for anomalous utilization of the combat clothing allowance and individual equipment allowance for the benefit of Philippine Marine Corps enlisted personnel.

Miranda was sacked in 2006 for his alleged  links to a coup plot.

Meanwhile, the Sandiganbayan’s Fourth Division also ordered the arrest of former executive director Cyrus Paul Valenzuela of the Optical Media Board for failure to show up in court during the first day of trial of graft charges against him and former OMB chairman Ronnie Ricketts.

The court said Valenzuela was only allowed to post a P30,000 bail on a condition that he attended trial hearings.

Valenzuela and not even his lawyer appeared, prompting the anti-graft court to forfeit his cash bond and issue a bench warrant of arrest.

The trial was cancelled over Valenzuela’s absence.

Ricketts, Valenzuela and several OMB officials and employees were charged with graft raps for the unlawful release of the seized pirated DVDs and VCDs to Sky High Marketing Corp. in May 2010.

Alert level up

From the Mindanao Times (Feb 16): Alert level up

Police, army secure city after bombing incidents in other areas

AUTHORITIES raised to red the alert status of the city following the series of blasts and the recovery of improvised explosive devices in neighboring areas last week.
In an interview yesterday, Chief Insp. Milgrace C. Driz, spokesperson of Davao City Police Office, said all their units, along with other security forces, were already instructed to be extra vigilant in their respective areas of responsibility.
“We are conducting checkpoints, and they were told to intensify the monitoring especially on the IEDs as well as their components,” she said.
The police also encouraged the public to be on the lookout for suspicious belongings or persons, and immediately contact the authorities.
“For now, we haven’t monitored any terrorist group that already entered the city,” she said. “But our monitoring on the boundaries is still being intensified following the bombing incidents in nearby areas.
Driz said the red alert status will remain until they receive another assessment of the threat.
In a separate interview, Col. Cristobal Zaragosa, commander of Task Force Davao, also said that they already intensified the conduct of checkpoints on the exit and entry points of the city.
The report was based on the  explosion along Jose Abad Santos St. in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat at 2 p.m. last Feb. 2.
Meanwhile, unexploded explosives were also recovered at vicinity of Park Yellow Bell just few meters away from the public terminal.
On Feb. 10, an explosion also happened at Police Station 1 of Cotabato City Police Office along Don Roman Street in Barangay Poblacion 6 at 8:30 p.m.
There was also one unexploded improvised explosive device recovered at the same area.
Authorities also discovered an improvised bomb in front of PDRRMC Office at Barangay Poblacion, Buluan in Maguindanao.
The Intelligence Division of the Eastern Mindanao Command also monitored an alleged  bomb test mission from the terror group under Salahuddin Hassan, a member of Al Khobar, in the area of Bukidnon, Cagayan de Oro City, Cotabato and Davao City.
The Al Khobar group is responsible for multiple bombing and extortion incidents involving buses.

Police, soldiers clash with communist rebels in Cagayan

From Rappler (Feb 16): Police, soldiers clash with communist rebels in Cagayan

The rebels allegedly burned heavy equipment being used for projects of the National Irrigation Administration   

This is a developing story.

CAGAYAN, Philippines – A clash broke out between government forces and communist rebels in this province on Tuesday, February 16.

Police Chief Inspector Chevalier Iringan said that policemen and soldiers are battling New People's Army members who allegedly burned heavy equipment for National Irrigation Administration (NIA) projects in the towns of Baggao and Gattaran.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Iringan told Rappler that there are no reports of casualties so far.

He said that they are having difficulty communicating with police in the area because it is mountainous and has signal reception problems.

"Our troops from the Regional Public Safety Battalion are there now, following reports that rebels burned heavy equipment on February 14. Let's pray that there will be no casualty," Iringan said in a mix of Filipino and English.

"Sana ang matamaan ay yung mga namemerwisyo ng kabuhayan at ng mga programa na makakatulong sa ating mamamayan," he added.

(We are hoping that those who are destroying livelihoods and programs for the people will be the ones hit.)

Efren Sorita, a resident of Baggao, said the firefight could be heard even from a distance.

Equipment burned include a backhoe, bulldozer, and trucks owned by Bruce Tan Company, a contractor of the NIA.

BIFF attacks Army bases in Maguindanao, North Cotabato

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 16): BIFF attacks Army bases in Maguindanao, North Cotabato

Outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on Monday harassed two military stations in Maguindanao and North Cotabato in an attempt to divert Army’s campaign against them following attacks on government dredging project in Maguindanao, the Army here said Tuesday.

Capt. Joann Petinglay, spokesperson of the military’s 6th Infantry “Kampilan” Division based here, said two groups of BIFF rebels separately attacked the detachment of 2nd Mechanized Battalion in Barangay Tee, Datu Salibo, Maguindanao and military advance command post in Barangay Tinibtiban, Pikit, North Cotabato.

"They fired rifle grenades from a distance because they cannot fight face to face with our more powerful forces," Petinglay said. She said no casualty was reported on the government side.

The Army spokesperson could not say if the Army retaliatory attacks resulted to casualties on the bandits' side.

She said the bandits have resorted to “hit and run” attacks against government forces, way different from what its propagandist have been proclaiming they will face the military head on.

"We are expanding our perimeter defense on a dredging project in Datu Salibo that will benefit no other but residents of the Moro communities, including the BIFF," Petinglay said of the dredging project in Barangay Butalo which aims to prevent floods when rainy season comes.

About two weeks ago, the BIFF harassed the government project contractor claiming it did not address the right of way claim of lot owners where the project was constructed.

But Petinglay said the contractor has already settled the claim even before the start of the multi-billion project.

"The BIFF is mulcting the firm because they have been losing resources in fighting the government forces implementing law enforcement operations in Maguindanao," she said.

Speaking for the outlawed group, Abu Misri Mama, said the attacks will continue. He denied the BIFF was engaged in extortion.

Petinglay vowed the Army will continue to protect the government project “because in the end the majority of Moro people will benefit from it.”

Meanwhile, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao-Humanitarian Emergency Action Response Team (ARMM-HEART) have distributed relief goods to some 2,500 families displaced by BIFF atrocities.

A soldier was killed while another was injured in the hostilities. The BIFF, Petinglay said, suffered more than 25 fatalities, citing reports from ground troops who based casualty figure of lawless group to civilian and local leaders.

PAF to acquire various spares for S-211 jet trainer

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 16): PAF to acquire various spares for S-211 jet trainer

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has set aside the sum of PHP24,601,862.11 for the acquisition of spares for the armament, communications, navigation, environment control, electrical and fuel systems of one of its SIAI-Marchetti S-211 jet trainers.

Maintenance of these systems are vital for the effective operation of the aircraft.

Pre-bid conference is scheduled on Feb. 22, 9:00 a.m. at the PAF Procurement Center Conference Room, Villamor Air Base, Pasay City.

Meanwhile, submission and opening of bids is on March 8, 9:00 a.m. at the same venue.

The S-211 is the basic jet trainer of the PAF. Around three to five S-211 units are still operational.

The PAF originally acquired 24 units during the early 90s as a backstop for its Northrop F-5"Tiger" fleet.

The aircraft can also be use for ground attack and patrol missions.

PA hosts first Steering Group Meeting with Royal Thai Army

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 16): PA hosts first Steering Group Meeting with Royal Thai Army

The Philippine Army (PA) played host to the first Steering Group Meeting with the Royal Thai Army at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City.

The meeting started Monday and will end on Wednesday, Army spokesperson Col. Benjamin Hao.

He said the first PA-Royal Thai Army Steering Group Meeting aims to strengthen and develop the friendly relations and cooperation between the military forces of the Philippines and Thailand and promote open discussion of subjects of mutual interest.

The Royal Thai Army delegation is headed by Major Gen. Chanavut Budkinnaree, Director for Office of Military Training and Education. He arrived in the Philippines on February 14.

The party was accorded with arrival honors during their courtesy call to PA chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo M. Año at the Army headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City Monday.

A command briefing was conducted shortly afterwards.

The delegates are also expected to finalize bilateral activities for next year, that may include exchange visits and training exchange opportunities.

International engagements is one of the Philippine Army's thrusts to push for the strengthened bilateral and multilateral relations with other member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other allied nations.

AFP asks politicians: Stay away from camps

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 16): AFP asks politicians: Stay away from camps

Military officials here have asked politicians and their supporters to respect their camps by avoiding campaign activities that may put the Armed Forces of the Philippines in a bind.

“We hope that they respect this by not putting the AFP in a position where we can be perceived as partisan,” said Maj. Angelo Guzman, spokesperson of the AFP’s Southern Luzon Command (Solcom).

Candidates know the military’s position during the election season, Guzman said. “And that is for the AFP to remain nonpartisan, protectors of our freedom, as sentinels for a free, honest and peaceful election.”

Solcom headquarters at Camp Nakar in Barangay Gulang-Gulang here is also home to the Quezon provincial police.

Guzman also urged soldiers and Solcom’s civilian employees to avoid wearing politically partisan shirts or vests, ballers, caps and other campaign trinkets in and out of military camps.

The duty of every AFP member “is to vote, guard the process, and secure the sanctity of the ballot,” he said.

“We have a big role to achieve this and they (candidates), too, have a big role. So we encourage that we all respect and work together to attain this vision,” he added.

Any candidate who enters their camp is treated as a visitor, said Brig. Gen. Erick Parayno, commander of the Army’s 201st Infantry Brigade based in Calauag town.

“The camp is open to all [people]. But they cannot conduct election campaign activities here,” he said by telephone.

Parayno said candidates visiting the camp would often ask for information on the security situation in their respective areas. “But we cannot provide them with security [aides] or bodyguards. We are not allowed to do that,” he said.

In an earlier interview, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, Solcom commander, said the military might provide security to candidates during the campaign period to prevent harassment from New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.

“Inform us of your election campaign plan and tell us where you are going ahead of time so Solcom can arrange security in the area,” Visaya said in a message to politicians.

NPA units operating in parts of Southern Tagalog and Bicol regions are major threats to the conduct of peaceful elections this year, he said. “But we’re also not discounting the capability of the private armed groups [to create trouble],” he said.

NPA claims Isabela raids,

From the Visayan Daily Star (Feb 16): NPA claims Isabela raids,
but denies link to politics

The Leonardo Panaligan Command of the New People's Army in central Negros claimed responsibility for the recent raids at the houses of two barangay captains in Isabela, Negros Occidental.

Ka Ann Jacinto, deputy spokesperson of the Leonardo Panaligan Command, however, said their action has nothing to do with politics.

Jacinto told Aksyon Radyo that they were only after the firearms of Tolero and his abusive barangay tanods.

The raid at the house of Tolero in Brgy. Mansablay, Isabela Thursday last week, yielded a homemade shotgun, while a .45 caliber pistol was taken from barangay tanod Jovit Posadas, and a 9mm pistol from a jail guard, Jacinto said.

She also confirmed the raid at the house of barangay chairman Agapito Euroba in Brgy. San Agustin, Isabela, last month.

Jacinto alleged that Tolero involved in indiscriminate firing at the Isabela public plaza, while Euroba faces accusations of corruption, allowing himself to be utilized by the Philippine Army, among others.

The separate operations of the revolutionary movement aims to ensure protection of the people, for them to be able choose freely their candidates during the election, she added.
It has nothing to do with politics, Jacinto said.
But she added that the revolutionary movement is ready to disarm private armed goons, who may enter their territories.

Col. Francisco Delfin, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, yesterday said that the NPA wants to project to candidates that they are still a force to reckon with, by targeting helpless barangay officials.

Delfin said they have ongoing security operations in the hinterlands of central Negros, to prevent the NPA remnants from conducting terroristic activities.

Jacinto refused to confirm or deny that about 60 to rebels involved in the raid at the house of Tolero. But the military and police brushed aside estimates of number of NPA rebels involved in the raid, given by witnesses.

The statement of Jacinto that politics has nothing to do with the raid at the house of Tolero, also bolstered assessment of the Philippine Army and National Police that it was mere speculations to link it to politics.

Jacinto also told Aksyon Radyo that they are prohibiting Euroba to return to his barangay, as she urged him to face and defend himself before the people's court.
Tolero said that has already settled the “firing incident” and has  apologized to the church authorities as well as to the people in the area.

If there are other  accusations against him, Tolero said, they should be filed in the proper court, where he can defend himself.

Tolero and Euroba are both supporters of re-electionist Isabela Mayor Enrique Montilla III.

Philippines-based jihadist groups pledge allegiance to the Islamic State

From the Long War Journal (Feb 14): Philippines-based jihadist groups pledge allegiance to the Islamic State (by Caleb Weiss)


Still from an Islamic State video featuring Abu Sayyaf Group leader Isnilon Hapilon (center) pledging allegiance to Baghdadi

The Islamic State has officially recognized pledges of allegiance from several jihadist groups based in the Philippines. The Islamic State has not yet made an official “wilayat,” or province, for the Philippines or the wider Southeast Asian region. At least one portion of the groups included are led by Isnilon Hapilon, a US-designated terrorist, who heads the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

The pledges, or bayat, were accepted in a video that was recently released by the Islamic State’s Al Furat Media – a largely Russian-language media outlet. The video shows that the Islamic State is officially recognizing that several groups have pledged allegiance to it and its leader. Additionally, other groups in the region, such as Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid and the Mujahidin Indonesian Timor, have also pledged. It is possible that the jihadist group will announce such a province in the future, especially after conducting a suicide assault in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. The recognition of the pledges could pave the way for such an announcement.

The video features Hapilon and two other group leaders recording their pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State. The other leaders include a figure named Abu Anas al Muhajir, who was identified as the emir (leader) of Katibat Ansar al Sharia, and Abu Harith al Filipini, a delegate sent by the leader of Katibat Marakah al Ansar. Additionally, brief combat footage was included in the video in which Abu Anas al Muhajir was shown to have been killed fighting.

The Katibat Ansar al Sharia, Katibat Marakah al Ansar, and at least a portion of ASG are not the only groups in the Philippines which have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Another group, identified as Ansar al Khilafah in the Philippines has also pledged allegiance to Baghdadi. Last August, the group first emerged by explicitly pledging allegiance to the Islamic State in a video released on YouTube. In April, the group released another video to threaten the Filipino government and American soldiers in the Philippines. According to the SITE Intelligence Group, a spokesman for Ansar al Khilafah threatened to “deploy suicide bombers” in the country and that the group would make the Philippines a “graveyard for American soldiers.”

In December 2015, fighters alleging to be part of the “Soldiers of the Caliphate in the Philippines” released a short video showing a training camp somewhere in the Philippines. It is unclear which group was shown in the video, but it was likely a combined group of fighters from the aforementioned groups above.

[See LWJ report, Islamic State supporters show training camp in the Philippines.]

According to the Southeast Asian news site Benar News, Ansar Khilafah in the Philippines is led by one Abu Sharifah and is based in South Cotabato and Sarangani provinces. Additionally, the news site reports that the leader of Katibat Marakah al Ansar is led by one Abu Ammar, who was not present in the video. It also reported that Abu Anas al Muhajir and several fighters shown in the video were from Malaysia, historical operating grounds for Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which is considered al Qaeda’s branch in the region.

Jeemah Islamiyah also operates in the Philippines, but has suffered defections to the Islamic State. Shortly after Baghdadi’s announcement of the caliphate in 2014,  Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader and co-founder of JI as well as the emir of its offshoot Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid, pledged allegiance to Baghdadi. However, Bashir’s two sons and several other leaders left and formed their own group, Jemaah Ansharusy Syariah. According to the Jakarta Post, more than 50 percent of Bashir’s followers abandoned him and joined Jemaah Ansharusy Syariah. According to its leader, it is directly part of al Qaeda’s global network now.

[See LWJ report, Islamic State launches suicide assault in Indonesia’s capital.]

Traditionally, ASG has had ties to al Qaeda. In June 2014, a master ASG bomb maker, who was thought to have been killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan, Pakistan, turned up in the Philippines before being killed last year. The operative, Abdul Basit Usman, was wanted by the US for his involvement in multiple bombings in the Philippines and also had ties to JI. ASG was funded and financed by Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, one of Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-laws, according to Khaddafy Janjalani, the leader of Abu Sayyaf, before he was killed in 2006. Khalifa, an al Qaeda financier and facilitator, was killed by US special operations forces in Madagascar in 2006.

It is unclear how many fighters from ASG followed Hapilon in pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. In hostage videos released last year by ASG, the group made no indication it was holding the hostages on behalf of the Islamic State nor were the videos distributed by official Islamic State channels or media outlets.

[Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.]

Islamic State recognises Filipino militant groups

From The Star Online (Feb 15): Islamic State recognises Filipino militant groups

PETALING JAYA: The Islamic State (IS) has officially recognised pledges of allegiance from several militant groups based in the Philippines although it has yet to declare an official wilayat, or a caliphate province for the Philippines or the wider South-East Asian region.  

One of the southern Philippines groups recognised is that of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, according to a report from the American-based the Long War Journal (LWJ).  

The pledges, or bayat, were accepted in a video that was recently released by the IS’ Al Furat Media - a largely Russian-language media outlet, the report said.  

The video shows that the IS is officially recognising that several groups have pledged allegiance to it and its leader.

Additionally, other groups in the region, such as Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid and the Mujahidin Indonesia Timor, have also pledged their allegiance.  

The report said it was possible that the militant group would announce such a province in the future, especially after the suicide attack in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. The recognition of the pledges could pave the way for such an announcement.  

The video features Hapilon and two other group leaders recording their pledge of allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.  
The other key leaders included 37-year-old Malaysian bomb maker Mohd Najib Husen alias Abu Anas al Muhajir, who was identified as the emir (leader) of Katibat Ansar al Sharia and Abu Harith al Filipini, a delegate sent by the leader of Katibat Marakah al Ansar.  
Included in the video was a brief combat footage and the last moments of Najib, who was killed in a fire fight with the Philippines military in Basilan on Dec 15 last year.  

Najib, who was an electrical engineering graduate of Universiti Malaya and a stationary shop owner married with five children, was the right hand man of IS terrorist Dr Mahmud Ahmad.  

Dr Mahmud, a 37-year-old former  Universiti Malaya lecturer fled with Najib and another Malaysian IS member Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimme, 39, to southern Philippines in April 2014 after a police crack down on militants.  

The Katibat Ansar al Sharia, Katibat Marakah al Ansar, and at least a portion of the Abu Sayyaf terror group are not the only groups in the Philippines which have pledged allegiance to the IS.  

Another group, identified as Ansar al Khilafah in the Philippines, has also pledged allegiance to Baghdadi. Last August, the group first emerged by explicitly pledging allegiance to the IS in a video released on YouTube.  

In April, the group released another video to threaten the Filipino government and American soldiers in the Philippines.  

According to the SITE Intelligence Group, a spokesman for Ansar al Khilafah threatened to deploy suicide bombers in the country and that the group would make the Philippines a “graveyard for American soldiers”.  

In December 2015, fighters alleging to be part of the “Soldiers of the Caliphate in the Philippines” released a short video showing a training camp somewhere in the Philippines.  

The LWJ report said it was unclear which group was shown in the video, but it was likely a combined group of the fighters.  

According to the South-East Asian news site Benar News, Ansar Khilafah in the Philippines is led by one Abu Sharifah and based in South Cotabato and Sarangani provinces.  

Additionally, the news site reports that the leader of Katibat Marakah al Ansar is led by one Abu Ammar, who was not present in the video.  

It also reported that Abu Anas al Muhajir and several fighters shown in the video were from Malaysia, historical operating grounds for Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which is considered al-Qaeda’s branch in the region.  

JI also operates in the Philippines, but has suffered defections to the IS.

Shortly after Baghdadi’s announcement of the caliphate in 2014, Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual leader and co-founder of JI as well as the emir of its offshoot Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid, pledged allegiance to Baghdadi.  

However, Bashir’s two sons and several other leaders left and formed their own group, Jemaah Ansharusy Syariah.  

According to Jakarta Post, more than 50% of Bashir’s followers abandoned him and joined Jemaah Ansharusy Syariah. According to its leader, it is directly part of al-Qaeda’s global network now.

Traditionally, the Abu Sayyaf terror group has had ties to al-Qaeda. In June 2014, a master Abu Sayyaf bomb maker, who was thought to have been killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan, Pakistan, turned up in the Philippines before being killed last year. 

The operative, Abdul Basit Usman was wanted by the US for his involvement in multiple bombings in the Philippines and also had ties to JI.
The Abu Sayyaf terror group was funded and financed by Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, one of Osama Laden’s brother-in-laws, according to Khaddafy Janjalani, the leader of Abu Sayyaf, before he was killed in 2006.  

Khalifa, an al-Qaeda financier and facilitator, was killed by US special operations forces in Madagascar in 2006.  

It is unclear how many fighters from Abu Sayyaf followed Hapilon in pledging allegiance to the IS.

In hostage videos released last year by Abu Sayyaf, the group made no indication it was holding the hostages on behalf of the IS nor were the videos distributed by official IS channels or media outlets.

Solons seek reform of the pension system in the uniformed service

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 14): Solons seek reform of the pension system in the uniformed service  

Five former police and military officials, now lawmakers, pushes for the overhaul of the entire benefit and pension system in the uniformed service to allow the government to fulfill its duties to the retirees.
According to Magdalo Party-list Reps. Francisco Ashley L. Acedillo and Gary C. Alejano, Reps. Samuel D. Pagdilao (Party-list, ACT-CIS), Leopoldo N. Bataoil (2nd District, Pangasinan) and Romeo M. Acop (2nd District, Antipolo City), their proposal will also provide a new fund-sourcing scheme for the uniformed retirees’ pension and benefits that is sustainable in the long term.
The lawmakers formalized their proposal through House Bill 6407, or the proposed “Unified Uniformed Personnel Retirement Benefits and Pension Reform Act of 2016,” which cites as its basis Section 7, Article XVI of the 1987 Constitution, mandating that “The State provide immediate and adequate care, benefits, and other forms of assistance to war veterans and veterans of military campaigns, their surviving spouses and orphans.”
“It is the responsibility of the State to ensure that the retirees continue to receive benefits commensurate to the service they have rendered and that they be allowed to live a comfortable life,” said Acedillo, a vice chairman of the House committee on globalization and World Trade Organization (WTO).
Acedillo further said that to be consistent with the government policy to help foster socio-economic security and general well-being of the country’s veterans in recognition of their bravery and loyalty to the country, the government through existing retirement laws, provides for the automatic adjustment of retirement pension based on the prevailing scale of base pay of similarly ranked active personnel.
Bataoil, a vice-chairman of the House Committee on Public Order and Safety, said existing laws also have a non-contributory nature which means that no “seed fund” was established and the budget for pension comes from the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA).
“Such policies led to the ballooning of pension costs. It is estimated that by year 2022, the total pension costs of the Armed Forces of the Philippines will eventually surpass the salaries paid to its active personnel. If this condition is allowed to persist, the government will eventually fail to provide adequate retirement pensions to the uniformed personnel,” said Bataoil.
House Bill 6407 provides the State recognizes the vital role of the uniformed services in providing internal and external security, promoting peace and order, ensuring public safety and further strengthening local government capability aimed towards the effective delivery of basic services to the citizenry.
The State also recognizes the extraordinary hazards, risks, perils and dangers the uniformed personnel of the uniformed services encounter in the performance of their duties.
It shall therefore be the prime concern of the State to provide all uniformed personnel adequate remuneration and benefits, including retirement benefits and pension. To this end, the State shall ensure the retirement benefits and pension scheme of the uniformed personnel is secure, reliable and sustainable.
The bill refers to uniformed service as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), and National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA).
The measure provides that new entrants and those in the active service of the uniformed service, upon their retirement, shall be entitled to receive a monthly retirement pay equivalent to two and one-half percent for each year of active service rendered, but not exceeding 90 percent of the monthly base and longevity pay of the grade next higher than the permanent grade last held.

Editorial: MILF or BIFF? Confusion marks new Maguindanao fighting

Editorial from Tempo (Feb 15): MILF or BIFF? Confusion marks new Maguindanao fighting

For six days starting Friday two weeks ago, troopers of the Philippine Army’s 61st Division Reconnaisance said they were engaged in a series of fierce fights in Maguindanao with armed men they believed to be Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). The fighting started in Datu Salibo town and moved on to Datu Saudi Ampatuan.

A military source was quoted as saying the armed men they believed to be BIFF turned out to be Moro Islamic Liberation Force (MILF). But an MILF spokesman, in a published report, blamed the soldiers for not coordinating with the MILF in their pursuit of the BIFF into an MILF area.

There seems to be an intelligence gap in the ongoing military operations. In Mindanao today, a peace agreement is supposed to be in force between the Philippine government and the MILF. The Army troopers were thus fighting BIFF men; they were simply surprised to find that in the course of the fighting, the enemy forces were now MILF.

Had the troopers pursuing the BIFF entered an area of the MILF who then proceeded to shoot back? Or, as one military source feared, was the enemy force really a composite of both groups?

This confusion recalls the Mamasapano battle of January, 2015, in which the Special Action Force commandos found themselves cornered by armed men, some of whom were MILF, some were BIFF, and still others were members of private armed groups.

Now that Congress has adjourned without approving the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which would have created a Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, there are fears of a resurgence of fighting in the area. The MILF has vowed to carry on its efforts for peace, but, as seen in the fighting last week in Datu Salibo and Datu Saudi Ampatuan, fighting goes on amid great confusion in the military as to who the enemy is.

There is an urgent need for new efforts to reach out to the MILF and perhaps draw up a new agreement, minus the provisions that caused senators to reject it. An effort should be made to reach out to the BIFF, perhaps with the help of the MILF, for the two groups seem to be operating quite well with each other.

US admiral warns against Chinese fighter flights from South China Sea runways

From GMA News (Feb 15): US admiral warns against Chinese fighter flights from South China Sea runways

Any move by China to fly jet fighters from runways on its new man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea would be establishing and would not deter US flights over the area, a senior US naval officer said on Monday.

Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the US Navy's Seventh Fleet, also urged Beijing to be more open over its intentions in the South China Sea, saying it would relieve "some of the angst we are now seeing".

"We are unsure where they are taking us," Aucoin said of China's recent moves during briefing with journalists in Singapore. "So we are going to sail, fly, operate throughout these we have been doing for so long," he said.

That, he added, included "flying over that airspace."

Chinese and regional security analysts expect Beijing to start using its new runways in the disputed Spratlys archipelago for military operations in the next few months.

It last month tested for the first time the 3,000-meter runway built on a reclamation on Fiery Cross Reef by landing several civilian airliners from Hainan island. (Link to previous stories)

Aucoin said he could not give an estimate when he expected Chinese military jets to start operating in the Spratlys. "It's a establishing uncertainty," he said when asked about the impact of possible Chinese jet fighter patrols. He said it would raise questions about the intentions.

China claims much of the South China Sea, while Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have rival claims.

International concern is growing over tensions in the waterway, which carries an estimated $5 trillion in trade every year, including oil used by northeast Asian nations.

Since last October, two US warships have sailed close to Chinese claimed features in the Spratly and Paracel archipelagoes in so-called freedom-of-navigation operations that Beijing has warned are provocative.

Chinese officials complained last December that a US B-52 bomber flew close to one of Beijing's artificial islands.

Other US surveillance and transport planes routinely fly throughout the South China Sea.

Chinese warships and civilian vessels routinely flank US naval ships in the area, but Aucoin said engagement between the two navies would continue, saying the relationship was "positive".

"(The) International Law of the Sea has helped (China) for so many years. We just want them to respect those rights so that we can all continue to prosper," he said.

China blasts US’ forging front vs Beijing sea actions

From the Daily Tribune (Feb 16): China blasts US’ forging front vs Beijing sea actions

China criticized Washington’s prioritizing the South China Sea issue at a special summit with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), with an editorial in China’s state media yesterday calling the move regrettable.

At the two-day Asean-US Leaders’ Summit, President Barack Obama and his counterparts will try to agree on how to deal with a myriad of competing maritime claims in the strategically vital South China Sea.

“Washington should bear in mind that China will never turn a blind eye to any attempt that challenges its indisputable sovereignty. Underestimation of China’s resolve to defend its core interests would be a fatal mistake,” Xinhua news agency noted.

It added “It is China’s unswerving stance that the disputes over the South China Sea should be settled through direct one-on-one negotiations and consultations between China and the countries concerned.”

The article maintained that Washington is not and will never be a spokesman for an independent organization like Asean on any issue.

“It is time for sober-minded Asean nations to distance themselves from US interference.”

According to Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, the US president will deliver a “tough message” to China, which he hinted is a troublemaker that bullies smaller neighbors over the South China Sea issue.

The summit at Sunnylands, California, which is said to be an opportunity for the two sides to brainstorm the promotion of relations, might turn out to be an attempt by Washington to use Asean as a counterweight to China’s increasing influence, Xinhua stressed.

It also accused Washington of emboldening nations that have disputes with China to engage in military provocation and to internationalize disputes, citing the latest remarks of Harry Harris, commander of the US Pacific Fleet.

“Even though his country is not part of the South China Sea disputes, Harris said in a public speech that the United States will continue to challenge China on the issue and that ‘those islands do not belong to China.’”

In stark contrast with Washington’s self-serving plot, the article stressed China has been promoting regional stability and development.

China, a beneficiary of free navigation in the South China Sea, is always ready to promote the code of conduct and engage in the construction of civilian infrastructure in the waters to secure free navigation, the editorial said.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia — as well as China and Taiwan, who will not be represented at Sunnylands — all lay claim to an array of remote reefs, spits, atolls and shoals that have become geopolitical hotspots.

For decades there has been building and tinkering on the islets, but recent breakneck Chinese military construction has prompted fears of conflict.

Officials and diplomats say a major aim of Monday and Tuesday’s meetings is to agree on a response to a major UN panel ruling on the disputes that is expected within months.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration will decide whether China’s controversial territorial claim to a vast expanse of sea inside a “nine-dash line” has any legal merit.

Saudis raise terrorism bogey to have x-rays in PHL airport

From the Business Mirror (Feb 15): Saudis raise terrorism bogey to have x-rays in PHL airport

THE Saudi Arabian government had requested the Manila International Airport Autority (Miaa) to allow them to put up their own x-ray machines at the departure area and at the boarding gate of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) Terminal 1 because of a “confidential information” there is a plan to bomb Saudi Airlines plane by unidentified terrorists.

The request by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) was addressed to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and was later forwarded to the Miaa for approval. The formal request alleged the terrorists are now in some parts of Asia.

The request stated the x-rays would be used only during Saudi flights “to protect our passengers and aircraft.”

Saudi Airlines mounts once-a-day flights out of Manila for Jeddah, according to the Miaa’s flight information section.

DFA Spokesman Charles Jose said Saudi Arabia’s request “will have to be decided by our airport authorities in accordance with our relevant laws and regulations.”

“Terrorism is a global scourge and we continue to work with the responsible community of nations in addressing this scourge,” Jose added.

On the other hand, Miaa Spokesman David de Castro said measures to beef up security are always welcome.

“It is a priority of Miaa to ensure security at the airport and in the aircraft through collaborative partnerships with the airlines.”

According to de Castro, the International Civil Aviation Organization  requires at least one security check for passengers before boarding. At the Naia, passengers are required to go through two security screenings,” he added.

The head of the National Police-Aviation Security Group, Chief Supt. Francisco Balagtas, said he has informed the Office for Transportation Security  and the Airline Operators Council  about the information from the KSA. “Appropriate security arrangements are now undertaken.”

Balagtas did not go into the details of the “security arrangements.”

“The Saudi government’s idea to put up x-ray machines on their own is to prevent any move of suspected terrorists to bomb their plane anywhere in Southeast Asia “due to the ongoing conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran,” airport sources said.

The KSA has cut diplomatic relations with Iran after an attack on its embassy in Tehran following the Kingdom’s execution of a Shia religious leader.

Hours after the death sentence was carried out, protesters in Shiite-majority Iran attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran.

In the aftermath, Saudi Arabia immediately suspended all flights to and from Iran.

Miaa Assistant General Manager for Security and Emergency Services Jesus Gordon Descanzo said he will discuss the request with the airline concerned.”

“We will alert our security officials for immediate implementation of the request,” Descanzo said.
“All our security personnel at the Naia are on 24/7 alert. We don’t want anything to happen, and we are trying our best to prevent any threat to destabilize airport operations.”

Meanwhile, the AOC, with more than 30 members operating out of the Naia  terminals, has  requested their passengers to allow four to five hours of travel time going to the Naia terminals due to ongoing connection works for the Naia Expressway Project-Phase II at the Villamor Air Base Section along Sales Road in Pasay City.

The project started on February 13. The contractor will commence “test pitting activities” from Piers 1 to 18 to connect the Naia Expressway Phase II project with the existing Phase I.

Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson asked the public to plan their trips, particularly those going to the airport terminals. He also advised motorists to map out alternative routes.

On the other hand, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority  has approved a traffic-management plan, which designates the use of 10th Street and 14th Street on Pasay City as alternate routes for motorists going to Sales Interchange from Andrews Avenue.

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) said it will work together with private firms and Villamor Air Base personnel to manage traffic, especially at the rotunda of Domestic Road corner Andrews Avenue.

The Naia Expressway Project is a four-lane, 7.15-kilometer elevated expressway meant to provide easy access to and from the three Naia terminals. It will also connect the Skyway and the Manila-Cavite Toll Expressway.

The P15.86-billion project will also interlink the South Luzon Expresway-Skyway to the Cavitex Macapagal Boulevard, and the Entertainment City of state-run Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.

The DPWH said that based on the timeline given by DMCI, the traffic gridlocks will last until July 15 and affect motorists going to and from Naia terminals.

The AOC had requested the Miaa to draw up contingency plan to address the issue by more information awareness using television networks, print media and other social-media networks.

If necessary, the council also requested the Miaa to provide shuttle buses to ferry departing passengers that will wait at the staging areas provided by the premier airport.

During the duration of the project’s connection activities, the AOC asked the Miaa to discourage or limit hordes of relatives from accompanying their loved ones to the airport.

February is at the tail end of the peak holiday season in the Philippines and those who arrived last November and December are scheduled to depart this month and the following month.

“We appeal to our clients to give the necessary time adjustment so you will not miss your flights due to traffic,” the AOC said in a statement.

Abu Sayyaf bandits demand P1 billion for 3 foreigners, Filipina captives

From the Business Mirror (Feb 12): Abu Sayyaf bandits demand P1 billion for 3 foreigners, Filipina captives

ABU Sayyaf bandits are demanding P1 billion for the release of three foreigners and the Filipino woman they kidnapped in September last year.

Senior Supt. Roberto Fajardo, National Police Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) commander, said the victims were abducted on Samal Island, Davao del Norte.

Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, and Hall’s Filipino girlfriend Maritess Flor were still being held by the bandits in a still-undisclosed area in Sulu.

“They [victims] are still with the Abu Sayyaf. The problem is the Abu Sayyaf has no ideology and they are asking for money, which is very impossible, really, P1 billion; so that is the problem,” Fajardo said during the anniversary of the AKG on Friday.

Fajardo also disclosed that the leader of a kidnap-for-ransom group, who is already held at the maximum-security compound in the New Bilibid Prison, appeared to have not abandoned his criminal activity, as he was even involved in the negotiations of one incident.

“What is bad is, there was even a kidnapper who is negotiating, although he was already behind bars;, he is at Bilibid,” Fajardo said, refusing to identify the kidnap leader or even his group, or even the particular incident.

“We have a good coordination with the director of the Bilibid, but despite that, the kidnappers’ operations inside the prison were continuing,” he said.

Fajardo said kidnapping cases in the country have already declined, principally because kidnap victims were already cooperating with authorities.

He said that before, victims were afraid to seek the assistance of the police and even refuse to cooperate in the filing of their cases, thus, emboldening kidnap-for-ransom groups to keep on with their activity.

“The cases have gone down, because the victims themselves are already cooperating,” Fajardo said.
Still, the AKG listed six kidnapping cases, but Fajardo said most of these cases were recorded in Mindanao, with the ASG being the most prominent kidnapping group, holding at least eight victims.

Teresita Ang See, founding chairman of the Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order, agreed that the country has seen the decline of kidnap-for-ransom cases.

“There was really a big improvement in the antikidnapping campaign, especially when it comes to the success of manhunt operations, the biggest kidnap-for-ransom group has been neutralized,” she said.

However, Ang See said her group recorded successive cases last month, although the AKG has already investigated them.

“In January we had three cases. One in Metro Manila and two in Tarlac,” she said, adding that last year, they recorded more than 30 kidnapping cases.

US to keep key role in regional security: Cuisia

From ABS-CBN (Feb 15): US to keep key role in regional security: Cuisia

For the Philippines, the US-ASEAN Summit in California this week is a signal that the US will keep its key role in maintaining regional security amid maritime disputes.

This, even if the United States has repeatedly stated that this summit won’t be all about China.
Speaking ahead of the Summit in Sunnylands, Rancho Mirage California, US Ambassador Jose L Cuisia said the summit is an opportunity for leaders of the ASEAN and the US to have candid conversations about issues of mutual concern.

"It is an important step for the leaders to substantiate their strategic partnership between the US and ASEAN. More to the point, the summit underscores the central role of ASEAN in ensuring stability and prosperity in the region," he said.

Cuisia said that as a member of ASEAN, the Philippines appreciates the significance of the summit in the development of a regional framework.

"It is our firm belief that the US must continue to play a key role in ensuring the regional security architecture for the 21st century. This summit reaffirms the commitment of the US to continue playing such a key role.”

China has been locked in heated maritime disputes with the Philippines and Vietnam after China started to maintain structures in waters claimed by either country. ASEAN, which also counts countries close to China as allies, has failed to come up with a code of conduct concerning the disputed waters.

Last week, two State Department Officials maintained in a state department briefing that this US-ASEAN Summit is not going to be about China. This is the first summit between the US and ASEAN after both sides elevated their relationship to strategic partnership level.

Daniel R. Russel, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said: "There are questions on the minds of the ASEAN leaders, of all of the leaders: What are the implications of the economic slowdown in China? Sort of what should we expect, what’s going on in terms of China’s behavior in the South China Sea? But at the same time, each of us – all 11 of us – have tremendously important and multifaceted relationships with China.

"None of that alters the fact that the focus of this summit is on what the U.S. and ASEAN can achieve together for the benefit of our citizens, as well as the region and the world.”

Russel added: "I think it’s safe to say that we have no secrets from China when it comes to our views about the South China Sea and the way forward. We believe that the way forward has to include a mix of restraint, of respect for neighbors, of respect for international law."

"It has to build on the commitments that have been made already through the Declaration of Conduct [on the South China Sea], for example. It has to be rooted in common sense that you can’t insist that something is indisputable if it is the subject of hot dispute with your next door neighbor. It’s built on the recognition that the long-term interests of the region argue for peaceful and collaborative ways to either resolve or to set aside sovereignty disputes and to clarify claims and to proceed in finding ways to share the maritime space that are both consistent with international law and acceptable to the other parties."

Daniel Kritenbrink, National Security Council Senior Director for Asian Affairs also said: "I just wanted to underscore Assistant Secretary Russel’s message again. This summit is not about China. This summit is about the United States and ASEAN and our increasingly broad and deep strategic partnership."

Kritenbrink said it was the first time that the US President is hosting ASEAN leaders for this kind of stand-alone summit.

He said the summit builds on the momentum of the new US-ASEAN Strategic Partnership announced last November in Kuala Lumpur.

The program for the summit comprises three main elements: first, a retreat session on economic issues; a working dinner; and then, a retreat session on political and security issues.

The economic session will highlight the strength of US-ASEAN economic relations and identify ways to encourage even more trade and investment by focusing on the themes of innovation and entrepreneurship.

"It's also an opportunity to exchange vies on the types of policy reforms that we believe are needed to promote further growth and integration," Kritenbrink said.

The official said the dinner session at Sunnylands is "designed to be more informal so as to give the leaders an opportunity to share their perspectives on broader strategic developments."

"I expect the President will take this opportunity at the dinner to stress the United States' enduring commitment to the region as well as to stress the importance of good governance, accountable institutions, and the rule of law," he said.

The political and security session will focus on ways to enhance cooperation on the major strategic and transnational challenges confronting the region including maritime disputes, terrorism, trafficking in persons, pandemic disease, and climate change.

The summit will also serve as an opportunity for the United States to strengthen people-to-people ties with the region, including through the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative or YSEALI.

"The Sunnylands summit represents our commitment to the President’s rebalance strategy to the Asia Pacific. With nearly half the Earth’s population, one-third of global GDP, and some of the world’s most capable militaries, the Asia Pacific is increasingly the world’s political and economic center of gravity," he said.

Kritenbrink added, the Sunnylands summit highlights the importance of the ASEAN countries to the United States and also highlights the depth and breadth of the relationship.


Kritenbrink also points out that US economic ties with Southeast Asia are booming.
"We have a quarter-trillion-dollar trade relationship with the countries of ASEAN, and it has increased 55 percent since 2009. The ASEAN region is now the fourth largest goods export market for the United States. The U.S. is the largest investor in ASEAN with more than 226 billion in foreign direct investment. This trade and investment supports more than 370,000 jobs in the United States," he said.

He said ASEAN is also an increasingly important partner in addressing regional and global challenges from maritime disputes to climate change, pandemic disease, to violent extremism, as well as sustainable development and trafficking in persons.

"As reflected by our new strategic partnership, U.S.-ASEAN relations have never been better, but we’re not going to rest on our laurels. Cooperating together, we can address shared challenges, take advantage of shared opportunities to ensure peace and prosperity for our children and our grandchildren. I’m confident that the U.S.-ASEAN Summit at Sunnylands will make an historic contribution to that end," Kritenbrink said.

Russel explained why this matters to the US: "America’s economic future is so closely linked to the growth of this extraordinarily dynamic region; number two, that our own security is directly affected by developments there, and our alliances and our security partnerships are what has served to stabilize the region against a backdrop of uncertainty; and third, because we benefit. We all benefit from a rules-based order that is rooted in principles of fairness, principles of respect for international law and universal rights.

"In economic terms, the leaders are building on the great work that has been done in reaching an agreement on TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership], building on the formation this year of the ASEAN Economic Community, building on the landmark COP21 Paris agreement on climate change, building on the many entrepreneurship initiatives that we’ve pursued with ASEAN and in Southeast Asia, building on our good government – governance programs, building on the very extensive private sector engagement and the fantastic people-to-people programs that Dan mentioned, YSEALI being at the top of the list.

“In security terms, all of the leaders are contending with the threat posed by ISIL, the threat of returning foreign terrorist fighters; the effort to refute the insidious propaganda of violent extremism and block the recruitment, especially among Southeast Asian youth; dealing with the effects of global warming in terms of disasters and rising sea levels; dealing with the scourge of human trafficking; and, of course, dealing with the very serious challenges to maritime security, particularly in the South China Sea.”

Russel said the summit will not be a formal summit.

"It is an informal summit. It is not one hour of meetings sandwiched in between a series of other meetings, which is the norm on the margins of the East Asia Summit hosted in the region. It’s not an hour, it’s a day. That’s pretty significant. It is not a laboriously negotiated, strict, by-the-Roman-numerals agenda. It is an open discussion among the leaders," he said.

“It also means that the leaders aren’t wedded to the traditional or the conventional formats when it comes to communiques and outcomes and deliverables and so on. They have some latitude. It’s a personal engagement and it’s built on the personal relationships that have been forged over the last seven-plus years, including and particularly between President Obama and the other leaders, between Secretary [John] Kerry and his counterparts and many of the leaders, and built on the strong foundation of the people-to-people connections that both Dan and I have talked about.”

Russel said the summit in Sunnylands provides the leaders an opportunity to do something that they can’t easily otherwise do, which is to spend some time talking through the set of issues.

"What’s at stake here? What are the issues in the South China Sea? What’s relevant to all of us? We’re not a claimant, as I mentioned. Six of the 10 ASEAN countries are not claimants. What is it that we have in common? What is it that we have at stake? What is it that we’re trying to encourage? What is it that we’re trying to prevent? This is an opportunity for a real discussion. Unlike a standard summit or an East Asia Summit, there’s no particular pressure to find the precise formula in a communique that’s going to send a signal. The leaders get to have their own discussion and decide what public signals they will put forward through their press conferences or other means.”
Cuisia told media that the Philippines intends to be a reliable and responsible ally.

"In the political field, our two countries continue to work closely together through bilateral, regional, and global frameworks to address issues of common concern. Just last month, the US and the Philippines convened the ministerial dialogue and we reaffirmed our commitment—that’s both sides—reaffirmed our commitment to jointly address maritime security, climate change, and violent extremism, among others. Our defense and security arrangement has never been stronger and nor more focused,” he said.

Cuisia added: "There is general consensus among Philippine and US officials that our bilateral relations have never been better. As we mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Philippine-US relations, we highlight the durability, comprehensiveness, and dynamism of our ties. We have always been supportive of the rebalance to Asia-Pacific policy of the United States as it is an opportunity to deepen further our alliance in various areas of cooperation.

"The recent approval of the EDCA [Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement] will further strengthen our alliance and this will help us in expanding further our capability and it will also help us in our defense modernization efforts."

Aside from regional security, Obama and the ASEAN leaders will also discuss other matters.
"This summit is a special summit as a follow up of the elevation of the ASEAN-US Dialogue Relations into a strategic partnership last November. As you know, this was signed last November. It will focus on expanding cooperation and to advance regional peace and security, as well as progress of the ASEAN region. There will be discussions on promoting entrepreneurship and innovation in the ASEAN Economic Community, and there will be an exchange of ideas on the regional strategic context,” Cuisia said.

Pres. Aquino expected to tackle WPS issue in ASEAN-US Summit — Palace

From the Philippine information Agency (Feb 15): Pres. Aquino expected to tackle WPS issue in ASEAN-US Summit — Palace

Malacañang said on Sunday President Benigno S. Aquino III is expected to tackle political and security concerns, particularly the West Philippine Sea (WPS) issue, in the United States-Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Sunnylands, California this week.

President Aquino is set to leave on Monday to attend the two-day special summit between the leaders of the ASEAN and the US to be hosted by President Barack Obama.

”Expected to be discussed are the political and security issues such as the maritime security, transnational challenges and effective fight against the threat of violent extremism,” Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a state-run Radyo ng Bayan interview.

Coloma said the US-ASEAN Summit will be informal where the leaders of the ASEAN member nations can express their opinions regarding issues that they feel need to be addressed.

”Based on the discussion during the ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur last November, it is most likely that President Obama will hold dialogue with ASEAN member states regarding the maritime security,” Coloma said.

The Palace Communications chief said maritime security has emerged as a vital concern to ASEAN.

”The goal of achieving ASEAN economic integration through the ASEAN economic community, as well as the US initiative on establishing a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to promote free trade in the Asia-Pacific region may be enhanced through more vigorous trades that, in turn, must be assured by freedom of navigation in the main navigational routes of global trade and commerce, including the South China Sea,” Coloma said.

”President Aquino has always represented the Philippines’ position on the importance of ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight, as well as adherence to UNCLOS and international law,” he added.

Coloma said President Aquino has also been a leading advocate for a legally binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, as well as on the importance of seeking peaceful avenues for dispute resolution that underpins the Philippines’ petition before the UN Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague, a move that is being followed closely by other states with maritime entitlement claims.

After the ASEAN-US Summit, Coloma said President Aquino is scheduled to meet the Filipino community and some groups of investors and businessmen in Los Angeles.

President Aquino will be presented with an honorary degree in Humane Letters by the Loyola Marymount University in recognition of his achievements as President of the Philippines, “for his integrity and for embodying the spirit of the Jesuit education.”

Government trooper, NPA rebel killed in Surigao encounter

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 15): Government trooper, NPA rebel killed in Surigao encounter

A communist rebel and a government trooper were killed in a firefight in the village of Sta. Fe in Tagbina town, Surigao Del Sur during an attempted attack on the banana firm there.

In a statement released Monday, Lt. Karl Jan Devaras, spokesperson of the army’s 402nd Infantry Brigade (402IB), said that government troopers foiled an attempt of about 10 fully armed New People’s Army (NPA) to breach the security of the SUMIFRO Farm in Sta. Fe, Tagbina Friday evening

He said that a patrolling company of the government troopers of the 75th Infantry Battalion (75IB) chanced upon the NPA rebels, which resulted in a 5-minute firefight.

Devaras did not give the identities of both the casualties from the NPA rebels and the government troopers of the 75IB in his report Monday.

However, Devaras said, that the government troopers recovered one improvised explosive device (IED) with a blasting cap, a detonating cord, one caliber .45 pistols, an extortion letter, and subversive documents.

Two weeks ago, the NPA rebels also torched the heavy equipment rented by the Del Monte Philippine, Inc., Dole Philippines and the Lapanday Banana Company in Bukidnon.

The military has denounced the “acts of terror” committed by the communist guerrillas in gross violation of the Comprehensive Agreement in Respect to Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHIHL) and vowed that the government would incessantly pursue the culprits to be made answerable to the law.