Tuesday, February 16, 2016

President Aquino underscores importance of upholding the rule of law in resolving territorial disputes

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 17): President Aquino underscores importance of upholding the rule of law in resolving territorial disputes

President Benigno S. Aquino III has underscored the importance of upholding the rule of law in resolving the territorial disputes in the South China Sea on the first day of the US-ASEAN Leaders Summit here.

US President Barack Obama is hosting the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for a special summit at Sunnylands, the historic Annenberg estate where Obama held a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in June 2013.

The US-ASEAN Summit commenced Monday, February 15. (California is 16 hours behind Manila.)

The summit is divided into two sessions covering the following topics: promoting an innovative, entrepreneurial ASEAN Economic Community; and protecting peace, prosperity, and security in the Asia-Pacific region.

“The leaders exchanged views during a retreat that focused on promoting regional prosperity through innovation and entrepreneurship and continued their discussions over a working dinner,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. said, quoting the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on the highlights of the first day of the summit.

At the working dinner where the main topic was on the regional strategic outlook, Secretary Coloma said President Aquino “spoke on the importance of upholding the rule of law and peaceful resolution of disputes in the region.”

In their discussions, Coloma said President Obama and the ASEAN leaders expressed “collective concern over continued militarization in the South China Sea, which they recognized as a core issue in region.”

“There was also concern expressed over unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the region through island building, construction activities and test flights. In this regard, the crucial importance of freedom of navigation and overflight was highlighted,” he said.

The importance of ASEAN solidarity and centrality and close cooperation and consultation in upholding regional peace and stability was also emphasized during their discussions, according to Secretary Coloma.

“It was established that ASEAN should speak with one voice to ensure that all parties modify their behavior to conform with the rule of law and ensure the preservation of status quo,” he said.

“It was noted that this remains crucial for promoting respect for international law and norms for the management of regional tensions and in building regional security architecture,” he added.

China is asserting ownership of almost the whole South China Sea. The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as Taiwan, also have overlapping claims in the disputed area.

Also during the US-ASEAN meeting, Secretary Coloma said the seriousness of the North Korean issue was discussed, as well as the developments in the Middle East, the Syrian conflict and efforts to combat violent extremism.

“The Leaders discussed ways to strengthen protection against digital recruitment of terrorism. They also expressed their strong views that the building of nuclear arsenal in North Korea is destabilizing and called for North Korea to denuclearize,” he said.

Moreover, Coloma said US President Obama and the ASEAN leaders were confident of closer ASEAN-US cooperation in areas of common endeavor, such as maritime security, economic engagement and people-to-people ties.

In his brief remarks at the opening of the US-ASEAN Leaders Summit, US President Obama described the landmark gathering on US soil a reflection of his commitment to a strong and enduring partnership with Southeast Asian nations.

This is the first time that the leaders of ASEAN countries are meeting in the United States. The aim of the summit was to deepen US engagement with Southeast Asian nations.

The ASEAN, established in August 1967, groups Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.


PNP condemns Cagayan ambush

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 17): PNP condemns Cagayan ambush

The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Wednesday condemned the latest attacks of the rebel group New People’s Army (NPA) which killed six policemen and injured 15 others in Baggao, Cagayan on Tuesday morning.

“The acts of the NPA clearly show their utter disregard of human lives and concern of the welfare of the local populace despite of the effort of the government to uplift the well being of the people of Cagayan thru sustained development,” said PNP Spokesperson Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor.

The six policemen who died in the attack were identified as PO1 Ryan G. Annang, PO1 Derrel P. Sunico, PO1 Arjay A. Bautista, PO1 Rogelio C. Alfonso, PO1 Julius N. Soriano and PO1 Jaypy P. Aspiros.

Mayor said the PNP leadership assures the surviving families and kin of the “fallen hero cops” of financial support and social benefits.

”On behalf of a grateful nation, the PNP high command extends condolences to the orphaned families of the deceased. Initially, the bereaved families shall be provided with PNP financial support and benefits from the Public Safety Mutual Benefit Fund Inc. (PSMBFI),” he said.

”We urge our people to denounce these acts of the NPA and support the effort of the government by providing us information that would lead to the arrest of the perpetrators and bring them to justice. We extend our deepest condolences to the families of the slain policemen and ensure that their welfare will be attended to soonest,” he added.

Sr. Supt. Ronaldo Olay, Cagayan Provincial Police Office director, said the encounter took place in KM 20, Barangay Sta. Margarita, at 10:00 a.m on Tuesday.

The NPAs reportedly attacked Bruscan, a construction company handling the irrigation project in the town.

Chief Supt. Franklin Moises Mabanag, Cagayan Valley Regional Police deputy director for administration, said elements of the Regional Public Safety Battalion were deployed to Baggao to investigate an arson incident allegedly carried out by NPA members and pursue the attackers.

The 15 policemen who were wounded are Sr. Insp Arnel I. Acain, PO3 Jeremy F. Garcias, PO1 Olier R. Cabildo, PO1 Elvis C. Madali, PO1 Edmar T. Mallillin, PO1 Jobert N. Ducusin, PO1 John Fritz G. Balunsat, PO1 Richmon E., Diesto, PO1 Kelvin E. Taguibao, PO1 Jae Mark S. Camaraunan, PO1 Mark Lester T. Layugan, Sr. Insp. Clan Cabansi, PO2 Jaypol C. Melad, PO1 Estanislao S. Calayan and PO1 Mateo A. Ballad.

Meanwhile, the PNP reminded anew all police regional offices to be remain vigilant, enhance personnel security and conduct preventive and proactive operations in coordination with military units against lawless elements and criminal groups.


9th ID commended for outstanding internal security operations

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 17): 9th ID commended for outstanding internal security operations

For their outstanding accomplishments in internal security operations, officers and enlisted personnel of the Bicol-based 9th Infantry Division were lauded by Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM) head Lt. Gen. Ricardo R. Visaya Wednesday.

These operations against New People's Army (NPA) rebels and lawless elements took place from January 1-February 17.  Visaya's commendation of the 9th Infantry Division took place during his visit to the 901st Infantry Brigade, a field unit of the 9th Infantry Division, in Barangay Villahermosa, Daraga, Albay Wednesday. "This year alone, a total of 10 NPAs were neutralized and 17 high powered firearms were recovered by our troops here in Bicol most of them were accomplishments of the 901st (Infantry Brigade)," he added. Visaya said that these visible results of the 9th Infantry Division's continuing success in operations against the NPA have been and will be the deciding factor in winning the peace in then region and in having a peaceful and orderly elections in May 2016. "We hit the NPAs in several decisive encounters this year making them imbalanced, let us not allow them to recover," he added. The SOLCOM chief also commended 901st Infantry Brigade commander Brig. Gen. Claudio L. Yucot for leading his men excellently.

SOLCOM also awarded PHP170,000 for the firearms recovered by the troops.


ASEAN speak strong vs militarization

From ABS-CBN (Feb 17): US, ASEAN speak strong vs militarization

Upholds freedom of navigation and oversight in Sunnylands Declaration

The United States and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are speaking with one voice against the militarization of maritime disputes and for the freedom of navigation and overflight.

Skipping any direct reference or mention to China, the so-called Sunnylands Declaration strikes at the very heart of the tension in Southeast Asia: China's maritime disputes over the South China Sea with Vietnam and long time US treaty ally, the Philippines.

China was not in the US-ASEAN Summit. It had no representative and it was never mentioned by name in any of the public speeches or statements.

One portion of the Sunnylands Declaration pushes for "shared commitment to peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law and the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)."

''Shared commitment to promote cooperation to address common challenges in the maritime domain.''

For De La Salle University political science professor Richard Heydarian, the summit leaves China scrambling.

''At the very minimum, though, it is relatively safe to assume that Laos - current ASEAN chair, and co-chair of the Sunnylands Summit - will be more responsible as many people expected. And China surely will scramble for ways to avoid a regional drift towards a diplomatic consensus that is closer to US' position on the West Philippine Sea," he said.

''In fairness, on a second look, the draft looks good enough to me. You got Laos and Cambodia, two key Chinese allies, going along with this relatively strong worded statement…The statement could very easily be interpreted as a rebuke of Chinese reclamation activities, deployment of military assets, and bellicose stance regarding the disputed waters in West Philippine Sea. It could also be seen as a support for US freedom of navigation operations in the area, and the right of US Navy to conduct patrols in the West Philippine Sea, which have faced constant Chinese criticism and countermeasure.”

For Heydarian, the following parts are important:

''Shared commitment to peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law and the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).''

''Shared commitment to maintain peace, security and stability in the region, ensuring maritime security and safety, including the rights of freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the seas, and unimpeded lawful maritime commerce as described in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as well as non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of activities.''

Heydarian also notes the use of the phrase: "Other lawful uses of the seas." He said the phrase is a defense of the US Navy's right to conduct patrols in high seas.

"Non-militarization and self restraint is important, because it's also an indirect jab at China's decision to deploy surface to air missile shield to Paracels and build dual purpose bases in Spratlys," he said.

There were, however, no indications that ASEAN will be finalizing and implementing a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea. That code has been delayed. China has allies in the ASEAN.

The US-ASEAN Leaders Summit was the first ever to be held in the United States and the very first summit following the establishment of the ASEAN Community. The summit marked a watershed year for both ASEAN and for the increasingly close U.S-ASEAN strategic partnership.

In 2015, ASEAN member states celebrated the establishment of the ASEAN community, working together toward an ASEAN that better serves the people of Southeast Asia.

The summit also comes after both ASEAN and the US elevated their relationship to a strategic partnership - a diplomatic term that does not mean more money or military aid but a regular dialogue between both sides on priority issues at any level and which denotes US commitment to ASEAN beyond President Barack Obama's term.

Among the principles approved during the summit that "will guide our cooperation going forward" are the preference for the rule of law, the peaceful resolution of disputes, the stand against the use of force and the upholding of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea.

The Sunnylands declaration is reproduced in full below: The document was named after the venue of the summit, the Sunnylands Estate in Rancho Mirage, California, dubbed as the West Coast Camp David - the US President’s summer retreat.

1. Mutual respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, equality and political independence of all nations by firmly upholding the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations, the ASEAN Charter and international law;

2. The importance of shared prosperity, sustainable, inclusive economic growth and development, and the nurturing of our young people to sustain continued peace, development, and stability for mutual benefit;

3. Mutual recognition of the importance of pursuing policies that lead to dynamic, open, and competitive economies that foster economic growth, job creation, innovation, entrepreneurship and connectivity, and that support SMEs and narrow the development gap;

4. Our commitment to ensure opportunities for all of our peoples, through strengthening democracy, enhancing good governance and adherence to the rule of law, promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, encouraging the promotion of tolerance and moderation, and protecting the environment;

5. Respect and support for ASEAN Centrality and ASEAN-led mechanisms in the evolving regional architecture of the Asia-Pacific;

6. Firm adherence to a rules-based regional and international order that upholds and protects the rights and privileges of all states;

7. Shared commitment to peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law and the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS);

8. Shared commitment to maintain peace, security and stability in the region, ensuring maritime security and safety, including the rights of freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the seas, and unimpeded lawful maritime commerce as described in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as well as non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of activities;

9. Shared commitment to promote cooperation to address common challenges in the maritime domain;

10. Strong resolve to lead on global issues such as terrorism and violent extremism, trafficking in persons, drug trafficking, and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, as well as illicit trafficking of wildlife and timber;

11. Shared commitment to addressing climate change and developing a climate-resilient, environmentally sustainable ASEAN, as well as to implement individual countries’ nationally determined contributions made under the Paris Climate Agreement;

12. Shared commitment to promote security and stability in cyberspace consistent with norms of responsible state behavior;

13. Support for the advancement of a strong, stable, politically cohesive, economically integrated, socially responsible, people-oriented, people-centered and rules-based ASEAN Community;

14. Shared commitment to strengthen people-to-people connectivity through programs that engage ASEAN and American citizens, particularly young people, and that promote opportunities for all our peoples, particularly the most vulnerable, to fulfil the vision of the ASEAN Community;

15. Shared commitment to promote a global partnership for sustainable development through the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, to ensure a sustainable, equitable and inclusive society where no one is left behind;

16. Shared commitment to enhance collaboration at international and regional fora, especially at existing ASEAN-led mechanisms; and

17. Shared commitment to continue political dialogue at the Head of State/Government level through our Leaders’ attendance at the annual U.S.-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit.


President Obama and ASEAN Leaders that included President Aquino posed for the usual family photo to close the summit noontime in California.

The last day of the 2-day summit began with a closed-door retreat on the maritime disputes, the transnational challenges and terrorism.

Terrorist attacks in Jakarta in January are still fresh in the minds of the leaders.

During the closed door retreat, President Aquino called on all parties, skipping any mention of China by name, to respect the ruling of the arbitration tribunal on the case filed by the Philippines concerning the West Philippine Sea.

''On the occasion of this important gathering, where we must collectively address the challenges we face together, it is essential that ASEAN shall resolve in promoting a rules-based regime for the resolution of disputes and management of tensions in the region. In this regard, confronted with the common challenges in the South China Sea, it is crucial that ASEAN collectively and in a unified voice urge all countries to share with us full respect for the rule of law. For this purpose, it is especially important that we all commit to abide by the decision of the arbitral tribunal. In this manner, we will avoid chaos in our relations and ensure greater stability, predictability and security.''

China has refused to subject itself to arbitration, insisting on a bilateral resolution of disputes instead.


However Heydarian notes the dearth of references to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

"I'm a bit surprised though with dearth of any statement or discussion on TPP, considering how the White House pitches it as its crowning achievement in terms of US pivot to Asia, and since 4 ASEAN members are already members of TPP, and 3 more are considered candidates, essentially all important players in Southeast Asia," he said.

"With China launching an economic charm offensive blitzkrieg, from establishment of AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) to the new Silk Road initiative, among other major infrastructure and investments plans, the TPP is among US' few economic counterpunches that has gained traction and momentum in recent months."

President Obama also announced a new US initiative aimed at strengthening US engagement with ASEAN -- the US-ASEAN Connect.

According to a White House fact sheet, "Strong economic ties are at the core of the United States and ASEAN's decades-long partnership. ASEAN countries collectively comprise the fourth-largest trading partner for the United States. Two-way trade in goods and services has tripled since the 1990s, topping $254 billion in 2014. U.S. businesses have been the largest cumulative source of foreign direct investment in ASEAN and ASEAN countries are increasing their investment in the United States. U.S. goods and services exports to ASEAN supported over 500,000 American jobs in 2014."

Below is the rest of the fact sheet.

Program Structure

US – ASEAN Connect has four organizing pillars:

Business Connect supports increased commercial engagement between U.S. and ASEAN businesses in a variety of regionally important sectors, including ICT and infrastructure. Business Connect will assist ASEAN as it implements measures to facilitate greater trade and economic integration under the ASEAN Economic Community and offer coordinated, proactive support for U.S. businesses. Business Connect will also bring U.S. and ASEAN businesses together to capitalize on opportunities created through the ASEAN Economic Community. It will continue to advance efforts including the US-ASEAN Air Transport Working Group Work Plan, and U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) project preparation programs.
Energy Connect assists in the development of power sectors in ASEAN built around sustainable, efficient, and innovative technologies. It will support the connectivity, clean energy and energy security goals of the ASEAN Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation (APAEC) 2015 – 2025 and the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity. U.S. programs continuing under Energy Connect include the U.S.-ASEAN Energy Cooperation Work Plan, the U.S.-Asia Pacific Comprehensive Energy Partnership, the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Program, and USTDA clean energy and grid modernization/connectivity project preparation programs.

Innovation Connect supports Southeast Asia’s emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem through policy support and direct engagement with entrepreneurs. Technical assistance under Innovation Connect will include the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Innovation Challenges and economic programs, the Global Entrepreneurship Program, Innovation Roadshows, and support for the ASEAN Science Prize for Women.

Policy Connect focuses on supporting the ASEAN countries in creating a policy environment conducive to trade and investment, digitally enabled innovation, and sustainable and equitable economic growth, which includes providing capacity building, and technical support to member states. Programs under Policy Connect include the U.S.-ASEAN Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement work plan initiatives, such as ACTI SME initiatives, ASEAN Single Window support, Standards Cooperation, and a new series of U.S.-ASEAN Trade Workshops. Policy Connect programs will also focus on broader economic policy engagement, such as the U.S.-ASEAN ICT Workplan and discussions on aviation issues.

Connect Centers

To support the implementation of U.S.-ASEAN Connect, the U.S. government is establishing a network of three Connect Centers (Centers) – in Jakarta, Singapore, and Bangkok. The Centers are responsible for focusing and coordinating U.S. government resources on growing our economic engagement with ASEAN institutions, ASEAN Member States, the U.S. private sector, multilateral development banks, and other regional stakeholders. This engagement will allow for faster and easier access to public information and U.S. government resources (e.g. capacity building and technical assistance). The Jakarta center will be a part of the U.S. Mission to ASEAN and will lead in facilitating U.S. engagement with the ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN sectoral bodies, and Missions to ASEAN to help achieve our shared goal of strengthening ASEAN as an organization and to support ASEAN’s goal of centrality in the regional architecture. The Singapore center, supported by the Department of Commerce’s ASEAN regional office, will serve to channel engagement in the financial hub of ASEAN, which is home to the World Bank Infrastructure and Urban Development Hub, and 3,600 U.S. companies. The regional offices of OPIC, USTDA, and USAID, as well as the local Commercial Service office, will constitute the Bangkok center, which will focus on project preparation, development assistance, business advocacy, and investment support in the region.


IS recognizes Sayyaf fealty

From The Standard (Feb 17): IS recognizes Sayyaf fealty

THE Islamic State has officially recognized the pledges of allegiance of several jihadist groups based in Mindanao, according to a video recently released by the IS propaganda unit Al-Furat.

Al-Furat released the video two days after United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned of the danger of the Islamic State terror group spreading its tentacles to South and Southeast Asia.

The Al-Furat video featured Abu Sayyaf Group leader Isnilon Hapilon and Malaysian bomb maker Mohamed Najib Hussein, alias Abu Anas al Muhajir, who was killed along with 12 Abu Sayyaf fighters in Al Barka, Basilan last December.

Hussein is believed to have been the leader of the Katibat Ansar al Sharia group that is hiding out with the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan, along with another jihadist group identified only as Katibat Marakah al Ansar.

Another group, identified as Ansar al Khilafah in the Philippines has also pledged allegiance to Baghdadi.

The UN secretary-general himself mentioned the Ansar al-Khilafah in the Philippines in a recent report to the UN Security Council.

“The recent expansion of the ISIL sphere of influence across West and North Africa, the Middle East, and South and South-East Asia demonstrates the speed and scale at which the gravity of the threat has evolved in just 18 months,” Ban said in a report to the UN Security Council.

“Moreover, other terrorist groups, including the Islamic Youth Shura Council and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Libya Province (Derna) in Libya, the Mujahideen of Kairouan and Jund al-Khilafah in Tunisia, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Tehreek-e-Khilafat in Pakistan, and Ansar al-Khilafah in the Philippines, are sufficiently attracted by its underlying ideology to pledge allegiance to its so-called caliphate and self-proclaimed caliph,” Ban said.

In his report, Ban said the IS has also benefited from the arrival of a steady stream of foreign terrorist fighters, who continue to leave their communities to replenish its ranks.

The return of these fighters from the battlefields of Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic and other conflict zones is a further major concern, as returnees can extend the presence of ISIL to their states of origin and use their skills and combat experience to recruit additional sympathizers, establish terrorist networks and commit terrorist acts, Ban said.

The report further analyses ISIL’s finances, highlighting the group’s capacity to mobilize vast resources rapidly and effectively.

Its main sources of financing included the exploitation of oil and other natural resources, “taxing,” confiscation and the looting of archaeological sites, as well as external donations and use of the Internet and social media to raise funds.

The report recommends member states to criminalize travel by foreign terrorist fighters, in accordance with relevant resolutions and take measures to strengthen border-management regimes.

The United Nations, for its part, should step up capacity-building assistance in that context, he said, asking member-states to strengthen their tools for disrupting ISIL’s capacity to plan and facilitate attacks.

The online news blog Long War Journal of the US-based Federation to Defend Democracies noted that the official acceptance of the pledges could precede the announcement of an official Islamic State “wilayat,” or province, for the Philippines or the entire Southeast Asian region.

Aside from the ASG and the Katibat Ansar al Sharia group of Hussein, other groups in the region, such as Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid and the Mujahidin Indonesian Timor, have also pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Traditionally, the ASG has had ties to al Qaeda, being financed by Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, a brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden, who was killed by US special operations forces in Madagascar in 2006.

In June 2014, a master ASG bomb maker Abdul Basit Usman, 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.


Ranking NPA leader, companion nabbed in Tagum City

From the Manila Times (Feb 17): Ranking NPA leader, companion nabbed in Tagum City

Military and police operatives on Tuesday morning arrested a ranking New People’s Army (NPA) leader and his companion during operations in Madaum, Tagum City.

Capt. Rhyan Batchar, 10th Infantry Division spokesperson, said their troops along with members of the Criminal Investigation Detection Group-11 (CIDG-11), Tagum PNP, conducted the operation at 11:15 a.m.

The suspects were identified as Ariel Arbitrario alias Marlon, the Front Secretary of Guerilla Front 2 of the Southern Mindanao Regional Committee (SMRC) and Crispolo Arbitrario alias Calvin, member of the Special Operations Group (SOG) of Sub-Regional Committee 2 (SRC 2) of SMRC.

The duo were arrested by virtue of Warrant of Arrests for murder with Criminal Case Numbers 7925 and 6320 respectively, filed at Regional Trial Court Branch 3, Nabunturan, Compostela Valley.
Seized from the two were a .45 caliber pistol, a .38 caliber revolver, a fragmentation grenade, an improvised hand grenade and a handheld radio were recovered from their possession.

Arbitrario is the mastermind of the NPA’S atrocities in the areas of Maco, Mabini and Pantukan while Crispolo was involved in the killings in the said areas.

Major General Rafael Valencia, 10th Infantry Division commander, lauded the soldiers and policemen who were involved during the arrest.

“The arrest of these ranking NPAs manifest that the long arm of the law will ultimately catch up with these outlaws to face justice,” he said.

The two arrested NPAs were brought to the CIDG office in Davao Del Norte for documentation and subsequent filing of cases for violation of the election gun ban and illegal possession firearms and explosives.


3 dead in Maguindanao bomb blast as troops, BIFF clash

From Rappler (Feb 17): 3 dead in Maguindanao bomb blast as troops, BIFF clash

Authorities say Muslim rebels booby-trapped a highway to target military convoys, but it detonated when a van with 6 civilians drove through it late Tuesday

Three civilians were killed in a roadside bomb explosion in Maguindanao where the army and Muslim rebels have engaged in sporadic fighting for days, police said Wednesday, February 17.

Muslim insurgents booby-trapped a highway to target military convoys, but it detonated when a van with six people aboard drove through late Tuesday, according to a report from the provincial police office that was sent to Agence France-Presse.

Three of the van's passengers were killed while 3 others were wounded, according to police in nearby Datu Saudi Ampatuan town. They said they were also verifying reports one of the fatalities was a young boy.

The military has been battling a Muslim rebel faction near farming villages in the area since last week, regional military spokesman Major Filemon Tan told AFP.

He said about 300 soldiers had been providing protection for a flood control project in the area after the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) set fire to the private contractor's dredging equipment last week.

(READ: 3 BIFF killed in Maguindanao clashes over bridge project)

Two air force helicopters also fired rockets as well as machine gun rounds at BIFF positions on Tuesday, he said, but there were no confirmed casualties.

The clashes followed a major setback in efforts to end decades of fighting in the region, when parliament earlier this month failed to pass a law granting the country's Muslim minority wider autonomy.

The BIFF is not party to the peace deal, which the government signed in 2014 with the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Four decades of fighting in the south have left 100,000 people killed according to official estimates. The setback in parliament derailed the peace timetable, including the disarmament of an estimated 10,000 MILF fighters.

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


China deploys missiles on South China Sea island

From Rappler (Feb 17): China deploys missiles on South China Sea island

Fox News reports of images from civilian firm ImageSat International that show two batteries of 8 missile launchers and a radar system arriving within the past week on Woody Island, part of the Paracels chain   

China has deployed a surface-to-air missile system on one of its contested islands in the South China Sea, a report said Tuesday, February 17, just as President Barack Obama called for "tangible steps" to reduce tensions in the region.

Fox News said that images from civilian firm ImageSat International show two batteries of 8 missile launchers and a radar system arrived within the past week on Woody Island, part of the Paracels chain.

A US warship last month sailed close to another island in the chain – which is claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam – in a gesture to assert freedom of navigation in the region which drew a quick protest from Beijing.

The report on the missile batteries came as Obama wrapped up a two-day Southeast Asian summit in California where leaders voiced concern over Beijing's military build-up in the strategic and resource-rich area.

"We discussed the need for tangible steps in the South China Sea to lower tensions," Obama said, calling for "a halt to further reclamation, new construction and militarization of disputed areas."

China's increasingly muscular actions in the vital waterway featured heavily at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) talks at Sunnylands, a sprawling California desert retreat.

In a joint statement, Obama and the 10 ASEAN leaders demanded the "peaceful resolution" of a myriad of competing territorial claims over islands, atolls and reefs.

Obama has tried to muster an informal coalition of Pacific allies to demand that Beijing respect the rule of law, hoping that China will want to avoid being painted as a regional bully.


BIFF attacks military posts

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 16): BIFF attacks military posts  

Camp Siongco, Maguindnao – The 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 launched separate attacks on the detachment of the Second 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 counter attacks made by the military resulted in 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) has 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.


‘Abduction’ of 3 Zambo del Sur fishers puzzles authorities

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 17): ‘Abduction’ of 3 Zambo del Sur fishers puzzles authorities
2 of 'victims' show up, say their boat capsized and they were rescued; 3rd 'victim' remains missing
The reported abduction of three fishermen from Zamboanga del Sur on February 14 has puzzled authorities here since two of the supposed victims claimed their boat had actually capsized and they were rescued by fellow fishermen off Patikul town in Sulu.

Maj. Gen. Demy Tejares, deputy commander of the 1st Infantry Division (Tabak) and head of the Joint Task Force Zambasulta, said Winnie Pandiag, 42; and Romeo Rubio, 54; both residents of Pitogo town “were safe and they were not kidnapped.”

Tejares said Pandiag and Rubio showed up at the Coast Guard station in Jolo after they were reported kidnapped in the high seas off Basilan.

The duo, he said, claimed that their fishing boat – MBP Kyle Gian – sank amid strong waves off Siasi town on February 12.

Their companion, Ronnie Bancale, had not been seen since, they said.

On Monday afternoon, the police released a report of three fishermen abducted off Basilan on Valentine’s Day.

Chief Insp. Rogelio Alabata, information officer of the Western Mindanao Regional Police Office, said the “abduction” was reported by Bancale’s wife, Marilou.

Alabata said Bancale had supposedly told his wife by phone on February 15, that they were abducted by unidentified armed and that the kidnappers were initially asking P50,000 in ransom money. The demand was later changed to P1 million, he said.

But Pandiag and Rubio, who said they were fished out from sea by Parang fishermen on February 14 and were brought to Jolo had denied that they had been abducted, Tejares said.

“We are very confused. The wife said they were kidnapped on February 14 when the boat capsized on February 12. The husband made a call on February 15 when his companion declared him missing February 12,” Tejares said.

He said that when authorities traced the call made at 7:46 p.m. of February 15, probers traced it to Barangay Pintasan in Mohamad Ajul, Basilan.

Tejares said they were investigating the case but as far as the authorities were concerned, nobody had been kidnapped.


AFP, Malaysia boost border security vs Abu, JI

From the Philippine Star (Feb 16): AFP, Malaysia boost border security vs Abu, JI

A military official said security has been heightened following the spate of kidnapping incidents staged by the Abu Sayyaf group against at least five victims from Sabah since 2014.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Malaysian intelligence forces fortified their security watch against the Abu Sayyaf group and the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), groups that pass through the border between the two countries.

Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo dela Cruz, Western Mindanao Command chief, said they have been in close coordination with the Malaysian military and police forces in monitoring the activity of the terrorist groups utilizing the porous border.

“The Malaysian intelligence units are closely monitoring possible terrorist’s activity using the border and are in close coordination with the National Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) to have exchanges of intelligence information,” Dela Cruz said.

The military official said security has been heightened following the spate of kidnapping incidents staged by the Abu Sayyaf group against at least five victims from Sabah since 2014.

The authorities of both countries are also monitoring the border being utilized by JI militants in slipping from Malaysia to Sulu or Basilan.

The AFP earlier confirmed that at least three JI militants who escaped from a Malaysian raid fled to southern Philippines and established links with the Abu Sayyaf group.

The JI militants who sought refuge with the Abu Sayyaf group provided training in bomb making and jihad indoctrination.

Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Hernando Iriberri said one of the three militants was killed in the military offensive last December in Al-Barka town, Basilan.

Iriberri the death of Mohammad Najib Hussein alias Abu Anas was positively confirmed by ground forces.

He said troops have been hunting down the two others believed to be hiding with the Abu Sayyaf group either in Basilan or Sulu.


No R & R: US troops in PH restricted to camps – military general

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 16): No R & R: US troops in PH restricted to camps – military general

US troops stationed under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) can not set foot outside the camp of the Western Mindanao Command here unless their trip is related to the very reason they are here for.

This was made clear by Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo dela Cruz, Westmincom commander, who said he has prohibited US troops – whose numbers he did not divulge – from venturing out for any reason, even for recreational purposes.

This meant, he said, that they could not go to bars here or other areas to unwind. If they have to relax, they can do it inside the Westmincom camp, according to Dela Cruz.
“They will just stay here. To train our troops,” he said.

Dela Cruz said the ban – which was anchored on security for both US forces and their Filipino counterparts – was also the same reason they could not go to Basilan or Sulu to train Filipino soldiers.

“We will bring our troops here. I don’t want the focus of our operations affected just because of on-site trainings,” he said, adding that troops in the provinces were pre-occupied with military operations against the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

US forces would be allowed to venture out of camp during marksmanship training in, for example, Barangay Cabatangan and civil-military operations for humanitarian reasons.

“The American forces will be staying inside the camp,” he said.

Dela Cruz said the ban was made clear to the US forces.

Militant groups had been complaining that the presence of US troops in the country would result in human rights violations – or worse, crimes such as the murder of transgender Jennifer Laude.

Laude was killed by Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, a member of the US Marines, who went on a rest and recreation tour in Olongapo in October 2014.

Dela Cruz said the US troops here would not be given time to visit recreational areas so as not to distract them from their focus of boosting the skills of Filipino troops in fighting their enemies and helping save the lives of Filipino troops wounded during operations.

The American soldiers, mostly trained in medic and first aid, would “help save the lives of our wounded troops,” Dela Cruz added.

Dela Cruz, meanwhile, said that the presence of US troops has expanded the security challenges faced by the military already fighting insurgencies by the communist rebels and Moro splinter groups but the Armed Forces of the Philippines has been adjusting to bigger responsibilities as mandated by the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court said Edca (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) was constitutional and we on the ground only follow whatever policy we are supposed to implement,” he said. 


Commentary: AFP action rectifies historical injustice

Commentary from the Reville column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 15): AFP action rectifies historical injustice

IN SEPTEMBER 1907, Macario de Leon Sakay, the most prominent of the Filipino revolutionaries who continued the fight for independence against US forces, was hanged by American authorities in the Old Bilibid Prison in Manila. Earlier after his arrest, Sakay was charged and convicted under the Bandolerism (Brigandage) Act of 1902 that proclaimed all captured resistance insurgents as bandits, robbers and ladrones.

For more than a century this falsehood, foisted on the Filipino people by colonial rule, was accepted by many chroniclers of the era.

Last month, as part of continuing efforts to rectify distortions in our military history, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando DCA Iriberri paid tribute to Macario Sakay’s heroism and leadership in the struggle for freedom and independence from Spanish rule and American domination. He issued General Orders No. 30, renaming Camp Eldridge in Los Baños, Laguna, to Camp General Macario Sakay.

Background information

In 1902, US President Theodore Roosevelt issued a proclamation, officially ending what Americans referred to as the “Philippine Insurrection.” In his announcement, he declared that “peace had been established in all parts of the archipelago, except in the country inhabited by the Moro tribes.” I am thinking now that more than 100 years later, we have not been able to firmly establish peace in areas populated by our Muslim brothers, the same situation faced by Roosevelt.

The proclamation did not reflect the reality. It was issued mainly in response to domestic pressure from anti-imperialist elements in the United States. The American public was frustrated more than ever by the seemingly endless struggle in the Philippines, keeping in mind that the Philippine-American War started in February 1899. They were horrified by the slaughter taking place, particularly the Balangiga massacre of American soldiers in September 1901. Roosevelt feared that a prolonged conflict would damage his bid for reelection.

The surrender of Gen. Miguel Malvar in April 1902 provided the United States with a basis for declaring that the war was over. This position completely disregarded the resistance activities of Macario Sakay and other freedom fighters who continued the struggle against the new colonizer. As part of the US pacification effort, the US government branded Sakay and others as “bandits” and “tulisanes” to support the American propaganda line that the Philippine-American War was over and only common criminals were being rounded up and executed.

The so-called “insurrection” was expensive and bloody for both sides. The Americans spent some $600 million—or roughly $10 billion in today’s currency—and lost 4,234 men killed in action. (This is almost the same as the US losses in Iraq between 2003 and 2014.) Our casualties came up to some 20,000 soldiers and 200,000 civilians.

* * *

Who is Macario Sakay? What was his role in the fight for freedom?

It is important to know more about our heroes, particularly those whose reputations were tarnished by black propaganda depicting them as common criminals because of their anti-American activities.

Macario Sakay was born in Tondo, Manila, in 1870. He worked as a blacksmith, a tailor and a stage actor, before joining the Katipunan Movement led by Andres Bonifacio. During the revolution against Spain, he led his men to victory in San Mateo, Rizal, establishing his headquarters in the Marikina-Montalban area.

From 1902-1906, he continued the fight against the new colonizer, leading an effective guerrilla campaign against US forces. Vowing that he and his men would not cut their hair until freedom was achieved, Macario kept his locks long and this became a symbol of resistance. The “Sakay look” (long-haired and unkempt) was used by the Americans to portray him as a bandit and not a freedom fighter.

Sakay’s main area of operations was in the southern Tagalog provinces of Rizal, Batangas, Laguna and Cavite. So successful were his exploits that the Americans resorted to “hamletting” (concentrating villagers in one location for more effective control) in areas where Sakay had strong mass support.

Using an ilustrado, Dominador Gomez, to speak to Sakay, US Governor General Henry Ide offered him amnesty. Part of the offer was the establishment of a Philippine Assembly as a starting point toward eventual independence. The idea appealed to Sakay and as a result, he came down from his mountain redoubt and surrendered. It was a trap. Once he and his subordinates were disarmed, they were arrested and charged with refusing to give allegiance to the American government in the Philippines. Sakay was sentenced to death and executed.

His last words were: “We are not bandits and robbers as the Americans have accused us. We are members of the revolutionary force defending our mother country, the Philippines. Farewell! Long live the Republic! Long live the Philippines!”

* * *

Camp Eldridge was named after an American serviceman, Sgt. George Eldridge, a Medal of Honor recipient in the fight against American Indians in 1870. Renaming the camp after General Sakay is historically appropriate since the military facility is located in the Calabarzon area where Sakay operated against enemy forces.

More than just honoring one of our freedom fighters, the name-change is another step in bringing closure to the historical distortions that one can find in abundance in our military history. It is a difficult and tedious exercise often surrounded by controversy, but it must be done if we are to discover the truth about ourselves.


There are a few individuals and organizations who must be recognized for their efforts in bringing about this change.

• Lt. Col. Ronald Jess Alcudia, PMA Class 1993, through his writings in various Army publications, was able to call attention to the need for rethinking the Philippine military’s perspective of the post-1902 resistance movement, promoting a patriotic and nationalist viewpoint.

• Lt. Gen. Ernesto Carolina, as head of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office, supported Alcudia’s advocacy.

• The Philippine Historical Association, in a board resolution, recommended to the Department of National Defense the renaming of Camp Eldridge after Gen. Macario Sakay.

• Gen. Hernando DCA Iriberri, as commanding general of the Philippine Army, and now AFP chief of staff, approved the recommendations for the proposed change and kept a close eye on the paperwork all the way to the highest levels of government. Change comes about when the leadership is sincere in its concern for renewal and rededication.

In a memorandum dated Dec. 28, 2015, final approval was issued by Defense Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin.


2 extra battalions deployed in Sulu for offensive vs Abu Sayyaf

From the Philippine Star (Feb 15): 2 extra battalions deployed in Sulu for offensive vs Abu Sayyaf

A company of marines also joined the pursuit mission against the Abu Sayyaf group. File photo

An additional two battalions of soldiers have been deployed in Sulu to hunt and tire out the Abu Sayyaf group, according to a military area commander.

Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo dela Cruz, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, said an Army battalion was deployed and joined the Marine Battalion Landing Team 1 (MBLT) that replaced the MBLT 2 the other week.

He said aside from the two additional battalions augmenting the current military forces in Sulu, a company of marines under the test mission also joined the pursuit mission against the Abu Sayyaf group.

“We have intensified the operations. In fact, we deployed additional battalion in Sulu and the marines for test mission were also deployed,” Dela Cruz said.

“Hindi namin titigilan ito as we follow the order of Armed Forces chief of staff (General Hernando Iriberri),” Dela Cruz said.

Iriberri during his recent visit in Zamboanga and Sulu urged the ground forces to produce results in its offensive against the Abu Sayyaf group until May and review its campaign plan to address the remaining concerns of the operations.

Dela Cruz clarified that the AFP chief has not imposed a deadline in its operation but issued guidelines to ensure that the intensified operations continue to flush out the Abu Sayyaf group.

“Kung may natira pa sa kanila (Abu Sayyaf), we will review kung saan kami nagkulang at kung ano pa ang puwede naming ma-improve to enhance our hunt against this group,” Dela Cruz said.


SolCom, PNP officials conduct peace dialogue with local candidates in Masbate

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 17): SolCom, PNP officials conduct peace dialogue with local candidates in Masbate

Top officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Southern Luzon Command (SolCom) and Philippine National Police (PNP) in Bicol Region met with incumbent leaders as well as some aspiring candidates in Masbate for a peace dialogue held at the PNP-Masbate Provincial Headquarters in Masbate City on Tuesday (Feb. 16) and discussed the peace and security concerns on the May 2016 Elections.
Lieutenant Colonel Angelo S. Guzman, chief, Public Information Office and SolCom Spokesperson reported that the dialogue was attended by SoLCom Chief Lieutenant General Ricardo R. Visaya, 9th Infantry Division Commander Major General Ferdinand F. Quidilla, 903rd Infantry Brigade Commander Colonel Fernando Trinidad, Task Force Masbate Commander Colonel Samuel Felipe and Masbate-based 9th Infantry Battalion Commander Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Cinco composed the AFP contingent with PNP Region-5 Director Police Chief Superintendent Augusto M. Marquez Jr., Masbate Governor Vicente Homer Revil, two representatives, mayors in different municipalities and other aspiring candidates.

Accordingly, the dialogue aimed to address current peace and security issues among candidates as well as to get the commitment of the local chief executives and candidates for a peaceful and orderly elections in May.

Guzman, in his report, said that about 2,050 policemen and soldiers will be engaged in election duties in Masbate including those in current duties.

According to PCSUPT Marquez, 350 police contingent will augment the current 1,000 police force of Masbate Provincial Police Office (PPO) and one Special Action Force (SAF) Company around 100 police commandos from Cordillera will also augment Masbate PPO.

Meanwhile, LtGen Visaya said a Division Reconnaissance Company from the 9th Infantry Division around 100 soldiers will be deployed soon to augment the 500 strong 9th Infantry Battalion based in the island province.

Visaya said the augmentation is needed to achieve a peaceful and orderly elections in May 2016 based on the New People’s Army (NPA) and Private Armed Group (PAG) threats as well as the political situation in the province.

LtGen Visaya said the AFP and PNP in Masbate are monitoring five identified Private Armed Groups (PAGs) that once verified, the soldiers are ordered to immediately arrest and neutralize them.

"We appeal to the candidates not to use PAGs," said LtGen Visaya.

Moreover, the report said that the NPAs also remain as potent threat and minimizing their extortion activities in forms of permit-to-campaign (PTC) and permit-to-win (PTW), is one of the top concerns of the AFP and PNP.

Masbate Governor Revil recognized the presence of the NPAs in the province as the reason placing the province in the Election Watchlist and expressed hope that the province will be removed from the list in the future.

"While it might be true that Masbate is in the watchlist because of alleged PAGs and strong political rivalries, it is more because of the presence of the NPAs which is not doing any good for Masbate," he said.

Moreover, the SoLCom chief said that he was satisfied with the outcome of the peace dialogue.

"I am happy that despite their differences in political affiliations, they are one with the AFP and PNP in our common goal for a peaceful Masbate Province not only during the election period but more importantly for the greater future ahead," he said.

Likewise, he said that the discussions gave him a better insight on the peace and security perspectives of the incumbent leaders and aspirant candidates.

"Surely, there will be adjustments in our deployment and how we will conduct our operations and election duties based on the discussions and suggestions," he said.

He further appealed that the AFP and PNP cannot achieve peace by themselves alone, but a need the strong commitment and full cooperation of every citizen in Masbate.


Maguindanao town treasurer, 3 others killed in BIFF bomb attack

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 17): Maguindanao town treasurer, 3 others killed in BIFF bomb attack

The town treasurer of this town, his son and two others were killed when suspected lawless group set off a roadside improvised bomb in a Maguindanao highway Tuesday night, the military here said.

Killed on the spot were Carlos Macabangen, municipal treasurer of Datu Salibo, his son Kenneth “Ken-Ken” Macabangen, Alex Alpas and Bensar Agapay.

Lt. Colonel Warlito Limet, 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion commander, said the victims were on board a Mitsubishi Delica van with license plate RDX-928 heading toward Datu Salibo town proper when the IED fashioned from 81 mm mortar and mobile phone as triggering device, went off at 10:30 p.m..

Limet said Macabangen and five other van passengers decided to return to Datu Saudi Ampatuan because of intense fighting between government forces and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Barangay Tee and Barangay Sambolawan, all in Datu Salibo.

“They were heading back to Datu Saudi Ampatuan when the explosion occurred and hit the passing van,” Limet said, adding two others were rushed by soldiers to the Cotabato Regional Medical Center.

The bombing was part of the skirmishes between lawless group and government forces in Datu Salibo.

“The IED could be meant for military vehicles,” he said. “Unfortunately, civilians were killed.”

At 4 a.m. Tuesday, about 50 BIFF fighters harassed the Army detachments in Barangay Tee and Barangay Sambolawan, both in Datu Salibo, which led to early morning fire fight.

Two MG-520 attack helicopters pounded the BIFF for about an hour as the fighting intensified, Capt. Joann Petinglay, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson.

Petinglay said the number of BIFF was rising as there were reinforcements from nearby towns.

She could not say how many BIFF were killed or injured in the air strikes and ground attacks.

Petinglay admitted government forces lost a one soldier in action and six others were injured, including an Army company commander.

On February 5, the BIFF attacked a government dredging project in Barangay Butalo, Datu Salibo, Maguindanao. Since then, sporadic skirmishes had been on-going.

“We cannot understand why the BIFF was against a development project that will protect the people of Datu Salibo, including the BIFF, from floods when rainy season comes,” Petinglay said.

BIFF spokesperson Abu Misri Mama said five soldiers were killed Tuesday and three armoured personnel carriers (APCs) were destroyed and disabled, a claim denied by Petinglay.

“Three APCs were hit but not destroyed, our troops are still using these military vehicles,” Petinglay said. “We have no casualty on Tuesday,” she added.

The two-week sporadic skirmishes between government forces and BIFF have also displaced more than 2,500 families in Datu Salibo’s five adjoining villages where the fighting was concentrated.


Cops hunt down 2 men in grenade attack on NGO offices

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 17): Cops hunt down 2 men in grenade attack on NGO offices

Police authorities here have identified the suspects who lobbed a hand grenade Tuesday night at offices of non government organizations working for displaced families in Maguindanao.

Senior Supt. Raul Supiter, Cotabato City police director, said two men riding tandem on a motorbike was captured by a CCTV camera of nearby establishment after they lobbed the grenade toward the office of Central Mindanao Youth Center and Mindanao Tulong Bakwit.

No casualty was reported in the 7:30 p.m. attack on two offices located along Anacleto Badoy Street, Barangay Poblacion 2, Cotabato City. But an ambulance, parked inside the compound, was slightly damaged.

"Nobody was in the two offices and the grenade landed at the parking lot," Supiter said. "As to the motive, our investigators are still gathering statements from officials of two NGOs," he said.

Scene of the Crime Operatives recovered the safety lever of MK-2 fragmentation grenade at the blast site.

Supiter said the two offices were managed by Fairuds Ibus and Anshari Guiabal Ibrahim.

Quoting police investigation report, Supiter said two men were seen by residents parked near the two offices as if waiting for something.

One of them lobbed the grenade and sped away.

Since 2008, Mindanao Tulong Bakwit has been in the forefront of providing relief aid to Muslim families displaced by armed hostilities in Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.

Police could not say if the grenade attack was in any way connected to the on-going skirmishes between government forces and outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Maguindanao towns.


4ID welcomes 135 new peace advocates

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 16): 4ID welcomes 135 new peace advocates

CAMP EVANGELISTA, Cagayan de Oro City --- One hundred thirty five (135) new peace advocates and nine active soldiers of the 4th Infantry “Diamond” Division graduated on February 16.

Graduation rites held at the Division Grandstand, the new soldiers are the members of Candidate Soldier Course Class 390 – 2015.

They were able to graduate after completing 20 weeks of military training held at 4th Division Training School at Camp Osito D Bahian, Impalambong, Malaybalay City. They were cross-trained with nine active soldiers of 4ID who have undergone Jungle Warfare and Mountain Operation Course.

During the ceremony, Mary Cor R Calizo, punong barangay of Patag, Cagayan de Oro City graced the ceremony as the guest of honor and speaker. She handed over the firearms issued to the new batch of Army soldiers.

After the ceremony, the order of their assignments will be released by the division adjutant.

The newly graduated soldiers will be deployed and report to their respective unit assignments under the 4ID, covering the provinces of Northern Mindanao and Caraga Region. Their primary task is to protect and safeguard the life and properties of the innocent civilians.

They will also serve as catalysts of peace and development in conflict-affected areas.

In her message Calizo, reminded the new members of the Philippine Army to give value to their service. She also encouraged them to always ask for a divine assistance through prayers, for safety and protection, as they fulfill their duties in the field.

LtCol Febie N Lamerez, commandant of the 4th Division Training School said, “As I have observed from the start of their training until they stand before us today in this hallowed ground of the 4th Infantry Division, they are now ready to face all the challenges in the platform of military aspects.

Lamerez also said he is confident that these new graduates of candidate soldiers were equipped with the needed knowledge and skills.

MGen Oscar T Lactao, 4ID division commander said, “To the new graduates, congratulations and welcome to the noble profession of arms. You are now regular members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Your parents and loved ones are so proud of you. To the Filipino people to whom you dedicate your service, there are a lot of things to be expected from your ability and behavior.

He also reiterated when these new soldiers are already in the field, they have to ensure they always follow the rule of law, rules of engagement, International Humanitarian Law and respect human rights.

Use your newly acquired skills in protecting the people anywhere you may be assigned, said Lactao.

He also thanked the parents and loved ones of the new soldiers for entrusting their sons to this institution. Rest assured that they will be taken cared by the AFP. For the AFP, every soldier counts.


53rd Infantry (MATAPAT) battalion has new commander

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 16): 53rd Infantry (MATAPAT) battalion has new commander

The 53rd Infantry (MATAPAT) Battalion, Philippine Army has a new commander replacing Lt. Col. Alvin Luzon who is now assigned at the Western Mindanao Command (WesMinCom) in Zamboanga City as unified command staff.

Lt. Col. Virgilio Hamos Jr. took over as commander of the 53rd Infantry Battalion, which is based in Camp Major David P. Sabido in Poblacion, Guipos, Zamboanga del Sur effective Feb. 1.

Hamos, who is Luzon’s mistah at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) “Bantay-Laya” (Protectors of Freedom) class of 1994, was previously assigned at G3 (operations), Philippine Amy headquarters.

In his message, Luzon said “the unit extends the same support and sense of duty to the incoming commander.” As his mistah, he knew Hamos as a hardworking and dedicated leader.

“I am confident that with Lt. Col. Hamos, the team “MATAPAT” will continue to tread the way and ready to face the challenges posed by rapidly changing security environment,” Luzon announced.

“He is the perfect commander who shall continue with our motto: Sa 5rd IB Hindi Pwede ang Pwede Na,” Luzon said adding “excellence is the MATAPAT’s way of life.”

Luzon said: “I may be leaving but I am not saying goodbye.”

“I bid you farewell to prepare, be ready and to continue my journey in military service. As in the sports of Golf, the most important shot is the next one,” he added.

Luzon expressed his profound gratitude to all stakeholders who contributed greatly to the remarkable accomplishments during his stint as commander of the unit.

He particularly thanked the officers and enlisted personnel whom he claimed to have contributed significantly to the unit’s successes. “These accomplishments were made because of you,” the teary-eyed commander declared.

Meanwhile, Hamos expressed his gratitude to the 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division for giving him the opportunity to lead the unit.

“I would like to express my gratitude to the leadership of the 1st Infantry Tabak Division for giving me the opportunity to lead this unit.  Though, it is not an easy job to be at par with the outstanding performance of my predecessor,”Hamos said.

Hamos however, vowed to pursue the programs and activities, which were started by his predecessor.

“To the outgoing commander, rest assured that what you have started will be pursued with much dedication,” Hamos assured.

“I will build upon your accomplishments. I will do what an officer must do that is, to accomplish the mission. To the men and women of the 53rd IB I offer you my full commitment to serve. I will work with you, struggle with you, and fight with you.”

The event was attended by the Tabak commander, Major General Gerardo F. Barrientos Jr., the event’s keynote speaker, Governor Antonio Cerilles, local chief executives, and other stakeholders.


3 fishermen abducted in Southern Philippines

From the Mindanao Examiner (Feb 16): 3 fishermen abducted in Southern Philippines

Unidentified gunmen have reportedly abducted 3 crewmen of a fishing boat while heading to the restive province of Basilan in southern Philippines.

One of the three men has been identified as Ronnie Bancale. His wife, Marilou, has reported the incident to the police after Bancale phoned her and said they were seized by gunmen who were demanding P1 million ransoms for their safe release.

Other reports identified the others as Winie Pandiag and Romeo Rubio.

The fishing boat – which is registered in Zamboanga del Sur province – came from here and was believed hijacked between Basilan and Zamboanga City on February 15.

No individual or group claimed responsibility for the abduction, but Abu Sayyaf rebels are actively operating in Basilan and had been linked to piracy and kidnappings in the past.

In January 2012, unidentified gunmen also attacked a small fleet of fishing boats off Sibago Island which is part of Basilan and almost wiping out all its 18 crew members. The bodies of the slain fishermen were brought back to Pagadian City.

Only 3 fishermen had survived the attack, but they were all seriously wounded. The victims were mostly from Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur province where they are based, but sailed to the troubled Basilan on three boats – Palakaya 1, 2 and 3 – to catch fish.

The attack was believed connected to a turf war among fishermen


USAID’s Be Secure Project advocates use of rain water

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 16): USAID’s Be Secure Project advocates use of rain water

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through its Water Security for Resilient Economic Growth and Stability (Be Secure) Project, is advocating for the passage of an ordinance by local government units (LGUs) to require the installation of rain water harvesting and storage facility in all buildings and houses in their respective localities.

Elisea Gozun, USAID’s Be Secure Climate Resiliency team leader, said Monday that harvesting and storing rain water should be practiced in every households “so that we can make use of it” for other needs especially in times of El Niño.

“We should maximize the use of water that we have,” said Gozun, speaking on the first day of the four-day Water Audit Training in this city.

Gozun said that a law was enacted sometime in 1989 during the time of then President Corazon Aquino requiring all barangays to have their own rain water harvesting facility.

Gozun, who is the former secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), however noted that such law “as in many other laws was never implemented.”

She said the ordinance to be adopted by the LGUs should be applicable only to all houses and buildings that will be constructed after its approval.

She said the harvesting and storage of rain water should be practiced all year round by all households not just in times of El Niño citing climate change has great impact “in our water resources.”

The USAID Be Secure Project is conducting the Water Auditing Training in partnership with the Zamboanga City Water District (ZCWD).

It is aimed to help the various stakeholders learn how to conduct rapid water audits and evaluate how water is used in their facilities.

The four-day training is aimed to promote effective water demand management at the local level as a way to prepare for impending water stress and adapt a climate-resilient and sustainable water use.

The training is anchored on the theme “Water Audits: A tool Towards Water Efficiency.”


USAID encourages vendors to adopt mobile payment system

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 16): USAID encourages vendors to adopt mobile payment system

About 8,000 vendors would be using mobile payment system in processing market stall renewals here in the future, a local official said Tuesday.

Representatives from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the local government would be holding a two-day caravan on February 23-24, 2016 in the two biggest public markets here.

Dubbed as the “e-Bayad Tour 2016,” USAID and City Hall representatives would guide the vendors from the sprawling Cogon and Carmen public markets on how to speed up online transactions using cellular phones.

“The e-Bayad Tour focuses on setting up a wide-ranging collaborative events designed to build bridges between the local governments and e-payment providers,” Eileen E. San Juan, the city’s investment and promotion officer, said.

San Juan said the city government already adopted the mobile payment system in processing market stall renewals and other transactions since 2014.

The mobile payment system is meant to eliminate long lines and waiting hours, especially when settling the taxes that the local government collects from businessmen like the market vendors.

Similar caravans are also slated within the month of February in the cities of Batangas, Valenzuela, Quezon and Iloilo, the official added.


Bukidnon town folks laud soldiers’ bloodletting activity

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 16): Bukidnon town folks laud soldiers’ bloodletting activity

Government soldiers of the Army’s 8th Infantry Battalion (8IB) here donated 31,500 cubic centimeters of blood as a symbol of “love” during the observance of “Valentines Day,” a military statement released Tuesday said.

Capt. Norman Tagros, spokesperson of the 8IB, said that the 8IB conducts the bloodletting activity annually during the celebration of the “Season of Love” in partnership with the local government and the province of Bukidnon.

He said that a total of 70 blood donors from the 8IB and the town folks of Impasug-ong joined the bloodletting that drew the admiration of the local folks on the soldiers’ unwavering support of Impasug-ong, the capital town of indigenous peoples in Northern Mindanao.

Linda Baculi, a 63-year-old senior citizen and resident of Impasug-ong, said that “we love our soldiers so much because they are the reason why we get a sound sleep every night.”

Tagros said that the 8IB and its soldiers have been getting high ratings in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Army Transformation Road Map (ATR) program because the battalion has continually gained the respect and support of the people in its area of operations.

He said that the 8IB gained the trust of the people because the servicemen have constantly observed respect for human rights and the cultures, traditions and customs of the indigenous peoples of Bukidnon.

Tagros also disclosed that the strength and credibility of the 8IB, as defined in the AFP campaign plan, emanate from the support and trust of the people and the community.