Wednesday, February 17, 2016

MILF to assert deals signed with Aquino

From the Daily Tribune (Feb 17): MILF to assert deals signed with Aquino

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) vowed to continue asserting signed agreements with the government of the Philippines (GPH) yesterday despite the “death” of its proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

The MILF stressed that no law or person can terminate the fundamental elements of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) which led to the crafting of the BBL.

They are the heart and soul of the struggle of the Moros for right to self-determination. No law or not anyone can extinguish them,” the MILF stated in its latest editorial posted over its website.

“We will continue to assert them and tell government not to continue to renege on its obligations contained in signed agreements,” it added. The MILF maintained that the non-passage of BBL by the Senate and the House of Representatives does not mean it is already dead.

“The BBL is not dead and will never die,” the MILF declared.

At the same time, the MILF scored Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce-Enrile for his declaration that BBL is already dead.

The MILF reminisced Enrile’s role as martial law implementor during the Marcos regime.

“His hands are full of Moro blood!”, the MILF said.

However, the MILF said it is not burning bridges with Enrile, saying “if we cannot agree on certain matters, we just leave them that way.”

“Man has the capacity to change or not to change. Let history handles them,” the MILF said.

The MILF earlier said that it will continue to pursue peace negotiations with the next administration anchored on previous signed agreements.

The Aquino administration signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) that led to the formulation of the CAB which, in turn, gave birth to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that crafted the BBL.

The BBL underwent rough sailing in both the Senate and the House of Representatives –striking several provisions which were declared unconstitutional.

Iqbal cites frustration

MILF peace panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal said there is “widespread frustration on the ground by our people and members of the MILF” as result of the failure of government, particularly Congress, to pass the BBL.

Iqbal said, however, that the MILF will continue to seek ways and means to address the dangerous situation and avoid actions that may increase the frustrations.

He pointed out that, “The most immediate step is either the BBL will be refilled in Congress or a new basic law, faithful to the letter and spirit of the CAB, will be crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), which will most likely have new faces as members. This is the only way forward”.

He emphasized that both the government and the MILF “must provide them hope that there is a chance” that a Bangsamoro law would be passed “whoever the next President would be.”

Iqbal said the BBL must remain compliant with the peace agreement, called the CAB, signed between the government and the MILF in 2014.

“This must be in the form of firm and unequivocal commitment from government that it shall continue to comply with its obligations under the CAB, particularly on the passage of the CAB-compliant BBL, which is a unilateral obligation of government,” Iqbal said.

“On the part of the MILF, we assure everyone including the international community that we will adhere to the CAB and comply with its obligations. And finally, in order to preserve the gains of the peace process, government and MILF should journey together in faithfully implementing the CAB, guided by the principle of ‘as is, where is’,” Iqbal added.

The proposed Bangsamoro Law seeks to form a substate called Bangsamoro that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Moros want peace with Cordillerans

From the Herald Express (Feb 16): Moros want peace with Cordillerans


TABUK CITY, Kalinga – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) wants to enter into a peace agreement with the Regional Council of Elders for Indigenous Peoples Education in the Cordillera in order to strengthen the camaraderie and brotherhood of Muslims and Cordillerans not only within their areas of jurisdiction but also in other parts of the global village.

Engr. Andres Ngao-i, chairman of the Cordillera Council of Elders for Indigenous Peoples Education, said the activity was proposed to them by MILF leaders during their visit to Mamasapano, Maguindanao where they performed the  “aray-at’ or “ karay-at,’ an Igorot ritual to call for the spirits of those who have perished in accidents outside their house.

Ngao-i cited the proposal of the MILF leaders was a welcome development considering that Cordillerans are still hurting on the untimely demise of at least 14 out of the 44 Special Action force (SAF) members whi were kiiled by the MILF during the bloody encounter in Mamasapano last January 25, 2015 during the service of the warrant of arrest of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Binhir alias Marwan in his hideout in the area.

“We were invited by the MILF leaders after we were abuse to successfully perform our rituals. The MILF leaders explained to us what actually happened during that tragic incident and then they proposed that we enter into a peace agreement for us to be able to strengthen our camaraderie and brotherhood as well as lasting peace in Mindanao and the Cordillera,” Ngao-i stressed.

He said the Council of Elders will evaluate and assess the proposal of the MILF leaders before scheduling the date and place where such agreement will be forged.
According to him, their trip to Mamasapano was not easy to achieve because even during their preparations, many of those who committed their support to such plan, particularly Cordillera congressmen and some regional line agency officials, withdrew their support at the last minute for fear that President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino will get back at them in the future.

The conduct of the age-old ritual in Mamaapano where the incident actually occurred was planned by the Cordillera Council of Elders for Indigenous Peoples Education and was fully supported by Education Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro and Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) peace panel chairperson Miriam Coronel Ferrer who were with them at the airport prior to their flight to Maguindanao.

He said that part of their expenses were shouldered by the foundation of presidential sister Biel Aquino Day while their air transport to Maguindanao was courtesy of the C-130 of the Philippine Air Force.

Ngao-i revealed the first part of the ritual was done in Mamasapano where they butchered and offered native chickens while the second part of the ritual was performed at Teachers’ Camp in Baguio City before relatives of the 14 Cordillera SAF members went home to their respective places with the spirits of their departed love ones.

However, Ngao-i expressed disappointment over the sudden withdrawal of support by the Cordillera congressman to such activity when they earlier committed to shoulder their trip back from the airport in Manila to Baguio city, saying that even the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) also withdrew its support to such endeavour when the agency was supposed to be there to promote the practice of age-old proven customs and traditions.

Moreover, he added that eight hours before their scheduled flight to Maguindanao, they received a call that the C-130 for their use was no longer available because it will undergo the required repair.

While admitting that they nearly lost hope in pursuing their endeavour after greeting the call, Ngao-i said the group immediately sought the assistance of Biel Aquino Dy and after an hour, they received a call that the newly purchased Korean plane was the one that they will use.

However, an hour before their scheduled flight, they again received a call from the air force that the C-130 was already available for their use which caused the activity to proceed as planned.

Ngao-i narrated that it seems that some influential people were behind the withdrawal of support by the Cordillera congressmen and the NCIP to an activity to spouse the rich culture and traditions of Cordillerans and to bring home the spirits of those who have died in battle to protect the country from the influence of terrorists, saying that such incident should no longer happen in the future because it is an insult to the preservation and promotion of local culture.

Vinta Festival in Sulu aims to bring peace, progress to the province

From CNN Philippines  (Feb 18): Vinta Festival in Sulu aims to bring peace, progress to the province


A grand spectacle of colors adorned the seas of Jolo, Sulu as vintas sailed off the island's coast last Sunday (February 14) for the first-ever Vinta Festival.
It was organized by the Joint Task Group of Sulu.

The spotlight was on the Badjaos that showcased 46 vintas donated to them by the Joint Task Group Sulu, the local government and other organizations in Mindanao.

Locals of Sulu watched in awe of the spectacle of vintas at sea.

Badjaos who received the vintas said they are happy to start their livelihood with the traditional boats that define their culture and identity.

According to Brigadier Gen. Alan Arrojado, the fluvial parade is part of the Terrorism to Tourism program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines that aims to bring peace, progress and prosperity in Sulu.

Major Gen. Gerardo Barrientos Jr., ZAMBASULTA (Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi) division commander, said this initiative shows how the military has evolved into a multi-dimensional organization.

Aside from the Vinta Festival, the Joint Task Group Sulu is also set to launch the Kite-Flying Festival of Sulu in April.

Young Advocates Use Art to Promote Peace in Southern Philippines

From the Asia Foundation (Feb 17): Young Advocates Use Art to Promote Peace in Southern Philippines (By Nadine S. Ragonjan)

Late last month, a group of young peace advocates sponsored “Piece of Peace,” or POP, an art contest at a public elementary school in the town of Patikul in Sulu, Southern Philippines.

The event attracted young artists from the area who showcased their talents in a variety of forms, including tire painting, above, to promote messages of peace and unity.
The event attracted young artists from the area who showcased their talents in mural, soil, and tire painting, poster design, and photography to promote messages of peace and unity.

The event attracted young artists from the area who showcased their talents in mural, soil, and tire painting, poster design, and photography to promote messages of peace and unity.

Photographs of Sulu scenery were showcased by the Sulu Photograpeace Club at the POP Art contest.
Photographs of Sulu scenery were showcased by the Sulu Photograpeace Club at the POP Art contest.

For Sulu residents – who have endured violent, bloody conflict and poverty for decades – the mood was exciting, but tense. The morning of the contest, just 300 meters from Mudjunon Elementary, two soldiers from the Philippine Army were shot at close range by suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). One soldier survived, while the other was killed on the spot. The perpetrator got away.

Due to ongoing violence and security risks, military presence has increased in Patikul, Sulu, where violent episodes between the military and the MNLF still remain.
Due to ongoing violence and security risks, military presence has increased in Patikul, Sulu, where violent episodes between the military and the MNLF still remain.

The incident is symptomatic of the security risks that envelope the whole town on a regular basis. Recent sources of conflict are directly attached to the fateful days of Feb. 7-8, 1974, when the nearby capital town of Jolo was razed by fire due to the continuous land, air, and sea bombardments by the Armed Forces of the Philippines who were fighting off the forces from the secessionist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF, which the ASG broke away from in the 1990s). This incident resulted in the displacement and death of thousands of Muslims and Christians, thereby altering the socio-political fabric of Sulu. Since then, the discontent of the MNLF has continued and violent episodes between the military and the MNLF still remain.

On Oct. 10, 1977, a high-ranking official of the Philippine Army, BGen Teodulfo Bautista, four Army colonels, and 29 other soldiers, were killed in Patikul’s public market. Now known as the “Patikul massacre,” it is reported that an MNLF commander, Usman Sali, lured Bautista into a “peace dialogue” in the town’s public market. The soldiers, who came unarmed, were greeted by about 150 MNLF troops who opened fire. More than three decades after this incident, the slain general’s son, LtGen Emmanuel Bautista, became the chief of staff of the Armed Forces in 2013.

Driven by the tragic death of his father, he became an active peace advocate, supported the implementation of the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) known as the Oplan Bayanihan, which is led by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and focuses on peacebuilding through multi-stakeholder engagement and promotion of human rights.

In 1991, Sulu saw a different facet of conflict and violence as the ASG broke away from the MNLF. While it initially fought for an independent Islamic nation, it is now branded as a terrorist group with members resorting to banditry and criminality, especially kidnap-for-ransom. Today ASG members, especially the younger ones, have become bolder, planting IED bombs and targeting the military and police in Sulu.

Their strongholds are reported to be located in Indanan and Patikul, whose open seas and mountainous terrain provide a safe haven. Although its armed strength fell after the capture of ASG members by the government in 2006, ASG has professed ties with other regional terror organizations such as Jemaah Islamiya and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIL). Military forces, through the Joint Task Group Sulu, have continued to increase their presence in the area and conduct focused military operations.

This insecurity is what the people, including the youth, have grown accustomed to in Patikul. The deafening sounds of helicopters and flaring mortar shells have become normal. While an event like POP Art, now in its fourth year, may seem like a soft approach to a hard issue that confronts Patikul, it is in fact a valuable, and until now missing, way for young artists to promote moderation and peace, show their dissent from injustices and violence, both physical and structural, and claim their quest for a just socio-political order. The transformative capacity of their arts may be difficult to gauge at this time, but what is important is that this new generation has set it in motion. The quest continues.

[Nadine S. Ragonjan is a senior program coordinator for The Asia Foundation in the Philippines. She can be reached at The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.]

ISIS recognizes Philippine-based extremist groups

From Rappler (Feb 17): ISIS recognizes Philippine-based extremist groups

The release of the video could presage the announcement of a wilayat in the region soon   

This file photo shows Filipino extremists who are allegedly linked to ISIS. File/Rappler

This file photo shows Filipino extremists who are allegedly linked to ISIS. File/Rappler

A number of jihadist groups in the Philippines are now officially recognized by the Islamic State in Iraq & Syria (also known as ISIS, IS, ISIL, or Da'esch), but the terror organization stopped short of declaring a wilayat or province in the country or in Southeast Asia.

A video released by the ISIS-linked, Russian-language outlet Al Furat Media over the weekend showed Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) leader Isnilon Hapilon and two other groups pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the terror group.

Also seen in the video are Abu Anas al Muhajir and Abu Harith al Filipini. Al Muhajir is identified as the leader of the Katibat Ansar al Sharia, while Al Filipini represented the group Katibat Marakah al Ansar.

Muhajir, whose real name is Mohd Najib Husen, was killed in a firefight in Basilan in December, and the video included some combat footage from the incident.

The video also showed ISIS officially recognizing the allegiance of other extremist groups in the region, including the Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid and the Mujahidin Indonesian Timor (MIT).

The MIT, also known as the Mujahideen of Eastern Indonesia, is led by Santoso, who pledged loyalty to ISIS back in July 2014, and has been designated by the US as a terror organization in September 2015.

Next steps

The release of the video could presage the announcement of a wilayat or province in the region soon, which came out a month after the deadly Jakarta suicide attacks.

ISIS has officially recognized several provinces outside its base in Iraq and Syria, within Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Afghatnistan, Pakistan and the Northern Caucasus.

The declaration of allegiance is also in line with the 5-step process ISIS follows in its ambitions to expand beyond Iraq and Syria.

"First, raising awareness of the Islamic Caliphate through propaganda," terror expert Rohan Gunaratna explained to Rappler early January. "Second, a series of groups pledging their allegiance to the 'Caliph.' Third, selection of groups to form a province. Fourth, the selection of a leader to lead the ISIS branch, and fifth, the ISIS proclamation of a designated area as a province of the caliphate."

Acts of terror or brutality usually follow a group's declaration of allegiance to ISIS, as a show of commitment and to bolster their chances for funding and support from the main organization.


This is the latest in a string of videos linking ISIS to extremist organizations in the Philippines.

In January, a video from Mindanao started circulating on the dark web jihadi forum Shumukh al-Islam, which showed Hapilon marching with other extremist leaders from Sulu and Basilan, showing the consolidation of various groups pledging allegiance to

ISIS. (READ: ISIS to declare a province in Mindanao?)

In December 2015, a video of Filipino jihadists allegedly training in the southern Philippines was released by an ISIS-linked account.

(READ: ISIS’ global ambitions and plans for Southeast Asia)

Earlier in 2015, the group Ansar al Khilafah, also based in the Philippines, released a video announcing their loyalty to ISIS. The said group is reportedly led by a certain Abu Sharifah, and is based in the provinces of South Cotabato and Sarangani.

In recent years, a number of extremist groups around the world have shifted allegiance from Al-Qaeda to ISIS.

ASG has traditionally been linked to Al-Qaeda, and it is still unclear how many members of the extremist group has pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Muddy relations for IS in the Philippines

From the East Asia Forum (Feb 18): Muddy relations for IS in the Philippines (by Joseph Franco)

Is the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (IS) militant group gaining a foothold in the Philippines? The declaration of the first IS wilayat (province) in Southeast Asia appeared possible after Filipino and Malaysian militants from previously separate jihadist groups pledged allegiance to IS in an online video released in January 2016.  Recognition from IS would certainly increase the attractiveness of Mindanao to jihadists based in Southeast Asia. But there is little solid evidence of a formal relationship between Mindanao and IS.

Filipino Muslims display placards during a rally at the Philippine Senate to coincide with the hearing at the Upper House on the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which would establish an autonomous region in the southern Philippines, 25 May 2015, Manila, Philippines.

On 4 January 2016, several online jihadist portals posted a seven minute video depicting more than two dozen gunmen gathered in front of a black flag associated with IS. Led by Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the Basilan-based faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the individuals in the video reiterated their prior pledges to IS ‘caliph’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The video claimed that Hapilon was now the emir or leader of the converged militant groups, which included the ASG and the Ansar al-Khilafah Philippines (AKP). Hapilon’s apparent ascent as the head of IS-inspired militants in Mindanao is unprecedented as it suggests his growing influence beyond Basilan, his traditional support base.

Raising further alarms was the presence of three wanted Malaysian militants in the video: Abu Anas al-Muhajir, Mahmud Ahmad and Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee. Analysts were quick to jump on the presence of foreign militants as proof that the convergence of IS-inspired groups was the result of direct guidance from the IS central leadership. Speculation was rife that the IS-linked Malaysians were recently deployed by IS ‘central’ to enhance the operational capability of Filipino militants.

Yet there is little indication that the pledges were orchestrated ‘top-down’ by the IS leadership. The foreign militants seen taking the pledge have been on the run from Malaysia’s Special Branch and joined the ASG in 2014. Their move to Mindanao appears to be more of a desperate move to avoid capture, rather than a planned IS deployment. It appears Hapilon took Anas under the ASG’s protection after the Malaysian promised access to IS funds. Hapilon sought to combine foreign terror financing with indigenous tactics, which would allow the Basilan-based ASG to conduct high-profile attacks. But Anas was ultimately unable to deliver the funding due to his lack of connections.

For Mindanao to be an actual ‘satellite’ province of IS, foreign militants would have to overcome the challenge of integrating with local terrorist groups in Mindanao. Until such integration is achieved, jihadism in the Philippines should be treated as an indigenous phenomenon inspired by, rather than directed by, IS.

The resilience of the ASG at the tactical-level remains rooted in indigenous cultural practice rather than actual connections to IS. The fighting tactics of Filipino militant groups are embedded within kinship networks and shared ethnic backgrounds. This exclusivity is evident in pintakasi, a cultural practice where all fighting age men in a community form ad hoc alliances against government forces.

Foreign militants expecting to survive military operations under the cover of pintakasi would be in for an unpleasant surprise. For example, in two instances last year Indonesian militants, including the notorious Indonesian Jemaah Islamiyah member Marwan, were abandoned by Filipino comrades and subsequently killed by police commandos. In both cases, the purportedly universalist promise of brotherhood under jihad was undone by centuries-old ethnic practice.

Commentary on regional terrorism in Southeast Asia often assumes that IS can easily import the techniques, tactics and procedures it uses in the Iraq–Syria border. But claims that local militant operations can suddenly mirror those of IS ‘central’ ignores the challenge of indigenising knowledge.

And there are strong indications that the group depicted in the pledge video was weakened by military operations conducted in December 2015 to dismantle the remaining ASG strongholds in Basilan. Both mainstream and social media reports in Malaysia and the Philippines at the time reported on the deaths of Basilan-based militants. Encampments, along with inventories of improvised explosive devices and explosives precursors were seized. More importantly, traffic in messaging apps, such as Telegram, favoured by Filipino militants was filled with reports of ‘martyred’ militants.

Of course, security operations alone are not sufficient to prevent the declaration of a wilayat in Mindanao. Analysts hoping to explain jihadism in the Philippines must examine not only the influence of international terrorist networks, but also the local conditions that give rise to extremist violence. Insecurity and underdevelopment legitimises the communal use of violence. This cycle of violence compels ASG leaders like Hapilon to attempt to converge with other local jihadist groups as well as link up with transnational groups like IS.

The only enduring solution to prevent a wilayat from taking hold in the southern Philippines is to address the underlying conditions of socioeconomic deprivation in communities. The establishment of a Bangsamoro autonomous region, through the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), is aimed at bringing meaningful political autonomy and development to Mindanao. But the law remains stalled in legislative gridlock. The absence of a political solution to the Mindanao conflict only sustains ungoverned spaces for extremist militants to exploit.

[Joseph Franco is an Associate Research Fellow with the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS), a constituent unit of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.]

China denies sending missiles to disputed island

From the Philippine Star (Feb 17): China denies sending missiles to disputed island

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks during a joint press conference with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. Wu Hong/Pool Photo via AP

Beijing on Wednesday denied reports that it has deployed surface-to-air missile launchers on a contested island in the South China Sea.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the reports that China sent a missile system to Woody Island, a part of the  Paracel Island chain in the South China Sea, were an attempt Western media to "create news stories."

READ: Report: China deploys missiles in contested South China Sea island

"As for the limited and necessary self-defense facilities China has built on islands and reefs stationed by Chinese personnel, that is consistent with the self-defense and self-preservation China is entitled to under international law," Wang said.

Wang suggested that the media should focus its attention on the lighthouse that China has built on some of the islands in the disputed sea.

Fox News earlier reported that two batteries of a missile system known as HQ-9 have been spotted on Woody Island in the Paracel Island chain.

The missile system poses a threat to airplanes, civilian or military, flying in the region as it has a range of about 200 kilometers or 125 miles.

Taiwan earlier confirmed that China deployed an unspecified number of missiles to Woody Island.

Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have overlapping claims over the islands and surrounding waters in the disputed sea.

India: No patrols with US in South China Sea

From the Philippine Star (Feb 18): India: No patrols with US in South China Sea

Vessels of the Philippine Navy and the United States 7th Fleet steam in formation in South China Sea during exercise Balikatan 2010. US Navy/Mark Alvarez, file

India clarified yesterday it was not launching joint patrols with the US in the South China Sea.

The clarification came in the wake of India’s expressing its displeasure at Washington’s announcement of sale of F-16 aircraft to India’s long-time regional rival Pakistan.

The clarification was also issued after the US and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) voiced concern over China’s militarization of the South China Sea.

“We have denied it. There are no joint patrols,” said Anil Wadhwa, secretary for the East of India’s Ministry of External Affairs at the start of the Delhi Dialogue VIII forum here.

The event theme is “ASEAN-India Relations: A New Paradigm.”

In a press statement issued by India’s Ministry of External Affairs last Feb. 13, the Indian government expressed dismay over the US move allowing the sale of fighter planes to Pakistan.

“We are disappointed at the decision of the Obama administration to notify the sale of F-16 aircraft to Pakistan,” MEA said in a statement posted on its website. “We disagree with their rationale that such arms transfers help to combat terrorism. The record of the last many years in this regard speaks for itself,” it said.

“The US ambassador will be summoned by the MEA to convey our displeasure,” it added.

This developed as reports from the US-ASEAN summit quoted Southeast Asian leaders as expressing concern over China’s militarization of the South China Sea.

“In their discussions, the leaders expressed collective concern over continued
militarization in the South China Sea, which they recognized as a core issue in region,”

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said after Monday’s US-ASEAN Summit with President Barack Obama.

Coloma sent notes of the meeting to Manila-based reporters who covered Aquino’s final attendance at the US-ASEAN special summit in Rancho Mirage in California.

Harris Corp. lands $12M radio order from the Philippines

Orlando Business Journal (Feb 18): Harris Corp. lands $12M radio order from the Philippines

Harris Corp. has received a $12 million order to provide its Falcon III tactical radios, intercom systems and handheld radios to the Armed Forces of the Philippines as part of a communications modernization program.

Under the terms of the contract, Harris Corp. will provide the light armored division of the Philippine Army with its Falcon RF-7800V Combat Net Radio. The in-vehicle voice and data communications equipment provides secure tactical network connectivity. Harris Corp. also will provide its Falcon RF-7800V handheld VHF Combat Net Radio for general use by the army.
"These radios will provide soldiers in the Philippine Army with advanced command and control, and real-time situational awareness capabilities," said Brendan O’Connell, president of tactical communications for Harris Communication Systems.

Melbourne-based Harris Corp. (NYSE: HRS), an international communications and information technology company, is the third-largest publicly traded company in Central Florida and employs about 14,000 workers.

Manila takes US pivot well beyond Sunnylands

Nikkei Asian Review (Feb 17): Manila takes US pivot well beyond Sunnylands (by Malcolm Cook)

U.S. President Barack Obama, center, waves as he is flanked by some leaders from the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations at their Sunnylands summit in Rancho Mirage, California, on Feb. 16. © Reuters

The first summit of U.S. and Southeast Asian leaders to be held on American soil has come to an end. Many have written it off as a late-term exercise in symbolism over substance, lacking any clear reaffirmation of future U.S. commitment to Washington's Asian rebalance policy. The sheer unpredictability of the current U.S. election season and the rise of anti-establishment candidates on both sides no doubt deepen these Southeast Asian doubts of U.S. sustained commitment. Will the much-vaunted "pivot to Asia" prove to have been little more than a feint, the "rebalance" more of a wobble?

Look beyond the Sunnylands estate in California -- venue of the historic Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit -- to the other side of the Pacific, beyond the low common-denominator formality of ASEAN consensus. In the Philippines, the future of the U.S. rebalance and regional support for the concept looks much better than this downbeat take on the Sunnylands summit. A recent court decision cements the Philippines' commitment to the U.S. rebalance before President Benigno Aquino, Southeast Asia's most enthusiastic supporter of President Barack Obama's signature regional policy, steps down in June.
The resounding Jan. 12 ruling by the Philippine Supreme Court that the U.S.-Philippine Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) is constitutional is more consequential for Philippine maritime defense in the South China Sea, the U.S. rebalance and China's nuclear deterrence policy than any summitry. By the time the next president is settled in Malacanang Palace on the banks of the Pasig River in July, the implementation of EDCA will be well advanced and its "facts on Philippine ground" will be very difficult for any Philippine administration to ignore -- much less reverse.

EDCA, signed in April 2014, permits the U.S. to build new facilities and to preposition assets (except nuclear weapons) in  already agreed on Philippine bases. According to the Supreme Court ruling, the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement have already established the right of U.S. military personnel to be temporarily located in the Philippines.  Manila and Washington have already agreed on eight EDCA locations, including key naval and air bases guarding the Philippines' South China Sea coasts and maritime claims. Both Clark Air Force Base and Subic Bay Naval Base, the two most important U.S. bases in the Philippines until the Philippine Senate asked the U.S. to leave in 1991, will likely be agreed locations as well. The two sides are publicly talking about joint maritime patrols in the South China Sea, patrols that could happen before Aquino's term ends.

Clear popular support for a stronger U.S.-Philippine alliance, widespread fear and anger toward China's aggressive actions in waters off the islands of Palawan and Luzon, and the Philippines' inability to defend itself mean that the next president is likely to not only tolerate EDCA but embrace it. Vice President Jejomar Binay, before he left the Aquino cabinet to campaign for the presidency, gave his full support to EDCA as essential for Philippine military modernization and defense. Of the three other key presidential hopefuls, Senator Grace Poe did not the join the majority of her colleagues in opposing EDCA on constitutional grounds.  Manuel Roxas - Aquino's chosen heir -- has also given his full support to this signature Aquino achievement. Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte's position on EDCA is less clear -- even so, the Armed Forces of the Philippines is behind EDCA and all presidents like to keep good relations with the military.

Stronger U.S. ties

The Philippine military has already reaped many benefits from reviving relations with the U.S. In 2015, the Philippines was granted well over half the $115 million the U.S. military allocated for maritime surveillance capacity building in Southeast Asia. The Philippines was allocated $79 million. Vietnam came next with $10 million. For 2016 the U.S. has boosted the program's total budget to $140 million. In 2015, the Philippines received $40 million in regular bilateral military assistance from the U.S. In 2016, this is budgeted to grow to $66 million due to the new opportunities under EDCA. Already, the most advanced ships in the Philippine navy are two decommissioned U.S. coastguard cutters, with a third due this year.

U.S. interest in stronger military ties with and greater access to the Philippines is far from altruistic. For the first time, China now has an operational sea-based nuclear deterrent based on Hainan Island. Presently, for these weapons to threaten the U.S. homeland, China's far-from-stealthy submarines will have to cross the South China Sea and its passages to the western Pacific. China's move to oust the Philippines off its claimed outcrop, Scarborough Shoal, in 2012 and its ongoing artificial island building program are consistent with defending this most expensive, most important and most vulnerable asset in its military rivalry with the U.S. The Luzon Strait between the Philippines and Taiwan is China's most attractive deepwater passage from the South China Sea to the western Pacific, as Japan and the U.S. effectively block all passages to the north. A stronger U.S. presence in the Philippines will facilitate the tracking and potential blocking of Chinese submarines throughout the South China Sea. Hence, it was far from surprising when two U.S. nuclear powered hunter-killer submarines visited the Philippines in January. Revived U.S. rotations of such vessels through the Philippines will reassure Taiwan especially after its recent presidential election saw the rise of a pro-independence government.

From the military standpoint, the implementation of EDCA will be the most important weight on the scale of the U.S. rebalance in Southeast Asia, and the most vital boost to Philippine defenses since the departure of the U.S. military 25 years ago. The Jan. 12 Supreme Court decision was a good bilateral feather in the U.S. rebalance cap on the eve of the Sunnylands summit. The major decision on the future of the U.S.-Philippine alliance has been made and judged constitutional, well before Aquino's successor takes power. The Philippine presidential election could lead to many changes in the Philippines and threaten many of the gains made during the Aquino administration. However, EDCA and a revitalized U.S. alliance will not be one of these. While other ASEAN leaders may have hesitated, the outgoing presidents Aquino and Obama had good reason to backslap each other in the California desert for a job well done and completed.

6 BIFF members killed, 2 soldiers hurt in Maguindanao clash

From the Philippine Star (Feb 17): 6 BIFF members killed, 2 soldiers hurt in Maguindanao clash

Local Moro villagers have been complaining of the excessive mulcting of “protection money” by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. photo

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines - Six bandits were killed while two soldiers were wounded in firefights in Datu Salibo town on Tuesday, the seventh in Maguindanao province in the past six days.

Local officials said the slain members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were carried away by their companions as they retreated deep into a marsh that connects to the 220,000-hectare Liguasan Delta.

Four of the BIFF fatalities were initially identified only as Karim, Sindatu, Kuting and Akmad, who were killed when an 81 millimeter mortar soldiers fired to prevent them from closing in landed and exploded in their position.

Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, on Wednesday said two soldiers were wounded in the ensuing encounter.

The wounded soldiers are now being treated of their minor gunshot wounds, she added.

“We don’t have body count of BIFF fatalities but local folks keep telling Army units in the area that several members of the group had indeed been killed in the encounter,” Petinglay said.

The latest Army-BIFF hostilities erupted when bandits showed force in a secluded peasant enclave west of Datu Salibo, despite objection by local Moro villagers.

Villagers have long been complaining of the BIFF’s excessive mulcting of “protection money” and harsh enforcement of a Taliban-style justice system there.

Dispatches: Fighting Over Child Soldiers in the Philippines

From the Human Rights Watch (Feb 16): Dispatches: Fighting Over Child Soldiers in the Philippines (by Carlos H. Conde)

There are fresh allegations that the rebel New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, is still recruiting children for use as fighters.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines announced last week that a 14-year-old boy was among two suspected NPA fighters captured after what the military called a “legitimate encounter” on February 9, in Compostela Valley province on the southern island of Mindanao.

The military has previously accused the NPA of using child soldiers. For example, it reported in May 2015, that an 11-year-old NPA child soldier surrendered to its troops in Davao Oriental province. That same month the military claimed that about 22 percent of NPA members are children between 6 and 17 years old.

But the armed forces has undermined its credibility on the issue by falsely identifying children as “child warriors,” as Human Rights Watch has previously reported. In mid-2011, soldiers arrested three boys – the youngest 10 years old – in Mindanao and publicly declared them to be NPA “child warriors.” In July 2011, the army said it arrested a 14-year-old alleged child soldier in Samar province. Human Rights Watch investigated these cases and found that the allegations were fabricated by the military.

The NPA has not commented on this most recent incident. It maintains that it does not recruit children as armed combatants and said that it would investigate and hold accountable its units that violate this policy – but hasn’t provided public information to that effect. But it also refutes the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, on children in armed conflict – which establishes 18 as the minimum age for any conscription, forced recruitment, or direct participation in hostilities – saying its “misleading and inaccurate definition of child soldiers” is biased against liberation movements.

Deploying children under 18 not only violates the Optional Protocol, it’s a war crime. Given the military’s dubious track record on these cases, it’s important that the Philippine Commission on Human Rights and relevant United Nations agencies investigate the February 9 case and act to ensure that the child involved, whether a NPA fighter or not, is treated properly in accordance with international law. The NPA needs to adopt measures, and make them publicly known, demonstrating that they are no longer recruiting children.

The use of child soldiers is a serious problem in the Philippines – one not just involving the NPA. A 2013 report to the UN Security Council by the secretary-general documented the use of children in armed conflict by the NPA, as well as the Islamist armed groups the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Abu Sayyaf, and government forces.

Ending the cruel practice of using child soldiers should be everyone’s aim in the Philippines. Ending the lies and obfuscations about the issue is a crucial first step.

Government extends aid to ex-rebels in Negros Oriental

From the Sun Star-Dumaguete (Feb 16): Government extends aid to ex-rebels in Negros Oriental

NEGROS ORIENTAL -- A former member of the New People’s Army recently received livelihood and financial assistance amounting to P65,000 under the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (Clip) from the Provincial Government here.

Former rebel Benandito Inoferio from Calango, Zamboanguita, accepted the check from Provincial Administrator Richard Enojo, along with Board Member Ikay Villanueva, Provincial Social Welfare and Development Officer Alice Lagarde, Marietta Jambora of Oriental Negros Children's Advocacy Network, and Colonel Leopoldo Galon of 303rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army during a Provincial Peace and Order Council meeting.

Clip is a peace building and social protection program for former members of the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army, and National Democratic Front who have decided to abandon armed struggle, return to the folds of the law, and rejoin society.

Under the program, P15,000 is given as immediate assistance for mobilization expenses, while another P50,000 for livelihood assistance.

Meantime, the council is preparing a resolution for the Provincial Board's approval authorizing Governor Roel Degamo to receive P60.5 million from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp).

This amount is to fund the proposed projects under the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (Pamana) program as part of the peace agreement with the Revolutionary Proletariat Army/Alex Boncayao Brigade(RPA-ABB)-Tabara Paduano Group.

It is said the initial proposed projects include construction of roads, water system, multi-purpose building and livelihood projects in Tanjay City and municipalities of Amlan and Sibulan.

Of the 727 armed members of the PPA-ABB, 58 are identified from Negros Oriental who have returned to the folds of the law.

The former rebels may be provided livelihood and employment opportunities for them to be able to integrate into the community and be transformed into productive citizens.
To fast-track the implementation of the Pamana projects, a resolution authorizing the governor is necessary for the release of the funds.

AFP, PNP reactivate joint forces vs political mercenaries in Masbate

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 17): AFP, PNP reactivate joint forces vs political mercenaries in Masbate

A special operations group of elite policemen and soldiers was reactivated on Tuesday to press the campaign against mercenary groups working for politicians and communist guerillas in the island-province of Masbate.

A conference presided by the highest military official in Southern Luzon and the highest police official in Bicol was held on Tuesday marking the activation of AFP-PNP Joint Special Task Force Masbate (JSTF Masbate) at the provincial headquarters of the Philippine National Police here.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, commander of the Southern Luzon Command (Solcom), said he has ordered his troops in the JSTF Masbate to arrest any armed candidates and armed bodyguards as a gun ban is in force during the election period.

“Pag pumutok sila, tapusin sila agad (If they open fire on you, finish them off),” said Visaya.

He told candidates who appeared in the meeting that the estate security forces had a list of armed groups working for politicians in Masbate.

Chief Supt. Augusto Marquez Jr., director of Philippine National Police for Bicol, said the decision to reactivate the JSTF Masbate was part of the police and military’s aim to stem the growing tension and “help create an environment that will be conducive for the holding of peaceful and orderly elections.”

Judging from the statements given during the meeting, there was a consensus among political contenders that the presence of JSTF in Masbate was for the good of the province as it has remained in the election watch list areas (EWAs) for the May 9 balloting.

Masbate’s inclusion in the EWAs this year was due to the resurgence of partisan death squads and New People’s Army, whose “dwindling” force, Visaya said, will attempt to rake in millions of pesos extorting money from candidates. 

The candidates said all of them and their campaign leaders—from gubernatorial to village councilors—are under serious threat.

At least seven killings have been reported since January, when the election season began and the Commission on Elections imposed the ban on firearms, in what authorities said were election-related attacks in Ticao Island and Placer town in Masbate mainland.

Members of JSTF Masbate who belong to the military’s special operations forces will arrive in Masbate “very soon” to beef up the battalion of police troopers in the task force, said Visaya.

In 2010, an election year, Masbate surprised observers when it registered a relatively low number of politically motivated killings. The decline was chiefly credited to the JSTF Masbate, which was then backed up by the Masbate Advocates of Peace (MAP), a multisectoral group.

In 2013, the JSTF Masbate was reactivated to oversee the security operations in what turned out to be blood-tainted elections in the province.

Philippine envoy cites importance of US-ASEAN summit to PH

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 17): Philippine envoy cites importance of US-ASEAN summit to PH 

President Benigno Aquino III’s presence in the special summit between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United States will show the Philippines’ solidarity with the other ASEAN leaders in promoting regional stability, a Philippine envoy said.

Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia Jr. underscored the importance of the President’s attendance to the summit, the first meeting of the ASEAN leaders with US President Barack Obama since both sides elevated relationship to strategic partnership.

“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,” said Cuisia.

Moreover, the summit highlights the central role of ASEAN in ensuring stability and prosperity in the region. Cuisia said the Philippines, as a member of ASEAN, appreciates the significance of a summit in the development of a regional framework.

He noted that the summit reaffirms the commitment of the US to continue playing a key role in ensuring the regional security architecture for the 21st century.

The summit is described as “unprecedented” since it will be the first time Obama will be meeting all ASEAN leaders on US soil.

Among the agenda of the summit include the South China Sea, trade, climate change and counterterrorism.

Cuisia said that the bilateral relations between the Philippines and the US “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,” he said.

He said the Philippines intends to be a reliable and responsible ally with the US as both countries have reaffirmed 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.

He further noted that the Philippines cooperation with the US in the area of maritime security and maritime domain awareness has actively contributed to the security and stability of the region.

He said the recent approval of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement “will further strengthen our alliance and this will help us in expanding further our capability and defense modernization efforts.”

Cuisia also said the Philippines has likewise expanded its relations with the US in terms of the bilateral economic engagement.

"US is the second largest source of inward tourism, and the US is also the third largest in terms of foreign direct investments in the Philippines,” he said.

He noted that the positive transformation of the Philippine economy as a result of the reform agenda undertaken by the government of President Aquino has made the Philippines a stronger and more attractive partner, economic partner of the US.

He added that the Philippines is also working to further enhance economic relations with the US by joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is also likely to be discussed in the summit.

“We are not yet a member but we hope that with the support of the US and other countries that are presently members of TPP, we will eventually become a member of TPP,” he said.

In the field of development cooperation, Cuisia said the Millennium Challenge Corporation Board selected the Philippines for a second compact.

“As you know, we will be completing the first compact in May and that has helped our efforts in terms of poverty reduction, inclusive growth, infrastructure development, and battling corruption. We hope that the second compact will allow us to leverage on the gains that we have achieved in the first compact,” he said.

ARMM to build PHP1.4-B infrastructure projects in Basilan, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 17): ARMM to build PHP1.4-B infrastructure projects in Basilan, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao

The Department of Public Works and Highways in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (DPWH-ARMM) will implement PHP1.4 billion worth of infrastructure projects in the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, and Maguindanao in a bid to improve the living conditions in the three areas.

The various infrastructure projects are set to be rolled out this month as ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman with Eng’r. Doon Mustapha Loong, DPWH-ARMM secretary, inked a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Tuesday with the mayors of the beneficiary towns of the projects.

The infrastructure projects will include roads, waters system and fish ports.

The funding for the implementation of the projects is part of the PHP10.1 billion approved budget for the construction and rehabilitation of local roads, bridges, seaports, and other infrastructure projects in the five provinces of the region.

Sulu and Tawi-Tawi along with Basilan, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao are the five provinces comprising the ARMM.

“We are now doing things more systematically and we are strengthening our partnership with the local government units,” Loong said.

He said the DPWH-ARMM is investing heavily on roads, bridges and other infrastructures to ease the movement of agriculture products and other goods in the region.

As of this month, Loong said they have already concreted 701.238 of the 1,520.967 kilometers the office have targeted to pave across the region from 2012-2016.

Loong said the massive infrastructure program is expected to generate thousands of jobs in the region.

“We in the DPWH-ARMM build not only roads, but hopes and dreams as well of the Bangsamoro people. We build roads where people have lost faith in the government, and where government has lost hope that we can build infrastructure in those areas. Through the administration of Gov. Hataman, we are going into those areas,” Loong said.

Mayor Alih Sali of Akbar, Basilan expressed his gratitude to the ARMM government for its efforts in implementing projects in the far-flung areas.

“This is a manifestation of the regional government’s trust to us in handling various projects, this will also help improve the lives and productivity of the farmers in our municipality,” Sali added.

The municipality of Akbar received PHP86 million for the concreting of Lower Sinangkapan-Upper Sinangkapan Road; Caddaya-Lower BatoBato Road; and, Bohe-Bakung-Mangalut-Mangguso Road.

The projects are being monitored using satellite-based geo-tagging systems and actual site inspection by the district engineering offices and the Regional Project Monitoring Committee.

Meanwhile, the DPWH-ARMM has allocated more funds for many flagship projects this year in the region.

For this year’s regular infrastructure projects, the department is targeting to construct 485.726 kilometers of roads, 46 bridges, 14 flood control structures, 12 drainage canals, 54 water supply systems, 25 seaports and 41 other projects across the region.

(Update) Army to send 100 soldiers to Masbate

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 17): (Update) Army to send 100 soldiers to Masbate

The Armed Forces of the Philippines' Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) will dispatch a company of Army soldiers to help in maintaining peace and preventing any election-related violence that might erupt in Masbate, tagged as an election hot spot in Bicol.

According to Army Lt. Col. Angelo Guzman, 9th Infantry Division spokesperson based in Pili, Camarines Sur, the deployment of 100 soldiers from their unit will augment the 500-strong Army battalion operating in Masbate province.

Guzman said the sending of additional Army troops was a directive from Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, Solcom chief, made during the AFP-Philippine National Police (PNP)-Commission on Elections (Comelec) dialogue on security preparation for the upcoming May elections in Masbate held on Tuesday in Masbate City.

Quoting Visaya, Guzman said the augmentation is needed to achieve peaceful and orderly elections in May, during which intense political rivalry is prevalent and political armed groups (PAGs), including the communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, remain a threat to the communities.

Visaya and Chief Supt. Augusto Marquez Jr., PNP Bicol regional director, reactivated the Joint Masbate Task Force to be headed by Police Sr. Supt. Lito Pitallano and Army Col. Samuel Felipe.

At the dialogue, Visaya gave a marching order to his men to go after PAGs and NPA rebels that threaten to sow fear among residents during the election campaign period.

He appealed to local candidates not to use PAGs to gain advantage against their political rivals and also not to give in to the NPA demand for PTC (permit to campaign) or PTW (permit to win).

Also during the Tuesday dialogue, joint police and military units in Masbate launched the Safe and Fair Elections (SAFE) drive aimed to address security concerns for a peaceful election during the May 9 national and local polls.

At the dialogue, current peace and security issues were addressed, such as only authorized military or police personnel should detailed for security assignment to a political candidate.

The local candidates also agreed to sign an election peace covenant among themselves on Feb. 26.

The event will be witnessed by top Comelec, AFP and PNP officials.

Attending the dialogue were Masbate Gov. Vincent Revil; former Gov. Antonio Kho and his wife, Rep. Olga Kho of the 2nd District; and town mayors Narciso Bravo of San Fernando, Natividad Revil of Milagros, Romeo Dela Rosa of Baleno.

Earlier, the reactivated Regional Special Operation Task Group Masbate composed of 350 policemen from various PNP units, including a company (100-strong) of Special Action Force commandos is now operating in Masbate.

The battalion of elite police unit will augment the 1,000 police force in the province.

Army urges public vigilance vs. BIFF attacks in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 17): Army urges public vigilance vs. BIFF attacks in Maguindanao

Military authorities have urged the public to remain on alert as the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have been disposing improvised bombs even in public places.

The appeal was issued by Capt. Joann Petinglay, spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division after an improvised bomb went off along a lonely highway in Barangay Taviran, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.

The explosive, composed of black powder, 9 volts battery, cut nails and broken motorcycle chains, exploded at 10:00 a.m. at a roadside in Barangay Taviran, about 800 meters away from an Army and paramilitary detachment.

Petinglay urged everyone to alert the police or military authorities if suspicious items are left unattended in their communities.

Senior Insp. Lindsy Sinsuat, police chief of Datu Odin Sinsuat, said the blast site was isolated from residential areas and the bomb was left in a grassy area.

Nobody was hurt in the incident. It was the second improvised bomb that exploded in Maguindanao in the past 48 hours. Army bomb experts are still determining the IED's triggering device.

The blast came as Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Hernando Iriberri was visiting the 6th Infantry Division headquarters, about 20 kilometers away from the blast site.

Iriberri met with Army local ground commanders and received update on the campaign against lawless armed elements.

Before Wednesday morning’s IED blast in Datu Odin Sinsuat town, a powerful improvised bomb ripped through a passing civilian vehicle, killing four persons, including the municipal councillor of Datu Salibo, Maguindanao.

Killed on the spot was Norodin Caloy Makabangen, the town's treasurer and his three relatives. They were heading home after turning back on their way to Datu Salibo due to Army-BIFF skirmishes at 10:00 p.m. on Tuesday.

The Army blamed the BIFF for the bombing. It said the lawless group may have mistaken the black Mitsubishi Delica of Makabangen as a military vehicle.

Before the attack, government forces and BIFF have been fighting in the villages of Sambolawan and Tee in Datu Salibo. The fighting started on Feb. 5 when the BIFF harassed workers of a government dredging project in Datu Salibo.

On Feb. 9, a powerful IED fashioned from 60 mm mortar with mobile phone as trigger mechanism was found inside the Maguindanao provincial capitol grounds in Buluan town while the Maguindanao foundation anniversary celebration was going on.

It was safely defused by Army bomb experts.

The Army also discourages civilian commuters to travel at night in Maguindanao, specifically from Cotabato City to Isulan in Sultan Kudarat.

An Army intelligence officer who asked not to be identified theorized the BIFF bombing in civilian areas was meant to divert military attention from Datu Salibo where heavy fighting had been going on since February 5.

PHL verifying reports of Chinese missiles setup in South China Sea -- DFA

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 17): PHL verifying reports of Chinese missiles setup in South China Sea -- DFA

The Philippines on Wednesday said it is confirming reports that China has installed anti-aircraft missiles on a disputed islands in the South China Sea.

“We have first to verify the information,” said Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Charles Jose in a text message.

In a statement, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said Beijing has deployed an undetermined number of missiles on Woody Island, which is being claimed by Taipei along with Vietnam.

Although the Philippines has no claim over the island, it has always maintained the position that all claimant-states to the resource-rich waters should adhere to the rule of law, specifically the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), must not use force or intimidation and adhere to the principles of a non-binding and non-aggression pact on the South China Sea that was signed in 2002 by China and Southeast Asian states.

Reports of China’s positioning of missiles on the island came after the conclusion on Tuesday of a leaders’ summit between the United States and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Sunnylands, California, where they jointly called for the peaceful resolution of disputes and respect for legal and diplomatic processes without resorting to threat or use of force.

China is locked in years-long territorial conflicts with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan over the resource-rich waters, where undersea minerals and huge oil and gas deposits have been discovered in several areas. Without an immediate resolution in sight, analysts feared that the overlapping claims can result into a full-blown military conflict.

Two of the most vocal claimants -- Philippines and Vietnam -- jointly accused China of intruding into its sovereign territories, blatantly violating international laws, engaging in reclamation activities, harassment of its fishermen and disrupting energy exploration in their respective waters.

The two countries have called on China to stop what they call an "illegal occupation" of its territories and to cease its massive expansion activities in several areas, where Manila and Hanoi both have claims.

Manila has a pending case against China before the The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration, where it is seeking interpretation of its maritime entitlements in the South China Sea, which is being claimed nearly in its entirety by Beijing. A final decision may be rendered by the court in May, according to Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.

Vietnam backed Manila’s arbitration case when it submitted its position before the tribunal last December, a move that has infuriated China.

The resource-rich South China Sea, a chain of more than 100 islands, shoals, reefs and coral outcrops, straddles one of the world’s most vital sea lanes.

China, which insists historical rights over the waters, wants bilateral negotiations with each claimant to resolve the territorial row and opposes any meddling by non-claimant countries specially the US, which it has repeatedly condemned for intervening in what Beijing says is a purely Asian issue. Any bilateral negotiation would give China a huge advantage because of its sheer size, overwhelming military and naval power and economic clout.

House adopts resolution thanking US Congress for helping Filipino veterans

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 17): House adopts resolution thanking US Congress for helping Filipino veterans

Lawmakers have adopted a resolution expressing the appreciation of the Philippine House of Representatives and the Filipino World War II veterans to the United States Congress for considering other documentary evidences of service in the processing of the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC).

The House approved House Resolution 1992 expressing appreciation to the US Congress for including in the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act a directive to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA) to consider all forms of evidence of service, and not just those originally considered.

The resolution was endorsed for plenary adoption by the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and Welfare chaired by Rep. Herminia B. Roman (1st District, Bataan), who is also author of HR 1992.

The resolution cited that the US Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 authorizing the release of a one-time, lump sum payment to eligible World War II (WWII) Filipino veterans.

The payments, otherwise called the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation (FVEC), are to be made through the USDVA.

Roman said the FVEC applications filed by most World War II (WWII) Filipino veterans were denied for not being in the so-called Missouri List, which was used by the USDVA in validating claims.

“In the processing of the FVEC, the USDVA validated all applications using the Missouri List, resulting in the denial of legitimate World War II veterans,” said Roman.

“Efforts were initiated to convince the USDVA to consider other supporting documents to prove eligibility of Filipino World War II veterans in the processing of the equity compensation. The US Congress included in the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act a directive to the USDVA to consider all forms of evidence of service, and not just those originally considered,” Roman further said.

The resolution is co-authored by Magdalo Reps. Francisco Ashley L. Acedillo and Gary C. Alejano.

Per the data cited by Ret. MGen. Alfredo Cayton, Jr., chief of the Veterans Affairs and Management Division (VAMD) of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) during the committee hearing held last November 2015, a total of US$ 265 million was appropriated for the FVEC Fund from February 2009 to July 2010 under the ARRA of 2009.

Cayton cited that out of the 42,755 VEC applications processed, 18,951 applications were approved while the remaining 23,804 applications were denied.

Moreover, he said as of August 2015, the total payment to VEC beneficiaries amounted to US$ 225.88 million. He advised veterans whose claims were denied to make an appeal by sending a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) to the USDVA.

The FVEC Fund according to Cayton grants a one-time lump sum payment of US$ 15,000 for each Filipino WW II veteran who are US citizens and US$ 9,000 each to non-US citizens.