Wednesday, March 2, 2016

US plans naval exercises with India and Japan in Philippine Sea

From ABS-CBN (Mar 3): US plans naval exercises with India and Japan in Philippine Sea

A U.S. Navy Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) comes ashore as U.S. Marines train with Japan's Ground Self Defense Force soldiers during the bilateral annual Iron Fist military training exercise in Camp Pendleton, California February 26, 2016. Reuters

India, the United States and Japan will hold naval exercises in waters off the northern Philippines near the South China Sea this year, the U.S. military said on Wednesday, a move likely to further raise tensions with China.

The announcement comes a day after the United States warned China against militarization of the South China Sea, where Beijing is locked in a territorial dispute with several countries, saying there would be consequences.

READ: US warns China on militarization of South China Sea

Last year, India and the United States expanded their annual naval drills in the Bay of Bengal to include Japan after a gap of eight years, in a move seen as a response to China's growing assertiveness in the region.

Admiral Harry B. Harris, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said the naval exercise will be held in the northern Philippine Sea and that Japan will take part.

Freedom of the seas was a fundamental right of all nations, he told a security conference in New Delhi, adding some thinly veiled criticism of Beijing.

"While some countries seek to bully smaller nations through intimidation and coercion, I note with admiration India's example of peaceful resolution of disputes with your neighbors in the waters of the Indian Ocean, " he said.

Tensions in the South China Sea have risen recently, with the United States and others protesting against Beijing's land reclamations, along with the recent deployment of surface-to-air missiles and fighter jets in the Paracel Islands.

PH fishermen say China blocking access to Jackson Atoll - media

Along with China and the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims on the waters, through which about $5 trillion in trade is shipped every year.

Harris said the United States wished to expand the naval exercises it held with India each year into joint operations across the Asia-Pacific, which could draw India directly into the row in the South China Sea.

The two countries have held talks on joint naval patrols and last month a U.S. defense official told Reuters that these could include the South China Sea.

Both India and the United States later said these patrols were not imminent after Beijing warned that interference from countries outside the region threatens peace and stability.

Harris said it was up to the leaders of India and the United States to decide where to hold the joint operations.

Search on for next AFP chief

From The Standard (Mar 3): Search on for next AFP chief

PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III is already considering whom to appoint as Armed Forces chief of staff, but military insiders said there was no assurance Aquino’s appointee would be able to serve out a complete tour of duty pending the results of the coming elections.

“The Commander-in-Chief, the President, I was told by one of his trusted men in Malacañang, is really thinking hard and would not want to make a mistake again who to appoint as the successor of Gen. Irriberi,” said a senior officer who is privy to the selection process.

Irriberi will reach the mandatory retirement age of 56 on April 22 and Aquino reportedly wants to appoint someone like Philippine National Police Director General Ricardo Marquez whose mandatory retirement will be in August yet.

The source, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, said Aquino is not keen on appointing the vice chief of staff, Lieutenant General Romeo Tanalgo, because he is from the Philippine Marines which is identified with presidential candidate Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Binay is honorary member of Philippine Military Academy “Maringal” Class of 1988.

“It would be a political suicide for the Liberal Party if the President appoints Gen. Tanalgo as interim or acting chief of staff,” the source told The Standard.

The source said Army chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año would be “natural successor” to Irriberi, but he is being linked to the disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos.

“Assuming the President would appoint Gen. Año, there is no assurance he would not be replaced by whoever is elected president. If I were the new president, I wouldn’t want to begin my presidency facing public protests because my current chief of staff is linked to the abduction and disappearance of activist Jonas Burgos,” another senior officer opined.

Año still has more than one year remaining in service by the time the new president assumes power on  June 1, but that is not an assurance he would not be relieved or retired early, like what Aquino did to the late military chief Gen. Delfin Bangit in 2010.

Soon after Aquino assumed power he kicked out Bangit as chief of staff although he still had more than a year remaining in service because Bangit was former President Gloria Arroyo was an honorary member of Bangit’s Philippine Military Academy Class of 1978.

Unlike service command positions that require at least one year remaining in service to qualify for appointment, the chief of staff position has no time qualification as this is a prerogative of the commander-in-chief.

Meanwhile, sources said 4th Infantry Division chief Major General Oscar Lactao has been designated to replace AFP Inspector General Maj. Gen. Benito de Leon who will reach mandatory retirement in March. The turnover of command for the AFP-IG, a three-star position, is tentatively scheduled on March 17.

Another two-star position based at Camp Aguinaldo that would be left vacant soon is the AFP Civil Service Relations with the mandatory retirement of Brigadier General Joselito Kakilala in April.

Japanese minesweeper vessels arrive in Manila

From Rappler (Mar 2): Japanese minesweeper vessels arrive in Manila

The visit aims to promote regional peace and stability and the enhancement of maritime cooperation between the neighboring navies

MANILA, Philippines – The two vessels of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) Minesweeper Division 51 arrived in Manila on Wednesday, March 2, for a 3-day goodwill visit, as the Philippines and Japan continued to strengthen their defense cooperation.

Two ships make up the division, which is headed by Captain Toshiro Takaiwa: the Japanese Ship Uraga and the Japanese Ship Takashima. Both are minesweeper-class vessels used for hunting down naval mines.

The Philippine Navy welcomed the delegates in a ceremony headed by Captain Rolando Sarmiento, the superintendent of the Naval Combat Engineering Brigade Training Center.

He also had a port briefing on security, safety, and health with his Japanese counterparts aboard the Uraga.

GREETINGS. Philippine and Japanese officers salute at a welcoming ceremony for the Japanese delegates. Photo by Naval Public Affairs Office.

GREETINGS. Philippine and Japanese officers salute at a welcoming ceremony for the Japanese delegates. Photo by Naval Public Affairs Office.

Personnel from the Philippine Fleet and the Naval Sea Systems Command also took a shipboard tour aboard the two Japanese ships.

They said the visit aims to promote regional peace and stability and enhance maritime cooperation between the two countries.

Delegation head Captain Takaiwa, along with the two commanding officers and Japanese Defense Attaché to the Philippines Colonel Hideki Tanaka, will render a courtesy call to Vice Admiral Caesar Taccad, the flag officer in command of the Philippine Navy.

The Philippines and Japan have had previous engagements, including maritime drills back in June 2015.

Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, the chief of Japan's military, was also in the Philippines last August for Pacific Partnertship 2015, an annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission.

This visit is expected to enhance the relationship between the Philippine Navy and the JMSDF, and to promote regional peace and stability and the enhancement of maritime cooperation between the neighboring navies.

Hinterland schools benefit from ONCAN, Army partnership

From the Philippine Information Agency (Mar 2): Hinterland schools benefit from ONCAN, Army partnership

The Oriental Negros Children’s Advocacy Network (ONCAN) together with the Philippine Army have served 70 elementary schools in the hinterland barangays in the province under its “Bayanihan Para sa Kabataan” (BPK) project.

In its seventh year of serving school children,  ONCAN esident Marrieta “Baby” Jambora it started in 2009 from medical mission for children at risk into monthly ‘Lakbay Aral’ for Grades 5 and 6 pupils, then lately school visits for Children’s Environmental Campaign.

Jambora said the group recently conducted the campaign in Salingkubong Elementary School, Tayak, Siaton with a series of lectures on environmental concerns, anti-child labor, anti-human trafficking, crime prevention, and peace symposium with Christian values.

Some 17 member non-government organizations (NGOs) of ONCAN offer food as well as school supplies to school children after every environmental campaign, said Jambora.

In its early years of BPK, Jambora said they conducted a series of Bayanihan Para sa Kabataan Lakbay-Aral, an education tour program to show the children from mountain barangays how life is in the urban city of Dumaguete.

The Lakbay-Aral aimed to widen the horizon of school children from the hinterlands and create a positive outlook in life by exposing them to places and events outside their communities.

The activity also promotes education to the community as a key to a brighter future and strengthen the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) partnership with the various stakeholders in the province.

The grades 5 and 6 pupils are accompanied by their teachers and school principal on board the military service vehicles to the city’s different landmarks.

Visiting Army General Manuel Ochotorena said these kind of activities need the concerted efforts and convergence of all stakeholders to finally put an end to insurgency through peaceful means under the military’s implementation of its Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) Bayanihan.

Lately, the AFP awarded ONCAN for its contribution to the success of counterinsurgency project “Bayanihan”.

Jambora received the plaque of recognition.

On March 10, ONCAN in cooperation with the Army and Philippine National Police will award six elementary schools from mountain barangays for supporting Children’s Environmental Campaign activities at 10 a.m. at the Session Hall of Capitol Building, this city.

AFP's Eastmincom chief urges CMO officers to go by norms of journalism

From the Philippine Information Agency (Mar 1): AFP's Eastmincom chief urges CMO officers to go by norms of journalism

Eastern Mindanao commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Lt. General  Rey Leonardo Guerrero  has enjoined all the civil military operations officers to provide accurate, truthful and complete information.

He sees the need for CMOs to observe such standards of reporting  as well as abide by the “norms, standards and professional ethics” of reporting saying the general public nowadays has become particular on what is being reported  about their community.

The CMOs from various commands in Eastern Mindanao recently underwent a three-day peace communicators seminar workshop conducted in close cooperation with the Philippine Information Agency Davao Region. The public relations officers of the Philippine National Police in Eastern Mindanao regions were also  invited to join the training.

PIA 11 Regional Director Efren F. Elbanbuena lauded the AFP Eastern Mindanao Command  for the keen interest of its CMOs to learn how to report according to the standards of Journalism. 

Director Elbanbuena oriented the CMOs on communication theories and taught them how to come up with a communication plan. Among the Journalism subjects taken up during the seminar workshop were news writing, radio broadcasting, photography and videography, mobile journalism  and short messaging services (sms) reporting.

Guerrero is hopeful that the training would make the CMOs under his command more “efficient and effective in confronting issues and concerns”  through delivering accurate information at the  right time.

He saw it fit to recommend that all AFP CMOs will become “professionalized” and that they would be given the right tools to deliver their tasks as peace communicators. 

“I would highly recommend,  i-professionalized ang mga CMO officers as far as  dealing with the media, handling information,  and more importantly they should be provided with appropriate  tools para magiging effective sila (so that they would become effective),” he said.

OIC vows to continue supporting Bangsamoro peace process

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 3): OIC vows to continue supporting Bangsamoro peace process

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has reiterated its commitment toward the peace process between the Philippine government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) amid the non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in the 16th Congress.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, OIC Secretary General Iyad Ameen Madani assured the continued support of the OIC, which has been engaged with the peace process in Southern Philippines since its inception, for the full implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and all related peace agreements -- namely the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 Jakarta Agreement.

Madani commended the commitment of the Malaysian government to continue its support for the peace process especially with its key role as facilitator of the GPH-MILF peace talks since 2001.

It can be recalled that Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has reaffirmed unwavering support last Feb. 26 to the peace process even beyond the term of President Benigno Aqunio III, who is stepping down from power on June 30.

Amid the fate of the proposed measure in the current Congress, the OIC official urged the Bangsamoro people to unify, consolidate, and converge together toward the advancement of the peace process and the final resolution of the Bangsamoro struggle.

He also advised the leaders of the Bangsamoro people, particularly the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), to utilize the existing mechanism, Bangsamoro Coordinating Forum (BCF), to achieve a more unified position and a more coherent, consolidated, and sustainable cooperation for the benefit of the Bangsamoro community.

Madani also called for the support and participation of “peace-loving” Filipino people to “stand by their brethren in the south in their struggle” toward attaining lasting and genuine peace.

For his part, MILF Chairman Alhaj Murad Ebrahim assured the Secretary General that the MILF would continue to uphold the peace process, and would continue to call on the Bangsamoro people to remain patient and to rally behind the full implementation of the CAB.

The Secretary General welcomed this continued firm commitment toward the peace process and towards sustaining the ceasefire and avoiding resorting to violence.

The OIC official received Murad on Sunday, Feb. 26, for a meeting following the severe setback to the peace process due to the non-passage of the BBL, which would have replaced the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with a parliamentary regional government with more political and fiscal autonomy.

Saudi cleric attack: Isis role seen

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 3): Saudi cleric attack: Isis role seen

AN ARMY tank enters a camp believed to be used by Moro gunmen who have pledged allegiance to Isis in Butig town, Lanao del Sur province.  JEOFFREY MAITEM/INQUIRER MINDANAO

AN ARMY tank enters a camp believed to be used by Moro gunmen who have pledged allegiance to Isis in Butig town, Lanao del Sur province. JEOFFREY MAITEM/INQUIRER MINDANAO

Police are exercising caution in linking the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) to the attempted assassination of a popular Saudi cleric and a Saudi Embassy official in a university campus here.

Chief Insp. Helen Galvez, spokesperson for the city police, said that while the investigation of the shooting of Saudi cleric Dr. Aaidh ibn Abdullah al-Qarni and Sheik Turki Assaegh, the religious attaché of the Saudi Embassy in Manila, was ongoing, police were not linking the attack yet to Isis, an international terror network that has called on followers to launch “lone wolf” attacks against Isis targets.

Al-Qarni is said to be on the Isis hit list.

Galvez said only one thing was certain—the suspect, who was killed when Al-Qarni’s bodyguards responded to the attack, was the gunman.

Two other suspects are in police custody.

Galvez said the gunman had been identified as 21-year-old Misuari Kiliste Rugasan III, an engineering student at Western Mindanao State University (WMSU).

Rugasan approached Al-Qarni and Assaegh after Al-Qarni delivered a lecture at WMSU and, without warning, opened fire as the two Saudi officials were boarding their vehicle.

Al-Qarni, a renowned international lecturer and author of many inspirational and motivational books on Islam, suffered three gunshot wounds in the shoulder, left arm and abdomen. He is now out of danger.

Assaegh suffered gunshot wounds in the thigh and leg. He is also out of danger.
Their police escorts fired at Rugasan and arrested two other suspects in a separate operation, according to Galvez.

Galvez said the two arrested suspects had been identified as Mujer Amilasan Abubakar, a 31-year-old pedicab driver from Barangay Santa Barbara; and Jumaide Saleh Cadir, a 36-year-old jobless man from Taguiti village.

She said the two arrested suspects were being interrogated.

In a tweet, J.M. Berger, a fellow at the Program on Extremism of George Washington University in Washington D.C., expressed suspicion that Isis was behind the assassination attempt on Al-Qarni.

But Galvez said police were still trying to determine the motive for the attack and that a special investigative task group had been created to do the job.

The military has repeatedly denied the existence of Isis in Mindanao, although it admitted that there are Isis-inspired groups operating on the island.

The National Ulama Conference (NUC) of the Philippines said it “strongly condemns” the attack on Al-Qarni.

But Alih Aiyub, NUC executive secretary, cautioned the public against speculating.

In a separate statement, the Saudi Embassy in Manila said Al-Qarni visited the city “at a personal invitation from a religious association in Zamboanga.”

The embassy said it also immediately sent a private jet to the city to fetch Al-Qarni and his entourage for a complete medical checkup in Manila.

Describing the attack, local Muslim community leader Wakil Kasim said “it all happened so fast.”

“Suddenly there were gunshots,” said Kasim, who was at the scene of the attack.

Isis militants who control vast swathes of Iraq and Syria had called on “lone wolves” to attack Al-Qarni and several other Saudi clerics whom they accused of apostasy in the latest issue of Dabiq, their monthly online magazine.

The Philippine government should investigate whether Isis had influenced the shooting, international security analyst Stephen Cutler told reporters in Manila.

“It’s possible it is Daesh-related because he was on this hit list, but I don’t know yet,” the American said, using an Arabic abbreviation for the Isis group.

Tuesday’s shooting also came as the Army quelled a rampage by an obscure armed group that pledged allegiance to Isis in Butig, a poor farming town some 200 kilometers northeast of Zamboanga.

At least 12 militants and five soldiers were killed while more than 30,000 people were displaced over several days of fighting, which ended as the Army seized the gunmen’s main camp over the weekend.

Saudi media outlets described Al-Qarni as a senior Islamic scholar and he has more than 12 million followers on Twitter. In his book “Awakening Islam,” the French academic Stephane Lacroix included Al-Qarni on his list of “the most famous” Saudi preachers.

Last week, the Saudi Embassy asked local police for increased security for its premises, as well as for the Saudi national airline due to an unspecified threat, said Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Charles Jose.

Zamboanga, 800 kilometers south of Manila, is one of the largest cities in Mindanao, an area troubled by a decades-long separatist rebellion by the mainly Catholic nation’s Muslim minority that has claimed more than 100,000 lives.

The port city has a mixed Christian and Muslim population, and has been a frequent target of attacks by local Muslim militant groups.

Video shows moment top Saudi cleric shot in Philippines

The Middle East Eye (Mar 2): Video shows moment top Saudi cleric shot in Philippines

Sheikh Aaidh al-Qarni is receiving treatment after being shot in Zamboanga, a city in southern Philippines
A gunman opens fire on the car of Saudi cleric Sheikh Aaidh al-Qarni (YouTube screen grab)
MEE staff's picture
Last update: Wednesday 2 March 2016 19:45 UTC
Topics: SaudiStruggle
Tags: philippines, Saudi cleric
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A video broadcast by television in the Philippines on Wednesday purported to show the shooting of top Saudi cleric Sheikh Aaidh al-Qarni.

Mensahe television aired the 40-second clip, which shows a gunman pulling a gun and shooting at Qarni through the window of his white vehicle.

The 57-year-old cleric was leaving Western Mindanao State University in Zamboanga, where he had been giving a public lecture, when he was shot.

He was hit in the hand, arm, and shoulder, by an as yet unidentified gunman.
Filipino police escorts killed the lone assailant, while two other suspects who were seen with the gunman were arrested as they tried to escape, police said.

"The suspect popped up from the crowd, moved in close and shot the victim" as he was boarding his car, said city police spokeswoman Chief Inspector Helen Galvez.

Islamic State (IS) militants, who control vast swathes of Iraq and Syria, had called on "lone wolves" to attack Qarni and several other Saudi clerics whom they accused of apostasy in the latest issue of Dabiq, their monthly online magazine.

However, authorities have not yet linked sympathisers of IS to Tuesday's attack.
Qarni is being treated in hospital and is understood to be in a stable condition.

A Saudi diplomat who was accompanying him was also injured in the shooting.

Saudi Arabia announced after the shooting that a plane was being sent to the Philippines to pick up the cleric and return him to the kingdom.

Qarni is often described as a senior Islamic scholar and has more than 12 million Twitter followers. In 2012, Qarni was refused entry to the United States despite holding an American visa and he was later told that he was on a “no fly” list.

The Sheikh has previously advocated religious war against American troops in Iraq and against the Israeli army.

Zamboanga, 800 kilometres south of Manila, is one of the largest cities in the southern Philippines, an area troubled by a decades-long separatist rebellion by the mainly Catholic nation's Muslim minority that has claimed more than 100,000 lives.

The port city has a mixed Christian and Muslim population and has been a frequent target of attacks by local Muslim militant groups.

Soldier’s beheading forced military’s hands

From the Manila Times (Mar 2): Soldier’s beheading forced military’s hands

A MILITARY official on Wednesday said the beheading of an Army corporal was among the main reasons why the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) used its “military might” against the jihadists group Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM) based in Butig town, in Lanao del Sur.

“It all started when the group of KIM leaders, the Maute brothers, attacked but failed to capture on February 20 a detachment. There was a counter-action and that resulted in a week-long operation and we won,” said Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, AFP spokesman, when asked if the beheading of the soldier was among the reasons why the military conducted intensified operations.

He admitted that there was a “deliberate and forceful application of miltiary power” to immediately end atrocities of the extremist group.

“And we will not hesitate to apply the full power and full force of the military and the government if there are still elements that will disturb the peace of a community and destroy the nation,” Padilla told reporters in a chance interview at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

The Philippine Army captured over the weekend the main camp of the jihadists group even as government forces continued clearing operations in preparation for the return to their homes of those displaced by the firefight.

The camp is located in Poktan, an adjacent village of Bubong (Poblacion), where Matute group was earlier overrun by troops during their week-long operations.

Several weapons and equipment were recovered including an M-16 rifle, a recoiled propelled grenade launcher, a 50 cal. locally made Barrett sniper’s rifle and several explosives.

The bodies of an unidentified man, with a handy metal scrap embedded with Arabic script of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and another man wearing a uniform of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), were also found by the Army.

The military assured the evacuees that security forces are expediting the clearing operations so that they can soon go back to their homes.

‘I didn’t know armed group was coming to Lahad Datu’

From The Star Online (Mar 3): ‘I didn’t know armed group was coming to Lahad Datu’

KOTA KINABALU: The son of the late self-styled Sulu sultan Esmail Kiram has told the High Court that he had no advance knowledge of the armed intrusion at Kampung Tanduo in Lahad Datu that was led by his uncle Agbimuddin Kiram.

Datu Amir Bahar Hushin Kiram said the only reason he had come to Semporna six months prior to the February 2013 intrusion was to await his father who was supposed to go to Kuala Lumpur.

Questioned by Senior Federal Counsel Datuk Jamil Aripen, he said he arrived in Semporna on Sept 26, 2012, and with the exception of returning once to southern Philippines in November that year, remained in Sabah until police arrested him in March 2013.

Questioned further by Jamil, Amir Bahar said his father had instructed him to wait in Sabah because former Sabah Police Special Branch deputy director Zulkifli Abd Aziz was arranging for him (Esmail) to go to Kuala Lumpur.

He said his father wanted the sultanate’s claim on Sabah to happen through peaceful means while Agbimuddin was bent on a “more aggressive approach”.

“We do not claim to take over the sovereignty rights of Malaysia. We are only concerned about the claim on our proprietary rights,” Amir Bahar said.

The trial continues on Thursday.

Malaysia will not recognise or entertain any claim on Sabah: Foreign ministry

From the New Straits Times (Mar 1): Malaysia will not recognise or entertain any claim on Sabah: Foreign ministry

KUALA LUMPUR: The government yesterday reiterated its position that Malaysia does not recognise nor will it entertain any claim by any party on Sabah. 

The Foreign Ministry said yesterday it had called the charge d’affaires of the Philippine embassy in Malaysia, Maria Antonina M. Mendoza-Oblena, over a statement made by Philippine Vice-President Jejomar Binay that he would pursue claims on Sabah.

“Sabah is recognised by the United Nations and the international community as part of Malaysia since joining the federation on Sept 16, 1963,” the ministry said in a statement.

Binay, one of five candidates left in this year’s presidential election in the Philippines, had recently been reported as vowing to pursue the country’s territorial claims over Sabah should he be elected to office.

“We will pursue our claim there... (Sabah) is ours,” Binay had reportedly told reporters while campaigning in Quezon province.

Jejomor is a candidate of the United Nationalist Alliance, the same party for whom self-styled Sulu princess Jacel Kiram is a senatorial candidate.

Jacel’s father, who claimed to be the sultan of the defunct sultanate of Sulu, was the man who launched the 2013 attack on eastern Sabah which became known as the Lahad Datu incursion.

The incursion by Sulu gunmen was eventually thrown back, but not before 10 Malaysian security forces personnel were killed.

Jacel became known to Malaysians last year when pictures of her and Lembah Pantai member of parliament Nurrul Izzah Anwar surfaced on social media.

US-PH to hold war games ahead of sked

From The Manila Times (Mar 2): US-PH to hold war games ahead of sked

BECAUSE of the need to reposition troops in connection with the presidential elections, the annual military exercise between the Philippines and the United States will be held a month ahead of schedule, a military official announced on Wednesday.

Instead of late April, the month-long Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) would be held this March, according to Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman.

“We have agreed to hold the Balikatan 2016 in advance because of the need to reposition our troops for the elections. So it would be held this March until April and it would be concluded a month before the elections,” Padilla told reporters in a chance interview at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

He said there would be no significant changes in the number of soldiers participating in the exercise.

Padilla refused to give the exact number of troops joining the drill.

Last year, 5,000 US soldiers and 6,000 AFP personnel joined the Balikatan.

This year’s war games, Padilla said, would be held in traditional exercise areas among others in Clark Air Base in Angeles (Pampanga), Crow Valley in Tarlac, Camp Aguinaldo and the Naval Education and Training Command in Zambales.

Padilla said Vice Adm. Alexander Lopez, commander of the Western Command (Westcom), will be the exercise director.

Meanwhile, the AFP official disclosed that two Japanese ships are docked at South Harbor in Manila for “engagement” with the Philippine Navy.

Report: Chinese Coast Guard Vessels Take Over Spratly Island Feature From Philippines

From The Diplomat (Mar 2): Report: Chinese Coast Guard Vessels Take Over Spratly Island Feature From Philippines

Chinese coast guard vessels have expelled Filipino fishermen from Jackson Shoal in the South China Sea.

Report: Chinese Coast Guard Vessels Take Over Spratly Island Feature From Philippines

Jackson Shoal.
Image Credit: Google Earth
Five China Coast Guard vessels have taken over Jackson Shoal, a disputed feature in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea some 140 nautical miles west of the Philippines’ Palawan Island, according to a report by the Philippines Star.

Jackson Atoll is a popular fishing ground for Filipino fishermen, and is 33 nautical miles from Mischief Reef, a Spratly Island feature where China has carried out extensive land reclamation work and built an artificial island for possible military use.

The Philippines Star, citing sources, said that the Chinese vessels “chased” fishermen away as early as last week.

“These gray and white Chinese ships, around four of them inside the lagoon, prevented us from entering our traditional fishing ground,” one of the fisherman told the Star. If confirmed, this incident would represent an increase in Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea.

Recent reports that China had positioned surface-to-air missile systems in the Paracel Islands and is constructing over-the-horizon radar systems in the Spratly Islands have raised fears that Beijing is looking to flex its muscles in the South China Sea.

Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), contextualized the incident amid broader developments in the South China Sea in recent weeks.

“What I can say now is that this is exactly the kind of thing we should expect to see more of as China’s new facilities at Mischief and its other artificial islands allow it to extend a greater, more sustained presence across the Spratlys,” Poling told The Diplomat.

China and the Philippines have faced off over Jackson Shoal in the past. In 2011, Filipino fishermen were warned away from the area by a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Jianghu-V-class missile frigate, which also fired warning shots at the fishermen, according to reports.

China has over the years shifted from using naval assets to employing coast guard and maritime law enforcement vessels instead to assert its claims in the South China Sea, prompting some analysts to call these assets its “second navy.”

Tensions between the Philippines and China have been high in the South China Sea for years, but particularly since 2012, when the two states had a highly visible stand-off over China’s takeover of Scarborough Shoal.

In early-2013, Manila initiated an arbitration case against China over the nature of its maritime claims in the South China Sea. In October 2015, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that it had jurisdiction to hear the case and will likely offer a decision on the merits of the Philippines’ arguments in May 2016.

Of Regional Terrorsim-Related Interest: Malaysia’s Najib Razak Vows To Fight ISIS In Southeast Asia With Saudi Arabia

From the International Business Times (Mar 1): Malaysia’s Najib Razak Vows To Fight ISIS In Southeast Asia With Saudi Arabia


Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks at the opening of the International Conference on Deradicalisation and Countering Violent Extremism in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Jan 25, 2016.

Speaking at a business conference in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Najib said late Tuesday that the two countries will remain "inseparable partners" against terror groups that have caused havoc in the Middle East and around the world.

"We stand shoulder to shoulder with you in this fight," Najib said, according to the Star Online newspaper. "And we will never tire in the battle to defend the true, authentic Islam."

Besides the predominantly Muslim Malaysia, Southeast Asia is home to Indonesia, which has the world's biggest Muslim population. They are grappling with deadly extremism with militants from both countries known to have fought in the Middle East. Neighboring Philippines is also fighting a band of militants that have pledged to fight under the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS.

In January, six Indonesians, including four attackers were killed in blasts in Jakarta. This came after the arrest of nine militants allegedly plotting to carry out bombings in Indonesia. Last year, a Malaysian terrorist named Zulkifli bin Hir, also called Marwan, was killed by Philippine troops in a clash in the southern region of Mindanao. He had a $5 million bounty on his head offered by U.S. authorities.

Najib stressed that bilateral and defense ties with Saudi Arabia remained strong, with the Malaysian armed forces having joined Northern Thunder, the biggest military exercise in the Middle East.

Najib said the two Muslim countries were "like brothers" as he thanked the Saudi royal family for extending its help, and for hosting the Forum, which gathered about 20 countries seeking investment opportunities offered by the kingdom. Najib is fighting corruption allegations stemming from the $681 million discovered in his bank accounts. He had said the money came from Saudi Arabia's royal family.

Southeast Asian militants, including the Abu Sayyaf in the jungles of the Philippines, have pledged allegiance to ISIS and vowed to carry out deadly attacks to further its cause.

Translated as the "bearer of the sword," the Abu Sayyaf has carried out some of the region's deadliest attacks, including the 2003 fire bombing of a ferry that left more than 100 dead on Manila Bay, and countless bombings and attacks in the Philippines.

It has also carried out raids into Malaysia, grabbing Asian and western hostages they later ransomed off for millions of dollars. The Philippine government has been working with its neighbors, including Malaysia, to defeat the group, which is known to operate in the country's vast, porous southern regions.

Butig clashes: What we know so far

From CNN Philippines (Mar 2): Butig clashes: What we know so far

[Video report]

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Armed men attacked the patrol base of the Army's 51st Infantry Battalion in Butig town, Lanao del Sur last February 20.
The group is identified as the Maute group linked to an Indonesian terrorist who, in turn, has known ties to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)
Also read: Thousands displaced by firefight in Lanao del Sur

What's the latest?

Fighting has stopped after more than a week of clashes between government forces and the Maute group, but authorities are not letting residents return home yet.

Troops have seized the Maute group's main camp. It remains unclear what this group is fighting for and their motives in staging attacks against the government.

Government officials and the military will conduct a post-crisis assessment of the situation.

The military on Tuesday (March 1) raised the Philippine flag in the camp it had overtaken and is now holding the ground in Butig.

Related: AFP overruns extremists' camp in Lanao

Col. Roseller Murillo is the commander of the 103rd Infantry Brigade, where the 51st Infantry Battalion falls under.

In an interview with CNN Philippines Chief Correspondent Pia Hontiveros, Murillo said the military is still conducting clearing operations within the vicinity.

He also said the Army coordinated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to reposition its posts and withdraw from the area while conducting military operations.

Murillo said around 7,800 individuals were displaced because of the clash. He said a number of evacuees went to relatives and families in nearby areas.

Murillo said the military is expecting the group to retaliate.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health (DOH) held medical missions in some areas affected by the fighting. After conducting an initial assessment, the DOH identified diseases brought by hunger and respiratory diseases brought by inhalation of gunpowder.

The social welfare office of Lanao del Sur have also distributed relief goods to evacuees.

Related: Lanao del Sur evacuees get aid


Residents of Butig affected by the clash received relief goods from the province's social welfare office

What is the Maute group?

Murillo said the military first encountered members of the group in 2013 when their checkpoint operation in Madalum town in Lanao del Sur was attacked.

Some attackers were injured and were left behind. The military, he said, conducted operations and was able to trace their identities and confirm their link to the Maute group.

Murillo said the Maute group may have over a hundred members. Their equipment, he added, may have been obtained from a foreign terrorist who was neutralized in 2012.

It is still unclear what the group's motives are but based on the reports they obtained, Murillo said the Maute group believes "non-believers of Islam should be killed."

Murillo labeled them as a terrorist group because "Islam doesn't teach those kind of practices."

He said the Maute group has been recruiting mostly young people.

"The fact that yung target nila are minors delikado yun because di ba pag bata madaling madali iconvince," said Murillo.

[Translation: "The fact that they're targeting minors is dangerous, because young people can be easily convinced."]

Troops who fought them report members of the Maute group appeared to have been high on drugs, he added.

"One of the items we recovered is drug paraphernalia."

Murillo also said the armed group may be using the government's non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law to encourage locals to join them.


Where is Butig?

Butig is a sixth class municipality in the province of Lanao del Sur. Based on the 2010 census, it has a population of 16,642 people.

It is subdivided into 16 barangays:
  • Butig Proper
  • Cabasaran
  • Coloyan Tambo
  • Dilabayan
  • Dolangan
  • Pindolonan
  • Bayabao Poblacion
  • Poktan
  • Ragayan
  • Raya
  • Samer (Dama)
  • Sandab Madaya
  • Sundig
  • Tiowi
  • Timbab
The closest city to Butig is Marawi City.

Arlyn dela Cruz: Joma asked me to do movie about his life, student activism

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 2): Arlyn dela Cruz: Joma asked me to do movie about his life, student activism

DELA Cruz directs the cast of “Tibak.”
DELA Cruz directs the cast of “Tibak.”

YOU DON’T have to believe in the person’s ideals in order to make a film about him,” said independent filmmaker Arlyn dela Cruz, who is currently working on “Tibak,” the story of the 1960s youth group Kabataang Makabayan and its leader, Jose Ma. “Joma” Sison.

“You just have to believe in their story and the idea that you can be a platform for them to make this known to many,” the director stressed.

Dela Cruz is currently the news director of dzIQ Radyo Inquirer 990 AM. She’s also one of Inquirer’s correspondents-at-large and a columnist of its sister publication, Bandera.        
“Tibak: The Story of the Kabataang Makabayan” is Dela Cruz’s third full-length project. It features the younger years (1959-1969) of Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

However, Dela Cruz stressed that “it is not solely focused on his life, but also about youth activism in that era with Joma as the leader.”

Dela Cruz pointed out that “this is my interpretation of their story, based on what they told me. I was never an activist in my younger years, although as a reporter, I have covered a lot of the rallies they organized.”

The director then explained why she decided to tell Sison’s story on the big screen. “I’ve been friends with Sison since 2008,” around the same time Dela Cruz agreed to produce “Puntod,” a film by Cesar Apolinario.

“He told me that when it’s my turn to direct a movie, I should make his,” said Dela Cruz during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Singkuwento International Film Festival at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts in Intramuros, Manila.

As part of her preparation, Dela Cruz read published literature about Sison and his group. “My work as a journalist enabled me to meet some of the members of the movement,” she said, citing names of key personalities such as National Democratic Front chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni and peace process panel member Fidel Agcaoili.

Dela Cruz, who shot some scenes in The Netherlands where the 77-year-old political leader went into exile, said: “Joma never meddled with my work.” The film features Jak Roberto as Sison and Jill Placencia as Sison’s wife, Julie de Lima. It is set to be released in May, to coincide with Labor Day celebrations. Her film “Mandirigma” opens this month.

MILF: AFHSP hails YDP outreach program

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 2): AFHSP hails YDP outreach program

The Al-A'mal Foundation for Humanitarian Services in the Philippines (AFHSP) hailed the outreach program conducted by the Youth Development Program (YDP) inside the campus of AFHSP located at Bubong, Kalanganan 2, Cotabato City on February 13, 2016.

"We are very grateful for this initiatives and efforts," Shiekh Mohammad Zainudin, a teacher of AFHSP said.

"This is one of the responsibilities of Muslims to help people regardless of ethnicity, religious identity, organizational and political affiliation," Zainudin said.

In response to the recognition and appreciation by the AFHSP, Ustaz Farhan Zamora, another teacher of AFHSP said, "We pray to Allah that He will give you rewards for every sweat you had, every effort you made, every step you took just to be here, just to make this activity realized."

"Being thankful is all we can do in response to this well-appreciated initiative," added Zamora.

This outreach program was conducted to provide basic necessities for 27 orphaned students of AFHSP, explained Alimudin Pinamaluy, BDA-CenMin YDP Coordinator.

"A ma'lumat (quiz bowl) was also part of the program where some students participated", said Pinamaloy.

"During the contest, the students were grouped into 4, namely: Abubakar, Umar, Uthman and Ali", Pinamaloy also said.

"As a result, Group Umar took the 1st place, Abubakar 2nd place, and Uthman was 3rd among the four groups", emphasized Pinamaloy.

Foods were also served to both students and teachers.

YDP is among the eight major programs of BDA conceptualized by BDA-CenMin as proponent region.

MILF: Even w/out BBL, we continue to pursue development: BDA exec

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 1): Even w/out BBL, we continue to pursue development: BDA exec


Reiterating its sincere commitment to the peace process and development, the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) vowed to continue in ushering development to the Bangsamoro people even there is no Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

“With or without BBL, our commitment on delivering development especially in the area of Bangsamoro will continue,” Dr. Mohammad S. Yacob said in his message during the signing ceremony on Strengthening Partnership for the South-Central Mindanao Development Corridor held at Green Leaf Hotel in General Santos City last Friday.

The event’s host, Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), signed Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) with United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The cooperation is aimed to enhance the competitiveness of South-Central Mindanao Corridor in support to the MinDA-led Mindanao Development Corridors (MDC).

MDC’s goal is to connect a globally competitive Mindanao towards an inclusive, balanced, and sustained growth for the island region.

 BDA has been part of the steering committee of the Small Scale Capacity Development Technical Assistance Project spearheaded by MinDA and supported by the Asian Development Bank with regard to Strengthening Institutions for Investments in Mindanao.

MDC focuses on optimizing growth of regions based on their potentials and strategic roles in the overall development of Mindanao.

It also builds on the trade and economic strengths between and among regions through improved infrastructure, connectivity, logistics, industry development and investment facilitation.

Dr. Yacob, representing the BDA, and a representative from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) were the official witnesses of the MoC signing.

In the MDC, South-Central Mindanao region, a huge chunk of the proposed Bangsamoro area, is classified as a cluster area for food basket.

In the formulation of the Bangsamoro Development Plan, the BDA has considered the potential of the region for agricultural production with the availability of fertile arable lands and human resources.

“Everybody needs development and no one rejects development,” Dr. Yacob pointed out.

He related that BDA was created by the peace process through the GRP-MILF Tripoli Agreement of Peace on 2001. The two parties, Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) agreed to create a development agency mandated to determine, lead and manage relief, rehabilitation and development of conflict affected areas in Mindanao while the peace negotiation is going on.

“We need to create a venue for capacity building of the people while the peace negotiation is on the table,” Dr. Yacob stressed with hope that the political settlement for the Mindanao conflict will be achieved.

He said the BDA commits to partner with other stakeholders for development as a manifestation of its sincerity to the peace process.

“We believe that we share the same vision for Mindanao as an area ‘not of conflict’ but of inclusive growth,” Dr. Yacob underscored.

BDA is the development arm of the MILF. With the help of local and international development institutions, the agency has been bringing development interventions to target conflict-affected areas of Mindanao through capability-building trainings for community members and establishment of infrastructure and enterprise projects.

The BBL, which the lawmakers failed to pass in the 16th Congress, is a legal instrument that will lay down the foundation for the establishment of an autonomous Bangsamoro government with more fiscal and political powers.

The measure is hoped to bring justice, peace and development for the Bangsamoro people.

MILF: MILF Chair, Malaysian Prime Minister, meet in KL

Posted to the MILF Website (Mar 2): MILF Chair, Malaysian Prime Minister, meet in KL

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim met with Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak last Thursday (Feb 25) in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the Bangsamoro peace process which Malaysia is facilitating. 

In his statement published at, Prime Minister Razak said he met with MILF Chair and assured the latter of Malaysia’s commitment to continue to support the peace process with the next President of the Philippines.

“I convinced H.E. Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim that despite the current setback, the MILF must remain faithful to the peace process since it is a practical choice to resolve the Bangsamoro issue,” Najib said in the statement.
The Malaysian Prime Minister revealed he shared common sentiment with the MILF leader over the failure of the Philippine Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
He also underscored how the peace talks has been successful in delivering relative peace and stability in Mindanao and stressed that “reverting to armed struggle is definitely not an option.”
Chairman Murad on his part pledged to sustain peace and the dividends gained by the peace negotiations. 
In its official statement issued last February 18, the MILF leadership committed to uphold the peace process and preserve the gains of the negotiations despite the failure of the two Chambers of Philippine Congress to pass the BBL. 
The MILF leadership expressed deep frustration and grave dismay over the non-passage of the measure. 
Passing the BBL is a sole obligation of the government as stipulated in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), a peace deal signed by the two parties on March 27, 2014.
As a gesture of Malaysia’s commitment to the peace process, the prime minister also announced they will send to Mindanao another batch of observers that will comprise the Malaysian contingents of the International Monitoring team (IMT) this month. 
Malaysian Defence Minister YB Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein will accompany the new batch of Malaysian peace monitors for the handing-over process in Cotabato City this March, according to Najib.  
The Malaysian chief minister is hopeful the two parties will remain committed to pursue lasting peace in Mindanao and promised that Malaysia will continue to be an honest broker in the peace process.

Compostela Valley town cop chief slain

From the Philippine Star (Mar 3): Compostela Valley town cop chief slain

Motorcycle-riding men believed to be members of the New People’s Army liquidation squad shot dead the chief of police of a town in Compostela Valley in  Tagum City, Davao del Norte yesterday.

Chief Inspector Ger Igtanloc, Maragusan police chief, suffered multiple gunshot wounds and died at the scene.

Initial investigation showed the assailants tailed Igtanloc, a resident of Barangay East in Tagum City, as he was driving his motorcycle on his way home.

Igtanloc was waylaid at the corner of Mabini and Sobrecary streets around 7 a.m.

The assailants sped toward Barangay San Miguel.

Responding policemen recovered eight bullet shells for a .45 caliber pistol at the scene.

Philippines attends counter-terrorism meeting in Thailand

From the Philippine Star (Mar 2): Philippines attends counter-terrorism meeting in Thailand

Soldiers with heavy armed stand guard in front of a major shopping area in downtown in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. Australia warned Sunday that terrorists may be plotting attacks in and around Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's largest city. The Australian High Commission in Malaysia said in a travel advisory that there was an ongoing terrorism threat in Malaysia, noting that authorities there have arrested a number of people allegedly involved in planning attacks, including against entertainment venues in Kuala Lumpur. AP/Vincent Thian

The Philippines joined 16 other countries in a three-day counter-terrorism meeting held in Chang Mai, Thailand.

The Interpol meeting in Thailand attended by 43 law enforcement and counter-terrorism officers from 16 countries addressed the emerging terrorism trends and information-sharing on foreign terrorist fighters throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

“The Bangkok terror attack last August, followed by a string of incidents in France, Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere demonstrated the current threat posed by both individuals and terrorist networks,” head of the Interpol National Central Bureau in Thailand Police Major General Apichat Suriboonya said.

“This working group meeting provided the Asia-Pacific region with the opportunity to compare the different, national, policing capabilities, and identify a way forward for the future,” he added.

Among the terrorism trends discussed in the meeting were the use of the Internet by terrorists for radicalization and law enforcement evidence-gathering procedures relating to terrorist groups using social media.

Interpol said the working group’s findings will result in an Intelligence Assessment in the Emerging Terrorist Threats and Trends in the region.

The counter-terrorism meeting held from February 23 to 25 is co-hosted by INTERPOL and the Foreign Affairs Division of the Royal Thai Police. It was also supported by the Canadian government as part of the INTERPOL Capacity Building Programme on Countering Transnational Terrorism and Other Security Threats in Southeast Asia.

The meeting gathered working group represented by countries Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Canada, China, Indonesia, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Thailand, USA and Vietnam.

Yohanes Agus Mulyono, executive director at the ASEANAPOL Secretariat and International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research representative in Singapore also participated in the meeting.

Part of West PH Sea has long been ours, says Aquino

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 2): Part of West PH Sea has long been ours, says Aquino

west philippine sea china reclamation 2

TAGBILARAN CITY, Philippines- President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday reiterated that part of the disputed territory in the West Philippine Sea “has long been ours.”

The President, who flew here to woo voters to support his chosen successor, Mar Roxas, made the statement amid reports that Chinese vessels had anchored inside the known Philippine-controlled seawaters off Palawan.
“This has long been ours,” the President told his audience inside the packed Bohol Cultural Center.
Mr. Aquino also hit Roxas’ rivals who were quoted in the media as saying that they would pursue a negotiation with China to resolve the border conflict.

“While I’m defending our right against other nations in the West Philippine Sea, they said they will talk to our rivals. But I have been talking with them (China),” he said.

“My problem is when I talk to them, they will start by saying, ‘All these belong to us.’ What negotiation will we have if their view is ‘All of these are ours so you should not enter,’” the President said.

AFP: Beheading of soldier in Lanao Sur a ‘war crime’

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 2): AFP: Beheading of soldier in Lanao Sur a ‘war crime’

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has denounced as a “war crime” the beheading of a soldier in Lanao del Sur in the government’s clashes last week with an “extremist” group linked to international terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah.

In an interview with the media on Wednesday, the AFP spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, confirmed that “one of our men was decapitated” in the clashes between the military and a Moro rebel group led by the Maute brothers in Butig, Lanao del Sur.

Padilla called the decapitation “a war atrocity, a war crime.”  “We are documenting it closely so we can file the appropriate complaints against this group,” Padilla said. “Our soldiers should be respected, as they only fight for a bigger cause.”
“But this group [Maute group] are extremists, which is why [military] [actions going after them] have been intense,” Padilla said.

The Maute group suffered at least 24 fatalities, who reportedly included leader Omar Maute. The group’s camps have already been seized by the military, and only clearing operations in the area are ongoing.

Last week, the AFP reported at least three soldiers killed in the gunfight that lasted for days.

The Maute group, estimated to have around 80 to 100 members, attacked a military detachment in Butig last Feb. 20, leading to intermittent clashes with the military in the area and the consequent evacuation of thousands of residents.

“We assure our citizens that clearing operations will be done as fast as possible in Butig, so the residents can go back to their homes as quickly as possible,” Padilla said.

NPA: Armed struggle to continue regardless who wins in May

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 2): NPA: Armed struggle to continue regardless who wins in May
The New People’s Army (NPA) has vowed to continue with its armed struggle regardless of the outcome of the elections in May.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Rigoberto Sanchez, the NPA spokesperson for Southern Mindanao, said the future of the insurgency would not be dependent on the result of the elections.

“Whatever the outcome of the elections, the New People’s Army will continue to defend and fight for the democratic interests of the Filipino people,” he said.

According to Sanchez, the armed resistance will continue until the plunder of the people’s resources stops, and land reform and nationalist industrialization for sovereignty and social justice are achieved.

He also said the NPA did not believe that these changes would be achieved with the elections.

“With only three months to go before his detestable term ends, Aquino is hell-bent in pushing for another Daang Matuwid run with his similarly appalling lackey, Mar Roxas. As proven in our long colonial history, US machinations in the upcoming elections will ensure that the next President will remain a lapdog to its interests,” Sanchez added.

Sanchez claimed that the NPA has been reaping successive victories in its offensives.

He said in Southern Mindanao alone, the NPA launched 39 offensives and killed 79 soldiers during the past eight weeks alone.

The military confirmed a spike in NPA offensives but denied it suffered so many casualties.

“Since the AFP troops have become the brutal guard dogs for the greedy interests of multi-national companies such as Dole and SUMIFRU and large-scale mining companies such as Agusan Petroleum Company, Apex Mining Corporation, St. Augustine Mines and Minerals-—the masses and the revolutionary forces have valiantly opposed and resisted them,” he said.

Sanchez also said the NPA would continue to defend the helpless masses from the abuses by the military. He said in just a matter of two months this year, soldiers had already killed seven people – including a 15-year-old Manobo boy in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

In Northern Mindanao, the NPA also said it has been carrying out attacks against the military.

The latest of this was the series of engagements between government troops and Maoist rebels as the country commemorated the 30th anniversary of People Power last Feb. 25, Maria Malaya, the spokesperson of the National Democratic Front in Northeastern Mindanao Region, said.

“These NPA tactical offensives show that armed revolution is imperative, because the so-called ‘peaceful people power revolution of Edsa’ was not able to provide for genuine solutions to the basic problems of the Filipino people,” Malaya said in a statement.

The military said among those targeted by the NPA was a medical mission in a remote area of Bukidnon. Last Thursday, the NPA also attacked a team of soldiers from the 32nd Infantry Battalion while delivering government services in Sitio Kitondaw in Barangay Sangay in Buenavista, Agusan del Norte.

“Obviously, the NPA does not want the government services to be brought to the community so that they can continue to exploit issues such as the lack of basic services and injustice among our Lumad brothers,” Lt. Col. Lennon Babilonia, commander of the Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry Battalion based in Bukidnon, said.

As to the rebels’ vow to continue with its armed struggle, a military officer in Southern Mindanao said the NPA’s strength has been eroded by the surrender of its members disillusioned by the false hopes its leaders had given them and diminishing community support.

Lt. Col. Ronnie Babac, commander of the 73rd Infantry Battalion based in Malita, Davao Occidental, said in February alone, five rebels surrendered to his unit because of “unfulfilled promises” of NPA leaders, such as support for their families.

“The continued difficulty they faced in the hinterlands also forced them to yield,” he said.

Babac also said the military has been using “gentle persuasion” aside from conducting combat operations in a bid to defeat communists in his areas of jurisdiction.

This included engaging parents and relatives of rebels and village officials in dialogues in the provinces of Davao Occidental, Sarangani and portions of Davao del Sur.

“During the dialogues, we ask their relatives and village officials to convince them to surrender,” he said.

Babac said the NPA was also losing support from among the villagers because of abuses and extortion activities.

In July last year, he said officials of the remote village of Datal Anggas in Alabel, Sarangani passed a resolution formally declaring NPA members as persona non grata.

The villagers have accused the NPA of committing “deception, extortion and other forms of abuses” against villagers and that by barring them, officials said they hoped the excesses would stop.

“The little money they earn from communal farming would go to the rebels because if they did not give in to the demands, they would automatically be branded anti-communists,” he said.