Thursday, March 10, 2016

MILF: Chair Murad’s KL press conference

Editorial posted to the MILF Website (Mar 8): Chair Murad’s KL press conference

MILF Chair Murad Ebrahim’s press conference in Kuala Lumpur on March 7 is timely, as it is a necessity. The venue is perfect. The news generated therefrom were picked up or carried widely by international media services. It also dramatizes the importance of the peace process, as well as the commitment of and unwavering role played by Malaysia.

There were several urgent issues brought to fore during the press briefing: the deep frustration of the people as a result of the non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and the possible firm foothold of radicals in Mindanao. Murad also disclosed that the MILF cannot completely abandon armed struggle, but clarified that as long as peace process has a chance to move forward, the MILF does not and will not resort to it. He also expressed hope that the next president of the Philippines will support and continue the efforts for peace in Mindanao. But so far, only presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte has clear statement on the resolution of the armed conflict in Mindanao. He wants to push for the federal system in this country. He also promised to push for the BBL in Congress. The rest of the presidential aspirants are still tight-lipped on the issue.

Frankly, it does not pay to underestimate the toxic effects of frustration or the threat of these radicals, say the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), taken lightly or dismissed outright. The Philippine military is still in a state of denial. We do not know whether this is the right approach, or this would give space to the radicals to grow, simply because the public is not given the wake-up call.

It is a bonus to the military that both the BIFF/BIFM and ISIS-inspired youths in Palembang, Sultan Kudarat, and Butig, Lanao del Sur had openly announced their existence in video or in you-tube which they freely distributed to the public and the media. They seemed to have carried or inherited to this day the so-called tradition of Moros that when they have secrets they will openly announce them to the people. This was one of the reasons, it was believed, why the Americans had gained so much success in the pacification of the Moro Province.  

Frustration can led to many problems. One clear danger is that radicals can use it to recruit people usually the younger generations to their side. Surely, Murad said, the extremists will capitalize on growing frustration of the people over the failure of government to pass the BBL.

Right now, the government forces are fighting on many fronts in Mindanao against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and Basilan; ISIS-inspired youths in Lanao del Sur; and BIFF/BIFM in Maguindanao. Although labelled either as terrorists or radicals, they have proved their staying ability, especially the first two, and they are bloodying the government with their highly mobile tactics.  Obviously, they have discovered that the best way to fight a conventional army is through guerrilla warfare tactics.

The MILF continues to uphold the primacy of the peace process and to abide by the ceasefire agreement. It completely stays out of the current bloody mess by repositioning its troops in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, so as not to be affected by the fighting.

Politics seen in Armed Forces officers’ exchange of positions

From the Business Mirror (Mar 10): Politics seen in Armed Forces officers’ exchange of positions

TWO senior military officers swapped positions on Thursday in what the Armed Forces said was still part of its effort to meet its “mandate,” although some officers had termed it as an “election move” by the Aquino administration, in support of its presidential candidate.

The exchange of positions between the Armed Forces vice chief of staff  Lt. Gen. Romeo Tanalgo and the Armed Forces Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) chief  Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda, took place a day after former Armed Forces deputy chief of staff Lt. Gen. Edgar Fallorina assumed command of the Air Force.

Tanalgo, a Marine, and Miranda, an Army man, are classmates of the Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri. They are members of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1983.

The Armed Forces had termed the exercise as a mere “swapping of posts” between Tanalgo and Miranda, but legally, it was a relief or even a demotion in position for the Marine general, who was the No. 2 man of the whole military, before he was ordered to take Miranda’s post.

The post of the Armed Forces vice chief of staff is the second highest position in the military, while the post of Northern Luzon commander is just equal with the Western Command, Southern Luzon Command, Eastern Mindanao Command and other area commands of the military.

Fending off criticisms that it was an election-related move to benefit administration presidential candidate Manuel A. Roxas II or even a demotion for Tanalgo, Armed Forces Public Affairs Office chief Col. Noel Detoyato merely said it was in pursuit of military objectives.

“The consideration in this are the imperatives of our national military objectives, there are four of them, these are always the considerations if commanders are given major commands,” Detoyato said.

“These imperatives are securing the sovereignty and integrity of national territory, protection of maritime interest and defeating internal threats; supporting national development, security and stability; contributing to regional and international peace and security; and supporting the disaster risk-reduction management effort of the government,” he added.

Detoyato said the military has always been upholding its best interest, that of the country and the Filipinos every time it makes a decision.

“It is always the best interest, we always want to tap the expertise [of commanders], to maximize the positions. Anyway, these are two three-star positions and that is why it was only swapped,” he said.

Since the exchange was a “demotion” for Tanalgo, some officers said he had been relieved of his post because his branch of service is the Marines wherein opposition presidential front-runner Jejomar C. Binay is a Marine reservist with the rank of colonel, and is known to be close to several Marine officers. Binays security men are Marines, although these troops are technically assigned to the Officer of the Base Commander of Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo, where the Armed Forces General Headquarters and the Department of Defense are located.

Roxas is an adopted member of a PMA.

The officers noted that, while Defense Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin and Irriberi have been constantly reminding the troops to remain apolitical, this same directive is not being obeyed or practiced in the General Headquarters, with President Aquino, being the commander in chief, as the primary violator.

Aquino signed the relief of Tanalgo over the weekend.

“Where is moral ascendancy in that?” One junior officer asked.

Detoyato said Tanalgo, the Marines commandant when he was appointed as the No. 2 man of the Armed Forces, was also assigned at the Nolcom because of maritime consideration, apparently referring to the Scarborough Shoal near Zambales, over which China already exercises de-facto control.

But the operational jurisdiction over the Scarborough Shoal has long been transferred to the Western Command, which is based in Palawan.

Beijing accuses Japan over patrol planes for RP

From the Daily Tribune (Mar 11): Beijing accuses Japan over patrol planes for RP

Beijing yesterday accused Tokyo of interfering in the South China Sea after Manila said it would lease five Japanese military plans to patrol areas it claims in the heavily disputed waters.

Beijing claims almost all of the strategically vital South China Sea, and is embroiled in a separate row with Tokyo over disputed islands in the East China Sea that has seen relations between the Asian powers sour badly in recent years.

President Aquino said Wednesday that Manila would lease five TC-90 training aircraft from Japan to “help our navy patrol our territory,” pointing out the disputed area in particular.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing was “firmly opposed” to challenges to its sovereignty and security and would “remain on high alert.”

“Japan is not a party directly concerned in the South China Sea dispute,” he added.

“We urge the Japanese side to mind its words and actions and refrain from undermining the peace and stability of the region,” he said.

Tensions in the South China Sea — through which one-third of the world’s oil passes — have mounted in recent months since China transformed contested Spratly reefs into artificial islands capable of supporting military facilities.

China claims almost all of sea, including those Spratly islands currently controlled by the Philippines.

Several other littoral state have competing claims in the region, as does Taiwan.
Aquino — whose government has infuriated Beijing by taking the South China Sea issue to an international tribunal in The Hague — is looking to upgrade one of Asia’s most badly-equipped armed forces.

Hong’s comments came after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said there were “little grounds for optimism” in Sino-Japanese relations and accused the world’s third-largest economy — a major Chinese trading partner — of “two-faced” behavior.

“On the one hand the Japanese government and leaders are constantly claiming they want to improve Sino-Japanese relations, and on the other are constantly making trouble for China everywhere,” Wang said Tuesday on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the country’s Communist-controlled legislature.

“This is actually a kind of approach typical of a ‘two-faced person.’” 

2 hurt in IED blast in Jolo

From ABS-CBN (Mar 10): 2 hurt in IED blast in Jolo

Two bystanders were injured after an improvised explosive device (IED) went off in Jolo, Sulu on Wednesday evening.

Joint Task Group Zambasulta said the explosion occurred at 7:50 p.m. in the vicinity of Tigbao and Tan residences in Barangay Asturias.

The victims were brought to the Sulu Provincial Hospital for treatment.

Authorities have yet to determine the motive behind the planting of the IED.

Misuari to support Duterte-Marcos: MNLF exec

From ABS-CBN (Mar 10): Misuari to support Duterte-Marcos: MNLF exec

Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari has expressed support for the presidential candidacy of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, according to a top MNLF official.

Habib Mudjahab Hashim, chairman of the MNLF's Islamic Command Council, said Misuari had consulted with his followers and other MNLF commanders in Sulu before finally deciding to support Duterte in the upcoming presidential race.

Hashim said aside from being a fellow Mindanaoan, Misuari also believes in Duterte's sincerity to support the 1996 peace agreement the MNLF inked with Philippine government. The MNLF has been pushing for the peace deal's full implementation.

Hashim said the MNLF also agrees with Duterte's proposal to change the system of government to federalism. The group believes this will will give poor cities and provinces in Mindanao equal opportunity to prosper.

Under the proposed federal system of government, several federal states will be established across the country, and given autonomy to create and generate their own income and also manage their own economy.

Hashim said this form of government will provide an alternative solution to the conflict in Mindanao.


Misuari's group, however, will not campaign for Duterte's running mate, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano. Instead, they will support vice presidential candidate Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.

It was during the regime of Marcos' father, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, that the Tripoli agreement was signed between the MNLF and the government.

The agreement created an autonomous region composed of 13 provinces, including Basilan, Davao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga del Sur.


Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, for her part, appealed to ZamboangeƱos not to support candidates who will be endorsed by Misuari.

She cited the 2013 Zamboanga siege masterminded by the fugitive MNLF leader where hundreds of his armed followers conducted coordinated attacks in the city.
Hundreds of lives were lost and thousands of families were left homeless after the siege which lasted for almost a month.

Hashim said they respect the opinion of Climaco, but pointed out that in the end, it will be the voting public who will decide who to support and vote for in the upcoming elections.

China able to project 'substantial offensive power' from Spratlys in months — US

From GMA News (Mar 11): China able to project 'substantial offensive power' from Spratlys in months — US

China will be able to project "substantial offensive military power" from artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea's disputed Spratly Islands within months, the director of U.S. national intelligence said.

In a Feb. 23 letter to John McCain, chair of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, James Clapper said Chinese land reclamation and construction work in the Spratlys had established infrastructure needed "to project military capabilities in the South China Sea beyond that which is required for point defense of its outposts."

"Based on the pace and scope of construction at these outposts, China will be able to deploy a range of offensive and defensive military capabilities and support increased PLAN and CCG presence beginning in 2016,"

Clapper said in the letter released this week, using acronyms for the Chinese navy and coastguard. "Once these facilities are completed by the end of 2016 or early 2017, China will have significant capacity to quickly project substantial offensive military power to the region," Clapper added.

The United States has voiced concerns about China's assertive pursuit of territory in the South China Sea.

The sea is one of the world's busiest trade routes and regional countries have rival claims, creating a potential flashpoint.

Visiting Washington in September, Chinese President Xi Jinping responded to U.S. worries by saying that China had no intention to militarize its outposts in the Spratlys.

Beijing has said their military roles will be defensive, but the head of the U.S. Pacific Command said last month China was "clearly militarizing" the South China Sea with the aim of achieving East Asian hegemony.

The text of Clapper's letter in response to questions from McCain was published on the news portal of the U.S. Naval Institute. U.S. officials confirmed the content. Clapper said that while the United States had yet to observe deployment of significant Chinese military capabilities in the Spratlys, it had built facilities able to support them, including modern fighter aircraft.

China had already installed military radars at Cuarteron and Fiery Cross Reefs, and the infrastructure could also allow for the deployment surface-to-air missiles, coastal defense cruise missiles and an increased presence of warships, he said.

The United States had not seen Chinese air force activity in the Spratlys, but warships had stopped at its outposts including a guided-missile frigate and a guided-missile destroyer in December and January, Clapper said.

He said tank-landing ships had been employed widely in construction work and the landing of civil aircraft at Fiery Cross Reef in January showed the airstrip there was operational and able to accommodate all Chinese military aircraft.

Clapper said China continued its land reclamation in the Spratlys after Aug. 5, when its foreign minister claimed that it had been halted. While there was no evidence that China has plans for any significant additional land reclamation in the Spratlys, Clapper said there was sufficient reef area in the Spratlys for it to reclaim more than 1,000 additional acres (400 hectares).

The Pentagon has said that Beijing has sought to bolster its claim to nearly all of the South China Sea with island building projects in the Spratlys that have reclaimed more than 2,900 acres (1,170 hectares) of land since 2013.

Tiamzon allowed to undergo medical exam

From Malaya Business Insight (Mar 11): Tiamzon allowed to undergo medical exam

A QUEZON City court has allowed captured Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) leader Wilma Austria-Tiamzon to undergo medical examination in a government hospital for further evaluation of her health.

In a one-page order dated February 26 but made public only yesterday, Judge Alfonso Ruiz II of the QC Regional Trial Court Branch 216 granted the appeal of Tiamzon to leave her detention at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City for a medical check-up at the National Kidney Transplant Institute (NKTI) in Quezon City on March 16.

Ruiz also asked Dr. Fernando Melendres, the attending physician of Tiamzon, to submit the result of the medical test to the court within 30 days after her tests.

Tiamzon, through her counsel Rachel Pastores, asked the court’s permission for a follow-up medical checkup at the NKTI based on the recommendation of Melendres.

Tiamzon was earlier diagnosed with “vertebral artery syndrome,” a condition related to the narrowing of the vertebral or basilar arteries.

Tiamzon has already undergone several medical checkups and treatments for her ailment.  

She and her husband, Benito Tiamzon, also an alleged CPP leader, were arrested in Cebu in March 2014.

They are both facing charges of kidnapping and serious illegal detention.

China expresses alarm at PH-Japan aircraft deal

From Malaya Business Insight (Mar 11): China expresses alarm at PH-Japan aircraft deal

China expressed alarm on Thursday about an agreement in which the Philippines will lease five aircraft from Japan to help patrol the disputed South China Sea.

President Aquino said the five TC-90 training aircraft would help the navy in patrolling what the Philippines views as its territory.

The Philippines has made the modernization of its air and naval forces a priority as China deploys missiles and fighters on a number of artificial islands in the South China Sea.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, where about $5 trillion worth of ship-borne trade passes annually. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the sea.

“If the Philippines’ actions are to challenge China’s sovereignty and security interests, China is resolutely opposed,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing.

“I also want to point out that Japan is not a party to the South China Sea issue and we are on high guard against its moves. We demand that Japan speak and act cautiously and not do anything to harm regional peace and stability.”

China, the world’s second-largest economy, and Japan, the third largest, have a difficult political history, with relations strained by the legacy of Japan’s World War Two aggression and conflicting claims over a group of uninhabited East China Sea islets.

The Philippine military, for decades preoccupied with domestic insurgencies, has been shifting its focus to territorial defense, allocating 83 billion pesos ($1.77 billion) until 2017 to upgrade and modernize its air force and navy.

Allies the United States and South Korea have already offered help to bolter air capabilities and Aquino announced the arrival this year of two refurbished C130 transport planes from the United States.

Already in the Philippines military’s plans is the acquisition of a squadron of multi-role fighters, air-to-ground missile batteries, early warning aircraft and drones.

Last week, the Philippines and Japan signed a deal on the transfer of military equipment and technology, a document Japan needs to allow it to export weapons and guarantee they will not be transferred to a third party.

Gazmin: US patrols deter China’s action

From The Standard (Mar 10): Gazmin: US patrols deter China’s action

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said on Thursday   the government has welcomed initiatives of the United States government for deploying its naval and air fleet  to patrol the West Philippine Sea and  deter China’s military aggression while the Armed Forces of the Philippines doesn’t have enough capability yet to patrol and defend the country’s territorial domain.  

“We will welcome this opportunity. Somehow it deterred them from moving aggressively,” Gazmin told reporters in an ambush interview at  Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.  

The 7th Fleet operating under the US Pacific Command based in Honulu, Hawaii deployed its multi-role aircrafts carrier along with destroyers and submarines led by the US command and control ship to conduct patrols in the WPS and South China Sea while Beijing has been bullying other claimants such the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei.

The  US deployment was a challenge to China’s militarization in the world’s largest economic sea lane to close freedom of navigation as part of its expansionist policy to change the geo-political and military map in the region which is largely still dominated by the US and its western allies, analysts said.  

Just recently, Beijing deployed sophisticated missiles in one of its claimed islands as security and defense experts say similar deployments can be done also  at   the artificial islands built by the Chinese military located within the Kalayaan Island Group, a municipality of Palawan in the WPS.  

While Manila is waiting the arbitral verdict at The Hague about her complaint against Beijing’s excessive and unilateral “9-dash line” claiming 90 percent of the disputed seas including a big portion of the WPS, the Philippine and US government inked last year the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement   to fast-track the deployment of US forces and military equipment to the Philippines.

EDCA, a military-to-military agreement under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), was declared constitutional by the Supreme Court, which means the US can now deploy forces and even build military facility anywhere in the country under the approval of the government and supervision of the AFP.  

Asked about the status of EDCA, Gazmin said he will give an update soon as another meeting in Washington  has been set to discuss details of the agreement for immediate implementation.

It is also being highly viewed that EDCA will spur some improvements of the long-neglected AFP Modernization Program that continues to suffer setbacks at the DND level because of alleged corruption issues.  

Gazmin said the planned lease of TC-90 surveillance planes from Japan would  boost   the aerial and maritime patrol of the country.

Of Regional Security Interest: US deploys three stealth bombers in Asia-Pacific

From Update.Ph (Mar 10): US deploys three stealth bombers in Asia-Pacific


The United States has deployed three B-2 Spirits to US Pacific Command area of operations March 8. The bombers were deployed from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. The US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) said the B-2s will integrate and conduct training with ally and partner air forces in Indo-Asia-Pacific, and conduct a radio communications check with a US air operations center. This deployment will ensure bomber crews maintain a high state of readiness and crew proficiency, and will provide opportunities to integrate capabilities with key regional partners.

“These flights ensure we remain ready to deter strategic attack, now and into the future, and are one of the many ways the U.S. demonstrates its commitment to security and stability across the globe,” said Admiral Cecil D. Haney, STRATCOM commander. “Additionally, these efforts provide invaluable opportunities to build relationships and interoperability between the U.S. and ally and partner forces.”

US Pacific Air Forces commander General Lori J. Robinson said “strategic bomber deployments ensure our ability to project power at a time and place of our choosing and develop strong interoperability with our regional allies and partners.”

“Recent events demonstrate the continued need to provide consistent and credible air power throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. Our ability to demonstrate credible combat power while training and interoperating with our network of like-minded partner nations is vitally important,” General Robinson added.

STRATCOM bombers regularly rotate through the Indo-Asia-Pacific to conduct USPACOM-led air operations, providing leaders with deterrent options to maintain regional stability.

Of Regional Security Interest: US, Korean warships sail Pacific Ocean in formation

From Update.Ph (Mar 10): US, Korean warships sail Pacific Ocean in formation


Warships from United States Navy Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group and Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, along with Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy Flotilla 5 have transited, March 8, in formation in Pacific Ocean kicking off exercise Ssang Yong 2016. Ssang Yong, which means “Twin Dragons,” is a biennial combined exercise conducted by US Navy and Marine Corps forces with the ROK Navy to strengthen interoperability and working relationships across the range of military operations from disaster relief to complex, expeditionary operations, the US Navy said.

The Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group with embarked Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 11 and 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) consists of amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), and amphibious dock landing ships USS Ashland (LSD 48) and USS Germantown (LSD 42), and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG 67).

The Boxer Amphibious Ready Group (BOXARG) consists of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4), the amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18), the amphibious dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), PHIBRON 1, and the 13th MEU 4th Marines, Combat Logistics Regiment 35, 1st Tank Battalion and I MEF Crisis Response Force Company.

Commander, Flotilla (COMFLOT) 5 consisting of amphibious assault ship ROKS Dokdo (LPH-6111), amphibious landing ship class ROKS Cheon Wang Bong (LST 686), Chungmugong Yi Sun-sin-class destroyer ROKS Munmu the Great (DDH 976) is amongst the ROK assets participating in the exercise.

Australian Army and New Zealand Army forces are also participating in the said exercise.

“Ssang Yong offers the U.S. and ROK the opportunity to test their ability to operate together as an integrated combined naval force,” said Rear Adm. John Nowell, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 7. “Its significance in assuring interoperability between the U.S. and ROK forces is inestimable.”

2 Terrorist camps seized in Sulu

From Update.Ph (Mar 11): 2 Terrorist camps seized in Sulu  

asg samal

The military on Thursday afternoon have captured two Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) camps and seized several firearms during operations in Patikul, Sulu province.

Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, Joint Task Group Sulu commander, said soldiers from the 10th Scout Ranger Company were conducting patrols when they encountered around 30 suspected ASG bandits under sub-leaders Namel Ahajari and Arkam Udjaman at Sitio Mabusing, Barangay Langhub at 1:08 p.m.

The terrorists retreated after a 15-minute firefight after sustaining an undetermined number of casualties.

No losses were sustained by government forces, Arrojado said.

In the ensuing pursuit operations, government troops seized two ASG camps, one of which is capable of housing 50 bandits. The second camp, captured by the 11th Scout Ranger Company, can accommodate 100 individuals.

Seized were a rocket-propelled grenade, a M-16 automatic rifle with 45 rounds and assorted foodstuff.

Pursuit operations are still ongoing.

Abu Sayyaf threatens captives

From The Standard (Mar 11): Abu Sayyaf threatens captives

ABU Sayyaf extremists holding the three foreigners and Filipino women who were abducted in Samal Island threatened to execute their captives if they do not get the P1-billion ransom for each of the three foreigners within one month.

In a video footage posted on Facebook last March 8, a masked man acting as the group leader presented Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Filipino Marites Flor who were abducted from a Samal Island beach resort last September.

They are believed to be held in the jungle on Jolo island, a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, which is known for bombs, beheadings and kidnappings.

“We are giving a warning [of] one month for the families to [meet] the demand.
Starting today March 8 until April 8, 2016. Then if you think your policy [non-negotiation] is better for you than the lives of the captives, certainly we will do something terrible against these captives,” the masked man said.

The video showed each of the three foreigners pleading for their governments to accede to the demand, or they will be executed.

Ridsdel appealed to Canadian Prime Minsiter Justin Trudeau and the Canadian people to meet the demand of their captors, otherwise they will be executed.

“Please do what’s needed to meet their demands within one month or they will kill me and they will execute us,” Ridsdel appealed to Canadian Prime Minsiter Justin Trudeau crying as one of the kidnappers poised a machete by his neck.

Sekkingstad, on the other hand, said they are being held somewhere in Sulu Island as he asked his friends to listen to the ultimatum of their captors.

Meanwhile, the military said the video footages have already been submitted to forensic experts to determined their authenticity, but AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the results of the examination have yet to be submitted.

The bandit group are still holding at least nine kidnap victims most of whom foreigner held somewhere in the jungles of Sulu.

The military has intensified its operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group in their various lairs in Sulu and Basilan province and has inflicted several dozens casualties in bloody fighting with security forces.

Three foreigners held by Abu Sayyaf militants appeal for help in video

From the Star Online (Mar 11): Three foreigners held by Abu Sayyaf militants appeal for help in video

Canadian Robert Hall (centre), 50, pleading for his life in a video released by Abu Sayyaf. Beside him is fellow Canadian John Ridsdell, 68. - TheStraitsTimes/ANN

Canadian Robert Hall (centre), 50, pleading for his life in a video released by Abu Sayyaf. Beside him is fellow Canadian John Ridsdell, 68. - TheStraitsTimes/ANN

Three foreigners kidnapped by militants in the Philippines nearly six months ago have appealed to their governments for help to secure their release, as their Al-Qaeda-linked captors issued a one month deadline for their demands to be met.

The three foreign men, who Philippine authorities have identified as two Canadians and a Norwegian, were shown in a video clip, along with a Filipino woman kidnapped with them, crouching on the ground with gunmen standing over them.

"To the Canadian prime minister and to the Canadian people in the world, please, do as needed to meet their demands, within one month or they will kill me, they will execute us," said one of the men who identified himself as Mr John Ridsdel, a Canadian mining consultant.

The three men were handcuffed and were thin, bearded and shirtless. The video clip of about a minute and a half was posted on a Facebook page linked to Philippine Islamists.

The four were kidnapped from a beach resort on a southern island last September. They are believed to be held in the jungle on Jolo island, a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf militant group.

Another of the men, who identified himself as Mr Robert Hall, another Canadian, said he did not know how much money their captors were demanding but he appealed for help quickly.

A spokesman for Canada's foreign minister said the government was aware of the video but did not want to comment or provide new information in case it endangered the captives.

Calgary-based TVI Pacific, where Mr Ridsdel was a semi-retired consultant, declined to comment.

The third man, who identified himself as Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, made a similar appeal.

It was the third time the militants had released such video appeals from the captives.

In November, Mr Ridsdel said in a video that the militants were demanding one billion pesos (S$29 million) for each of them.

A militant spokesman appeared in the latest video to issue a one-month ultimatum though he did not specify demands.

"We will do something terrible against these captives," said the masked spokesman, who gave the date as March 8.

The September raid on the resort was a reminder of the precarious security in the resource-rich southern Philippines despite a 2014 peace agreement with the largest Muslim rebel group that ended 45 years of conflict.

Abu Sayyaf militants are holding other foreigners including one from the Netherlands, one from Japan, and an Italian missionary.

Abus set deadline for hostages

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 11): Abus set deadline for hostages

Abu Sayyaf bandits holding three Westerners and a Filipino woman in the jungles of Sulu have set a one-month deadline for millions of dollars in ransom to be paid, according to a video released Thursday.

In the video posted on the Facebook page of Pamantasan ng Tawheed at Jihad Filibin, the emaciated hostages said they would be killed if the ransom was not paid by April 8.

Canadian tourists John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad and Hall’s Filipino girl friend Marites Flor were seized from a resort in the Island Garden City of Samal in Davao del Norte province in September last year.

While the ransom amount was not specified, the Abu Sayyaf in an earlier video demanded $21 million (P1 billion) for each of the three foreigners, without mentioning the conditions for Flor’s release.

Hall identified their captors as members of the Abu Sayyaf, a bandit group notorious for kidnapping and beheading foreigners in the south.

He said they were being held in Sulu, hideout of the Abu Sayyaf.

Hall, shown seated next to Flor, asked the Canadian government to help them.

“I am a Canadian citizen being held by the Abu Sayyaf group for ransom. The amount is, I do not know what it is. But the Canadian government has got to get us out of here fast, to do what is necessary to get us out here soon. We got one month before this happens,” he said.

Three foreigners held by Abu Sayyaf militants appeal for help in video

From the Straits Times (Mar 11): Three foreigners held by Abu Sayyaf militants appeal for help in video
Canadian Robert Hall (centre), 50, pleading for his life in a video released by Abu Sayyaf. Beside him is fellow Canadian John Ridsdell, 68.
Canadian Robert Hall (centre), 50, pleading for his life in a video released by Abu Sayyaf. Beside him is fellow Canadian John Ridsdell, 68. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM FACEBOOK
Three foreigners kidnapped by militants in the Philippines nearly six months ago have appealed to their governments for help to secure their release, as their Al-Qaeda-linked captors issued a one month deadline for their demands to be met.
The three foreign men, who Philippine authorities have identified as two Canadians and a Norwegian, were shown in a video clip, along with a Filipino woman kidnapped with them, crouching on the ground with gunmen standing over them.
"To the Canadian prime minister and to the Canadian people in the world, please, do as needed to meet their demands, within one month or they will kill me, they will execute us," said one of the men who identified himself as Mr John Ridsdel, a Canadian mining consultant.
The three men were handcuffed and were thin, bearded and shirtless. The video clip of about a minute and a half was posted on a Facebook page linked to Philippine Islamists.

The four were kidnapped from a beach resort on a southern island last September. They are believed to be held in the jungle on Jolo island, a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf militant group.
Another of the men, who identified himself as Mr Robert Hall, another Canadian, said he did not know how much money their captors were demanding but he appealed for help quickly.
A spokesman for Canada's foreign minister said the government was aware of the video but did not want to comment or provide new information in case it endangered the captives.
Calgary-based TVI Pacific, where Mr Ridsdel was a semi-retired consultant, declined to comment.
The third man, who identified himself as Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, made a similar appeal.
It was the third time the militants had released such video appeals from the captives.
In November, Mr Ridsdel said in a video that the militants were demanding one billion pesos (S$29 million) for each of them.
A militant spokesman appeared in the latest video to issue a one-month ultimatum though he did not specify demands.
"We will do something terrible against these captives," said the masked spokesman, who gave the date as March 8.
The September raid on the resort was a reminder of the precarious security in the resource-rich southern Philippines despite a 2014 peace agreement with the largest Muslim rebel group that ended 45 years of conflict.
Abu Sayyaf militants are holding other foreigners including one from the Netherlands, one from Japan, and an Italian missionary.

Eastmincom: Surigao del Sur to be insurgency free by end 2016

From InterAksyon (Mar 9): Eastmincom: Surigao del Sur to be insurgency free by end 2016

Lt. Gen. Rey Guerrero, chief of AFP Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) after the signing of MOA declaring Surigao del Sur as Conflict Manageable and Ready for Further Development (CMRFD), Tandag City. Photographed by Erwin MascariƱas,

Tandag City, Surigao del Sur - The chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) is confident that this province will be declared insurgency free by yearend.

Lt. Gen. Rey Guerrero gave this assessment after the ceremony declaring this province as "Conflict Manageable and Ready for Further Development (CMRFD)" on Tuesday.

"By yearend, Surigao del Sur will be insurgency free. That's our target, and I think it is possible that we can do it. Surigao del Sur is one area that needed that much attention, that's why we exerted efforts in bringing in more troops. And we have seen the fruits of our efforts, in just a period of three months we have been able to significantly improve the peace and order situation, reduce New People's Army (NPA) initiated violence. Their manpower and firearms as well as the numbers of affected barangays had been reduced,” said Guerrero.

Guerrero, who flew to Tandag City to attend the signing of the memorandum of agreement (MOA) on the CMRFD stated that, "After this signing, the most logical way ahead of this is to sustain what we've gained. We need to ensure our gains over the past years, particularly on peace and security, with the help of the stakeholders, local government units, law enforcement agencies and with the AFP.”

Guerrero pointed out that with the existing four battalions and the presence of forces on short duration missions or special operations, the NPA influence will be significantly reduced, and others compelled to surrender, even as the number of regular armed NPA in the area is whittled down to around 150.

The MOA was signed by Hon. Johnny T. Pimentel, the Provincial Governor and concurrently Chairman of the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) of Surigao del Sur, with Col Isidro Purisima, commander of the Army's 402nd Infantry Brigade and PSupt Romaldo G. Bayting, director of the Surigao del Sur Police Provincial Office.

"The deployment of two more battalions, in addition to the existing two others last year, was a significant factor in leading us to declare this province as conflict manageable. The number one condition in the declaration is, first, to lessen the population of the armed group, second is reduce the number of encounters and harassment by the insurgents, so we got those two requirements. This means the peace situation here is getting better, but we made it clear that this doesn't mean the military operations should stop,” said Pimentel.

Pimentel disclosed that he confirmed with Maj. Gen. Oscar Lactao, commander of the 4th Infantry Division that the operations against the insurgents will not be scaled down in order to ensure a successful campaign toward the province becoming insurgency free.

Ka Maria Malaya, spokesperson National Democratic Front-North Eastern Mindanao Region, in a statement, revealed that there were 40 clashes between the NPA-NEMR and troops of the AFP and CAFGU this February 2016, with three fatalities suffered on the NPA side.

'Islamic State' masterplan for base in Philippines 'not being taken seriously'

From Deutsche Welle (Mar 9): 'Islamic State' masterplan for base in Philippines 'not being taken seriously'

A leading security analyst believes the Philippine government is underestimating an emerging terror threat as local militant groups pledge loyalty to 'IS.' But other analysts view their allegiance as purely 'symbolic.'

After last week's release of video footage purporting to show several Philippine Islamist factions pledging their allegiance to the "Islamic State" (IS) militant group, one terrorism expert predicts the Middle East-based network is close to declaring their first satellite province in Southeast Asia.

Dr Rohan Gunaratna, who heads of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, said 'IS' intends to "enforce its strict laws and code of conduct" in the southern Sulu archipelago, where the majority of the Philippines' roughly six million-strong Muslim population lives.

"Regional governments are very worried that with the declaration of an "IS" branch in the southern Philippines the group will start to train militants from around the region, and thus expand the threat," Gunaratna told DW.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front
Several Philippine rebel groups have publicly stated their allegiance to "IS."
He pointed to a "lack of political will" on the part of Philippine leaders to "dismantle the emerging IS infrastructure."

"Being an election year, I doubt very much that the president will take a decision to send additional troops to the region," the analyst predicted. The presidential poll is scheduled for May 9 and incumbent Benigno Aquino III is barred from seeking re-election.

An uncertain threat

Despite Gunaratna's warnings, some other regional security analysts are less concerned over whether "IS" can realistically take a foothold in the region.

"I am not sold on the idea that 'IS' will declare a caliphate soon," Joseph Raymond Silva Franco, associate research fellow at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, told DW. Franco said reports of a loyalty pledge by Philippine militants came from a Russian-language "IS" magazine, which he described as being run by so-called "jihobbyists."

Similarly, Manila-based analyst Dr Steven Rood believes there is "no evidence of any operational connection" between rebel groups in the southern Philippines and "IS." He is hopeful that the military can limit "accidental clashes" with rebel groups and "avoid civilian casualties."

"A declaration of a province in the south would be, at the outset at least, purely symbolic rather than ushering in a different tenor to the terrorism/counter-terrorism dynamic," said Rood, who is the Philippines' Country Representative of US-funded The Asia Foundation.

Muslim chiefs worried

But Gunaratna's concern has been backed up by the head of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which fought a nearly four decade-long insurgency on the southern island of Mindanao, seeking an autonomous region for Muslims.

Murad Ebrahim warned, on the sidelines of peace talks in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur on Monday, that "IS" was seeking a stronghold in the South.

Murad Ebrahim, chairman of MILF
Murad Ebrahim, chairman of the MILF, the biggest Muslim group in the region, predicts the advance of "IS".
The MILF, which signed a peace agreement with the Philippine government in 2014, believes "IS" could take advantage of delays in a plan to establish a new autonomous region in Mindanao, which is being held up by Philippine lawmakers.

"After the non-passage of the peace (bill), we are quite concerned they ("IS") can capitalize on this because the (frustration) of the people in the area is now very strong," Murad was quoted by local media as saying.

Peace agreement stalled

Security analysts told DW the delayed progress of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which enshrines Mindanao's autonomy, is linked to a recent return to violence in the region.

Describing MILF as "far from a homogenous organization," NTU's Franco said they "could be raising the threat profile of 'IS' to push the speedy passage of the BBL."

Another possibility, he added, is that a faction of MILF, which is known to be an extortion ring, could be pushing the rhetoric about links to "IS" to inflate its own reputation among the local population. "Would you pay extortion to a two-bit amateur ring or to a group linked with big bad IS?" Franco said.

 Moro Islamic Liberation Front
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a peace deal with the government in 2013 and renounced violence.
The Asia Foundation's Rood says he thinks the Philippine government is downplaying the potential threat posed by "IS" as it is confident it could coordinate a military response if there were any uptick in violence.

Franco told DW that 60 percent of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' (AFP) units and assets are already deployed in Mindanao. Moreover, special operations forces have already inflicted "heavily casualties" on groups claiming to be aligned with "IS," including Ansarul Khilafah and the Maute Group, he added.

'Prepare for attacks'

But Gunaratna maintains that the terror threat in Southeast Asia has moved from an al-Qaeda-centric landscape - responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings and the Jakarta attacks of 2003 and 2009 - to a more "IS"-centric threat.

"Certainly, the creation of an 'IS' nucleus in the southern Philippines would have implications for the security and stability of the entire region," he told DW, adding that Mindanao has historically been the training ground for regional militant groups.

Singaporeans, Thais, Malaysians and Indonesians have all trained there, he said.

"With the (coming) declaration of an 'IS' branch in the region, the fear is that they will also start to train militants from the region. If they are able to sustain themselves and create the necessary infrastructure, they could carry out bombings in Malaysia and the Philippines," Gunaratna said.

'All sides must push for peace'

Other analysts believe the peace deal between the government and the MILF will continue to be central to maintaining regional security.

"Groups sympathetic to 'IS' do not yet lead public opinion in southern Mindanao, and with sensitive and sincere efforts to address legitimate grievances of Muslims in the Philippines, hopefully such opinions will never lead," said The Asia Foundation's Rood.

Meanwhile Franco called on local Muslim leaders to prevent the region from once again descending into conflict.

"The MILF remains the biggest group out there. For them to be credible they must demonstrate that they can actually hold sway over the territories they occupy.

Otherwise, this Bangsamoro deal will be like 1996 all over again," referring to a period when the MILF refused a peace offer, which led to an intensification of the insurgency.

All conflict is local: Mindanao after the Philippine Presidential Elections

From Asia and the Pacific Policy Society (Mar 10): All conflict is local: Mindanao after the Philippine Presidential Elections

Instead of fixating on radicalisation, jihadism, and IS propaganda, the Philippine presidential candidates should focus on level-headed policies addressing socioeconomic deprivation if they want enduring peace in Mindanao, Joseph Franco writes.

Recent skirmishes in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao have highlighted the protracted and unresolved internal security challenges facing the country. Renewed violence has tempered expectations over the implementation of the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), which was projected to end the decades-long Muslim insurgency in the Philippines. The current instability has cast doubts on the potential of a peaceful Mindanao to act as a magnet for foreign investment.

In late February 2016, a 10-day military campaign was launched against the Maute Group (MG), reportedly killing 50 terrorists, including leader Omar Maute. The Maute Group is a newly-emerged terrorist faction which claims to to be linked to the Islamic State (IS).

Previously, the group was known as the Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM), a little-known group engaged in extorting money from bus companies in central Mindanao.

The Maute Group’s pledge to IS led to concerns that the militants may be on the verge of launching deadly terrorist attacks, instead of their previous focus on organised crime.

But beyond MG’s pledge of allegiance, or bayah, to IS, operational and financial links with the latter were more imaginary than real. IS has yet to recognise the MG’s bayah, the latter a critical part of jihadist practice. But while Filipino militants’ ideological links with transnational jihadist narratives remain superficial, the local political milieu in Mindanao continues to fuel dissent.

Unfortunately all presidential candidates gunning for the presidency in the May 2016 polls are keeping mum on specific measures to address the emergence of new extremist organisations. There is virtually no political party that has mentioned the challenge of terrorism and radicalisation as part of a political platform.

The only oblique references to the Mindanao problem could be found in quips and soundbites from the Manila-based mainstream media. Pundits are abuzz with criticism of President Benigno Aquino III’s administration’s failure to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL)—a law that was supposed to establish political autonomy for Filipino Muslims in Mindanao by 2016. At most, the issue of Muslim autonomy and the related issue of terrorism only comes up in a utilitarian fashion.

Remarks by some candidates on the alleged threat of IS radicalisation are used as a preamble to pro-federalism political platform. Hysterical claims of IS brainwashing goes against evidence that insecurity in Mindanao is actually caused by material rather than ideological issues. As early as 2005, a comprehensive study funded partly by the UN determined that economic deprivation was the key driver of conflict in the Philippines.

This has been backed up by a recent report by the World Bank-funded Bangsamoro Conflict Monitoring System (BCMS). Longitudinal data gathered under the BCMS showed how local-level financially-motivated violence, such as extortion rackets and kidnap-for-ransom, far outnumber cases of “vertical” conflict between Philippine security forces and militants. For militants, ideology acts as justifications rather than motivations for communal violence.

Religious narratives and references to Christian-Muslim animosity are exploited by charismatic community leaders like Omar Maute to mobilise supporters. Maute and his kin are known for their extortion and kidnap-for-ransom (KFR) activities in Central Mindanao, targeting entrepreneurs and electrical infrastructure belonging to the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines.

A similar modus operandi was observed with the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which gained notoriety in 2000 after kidnapping more than a dozen Western and Malaysian nationals from Sipadan Island, Malaysia. Initially, the ASG kidnappers demanded the release of terror suspect Ramzi Yousef from US federal custody. Later, it became known that the hostages were released after an estimated US$25 million in ransom payments, facilitated by the Libyan government.

What broke the back of the ASG, in their stronghold in Basilan Island, Mindanao, was a concerted effort to bring social services and infrastructure to far-flung communities. The Philippine military, along with their American counterparts, under the umbrella of the Exercise Balikatan (“shoulder-to-shoulder”), waged a classic “hearts and minds” campaign. By 2006, four years after the 2002 deployment of the US Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P), ASG influence in the island had waned.

Non-combat, development-oriented military initiatives won back communities and denied terrorist leaders the audience for their ideological justifications for violence. The “Basilan Model” should be closely studied by Philippine presidential candidates as a way to pre-empt violence, while the BBL remains stalled.

Whoever wins in the May 2016 presidential elections will continue to face to the challenge of finally bringing peace to Mindanao. The campaign period makes tough-sounding promises to combat terrorism more attractive. The temptation of pandering to populist sentiment, of going tough on terror to score positively in opinion polls, is undeniable.

It is never too late to consider the best practices of the recent decade. Support from external actors, whether military or civilian, should be fused with intimate local knowledge of the drivers of the Mindanao conflict. Instead of fixating on addressing the nebulous threats posed by radicalisation, jihadism, and IS propaganda, level-headed policies addressing socioeconomic deprivation holds the promise of enduring peace in Mindanao.

[This article is published in collaboration with New Mandala, the premier website for analysis on Southeast Asia’s politics and society.]

Clearing operations vs. BIFF to continue in Maguindanao town

From the Philippine Star (Mar 10): Clearing operations vs. BIFF to continue in Maguindanao town

Thirteen of 31 soldiers injured in recent encounters with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters were injured by roadside bombs.

The military will continue clearing strategic areas in Datu Salibo town of bandits despite losses in the past five weeks due to bombings and counterattacks meant to drive soldiers away.

At least 31 personnel from units of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division have been injured in a series of encounters with members of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the area in recent weeks.

Four soldiers have also been killed in the firefights, among them a soldier who succumbed to blast injuries while at the Armed Forces of the Philippines Medical Center in Quezon City.

The recurring clashes in Datu Salibo began early February when gunmen armed with assault rifles and anti-tank rockets shot at the equipment of a contractor building a multimillion-peso flood control dike north of the town.

Local officials said the BIFF attacked the project site after the contractor refused to shell out monthly "protection" money.

Units of the 6th ID now deployed in the adjoining towns of Datu Salibo, Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Datu Piang are bracing for more attacks by the BIFF, who they expect will try to avenge the deaths of at least 30 gunmen reportedly killed by soldiers in 53 combat engagements since early February.

Bandits and soldiers last traded shots on Tuesday night, sparked by an attempt by marauding gunmen to get near a roadside detachment of the Army’s 22nd Mechanized Company in Barangay Magaslong in Datu Piang town.

Captain Joan Petinglay, spokesperson of the 6th ID, said the two soldiers wounded in the firefight are recuperating in a hospital.

Petinglay said that of the 31 soldiers hurt in encounters with the BIFF in the past weeks, 13 were injured in roadside bombings while searching for booby traps along farm trails connecting farming communities to markets in the center of Datu Salibo and in nearby towns.

A matrix obtained by The STAR from the 6th ID’s Tactical Operations Center indicated that, in Datu Salibo alone, Army bomb experts deactivated a total of 28 improvised explosive devices rigged with “victim-activated” triggers from mid-February to early March.

“These are the kinds of explosives long banned by the international community. These are not `command-detonated’ bombs that can be used  only for specific targets,” Petinglay said.

Last month, BIFF members killed Datu Salibo's town treasurer and his four companions with a powerful roadside bomb. Two police officers were also injured in a roadside bombing over the weekend in Guindulungan town, also in Maguindanao.

Notes from the Field: Conflict Experts Agree New Approaches Needed to Move Peacebuilding Forward

From the Asia Foundation (Mar 9): Notes from the Field: Conflict Experts Agree New Approaches Needed to Move Peacebuilding Forward (by Anna Bantug-Herrera)


Last week, Asia Foundation country representatives George Varughese from Nepal, Steven Rood from the Philippines, and Patrick Barron, regional director of conflict and development, based in Thailand, spoke on a new report, “Beyond the Toolkit: Supporting Peace Processes in Asia,” to a diverse audience at the World Bank Group’s Fragility, Conflict and Violence Forum 2016. This year’s program included over 70 sessions which built on the momentum of the Sustainable Development Goals, and took a hard look at how to implement this ambitious agenda in fragile environments.

On March 3, The Asia Foundation held a separate panel discussion in Washington, D.C., for a more in-depth analysis of the report, the fourth in the Foundation’s Working Politically in Practice series. The findings argue that existing peace process support models do not reflect what is known about the nature of conflict, how it ends, and how peace processes are sustained and peace consolidated. This is true everywhere but especially so in the context of conflict in non-fragile settings, said panelist Patrick Barron.

“Each country context is different, and that requires much more contextual knowledge and ability to adapt to the problems on the ground. You can’t just export something from one country to another; rather, you need to adapt approaches as you go along. We need to find flexible, iterative ways to work with domestic actors – both government and civil society – in peacebuilding,” he explained.

DFAT’s fragility specialist and former Asia Foundation expert, Thomas Parks, moderated the discussion which attracted more than 65 participants representing international donors, development practitioners, think tanks, and embassies in D.C. The discussion included a close look at the Foundation’s peace support activities in the Philippines and Nepal.

Rood, who observed negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front as the Foundation’s representative on the International Contact Group, and since 2013 serves as a member of the Third Party Monitoring Team overseeing the implementation of agreements, updated the audience on the peace process environment, the stalled Bangsamoro Law, the role of women, and more. Rood recommended that international experts help to “build local coalitions, then be willing to disappear” in order to support a locally owned peace process. Read Rood’s ongoing coverage of the peace process here.

Varughese detailed the role of the insurgency in shaping sociopolitical discourse in Nepal and the long exercise of writing a new constitution, warning that “absent the violent expressions, all the underlying elements that created that insurgency remain in Nepal, including the blockade in Terai which is symptomatic of the anger over the new constitution.” He spoke about how continued political marginalization risks sowing the seeds for future conflict, and described the Foundation’s 15-year mediation program that is helping to build social harmony at the local level. Varughese is currently serving as 2015-16 Excellence Chair and Visiting Senior Scholar & Professor in Global and Area Studies, at the University of Wyoming.

Watch the panel video below, and download the full report here.

Anna Bantug-Herrera is The Asia Foundation’s associate director in the Washington, D.C., office, and can be reached at The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.

26 NPA rebels surrender in Samar, Leyte

From the Sun Star-Tacloban (Mar 9): 26 NPA rebels surrender in Samar, Leyte

Government officials here welcomed about 26 members and supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA) back into the fold of law, as security forces declared most of Eastern Samar towns insurgency-free.

Earlier, at least 12 towns and one city in Eastern Samar were declared insurgency-free or “manageable conflict-affected” by the military.

Major General Jet Velarmino, commander of the 8th Infantry Division, said the rebel returnees will avail themselves of the government’s Comprehensive Local Social Integration Program immediate cash assistance and livelihood after attending debriefing documentation.

Realizing a senseless armed struggle in the mountain, a full-time NPA guerilla identified as Arturo Pajanustan, alias Ka Pugoy, of the NPA’s Front Guerilla Unit operating in Eastern Samar, voluntarily surrendered on March 2.

Pajanustan turned over one unit of M1 United States Garand rifle before Colonel Perfecto Rimando, commander of the 801st Infantry Brigade stationed in Barangay Fatima, Hinabangan, Samar.

In Leyte, another NPA guerilla identified as Rechan Pernis, alias Ka Alvin/Gil, former team leader of Apoy Platoon of the NPA’s Eastern Visayas Regional Party Committee (EVRPC) Front Committee-Leyte, also surrendered without firearm on March 2. He yielded to the 19th Infantry Battalion stationed in Barangay Aguiting, Kananga, in Leyte province.

In Eastern Samar, 24 NPA guerrillas and die-hard supporters also gave up their ideological fight and surrendered to the 14th Infantry Battalion on February 26 and 28.

Of the 24, seven of them are full-time NPA fighters, namely, Arturo Senobio, Lizel Rafales Nable alias Ka Charet, Alita Pecenio Senobio alias Ka Eva, Julia Orale Rebato alias Ka Ana, Jessie Rebato Nable alias Ka Jr., Crispo Rosco Rebato alias Ka Podin, and Edgar Orga Senobio alias Ka Bakong.

Ka Podin and Ka Bakong are councilors of Barangay Tugas, Maslog town.
Two other barangay officials of Tugas -- Edgardo Nable and Alberto Nuguit -- also surrendered.

Relatives of the rebel returnees who are said to be supporting the underground movement by acting as couriers, organizers and staff of various NPA units in Eastern Samar also surrendered. They were presented to the media last Monday at the 8th Infantry Division in Catbalogan City.

Among them are Maribel Nebril, Renato Pecenio Pajares alias Rolly, Necitas Nable Oros alias Cita, Zalda Pazarra Pajarilla, Clemente Ambida Orosco alias Berting, Carlos Pajarilla, Norma Rosco Rebato, Benjamin Pajares Rebato, Lope Pajares alias Oping, Alfredo Pajanustan alias Maning, Maribel Pajares Pajanustan alias Liza, Beverly Orantia Pajares alias Lucy, and Jerry O. Senobio.

Speaking on behalf of his former comrades, a guerilla leader, Jackson Nable, 39, resident of Maslog town, recalled how fighting became a lost cause after he and his family had to endure only the hard life in the mountains.

“Most of the time, we slept under trees, under the rain or intense heat and had little to eat. This became one of the deciding factors many of us consider when we made our decision (to surrender),” said Nable, alias Ka Epoy.

He said most of them who have surrendered have children who want formal education and a peaceful life.

“It is very hard for us running in the mountains, so I started sending surrender fillers to through my relatives to the Army,” Ka Epoy said in vernacular.

During the media presentation Monday, the returnees pledged allegiance to the government by singing the national anthem, with their right hands over their hearts.

General Velarmino, along with Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Samar Manager Imelda Bonifacio, and local government officials congratulated the returnees for returning to their normal life.

NPA staged 19 attacks in Caraga region on EDSA People Power 30th year: CPP

From InterAksyon (Mar 9): NPA staged 19 attacks in Caraga region on EDSA People Power 30th year: CPP

Supporters of the Communist Party of the Philippines hold a lightning rally on the 46th anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines, 19 December 2014. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY BOY BAGWIS

MANILA - New People’s Army (NPA) in the Northeast Mindanao Region (NEMR) attacked 19 detachments of soldiers and militiamen as well as an illegal sawmill in Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, and Surigao del Sur on February 25.

Two policemen were killed while two M-16 automatic rifles and a caliber 45 pistol was confiscated during an attack by the NPA Armando Sumayang Jr. Command (NPA-ASJC) on the police station of Candoni, Negros Occidental on February 18.

In a belated report carried by the March 7 issue of the Ang Bayan, the official organ of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the NPA leadership said these attacks belie the claim by the military that the armed struggle in the Caraga Region is “manageable.”

NPA-ASJC spokesperson Andrea Guerrero said the fatalities were Police Officer 3 (PO3) Joeharry Peralta and PO1 Henry Pacheco while three others were injured.

Sgt. Lorenzo Hernan of the 22nd Infantry Battalion (IB) was seriously hurt when a team of the NPA in Albay harassed his detachment in Barangay San Ramon, Daraga, Albay at 6 a.m. on February 26.

The NPA said the detachment was established only on February 12.

Maria Malaya, spokesperson of the National Democratic Front-NEMR (NDF-NEMR), said “the 19 attacks within a period of 24 hours sought to emphasize the importance of armed struggle in commemorating EDSA 1. Even as the US-Aquino regime brags about the ‘peaceful revolution’ of EDSA 1, it nevertheless launched violent operations against the people in the countryside.”

Malaya said the tactical offensives launched by the NPA were the following:
  1. attack on the detachment of the Philippine Army (PA) and the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) in San Pedro, Lianga, Surigao del Sur, at 1:19 a.m.
  2. harassment of a Cafgu detachment in Panaytay, Bayugan, Agusan del Sur
  3. assault on a detachment in Ugoban, Tagbina, Surigao del Sur, at 6:19 a.m.
  4. Sityo Kusip, Bayugan 3, Rosario, Agusan del Sur, at 6:44 a.m.
  5. Barangay Tagasaka, Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur
  6. Villa Undayon, Bayugan, Agusan del Sur
  7. Mt. Carmel, Bayugan, Agusan del Sur
  8. Bunyasan, Malimono, Surigao del Norte, at 12 a.m.
  9. Tagbayani, Sison, Surigao del Norte, at 12:05 a.m.
  10. Cabongbongan, Surigao City, Surigao del Norte, at 12:06 a.m.
  11. Mayag, Mainit, Surigao del Norte, at 12:10 a.m.
  12. Bunyasan, Malimono,Surigao del Norte, at 10 a.m.
  13. Tagbayani, Sison, Surigao del Norte, at 5 a.m.
Four detachments of the military and the Special Civilian Armed Auxiliaries (SCAA) were also fired at by the NPA along with an illegal sawmill. These are the following:
  1. PA-SCAA detachment at JCA compound, Bayugan, Agusan del Sur, at 5:30 a.m.
  2. another PA-SCAA detatchment at the JCA Compound, Bayugan, Agusan del Sur, at 6 a.m.
  3. headquarters of the Alpha Company of the 29th IB in Jabonga, Agusan del Norte at 4:07 a.m.
  4. Alpha Company 29th IB outpost in Bangonay, Jabonga, Agusan del Norte
  5. attack on troops of the 26th IB that launched combat operations and activities for the Community Organizing for Peace and Development (COPD) in Imelda, Bunawan, Agusan del Sur at 5 a.m.
  6. illegal sawmill in Bangonay, Jabonga, Agusan del Norte owned by a policeman.
Malaya said these “tactical offensives confirm the need for armed revolution since the purported peaceful ‘People Power Revolution' did not solve the basic problems of the Filipino people.”

“Thirty years after EDSA, the big bourgeois compradors, landlords, political dynasties and their boss, US imperialism, are still in power and control the economy. Thus, the only solution to the problem is the national democratic revolution,” Malaya said.