Sunday, April 10, 2016

Kananga declared as free from communist rebel infestation

From the Samar News (Mar 4): Kananga declared as free from communist rebel infestation

Kananga, Leyte as Stable Internal Peace and Secured area

(Sitting L-R) Supt Erwin Portillo, Deputy Provincial Director for Operations of Leyte PPO, Colonel Francisco Mendoza Jr, Commander of the 802nd Infantry Brigade, Mayor Elmer Codilla and LtCol. Roberto Sarmiento during the signing of MOA declaring Kananga, Leyte as Stable Internal Peace and Security area.

March 4, 2016

KANANGA, LeyteA former NPA stronghold in Northern Leyte declared as Stable Internal Peace and Secured area in a ceremonial signing of Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) in Kananga, Leyte on February 29, 2016.

The joint declaration was pursued upon the recommendation of the Philippine Army’s 19th Infantry Battalion upon the legislation of Resolution No. 20R.14-791 by the 20th Sangguniang Bayan of Kananga, Leyte.

Signatories to the MOA were Colonel Francisco Mendoza Jr., Brigade Commander of the 802nd Infantry (Peerless) Brigade, Senior Superintendent Franco Simborio, Director of Leyte Police Provincial Office represented by Superintendent Erwin Portillo, and Mayor Elmer Codilla and witnessed by Lieutenant Colonel Roberto Sarmiento, the Commanding Officer of the 19th Infantry Battalion, Chief Inspector Ricky Reli, the Chief of Police of the Municipality of Kananga and Vice-Mayor Macario Lumangtad Jr.

Previously, the 19th Infantry Battalion declared 15 Leyte towns as Stable Internal Peace and Security areas. These towns are Matag-ob, Merida, Palompon, Tabango, Barugo, Babatngon, San Miguel, Leyte, Pastrana, Tolosa, Dagami, Calubian, Sta. Fe, Alangalang and Tunga.

The aforesaid towns were declared Stable Internal Peace and Security because the actual threat of the Communist Terrorist Movement (CTM) is already downgraded and is no longer significant to influence the residents.

Col. Mendoza is optimistic that the declaration will further attract the influx of investors to establish business in an area that has environment of peace.

“We cannot achieve it alone. But we will continue with our effort to attain just and lasting peace in Kananga, Leyte”, Mendoza added.

Don: Hostages farmed out to different Abu Sayyaf groups

From The Star Online (Apr 11): Don: Hostages farmed out to different Abu Sayyaf groups

Abu Sayyaf gunmen who are holed up in their southern Philippines island of Jolo stronghold are “cooperating” among themselves in guarding their 25 captives, which includes four Malaysians.

The gunmen have farmed out their hostages to different groups headed by various sub-commanders, Jolo-based anti-kidnapping activist Prof Octavio Dinampo said.

He said the groups of gunmen having captives would farm out some of them to those that did not have any and they would later partake in the “bed and lodging”.

In the Philippines, “bed and lodging” refers to ransom payments for the release of those abducted.
“That is why there are many so-called Abu Sayyaf groups, but they are all in cahoots with each other,” Prof Dinampo said.

However, he said the identity of the group, which was holding the four Malaysian sailors abducted from a tugboat in waters off Pulau Ligitan near Semporna on April 1, remained unclear.

This was because the group remained isolated at the mountainous hinterlands of Patikul in Jolo, he added.

It was reported that the abduction of the four Malaysians was carried out by a leader known as Apo Mike.

Apart from the four Malaysians, the other captives included 10 Indonesian tugboat crew members who were abducted on March 28.

It is not known if the gunmen have issued demands for board and lodging payments for the captives.

However, the gunmen had demanded US$21mil (RM82mil) for Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall as well as Norwegian resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad who were abducted from Samal Island last September.

Prof Dinampo said other Abu Sayyaf captives included a Dutch national, six Filipinos and a Japanese who had been languishing in Jolo for more than three years.

AFP chief orders sustained combat vs Sayyaf

From the Philippine Star (Apr11): AFP chief orders sustained combat vs Sayyaf

As the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) grieves for its fallen comrades, Gen. Hernando Iriberri ordered his field commanders to sustain operations against the bandit group Abu Sayyaf.

Iriberri, AFP chief of staff, also instructed Joint Task Group-Basilan chief Col. Rolando Bautista to take care of more than 50 wounded soldiers and the needs of the families of the 18 who were killed.

Along with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Iriberri flew to Zamboanga early yesterday to assess the situation and salute the wounded and slain fighters for their gallantry.

All the wounded soldiers were transported to Camp Navarro Hospital inside the Western Mindanao Command headquarters in Zamboanga City.

The AFP chief said the soldiers fought gallantly and displayed the finest traditions of soldiery with utmost valor despite all the odds along their way.

“We shall continue the fight. We will take inspiration (from) their exemplary service. Our soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice so that the people of Basilan will be free from terrorists,” Iriberri declared.

Col. Noel Detoyato, AFP public affairs office chief, said the fatalities were either from Zamboanga, Pagadian, Basilan or Jolo.

“All those who were killed are from Mindanao. Some of them are our Muslim brothers,” Detoyato said in Filipino.

The military has been launching focused military operations in a bid to rescue the hostages still held by the Abu Sayyaf, including two Canadians, a Norwegian, a Filipina, four Malaysians and 10 Indonesians.

Gazmin files libel raps over AFP helicopters

From the Philippine Star (Apr 11): Gazmin files libel raps over AFP helicopters

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin has filed three counts of libel against an employee of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) who had accused him and other defense and military officials of graft.

Gazmin filed charges against Rhodora Alvarez, the BIR employee who claimed the defense chief and other defense and military officials rigged the bidding for the purchase of helicopters from a US dealer in 2013.

Alvarez made the statements at an interview with ABS-CBN on May 22, before a televised Senate investigation on the issue on July 7, and a news article in December last year.

Aside from Alvarez, Gazmin also filed a case against Thach Hoang Nguyen, the agent of Rice Aircraft Service Inc. (RASI), for falsification of documents in connection with the bid submission for the contract of the UH-1H helicopters.

Alvarez testified last year in a Senate investigation on alleged irregularities surrounding a P1.2-billion contract for the supply of 21 “Huey” helicopters.

She accused Gazmin and the military officials of violating the Government Procurement Reform Act and the Revised AFP Modernization Program.

Alvarez filed the complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman, asking it to further investigate Gazmin and the other respondents for the administrative offense of gross dishonesty.

 “When the news came out regarding the alleged irregularities, as head of agency, I ordered an investigation. The result of the investigation showed that the Department of National Defense-Armed Forces of the Philippines (DND-AFP) personnel who handled this project, in various stages, complied with the mandated procedures and no irregularities were committed,” Gazmin said.

Gazmin vouched for the defense and military officials whom Alvarez claimed to have conspired with in rigging the bidding.

“We know that public service entails a lot of sacrifices, even being exposed to untruthful and malicious accusations,” Gazmin said.

G-7 ministers will discuss S. China Sea at Japan meet

From the Daily Tribune (Apr 11): G-7 ministers will discuss S. China Sea at Japan meet

Foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G-7) nations yesterday began two-day talks in Hiroshima, the city devastated by a US atomic bomb in 1945, anxious to show their solidarity in tackling maritime security in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea.

On maritime security, the ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States are expected to voice opposition to any unilateral action to change the status quo amid concerns about China’s suspected militarization of parts of the South China Sea.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will miss all Sunday’s official events, including G-7 talks and a one-one-one meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, due to a delay in his arrival, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

The US is expected to raise the issue of China’s territorial ambitions in the South China Sea in a move that would likely draw an angry response from the government in Beijing.

Last Friday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the US should discuss security issues any time it meets with key partners in Asia. “What we want to see happen in South China Sea is important. It’s important to the region, it’s important to the stability of the region, so I would suggest that those topics should be on the table.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday said the G-7 meeting shouldn’t “hype” the South China Sea issue. He made the comments in a meeting with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in Beijing, according to a statement on the ministry’s Web site Saturday.

Aside from China, other countries lay overlapping claims to the East and South China Sea, including Japan, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines.

Photo: US troops show rappelling skills at Balikatan 2016

From GMA News (Apr 11): Photo: US troops show rappelling skills at Balikatan 2016

US troops show rappelling skills at Balikatan 2016

Members of the US Army National Guards demonstrate their rappelling skills during the Urban Search and Rescue activity of the 2016 RP-US Balikatan joint military exercises in Camp Capinpin in Tanay, Rizal on Friday, April 8, 2016. Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

Photo: PHL-US Balikatan 2016 in Palawan

From GMA News (Apr 11): Photo: PHL-US Balikatan 2016 in Palawan

PHL-US Balikatan 2016 in Palawan

Soldiers take photos of a US Marine Osprey as it takes off during the PHL-US Balikatan exercises in Cagayancillo, Palawan on Sunday, April 10, 2016. US and Filipino troops will conduct a community health education and training as part of their Balikatan Exercise in the area. GMA News

Photo: PHL-US Balikatan 2016 in Palawan

From GMA News (Apr 11): Photo: PHL-US Balikatan 2016 in Palawan

PHL-US Balikatan 2016 in Palawan

Philippine and UStroops unload medical supplies from a US Marine Osprey in Cagayancillo, Palawan for their community health education and training during the PHL-US Balikatan Exercises on Sunday, April, 2016. Filipino and US troops, along with other allied countries, began their annual military exercise at different parts of the Philippines from April 4 to April 16. GMA News

Carter cancels China trip, proceeds to India, Manila

From The Standard (Apr 11): Carter cancels China trip, proceeds to India, Manila

US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter headed Saturday to India and the Philippines for talks on increasing regional defense cooperation, after calling off a planned trip to China amid tensions over Beijing’s expansionist ambitions in the South China Sea.

Carter will fly out of Washington and travel to India and the Philippines for his Asian tour, followed by Middle East stops in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

China lays claim to almost all of the contested South China Sea, which is important for international shipping and is believed to hold valuable mineral and energy deposits.
US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter

Neighboring countries and Washington fear China could impose military controls over the entire South China Sea, and Beijing has in recent months built massive structures including radar systems and an airstrip over reefs and outcrops.

The Philippines is among several other regional countries that also have claims to the strategic zone.

“Almost all the nations there are asking us to do more with them... bilaterally and multilaterally,” Carter told the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in New York on Friday.

“Many of those countries are reaching out anew to the United States to uphold the rules and principles that have allowed the region to thrive.”

In India, where Carter will stay through Wednesday, he will discuss new partnerships and modernizing old alliances, according to the Pentagon.

“We are now doing things that could not have been imagined 10 years ago,” a senior US defense official said.

The United States and India are cooperating in aircraft carrier design, jet engine technology, and may collaborate on jointly producing jet fighters.

On the military side, India is again participating in the US-led Red Flag advanced aerial combat training exercise, and recently joined US and Japanese forces in an anti-submarine and air defense exercise.

Aside from meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart Manohar Parrikar, Carter is scheduled to visit the Vikramaditya, one of two Indian aircraft carriers.

The Vikramaditya formerly belonged to the Soviet Union’s navy, and entered the Indian navy in 2013.

In the Philippines, Carter will visit the Antonio Bautista Air Base on the island of Palawan, which faces the South China Sea and the islands claimed by Beijing.

The Philippine base is part of five that the US army can use to temporarily rotate soldiers, following a military cooperation agreement that came into effect in January.

Access to the five bases will “enhance our ability to operate within thePhilippines... and in South China Sea— and of course, reinforce our deterrent message,” a senior defense official said.

The agreement marks a return of US military to the Philippines, which was a US colony from 1898 to 1946. Until 1992 the Philippines was also home to Subic Bay naval base and Clark Air Base, two of the largest US military bases abroad.

During the visit Carter is scheduled to meet Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

Carter, however, chose to not stop in China during his Asian tour, even though he had earlier accepted an invitation to visit.

The decision to skip China was made just a few weeks ago, highlighting tensions between Beijing and Washington over the South China Sea.

Carter “did officially accept an invitation to travel to China in spring,” said Pentagon spokesman Bill Urban. However, “scheduling problems” prevented that visit from happening.

“We are actively looking” for another date to visit “this year,” Urban said.

Carter leaves Asia on Saturday and heads to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, where among other things he will participate in a Gulf Cooperation Council ministerial meeting ahead of a GCC summit that will include President Barack Obama.

San Jose PH-US ‘Balikatan’ exercises start April 11

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 8): San Jose PH-US ‘Balikatan’ exercises  start April 11

The Antiqueños will be given an opportunity to witness for the first time the conduct of  joint military exercises between the Philippines and United States Armed Forces in the upcoming “Balikatan” Exercises set to start April 11, 2016 in San Jose.

Division Public Affairs Officer Lt. Col. Ray C. Tiongson of the 3RD Infantry (Spearhead) Division, Philippine Army said that at the coastline of Barangay Funda, Dalipe, will be the site for the landing of amphibious vehicles.

“We expect to see Naval ship, and aircrafts of the US like the CH47 or Chinook, C130 and MV22 Osprey,” Tiongson said during the recent meeting of the Provincial Peace and Order Council Meeting convened by Gov. Exequiel B. Javier.

The Balikatan Exercise will be conducted in three provinces in Panay island Antique, Capiz and Iloilo from April 4 to 16, 2016 focusing on variety of missions to include humanitarian assistance, maritime law enforcement and environmental protection.

The purpose of the activities according to Tiongson is  is to enhance techniques, tactics and procedures as a critical part of interoperability as well as readiness and cooperation of both countries, consistent with the Mutual Defense Treaty and Visiting Forces Agreement.

He further said that the interoperability operational events will be conducted in Antique, and this will involve the transport of personnel and logistics, the amphibious landing, ship to shore movement illustrating aimed capability in rapid response that will further increase the level of readiness and effectiveness in providing relief and assistance to the local communities in the event of natural disasters and other crises.

“All civic military operations and projects under the Humanitarian Civic Assistance events, activities and training exercises in Antique will be planned and executed to ensure that maximum safety, care and respect are afforded to the community,” Tiongson said.

 A series of structural assessment for airports and seaports in the provinces of Capiz, Aklan, Antique and Iloilo will also be conducted during the Balikatan exercise.

The Balikatan 2016 Exercise formally opened last April 4 in Camp Peralta, Jamindan, Capiz and the closing ceremony will be held at Matangharon Elementary School in Dingle, Iloilo on April 16, 2016.

AFP’s call on NPA rebels to give up keeps gaining ground in SurSur

From the Philippine Information Agency (Apr 7): AFP’s call on NPA rebels to give up keeps gaining ground in SurSur

The constant call by government for the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) to give up arms and return to the folds of law has kept on gaining momentum in Surigao del Sur.

At 8:30 a.m. on April 2, 2016, another active NPA rebel who “identified himself as Vergel Sawe” aka “Jamal, Squad Leader of 2nd Platoon, Guerilla Front 14, Northeastern Mindanao Regional Committee surrendered to the troops of Bravo Company, 75th IB, 6th Infantry (Kampilan) Division, Philippine Army,” according to 1Lt. Miguel Borromeo, Jr., Battalion Civil Military Operations (CMO) officer based in Camp Jaime Ferrer, Barangay Maharlika, Bislig City.

Reportedly, the surrenderee brought with him “One AK 47 rifle with magazines and live ammunition and two Improvised Pipe Bomb.”

Col. Isidro Purisima, 402nd Infantry Brigade commander here, had always expressed belief that rebels groups would continue to turn their backs on their cause and seek peace with government.

In fact, he bared in his accomplishment report recently that since the 2nd quarter of 2015 up to the 1st quarter of 2016, the brigade had already posted a total of 93 former rebels (FRs) who availed of the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP).

Lt. Col. Haron Akaz, 75IB commander, had always showed the same gesture.

Meanwhile, 1Lt. Borromeo, concurrent Officer in Charge (OIC) of Bravo Company, during the surrender of Jamal, quoted Lt. Col. Akaz as saying, “I am humbly appealing to their comrades (NPA) to never hesitate to do the same, approach the army units.”

Purisima, when talking to media, would almost always butt in on the CLIP—an approach by the administration to urge rebels to leave their armed struggle and go back to the mainstream of society—and call on NPA rebels to avail of the said program.

It was learned that the former NPA squad leader had confessed that the reason why he joined the rebel group was primarily to “seek justice” for the murder of his uncle (Datu Bulawanon), only to find out lately that those behind the killing were his comrades.

Battle Raises Heat on Manila, U.S. Over Counterterrorism Capability

From the Wall Street Journal (Apr 10): Battle Raises Heat on Manila, U.S. Over Counterterrorism Capability

America has spent hundreds of millions training the Philippines’ military over a decade and a half

Rolando Del Torchio, a former missionary from Italy, waits for medical treatment hours after his release from Abu Sayyaf militants on Saturday in the Philippines.

Rolando Del Torchio, a former missionary from Italy, waits for medical treatment hours after his release from Abu Sayyaf militants on Saturday in the Philippines. Photo: Associated Press 

The deaths of 18 Philippine soldiers in a firefight with Islamist militants deepened concerns about the effectiveness of the country’s counterterrorism forces, despite hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. investment in training them over almost 15 years.

The Philippine military said 52 troops were wounded in ferocious fighting Saturday with Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, who law-enforcement officers believe are holding nearly two dozen hostages in jungle camps in the country’s south.

One army official said an entire platoon had been “wiped out in the encounter.” Four soldiers were decapitated.

Five Islamists were killed in the 10-hour fight on the island of Basilan, some 550 miles south of Manila. Among the dead was a militant fighter from Morocco, military officials said. An army statement identified him as Mohammad Khattab, a bomb-making instructor.

The soldiers had been instructed to capture or kill the primary Abu Sayyaf commander, Isnilon Hapilon, as the deadline for the payment of a ransom for three foreign hostages—two Canadians and a Norwegian—approached on Sunday, an intelligence official said. Those three are believed to be held with other hostages, including individuals from Indonesia and Malaysia, on the nearby island of Jolo.

Abu Sayyaf had demanded around $21 million for each Western hostage. There was no news of their fate late Sunday.

The encounter on Basilan suggested that Filipino forces are ill-equipped to tackle well-armed terrorists like Abu Sayyaf, and that long-standing U.S. efforts to tilt the balance in the military’s favor have yielded few results, said Zachary Abuza, a specialist on Southeast Asian security issues at the U.S. National War College in Washington.

“My assessment is that [the U.S. training program] has been an absolute waste of money and a terrible investment: $50 million a year since 2002 with very little to show for it,” Mr. Abuza said.

A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment Sunday.

The U.S. provided $441 million in security assistance funding to the Philippines between 2002 and 2013, according to a newly published study by Rand Corp., a U.S. think tank. Much of that money was spent on improving the Philippine military’s counterterrorism units. The U.S. military’s Special Operations Command operated from a base in the southern Philippines from 2002 until May last year from where it worked closely with the Philippine military to strike Abu Sayyaf and other Islamist militant groups.

The results of these efforts have been disappointing compared with those of a similar training program in Indonesia, where the U.S. spent half as much on security assistance, the Rand study found. While militant attacks in Indonesia declined substantially, in the Philippines they “increased 13-fold between 2002 and 2013,” it said, highlighting the “varying returns on investment” between the U.S. security programs in the two countries.

The prolonged U.S. deployment to the southern Philippines was credited with helping the country’s military to degrade Abu Sayyaf’s corps of fighters to an estimated 300 individuals restricted to a handful of jungle strongholds. The group, pegged back within its base islands, for several years has been unable to stage the kind of spectacular attacks it once launched farther afield, such as in 2004 when it blew up a passenger ferry in Manila Bay, killing 116 people.

But enabling the Philippine military to combat Abu Sayyaf without close U.S. support has proved harder to achieve, the Rand study suggests.

On Saturday, Abu Sayyaf militants freed a former missionary from Italy who had been held for six months on Jolo, prompting speculation that a ransom had been paid to release Rolando del Torchio. The army has said it was unaware whether any money had changed hands.

Mr. Hapilon, 50 years old, is one of the most dangerous members of Abu Sayyaf, which was formed in part by al Qaeda in the 1990s to radicalize a broader Muslim secessionist movement in the south of the predominantly Christian Philippines.

Instead, it turned into a specialist kidnapping operation, seizing groups of foreigners and locals from tourist resorts and holding them in fortified camps while foreign governments and local authorities negotiated ransom payments for their release. Tens of millions of dollars flowed into the impoverished region as a result.

Mr. Hapilon is one of the group’s higher-profile leaders, and the U.S. has offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his capture or death. The Philippine military said a man believed to be one of his sons, Ubaida Hapilon, was reported killed in Saturday’s clash.

Philippine soldiers came close to seizing him in an offensive on an Abu Sayyaf base in 2013. He was wounded, but other rebels managed to pull Mr. Hapilon to safety and he later appeared in a video released in 2014 pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-declared caliph of Islamic State.

Since then, Abu Sayyaf has launched a fresh campaign of kidnappings. Authorities have blamed the group for taking 10 Indonesian crew from a tugboat in Tawi Tawi province in the southern Philippines, while four Malaysian crew were plucked from another boat off the coast of Sabah, on Malaysian Borneo.

Intelligence officials in the Philippines said they were concerned by the firepower the Abu Sayyaf fighters had been able to muster despite years of U.S. training and assistance.

A thousand families fleeTipo-tipo village after military-Abu Sayyaf clash

From MindaNews (Apr 10): A thousand families fleeTipo-tipo village after military-Abu Sayyaf clash

The Crisis Management Committee of Tipo-tipo town in Basilan has reported that at least a thousand families have fled Baguindan where an encounter between government forces and the Abu Sayyaf on Saturday left 18 soldiers and five Abu Sayyaf members dead, and at least 50 soldiers injured.

Prof. Yusuf Morales, Commissioner at the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) who hails from Zamboanga City, lamendted: “It’s really ironic since most of the soldiers are also Moros.  And to think Moros are fighting each other is sad.”

He told MindaNews this incident could “give more mete on extremists’ voices and we must not allow this Basilan experience to galvanize their interests.”

Morales explained that when military operations are done “without socio-economic preparation, this will translate as State repression or will translate into fuel for extremist justification.”

“We must not allow this Basilan experience to galvanize their interests,” said.

“We hope we could do interventions for the incident and for similar incidents not to happen. The BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) could have played an important role,” Morales said.

The Western Mindanao Command (WesMinCom) has declared the number of casualties, at 18 soldiers from the 44th Infantry Battalion as of April 10 morning, their bodies laid at the Naval Forces Western Mindanao.

It said five Abu Sayyaf bandits were killed, including a Moroccan national, Mohammad Khattab, and UbaidaHapilun, son of pioneering ASG commander IsnilunHapilun.

Dr. Arlyn Jawad, head of Children of War in Basilan, a non-government organization that looks at the welfare of children who have seen war in the province and suffered trauma, opined that politics plays a big role where development of the province is concerned, and sincerity of the military leadership in Basilan and WesMinCom is crucial in maintaining peace and order in the province.

“Solutions must be maintained and sustained. Education for the children’s future is important,” she added.

Zhuair Buwari of the Voice of Mindanao in Basilan, a non-government youth organization, shared how fellow youth in Kabengbeng, Tipo-Tipo expressed fear for their future as helicopters hovered their town.

WesMinCom has been mum about the status of the 44th IB as a regular force deployed in Basilan, since soldiers days ago had admitted in Lamitan City to this reporter that they were “strikers on a special mission.”

Ground units ordered to continue operations until ASG eliminated

From Update.Ph (Apr 10): Ground units ordered to continue operations until ASG eliminated

Despite heavy government losses in Saturday’s clash with Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan, military operations aimed at totally eliminating the brigands will continue.

This was the assurance given on Sunday by Philippine Army (PA) commander Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano who, together with Armed Forces chief-of-staff Gen. Hernando DCA Iriberri and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, were in Zamboanga City.

“Instructions to ground units are to continue the operations until the ASGs are decimated,” Ano said.

“We are here not to actually investigate [on] what happened, but [to plan] how we can continue the operations and finally destroy the ASG, especially now that we have identified the exact location of the bandits,” he said in Filipino.

Eighteen troopers were killed and 53 others were wounded in a more than nine-hour encounter with ASG bandits in Sitio Bayoko, Baguindan which started at 7:55 a.m. and ended at 5:30 p.m. on April 9.

The PA chief added that appropriate honors and benefits will be given to all military casualties.

He attributed the high number of military casualties to the bandits’ possible use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or crew-served weapons during the initial stage of the fight.

ASG forces encountered were initially estimated at over 100.

The confirmed number of bandits killed in the operations was placed at five, including Moroccan terrorist Mohammad Khattab, who was in the country for three years and trying to act as a conduit between a “Middle East international terrorist group.” Around 20 bandits were also wounded in the firefight.

Khattab’s presence in the Philippine was detected last year and Ano said the slain Moroccan was an IED expert.

Ano said the number of ASG bandits killed and wounded could go higher once intelligence reports start coming in.

US envoy Goldberg honors Filipino airman killed in Balikatan 2016

From The Manila Times (Apr 9): US envoy Goldberg honors Filipino airman killed in Balikatan 2016

United States Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg honored Saturday the Filipino soldier, who died at the US-PH Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) exercises, during the 74th commemoration of Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor).

“This, too, is a tribute to those who lost their lives here and elsewhere in the Pacific,” Goldberg said in a speech during ceremonies held in this town in the Philippines’ Central Luzon. He praised the PAF, or Philippine Air Force, paratrooper’s service to the Philippines.

He added, “So we’re here today, first and foremost, not only to thank the courageous soldiers who fought here in Bataan but also to appreciate and honor all those who have and continued to sacrifice for our freedoms.”

Jover Dumanse, 2nd Class Airman with the 710th Special Operations Wing of the PAF, died April 7 after an accident during a proficiency parachute jump exercise in Subic, a coastal municipality northwest of Manila that used to host a US naval base.

“We send our condolences to his family, to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Filipino government and people,” Goldberg said, adding that the soldier “died in a tragic accident but he did so in the service of his country and our great alliance.”

Dumanse fell into the sea instead of landing on a designated zone at the airport, Capt. Celeste Frank Sayson, an officer at the Balikatan Public Affairs, said.

Some 8,000 US and Filipino troops have been taking part in this year’s two-week war games, which aim to improve cooperation and inter-operability between the two countries. The Balikatan started on April 4.

Goldberg, meanwhile, also lauded the participation of Japan as an observer in the current Balikatan exercises.

“Our three nations have developed strong and enduring relationships, the Philippines and Japan are among the United States’ most steadfast allies, and we have all continued to work together to strengthen the stability and the security of the entire Pacific region,” Goldberg said.

US, PH conducting gas, oil platform recovery raid in WPS

From Update.Ph (Apr 9): US, PH conducting gas, oil platform recovery raid in WPS

Filipino and American troops are scheduled to conduct a simulated gas and oil platform recovery raid in West Philippine Sea this coming week as part of Balikatan 2016. This training event will be observed by United State Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

“I will also see some of this firsthand at Exercise Balikatan 2016, our premier exercise with the Philippines,” Carter said in New York at the Council on Foreign Relations April 8.

“Balikatan is going on right now, and it includes over 7,000 personnel from every military service in both countries, dozens of American aircraft, vehicles, and vessels, including one of our aircraft carriers, and several important components, including a simulated gas and oil platform recovery raid in the South China Sea,” he added.

“Balikatan signals shared resolve. It enhances our shared capabilities. And it
demonstrates, once again, America’s dedication to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Philippines,” he said.

As previously reported, Carter is also set to observe the firing of HIMARS on April 14 at Crow Valley in Tarlac.

“He’s very interested in, what I mentioned earlier about the high mobility rocket system and how that works and he’s also [going to] spend some time out at sea with the US Navy ships that’s gonna be out there and so and I believe that really his main purpose here is to come and reaffirm that the relationship that we have with the Philippines is rock solid, and we’re side-by-side,” Balikatan US-Exercise Director Lieutenant General John Toolan said during the opening of Balikatan April 4.

Building relationships through sharing knowledge

From DVIDS (Apr 9): Building relationships through sharing knowledge

36th Airlift Squadron passes down their airlifting knowledge

U.S. Air Force Capt. Andrew Kochman, 36th Airlift Squadron C-130 navigator, talks to a Philippine Air Force member from the 220th Airlift Wing during a night flight over the Philippine Islands, April 7, 2016. PAF pilots and aircrew do not currently have night vision goggle capabilities, so the training given to them from members of the 36th AS was an entirely new experience. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Smith/ Released)

MACTAN-BENITO EBUEN AIR BASE, Philippines— Awkward silences and blank stares are usually attributed to teaching in a foreign land. However, this was not the case for members of the U.S. Air Force 36th Airlift Squadron as they passed down airlifting knowledge to Philippine Air Force (PAF) C-130 pilots and loadmasters of the 220th Airlift Wing April 8, 2016, during Exercise Balikatan.

Balikatan, a Filipino term that meaning “shoulder-to-shoulder," is an annual bilateral exercise between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the U.S. military, which focuses on the Philippine-U.S. partnership, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities. This was exemplified as the 220th AW welcomed the 36th AS with open arms and smiles during an all-day training session on performing night flights.

“It was very fulfilling to teach and have them be so excited about night vision goggles (NVGs) and C-130s,” said USAF 1st Lt. Scott Brooks, 36th AS C-130 pilot. “This is something that I love to do and it was great to see how excited they were to fly on a C-130. It was a new opportunity for me and I'm fortunate to be a part of this exercise.”

The day began with casual lectures on low-level night flying, use of NVGs and USAF loadmaster techniques and ended in a night flight on a C-130 over Philippine Islands. Many of the pilots involved recently graduated flight school and have not been assigned to aircraft, making this flight their first time flying on a C-130.

“I learned a lot from the U.S. loadmasters and pilots. Their gadgets are very high-tech and they know how to perform their jobs very well,” said PAF Airman 1st Class Jack Navarro, 220th Airlift Wing C-130 hydraulic system maintainer and loadmaster. “Seeing the capabilities of NVGs was great. It lets us know that if we were able to get that ability here we would be able to land in many of the airfields here at night that don't have taxi lights.”

After having the chance to get to know and work with the Filipino pilots, Brooks was confident in the prospects of their career.

“I’m excited about the possibility to work with the PAF in the future,” Brooks mentioned. “There is no doubt in my mind about this new generation of Filipino pilots, they are 100 percent capable, willing and wanting to learn this stuff we’re here to teach them. It’s why we’re here, to build relationships and friendships, so that's what we are doing.”

When the flight concluded, Navarro said thank you to the 36th AS for sharing their knowledge as a part of Exercise Balikatan and hoped that in the future there would be many more opportunities for the two countries to share knowledge with each other.

US-Philippines Alliance to Reach ‘New Level’: US Defense Chief

From The Diplomat (Apr 10): US-Philippines Alliance to Reach ‘New Level’: US Defense Chief

Ash Carter offers praise for bilateral ties in a think tank speech ahead of a visit to Manila.

Recent progress in U.S.-Philippine relations will take the capability of the alliance to a “new level” not seen in decades, the United States’ defense chief told an audience in New York Friday before departing for a trip which includes stops to the Philippines and India.

The Philippines, long belittled as one of Asia’s weakest militaries and Washington’s laggard regional alliance, has become a critical part of the United States’ rebalance to the region with ratification of a new defense pact known as the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in January as well as its involvement in a Pentagon capacity-building program known as the Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative (MSI), which is just getting underway (See: “Why the Philippines is Critical to the US Rebalance to Asia”).

“EDCA and MSI will take the U.S.-Philippines alliance capability to a new level, one not seen in decades,” U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a speech on Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a New York-based think tank.

EDCA, which was inked in April 2014, but only upheld by the Philippine Supreme Court this January, gives U.S. troops and equipment wide access to Philippine military bases on a rotational basis. Carter said that the announcement of the initial slate of five locations under the agreement would allow U.S. forces to conduct regular rotational training, exercises and activities and better support the modernization of the Philippine military as well as mutual defense (See: “A Big Deal? US, Philippines Agree First ‘Bases’ Under New Defense Pact”).

“We recently announced an initial slate of five EDCA Agreed Locations for the alliance activities, locations arrayed throughout the archipelago that will offer the opportunity for increasingly complex bilateral engagements,” Carter said.

As part of his trip to the Philippines, Carter is expected to visit two of the five locations next week – Fort Magsaysay and Antonio Bautista Air Base. EDCA, Carter said, would enable the allies to augment pre-positioned disaster relief supplies at Fort Magsaysay that had supported the response to Typhoon Haiyan, the deadliest typhoon ever recorded in Philippine history that killed over 6,300 people. New stocks would also be added to Bautista Air Base to enhance allied ability to respond to future disasters.

The Diplomat understands from officials that while initial efforts under EDCA will focus on areas like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, over the longer term the agreement will allow the United States to station more troops, ships, and planes more frequently, thereby enhancing Washington’s rotational presence in the region more generally amid a range of threats including China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea.

Regarding MSI, a $425-million-dollar, five-year maritime security capacity-building initiative for Southeast Asian states near the South China Sea, which Carter first announced last year at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Carter said that most of the funding for the first year of the program would go to the Philippines (See: “America’s New Maritime Security Initiative for Southeast Asia”).

“We have just released the first tranche of this money, nearly 80 percent of which is going to the Philippines,” he said.

The funding, he said, will help modernize the technology and train staff at the Philippine National Coast Watch Center, enhance an information network to enable classified information sharing between U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii and key Philippines maritime command centers, provide an aerostat reconnaissance platform, and outfit Philippine navy patrol vessels with better sensors.

This would be a much-needed boost for Manila, which has struggled to counter Beijing’s assaults against it in the South China Sea, including the seizure of Scarborough Shoal in 2012 and the continued harassment of Philippine aircraft, vessels, and fishermen (See: “The Truth About Philippine Military Modernization and the China Threat”). The Philippines also has a pending South China Sea case against China with the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the Hague, with a verdict expected in May or June.

“[O]ur having the initiative and the funding that goes with it that makes it possible, particularly for a country like the Philippines… it’s a very positive thing,” Carter told The Diplomat in response to a question on board Boeing 737-700 flight from New York back to Washington following his CFR speech.

Carter will also become the first U.S. defense secretary to observe the Balikatan exercises, the premier bilateral U.S.-Philippine military exercise that has grown to involve Australia as well as a number of additional observers this year including Japan (See: “US, Philippines Launch Wargames as China Issues Warning”). This year’s exercise, which runs through April 15 and includes over 7,000 personnel from all military services from both countries, features a simulated oil and gas platform recovery raid in the South China Sea and the deployment of two units of the U.S. M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) for the first time.

“Balikatan signals our shared resolve. It enhances our shared capabilities. And it demonstrates, once again, America’s dedication to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Philippines,” Carter said, referring to the U.S. translation of the term Balikatan in the local Tagalog language.

Carter also reiterated U.S. President Barack Obama’s statement that the U.S. commitment to the Philippines is “ironclad.” Some continue to call on the administration to clarify its commitments under the U.S.-Philippine defense treaty as they might apply to the South China Sea to serve as a deterrent to Beijing.

Korean manufacturer to provide PH Marines 8 new Amphibious Assault Vehicles

From Update.Ph (Apr10): Korean manufacturer to provide PH Marines 8 new Amphibious Assault Vehicles  

Hanwha Techwin, previously Samsung Techwin, was declared as the winning bidder for the Department of National Defense’s Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) acquisition project, according to MaxDefense. MaxDefense said that the Notice of Award was already provided.

The contract price for the acquisition of eight brand-new AAVs is PhP2.423 billion.

These amphibious vehicles will render service to Philippine Marine Corps of Philippine Navy when delivered. Approved budget for the said acquisition was PhP2.5 billion.

South Korean Hanwha Techwin and American BAE Systems are producing AAV7A1 vehicles. Amphibious vehicles produced by the South Korean manufacturer are designated as KAAV7A1 (KAAV).

This project was among the seven multi-year contract projects that President Aquino approved. The approval also included two frigates, two anti-submarine helicopters for Philippine Navy; two long-range patrol aircraft, six close-air support aircraft,
munitions for FA-50 and three air surveillance radars for the Philippine Air Force.

Meanwhile, units of Philippine Marines have conducted AAV familiarization training event with their American counterparts April 4, during the conduct of Balikatan 2016.

 April 4, 2016. US Marines photo.

April 4, 2016. US Marines photo

Filipino Marines ride at the back of a US Marine Corps Amphibious Assault Vehicle with Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force at Crow Valley last week.

Heirs of Sulu Sultanate sign covenant of unity

From the Zamboanga Today (Apr 9): Heirs of Sulu Sultanate sign covenant of unity

In an unprecedented historic move to unify and consolidate the different Royal Houses of the Sultanate, five heirs to the throne of the Sulu Sultanate have signed a covenant of unity or "Parjanjian sin Hambuuuk."

In a signing ceremony held Friday in one of the hotels in Zamboanga City, the newly former Concil called the "Par Impungn Barbangsa sin Kasultanan Sulu" (the Royal Council of the Sulu Sultanate), composed of Royal Highness Sultan Muedzul-Lail Tan Kiram, Sultan Mohammad Venizar Julkarnain Jainal Abirin, Sultn Muizudin Jainal Bahjin and Sultan Ibrahim Q. Bahjin signed the covenant of unity.
Sonny "Bong" Abing III, a Tausug provincial information officer, said the consolidation of the different heirs to the Sulu throne was initaited by unity sponsor, Sulu Vice Governor Abdusakur A. Tan and adopted by the Royal Houses of the Sultanate.
"The idea and its ramifications were vetted with the representatives of the Royal heirs who in turn relayed the results to their principals before a meeting with the advisers was convened in Jolo to draft the covenant," Abing said in a statement issued to reporters.
Meanwhile, Vice Governor Tan expressed elation that this endeavor succeeded through the collective efforts of Tausugs in and outside Sulu.
"We hope that other sectors of Sulu society, like the Ulama, professionals, academe, including the Moro National Liberation Front and other cause-oriented groups can eventually support te unity covenant," said Tan.

23 killed, up to 80 wounded in clash with Abu Sayyaf in Basilan; military implements news blackout

From InterAksyon (Apr 10): 23 killed, up to 80 wounded in clash with Abu Sayyaf in Basilan; military implements news blackout

(UPDATE 4, 4:35 p.m.) Eighteen soldiers, including an officer, and five Abu Sayyaf bandits, including a Moroccan national, were killed and 80 others were wounded in a 10-hour clash in the hinterlands of Basilan province, a military official disclosed Sunday.

At least four of the soldiers were beheaded in the clash with about a hundred Abu Sayyaf fighters Saturday on the strife-torn island of Basilan, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) information officer Major Filemon Tan said.

Tan disclosed that the clash broke out around 7:55 a.m. Saturday in Sitio Bayoko, Barangay Baguindan, Tipo-Tipo.

Tan did not release the identities of the slain soldiers except to say they belong to the Army’s 4th Special Forces Battalion and 44th Infantry Battalion.

Tan said the troops were conducting security operations when they encountered more or less 120 gunmen believed to be Abu Sayyaf brigands led by Isnilon Hapilon, who is on the United States government’s list of most wanted terrorists in Asia with a $5-million bounty for his capture, dead or alive. Last year Hapilon’s group pledged allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"This is part of the military operations against the Abu Sayyaf," launched after a series of abductions of foreigners, he told reporters.

On Sunday, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces chief of staff General Hernando Irriberi rushed to the headquarters of the Western Mindanao CommanD (Westmincom) to meet ground commanders.

Foreign terrorist sought to unify groups - AFP chief

Military chief General Hernando Iriberri, who flew to the southern command base in Zamboanga city, 44 kilometers (27 miles) from the violence, said the fighting lasted almost 10 hours.

"The whole armed forces is grieving," he told reporters.

He said a Moroccan national who was with the gunmen was killed in the clashes, identifying him as Mohammad Khattab, an instructor in making improvised explosive devices as well as an "Islamic jihadist preacher"

"He wanted to unify, organize all kidnap-for-ransom groups to be affiliated with an international terrorist organisation," the general said.

He would not identify the international group the Moroccan was allegedly working for.

Iriberri said operations were continuing, adding that "even as we speak, there is an encounter going on in the same place".

Concerned ground commanders from Joint Task Force “Zambasulta” (Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi) led by Major General Gerry Barrientos was implementing a news blackout on the bloody clash, not responding to calls to their mobile phones.

Barrientos is also the commander of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division.

But a source from the Westmincom confirmed the number of casualties.

At least 52 soldiers were wounded and dozens of Abu Sayyaf bandits were also wounded.

Earlier, Westmincom spokesman Tan just said there were 22 wounded soldiers from the clash.

According to Tan, citing a report from the battleground, killed among bandits was a certain Mohammad Khattab, a Moroccan terrorist. Another identified fatality was Ubdaida, son of Hapilon.

Tan said among the wounded bandits was sub-leader Radzmil Jannatul alias Kubayb.
Early this week, higher headquarters relieved the commanders of the Joint Task Groups Sulu and Tawi-Tawi because, according to some reports, of their ineffectiveness as grounds commanders in the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf and other private armed groups in their area of responsibility. Others say the new
movement was necessary to accommodate newly promoted senior officers.

The Abu Sayyaf is a small group of militants known for kidnapping foreigners and demanding huge ransoms.

Eighteen other foreign hostages are being held in Mindanao, most or all of them thought to be in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf.

The group was established in the early 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network.

Its leaders have in recent years pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group that controls vast swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Pacquiao screening called off to receive soldiers' remains

A live screening of Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao's last fight taking place in the United States, which was scheduled to show at a military gym in Zamboanga, was called off as the facility prepared to receive the bodies of the slain soldiers. 

The clash came shortly after a retired Italian priest being held hostage by Abu Sayyaf was freed on Friday.

The militant group had also threatened to kill a Norwegian and two Canadian hostages and a Filipina they kidnapped in September if a ransom was not paid by Friday. 

The military said there has been no word on the hostages' fate since the deadline passed.

Crushing ASG PNoy's last job, next president’s first - Recto

Vice President Jejomar Binay expressed sympathy for the families of the slain soldiers, as he extolled their bravery. The Basilan carnage is yet another tragic reminder of the urgent need to address poverty, which he said is a key factor in the continuing violence in Mindanao.

In the view of Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, finishing off the Abu Sayyaf is this president’s last job and the next president’s first.

The ASG, he said, had plagued four presidencies "and, if not stopped, is on track to confront the fifth Malacañang occupant in their almost quarter-of-a-century of mayhem and violence."

The next presidential debate should include a question on how to end Abu Sayyaf’s terrorism and stop their expansion as an ISIS franchisee, said Recto.

Sen. Grace Poe, in a statement, condemned in the strongest possible terms the "brutal and treacherous murder of soldiers" including four who were beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan.

In a statement, the presidential candidate said that once more, the incident highlights the importance of giving priority to the needs of soldiers and policemen. “We condemn the Abu Sayyaf and its supporters in the strongest terms for the brutal and treacherous murder of our troops who were on legitimate military operations in Basilan,” Poe said. 

The terrorists should be immediately pursued and crushed by the full might of the military and police forces, with due regard for the safety of innocent civilians, she added.

Military casualties mounting in Basilan clashes, Moroccan jihadist killed

From the Mindanao Examiner (Apr 10): Military casualties mounting in Basilan clashes, Moroccan jihadist killed

More than a hundred soldiers and rebels were killed and wounded in fierce clashes between military forces and Abu Sayyaf in Basilan province in the troubled Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, army intelligence reports said.

Four soldiers were also decapitated by rebels, but the Abu Sayyaf suffered more than 2 dozen casualties that included a Moroccan jihadist Mohammad Kattab, a bomb expert; and Ubaida Hapilon, son of rebel leader Isnilon Hapilon. Another Abu Sayyaf leader, Radzmil Jannatul, was also slain in the fighting that broke out in Tipo-Tipo town.

Over 3 dozen soldiers were also killed, including a young lieutenant, and more than 60 others wounded in the battle that started on Saturday and continued the next day.

Fighting first erupted in Al-Barka town and then spread to Tipo-Tipo and other areas in the war-torn province, which is a major stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf that pledged allegiance with the Islamic State militant group.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and military chief Hernando Iriberri also flew to Zamboanga City to inspect the wounded soldiers.

Fighting was also reported in Sulu province where the Abu Sayyaf is holding more than a dozen foreign hostages kidnapped in Mindanao and Sabah in Malaysia.

On Saturday, two ageing OV-10 bombers were also seen taking off from an air force base in Zamboanga and headed to Basilan.

The province is also a known lair of the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front which signed an interim peace deal with Manila in 2014. It was not immediately known whether the MILF was involved in the fighting.

Both Al-Barka and Tipo-Tipo towns were also the scenes of previous clashes between troops and Abu Sayyaf rebels where two Malaysian militants had been killed by the army. The impoverished Basilan is where the Abu Sayyaf was founded by Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani in the 1990s and the province remains without development where poverty, kidnappings and terrorism is widespread.

Hell in Basilan: Landmine blast followed by gunfire everywhere

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 10): Hell in Basilan: Landmine blast followed by gunfire everywhere

The mission: Pursue Abu Sayyaf bandits believed to be harboring foreign terrorists. The result: A total of 18 soldiers killed and 56 others wounded.

“The forward troops ahead of us were hit by a landmine. Then suddenly, gunfire was all over the place,” Sergeant Erico Paglinawan narrated to the Philippine Daily Inquirer in his hospital bed here.

Paglinawan said at least 30 soldiers from the Charlie Company of the 44th Infantry Battalion were traveling on foot when a landmine exploded in the village of Baguindan in Tipo-Tipo town in Basilan at 7 a.m. Saturday.

With the 44th IB soldiers were troops from the 4th Special Forces.
Paglinawan was hit in the chest.

“Blood was flowing. It was like water coming from a faucet,” he said.

While waiting for medical evacuation, which came three hours later, Paglinawan drank his own blood, thinking that this would prevent him from bleeding to death.

“I drank my own blood,” he told the INQUIRER.

Paglinawan was one of the 56 soldiers who were wounded in the 10-hour fighting with the Abu Sayyaf bandits. The wounded soldiers included the 44th battalion commander, Col. Tommy Crosby, and three officers.

Capt. Kilbas Mauricio, who was hit in the left leg, said the clash started with an explosion, then followed by a “ball of fire around us.”

Armed Forces Chief of Staff Hernando Iriberri and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Sunday visited the 56 wounded soldiers, six of them in critical condition.

“We are mourning. The whole Armed Forces is mourning the deaths of our heroes,” Iriberri said

“Despite heavy enemy resistance and advantage in the familiarity with the terrain in Basilan, our troops fought gallantly. We salute our troops as they displayed the finest traditions of soldiery and bravely fought the bandits with utmost valor,” he said.

But Iriberri added: “After we grieve for our soldiers, we shall continue to fight to win the peace for our people. Our soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice so that the people of Basilan will be free from terrorists and secure a peaceful and bright future for their next generation.”

Iriberri said the government troops were in an encounter, and were not ambushed.

“It was really an encounter, and as of now, we cannot still get into the details because as we speak, operations are still on-going,” he said.

Iriberri said he wanted the troops to focus on the operation.

“We still do not have a clear picture of what happened, but rest assured that once everything settles down, we can give the statement,” Iriberri said.

Iriberri explained to reporters that the troops were on a mission to get high value targets and to prevent kidnap for-ransom groups from merging as one.

He said Moroccan terrorist Mohammad Khattab, who was killed in Saturday’s encounter, was “an IED (improvised explosive device) expert who wanted to unify, organize all kidnap-for-ransom groups to be affiliated with an international organization.”

Iriberri said that as early as December 2015, troops in Basilan have been fighting the Abu Sayyaf Group that has been harboring foreign terrorists.

He cited the clash in Makalang, Al Barka town in Basilan on December 15, 2015, where suspected Malaysian terrorist, Mohammad Najib Hussin, was killed.

“This is the same group. It transferred to Tipo-Tipo.  That is why we conducted this operation,” Iriberri said.

“Khattab was also part of that group in Makalang,” he said.

Wounded soldier Sgt. Erico Paglinawan said some of the soldiers were on foot while some were in vehicles when they were attacked.

When those in the frontline — members of the Charlie Company of the 44th IB — stepped on a land mine, five of his colleagues died on the spot, Paglinawan said.

Members of the 44th on the frontline were followed by the Cavalry unit in five armored vehicles, and the units of the 4th Special Forces Battalion.

“It was a close gunbattle, very deafening,” Paglinawan said.

Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, said it was a close quarter combat, with government troops and the Abu Sayyaf bandits just about “10 meters” away from each other.

Tan denied reports that some of the troops were beheaded. He said some of the soldiers lost their heads due to the powerful firearms used by the bandits.

“And it doesn’t mean that the mutilation was through cutting of the throat, it could be due to bullets,” he said.

A military source said two members of the 44th IB were decapitated.

Iriberri also said it was too early to say if the troops were subjected to “pintakasi,” a situation wherein different armed groups and members of the community would join the bandits in the fight against the government forces.

Tan said five Abu Sayyaf bandits were also killed and 20 others were wounded in the clash. He said Moroccan terrorist Mohammad Khattab, and Ubaida Hapilon, son of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, were reportedly killed in the clash.

DWDD: BK 2016 || Urban SAR Training Officially Starts in Tanay

From DWDD AFP Civil Relations Service Radio Website (Apr 8): BK 2016 || Urban SAR Training Officially Starts in Tanay

CAMP CAPINPIN, Tanay Rizal (DWDD) – As part of this year’s PH-US Balikatan Exercise (BK16), the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Field Training Exercise (FTX) formally opened today, April 8 in a ceremony at Camp Capinpin Tanay, Rizal.

Urban SAR 1 Urban SAR 5 Urban SAR 6 Urban SAR 7 Urban SAR 8 Urban SAR 10

 The said exercise will be conducted by combined elements of the US’ Hawaii National Guard (HING) and the Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM) of the AFP.

MGEN Romeo G Gan, Commander of 2nd Infantry Division, Phil Army welcomed the participants lead by BGEN Kenneth S Hara, the Duputy Adjutant General of the Hawaii National Guard.

2 1

The USAR FTX is focused on the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR) staff exercise of SoLcom’s Unified Command Staff concurrently ongoing at Camp Aguinaldo. In his remarks, BGEN Hara emphasized the US’ commitment to assist in enhancing the capabilities of the AFP in addressing our core security concerns which includes not only territorial defense but also man-made and natural disasters.

4 1

MGen Gan likewise cited the significance of this USAR training to the AFP given the magnitude of the potential earthquake that could devastate Metro Manila. The USAR training is intended to enhance the capability of the AFP personnel particularly the Reserve units under SOLCom, as well as to share HADR TTPs and personal experiences between US HING and AFP. A total of 125 active Reserve AFP personnel participates in the training and a team from Army’s 525th Engineer Construction Battalion assisting the HING during the course of the training. LMC / MCAG / Photos by AW2C Maricel N Batara

DWDD: UPDATE II AFP mourns the death of 18 Soldiers Dead, 53 Others Wounded in Tipo-tipo Encounter

From DWDD AFP Civil Relations Service Radio Website (Apr 10): UPDATE II AFP mourns the death of 18 Soldiers Dead, 53 Others Wounded in Tipo-tipo Encounter

basilan tipo tipo

Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City – The Armed Forces of the Philippines mourns the death of 18 soldiers as the nation salute their bravery and heroism in paying the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country and our people.

The Western Mindanao Command (WesMinCom) says at least 18 soldiers and five militants have been killed during a clash between government troops and the Abu Sayyaf (ASG) on Saturday (April 9) in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan.

The following are the names of the fallen heroes:
2) SSg Makin B Jarani PA
3) Sgt Jayson Alani Inf PA,44IB
4) Sgt Paterno G Oquino PA
5) Sgt Akhad M Usman PA
6) Cpl Rodelio Bangcairin PA
7) Cpl Rodel Perolino PA
8) Cpl Dionisio L Labial PA
9) Cpl Rakib Kadil PA
10) Cpl Reezvi Arshcelo H Gandawali PA
11)  Cpl Noel R Else PA
12)  Cpl Darius Bulan PA
13)  Cpl Ibrahim Palao PA
14)  Pfc Kevin Rey S Verano PA
15)  Pvt Dunemark Gil Saldivar PA
16) Pfc Marjun Duhaylungsod Inf PA
17) Pfc Marjohri G Monte Inf PA
18) Pfc Doren A Aspurias Inf PA

Meanwhile, in a press briefing on Sunday morning (April 10), WesMinCom spokesperson Maj. Filemon Tan said more than 50 other soldiers were wounded in the nearly 10-hour gunbattle that resulted in one of the biggest casualties suffered by government forces in a single day in recent years.

A similar encounter in Al Barka, also in Basilan, in 2011 left 19 government troops dead.

Tan said the militants who were killed included a suspected foreign terrorist, Moroccan national Mohammad Khattab, and Ubaida Hapilon, the son of Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon.

“Soldiers of Joint Task Group Basilan conducting military operations in Basilan province encountered more or less 120 Abu Sayyaf bandits under Isnilon Hapilon and Furuji Indama.”

Full military honors will be accorded to these soldiers in line with the time honored tradition of the AFP. Also, all military camps will fly the flag at half-mast as the nation mourns their death and in recognition of their ultimate sacrifice for the country.

The AFP assured the families of the bereaved soldiers of the benefits that they will be receiving.

NDF: NDFP condemns Aquino regime for Kidapawan massacre

Propaganda statement from the National Democratic Front Philippines Website (Apr 8): NDFP condemns Aquino regime for Kidapawan massacre

Press statement | April 8, 2016

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) vigorously condemns President Aquino and his regime, including North Cotabato Governor Talino Mendoza and the Philippine National Police for the brutal shooting of Kidapawan farmers demanding food aid in the face of a long drought. The unarmed protesting farmers were met with bulletsf from the policemen armed with high-powered rifles. At least three farmers confirmed dead and scores of wounded, with scores more missing.

The raw footage of the farmers’ protest exposed the shooting by the police of the unarmed courageous protesters.

Widespread condemnation of the Kidapawan massacre, sharply accusing President Aquino, local officials and the police, has come from numerous organizations in the Philippines and abroad. They offer strong solidarity to the Kidapawan farmers.

As early as April 1, hours after the violent dispersal of the protest of the Kidapawan farmers, tthe violent dispersal of protesting farmers was compared to the Mendiola massacre of January 1987 and the Hacienda Luisita massacre of 2004. Reference was made to the billions of pesos taken by President Aquino and Department of Budget Management Secretary Abad through the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) while the farmers suffered extreme hunger.

The people’s rage against Aquino and others held responsible for the Kidapawan massacre has intensified as more brutalities against the farmers are exposed. According to the Aquino government’s own Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Mindanao, ”even when the farmers were on their knees, the police shot them!”

The protesting farmers have been offered a measly five kilos of rice for each family for a whole month. This is an insult to these families since a family would consume five kilos of rice within four days or less. Many thousands of sacks of rice are withheld even when the Calamity Fund and thousands of sacks of rice are available for distribution.

Scores of arrested farmers right after the violent dispersal are compelled to pay two thousand pesos each in order to secure their release on bail. The impoverished and hungry farmers are squeezed to the bone to secure their release.

In stark contrast to the criminal neglect and responsibility of the regime and its officials and their continued harassment of the Kidapawan farmers, donations of rice and other foodstuff have poured in from numerous organizations and individuals offering admirable solidarity. They also offer medical and legal assistance.

The regime on the other hand is engaged in a massive cover-up of its accountability. It is accusing the victims of starting the shooting, causing injury to 900 policemen,. They are claiming that the New People’s Army was present at the demonstration and that the Left has manipulated the farmers to launch the demonstration. This cover-up is similar to the cover-ups made by the regime during the Mendiola massacre of peasants in January 1987and the Hacienda Luisita massacre of November 2004.

To add insult to injury, the Aquino regime’s Department of Intterior and Local Government, under which the Philippine National Police is, has given awards to the fascist killers of the Kidapawan farmers. This is similar to President Aquino’s giving of awards to the military killers of Recca Monte, Arnaldo Jaramillo and other Lacub martyrs.

The NDFP holds the Aquino regime accountable for the Kidapawan massacre. The NDFP demands justice for Kidapawan martyrs and their families, and those wounded, arrested and missing! It joins numerous organizations in the country and abroad to make the resounding call for solidarity for the Kidapawan farmers!

Luis G. Jalandoni
Member, National Executive Committee
National Democratic Front of the Philippines

Gazmin, Iriberri head to Basilan

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 10): Gazmin, Iriberri head to Basilan

Sec. Voltaire Gazmin.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri will fly to Zamboanga City and Basilan province on Sunday amid reports of heavy casualties on the government side following the daylong gun battle with the Abu Sayyaf militants that reportedly killed at least 18 soldiers and injured 52.

READ: 18 soldiers dead in 10-hr clash with ASG

The two officials will meet the ground commanders and visit the wounded troops, military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla told

After the Western Mindanao Command’s report of 22 soldiers injured earlier in the day, no official statement has been released about the clashes.

READ: 22 soldiers hurt in clash with Abu Sayyaf in Basilan

The firefight on Saturday happened a day after the release of the Abu Sayyaf’s Italian hostage, former missionary Rolando del Torchio, who was found aboard a ferry in Jolo bound for Zamboanga City.

READ: Kidnapped Italian pizzeria owner freed

The Abu Sayyaf in Basilan is led by Isnilon Hapilon, one of the group’s most senior leaders who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and has been blamed to several terrorist attacks and high-profile kidnappings.

He is one of the most wanted terrorists listed in the US Federal Bureau of Investigation with up $5 million bounty for his capture.

5 ASG militants, including 1 foreign terrorist, killed in Basilan clash

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 10): 5 ASG militants, including 1 foreign terrorist, killed in Basilan clash

abu sayyaf

A file picture of alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf group. (via The Star/ANN)

At least five militants, including a foreign terrorist, were killed and 20 were wounded in a daylong intense firefight with government troops in Basilan, the military said early Sunday.

Maj. Filemon Tan, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, said the five fatalities from the Abu Sayyaf included Moroccan Mohammad Khattab, a supporter of Isnilon Hapilon, one of the most senior leaders of the terror group based in Basilan.

Ubaida, the son of Hapilon, was also one of those killed, Tan said.
Hapilon has earlier pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and has been blamed to several terrorist attacks and high-profile kidnappings. He is one of the most wanted terrorists listed in the US Federal Bureau of Investigation with up to $5-million bounty for his capture.

Tan said the injured militants included Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Radzmil Jannatul alias Kubayb.

The fierce gunbattle in Tipo-Tipo town killed 18 soldiers and injured 53 others after it battled about 100 members of the Abu Sayyaf on Saturday.

READ: 18 soldiers dead in 10-hr clash with ASG

On Friday, the Abu Sayyaf released its Italian hostage, former missionary Rolando del Torchio, who was found aboard a ferry in Jolo bound for Zamboanga City.

READ: Kidnapped Italian pizzeria owner freed

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri are scheduled fly to Zamboanga City and Basilan on Sunday to meet the ground commanders and visit wounded troops.

READ: Gazmin, Iriberri to fly to Zamboanga City and Basilan early Sunday