Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Greater security needed in waters between Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines: Seafarers

From the Hellenic Shipping News (Apr 14): Greater security needed in waters between Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines: Seafarers

Indonesian shipowners and seafarers have urged the governments of Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia to establish a formal cooperation to secure the waterways between these three countries.

This comes in the wake of the kidnapping of 10 Indonesian crewmen in Philippine waters by Abu Sayyaf militants on Mar 26.

The Indonesian National Shipowners Association and the Indonesian Seafarers Union told Channel NewsAsia that maritime cooperation arrangements similar to what have been set up in the Strait of Malacca need to be considered.

The Malacca Strait, which runs between Malaysia and Indonesia, is a key shipping route in the region. Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have worked to reduce piracy in that waterway through increased patrols.

The International Maritime Bureau, a piracy reporting centre is also based in Kuala Lumpur.

“Between the countries, they have to work together,” said Mr Budhi Halim, secretary-general of the Indonesian National Shipowners Association. “What they are doing in the Strait of Malacca, I think they can do it over (in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas).

“The only thing (is that the Strait of Malacca) is a commercial and an international passage(way). This one only (involves) Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines and there are only small vessels passing through these areas. But these three countries have to be united to secure this area and (prevent this thing from happening again).”

The Abu Sayyaf militants have demanded a ransom of more than US$1 million.

Although the ransom deadline expired on Friday (Apr 8), the Indonesia government said the hostages are safe and that authorities are in intense negotiations with the militant group to secure their release.

The seafaring community has expressed its concerns over the incident and is urging that more be done to keep sailors and ships safe.

“We hope they have a joint operation, joint patrols in the area that can help the seafarers and also the owners to save their cargo,” said Mr Hanafi Rustandi, Executive President of the Indonesian Seafarers Union. “The Strait of Malacca is very busy with (a lot of) economic activities (and) in the Philippines maybe only some ships go there, but the danger is the same.”
The focus of the Indonesian and Philippine governments now is to free the hostages being held by the Abu Sayyaf group. However, a long term solution may be on the table.

It is understood that informal discussions are already taking place between countries to provide much needed security of waterways between Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia.

Abu Sayyaf group releases tugboat, but not its kidnapped M’sian crew

From Today Online (Apr 14): Abu Sayyaf group releases tugboat, but not its kidnapped M’sian crew

JAKARTA — The militant Abu Sayyaf group has released a Malaysian tugboat it seized two weeks ago, said Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry yesterday, but it has not yet freed the vessel’s four Malaysian crew members.

The ministry said in a statement yesterday that the MV Massive 6 boat departed from Tawau in Sabah, Malaysia, to Samarinda in East Kalimantan on Tuesday. “Until now, the whereabouts of the four Malaysians remain unknown,” said the ministry.

The seizure of the four sailors on April 1 by eight armed men near Ligitan, a small island off the eastern coast of Sabah, was the latest in a series of kidnappings in the lawless waters and coastlines of the southern Philippines in the past year.
The four Malaysian men, all from Sarawak, are Wong Teck Kang, 31, Wong Hung Sing, 34, Wong Teck Chii, 29, and Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21.

They were part of a nine-member crew on a tugboat carrying 7,500 tonnes of coal travelling from Manila to Malaysia. The kidnappers released the other five crew, comprising Indonesians and Myanmarese.

The Malaysian government is reportedly contemplating suspending trade and the movement of essential goods from the east coast of Sabah to the southern Philippines.

More than 18 foreign citizens are being held in the southern Philippines by kidnap-for-ransom groups pledging allegiance to Islamic State (IS), said the Philippine military.

Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said yesterday that the ship’s owner, Highline Shipping Sdn Bhd, has replaced the four Malaysian crew members with Indonesians.
It said the Indonesian consulate in Tawau accompanied the four Indonesians when they signed their contracts to ensure their welfare were taken care of.

Jakarta sets up task force to tackle hostage crisis

From the Straits Times (Apr 14): Jakarta sets up task force to tackle hostage crisis

New agency's head says it will gather and analyse information on Abu Sayyaf militants

Indonesia has set up a crack team of experts in counter-terrorism, intelligence and diplomacy to resolve the hostage crisis involving 10 of its citizens now being held by the Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines.

The existence of the task force, said to have been established by Vice-President Jusuf Kalla recently, was revealed by newly promoted three-star general Tito Karnavian.

The general is the new head of the Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Terorisme (BNPT), or national counter-terrorism agency, his former post as Jakarta police chief having been filled by Inspector General Moechgiyarto.

The task force comprises officials from the BNPT, the Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the State Intelligence Agency and the Indonesian military and police, he said yesterday.

One of its key objectives is to analyse intelligence, including that gathered from domestic militants in prison, which may aid in the release of the hostages, General Tito had said previously.
"BNPT will help to unveil the Abu Sayyaf's network," he was quoted as saying by Metro TV news on Tuesday.

The BNPT is now gathering information from convicted Indonesian terrorists who have experience dealing with the Philippine militant group, he added. "The report will be submitted to the special team. After that we will discuss the measures, (but) we cannot reveal the details."

Abu Sayyaf militants abducted the 10 Indonesians at sea some time around March 29, and demanded more than US$1 million (S$1.4 million) for their release.

The armed forces believe the hostages are being held in the autonomous region of Muslim Mindanao in southern Philippines, where key elements of the Abu Sayyaf are based.

Efforts to recover the Indonesians have intensified since news broke at the weekend of heavy casualties suffered by the army during a fierce firefight with the Abu Sayyaf on Basilan island, 1,400km south of Manila.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said she remains in constant communication with her Philippine counterpart to resolve the hostage crisis.

Former Jemaah Islamiah terrorist Umar Patek, now serving a 20-year sentence in Porong Prison in East Java for his part in the 2002 Bali bombings, has offered to help.

Umar was once a cadre member of the Abu Sayyaf under its former spiritual leader Khadaffy Janjalani. He said he could tap his old ties with the group to negotiate the release of the Indonesians, but in exchange for a remission on his jail sentence.

While Gen Tito said Umar's offer was "one option", he is not certain if the militants holding the Indonesian hostages will know Umar, who was arrested in 2011. "He has not been (with the Abu Sayyaf) for so long, nearly five years," said Gen Tito. "So we are not sure if the network there now is the same as that when Umar Patek was with them."

Institute for International Peace Building director Taufik Andrie agreed but said "it was still worth a try".

Separately, the Abu Sayyaf has released a hijacked Malaysian tugboat it seized almost two weeks ago.

The MV Massive 6 and its crew of nine were taken hostage on April 1 while it was en route from Tawau in Sabah, Malaysia, to Samarinda in East Kalimantan. Three Indonesians and two Myanmar nationals were released earlier, but the Abu Sayyaf is still holding the four Malaysian crewmen.

TSG Intel Brief: The Philippines Battles Abu Sayyaf

Posted to The Small Wars Journal (Apr 13): TSG Intel Brief: The Philippines Battles Abu Sayyaf  (by The Soufan Group)

TSG IntelBrief: The Philippines Battles Abu Sayyaf
April 13, 2016

The Philippines Battles Abu Sayyaf
Bottom Line Up Front:
• On April 9, militants from the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) ambushed a Filipino military unit on the remote southern island of Basilan, killing 18 soldiers
• The Filipino soldiers were part of an operation to kill or capture ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon and free several foreign hostages held by the group
• Formerly allied with al-Qaeda, ASG pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in the summer of 2014
• The losses suffered by the Filipino military demonstrate the difficulty of uprooting entrenched localized insurgencies. 
On April 9, fighters from the militant Islamist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) ambushed a Filipino army unit conducting an operation against the group on the remote southern island of Basilan, killing 18 soldiers and wounding more than 50. According to reports, at least four of the soldiers were beheaded. Based on a government statement on April 12, the number of ASG casualties from the weekend’s clashes had risen to 24. The engagement was costly for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and raises renewed concerns about militant activity in the country. The operation is also a reminder of the difficulty of displacing localized Islamist insurgencies—whether in YemenAfghanistanMali, or the Philippines. 
The ASG was formed in 1991, reportedly with funding from Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, a brother-in-law of Usama bin Ladin. Initially established to fight for an independent Islamic state on Jolo and Basilan islands, the group now largely exists as a criminal kidnapping enterprise. Though ASG was previously affiliated with al-Qaeda, in the summer of 2014 a video surfaced showing ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon pledging allegiance to the so-called Islamic State. The April 9 AFP operation was launched in an attempt to kill Hapilon, and to free several Western hostages whom the ASG had threatened to behead if ransom was not delivered by April 8. The fate of the hostages—including a Dutch national, two Canadians, and a Norwegian—remains unknown. 
Of the ASG fighters killed, one was Moroccan national Mohammed Khattab, described by an AFP statement as a bomb-making instructor and militant preacher attempting to link local armed groups to unspecified ‘international terrorist groups.’ Though it is unclear if Khattab was affiliated with the Islamic State, there are strong links between the Islamic State and militant groups in Muslim areas of the southern Philippines. To date, at least 100 Filipinos have traveled to fight in Iraq and Syria, and Filipino authorities have become increasingly concerned about active recruitment networks operating in the country. 
According to most estimates, ASG has approximately 300 fighters in its ranks—down from a peak of around 1,250 in 2000. The degradation of the group was largely made possible by assistance from the U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P), which provided counterterrorism training for the AFP until its mission ended in 2014. Despite training, equipment, and $441 million in U.S. security assistance funding, the weakened ASG has still been able to inflict significant casualties on the Filipino military when its soldiers attempt to launch operations on ASG strongholds. Both Basilan and Jolo Islands—the central territory of ASG—are remote and heavily forested, presenting the ideal environment for perpetuating an insurgency. Utilizing its criminal-kidnapping element, ASG has managed to remain well funded—and well armed. 
The insurgent environment in the remote southern islands of the Philippines is challenging for the international community because of the opportunities it provides terror groups. Both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have taken advantage of remote areas with weak governance to establish new safe havens for their fighters, and new sources of income. Following the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, al-Qaeda leadership fled to the remote mountainous regions along the border with Pakistan, where geography and tribal allegiances continue to shield themAl-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) utilizes the vast Saharan desert to draw revenue from smuggling routes, and to launch operations in both North and West Africa. The Islamic State has established affiliates in remote areas of YemenAfghanistan, and the Sinai, ensuring that tactical defeat in Iraq and Syria will not immediately spell the end of the group’s influence. Wherever localized Islamist insurgencies persist, groups espousing the ideology of bin Ladinism will seek to co-opt them. 
[The Soufan Group provides strategic security intelligence services to governments and multinational organizations. Our training programs, security services, and research insights arm our clients with the essential knowledge and skills to prepare for, manage and respond to constantly evolving security needs.]

AFP raises doubts on ISIS claim in Basilan clash

From CNN Philippines (Apr 14): AFP raises doubts on ISIS claim in Basilan clash

(File photo) At least 18 soldiers and five Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) fighters were killed in a 10-hour gun battle on April 9. It was the biggest single-day combat casualty suffered by government forces in the area since 2011.

Amid reports that the terror group ISIS claimed responsibility for recent clashes between soldiers and the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) denied ISIS hand in the bloody encounter that killed 18 soldiers on April 9.

Read: 18 soldiers dead, 5 Abu Sayyaf bandits killed in Basilan encounter

A Reuters report cited this statement from ISIS: "With the grace of god we were able to detonate seven trucks carrying soldiers."

CNN Philippines cannot independently verify the authenticity of this statement.

But AFP Spokesperson BGen. Restituto Padilla told CNN Philippines on Thursday (April 14) that contrary to what the ISIS reportedly claimed, there were no trucks hit by bombs during the fighting.

With inconsistencies such as this, Padilla raised doubts on the reported ISIS claim.

“Our initial assessment is that this is part of the propaganda that ISIS or the Daesh is trying to do on the part of the groups here in the Philippines,” Padilla said.

The AFP said it is looking into whether or not the Abu Sayyaf has aligned with ISIS.

Read: "Who are the Abu Sayyaf?"

Abu-Sayyaf-infograhics_CNNPH (1).png

But there is so far no clear, direct link between local terror groups and ISIS, Padilla said. 

He admitted though that the Philippines could be a target of ISIS recruiters because of its young Muslim population.

At least 18 soldiers and five Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) fighters were killed in a 10-hour gun battle in Tipo-Tipo town on April 9.

Following more clashes, the AFP said the number of militants killed had risen to 31 by Thursday (April 14), but the statistic is still being validated.

Islamic State’s claim over Basilan clash mere propaganda —Wesmincom

From GMA News (Apr 14): Islamic State’s claim over Basilan clash mere propaganda —Wesmincom

The Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Thursday downplayed international terrorist group Islamic State’s claim of detonating explosives on seven trucks carrying soldiers in Basilan.

Wesmincom spokesperson Filemon Tan refuted the group's statement, saying it is mere propaganda, a report by Raffy Tima on GMA News TV's News To Go said.

Tan stressed that the damaging of army vehicles is not that big contrary to Islamic State's claim.

However, Tan confirmed that there were improvised explosive devices which detonated.

Vehicles were only lightly damaged by shrapnel and bullets.

As of posting time, authorities are questioning the authenticity of the statement published by Reuters.

In the statement, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the clash between militants linked to the group and Philippine soldiers last Saturday in Basilan.

Eighteen soldiers died during the encounter. Meanwhile, Wesmincom confirmed that there are already 31 fatalities on the Abu Sayyaf Group side in the continued clash between the army and the rebel group.

 The AFP has yet to conduct a formal investigation on the clash due to their continued operation against the rebel group.

Bomb explodes in Lamitan

From Zamboanga Today (Apr 14): Bomb explodes in Lamitan

An Improvised Explosive Device exploded Tuesday night in front of a videoke bar in Kulay Bato, Lamitan City.
Police disclosed that the IED was planted in front of the establishment owned by Nelly Gardo near the Lamitan City port, and exploded at around 10:30 p.m.
Although the blast damaged the videoke bar, no one was reported hurt in the incident.
Authorities said the bomb was a diversionary tactic employed by the Abu Sayyaf Group now being chased by the Military in Basilan.
Vice Mayor Roderick Furigay said businesses in Lamitan City remained normal.
“Dol normal ya man ese maga rebentada aki canamun poreso maga negocio abierto lang man siempre,” Furigay said in an interview over Brigada News FM.
He called on the police and residents to be vigilant amid the ongoing hot pursuit operations being conducted by the military against the ASG in Tipo Tipo.

U.S. defense chief visits Philippines amid sea dispute with China

From ABS-CBN (Apr 13): U.S. defense chief visits Philippines amid sea dispute with China

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter leaves after a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington February 29, 2016. Yuri Gripas, Reuters

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter arrived in the Philippines on Wednesday to highlight strong and growing military relations with a crucial Southeast Asian ally as China assertively pursues its claims in the South China Sea.

Carter's visit comes as the two countries conduct joint military exercises and on the heels of an agreement that allows a U.S. military presence at five Philippine bases, one of which Carter plans to visit on this week's trip.

While the initial agreement allows for five bases, Carter told reporters while on the way to the Philippines that there would be more in future.

Defense officials from the Philippines and Vietnam will also meet this week to explore possible joint exercises and navy patrols, military sources said, shoring up a new alliance between states locked in maritime rows with China.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to have huge deposits of oil and gas.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the waters, through which about $5 trillion in trade is shipped every year.

The U.S. defense chief's visit also takes place weeks before a ruling is expected on an arbitration case the Philippines has brought against China in The Hague.

The United States believes that whatever the tribunal's decision, it will be binding on both China and the Philippines, but China has refused to recognize the case and says all disputes should be resolved through bilateral talks.

"The trip carries greater weight because of the impending arbitration ruling," said Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

"Secretary Carter's task is to reassure the Philippines that it has U.S. security backing for a rules-based approach to settling disputes."


The United States has conducted what it calls "freedom of navigation" patrols in the area, sailing within 12-nautical mile territorial limits around disputed islands controlled by China to underscore its right to navigate the seas.

Those patrols have drawn sharp rebukes from China, but U.S. officials have said the United States will continue to challenge what it considers unfounded maritime claims.

U.S. officials say the Navy is carrying out more aggressive patrols in the region, sailing close to disputed features.

"They're sailing within 13, 14, 15 miles, without dipping into the 12-mile limit, and the Chinese have definitely noticed," said one U.S. official who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The official said Chinese ships were now shadowing every U.S. ship in the region, and routine ship-to-ship communications had become testier and sometimes unprofessional.

This year the United States is providing the Philippines with about $40 million as part of the five-year, $425 million Maritime Security Initiative (MSI).

That money will be used to train staff at the Philippines National Coast Watch Center, better enable the sharing of classified information between the U.S. and the Philippines, and buy better sensors for Philippine Navy patrol ships.

Swift progress on spending this year's MSI funds would enable the Pentagon to ask Congress for "multiples more" in funding for future years and possibly expand spending to Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand, said Ernest Bower, chair of the Southeast Asia Advisory Board at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In the Philippines, Carter will observe annual U.S.-Filipino military exercises known as Balikatan. Around 4,400 U.S. troops are participating in the exercises, in addition to 3,000 Filipino troops.

GPH peace panel expresses sympathy to families of the 18 fallen troops

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 13): GPH peace panel expresses sympathy to families of the 18 fallen troops

The peace panel of the Philippine Government (GPH) has expressed sympathy to the families of the 18 soldiers who perished during a bloody encounter against Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) militants in Basilan.

"We extend our deepest sympathies to the families and comrades of the 18 soldiers who have fallen in the tragic encounter with Abu Sayyaf militants in Barangay Silangkum, Tipo-Tipo and Barangay Baguindan, Al-Barka in Basilan last Saturday, April 9. We wish those who were wounded fast recovery from their wounds," GPH peace panel chair Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

"True to the valor and heroism that we recall during the annual remembrance of Araw ng Kagitingan or Day of Valor, we honor our soldiers' sacrifice for the well-being of our country," Ferrer added.

The GPH peace panel chair noted that four of the 18 fallen troops were Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) "integrees" to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). They are Staff Sergeant Makin Jarani from Basilan; Sergeant Akmad Usman from Zamboanga Sibugay; Corporal Reezvi Archcelo Gandawali from Sulu; and Corporal Ibrahim Rajab Palaw, a Tausug.

Under the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the Government and the MNLF, some 5,000 MNLF combatants or their next of kin were integrated into the AFP.

The fateful April 9 clash was part of a series of major offensives launched against the ASG forces in Basilan since December 2015.

Ferrer noted that these operations resulted in the neutralization of at least 13 bandits and Moroccan terrorist Mohammad Khattab.

Furthermore, military offensives fully observed coordination protocols such as the 1997 ceasefire agreement between GPH and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) alongside the 2001 agreement relating to law enforcement operations and subsequent guidelines.

"These protocols have prevented mis-encounters between Government and MILF troops and have provided the AFP and local governments with valuable support against hostile enemy action," said Ferrer.

She likewise recognized the strong cooperation of the GPH-MILF ceasefire mechanisms, particularly the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group and the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, as well as the MILF leadership with regard to the ongoing law enforcement operations against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan.

The peace negotiator assured that the GPH is firm in its resolve to fight for peace amid lawlessness and terrorism.

"The April 9 loss manifests the difficulty and gravity of the fight against lawlessness and terrorism. At the same time, it strengthens our resolve to continue with our fight for peace alongside our AFP and our valuable security partners in the peace process, believing that we must quell the spread of extremist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf that threaten the lives and security of our brothers and sisters in Muslim Mindanao and the country as a whole," said Ferrer.

Palace orders abolition of AFP pension fund

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 13): Palace orders abolition of AFP pension fund

Malacanang has ordered the abolition of the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Retirement and Separation System (AFP-RSBS) in an effort to curb inefficient public spending.

Memorandum Order No. 90 signed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said the interest liability of AFP-RSBS continues to grow and the Government-Owned and/or Controlled Corporation (GOCC) now faces a depletion of its retained earnings by the end of November 2016.

The memorandum noted that the pension and benefits of retired AFP personnel continue to be funded through the General Appropriations Act (GAA).

“The GCG (Governance Commission for GOCCs) finds the abolition of AFP-RSBS to be the best interest of the State in order to improve national productivity and reduce ineffective and inefficient spending of public funds,” it said.

Pursuant to the liquidation of AFP-RSBS’s assets, the memorandum approved the privatization of its wholly-owned subsidiaries, namely Monterossa Development Corp. (MDC) and Southern Utility Management and Services Inc. (SUMSI).

The AFP-RSBS Board, which shall act as the Board of Liquidators subject to oversight by the Governance Commission, is directed to cease collecting members’ contributions and accrual interest, and collect all indebtedness due to the AFP-RSBS.

The Board shall continue corporate operating budget for the continuation of leasing services, refund of AFP-RSBS members’ contributions as they fall due, and servicing of existing membership loan programs.

It shall also enter contracts for the sale of all its real estate assets, golf and country club shares and all other personal properties.

Affected officials and personnel of AFP-RSBS may avail the separation benefits in addition to retirement or separation benefits allowed under existing laws.

To implement abolition, the GCG shall be assisted by a Technical Working Group composed of representatives from the Departments of National Defense, Finance and Budget and Management; Privatization Management Office, AFP-RSBS and AFP.

2 abducted sawmill workers found beheaded in Lanao Del Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 13): 2 abducted sawmill workers found beheaded in Lanao Del Sur

Two of the six saw mill workers, earlier abducted by members of the Maute Group, in Butig town, Lanao Del Sur, were found beheaded Tuesday afternoon.

This was confirmed by Western Mindanao Command (WMC) spokesperson Major Filemon Tan in a message to the PNA Wednesday.

The bodies were recovered 4: 20 p.m. at Barangay Bayabao Poblacion by operatives of the Butig Municipal Police Station.

They were identified as Salvador Hanobas and Jaymart Hanobas, Tan added.

The bodies and the heads were placed inside two sacks, a police report disclosed.

The fatalities are among the six saw mill workers snatched by members of the Maute Group in Barangay Sandab last April 4 on the belief that they were spying on the lawless band on orders from the government.

The bandits earlier released Julieto Hanobas, Alfredo Anoos, Gabriel Permites, and Adones Mendez.

Balikatan in Antique successful – Tiongson

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 13): Balikatan in Antique successful – Tiongson

SAN JOSE de BUENAVISTA, Antique -- The Balikatan Exercises 2016 conducted in this municipality is successful, according to Lt. Col. Ray Tiongson, the 3rd Infantry Division, Philippine Army Public Information Officer in Panay.

“It run smoothly and peacefully . We are grateful for the support and cooperation of government agencies in San Jose, the LGU and the provincial government, as well as the local populace,” Tiongson said.

One feedback that the Panay leg officers received was that the public, particularly those residing in the vicinity of the EBJ Memorial airport, where the C130 planes had its landing since Monday, April 11, was that they wanted to have the opportunity to get inside the airport’s premises to have their pictures taken with the big airplanes.

“We will consider it on our next Balikatan,” added Tiongson, “we will recommend it to the higher officials.”

It was established that this Balikatan Exercises aimed to prepare the men of both Armed Forces of the U.S. and the Philippines in relief operations, bringing in supplies and logistics as well as medical mission in places affected by natural calamities.

“Everything that was done were simulation exercises to improve our men’s capability to respond faster in the event of a disaster and other crisis, “ said Tiongson.

Meanwhile, Tiongson reiterated that the officers and men of the two countries’ armed forces “showed strong improvement when it comes to preparations, readiness and execution of their tactics, technique and procedures and I believe they all passed with flying colors.”

Balikatan Exercises opened April 4 at Camp Peralta, Jamindan, Capiz and is scheduled to end on April 16 with the ceremonial turning-over of three classroom buildings at Dingle, Iloilo, Jamindan and Tapaz in Capiz province.

President Aquino says investigation into deadly Basilan encounter will be conducted

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 13): President Aquino says investigation into deadly Basilan encounter will be conducted

President Benigno S. Aquino III on Wednesday personally extended his condolences to the families of the soldiers who perished in an encounter in Basilan last weekend, assuring them that an investigation will be conducted.

Eighteen soldiers died in the clash with members of the Abu Sayyaf Group and 53 others sustained injuries, the military has said.

During his meeting with the families of the deceased soldiers at the Edwin Andrews Air Base, the President said a full investigation will be launched once the ongoing military operations in Basilan are completed.

A military board of inquiry will be organized to find out what happened, he said, vowing to hold accountable those who have committed negligence that resulted in the huge casualty on the side of the government.

The President explained that the military will however have to neutralize the Abu Sayyaf Group first, so as not to lose momentum in the ongoing military offensive against the Islamic militant group.

He also asked the families about their needs, especially since many of them have lost their breadwinners.

Some of the families asked about the education of young children left behind by the soldiers and how their widows could get support from the government. Others wanted to know how other family members could join the military.

President Aquino said the government will give these families the assistance they deserve.

Major General Gerardo Barrientos, Jr. of the 1st Infantry Division said the families’ benefits include Php 250,000 from the Office of the President, about Php 180,000 in remuneration cash, Php 50,000 from the Mutual Benefit Association’s License, and Php 100,000 from the Philippine Army Finance Center Producers Integrated Cooperative.

“’Yung burial expenses na Php 80,000, this is over and above ng remuneration na ibinibigay ng ating organization,” he said, adding that there will also be contributions from the division itself and from the headquarters, including a scholarship program from the government.

"Sa kasalukuyan, iyong members ng ating Presidential Management Staff ay nagko-conduct ng pakikipagpulong doon sa ating mga naulila para malaman kung ano talaga ang kanilang problema. Meron ding mga scholarship programs na inilaan ang ating gobyerno kasama itong program ng ating Philippine Army," Barrientos said.

China summons G7 diplomats to protest South China Sea statement

From the Philippine Star (Apr 13): China summons G7 diplomats to protest South China Sea statement

Beijing says it has summoned diplomats from the Group of 7 industrialized countries to protest their statement criticizing China's island-building activities in the disputed South China Sea.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Wednesday that China "solemnly clarified" to the diplomats its position on the issue. Beijing has defended its land reclamation work in the Spratly islands as within its territorial rights and accused the G-7 of diverging from its mission of safeguarding the global economy.

The statement issued by the G-7 foreign ministers on Monday expresses strong oppositions to any "intimidating, coercive or provocative unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions."

The statement, which didn't mention China by name, also expressed concern about the East China Sea, where Japan and China both claim uninhabited islands.

Diplomat blasts China on sea row, asks US help

From the Sun Star-Manila (Apr 12): Diplomat blasts China on sea row, asks US help

CHINA. In this April 5, 2016 photo, a Chinese man is reflected on a glass as he reads China's nationalistic tabloid Global Times' front page article with a headline that reads: "the U.S., Philippine and Japanese military steer tension in the disputed South China Sea" posted on a public newspaper bulletin board in Beijing. (AP)

A Philippine diplomat warned Tuesday that any Chinese move to turn a disputed shoal, where the U.S. Navy recently spotted a suspected Chinese survey ship, into an island will escalate the disputes in the South China Sea and asked Washington to convince Beijing not to take that "very provocative" step.

Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Cuisia Jr. told a news conference in Manila that a senior U.S. Navy official reported spotting a suspected Chinese survey ship in the Scarborough Shoal a few weeks ago and expressed concern about its presence in the disputed offshore area.

The Philippine military checked but found nothing, possibly because the Chinese ship later left the shoal, he said.

China has said it has completed construction work to turn seven reefs into islands in the disputed Spratlys archipelago in the South China Sea, raising alarm in the region and sparking calls by Asian and Western governments for China to stop taking provocative actions that can lead to confrontations. Beijing says it owns the Spratlys, which it calls the Nansha Islands, and has a right to undertake construction there.

The U.S. Navy sighting of the survey ship in Scarborough, a rich fishing area about 230 kilometers west of the Philippines, has reinforced suspicions that Beijing is eyeing the vast atoll as its next target in its island-making spree, Cuisia said.

"That I think will be very provocative if they will build on Scarborough Shoal," Cuisia said, adding such an action "will further escalate the tensions and the conflict."

The Philippines is incapable of stopping China from constructing an island in the shoal, where Filipino fishermen have been barred by Chinese coast guard ships, Cuisia said. "We hope that the U.S. and other countries ... would convince China not to proceed with that," he said.

Washington does not take sides in the disputes involving China, the Philippines and four other governments but has declared that ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight in the busy waters is in its national interest.

Cuisia said he was involved in a U.S. State Department-brokered deal for China and the Philippines to withdraw their ships simultaneously from Scarborough to avoid a potential clash during a tense standoff in 2012.

China reneged on that deal by refusing to withdraw its ships after the Philippines did and now claims there was no such deal, he said.

"We were shortchanged," Cuisia said.

DWDD: HONORING OUR HEROES II Defense Leadership visits WestMinCom

From DWDD AFP Civil Relations Service Radio Website (Apr 12): HONORING OUR HEROES II Defense Leadership visits WestMinCom

Camp Navarro, Calarian, Zamboanga City (DWDD) – Secretary of National Defense Voltaire T. Gazmin along with the Chief of Staff, AFP  General Hernando  DCA  Iriberri  and Commanding General, Philippine Army Lt Gen Eduardo  M.  Año checked on the status of the ongoing operations, award wounded personnel medals and extend financial assistance to our wounded troopers and look into the concerns of the families of our troops who died in battle. Two Surgical Teams were brought from higher headquarters to augment the medical staff of Camp Navarro General Hospital (CNGH).

Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) Commander Lt Gen Mayoralgo M Dela Cruz received Secretary Gazmin.  He was briefed by Col Rolando Bautista, Commander, Joint Task Group Basilan (JTGB) regarding the operations in Basilan and status of the troops on the ground. The Chief of Staff also had a press conference with the local media and emphasized that the operations will continue without let up. The group then proceeded to CNGH where Gen. Iriberri awarded those wounded in action and extended financial assistance to the troops.

DWDD: CIVILIAN SUPPORT II 8ID Troopers Seized NPA Camp in Northern Samar

From DWDD AFP Civil Relations Service Radio Website (Apr 12): CIVILIAN SUPPORT II 8ID Troopers Seized NPA Camp in Northern Samar

Camp Lukban, Catbalogan Samar (DWDD) – A New People’s Army camp was seized by 81st  Reconnaissance Company under the supervision of 20th Infantry (We Lead) Battalion at Brgy Catoto-ogan, Las Navas, Northern Samar on April 6, 2016.

According to Lt Col. Hilarion Palma, commanding officer of 20th Infantry Battalion, the security patrols conducted by the troops led by 2Lt Jojo C Consorte are based on the information from civilian populace regarding the presence of armed groups believed to be the members of Eastern Visayas Regional Party Committee of Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

Recovered from the enemy camp are: ten (10) bunkers, four (4) observation posts, one (1) Improvised Explosive Device (IED) made of PVC pipe with 10” diameter and height, five (5) blasting caps, one (1) nine (9) volts battery, one (1) battery case, twelve (12) empty shells of AK47 rifle, twenty (20) empty shells of M16 rifle, personal belongings and foodstuff.

Lt Col. Palma said that the CPP/NPA repeatedly violated the prohibition or restriction of using anti-personnel mine as stated in the Ottawa treaty and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) jeopardizing the safety of innocent and defenseless civilians specially the children.

20IB conducted dialogues (Pulong-pulong) to the populace of nearby barangays to ensure the safety and security of the populace and for the peaceful resolve of the conflict.

Major General Jet B Velarmino, Commander 8ID lauded the troops for their ultimate sacrifices and professionalism in protecting the community and its constituents in Eastern Visayas. 8DPAO / MCAG

DWDD: HERO18 II Army Dragon Warriors offer wins to Basilan troopers

From DWDD AFP Civil Relations Service Radio Website (Apr 13): HERO18 II Army Dragon Warriors offer wins to Basilan troopers

Photo from Phil Army Dragon Boat Team FB Page

Photo from Phil Army Dragon Boat Team FB Page

FORT BONIFACIO, Taguig City – The Philippine Army Dragon Boat Team, also known as the Army Dragon Warriors, offered their four golds and a silver medal won in the 10th International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) World Club Crews Championships to the Army soldiers who died in Basilan.
 “We are dedicating our win to our fellow soldiers who offered the ultimate sacrifice in Basilan,” said Staff Sgt. Usman Anterola, Team Captain of the Philippine Army Dragon Boat Team – Mighty Sports.
 Lt. Gen. Eduardo M Año, Commanding General of the Philippine Army, commended the team for proving once again that Army soldier-athletes are world-class.
 “The whole country is very proud of you, but most especially the Philippine Army,” said Lt Gen Año. “Although meron tayong labanang nagaganap ngayon sa Basilan, your win Australia will bring up the morale of our troops. Congratulations from the bottom of our hearts.  Keep up the good work,”
 The team, composed of 20 members, won the gold medal in the 2,000-meter Men’s Small Boat, 500-meter Mixed Small Boat, 200-meter Mixed Small Boat, and 200-meter Men’s Small Boat; while winning the silver medal in the 500-meter Men’s Small Boat.
 The Philippine Army fielded female soldier-athletes to participate in mixed events in this year’s world championships.
 For Cpt. Francis Mirabelle T Samson, who has been with the Philippine Army Dragon Boat Team for three years now, the 10th IDBF Club Crews Championships was her first international competition.
 “It is an honor to be part of a world-class Army team,” said Samson. “We are very happy to win the golds and bring honor to the Philippines.”

DWDD: FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE II Army releases Php 3.2 million for soldiers killed in Basilan

From DWDD AFP Civil Relations Service Radio Website (Apr 13): FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE II Army releases Php 3.2 million for soldiers killed in Basilan

FORT BONIFACIO, Taguig City – The Philippine Army releases the Special Financial Assistance (SFA) to the families of the 18 soldiers who were killed in the recent encounter in Tipo Tipo, Basilan province.
The Army has released a total of Php 3,289,254.50 to be given personally to the bereaved families of the slain troopers according to Col. Benjamin L. Hao, chief of the Army public affairs office.
“The SFA of the Philippine Army is computed based on their (18 soldiers) individual monthly earnings. This is an immediate monetary assistance which will be given to a soldier who were killed or died in line of duty,” said Hao.
“Based on the service records of the 18 soldiers, the family of the late 1Lt. Remigio B. Lecenia, an Army officer killed in the encounter will receive Php 282,303.95, while the family of late Private First Class Done Mark Gil A. Saldivar, the most junior personnel will receive Php 145,074.10,” Hao added.   
Other assistance to be received by the families of the slain soldiers includes Php 50,000 cash from the AFP Mutual Benefits Association, Inc. (AFPMBAI); Php 100,000 cash from the Philippine Army Finance Center Producers Integrated Cooperative (PAFCPIC); Php 80,000 funeral services support; and scholarship grants to their children.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Army expressed its sympathy and condolences to the families of the slain soldiers and gave its assurance to continue to provide necessary assistance.
The Army will also give full military honors especially funeral honors, vigil, arrival and departure honors to the slain soldiers.
“Appropriate military honors is the least the Army can do for the men who fought gallantry for the country”, said Hao.

DWDD: FOCUSED MIL OPERATIONSII AFP’s offensive against ASG continues

From DWDD AFP Civil Relations Service Radio Website (Apr 13): FOCUSED MIL OPERATIONSII AFP’s offensive against ASG continues

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Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, DWDD–The pursuit operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines against the Abu Sayyaf Group, in particular, the group led by Isnilon Hapilon continues. This is in line with AFP’s focused military operations.

In an interview by DWDD with Major Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson of the AFP Western Mindanao Command (WESMINCOM), he stated that they are now getting closer to the location of the group of Hapilon and some 60 other members of the ASG who were left after the continuous offensive of the government since Saturday, April 9.

Currently, there are at least 24 reported casualties from the ASG. The number of wounded from the side of the ASG is also increasing. One of those who are wounded is Furuji Indama, left hand of Isnilon Hapilon.

There are also reports that the rebel group is now running out of medical supplies, because of this, the number of deaths from the side of the rebel group is expected to increase. The AFP also continues to monitor drug stores and pharmaceutical companies.

The pursuit operations are lead by the Philippine Army Special Forces, Scout Rangers, and Light Reaction Company. There are also stand-by forces which can readily be deployed in case additional men will be needed.

DWDD: BALIKATAN 2016 II Activities in Full Swing at Ft Magsaysay

From DWDD AFP Civil Relations Service Radio Website (Apr 13): BALIKATAN 2016 II Activities in Full Swing at Ft Magsaysay

FORT MAGSAYSAY, Nueva Ecija (DWDD) BALIKATAN 2016 (BK16), the annual Philippine-U.S. military bilateral training exercise, formally opened in Fort Ramon Magsaysay last April 4.  Colonel Ramon G Linasan, the Philippine Army Exercise Director of BK 16 led the contingent of participants who were welcomed by Major General Angelito M De Leon, Commander of the 7th Infantry (KAUGNAY) Division based in Fort Magsaysay.

BK16 is a signature element of the Philippine-US Alliance focused on a variety of missions to include humanitarian assistance, maritime law enforcement, and environmental protection.  A series of activities have been lined-up for the participants of BK16 which has been broken into three simultaneous events which are (a) Command Post Exercises (CPX)/ Staff Exercises (STAFFEX), (b) Field Training Exercises (FTX), and (c) Humanitarian/Civic Assistance (HCA)/Civil Military Operation (CMO) Support. Field Training Exercises and Humanitarian/Civic Exercises are the main focus of the trainings being conducted in Fort Magsaysay.

A briefing regarding Camp Rules and Regulationsfor the BK16 participants was conducted right after the opening ceremony. Troop Leading Procedure (TLP) classes followed while a group of BK16 Officers coordinated with the Engineering officers at the Provincial Capitol of Nueva Ecija regarding BK16 exercises, and conducted a survey in surrounding barangays.  A short orientation regarding the culture, tradition and eco-tourism destinations within the province was also conducted by the local tourism office for the BK16 participants.

The following days witnessed a series of activities geared toward further development of the war-fighting skills of the BK16 participants which all falls under FTX.  All activities that include live fire and mortar exchanges takes place within the Fort Magsaysay Training grounds, impact areas that are anywhere near barangays (or even those relatively far) have been coordinated with the appropriate local government offices for the safety of all concerned.  A public announcement has also been released for the general public.

A more active involvement with regards to community relations was shown through the renovation of Bakod Bayan Elementary School and the Wreath–laying Ceremony done at Pangatian Shrine in Cabanatuan City, in commemoration of Araw ng Kagitingan and Philippine Veterans’ Week.

Representatives ofAllied Armed Forces from Japan, Cambodia, Brunei, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Timor-Leste, New Zealand and Canada came to Fort Magsaysay under the International Observers Program (IOP) to observe the ongoing bilateral exercises. The IOP aims to continue increased collaboration and participation in the BK to provide a platform for regional engagement and development of partner-nation military capabilities.

BK16 is the 32nd iteration of the exercise jointly conducted by the Philippines and the United State. It will last for 13 days, from April 4 to April 16. 7DPAO / MCAG

Philippine and U.S. Army troops during one of the sniper drills conducted at the 7th Infantry Division Firing Range.

Philippine soldiers check-out a Cartridge 81 mm high explosive device while U.S. soldiers show how to properly load the device (picture below) into the 81 MM Mortar during the BALIKATAN 2016 Filed Training Exercises being held at Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija.


A US-Black Hawk helicopterflies in to drop water at a target area during one of the disaster relief trainings conducted under BALIKATAN 2016.

A military officer observer under the International Observers Program (IOP) gamely shows the proper form during a Rope Course Exercise under BALIKATAN 2016.
BALIKATAN 2016 participants conduct a courtesy call to local government officials of Nueva Ecija and coordinated with them regarding the BK16 Exercises.
Representatives of the Armed Forces from Japan, Cambodia, Brunei, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Timor-Leste, New Zealand and Canada came to Fort Magsaysay under the International Observers Program (IOP) to observe the ongoing bilateral exercises under BALIKATAN 2016.

MILF: BDA director educates UBJP SouthMin on the political aspects of Islam

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Apr 13): BDA director educates UBJP SouthMin on the political aspects of Islam

An Aleem (Islamic scholar) member of the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) Board of Directors delivered a lecture on the political aspects of Islam to the key officers of the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) from Southern Mindanao (SouthMin) region geared towards strengthening the group through education of its party members.

“Islam is a total way of life,” Ustadz Abdulkadir Abdullah, BOD member of BDA said during the Training on Political Party Development held at the Sun City Suites in General Santos City on April 5-7, 2016.

The training was organized by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Institute for Autonomy and Governance and UBJP with the financial support from European Union.

“It has provided guidance in every sphere of life, from individual cleanliness, rules of trade to the structure and politics of the society,” he explained.

He said Islam can never be separated from social, political, or economic life, since religion provides moral guidance for every action that a person takes.

The Islamic scholar said, “God is the absolute sovereign in Islam, and is therefore the only Lord of heaven and earth.”

He said that God is the Ruler of the affairs of men in Islamic doctrine, thus, “God is the Supreme lawgiver, the Absolute Judge, and the Legislator who distinguishes right from wrong.”

“His is the Creation and Command,” Abdullah mentioned the 54th verse of the 7th chapter of the Holy Qur’an.

“God alone has the authority to make laws, determine acts of worship, decide morals, and set standards of human interaction and behaviour,” he explained.

The lecturer said that since God is the sole sovereign of human affairs, there is no distinction between religious and state authority.

He said that the ideal Islamic state is a community governed by law revealed by God. “The function of Islamic state is to provide security and order so that Muslims can carry out both their religious and worldly duties.

UBJP is the political party created by the MILF in preparation to its engagement to political exercises once the Bangsamoro autonomous government will be established.

The Philippine Government and the MILF signed in 2014 the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), a peace deal that provides the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by the Philippine Congress.

Once approved, the BBL will pave way for the creation of Bangsamoro autonomous government with more fiscal and political powers that will replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The proposed Bangsamoro law which the Philippine Congress failed to deliver under the Aquino administration is hoped to bring justice, peace and development to the Bangsamoro people.

The Bangsamoro political entity is not an Islamic state. The BBL was crafted attuned to the economic, social and cultural aspects of the Bangsamoro people.

BDA is the economic arm of the MILF. The agency has been engaged with development partners in providing projects to conflict affected areas of Mindanao.

MILF: UBJP SouthMin undergoes training on Strategic Thinking

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Apr 13): UBJP SouthMin undergoes training on Strategic Thinking

To further strengthen their organization through capability-building of party members, the key officers of the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) – Southern Mindanao (SouthMin) underwent Strategic Thinking Training held at T’boli Hotel in General Santos City on April 7-10, 2016.

The training was realized through the efforts of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD) and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC). It was funded by the European Union.

The participants acquired the strategic mechanisms to be employed to make a better plan towards achieving their organizational goals.

Lawyer Bong Montessa, CHD Country Director, handled the lectures and workshops. He introduced the TEC PISCO (Target, Expand, Contract, Purpose, Input, Strategy, Code, Incentive and Perception) approach.

He said that “the essence of power is politics and the essence of politics is power.”
“Many of us want change,” Montessa said and he cited the importance of having appropriate strategy to gain power.

The main facilitator also taught the participants the PMI (Plus, Minus, Interesting) approach in making plan of action for whatever endeavour the group may pursue.

BTC Chair Mohagher Iqbal who shared some inputs during the training said the Bangsamoro people should also think of “the long run and not only for today.”

He related the challenges faced by the peace process particularly the non-passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by the Philippine Congress.

Citing the importance to stay in the course of the peace process, Chairman Iqbal explained that the BBL is just one aspect of the path to attain lasting peace and development in Mindanao.

He also urged the participants to learn how to manage their emotions.

In 2014, the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and MILF inked the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, a peace truce that provides the passage of the BBL.

Once passed by the Philippine Congress, BBL will pave way for the establishment of autonomous Bangsamoro political entity that will replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The peace agreement also provides the creation of Bangsamoro Transition Authority to facilitate the transition from ARMM to Bangsamoro with a parliamentary system of governance.

In a recent training for UBJP SouthMin in the same town, UBJP Secretary-General, Sammy Almansoor, urged the party members to strive hard to develop their organization to become a political party that is “different” from the existing political parties in the country.

He reminded the party members that UBJP wants to be a genuine and principled political party.

3 Abu Sayyaf militants captured in Basilan

From the Philippine Star (Apr 13): 3 Abu Sayyaf militants captured in Basilan

The military continues its offensive operation against 70 to 80 members of Abu Sayyaf led by Isnilon Hapilon and the reportedly critically wounded Furuji Indama.

Government troops have captured three Abu Sayyaf militants as the military continued to close in on the terror group, said to be in defensive positions in the jungle of Tipo-Tipo, Basilan.
Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., designated ground operation spokesman, said the three militants were captured Tuesday.
“The three suspects, Abu Sayyaf members, were captured on the operational ground,” Tan said.
The names of the three were not made available as they were placed under tactical interrogation.
Meanwhile, the troops are cautiously advancing to the Abu Sayyaf positions.
Tan said there were clashes but described it as sporadic, adding that no casualty was monitored on the ground.
“The operation has been ongoing and there is no let-up. We are always careful in our advance because these remnants are already in defensive position,” Tan said.
About five battalions and additional companies of strike forces have been deployed in the offensive operation to pursue around 70 to 80 members of a group led by Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and the reportedly critically wounded Furuji Indama. Tan, however, could not confirm reports saying that Indama has died due to serious injuries.
He also declined to comment if the US-trained Light Reaction Company (LRC) was among the unit deployed.
“I cannot confirm nor deny if the enemy will know that they will swing tactics,” according to Tan.
But the military official said they have reserve forces that they could insert into the operation ground once needed.

Aquino: Basilan offensive major step in addressing terrorism

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 13): Aquino: Basilan offensive major step in addressing terrorism

Gov't is at war with Abu Sayyaf, and only the soldiers can fight them, President tells grieving widows

President Bengino Aquino III.   INQUIRER File Photo

President Bengino Aquino III. INQUIRER File Photo
President Aquino on Wednesday said that the government is “at war” with the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, a longstanding security problem that he would like to end even with only a little over two months left in his administration.

At a dialogue with the families of the soldiers who were killed in an encounter with the Abu Sayyaf on April 9 in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan, the Commander-in-Chief said “I want to end” the suffering caused by the Abu Sayyaf to so many people, and the country’s soldiers would have to be the ones to go to the battlefield to fight for peace and security.

“The Abu Sayyaf has been our problem for the longest time. They have brought suffering to so many lives. I want to end this,” President Aquino said in Filipino.
We are facing a war and our soldiers are the ones who are fighting the enemies of the country. Our soldiers are those in the frontlines who are securing peace in our land,” the President added.
In more ways than one, this was how the President explained to the grieving families why their loved ones gave up their own lives last April 9, ironically the day when the country commemorated the Fall of Bataan and the heroism of the Filipino and American soldiers during World War II.

President Aquino cited the bravery and the gallantry of the soldiers who died in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan over the weekend.

Eighteen soldiers were killed, the biggest single loss in an operation that the Armed Forces had suffered in recent history. More than 50 other soldiers were wounded.

President Aquino said that the military offensive in Tipo-Tipo were still going on as of Wednesday.  He called the offensive against the Abu Sayyaf “a major step in addressing terrorism” and ending the ruthlessness of the bandit group.

A family member, however, also asked the President why there was a high death toll in the encounter.

Armed Forces Chief of Staff Hernando Iriberri answered the family member’s question for the President.

Iriberri said the military would look into it. But any investigation would have to wait for the military operations in Tipo Tipo to end.  The soldiers who know what transpired on April 9 are still in the battlefield, according to Iriberri.

Four days after the debacle in Basilan, the President arrived in Zamboanga City on Wednesday and spent the whole morning in this city to pay his respects to one of the slain soldiers and visited the other wounded personnel confined at the Camp General Navarro Hospital at the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom).

Mr. Aquino landed at the Edwin Andrews Air Base (EAAB) at around 10 a.m. and proceeded to the wake of Corporal Rodelio Bangcairin at the latter’s home in Barangay Ayala.

The President then spent nearly an hour at the Camp General Navarro Hospital where he spoke with the wounded soldiers.

He was overheard trying to comfort one of the soldiers. With another soldier, the President was seen putting his hands on his neck, gesturing as if describing how he was shot in the neck during the 1989 coup d’etat against his mother, the late President Corazon Aquino.

Galvez relayed to the media the salient points in the President’s dialogue with the families, as it was a private meeting held at the Multipurpose Hall of the EAAB here.

All the President’s engagements here were off limits to journalists. The President also did not issue a public statement.

According to Galvez, the President opened and ended his dialogue with the families with an expression of sympathy for their loss.

A wife of a slain soldier asked the President how her son could follow in the footsteps of his father, according to Department of Defense spokesperson Peter Paul Galvez.

“The President responded to her by saying that he admired and saluted her mindset,” Galvez said.
Galvez said the President handed over to the families the checks from the Armed Forces.

The President also told the families that government would be ready to help them, but asked them to be specific in their requests so that government could respond to their needs quickly.

After meeting with the soldiers’ families, President Aquino had a brief working lunch at the EAAB before he proceeded to Laguindingan in Misamis Oriental for a ceremonial switch-on of a sitio electrification program.

The President then went to Cagayan de Oro City to campaign with administration standard-bearer Mar Roxas, vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo, and their candidates for senators.