Friday, April 22, 2016

Another tribal leader slain

From Tempo (Apr 23): Another tribal leader slain

BUTUAN CITY – Another tribal leader was gunned down Thursday by seven gunmen believed to be members of New People’s Army (NPA) at Purok 4, Sitio Sta. Cruz, Barangay Manila de Bugabos in Butuan City, police reported yesterday.

The victim, Jose P. Paragua, Sr., 57, known as “Datu Puti” in the Manobo tribe, is a member of the Tribal Communities in Mindanao (TRICOM) based in Agusan del Norte and Butuan City.

He sustained nine bullet wounds in the head and body and was declared dead on arrival at Butuan Medical Center here.

Senior Inspector Roland Orcullo of Butuan City Police Office Station 5 (BCPO-Station 5) said the victim was supervising the loading of his planted gmelina tree to a forward truck when seven unidentified gunmen on board three motorcycles arrived at 2:45 p.m. Thursday and shot the victim at close range.

After the shooting, the perpetrators fled towards Barangay Tungao at the southern part of this city.

Three of the companions of “Datu Puti” were not harmed during the incident. They claimed that the gunmen introduced themselves as NPA members before leaving the crime scene.

As of yesterday, BCPO-Station 5 has yet to determine the identities of the gunmen and the motive behind the killing.

At least seven tribal chieftains have already been killed in various areas in the region since last year, including Manobo tribal chieftain Loreto town Mayor Dario Otaza in Agusan del Sur, PRO 13 record shows.

Balikatan Exercise Highlights Territorial Defense and Multilateral Approach

From the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (Apr 20): Balikatan Exercise Highlights Territorial Defense and Multilateral Approach (By Renato Cruz de Castro)

On April 4, the annual Balikatan joint military exercise began in the Philippines, with China’s state media lambasting it as an example of how Manila is “involving outsiders in the territorial dispute in the South China Sea.”  Balikatan, meaning shoulder-to-shoulder in Tagalog, started as an annual exercise between Philippine and U.S. armed forces focused on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief operations and conventional warfare. But in recent years, it has become a multilateral event thanks to the involvement of the Australian Defense Force. This year’s joint exercise involved an estimated 5,000 troops from the United States, 3,500 from the Philippines, and 80 from Australia, down from the 11,740 combined troops that took part in Balikatan 2015. This year officers and service personnel took part in a single training scenario that took the form of three different events on the Philippine islands of Luzon, Panay, and Palawan.

Balikatan 2016 was significant for three reasons: its greater emphasis on territorial defense; the presence of three Japanese Maritime Defense Force (JMSDF) ships as observers; and the visit of U.S. secretary of defense Ashton Carter. Coincidentally, this year’s military exercise took place as Manila and Washington prepare for the rotational deployment of U.S. forces at five Philippine military bases under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

Historically, Balikatan exercises have been designed for various missions, including maritime security, territorial defense, humanitarian assistance, disaster mitigation, maritime law enforcement, and even environmental protection. This year’s military exercise heightened the territorial defense component, focused on improving the Armed Forces of the Philippine’s (AFP) capability for external defense and enhancing the two allies’ interoperability in maritime security and maintaining regional stability. The AFP tested newly acquired military materiel including FA-50 light combat aircraft, heavy landing craft (LCH), and M113 armored personnel carriers. The Philippine Air Force’s FA-50s trained with Hawker Hunters and A-10 Thunderbolts on air interception, interdiction, and ground support. The Philippine Navy’s LCHs joined a U.S. Navy dock landing ship in a maritime mobility exercise to enhance the two navies’ capability to respond to natural disasters.

The highlight of the Balikatan exercise was the deployment and test-firing of the U.S. Marine Corps’ M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) in Crow Valley on April 14.  This was the first time that this type of weapon system was used by the Marines in Balikatan and the first time it was deployed in the Pacific. With a maximum range of 186 miles (300 kilometers), the HIMARS is among the newest, most advanced mobile and land-based weapons in the Marine Corps’ arsenal. The U.S. military also deployed several air and land assets that supported Philippine and U.S. ground troops simulating retaking an oil-and-gas platform and launching an amphibious operation on a hypothetical South China Sea island.

This year’s exercise was also significant because of the presence of three JMSDF ships in the Philippines during the start of the military exercise. Two Japanese destroyers and a submarine arrived in Subic Bay on April 2 ahead of the start of the annual military exercise. Inside Subic Bay, the three Japanese ships joined seven U.S. Navy vessels that were docked in the port for Balikatan. The destroyers JS Ariake and JS Setogiri and the submarine JS Oyashio then participated in a series of confidence-building activities with the Philippine Navy. The three Japanese vessel did not take part in Balikatan but were invited to observe the exercise. This is an indication that Japan is interested in joining the annual military training exercise, and will probably participate in next year’s Balikatan. But the participation of the Japanese Self Defense Force in the 2017 exercise will only add to China’s trepidation that Balikatan is being used by the Philippines “to  involve outsiders”  in the South China Sea dispute.

Another first in this year’s Balikatan was the visit of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to observe the exercise. Carter is the first U.S. defense secretary to observe Balikatan in its 32 year history.  He observed the test firing of the HIMARS in Crow Valley and spent time onboard the USS John Stennis, alongside Philippine defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin, as the aircraft carrier transited the South China Sea. Carter also visited Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan, one of the five agreed locations where U.S. forces will be stationed on a rotational basis under EDCA. And in closing Balikatan, Carter announced that several U.S. military aircraft and helicopters would remain at Clark Air Base north of Manila. His presence during the exercise underscored the political significance of the Balikatan program for the two allies. U.S. Marine Lieutenant General John Toolan noted that Carter’s visit was intended to “reaffirm that the [security] relationship the U.S. have with the Philippines is rock solid.”

These three features of Balikatan 2016 reflect the changing nature of the Philippine-U.S. alliance in light of the heightened tensions generated by China’s expansion in the South China Sea. Although the alliance will still address non-traditional security challenges like natural disasters and terrorism, it is now being directed to maritime security and territorial defense. The participation of Australia, and possible inclusion of Japan next year, is an indication that other U.S. allies are being drawn into this geostrategic cauldron. It also highlighted that the Philippine-U.S. alliance will become more strategically relevant as the five agreed locations under EDCA enable the United States to revive its deterrent posture in the face of Chinese actions.

[Renato Cruz De Castro is a professor in the International Studies Department, De La Salle University, Manila, and the holder of the Charles Lui Chi Keung Professorial Chair in China Studies. He was the U.S. State Department ASEAN Research Fellow from the Philippines, and his expertise includes Philippine-U.S. security relations, Philippine defense and foreign policies, U.S. defense and foreign policies in East Asia, and International politics of East Asia.]

Search and Rescue Soldiers participate in Balikatan 2016

From the US Army Website (Apr 22): Search and Rescue Soldiers participate in Balikatan 2016

Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines demonstrate a rescue lift during an Urban Search and Rescue subject matter exchange with the Hawaii National Guard Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosive (CBRNE Enhanced.

A member of the Armed Forces of the Philippines performs a tower rappel during an Urban Search and Rescue subject matter exchange with the Hawaii National Guard CERFP team during Balikatan 2016, April 11, 2016, Camp Capinpin, Philippines.

Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines demonstrate a rescue lift during an Urban Search and Rescue subject matter exchange with the Hawaii National Guard CERFP team during Balikatan 2016, April 11, 2016, Camp Capinpin, Philippines.

Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines demonstrate a rescue lift during an Urban Search and Rescue subject matter exchange with the Hawaii National Guard CERFP team during Balikatan 2016, April 11, 2016, Camp Capinpin, Philippines.

Sgt. Jessie Jackola with the Hawaii National Guard CERFP shoring demonstration team discusses marking a 45 degree cut with the Armed Forces Philippines for Balikatan 2016, April 09, 2016, Camp Capinpin, Philippines.

CAMP CAPINPIN, Philippines -- Balikatan means shoulder-to-shoulder in the Philippines. That is the goal, the theme, and the point of a series of annual exercises that where held during April in the Philippines. Balikatan is a series of preparedness exercises that are staged through-out the country incorporating the Armed Forces of the Philippines, U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and the National Guard.

Hawaii National Guard Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Enhanced Response Force Package (CERF-P) team noncommissioned officer in charge, Sgt. 1st Class, Jason Kaaiakamanu stated, "Our role here is to show them (the AFP) our techniques, and procedures as far as what we do for search and extraction. Along those lines we know that they have a lot more natural disasters where they can use those techniques more then we do in Hawaii."

The Hawaii National Guard CERF-P's search and rescue team has been participating in Balikatan every year since 2011. The Hawaii National Guard supports Balikatan through the National Guard State Partnership Program with the aim of building capability across the disaster response forces of both countries. This year, the armed Forces of the Philippines and the Hawaii National Guard are conducting an urban search and rescue interoperability exercise during Balikatan at Camp Capinpin, Tanay, and Rizal.

During the events at Camp Capinpin, the search and rescue Soldiers from the Hawaii Army National Guard will be reviewing life saving techniques that will include rope rescue, shoring of walls and structures, confined space, breaching and lifting of concrete, patient packaging and decontamination principles. The event will culminate in an interoperability exercise which will test the techniques rehearsed during the week.

"Everything we demonstrate can be used in a natural disaster, depending on the scenario. If they have to go in to villages, or do rescues of mountain sides, it can all be incorporated in to what they have to do here on a yearly bases," said Kaaiakamanu. "It is good for us to come but we also have members of the AFP returning every year to refresh their skills and to help instruct the new students. It is about building relationships with the AFP."

One of the focuses of Balikatan is to build a coalition of rescue operations experts and journeymen who are versed in each others' standard operating practices so that in the event of a natural or man-made disaster there will be less confusion in the initial and follow on responses.

"Balikatan 2016 Urban Search and Rescue Field Training Exercise, gives more knowledge and experience to the organic personnel of the Philippine Army." said Philippine Army Major Ricardo Villaruel, 2016 Balikatan Field Training Exercise Liaison Officer "The Philippine Army also has a disaster response team in every unit they are here participating in the exercise. The capabilities brought by the Hawaii National Guard is very important."

The Philippines is no stranger to natural disasters, as they have been struck by multiple typhoons a year for the past few years, and are also prone to earthquakes, and tsunamis. These are the same kinds of disasters that Hawaii also potentially faces which is part of the reason Hawaii National Guard is assisting the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The National Guard State Partnership Program partners countries with National Guard from different states through out the country to help build coalitions and grow interoperability between forces while helping each other increase their individual knowledge and proficiency.

Farmers block Koronadal City to demand for relief subsidies

From the Philippine Star (Apr 22): Farmers block Koronadal City to demand for relief subsidies

Peasants from across South Cotabato province now picketing at the surroundings of the regional office in Koronadal City of the Department of Agriculture to demand food subsidies. Courtesy of the Notre Dame Broadcasting Corporation

Some 2,000 peasants on Monday picketed around the office of the Department of Agriculture (DA) in Koronadal City to demand for food rations to mitigate heavy crop losses due to the continuing drought.

The picketers first converged on Thursday night at one side of the national highway in Barangay Carpenter Hills south of Koronadal City and, subsequently, marched early Friday towards the city proper and established makeshift shelters in the periphery of DA’s Region 12 office there.

Policemen were immediately deployed in strategic spots around the areas where the farmers, many of them carrying placards bearing appeals for relief subsidies, positioned themselves.

More policemen trained in crowd control have also been fielded in the surroundings of the warehouse in Koronadal City of the National Food Authority to prevent possible intrusion by picketers.

“This could be a sequel of the Kidapawan City picket almost two weeks ago unfolding,” said an employee of another government agency whose office is located in a building nearby.

The groups from drought-stricken North Cotabato towns that picketed at Kidapawan, to dramatize their bid for government interventions in cushioning the impact of the dry spell since late November, blocked stretches of the Cotabato-Davao Highway for five days, prompting the police to disperse them in an operation that went haywire.

At least three farmers were reportedly killed in the incident, which also left more than 50 picketers and policemen injured.

Local officials in Koronadal City had called on the farmers now surrounding the DA-12 office not to resort to violence and agree to a peaceful dialogue with representatives of agencies that can help them.

Davao farmers camped outside DA to seek aid

From the Sun Star-Davao (Apr 21): Davao farmers camped outside DA to seek aid

OVER 200 farmers are now camped in front of the Department of Agriculture (DA) Davao Region in Davao City to demand the release of relief assistance that is due them.

Sheena Duazo, Bayan Secretary General for Davao Region, said government has made pronouncements already that it has released millions of pesos to drought stricken areas but until now, farmers have yet to receive these claims.

Farmers from Davao del Sur, Compostela Valley, Davao Del Norte and Davao Oriental is already on the 2nd day of their 3-day "Kampuhan" that will end Friday, April 22.

The Kampuhan, spearheaded by Anakpawis Partylist with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and Bayan in Southern Mindanao, is calling for justice to farmers who have long been suffering from the drought.

Duazo complained Davao City Police Office (DCPO) director Senior Superintendent Vicente Danao Jr.'s refused to allow the farmers to camp in the area and took away the tents that served as shield from protesting farmers.

"Humanitarian consideration nalang, dili ipatanggal ang atop sa among ginasilongan ug pasagdan mi nga malinawon mi nga mag-protesta diri hantod ugma (Do not take our shelter for humanitarian consideration and leave us to our peaceful protest until tomorrow)," Duazo said.

Some 100 members of the Special Weapons and Tactics (Swat) are also setting camp in the area since Wednesday evening, Duazo said.

DA-Davao Director for Research and Regulations Dr. Rafael Mercado, meanwhile, belied the claim of the group. He said the department has been intensifying its campaign in the region to mitigate the effects of the El Niño.

Various interventions for different provinces in the region were distributed like open-surface pumps, rice and corn seeds, mongo beans, peanuts among others seedlings.

The total cost of the assisted interventions reached P31.8 million with 19 thousand beneficiary farmers.

Cloud seeding operation was also undertaken to trigger rainfall, he said.

Mercado said the effectiveness of the procedure is evident to previous rainfalls that the people in drought-stricken areas have experienced.

Davao del Norte province and even Davao City experienced great rainfalls for the past few days, and partly Davao Del Sur as well, Mercado said.

"Kung taga Davao Region ka talaga, ma-obserbahan natin na since nung April 4, meron na tayong ulan-ulan. That was the launching of our cloud seeding operation," Mercado said.

Farmers, militant groups in standoff with police in Koronadal

From the Sun Star-Davao (Apr 22): Farmers, militant groups in standoff with police in Koronadal

KORONADAL CITY (Updated) -- A standoff occurred Friday, April 22, between members of the Philippine National Police and militant groups who have been staging a protest in front of the agriculture office in the city.

Authorities earlier placed Koronadal under heightened alert due to the protest actions planned by farmers and members of militant groups coming from parts of Soccsksargen (Region 12).

Soccsksargen is composed of North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato and Sarangani provinces, as well as the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato.

South Cotabato Governor Daisy Avance-Fuentes said Friday that she has directed local police units to properly secure various strategic areas in the city and ensure that the protest actions would be peaceful and orderly.

Around 700 protesters, led by the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), converged in front of a local hotel here on Thursday night, April 21, for the protest actions.

The group, which is initially seeking a dialogue with the Department of Agriculture (DA) in Soccsksargen, transferred Friday morning to the national highway in front of the DA regional office in Barangay Carpenter Hill.

DA’s main office building, which was only completed late last year, is situated at the site but their personnel have yet to fully transfer to the facility.

“We will not stop these protests but we will make sure that there will be no repeat of the Kidapawan City incident,” said Fuentes.

The governor was referring to the earlier bloody dispersal of protesters in Kidapawan City that resulted in the death of three people and wounding of more than a hundred others.

The protesters, who were led by members of Bayan and its allied groups, sought for the immediate release of rice stocks for farmers and other sectors who were affected by the onslaught of the continuing dry spell spawned by the El Niño phenomenon.

Ignacio Adrias, KMP regional spokesperson, told reporters that the protest actions mainly focus on calls for the government to fast-track the distribution of rice to farmers affected by the El Niño.

“We will not stop until our demands are met,” he said.

Adrias, who said they will mobilize at least 2,000 protesters, said they are initially planning to stay in the area for five days.

Fuentes clarified that the protesters are mostly from other areas in Soccsksargen and not from the province.

She said organizers had convinced some farmers from parts of the province to join the mobilization but decided to return home early Friday following a dialogue with them.

“About 95 percent of these protesters are from outside the province,” she said.

The governor appealed to local farmers and other residents who are reeling from the impact of the El Niño to remain calm and assured that the relief assistance of the local government will reach them soon.

Army major's body found in Samal

From the Sun Star-Davao (Apr 22): Army major's body found in Samal

THE missing military diver who disappeared during a morning dive with his comrades off Angel’s Cove at the Island Garden City of Samal last Saturday, April 16, has finally been found.

“Yes. Confirmed na,” was the very short reply of Eastern Mindanao Command commander General Rey Leonardo B. Guerrero to a text query by Sun.Star Davao Friday late afternoon after learning that a cadaver was found in general the area of Angel’s Cove by the search and retrieval team.

“Ayusin muna natin yung remains. Panacan dadalhin initially. Will provide media wid details pagbalik ng recovery team. Pagpaalam muna namin sa family,” Guerrero texted when asked where the remains will be brought.

Sources, however said, that the body was located around 200 feet deep, 1.8 kilometers away from where the divers originally went down last April 16.

Further information said the body was located using a remote-controlled sonar.

A team of 11 divers from the Eastmincom went on a dive at around 6:40 a.m., last April 16, including the army major whose family had asked that his identify be withheld.

The army major failed to surface after the dive. A search and rescue operation was initiated first among the soldiers right after.

By Sunday, April 17, the search and rescue operations was already composed of divers from the Philippine Army, the Philippine Coast Guard, the Philippine Navy, the Maritime Police, the Bureau of Fire Protection, and civilian volunteers.

The search and rescue was converted to search and retrieval by Tuesday, three days after.

Soldiers, NPA clash in Sultan Kudarat

From the Sun Star-Davao (Apr 22): Soldiers, NPA clash in Sultan Kudarat

ANOTHER clash between the government soldiers and members of the New People's Army (NPA) took place in Sultan Kudarat on Thursday afternoon.

The soldiers from the 39th Infantry Battalion were checking on the reported presence of NPA at Sitio Bulol Lomot, Barangay Datalblao, Columbio, Sultan Kudarat around 2:30 p.m. on April 21, 2016.

A firefight occured when they met with some 10 members of the NPA.

The rebel group immediately fled when they got the chance, leaving behind their dead member with an M16 Armalite rifle.

10th Infantry Division spokesperson Captain Rhyan Batchar, in a statement on Friday, bared that the fleeing NPA rebels were believed to have suffered more casualties as bloodstains were seen in several areas of their location at the encounter site.

"The dead body of the unidentified male ALG member was turned over to proper authorities. No soldier was hurt in the incident," he said.

7 Marines wounded in Sulu encounter

From the Philippine Star (Apr 22): 7 Marines wounded in Sulu encounter

Forces from the Special Operations Command 10 and 62nd Marine Company battled the Abu Sayyaf led by Hairullah Asbang at around 11 a.m. at the vicinity of Barangay Tugas. File photo

At least seven marines were wounded on Friday in an encounter against the Abu Sayyaf in the hinterlands of Sulu, the military said.
The hour-long encounter happened during a search and rescue operation for the kidnap victims of the terror group.
Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesman of Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said that specialized forces from the Special Operations Command 10 and 62nd Marine Company battled the Abu Sayyaf  led by Hairullah Asbang at around 11 a.m. at the vicinity of Barangay Tugas, a mountainous village in Patikul town.
Tan said there were also casualties from the Abu Sayyaf but could not immediately determine the figure as the terror group retreated into the ragged terrain and forest lush.
He added that there was no immediate sighting of any hostages during the encounter.
The encounter sparked as the military intensified the search and rescue operation to avert the Abu Sayyaf from harming any of its captives following its ultimatum that will lapse on Monday.  
They are demanding P300 million each for the Samal captives which include Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, and a Filipino woman named Marites Flor.
Aside from the four captives, the Abu Sayyaf is also believed to have abducted a Dutch national, 14 Indonesians, four Malaysians, a Chinese woman, and six Filipinos.
Tan said that after the encounter the seven wounded Marines were airlifted and brought to Camp Navarro General Hospital (CNGH) in this city for treatment.

Miranda is acting AFP chief (Photo)

From Rappler (Apr 22): Miranda is acting AFP chief

(2nd UPDATE) Lieutenant General Glorioso Miranda takes over the AFP in an acting capacity because of the constitutional ban on presidential appointments   

CHANGE OF COMMAND. President Benigno S. Aquino III (middle) presides over the Change of Command Ceremony involving outgoing AFP Chief General Hernando Iriberri (left) and acting AFP Chief Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda on April 22, 2016. Photo by Joseph Vidal/Malacañang Photo Bureau

CHANGE OF COMMAND. President Benigno S. Aquino III (middle) presides over the Change of Command Ceremony involving outgoing AFP Chief General Hernando Iriberri (left) and acting AFP Chief Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda on April 22, 2016. Photo by Joseph Vidal/Malacañang Photo Bureau
Lieutenant General Glorioso Miranda assumed his new task as acting chief of the 120,000-strong Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Friday, April 22.
Miranda, the AFP vice chief, assumed the designation at the change of command ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo on Friday morning that was keynoted by President Benigno Aquino III.

Miranda takes over the post left by General Hernando Irriberi, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 56 that day. Irriberi assumed command of the AFP less than a year ago.

In his speech, Aquino explained that he is constitutionally barred from appointing a new AFP chief, which is why Miranda is only taking over the AFP in an acting capacity, being the AFP vice chief of staff.

"Ngayon nga po, bagaman hindi na tayo makakapagtalaga ng Chief of Staff dahil sa mga pamantayan ng Saligang Batas, tiwala pa rin tayo na ang papalit kay General Iriberri ay maipagpapatuloy ang maganda niyang nasimulan, sa nalalabing mga buwan ng ating termino. Magiging Acting Chief of Staff si Lieutenant General Glorioso Miranda, na kilala sa pagiging mapanuri at maparaan bilang strategist at sundalo," he said.

(While I cannot appoint a Chief of Staff because of the constitutional prohibition, I am confident that the successor of General Irriberi will continue the good things that he had started, in the remaining months of my term. Lieutenant General Glorioso Miranda, who is known as a thorough strategist and soldier, will be the Acting Chief of Staff.)

Section 15, Article VII of the Constitution provides: "Two months immediately before the next presidential elections and up to the end of his term, a President or Acting President shall not make appointments, except temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety."

Miranda, Irriberi's mistah at the PMA Matikas Class of 1983, was former commander of the AFP's Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom).

Miranda is a bemedalled Scout Ranger and Paratrooper who was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Star, 4 Distinguished Service Stars, and 4 Gold Cross Medals.
He hails from San Fernando, La Union.

Irriberi is the 6th and last AFP chief to be appointed by Aquino. Former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had 11 chiefs of staff in her 9 years in office. (READ: Fixed term for AFP chief: Why it's needed)


In his speech, Miranda acknowledged the challenges faced by the AFP as he took its helm, among them, the conduct of peaceful, orderly, and credible elections on May 9.

The acting AFP chief assumed the command of the military 17 days before the elections.

"Our country is nearing one of its finest moments, national and local elections a few days from now. Your AFP is committed to achieving orderly and peaceful conduct of this coming elections. As oftenlly said, the AFP will remain apolitical and stretch its means to contribute to this end," Miranda said.

He also cited continuing threats to peace in the Southern Philippines, and "disturbances" to freedom of navigation in the country's Exclusive Economic Zone.

"For this time to steer the helm, I thank the President and Commander-in-Chief Benigno Aquino III for his leap of faith in the face of pressing challenges on many fronts," Miranda said.

Miranda also honored his predecessor: "I think there is no more thorough or harder working AFP chief of staff than General Irriberi. I cannot remember anyone who ran faster or sounded better or still looked like Superman until the very last day of his retirement."

Miranda assumed temporary AFP leadership as the Philippines continued to face various external and internal challenges, including the dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq & Syria (also known as ISIS, IS, ISIL, or Da'esch). The AFP has downplayed the latter.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the for the deadly April 9 clash in Basilan that left 18 soldiers and 5 militants dead, but the Philippine military has remained skeptical about the claim.

Miranda will reach the mandatory retirement age of 56 on October 8, 2017.

Larawan ng 2 “spy” na pinugutan ng jihadist, inilabas ng ISIS

From the Mindanao Examiner (Apr 21): Larawan ng 2 “spy” na pinugutan ng jihadist, inilabas ng ISIS (Photograph of 2 "spies" who were beheaded by (Filipino) jihadists, released by ISIS)

LANAO DEL SUR – Inilabas ng mga jihadists sa ISIS channel ang brutal na pagpatay nito sa dalawang magkapatid na lalaki na kabilang sa 6 na dinukot sa Lanao del Sur, isa sa 5 lalawigan ng magulong Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Sa naturang mga larawan, makikita sina Salvador Hanobas, alias Tado; at Makol Hanobas, alias Macky, na nakaluhod at may piring ang mga mata at suot ang kulay orange na damit tulad ng mga bihag ng ISIS sa Syria, habang nakapaligid ang mga maskaradong jihadists.

Ipinakita rin ng mga ito ang pugot na ulo ng magkapatid sa naturang propaganda. Pinakawalan ng grupo ang 4 – Julieto Hanobas, Alfredo Anoos, Gabriel Permites at Adones Mendez – na pawing mga sawmill operators at kasamahan nina Salvador at Makol na inakusahang ng mga jihadists sa ilalim ni Abdullah Maute alias Abu Hasan – na siya rin nasa likod ng madugong atake sa bayan ng Butig nitong buwan lamang.

Noong nakaraang buwan, pinugutan ng ulo ng grupong Ansarul Khilafah ang isang lalaki na pinaghinalaang rin spy ng pulisya. Nadakip umano ang di-pa nakikilalang lalaki na umano’y taga-General Santos City habang nagiikot sa ilang mga barangay sa Sarangani.

Naglabas pa ng video ang ISIS sa karumal-dumal na pagpatay sa 43-anyos na biktimang Kristiyano ito. “This jāsūs (spy) was roaming and sniffing around the area of the Ansaru’l Khilafah Philippines in Saranggani Province,” pahayag pa ng ISIS.

Ang Ansarul Khilafah – na karamihan ay nakabase sa lalawigan ng Maguindanao at Lanao del Sur sa Autonomous Region – ay naunang nagpahayag ng suporta sa ISIS noong nakaraang taon. Kaalyado nito ang Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters at ilang mga commanders ng Moro Islamic Liberation Front at kabilang sa mga miyembro nito ay pawing mga Indonesian at Malaysian jihadists.

Family members of Abu Sayyaf hostages appeal for help

From the Borneo Post Online (Apr 22): Family members of Abu Sayyaf hostages appeal for help

Family members of the hostages appealing for help.

Family members of the hostages appealing for help

Despair is setting in for the families of the four Malaysian hostages held captive by Abu Sayyaf as they cannot afford to pay their ransom.

Last Monday (Apr 18), one of the hostages, Wong Teck Kang, made a call to his father, Wong Chee Ming, telling him to prepare the ransom money in exchange for their safety.

According to Chee Ming, the money had to be converted into Philippine pesos and delivered to the middlemen who would transfer it to the militants in exchange for their children’s lives.

“It has been 22 days since our children are abducted and to date, we are not getting any form of help or any kind of statement from the relevant authorities with regards to the safety of our children. This is a very desperate wait,” a statement issued by the family members said.

The family members said they had also sought advice from the prime minister through the help of Bintulu MP Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing and had also sought the advice from Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem through the arrangement of Second Finance Minister Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh’s assistance.

“However, until today, we have not heard of anything from the government on the progress or whether there are any negotiations going on with the kidnappers.”

On April 2, four Malaysian seamen, all from Sibu – Wong Teck Kang, 35, and his brother Teck Chii, 29, Johnny Lau, 21 and Wong Hung Sing, 23, – were kidnapped by the eight Abu Sayyaf gunmen who boarded their tugboat about 100km from Tawau.

Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda replaces Iriberri as acting AFP chief (Photo/Limited Bio Data)

From CNN Philippines (Apr 22): Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda replaces Iriberri as acting AFP chief

Lieutenant General Glorioso Miranda is now the acting chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), replacing Gen. Hernando Iriberri, who steps down on Friday (April 22).

Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda assumed as acting Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff on Friday (April 22) after Gen. Hernando Iriberri bowed out of service.

Iriberri had to step down immediately because he has reached the mandatory retirement age of 56. He retired exactly on his 56th birthday.  

With the appointment ban in place due to the election season, Miranda as vice chief of staff automatically assumed the post as the highest military officer. 

President Benigno Aquino III was present during Iriberri’s retirement ceremony in Camp Aguinaldo on Friday. He said he is confident Miranda will continue Iriberri’s program for peaceful elections.
 Aquino added he is blessed to be commander-in-chief of an army that has competent leaders.

Irriberi and Miranda are both from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) “Matikas” Class of 1983.

On Friday, Miranda urged the soldiers to ensure clean and peaceful elections, maintain national peace, and further modernize the armed forces.

Related: AFP, PNP vow to remain non-partisan

Who is Lt. Gen. Miranda?

Miranda hails from San Fernando, La Union.

He finished command trainings in the United Kingdom and Singapore, and has a Master’s Degree in National Security and Business Administration.

Prior to serving as vice chief of staff in March, he was the commanding general of the Northern Luzon Command from August 2015 to March 2016.

In 2015, he was the commander of the AFP’s 7th Infantry Division based in Nueva Ecija, after being Camp Aguinaldo commander.

Miranda is a bemedalled scout ranger and paratrooper, and an infantry and intelligence officer.

He has received several awards: a Distinguished Conduct Star, four Distinguished Service Stars, and four Gold Cross Medals.

He commanded the 25th Infantry Battalion, 1002nd Brigade, which was among the units that fought in the government’s all-out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation front (MILF) in Central Mindanao in 2000.

Miranda was instrumental in the capture of dozens of MILF camps, including Camp Abubakar, the MILF headquarters.

Army, PNP: We do not negotiate with lawless groups

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 21): Army, PNP: We do not negotiate with lawless groups

The Philippine Army and the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Davao region reiterated here yesterday their position not to negotiate with any lawless groups operating in the area and are intensifying rescue operations for the abducted police officers.

In the regular AFP-PNP press conference held here on Wednesday, Davao region police director Chief Supt. Manuel Gaerlan said they are now working to rescue Police Chief Inspector Leonardo Tarungoy, the police chief of Paquibato District and police officers PO3 Rosenie Cabuenas, PO3 Rudolf Pacete, PO2 Neil Arellano and PO3 Abdul Azis Ali.

The five were forcibly taken by the communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Barangay Mapula, Paquibato District this city last Saturday.

NO NEGOTIATIONS – Davao region police director Chief Supt. Manuel Gaerlan (left), together with 10th ID chief information officer Captain Rhyan Batchar (right) and TF-Davao deputy commander Col. George Joel Lalaquil (center) reiterate during the regular AFP-PNP press conference on Wednesday their position that the AFP and the PNP will not negotiate with lawless groups and that the joint pursuit operations to rescue the five PNP officers abducted last April 16 will continue. (Alexander D. Lopez)
NO NEGOTIATIONS – Davao region police director Chief Supt. Manuel Gaerlan (left), together with 10th ID chief information officer Captain Rhyan Batchar (right) and TF-Davao deputy commander Col. George Joel Lalaquil (center) reiterate during the regular AFP-PNP press conference on Wednesday their position that the AFP and the PNP will not negotiate with lawless groups and that the joint pursuit operations to rescue the five PNP officers abducted last April 16 will continue. (Alexander D. Lopez)

10th Infantry (Agila) Division chief information officer Captain Rhyan Batchar reported that another encounter erupted between the pursuing government troopers and the lawless groups on Tuesday afternoon in the same area.

The soldiers were able to recover another dead body of suspected NPA rebels and two fragmentation grenades in the encounter site.

“Four people were already killed in the pursuit operations,” Batchar stressed, adding that intelligence reports also revealed the merging of NPA forces in Paquibato and those from Compostela Valley area.

A soldier, a militiaman and an unidentified NPA rebel were killed during the pursuit operations last Monday in Barangay Lumiad, Paquibato. The NPA rebels also attacked a military detachment in Barangay Salapawan also in Paquibato last Saturday that resulted in the wounding of a militiaman and a civilian.
Gaerlan said the residents in the area called the Paquibato police for assistance but they were abducted along the way by heavily armed rebels.

“They were detained against their will,” Gaerlan said.

The families of the abducted officers and other concerned groups may initiate their own negotiations for their release, he

US aircraft conducts 1st maritime situational awareness flight in Clark

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 22): US aircraft conducts 1st maritime situational awareness flight in Clark

Four A-10C "Thunderbolt" IIs and two HH-60G "Pave Hawks" conducted their first maritime situational awareness flight out of Clark Air Base in Pampanga last April 19, the US Embassy in Manila said.

The aircraft are part of the US Pacific Command’s Air Contingent deployed to Clark Air Base.

The deployment of the aircraft, which have remained behind in the Philippines after participating in "Balikatan" 2016, will include conducting operations such as air and maritime domain awareness, personnel recovery, combating piracy, and helping to assure that all nations have access to air and sea domains throughout the region in accordance with international law.

All operations and deployments are planned and executed with the consent and cooperation of the Philippine government.

The maritime situational awareness operation took the A-10s and HH-60s through international airspace to the west of Luzon.

Missions such as this one promote transparency and safety of movement in international waters and airspace, and showcase the US commitment to ally and partner nations as well as to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region’s continued stability.

“Inter-operability with the Philippine military is at the forefront of our mission,” Air Contingent head Col. Larry Card said.

“The standup of the Air Contingent promotes this collective focus as we build upon our already strong alliance, and reaffirm our commitment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.”

All personnel in this deployment are airmen assigned to various Pacific Air Forces bases, and include aircrew, maintainers, logistics and support personnel.

Miranda still honored despite acting AFP chief designation

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 22): Miranda still honored despite acting AFP chief designation

Despite being named as Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief in acting capacity, Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda said that he feels honored to take the reins of the military at "a critical point" in the country's political transition.

"On this note, I start my tour in an acting capacity, honored to be tasked to take the reins at this critical point of our political transition, but humbled by the burden of the work and the responsibility which is more than any major unit commander can take or any individual can bear," he added.

The political transition Miranda is referring is the incoming May 9 presidential elections.

The same polls also prevented the appointment of a new AFP chief after Gen. Hernando DCA Iriberri formally stepped down Friday after reaching the mandatory military retirement age of 56.

"It is consoling to be taking charge with a roadmap already made, with the command thrusts already set. And it is heartening to feel that for anything that my service may mean, the whole AFP stands by this arrangement," he added.

And with this setup, Miranda pledged to full the AFP's mandate.

"For this reason, let me reiterate the obvious: All legal orders and instructions shall remain in force and in effect unless otherwise rescinded," he added.

Prior appointment as acting AFP chief, Miranda assumed the post of AFP vice chief-of-staff last month.

Prior to this appointment, Miranda was the head of the Tarlac City-based Northern Luzon Command.

He also commanded the Nueva Ecija-based 7th Infantry Division and General Headquarters and Headquarters Service Command at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Miranda is a member of Philippine Military Academy Class of 1983, the same class as Iriberri.

Acting AFP chief orders all military members to comply with directives securing May 9 polls

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 22): Acting AFP chief orders all military members to comply with directives securing May 9 polls

As he formally assumes command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) albeit in an acting capacity, Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda ordered all officers and enlisted personnel to comply with the directives issued to ensure the coming May 9 elections.

“As I emphasized earlier, let us secure the conditions that would lead to the conduct of a free, orderly, peaceful and credible 2016 national and local elections,” he added.

The same directives also calls for the 125,000-strong AFP to remain apolitical and non-partisan.

As this develops, Miranda said operations against rebel and terrorist groups in Mindanao would continue until all these threats were neutralized.

These groups are believed to be responsible for a series of kidnapping incidents and bloody clashes in the region.

“Around the countryside, particularly in our southern territories, we will relentlessly pursue undesirable elements that continue to sow terror among our peace-loving citizens, those who disturb the balance that provide the platform for economic growth and development,” he said.

The acting AFP chief also thanked President Aquino for supporting the AFP modernization program, which led to many completed procurement under newly-retired Gen. Hernando DCA Iriberri’s term.

It was during Iriberri’s nine months that the two supersonic FA-50PH lead-in fighter jets and new combat helicopters were delivered to the Philippine Air Force, the arrival of 100 armored personnel carriers for the Philippine Army and three landing craft heavies (LCHs) for the Philippine Navy.

But Miranda said equipment did not automatically translate to capability as there was still the need to improve capability acquisition and resourcing.

He added that the AFP should expand its modernization in the realm of international defense and security engagements.

Miranda named acting AFP chief

From Update.Ph (Apr 22): Miranda named acting AFP chief  


Armed Forces of the Philippines vice chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda was named acting military chief after the retirement of Gen. Hernando Iriberri Friday.

Miranda is a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1983. He is a classmate or “mistah” of Iriberri. The latter stepped down after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 56.

However, due to the election ban, there will be no immediate replacement for Iriberri, hence Miranda’s acting AFP chief designation.

Miranda assumed the post of AFP vice chief-of-staff last month. Prior to this appointment, Miranda was the head of the Tarlac City-based Northern Luzon Command.

He also commanded the Nueva Ecija-based 7th Infantry Division and General Headquarters and Headquarters Service Command at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Indonesia fears piracy surge on busy shipping route could lead to ‘new Somalia’

From the Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide (Apr 22): Indonesia fears piracy surge on busy shipping route could lead to ‘new Somalia’

Indonesia fears piracy on a busy shipping route along its maritime border with the Philippines could hit levels seen in Somalia unless security is tightened, its chief security minister said on Thursday, following a spate of kidnappings.

The route lies on major shipping arteries that analysts say carry $40 billion worth of cargo each year and is taken by fully laden supertankers from the Indian Ocean that cannot use the crowded Malacca Strait waterway.

For the first time, concerns over the rising tide of maritime attacks by suspected Islamist militants are disrupting coal trade between the Southeast Asian neighbours, with two Indonesian coal ports suspending shipments to the Philippines.

Up to 18 Indonesians and Malaysians have been taken captive in three attacks on tugboats in Philippine waters along the route, by groups suspected of ties to the al-Qaeda linked Abu Sayyaf militant network.

Abu Sayyaf, a small but violent group, which has posted videos on social media pledging allegiance to Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, has demanded 50 million pesos ($1.1 million) to free the Indonesian crew.

“We don’t want to see this become a new Somalia,” Indonesian chief security minister Luhut Pandjaitan told reporters, referring to the southern Philippine waters of the Sulu Sea, where the abductions took place.

Piracy near Somalia’s coast has subsided in the last few years, mainly due to shipping firms hiring private security details and the presence of international warships.

The foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines will meet in Jakarta to discuss the possibility of “joint patrols in order to secure the passage from Indonesia to the Philippines,” Pandjaitan said.

He did not give a date, but said the armed forces chiefs of the three countries would meet in Jakarta on May 3.

Authorities at two Indonesian coal ports have blocked departures of ships for the Philippines and more suspensions are expected, said Pandu Sjahrir, chairman of the Indonesian Coal Mining Association, and a director of Jakarta-listed coal producer Toba Bara Sejahtera.

“Some people cancelled shipments from both sides,” Sjahrir told Reuters.
A company with a fleet of 40 dry cargo ships saw a silver lining, however.

“If Indonesia bans tugs and barges from exporting coal then it will have to travel in larger cargo ships, of 32,000 to 64,000 tonnes,” said Khalid Hashim, managing director of Bangkok-listed Precious Shipping.

“All this would of course be beneficial for shippers like us.”

Indonesia, the world’s largest thermal coal exporter, supplies 70 percent of the Philippines’ coal import needs, which Indonesian government data shows stood at about 15 million tonnes, worth around $800 million, last year.

The Kuala Lumpur-based Piracy Reporting Centre has warned ships sailing in the Celebes Sea and northeast of the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo to stay clear of small suspicious vessels.

The Somali piracy outbreak at the end of the previous decade cost the shipping industry billions of dollars, as pirates paralysed shipping lanes, kidnapped hundreds of seafarers and seized vessels more than 1,000 miles from the coast.

Joint sea patrols likely after suspected Abu Sayyaf kidnappings

From the Straits Times (Apr 22): Joint sea patrols likely after suspected Abu Sayyaf kidnappings

Malaysian, Indonesian and Philippine officials to meet over suspected Abu Sayyaf abductions

The four Malaysians said to have been kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf on April 1. "Victor Troy" in the sign refers to a Facebook account under the name "Victor Troy Poz", where the image was first loaded. Police are investigating the account's owner.

The four Malaysians said to have been kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf on April 1. "Victor Troy" in the sign refers to a Facebook account under the name "Victor Troy Poz", where the image was first loaded. Police are investigating the account's owner.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Foreign ministers and armed forces commanders from Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines will meet in Jakarta on May 3 to discuss the possibility of joint patrols in the waters of north-east Borneo island, which saw three reported kidnappings at sea in just over three weeks.

Fourteen Indonesian and four Malaysian seamen were abducted from their boats by gunmen believed to have ties with the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in the past three weeks. Formed in 1991, the group is known for extortion, kidnapping, beheadings and bombings.

Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan said more needs to be done to deter piracy in the seas between southern Philippines and north Sabah before the kidnappings become a booming business like in Somalia at the end of the previous decade.

"We don't want this area to be a new Somalia," he told reporters yesterday. "We know the Philippines and Malaysia have an old (border dispute) issue about Sabah. We encourage them to calm down. Now we have a common problem."

The Somalia piracy outbreak cost the shipping industry billions of dollars, Reuters reported, when pirates paralysed shipping lanes, kidnapped hundreds of seafarers and seized vessels more than 1,600km from the Somali coast.
The seas off Borneo lie on major shipping arteries that analysts say carry US$40 billion (S$54 billion) worth of cargo each year and are taken by fully laden supertankers from the Indian Ocean that cannot use the crowded Malacca Strait waterway, Reuters said.
The kidnappings at sea represent a new tactic by the Abu Sayyaf. It previously raided tourist islands in Sabah to grab foreign tourists or locals for ransom. But the kidnappings have dwindled in the past year after Malaysia tightened security along 1,400km of the Sabah coast.

Mr Luhut said the officials from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines are to meet to discuss the possibility of "joint patrols in order to secure the passage from Indonesia to the Philippines".

The Indonesian navy yesterday instructed all commercial vessels to avoid the piracy-prone waters around the southern Philippines and disclosed that it had stepped up patrols "up to the exclusive economic zone border with the Philippines and Malaysia".

In the latest abduction case on April 15, four Indonesian sailors were taken at gunpoint as their vessel was en route to North Kalimantan after unloading 8,000 tonnes of coal in the Philippine island of Cebu. Two weeks earlier, on April 1, four Malaysians were taken while they were on a barge, after delivering logs to Manila. And around March 29, 10 Indonesians were grabbed from a tugboat and a barge. The hostage-takers did not seize the tugboats or the barges.

Mr Luhut said the Indonesia-Philippines passage is important because power plants in the Philippines source 60 per cent of their thermal coal supply from Indonesia.

Last week, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Singapore and Thailand should be "observers" to the joint-patrol discussions. He also mentioned Brunei as a potential participant.

Separately yesterday, the navy chiefs of Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand, and Malaysia's deputy chief of navy gathered at Changi Naval Base for the Malacca Straits Patrol's (MSP) 10th-anniversary commemorative events. The MSP helped to raise security in the Strait of Malacca and Strait of Singapore.

Civilian help sought to end kidnappings

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 22): Civilian help sought to end kidnappings


The military is pleading for civilian help in the fight against a rash of kidnappings in western Mindanao and the continued captivity of several victims taken as early as 2010, asking people to report the presence of captors or captives in their communities.

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which has a peace deal with the government, offered to help but would move only with government permission, according to a ranking MNLF leader.

Dr. Samsula J. Adju, chair of the MNLF’s Global Roving Diplomacy and Peace Advocacy, said the group was willing “to engage.”

Adju said the MNLF was willing to negotiate with the Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist organization, to end the hostage crisis “without bloodshed and no ransom.”

The MNLF, said Adju, wants to help in the safe release of Indonesian hostages. Indonesia played a key role in the peace agreement between the MNLF and the Philippine government in 1996.

Key signs

Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, said it was not difficult to determine whether an individual or group of people is a kidnap victim.
“They speak foreign languages,” said Tan. He said some of the victims, like the 14 Indonesians and four Malaysians recently kidnapped by the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, “may look like Filipinos.”

Tan said civilians should report to authorities unusual activities in their communities or the presence of “unfamiliar faces.”

Tan said aside from villagers, local government officials also have an important role in helping locate kidnappers and their victims.

Local officials, he said, should take the lead in turning their communities into “hostile places for these bandits.”

Tan issued an appeal as the military prepared for a major offensive against crime groups in Sulu province.

“We cannot provide details,” Tan said.

“But as we speak, troops are already preparing there and this is because of the kidnapping where the captives were reportedly brought to Sulu,” he added.

No ransom

Retno Marsudi, Indonesian foreign minister, said in a statement released to Indonesian media covering the kidnapping here that the Indonesian government adheres to the no ransom policy and has no role in negotiations with the Abu Sayyaf.

The 14 Indonesian captives had been identified as Peter Tonson, Julian Philip, Alvian Elvis Peti, Mahmud, Surian Syah, Surianto, Wawan Saputria, Bayu Oktavianto, Reynaldi, Wendi Raknadian, Moch.  Ariyanti Misnan, Lorens M.P.S, Dede Irfan Hilmi and Samsir.

The four Malaysians, taken from Sarawak on April 1, are Wong Teck Pang, Wong Hung Song, Wong Teck Chi and Johnny Lau Jung Hien.

The other kidnap victims in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf are Japanese treasure hunter Toshio Ito, who was kidnapped in Pangutaran, Sulu, in July 2010; Dutch bird watcher Ewold Horn, who was taken captive in February 2012 in Panglima Sugala, Tawi-Tawi province; Chinese national Yahong Tan Lim, who was kidnapped in Isabela City in May 2014; Filipino fish traders Hajan Perong and Joshuan Bani, who were kidnapped in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, on June 2, 2014; Filipino businessman Dennis Cabadunga, who was taken in Labason, Zamboanga del Norte province, in May 2015; Canadians Robert Hall and John Ridsdel, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Filipino Marites Flor, who were kidnapped on Samal Island on Sept. 21, 2015.

Other victims are Ronnie Bancale, a Filipino fish trader kidnapped on Feb. 14 in Sulu and Antonio Tan and his grandson, Ryan, who were taken in Lapuyan, Zamboanga del Sur province, in March.

The Abu Sayyaf had given ultimatums in the case of some of the victims.

For the Samal captives, the bandit group said the ransom demand of P300 million should be paid on April 25 or the victims would be killed.

The government war on the Abu Sayyaf has led to the killings of several of its top leaders but other terrorist groups have emerged.

Recently, police said it arrested the head of a local terror group calling itself Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM) in Zamboanga City.

Supt. Roger Sebastian, of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), said Melquiades Pabico Abrera II had been arrested in Sta. Barbara village in the city.

“He is known as the architect and planner of RSM,” Sebastian said.

RSM is an organization founded by Islam convert Ahmed Santos in 1991. It reportedly gets its funding from the Jemaah Islamiyah and its members get training from the Abu Sayyaf.

It was believed to be behind the 2004 Superferry bombing that killed 116 people.

Assessing maritime security`s legal framework governing vessel hijacking

From Antara News (Apr 22): Assessing maritime security`s legal framework governing vessel hijacking

The recent hijacking of Indonesian-flagged vessels off the Philippines coast by the Abu Sayyaf group has prompted numerous comments and analyses by experts and observers in the media. 

However, explanations from the perspective of maritime security remain inadequate.

When viewed in its non-traditional aspect, maritime security is understood exactly the way it has been discussed so far in public -- a commando assault against terrorists.

Non-traditional maritime security includes piracy, armed robbery, IUU fishing and so forth. The traditional understanding of maritime security embraces, among other things, seaborne military invasion and aggression.

Large sections of the public, including the media, have seen this incident of hijacking as pirate activity. The fact remains, however, that what happened was much different than what is commonly defined as piracy in various laws.

To categorize a crime as piracy, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982, it must happen on the high seas, or, at least, in the exclusive economic zone. 

As for the exact spot where this particular case happened, it was unquestionably in the Philippines territorial waters. 

Similar argument also governs the so called piracy reports issued by the international piracy-watchdogs which see piracy flatly as an aggressive action that takes place at ports or anchorages.

Another aspect characterizing an action as piracy is that it should be for private ends.

The adventurism that the Abu Sayyaf group has indulged in against tugboat Brahma 12 and barge Anand 12 was apparently void of such a motive.

The group is a separatist movement or a herd of terrorists.

Lastly, within the meaning of 1982 Conventions context, a piratical ploy must involve an attack by one ship against another.

In the case of these two ships, they might have been boarded by the attackers approaching from a skiff or a speedboat.

The uninvited party then took reins at the helm and steered their prey to their den. That does not qualify as piracy at all and will be considered as such under UNCLOS 1982.

What happened to the ships so far is clearly an armed robbery. Therefore, it is not considered an incident appropriate enough to kick in a clamp down on piracy.

In fact, the international community has devised another legal framework to fill this gap, namely, the Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, popularly called SUA Convention, 1988.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) came up with this instrument in response to the 1985 hijacking of the Italian-flagged cruise ship Achille Lauro by extremists in the Mediterranean Sea.

According to Robert C. Beckman, associate professor at the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore, the attack on the ship demonstrated the weakness of the piracy provisions in the 1982 Convention (Rupert Herbert-Burns, Sam Bateman, Peter Lehr: 2009).

The importance of the 1988 SUA Convention lies in its ability to cover offences committed on the high seas or in an exclusive economic zone as well as those carried out at territorial sea and archipelagic waters of sovereign coastal states. Even acts happening up to the ports or anchorages are covered under it. 

The offences cover, as enunciated in Article 3, seizure of, or exercise of control over, a ship by any form of intimidation, violence against a person onboard a ship, destruction of a ship or causing damage to a ship or to its cargo, placement on a ship of a device or substance that is likely to destroy or cause damage to that ship or its cargo and destruction of, causing serious damage to, or interference with maritime navigational facilities.

Unfortunately, the SUA Convention has no detailed explorations on how it should be implemented by the states (coastal states and state parties) that want to interdict, board or arrest the perpetrators.

It is a powerful tool in suppressing armed robbery against the ships but the ratification of the SUA Convention has been relatively slow.

As of June 2015, the Convention has 166 state parties. There are 29 UN member states that are still not party to it. One of them is Indonesia.

With the ascent of Mr. Joko Widodo to the presidency, this is the right time to accede to it, particularly as the presidents maritime vision is widely hailed.

The ratification will hopefully increase our credibility in the international maritime community that still considers Indonesia one of the hottest piracy/armed robbery spots in the world.

Additionally, there is significant progress happening regarding boarding provisions, thanks to the adoption of the 2005 SUA Protocol.

This protocol will create expedited procedures for boarding any suspect ships.

Apart from ratifying the SUA Convention, and, of course, its protocol, Indonesia is also urged to sign the 1999 Arrest Convention that has been gathering dust for quite long in government corridors.

As a port state embarking on a path to become the worlds next maritime center, we urgently need it to anticipate increasing maritime claims involving local owners and their overseas counterparts in the near future.

Currently, if such an incident happens, the owner and claimant usually seek settlement in foreign courts or through arbitration bodies.

Local judicial establishment is still perceived as lacking an understanding of maritime business.

Furthermore, since the government is eagerly implementing a stern policy on foreign-flagged fishing boats illegally entering Indonesian waters, the ratification of the Arrest Convention can act as a bulwark against criticism or legal backlash from opposing parties.

One drawback of the policy repeatedly cited by them is that the sinking of fishing boats was carried out without any court verdict.

*) Siswanto Rusdi is the Director of The National Maritime Institute (NAMARIN).

Philippines assures Malaysia it will assist to rescue kidnap victims

From the New Straits Times (Apr 22): Philippines assures Malaysia it will assist to rescue kidnap victims 

The Philippines gave its assurance to Malaysia that it will take all necessary measures to secure the release of four Malaysians sailors who had been kidnapped by Filipino gunmen in waters off Sabah.

This was said during a working visit by Foreign Affair Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman to the republic from Wednesday to today.

During the visit, Anifah met his Philippine counterpart, secretary of foreign affairs Jose Rene D. Almendras yesterday, where he reaffirmed the close bilateral relations between the two countries.

In a statement by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Anifah also stressed on the importance to intensify cooperation between the two countries towards securing the release of the four Malaysians.

The two ministers also exchanged view on regional issues including on the issue of the South China Sea.

The four Malaysians — Wong Teck Kang, 31, Wong Hung Sing, 34, Wong Teck Chii, 29 and Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21 — were kidnapped on April 1 when their tugboat was hijacked by eight gunmen believed to be from the Abu Sayyaf militant group.

AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Iriberri bows out of service

From GMA News (Apr 22): AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Iriberri bows out of service

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri bowed out of service on Friday, turning over the reins of leadership in the military to vice chief of staff Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda.

President Benigno Aquino III was present during the retirement ceremony for Iriberri in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Iriberri had served from July 10, 2015 to April 22, 2016.

Appointments to government positions are banned because of the upcoming May 9 elections but Iriberri had to leave his post due to mandatory retirement.

Iriberri's successor, Miranda, a member of Philippine Military Academy “Matikas” Class of 1983, had been  commanding general of the Northern Luzon Command before he assumed the post of vice chief of staff in March.

Miranda had swapped posts with then vice chief Lt. Gen. Romeo Tanalgo. Both Miranda and Tanalgo are Iriberri’s classmates at the PMA.

Iriberri honors fallen soldiers

Iriberri chose to retire on his 56th birthday, April 22.

In his valedictory address, Iriberri honored the soldiers who were killed in a clash with Abu Sayyaf rebels on Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor) on April 9.

At least 18 soldiers were killed in Tipo-Tipo town in Basilan province on that day.

Five Abu Sayyaf rebels also died during the 10-hour gun battle on April 9.

Six days later, soldiers and Abu Sayyaf rebels again clashed in Basilan, in Ungkaya Pukan, a few kilometers away from Tipo-Tipo. Four soldiers were wounded in the incident and one rebel was killed.

Iriberri said the military mourns the deaths of the soldiers but will not cow down to its enemies.

Meanwhile, Iriberri also cited the military's commitment to maintain a peace and order during the upcoming May 9 elections.

He cited the March 25 survey of Social Weather Stations where the AFP received a rating of 70 percent on the issue of voter's trust that the AFP would be able to maintain peace and order on election day.

PNoy lauds Iriberri

Aquino, in his speech during the retirement ceremony and turnover rites, lauded Iriberri for his achievement in Abra where he was assigned during the 2013 elections.
The President said no failure of elections was declared in Abra and no election-related violent incidents were recorded.

Aquino said he trusts that Miranda would be capable of overseeing the peaceful and orderly conduct of the upcoming national and local polls.

According to his profile on the Philippine government website, Iriberri was commissioned to the AFP Regular Force in March 1983 after graduating from the PMA.

Iriberri, in his 31 years of service, is an infantry man but has also served in the fields of intelligence, public relations, and international peace support operations.

Among the many posts he has assumed was as a platoon leader and company commander of the 23rd Infantry Battalion of the 4th Infantry Division, assigned to the provinces of Bukidnon and Agusan del Sur.

In 1996, he led three Scout Ranger companies during an attack on Camp Didagen at the Reina Regente Mountains in Sultan sa Barongis, Maguindanao.

At that time, it was the second largest MILF camp. After three days of air-land battle concepts and deployment of the Scout Rangers, the entire complex was successfully seized without any troop casualties.

US practically declares Mindanao no-go zone for Americans

From Rappler (Apr 22): US practically declares Mindanao no-go zone for Americans

In its latest advisory, the State Department says US citizens will need to reckon with 'the high threat of kidnapping of international travellers' in the vicinity of the Sulu archipelago

THREAT. File photo of members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Central Mindanao. Photo by Rappler

THREAT. File photo of members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Central Mindanao. Photo by Rappler

The United States told Americans to pretty much stay away from the southern island of Mindanao due to the triple threat of terrorism, rebel activities and kidnappings in the region.

In its latest advisory issued on Thursday afternoon, April 21 (US time), the State Department said US citizens will need to reckon with “the high threat of kidnapping of international travellers” in the vicinity of the Sulu archipelago, home to terror groups such as the Abu Sayyaf.
The State Department said the danger zones run from the southern tip of the resort island of Palawan, along the coast of Sabah, Malaysia, and the islands of the Sulu archipelago going up to the city of Zamboanga.
“Terrorist and insurgent groups based in the Sulu archipelago continue to target foreigners for kidnapping in the Eastern Sabah province of Malaysia and in the southern Sulu Sea area,” the warning said.
It added that since January 2015, at least 15 separate kidnappings have been reported across Mindanao island.
Most of the abductions are carried out in Western Mindanao where a potent mixture of terrorist, insurgent and criminal gangs have turned kidnappings into a cottage industry, “regularly conducting kidnappings for ransom,” the report said.
One group called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) “remains active” in Cotabato City, and the provinces of Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.
That of course does not mean that the areas in eastern Mindanao are safe from threats to foreigners.
Samal kidnapping
In September 2015, 3 foreigners who are now facing the threat of being beheaded were taken from Samal island resort, which is 15 minutes by boat from the Davao city that presidential contender Rodrigo Duterte touts is one of the safest cities in the world.
“There have been no reports of US citizens in Mindanao targeted specifically for their nationality; however, general threats to US citizens and other foreigners throughout Mindanao remain a concern,” the State Department warning said.
US government officials would travel to Mindanao to conduct official business, but “the embassy has imposed strict restrictions on all but the most essential travel to the area,” it added.
US officials would need “special authorization from embassy security officials to travel to any location in Mindanao or the Sulu archipelago” given the magnitude of the security threats facing Americans there.
The main threat to foreigners is posed by the Abu Sayyaf, which acquired notoriety for beheading an American hostage taken from Palawan a few years ago and regularly seizing foreigners such as Roman Catholic missionaries in the area.
The American the Abu Sayyaf decapitated in 2001 is Guillermo Sobero, a tourist who was seized along with American missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham.
Martin Burnham was killed over a year later in a gunbattle with Philippine troops. His wife Gracia survived.
The Abu Sayyaf group was blamed for the worst terrorist attack in the Philippines, the bombing of Superferry 14 in 2004 which killed 116 people.
An Abu Sayyaf leader named Isnilon Hapilon swore an oath of loyalty to ISIS, or the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq in 2014.
Unrest in the southern islands of the country has caused the area to steadily lag and fall behind the development seen in the rest of the largely Catholic nation.