Saturday, May 7, 2016

US Air Force A-10s Challenge China in the South China Sea

From the Warrior forum (May 3): US Air Force A-10s Challenge China in the South China Sea

It’s no surprise that the A-10’s first mission was a show of force over the Scarborough Shoal, which China refers to as Huangyan Island and claims as its own. With plans to develop the narrow strip of land into a tourist destination, Beijing was incensed to see the Warthogs fly by

Whenever the Pentagon sends troops abroad it’s about demonstrating resolve, reassuring allies or confronting potential opponents – or some combination of all three. But for the A-10 Warthogs and their crews in the Philippines, their biggest message might be one for critics back home.
On April 16, the U.S. Air Force announced that four of the venerable ground attack jets would remain in the Philippines after taking part in the annual Balikatan training exercises with Manila’s forces.
Three HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopters and an MC-130H Combat Talon II tanker would round out the new air contingent at Clark Air Base.
“The Air Contingent will remain in place as long as both the Philippines and the United States deem  necessary,” MSgt. Matthew McGovern, the Operations Division Manager for the Pacific Air Force’s public affairs office, told We Are the Mighty in an email. “Our aircraft, flying in and around the South China Sea, are flying within international airspace and are simply demonstrating freedom of navigation in these areas.”

The deployment at Clark is one part of a deal between Washington and Manila called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. Signed on April 28, 2014, the arrangement opened a number of Philippine military bases to American troops and outlined plans for increased cooperation between the two countries’ armed forces.

The EDCA would “help strengthen our 65-year-old alliance, and deepen our military-to-military cooperation at a time of great change in the Asia-Pacific,” Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told reporters during a visit to the Philippines on April 14. “In the South China Sea, China’s actions in particular are causing anxiety and raising regional tensions.”

As Carter noted, Beijing’s ambitions in the South China Sea is the major concern for the Philippines and its neighbors in Southeast Asia. Effectively claiming the entire body of water as its sovereign territory, China policy has brought it near close to skirmishing with Manila’s ships.

In 2012, the Philippines found itself in a particularly embarrassing stand-off with unarmed Chinese “marine surveillance” ships near the disputed Scarborough Shoal, less than 250 miles west of Manila. While Beijing’s vessels ultimately withdrew, they blocked the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar – an ex-U.S. Coast Guard cutter and the largest ship then in the Philippine Navy – from moving into arrest Chinese fishermen.

Since then, Chinese authorities have used their dominant position to harass Philippine fishermen in the area. More importantly, Beijing began building a series of man-made islands – complete with air defenses, ballistic missile sites and runways able to support fighter jets and bombers – throughout the South China Sea to help enforce its claims.

“Countries across the Asia-Pacific are voicing concern with China’s land reclamation, which stands out in size and scope, as well as its militarization in the South China Sea,” Carter added in his comments in Manila. “We’re continuing to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows.”

So, it’s no surprise that the A-10’s first mission was a show of force over the Scarborough Shoal, which China refers to as Huangyan Island and claims as its own. With plans to develop the narrow strip of land into a tourist destination, Beijing was incensed to see the Warthogs fly by.

“This threatens the sovereignty and national security of the relevant coastal states, as well as the regional peace and stability,” the Chinese Ministry of Defense said in a statement according to People’s Daily, an official organ of the country’s Communist Party. “We must express our concern and protest towards it.”

Though originally built to blast hordes of Soviet tanks in Europe, the blunt nosed attackers are a threat to small warships and other surface targets. The aircraft’s main armament is a single, massive 30-millimeter cannon that can fire up to 70 shells per second.

On top of that, the straight-winged planes can carry precision laser- and GPS-guided bombs and missiles. On March 28, 2011, Warthogs showed off their maritime skills when they destroyed two Libyan patrol craft during the international air campaign against the country’s long time dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

After the Pentagon announced the Warthog would stay in the Philippines, the Air Force released shots of the jets sitting at Clark, each loaded with targeting pods, training versions of the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile and an AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile. Northrop Grumman’s LITENING pod has a laser designator and a powerful infrared camera that can also double as a surveillance system if necessary.

Over Scarborough, the A-10s sported a LITENING on the right wing and an AN/ALQ-184 electronic jamming pod on the left. All four Warthogs, along with two of the Pave Hawks, went out for the initial maritime patrol.

But the Warthogs made an even bigger statement just by flying the mission at all – and not to officials in Beijing, but to critics back home. The deployment comes as the Air Force continues to move forward with plans to retire the low- and slow-flying planes without a clear replacement available.

To hear the flying branch tell it, the aircraft are inflexible, dated Cold Warriors unable to survive over the modern battlefield. Unlike multi-role fighter bombers like the F-16 or up-coming, but troublesome F-35, the A-10 is only good at one thing: close air support for troops on the ground.
The A-10 “is a 40-year-old single-purpose airplane,” then Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in February 2014.  “There’s only so much you can get out of that airplane,” Air Force Gen. Herbert Carlisle, chief of Air Combat Command, declared more than a year later.

The Warthogs’ trip to the Philippines stands in stark contrast to these claims. According to the Air Force itself, the A-10s and HH-60s will fly missions providing air and maritime domain awareness and personnel recovery, combating piracy and otherwise keeping anyone from denying access to “the global commons” in the South China Sea.

The flying branch didn’t randomly pick the A-10 for the job either. “Selecting the A-10C and HH-60Gs for this mission was strategically and economically the right decision,” Brig. Gen. Dirk Smith, PACAF’s director of air and cyberspace operations, told Air Force reporters after the detachment stood up at Clark.

“PACAF considered multiple options for what aircraft to use, however, the A-10Cs were the right choice for a number of reasons,” McGovern explained further. “A-10Cs also have a proven record operating out of short and austere airstrips, provide a flexible range of capabilities, and have a mission profile consistent with the air and maritime domain awareness operations the air contingent will conduct.”

The Warthog’s ability to stay airborne for long periods of time was another point in its favor. Of course, the fact that the jets were already in the Philippines for Balikatan didn’t hurt.

Still, the A-10 is cheap to operate in general. Compared to around $20,000 per flying hour for the F-16 or more three times that amount for bombers like the B-1 and B-52, the Air Force has to spend less than $20,000 for every hour a Warthog is in the air.

“With a relatively small investment we were able to deepen our ties with our Philippine allies and strengthen our relationship,” McGovern added. “The aircraft involved in subsequent deployments will be tailored to airfield capability and capacity and desired objectives.”

In February, the Air Force announced plans to start retiring the A-10s by 2017 and have the entire fleet gone by the end of 2022. Hopefully deployments like the one to the Philippines will show both the Chinese and the Pentagon that the Warthogs still have a lot of fight left in them.

DC symposium reflects on Philippine growth and relations with the US

From the Asian Journal (May 3): DC symposium reflects on Philippine growth and relations with the US

Members of the government, private sector, and the academe gathered at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) for a symposium entitled “Philippines 2016: Governance, Growth, Development and Security” on Thursday, April 28.

Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose L. Cuisia, in his keynote address, described the Philippines’ path towards good governance, growth, and development as challenging, fulfilling, and dynamic, crediting the country’s economic transformation to the good governance program of the Aquino Administration and economic policies centered on inclusive growth.

Ambassador Cuisia also cited the deepening Philippines-US relations along the defense and security, people-to-people and economic tracks as an avenue of continued cooperation for the next administration.

“The Philippines is committed to be a proactive, reliable and responsible ally of the US, but more importantly, a strong Philippines is critical to the stability of South East Asia, and I do look forward to the Philippines continuing along its current path,” he said.

During the first panel on governance, growth and development, Motoo Konishi, former World Bank Country Director for the Philippines, emphasized the importance of addressing corruption and improving governance, protecting the population from climate change and environmental disasters and having peace in eliminating extreme poverty.

“Fighting poverty and eliminating poverty means that you have to know each poor, who they are and where they live, and your investments need to be targeted to those people. Fast growth doesn’t eliminate poverty, you have to choose your policies carefully,” Konishi said.

The Aquino Administration has actively pursued these three objectives, according to Konishi.

“The Aquino Administration focused on pro-poor policies,” Konishi further added, stating that the Philippine experience will be a highlight of the World Bank’s flagship World Development Report this year.

Gloria Steele of USAID highlighted the accomplishments of the Aquino administration in competitiveness, transparency, corruption, infrastructure, education and health.

“The Filipino people are looking forward to more changes and to the continuation of reforms that the Aquino Administration started,” she said.

However, Steele added that more needs to be done by the next administration, such as improvements in airport infrastructure and quality energy regulations.

Matthew Bohn of the Millennium Challenge Corporation lauded the first compact with the Philippines, which supported poverty reduction, inclusive growth, and elimination of corruption, as being one of MCC’s best compacts. He also expressed confidence that despite the challenges ahead, the Philippines will be able to sustain its growth and development largely because of the ground work that the Aquino administration has set in place.

“The Aquino Administration has successfully put down deep and important roots for creating the conditions for (sustained) economic growth,” Bohn said.

The second panel discussion on security and peace focused mainly on internal and external security challenges.

Professor Zachary Abuza of the National War College described the modernization of the Philippine air force, military and marine forces, the deepening defense relations with the United States through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), and Balikatan exercises as some of the major accomplishments of the Aquino Administration.

However, peace and security challenges remain in Mindanao, one of which is the coercive capacities of political dynasties and political families through the use of private armies.

“For any lasting peace to happen in Mindanao, you have to eliminate the private armies,” Professor Patricio Abinales of the University of Hawaii at Manoa said.

Professor Abinales also linked the private armies with the pervasive presence of the illicit sector, stating that the presence of illicit trade in Mindanao cannot be weakened without first eliminating the private armies.

“Unilateral naming doesn’t change the status of a territory, sea or land,” Professor Ruth Wedgwood of Johns Hopkins SAIS said, switching the discussion from internal to external security challenges.

Referring to the impending decision of the Arbitral Tribunal, Professor Wedgwood further stated that “China will be put in a very difficult position to defy it” considering the interest of ASEAN member countries in the case.

The last part of the symposium was a keynote address delivered by Senator Richard Lugar, speaking on the hallmarks of the Aquino Administration and the strong ties between the Philippines and the United States.

DVIDS: USARAK Civilian Saves A Life

From DVIDS (May 7): USARAK Civilian Saves A Life

USARAK Civilian Saves Life

U.S. Army Alaska Facility Operations Specialists Antonio Granillo (far left) and Daniel Staicer (far right), poses with the Ariola family while in the Philippines while supporting Balikitan 2016. Philippine Army Sgt. Ariola's wife needed an emergency blood transfusion and with the blood donated by Stacier, she is now healthy. (Courtesy Photo)

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska -- DoD civilians perform important work worldwide with active duty and reserve component military members to protect the United States and its interests. Much of their work is done behind the scenes on the homefront, but for one U.S. Army Alaska civilian, his dedication to the Army mission took him halfway around the world.

Daniel Staicer, a facility operations specialist here, recently deployed to the Philippines in support of Balikatan 2016, an annual bilateral exercise between Philippine and U.S. military forces that focuses on partnership, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities, Philippine capability development and military modernization. While there, he met, befriended and worked closely with Philippine Army Sgt. Jehsie Ariola, a local national and noncommissioned officer in charge of the Fort Magsaysay fire department.

“I met Sgt. Ariola with my boss Antonio Granillo when we got there,” Staicer said. “Because it’s the dry season over there and we had to deal with a lot of fires, he put the fires out for us as we supported Soldiers on the range.”

It was through that chance meeting that Staicer’s deployment took an unexpected turn.

“About a week after we got there, I found out Jehsie’s wife, needed an emergency blood transfusion,” Staicer explained. “The local blood bank was out of her blood type and the odds of her surviving without it were 50/50.”

Without hesitation, Staicer offered to donate his blood that day.

“It was an easy decision,” Staicer said. “She needed blood, I had the right blood type, and it only took an hour of my time. It was no big deal.”

But it was a big deal. Because of his selfless act, Ariola’s wife, survived. She is healthy and able to care for her husband and their three children.

“I’m convinced his single act of kindness and genuine concern for the well-being of this young lady saved her life,” Granillo, USARAK Supervisory Facility Operations Specialist said.

“Here stateside, we take everything for granted and think we have everything we need at the blood bank,” Staicer said. “Other countries don’t have that, so when they said they needed blood donors with my blood type, it wasn’t something I had to think about.”

Since then, both Staicer and Granillo have stayed in contact with the Ariolas and were even named godparents of their youngest child, though there may be a disagreement over who is the godmother.

“Oh, Tony is definitely the godmother,” Staicer jokingly said.

Overall, Staicer believes this deployment was unlike any other.

“I served in the Army for 22 years and retired from the 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry, here. I’ve been to Bosnia, Iraq and other places, but deploying to the Philippines and working with the host nation taught me a lot,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting for this situation to happen, but it was something I will never forget.”

1,000-man Task Force CHOP activated in Maguindanao

From the Manila Bulletin (May 7): 1,000-man Task Force CHOP activated in Maguindanao

The Maguindanao-based Sixth Infantry Division (6th ID) has activated its 1,000-member security task force to help ensure peaceful proceedings in Monday’s polls in Central Mindanao, especially in areas of electoral concern in the province.

Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, 6ID commanding general, has tapped his division’s chief-of- staff Col. Romeo Brawner as head of the Task Force CHOP (clean, honest, orderly and peaceful elections).

Discussions during the task force’s ceremonial revival said Brawner and his men will be backed by dozens of combat vehicles, tanks and motorized watercrafts for security operations in far-flung areas, particularly in marshlands and polling precincts along rivers across the adjoining North Cotabato and Maguindanao provinces.

Pangilinan said the group, which will also be beefed up by snipers, will operate under the supervision of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), which earlier classified Maguindanao as one of country’s eight “areas of immediate concern.”

“These men will engage without any hesitation saboteurs or armed groups out to derail the conduct of the elections in any of the municipalities under the jurisdiction of the 6th ID,” Pangilinan told reporters.

The task force was presented at the 6th ID’s parade ground southwest of Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao on Thursday afternoon by Pangilinan and Major Gen.  Eduardo Año, the Philippine Army chief.

Pangilinan said the election security duties of the task force would be coordinated properly with the ceasefire bodies of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The MILF had earlier said it will reposition its forces away from guerrilla enclaves near polling centers before May 9 for Comelec personnel and teachers to freely operate and serve voting folks without security apprehensions.

News about the activation of the task force was welcomed by officials and residents of Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

The Army contingent is a revival of the erstwhile Task Force HOPE (honest, orderly and peaceful elections), which was credited for helping restore in the 2010 elections among Maguindanao voters their rights of suffrage allegedly crippled in political exercises prior to the infamous Nov. 23, 2009 election-related Ampatuan massacre.

3 killed in Isabela town ambush

From the Manila Times (May 7): 3 killed in Isabela town ambush

THREE people were killed, including a village chieftain and a policeman, while five others were wounded after a group of unidentified armed men ambushed the supporters of a mayoralty candidate in Jones town, Isabela on Saturday.

Police and military reports said ambushed were supporters of Melanie Uy, who is running for mayor under the Liberal Party (LP) in Jones, along the national highway in Barangay Namnama in Jones Town at about 7:40 a.m.

Killed was Danny Zapata, chairman of Barangay 1 in Jones town and reportedly the brother of Uy. The other fatalities were Senior Police Officer (SPO) 4 Arthur Asuncion, and one identified only as Erick, a Bulacan native who was a member of the local LP’s security detail.

Three of the five wounded victims remain in critical condition at Prospero G. Bello Integrated Community Hospital as of Saturday. The others suffered minor injuries.

Police said the victims were on their way to the village of Namnama when at least 15 armed men fired assault rifles on their convoy of vehicles.

The report added that the slain policeman tried to retreat across some rice fields but was chased and shot to death by the gunmen.

The same report from the military’s Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) said that the fleeing gunmen was later cornered along Barangay San Sebastian in Jones town by pursuing government troops. A firefight was raging as of the filing of this report on Saturday afternoon.

The ambush took place on the last day of the campaign season, before Monday’s elections, and weeks after the deaths of Jones Vice Mayor Ronaldo Lucas and village chieftain Heinrich Apostol in April.

Lucas was killed by the New People’s Army on April 13, while Apostol, who was running for the Sangguniang Bayan (SB) of Jones, was shot dead the following day by unidentified gunmen while outside his house. Both belonged to the Nationalist People’s Coalition under Mayor Leticia Sebastian.

Jones town was recently placed under the control of the Commission on Elections following incidents of violence considered election-related.

PMA ALUMNI: Threat of uprising under Duterte real

From the Manila Times (May 7): PMA ALUMNI: Threat of uprising under Duterte real

Two Philippine Military Academy alumni expressed concerns that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) will take advantage of a Duterte presidency.

Rodolfo Mendoza, former chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippine National Police, said the “looming” victory of Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte will boost the underground struggles of the CPP.

“The CPP tactics is two pronged. One is through electoral struggle via Mayor Duterte and two is through urban armed uprising cum armed insurrection. [The] CPP [is] now smelling victory according to my information,” Mendoza told The Manila Times.
Retired Marine Colonel Ariel Querubin also expressed concern that the CPP is taking advantage of the coming elections by either supporting or fielding its own candidates.

“I also heard of that plan. I think Duterte’s campaign is not to win but to create chaos and anarchy [that] the CPP can exploit [towards] their ends,” Querubin said.

The threat of coup d’ etats is real under a Duterte presidency,” he added.

Mendoza stressed that he is not supporting any particular candidate and that his position is to boycott the elections.

The latest presidential surveys showed Duterte leading his contenders.

A group of military and police officers earlier warned of a possible communist takeover if Duterte wins.

Calling itself the Network of Officers to Defend the Republic (NODTR), the group claimed that Duterte is a “puppet” of communists.

“As men in uniform, we are duty-bound to defend our flag and the Constitution against forces foreign or local inimical to our democratic ideals and institutions,” an unidentified officer in digitized military uniform said in a 13-minute video uploaded on YouTube.

Today we are issuing this urgent appeal to our countrymen, to fellow officers and brothers in arms in the AFP and Philippine National Police [PNP] to defend our democracy and the republic against an imminent takeover of our government by the communists,” he added.

“By his word and actions past and present, Rodrigo Duterte is a certified hard core dyed-in-the-wool puppet of local as well as foreign communists,” the officer said in the video.

He claimed that Duterte’s campaign machinery is driven by high-ranking communist cadres such as Leoncio Evasco Jr., the mayor’s campaign manager, and Pete Lavina, his spokesman.

Duterte’s campaign, the officer said, is being closely supervised by Jorge Madlos alias “Ka Oris,” the highest ranking official of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) in Mindanao and a member of the party’s Central Committee.

Military on red alert; cops replace teachers in Lanao

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 7): Military on red alert; cops replace teachers in Lanao

FEARING for their safety, about 140 teachers in Lanao del Sur backed out from their election duties on Friday even as the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines went on red alert three days before the May 9 national and local elections.

The new crisis in Lanao emerged during a  video conference  among military commanders called by acting AFP chief Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda at the AFP election monitoring center on Friday.
Policemen as BEIs

Commission on Elections chairperson Andres Bautista, who was present at the AFP monitoring center yesterday, announced that policemen would be replacing the teachers in their duties as the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs).

AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said a company from the Philippine National Police would be sent to the province, as well as nearby Lanao del Norte, where some local candidates had refused to signed a peace covenant for the elections.

“The AFP will be lending its C-130 planes to transport our policemen to Lanao del Sur for their duties as election inspectors … The teachers backed out because they had fears for their safety and we cannot blame them,” Bautista said.

Ready to respond

In a press briefing on Friday, the military said the highest alert status that took effect at midnight on Friday means that all troops must be on stand-by in military camps and ready to respond to any situation.

Padilla said the military commanders would be regularly assembling troops for accounting purposes.

“Other forces that have been helping out and are deployed in an area have all been on alert since many weeks ago,” said Padilla.

In a separate briefing on Friday, the Philippine National Police said its latest tally of election watchlist areas (EWAs) covered 176 towns and cities in nine provinces.

The PNP said it was watching Pangasinan province in the Ilocos region, Abra in the Cordillera Administrative Region, Nueva Ecija in Central Luzon, Masbate in Bicol, Negros Oriental in the Negros Island Region, Samar in eastern Visayas, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and Lanao del Norte in northern Mindanao.

The two ARMM provinces had the highest number of towns and cities in the election watchlist areas—Lanao del Sur had 40 areas while Lanao del Norte followed with 22.

Masbate and Pangasinan provinces each had 20 areas on the watchlist. Samar had 18 areas on the watchlist; Nueva Ecija had nine; Negros Oriental had eight, and Abra, five.

PNP spokesperson Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor reported that the police has tallied 26 validated election-related incidents so far since the election period began on January 10.

Mayor said the PNP was currently monitoring 82 active private armed groups—75 of them based in Mindanao.

Tuburan security forces beefed up amid conflicting accounts

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 6): Tuburan security forces beefed up amid conflicting accounts
Tuburan Ambushed suspect Ludivico roquero talks to his wife Imelda at the Tiburan police station. (CDNPHOTO/TONEE DESPOJO)

Tuburan ambush suspect Ludivico Oroquero talks to his wife Imelda at the Tiburan police station. (CDN PHOTO/ TONEE DESPOJO)
Amid conflicting accounts on the whereabouts of the suspect of an ambush-slay of a Liberal Party (LP) campaigner in the northwestern town of Tuburan, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have flooded the former New People’s Army hotbed with more security forces to ensure the conduct of peaceful polls on Monday.

Over a hundred personnel from the Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO), Regional Public Safety Battalion (RPSB) and AFP arrived in Tuburan yesterday as police go on heightened alert following the ambush-slay of Rene Cangmaong, a personal guard and supporter of Tuburan’s reelectionist mayor, Democrito “Aljun” Diamante (LP) last Wednesday.

Police Insp. Leo Logroño, the town’s acting police chief, said that the augmentation forces were sent to beef up security in the town on top of the two teams of elite policemen earlier sent to Tuburan this week.

“We will deploy them to strategic areas to conduct 24-hour checkpoints to deter would-be offenders, especially possible guns-for-hire,” Logroño said.

The security forces will be positioned mostly on intersections connecting the town’s 54 barangays which police noted may be where armed elements pass.

The lack of paved roads leading to the town’s hinterland villages has prevented police mobile patrols from checking these areas, Logroño said, as reports of armed men roaming free in the mountains of Tuburan continue to reach authorities but have yet to be confirmed.

“So far, our patrols haven’t encountered any (armed groups),” said Logroño.

Tuburan, a former hotbed of the communist insurgency in the ’80s, is one of eight local government units in Cebu that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has declared as election watchlist areas (Ewas) or hotspots.

Cangmaong, a former New People’s Army (NPA) rebel who, police said, worked as Mayor Diamante’s personal bodyguard at the time of his killing, was with five other Diamante supporters when they were waylaid at around 12:30 p.m. in Sitio Sambag, Barangay Mag-antoy, some 25 kilometers from the town proper of Tuburan.

Cangmaong died from several bullet wounds and was left slumped on the ground while two of his injured companions could no longer be located by police.

Luduvico Oroquero, a former village chief identified with Diamante’s political rival Tuburan mayoral candidate Daphne Lagon (One Cebu), was arrested after one of the survivors in the ambush pointed to him as one of their about a dozen armed attackers.

As police stormed Roquero’s home at dawn on Thursday, operatives found a carbine rifle, a shotgun, a .45 caliber pistol and several rounds of assorted ammunition.

Interviewed by Cebu Daily News at the Regional Special Operations Group (RSOG) office in Cebu City where he was held, Roquero denied killing Cangmaong and said that there were witnesses who could attest that he was attending a poll watcher’s meeting in another village during that time.

He was also willing to undergo a paraffin test to prove that he did not fire any firearm on Wednesday.
Interviewed after the ambush-slay, Lagon acknowledged Roquero as one of her political leaders but insisted that the man was innocent. Lagon said that Roquero was in her headquarters in Barangay Poblacion V when the ambush occurred.

Yesterday, in a press conference called by One Cebu at Lagon’s campaign headquarters in Tuburan, a new set of witnesses emerged, Roquero’s relatives.

But rather than clear the air on Roquero’s exact whereabouts at the time of the ambush, the new statements left several people confused, including police.

According to Oroquero’s brother-in-law, Galileo Montecillo, it was impossible for Roquero to have been in two places at one time since Roquero was with him, his wife and their four children eating pieces of lechon brought home by Montecillo from a fiesta.

Barangays Montealegre and Mag-antoy, the site where Cangmaong was killed, are 31 kilometers apart, said Montecillo.

Montecillo claimed that the suspect was with them from 11a.m. to 4 p,m. that day.

Meanwhile, in a separate interview with CDN Lagon said Roquero was with her husband Sonny at their campaign headquarters in barangay Poblacion 5 when the ambush happened .

Lagon said footage from a CCTV camera placed in their headquarters would prove that Roquero was in the company of Sonny between 12 noon to 1:30 p.m.

She promised to release a copy of the CCTV footage to Cebu Daily News last night.

Asked about the conflicting testimony of Montecillo, Lagon said, “Basin na kulbaan ra to (Maybe he was just scared)”.

Now back in Tuburan, behind bars at the town’s police station while awaiting the filing of formal charges, Roquero told CDN of how a member of the RSOG allegedly stepped on his head while he was pinned down on the floor during his arrest.

Asked whether he will file charges against the RSOG member, Roquero said that he will leave it up to Lagon’s camp.

Meanwhile, Mayor Diamante said he hopes the police will be able to keep the coming polls safe “or else someone else might die.”


A white motorcycle left abandoned in front of the Cebu Technological University Tuburan campus with a black backpack hanging on its handle bars since Thursday alarmed residents of Poblacion 8 as jitters caused by rising political tension continued to plague the town.

Responding policemen were ordered to cordon the area until members of the Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team arrived on Friday afternoon.

House of Marawi reelectionist exec bombed

From the Philippine Star (May 6): House of Marawi reelectionist exec bombed

Landmark in Marawi City.

Suspected partisans on Thursday night blasted a fragmentation grenade at the residential compound here of the reelectionist Vice Mayor Arafat Salic.

His relatives blamed rival camps for the attack, which was for them meant to spark violence for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to have reason to put the entire Marawi City under its full control on May 9.

Responding investigators from the Marawi City police said the explosion inside the home yard of Salic damaged vehicles parked near the spot where the grenade landed and went off.

Salic is the running mate of former Marawi City Mayor Solitario Ali, a senior official of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), now candidate for the same post.

The 62-year-old Ali had earlier lost two close relatives, Amelodin and Tengteng, also both Maranaws, in separate gun attacks in the past three weeks which the police said were politically-motivated.

The blast that shook the surroundings of Salic’s house was one of two explosions that rocked Marawi City Thursday night, according to Col. Roseller Murillo, commander of the Army’s 103rd Brigade.

Marawi City, which has 96 barangays, is the capital of Lanao del Sur, a component province of ARMM.

A provincial police official, Senior Superintendent Rustom Duran, had told reporters investigators are yet to determine the identities of the suspects in the grenade attacks late Thursday, first at the house of Salic in Barangay Lilod Madaya, and subsequently, near the infirmary of the Mindanao State University (MSU) at Barangay Lomidong.

Investigators said the bombing of the house of Salic was perpetrated by masked men riding a Toyota Avanza. They sped away just as the grenade exploded, damaging the vice mayor’s Toyota pick-up truck and two other vehicles parked nearby.

Witnesses had told probers the bombing at the MSU campus was pulled off by men riding motorcycles and a Toyota Revo.

Bai Nadjema, spokesperson of the mayoral aspirant Ali, and his younger brother, Marawi City Mayor Fahad Salic, candidate for Lanao del Sur governor, said their followers have just been ignoring the incidents which they believe were instigated for them to retaliate on rival quarters.

“That is something we will not do because we want the May 9 elections here in Marawi City to be peaceful and orderly,” Bai Nadjema said.

The Lanao del Sur police and the Army’s 103rd Brigade on Friday deployed more uniformed men in strategic areas in Marawi City to help prevent any escalation of election-related violence in the area.

Bukidnon mayoral candidate killed, robbed

From the Philippine News Agency (May 7): Bukidnon mayoral candidate killed, robbed

CAMP ALAGAR, Cagayan De Oro City – A mayoral candidate in a town in Bukidnon was killed by unidentified armed men who barged into his house shortly after attending a rally Friday evening, a police report said on Saturday.

Police identified the victim as Armando Ceballos, 53, a resident of Barangay Balila in Lantapan, and an independent candidate who was running against Ernie Devibar in the town’s mayoral race.

Chief Supt. Jose Gentiles, regional police director in Northern Mindanao, said that the suspects were on board a cargo truck as they entered the residential compound where Ceballos was living and shot him in the back.

Prior to the shooting, the suspects, all wearing bonnets, reportedly ordered all the household members and supporters to “drop on the ground.”

He said that the suspects fired several times hitting Ceballos on the face, which caused his death two hours later in a downtown hospital in Cagayan De Oro City.

Gentiles said that the suspects reportedly carted away Php 90,000 cash and a .45 caliber pistols from the victim’s security personnel.

He said that the police are still determining whether the shooting has something to do with the election on Monday.

CIDG men seize 27 high-powered guns from Camarines Sur village chief

From the Philippine News Agency (May 7): CIDG men seize 27 high-powered guns from Camarines Sur village chief
Operatives of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) in Bicol confiscated at least 27 high-powered firearms in a raid at about 6 a.m. Saturday at a residence of a village chieftain in Barangay San Nicolas, Iriga City, a CIDG official said in a report to CIDG Director Victor P. Deona.

The CIDG team seized the firearms during the operation at the house of Barangay Captain Ariel Luceña, who, however, was able to elude arrest, according to Police Senior Supt. Marlon Tejada, CIDG Bicol chief.

Tejada said his men are now tracking down Luceña who has been tagged as the leader of the 10-man Luceña private armed group (PAGs) operating in Iriga City.

He said the raid yielded eight assault rifles and 19 handguns kept in the suspect’s home and car.

Tejada said the suspect has been a subject of a manhunt operation before the raid as his group was included in the PAG watchlist.

Troops intercept, arrest 8 armed men in Zambo Norte

From the Philippine News Agency (May 7): Troops intercept, arrest 8 armed men in Zambo Norte

Police and military forces have intercepted and arrested eight armed men in the nearby town of Siocon, this province.

Senior Supt. Edwin Buenaventura Wagan, provincial police director, said the gunmen were arrested around 3 p.m. Friday in Barangay New Lituban, Siocon municipality.

Wagan identified the arrested suspects as the following: Burha Salaysay, 22; Basser Alibbon, 36; Bulak Salaysay, 29; Alpine Paniorotan, 25; Mokarabin Mustapatahil, 27; Alhari Osama, 28; Lordi Cadil, 25; and, Oyong Diga, 32.

Wagan said the suspects were arrested in a checkpoint for violation of the election gun ban.

He added the joint police and military forces have set up the checkpoint following reports that a group of people bringing with them firearms have boarded a tricycle heading towards Siocon coming from the town of Sirawai.

He said the troops confiscated from the suspects’ possession an M-16 Armalite rifle with several rounds of ammunition, a caliber .45 pistol with eight live ammunition and a hand grenade.

He said the suspects were detained at Siocon police headquarters while appropriate charges are set to be filed against them.

Both the police and military have tightened security to ensure the peaceful conduct of the local and national elections on Monday in this province.

Cops nab 10 in slay try vs village chief, seize 3 firearms

From the Philippine News Agency (May 7): Cops nab 10 in slay try vs village chief, seize 3 firearms

Police arrested 10 persons who tried to liquidate a barangay (village) captain who, in turn, cheated death after the gun of the man assigned to shoot him failed at about 11:30 p.m. Friday at Barangay Cangcahorao, Baleno, Masbate.

Village chief Jovinel Bello immediately sped towards a patrolling team from the Baleno Municipal Police Station and Municipal Police Public Safety Company.

The law enforcers cornered Ruel Bello, 30, Rico Bello, 46, Charlie Bello, 34, Joshua Laurio, 19, Dionesio Bunan, 34, Antonio Pusing, 40, Archie Bunan,19, Richard Gavina, 32, Allan Cortes, 45, and Ronilo De La Cruz, 34 -- all residents of the village.

Based on the report of the Baleno MPS to Camp Gen. Simeon A. Ola here they were having a mobile patrol in the area when they chanced upon the running victim who told them that one of the suspects shot him but the gun conked out.

The police also seized an M16 baby armalite, a .45-caliber pistol, a shotgun, ammunition and five bladed weapons from the suspects who they are now determining the private armed group affiliation.

Samar police slain by gunmen two days before polls

From the Philippine News Agency (May 7): Samar police slain by gunmen two days before polls

A police officer was shot dead at dawn Saturday dawn in Pinabacdao, Samar, prompting the Philippine National Police (PNP) regional office to step up security efforts this election season.

Four unidentified men gunned down Sr. Police Officer 2 Zacarias Cabriana Acaba, 47 at 1:30 a.m. on Saturday in Mambog village. The victim, assigned in Pinabacdao town, suffered multiple gun shots, according to a police report.

Police Eastern Visayas Regional Director Jose Erwin Villacorte, in a statement, condemned the killing of a police officer.

He extended his condolences to the victim’s family and vowed to seek justice for his untimely death. The local police launched a manhunt to arrest the suspects. Investigation is ongoing to determine the motive of the killing.

“The PNP guarantees the capture of the alleged gunmen and warns them of the consequences of the deliberate and treacherous killing of a law enforcer. Also, the PNP wants to reiterate to other lawless elements that they will be caught and will be held accountable for their crimes,” the police regional chief said.

Villacorte reminds all police officers to perform their jobs in maintaining the peace and order in the community especially during this election period and give emphasis on their personal security at all times.

Pinabacdao, a town in Samar province, is about 55 kilometers north from this city.

Election hotspots classified into three categories

 Election hotspots classified into three categories

Under guidelines issued by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the election watchlist areas (EWAs) or "election hotspots," are classified into three categories.

This is due to the intense political rivalries, reported election-related incidents and the presence of Private-Armed Groups (PAGs) in some provinces for the upcoming elections.

Nine provinces namely Abra, Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan, Masbate, Negros Oriental, Samar, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte are included in the list of election hotspots, according to PNP.

For Category 1, areas considered are those where violence is anticipated to happen due to intense political conflicts, private-armed groups, and proliferation of loose firearms, those used by gun-for-hire gangs.

Under Category 2 are areas where harm and threats are posed by large armed groups like the New People’s Army, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Moro National Liberation Front and Abu Sayyaf.

Category 3 is the extreme rank of election hotspots having the characteristics included in the categories 1 and 2.

Three days before the elections, the PNP is in full alert to ensure safe and orderly election through the deployment of standby force.

So far, the PNP has recorded 26 validated election related incidents from 14 incidents recorded last week.

PNP spokesperson Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor said that region 3 had the most recorded incidents with five, while four incidents were recorded in Regions 2 and 4-A; three incidents in Regions 1 and 7; two incidents in Region 10 and NCR and one incident recorded in Regions 5, 9 and Cordillera.

He noted that recorded incidents were mostly shooting incidents.

So far, the PNP has recorded 131 election-related incidents (ERIs) were 45 suspected ERIs and 60 non-ERIS since January 10 up to May.

Mayor said police are conducting operations, like setting up of checkpoints, serving warrants of arrests, and others to thwart violence in these barangay hotspots.

Meanwhile, more than 200 policemen have been deployed and readied for deployment as board of election inspectors (BEI) in parts of Lanao del Norte considered as election "hotspots," Superintendent Surki Sereñas, Northern Mindanao regional police spokesman, said.

Sereñas said 149 policemen were sent to serve as BEIs in Pantar and Nunungan towns while 59 others stand as "reserve BEIs."

He said that policemen were sent to serve as BEIs in Pantar because the town is now under control of the Commission on Elections after being assessed as having all characteristics of Category 1, 2, and 3 of election watchlist areas (EWAs).

Policemen were also deployed as BEIs in Nunungan after teachers who were supposed to serve as election officers there "backed out”, he added.

Many Filipinos want next President to implement CAB – SWS

From the Philippine News Agency (May 7): Many Filipinos want next President to implement CAB – SWS

Many Filipinos believe that the next President of the Philippines should implement the provisions of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) – a landmark peace deal between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) following more than 17 years of peace negotiations and decades of armed conflict, according to the latest survey of the Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey.

The survey of SWS shows that there are more Filipinos, (45 percent) who agree that the next president should implement the provisions of the CAB, compared to only 23 percent who disagreed. On the other hand, 31 percent were still undecided on the issue.

The result further showed that the highest number of those who wanted the next President to implement the CAB was registered in the National Capital Region or Metro Manila, with majority or 51 percent of the respondents agreeing. This was followed by 48 percent in Mindanao, 47 percent in the rest of Luzon, and 36 percent in the Visayas.

The survey was conducted by the SWS from March 30 to April 2 among 1,500 respondents nationwide with ± 3 percent error margin. It was commissioned by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, which oversees the peace process of the government.

“The survey proves that the most Filipinos want to sustain the gains achieved by President Benigno S. Aquino III and his administration in resolving the Bangsamoro issue,” Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles said.

She said this should be a strong incentive for the incoming President to sustain the gains in the Bangsamoro peace process and continue the implementation of the provisions agreed upon by the government and the MILF under the CAB, including the passage into law of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that would replace the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao with the Bangsamoro autonomous region.

“Strong foundations have been laid down by this administration to find lasting political solutions to the decades-old armed conflict in Mindanao. Now, the challenge is for the incoming administration to uphold and implement those agreements,” she added.

The peace adviser also said that “most Filipinos share the belief that peace could be achieved with the full implementation of the CAB. The next President has to abide with this sentiment for peace in the Bangsamoro and the entire Philippines.”

The Philippines will hold presidential elections on May 9.

Both chambers of the current 16th Congress failed to pass the BBL, stalling the implementation of the political component of the CAB. Other aspects of the CAB, however, such as the normalization component, and the ceasefire agreements are being implemented.

4 explosions recorded near Masbate school

From the Philippine News Agency (May 7): 4 explosions recorded near Masbate school

Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM) units were deployed in Cataingan, Masbate after four successive explosions were recorded near the Divisoria Elementary School last May 4.

In a statement Saturday, SOLCOM spokesperson Lt. Col. Angelo Guzman said the blasts took place 9:30 a.m.

The incidents were reported to authorities by Barangay Divisoria chair Junrey Alcaraz.

Initial investigations conducted by the Cataingan Municipal Police Station indicated that two of the four explosions happened at 50 meters and 150 meters distance, respectively, from the school where vote counting machines (VCMs) and other election paraphernalia were stored.

No casualty or damage to property were recorded. Moreover, the VCMs and other election paraphernalia were intact and secured.

Guzman said the police were now conducting further investigations on the incidents.

The SOLCOM has directed all soldiers deployed on election duties to be more vigilant and to ensure that the periphery of voting centers are clear of IEDs for the safety of all voters and board of election inspectors.

Airspace over Intramuros, PICC, House of Representatives declared no-fly zones

From the Philippine News Agency (May 7): Airspace over Intramuros, PICC, House of Representatives declared no-fly zones

To ensure the security and safety of designated national canvasing centers, the Commission on Elections has ordered the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) to declare the airspace over Intramuros, the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), and the House of Representatives in Batasan Hills, Quezon City as strictly no-fly zones for all kinds of drones, unmanned aerial vehicles and rotary aircraft.

This is in line with the conduct of the national and local elections on May 9 and the subsequent canvasing of votes that will be done in these places.

All forms of unmanned aerial vehicles, drones and rotary aircraft that have no clearance from the CAAP are ordered to stay clear of the said areas.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police will strictly enforce the no-fly zone and will shoot down all unnamed aerial vehicles in all these areas on sight.

The public is highly enjoined to report the presence of UAVs and drones they see in these areas. Likewise, everyone’s cooperation is also sought on the matter.

Philippines Investigates Possible Abduction of Missing Spaniards in Malaysia

From the Latin American Herald Tribune (May 7): Philippines Investigates Possible Abduction of Missing Spaniards in Malaysia

Philippine authorities are investigating the possibility that the two Spaniards who went missing Monday while sailing in the waters of northeastern Malaysia have been kidnapped by the Islamist group Abu Sayyaf, officials said Friday.

"We have been investigating information that has come to us on the possibility that they were kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf," Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, told EFE.

"There is no news at the moment and we have not received any confirmation yet," he added.

Spaniards David Hernandez and Marta Miguel disappeared along with a Chinese person and a Malaysian, while traveling in a boat from Balambangan Island towards the Kudat district in northern Borneo, which they should have reached in two hours.

Malaysian authorities have pointed to motor failure as the possible cause of the disappearance of the boat, which would have been swept away by the currents. They said they are yet considering the possibility of kidnapping by pirates.

"We can't reach this conclusion yet. Until now, we have no proof to make us think they may have been abducted. There has been no ransom demand," said Malaysia's First Admiral Mohamad Zubil bin Matsom, who is in charge of the operation.

The boat disappeared in the Sulu Sea located between Borneo Island and the southern Philippines, which is the base of jihadist groups like Abu Sayyaf, who frequently kidnap tourists and fishermen for ransom.

Opinion: ISIS’ growing presence in Southeast Asia must be crushed before it’s too late

Opinion piece in Asia Times (May 6): ISIS’ growing presence in Southeast Asia must be crushed before it’s too late (By Jon Connars)

Since the beginning of 2016, a growing body of indisputable evidence has emerged that clearly indicates ISIS is making significant progress in pushing its twisted ideology to ASEAN member states despite being widely rejected by local Muslim populations. Nevertheless, the growing confidence of groups such as the ISIS-affiliated Abu Sayyaf, which recently brutally decapitated Canadian hostage John Ridsdel, should keep security experts and policymakers awake at night.

If ISIS’ recent activity in the region were not reason enough to give ASEAN governments serious cause for concern, the fact that some analysts have suggested Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s so-called Islamic State could join forces with al-Qaeda should force Southeast Asian leaders to take real steps towards neutralizing the threat posed by Islamist extremist groups.

In a March 2016 article for Foreign Affairs magazine, Bruce Hoffman, Professor and Director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies, wrote: “[T]he ideological similarities between ISIS and al-Qaeda are more significant than the differences. Both groups fundamentally adhere to the principle first articulated by al-Qaeda founding member Abdullah Azzam three decades ago: It is an obligation for Muslims everywhere to come to the defense of their brethren wherever they are threatened and endangered.”

An Abu Sayyaf fighter with Malaysian militants Mahmud Ahmad, Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee and Muamar Gadafi, posing with an ISIS flag.

An Abu Sayyaf fighter with Malaysian militants Mahmud Ahmad, Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee and Muamar Gadafi, posing with an ISIS flag.
A global partnership between ISIS and al-Qaeda could effectively unite all ASEAN terror groups under one common umbrella, enabling them to pool resources and greatly increasing the chances that massive terror attacks could occur in ASEAN member states. Indeed, beyond Abu Sayyaf, Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) pledged allegiance to ISIS, while Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings, is an al-Qaeda affiliate. A failure to grasp the scale of the threat posed and formulate effective policy to counter it could see other ASEAN nations become the next victims of atrocities on a scale similar to those recently suffered by Paris and Brussels.

ASEAN maritime patrols help

As I wrote in January after the botched Jakarta attacks, it has never been more vital that all ASEAN member states unite to formulate a credible and effective strategy to halt the growing influence of Daesh and other jihadi groups that have been allowed to flourish in their region. It seems that since then, little if any progress has been made towards finding an answer. The most significant development came on May 6th, when Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines agreed to jointly set up coordinated maritime patrols to crack down on ship hijackings carried out by Islamist militants in their waters.

ISIS propaganda image

Otherwise, ASEAN leaders and their constituents appear to have been too preoccupied with their own domestic political squabbles and scandals to face down the growing threat from ISIS and other extremist organizations. This has left many woefully ill-prepared for the very real possibility that they will be hit by a major terror attack in the not-too-distant future. In Malaysia, the media remains obsessed with the hyped up 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) saga, as well as with the personal donation Prime Minister Najib Razak received from Saudi Arabia that has been used by the opposition as a means of taking him down. At the same time, Indonesia has been trapped by multiple corruption scandals, culminating with the resignation of the now-disgraced House Speaker Setya Novanto, while the Philippines is in the throes of a painful presidential campaign where Trump-style demagogue Rodrigo Duterte holds a double-digit lead in polls.

While all of these issues are undoubtedly deserving of public scrutiny, they seem to have offered the region’s leaders the wiggle room required to fudge the question of how to deal with the growing threat posed by radical Islamists, and kick the thorny issue of how to stop the radicalization of Southeast Asia’s young Muslim men into the long grass. Except for Malaysia’s highly effective hard line taken against wannabe terrorists, that features a complex prevention strategy (by giving extended powers to counterterrorism outfits), an internationally recognized deradicalization program, as well as a regional counter-messaging center sponsored by the United States. The latter was launched in March and aims to curb the digital influence of the Caliphate by attacking the narratives put forward by ISIS’ recruiters. So far, Malaysia has derailed several ISIS plots and has arrested 40 people believed to be involved with terrorist activities. It’s no surprise Kuala Lumpur called on Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo in a recent April visit to implement similar laws.

ASEAN leaders must step up to the plate now and put behind them political squabbles. The region needs to not only crack down on active Islamist terror groups that pose an immediate threat to the safety of its people, but also formulate an effective counter-narrative to stem the spread of the twisted jihadi ideology that is radicalizing so many of its young people. Otherwise, it will take a tragedy on the scale of Brussels or Paris to force the region’s governments to collectively seek out the solutions required to stop Southeast Asia becoming one of violent jihad’s newest heartlands.

[Jon Connars is an investment risk analyst and researcher with an expertise in the ASEAN region who currently shuttles between Singapore and Bangkok.]