Thursday, May 12, 2016

GRSE to Export Light Frigates to Philippines

From Defense News (May 12): GRSE to Export Light Frigates to Philippines

In a major win for the Indian warship building industry, India's state-run Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE) Ltd has emerged as the winner for Philippine Navy's big-ticket modernization program.

GRSE was the lowest bidder to supply two light frigates and hopes to seal the contract worth more than $321 million in the next two months, said one GRSE official.

A total of four firms joined the bidding for the Philippine Navy project: GRSE; Hyundai Heavy Industries Inc. and Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co. Ltd., both from South Korea; and Navantia S.A. of Spain.

GRSE, administered by the Indian Ministry of Defence, has built 95 warships, including frigates, corvettes and fast patrol boats, since 1960.

GRSE's light frigate will be a design based on the Indian Navy's Kamorta-class anti-submarine corvette and will be capable of withstanding Sea State 7, which means it can withstand a wave height of up to 9 meters.

The 2,000-tonne frigate will be 95 meters long, have a combined diesel and diesel (CODAD) configuration propulsion system and be able to work in an area contaminated with nuclear, biological, and chemical agents.

In addition, it will have a tactical data link and radio capable of tactical communication. The frigates will have 76mm naval guns and fire control radar with a built-in electro-optical tracking system integrated into the Combat Management System (CMS).

The state-owned Goa Shipyard is also building two OPVs for the Sri Lankan Navy under India's government-to-government exchange agreement with Sri Lanka. First OPV will be delivered by end of this year and second OPV by middle of next year.

Beijing lashes out at South China Sea tribunal

From the Straits Times (May 12): Beijing lashes out at South China Sea tribunal

Panel abused power, was unjust in taking up Manila's case: China

A 2014 file photo showing the BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated Philippine Navy ship that was run aground atop the Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands in 1999, in a bid by Manila to check the advance of Beijing in the South China Sea. The South

A 2014 file photo showing the BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated Philippine Navy ship that was run aground atop the Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands in 1999, in a bid by Manila to check the advance of Beijing in the South China Sea. The South China Sea faces competing territorial claims from China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.PHOTO: REUTERS

An international arbitration tribunal abused its powers and acted unjustly by taking up Manila's case against Beijing over their South China Sea dispute, China has said in its latest attempt to justify why it refused to take part in the proceedings or accept the impending ruling.

Senior diplomat Xu Hong said at a media briefing yesterday that the tribunal's five judges had "rushed" to hear the case without examining the link between Manila's claims and territorial sovereignty.

The Philippines has submitted claims in three areas: clarifying the legality of China's nine-dash line that covers a large swathe of the South China Sea; the status of Chinese-occupied features such as reefs and their maritime entitlements; and China's activities in what the Philippines considers its exclusive economic zone.

Mr Xu pointed out how the Philippine Foreign Ministry, a day after taking the case to the United Nations in January 2013, had explicitly said the purpose was "to protect (its) national territory and maritime domain" and talked about not surrendering its national sovereignty.

"Even the Philippines itself has laid bare its actual objective, so why did the Arbitral Tribunal turn a deaf ear?" said Mr Xu, director-general of the Foreign Ministry's Treaties and Law department.

He alleged that at least two of the five judges had reversed their academic stances to justify the tribunal's decision last October that it had jurisdiction over the case.

He pointed out that the tribunal's opinion - that entitlement and legal status of maritime features can be separated from maritime delimitation - is not only contradictory to the practice of international law but also inconsistent with the propositions held by at least two arbitrators in their previous writings.

"They had held that the legal status and maritime entitlements of maritime features are closely linked with maritime delimitation, but now they have reversed their position. I guess they owe the world a credible explanation," said Mr Xu.

Territorial sovereignty and maritime delimitation are among the areas that Beijing has chosen to exclude from arbitration proceedings under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea since 2006.

Mr Xu said the tribunal's "abuse of power" justifies China's decision to ignore the ruling expected early next month. In doing so, he said, China is also protecting the sanctity of international law and fulfilling earlier pacts with Manila on resolving South China Sea spats through bilateral negotiations, even though Manila "has not kept its word".

China has been holding media briefings on the case and canvassing support from other countries to influence public opinion ahead of the ruling.

Professor Zhang Mingliang, a Sino-Asean relations expert at Jinan University, noted that it is likely the first time that the Chinese government has turned from attacking Manila to criticising the tribunal.

He told The Straits Times that Beijing's move might backfire, adding: "Casting aspersions on the judges' credibility... may not be well accepted by many, especially coming from a big country.

"And even if it is true that some judges did change their position, focusing on them now may give the impression that China is launching personal attacks out of desperation to minimise the impact of the case."

MILF: SBMAD conducts advocacy on the peace process and Anti-Illegal Drugs Campaign

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (May 12): SBMAD conducts advocacy on the peace process and Anti-Illegal Drugs Campaign

The Sibugay Bangsamoro Association for Development (SBMAD) in partnership with community Leaders of Zamboanga Sibugay conducted advocacy on GPH-MILF Peace process and Anti-Illegal Drugs campaign held at Sitio Tantawan, Gulayan, Alicia, Zamboanga Sibugay on May 7. 2016. 

The organizers emphasized the activity’s objectives by reminding local constituents on the advantage of having a doable peace that redounds to development in the province.

The organizers also stressed the importance of anti- Illegal drugs campaign particularly in Moros Communities by establishing feasible partnership and cooperation with the local government units.

The organizers had been closely coordinating with the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in their respective localities in undertaking anti-illegal drugs campaign. 

In his message, Ustadz Abdurahman Mamiscal, a Moro community leader in Zamboanga-Sibugay welcomed and thanked the attendees who represented various Bangsamoro sectors and line agencies from adjacent municipalities and barangays.

“Every Bangsamoro must share his/her part with consistent commitment in sustaining the gains of the peace process forged between Philippines Government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on March 27, 2014 which is a product of seventeen years of hard work and protracted negotiations.  We pray that the incoming administration will implement it”, Mamiscal stressed.  

Mr. Tirso S. Tahir, a special guest from the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (BLMI) gave significant emphasis on the GPH-MILF Peace process and urged the community leaders to be more responsive in peace-building endeavors through active participation in community activities related to peace and development.

Officers from Bangsamoro Development Agency-Regional Management Office (BDA-RMO) Zamboanga Peninsula (ZamPen) presented a report on activities and projects implemented in the communities under the auspices of United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and other international funding donors.

In his closing message, Sheikh Abdulrazak Abbas, Head of Ma’had Ibno Uthaimin Islamic Institute, Kabasalan, Zamboanga-Sibugay quoted some verses from Noble Qur’an and Hadiths of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) related to promoting peace and about Jihad in Islam where some people still misunderstood and misapplied its true concept, objectives and applications.

Uz. Mamiscal, Mr. Darwin Matindo and other SBMAD officers facilitated the program.

MILF: Rasid Ladiasan, MILF CCCH Chair passes away

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (May 12): Rasid Ladiasan, MILF CCCH Chair passes away

Words of sympathies and condolences shower over the family of the Chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), Rasid Ladiasan, for his demise yesterday (May 11) afternoon after months of battling against lung cancer.
Von Al Haq, former MILF-CCCH Chair, where Ladiasan served as the CCCH Head of the Secretariat in 2005, hoped the latter will “reap the reward from the Almighty for his participation in the Bangsamoro struggle.”

“His passing away is God’s will. May the Almighty grant him paradise,” Al Haq said. “Brother Rasid served four CCCH chairmen before the (MILF) Central Committee designated him to chair the CCCH in 2014,” he added.

Together with the MILF Peace panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal, Ladiasan appeared in 2015 at the Senate probe on the Mamasapano encounter.

Doctor Amor Pendaliday related that Ladiasan was the founding officer and organizer of the Agency for Youth Affairs, founding director of the Center for Muslim Youth Studies, Inc. and compiler of the speeches of the late MILF Chairman Sheikh Salamat Hashim.

”Thank you for the good company we shared since 1990s,” Pendaliday posted in his facebook wall. “We pray Allah Subhanu wa ta Ala to bless and reward you with Jannatul Firdhaus,” he added.

Extending condolences to the bereaved family of Ladiasan, prominent peace advocate from Lanao, Drieza Lininding said, “We lost a comrade and young leader in the Bangsamoro.”

“Bangsamoro lost a great son. May your journey be shrouded with clouds of peace and justice, Bai (Cebuano for friend) Rashid,” said photojournalist Froilan Gallardo.

“Brother Rashid was a true Mujahid, revolutionary, and an exemplary youth leader, he was one of my mentor,” Moro writer Mubarak Dumato said.

“He is a Great Mujahid. Allah will reward him Jannah. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioun,” said Tu Alfonso, another Moro scribe.

“A dedicated and courageous Mujahid,” Doctor Saffrullah Dipatuan, Chairman of the Bangsamoro Development Agency described Ladiasan adding, “Kind, passionate, selfless, energetic and fearless are some of the words that describes the character of this young man.”

Former BDA Chair of Basilan Tony Sakkalahul said, “Our prayer may all his sins be forgiven and all good deeds be rewarded, In sha Allah!.”

“It's sad that he never got to see the full realization of all his hardship and struggle. May Allah grant you paradise, Kaka Rasid.” said Andrew Alonto from the Bangsamoro Transition Commission.

“A fellow youth peace worker in the 1990s and peer in the National youth Parliament, we lighted candles in Marawi amidst uncertainties. MAY THE LIGHT REACH YOU IN JANNAH, RAS,” said Samira Gutoc, Moro Journalist and former Assemblywoman of the ARMM.

MILF: Poll watchdogs dismayed over conduct of election in Maguindanao

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (May 11): Poll watchdogs dismayed over conduct of election in Maguindanao

“Despite series of advocacies undertaken by groups of poll watchdogs to prevent election-related violence (ERV’s) in the recently- concluded election, violence still occurred at some polling precincts in the towns of Guindulongan, GSKP, Sultan sa Barongis, Rajah Buayan, Talitay, Pagalungan, Sultan Kudarat, Datu Piang, and Mamasapano and other areas of Maguindano”,  Maguindanao Peace Advocates (MPA) said during an interview by Voice FM 99.0 in Cotabato City.

On May 9 at around 6AM, commotions erupted at Guindulungan Elementary School in Guindulungan town that led to the fatal shooting of still unidentified 20 year-old boy by a gunman allegedly from the camp of the opponent of incumbent Mayor Datu Midpantao Midtimbang.

A poll watchdog report said that the harassment mostly occurred in the afore-mentioned municipalities through intimidation, gun strafing, grenade throwing and commotions that injured a number of victims.  The violence that occurred in various areas of Maguindanao caused fear among voters.

Some analyst said the eagerness of some voters to cast their votes for their chosen candidates that could make drastic changes in the country triggered the commotions.

On the other hand, the leadership of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) issued anew another statement reiterating its position that it will not endorse any candidate but with a general guideline reminding the Moro people to choose one that will support the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and the Bangsamoro’s right to self- determination.

MILF leadership also hoped for the conduct of clean, fair and honest elections.

MPA, 4cs, CCCOMME and the security sectors were optimistic that peace shall prevail as long as peace advocate groups remain patient to continue what has been started not only during election period but until lasting peace is attained in Mindanao.

The funds utilized for the activities of these poll watchdogs courtesy of PPCRV and TAF.

MILF: Survey says 45% of Filipinos believe next president should implement the CAB

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (May 9): Survey says 45% of Filipinos believe next president should implement the CAB

The latest SWS survey showed 45% of the Filipinos believe that the next president should implement the provisions of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), a peace agreement between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) according to a report of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) posted in its website.

Commissioned by the OPAPP, the survey was conducted from March 30 to April 2 among 1,500 respondents nationwide.

Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said as quoted in the said report, “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.”

The peace deal provides the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by the Philippine Congress that will lay down the foundation for an autonomous Bangsamoro government aimed to end the decades of conflict in Southern Philippines. The CAB-compliant has more fiscal and political power.

Of the five presidential candidates, only Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Administration bet Mar Roxas have commitment to deliver the BBL.

The Bangsamoro people are hopeful that the next Administration will comply with the peace deal signed by the Aquino Administration.

The MILF leadership said they will not accept BBL that is not compliant to CAB for it shall not address the Bangsamoro question.

MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said the MILF is committed to pursue the peace process despite the failure of the Congress to pass the proposed law.

MNLF: Video -- Vice News Interview by Jamela Alindogan: Fighting for Peace in the Philippines

Posted to the Moro National Liberation Front Website (May 10): Video -- Vice News Interview by Jamela Alindogan: Fighting for Peace in the Philippines

MNLF: Video -- Vice News Interview by Jamela Alindogan: Chairnam Nur Weighs in on Philippine Presidential Election

Posted to the Moro National Liberation Front Website (May 6): Video -- Vice News Interview by Jamela Alindogan: Chairnam Nur Weighs in on Philippine Presidential Election

Thousands in Mindanao flee their homes due to armed harassment

From GMA News (May 13): Thousands in Mindanao flee their homes due to armed harassment

Some 14,000 residents in Maguindanao's Pagalungan town fled their homes due to alleged harassment by an armed group in the area.

Citing local authorities, a report on Unang Balita said unidentified armed men fired their guns randomly near Barangay Inug-og during last Monday's polls.

Earlier that day, armed men fired a rifle grenade near an elementary school in the town.

Residents from six barangays in the Pagalungan town have evacuated after the firing incidents, the report said.

Authorities suspects that the armed men were members of a private army of a losing local candidate.

Security forces have been deployed in the area to secure the town's residents.

Meanwhile, hundreds of civilians living at the boundary of have fled their homes due to an alleged clash of political families.

Residents who have sought refuge in Pikit town in Cotabato are temporarily being accommodated at the municipal gym.

China, US should manage South China Sea differences constructively – Chinese general

From GMA News (May 13): China, US should manage South China Sea differences constructively – Chinese general

China and the United States should manage their differences over disputed waters in the South China Sea constructively, one of China's top military officials has said.

Fang Fenghui, a member of China's Central Military Commission, told General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the two sides should "refrain from actions detrimental to the relations between the two countries and the two militaries," state news agency Xinhua reported on Friday.

Fang and Dunford discussed the South China Sea in a video link-up on Thursday, it said.

The discussion comes at a time of heightened tension between China and the United States, which have traded accusations of militarising the South China Sea as China implements large-scale land reclamation and construction on disputed features while the United States has increased its patrols and exercises.

On Tuesday, China scrambled fighter jets as a US navy guided missile destroyer sailed close to a disputed reef in the South China Sea and denounced the patrol as an illegal threat to peace.

The US Defence Department said the latest "freedom of navigation" operation was undertaken to "challenge excessive maritime claims" by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam that were seeking to restrict navigation rights in the South China Sea.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.

Fang said China was not to blame for tensions with the United States in the South China Sea and urged the two sides "to bear the overall situation in mind and manage their differences in a constructive way," Xinhua reported early on Friday.

Xinhua quoted Dunford as calling for restraint in the South China Sea, and saying the United States was willing to work with China to establish "an effective mechanism on risk control so as to maintain stability in the South China Sea by peaceful means."

The South China Sea was also discussed at a separate meeting between Sun Jianguo, an admiral and deputy chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army, and Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, vice chief of the Australian Defense Force.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull backed the United States on Thursday in its latest South China Sea patrol. Australia has consistently supported US-led freedom of navigation activities there.

China's Defence Ministry said Sun told Griggs the South China Sea was not and should not become an issue between China and Australia, and that Australia should not do anything that "harms regional peace and stability or Sino-Australia ties." 

US hospital ship leaves San Diego for Pacific Partnership Mission

From Update.Ph (May 12): US hospital ship leaves San Diego for Pacific Partnership Mission  

United States hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) operating under the US Military Sealift Command has departed San Diego, May 11, for the Pacific Partnership 2016, Pacific Partnership Public Affairs said. Pacific Partnership is an annual maritime operation designed to improve disaster response preparedness while enhancing partnerships with participating nations in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

Indonesia, Timor Leste, Malaysia, the Republic of the Philippines, and Vietnam are slated to host Mercy during PP16 and participate in subject-matter expert and civil-military exchanges, emphasizing the importance of cooperation on a global scale in preparing for and responding to disasters. Japan will also lead a mission to Palau.

“This year’s mission is led by Commodore, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 23, embarked on Mercy, along with more than 600 military and civilian personnel from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Singapore, Republic of Korea and Japan.” Pacific Partnership Public Affairs said.

“It is a privilege and honor to be the Pacific Partnership mission commander. As in previous years, it attracts a very talented and dynamic group of professionals who will not only share their knowledge with our partners, but learn a great deal from the partner nations we are visiting,” said Capt. Tom Williams, commodore, DESRON 23.

 “Pacific Partnership’s enduring value is in building professional and personal relationships in times of calm to be better prepared for crisis, so when disaster strikes we have a mutual understanding of how to work together to achieve common goals.”

US awards contracts for Cessna aircraft surveillance systems involving Philippines

From Update.Ph (May 13): US awards contracts for Cessna aircraft surveillance systems involving Philippines  

The United States government through its Defense Department has entered into couple of contracts that involve pseudo foreign military and foreign military sales to the Philippines. The contracts are with North American Surveillance System and L-3 Communications Corporation.

The contracts also involve pseudo foreign military and foreign military sales to Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

“North American Surveillance Systems, Titusville, Florida, has been awarded a $39,983,647 firm-fixed-price, undefinitized contract action. Contractor will provide modification and integration of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities into Cessna 208B aircraft, training, and field service representative support,” US Defense department said in a press release dated May 9.

“L-3 Communications Corp., doing business as Communication Systems West, Salt Lake City, Utah, has been awarded a $14,185,927 firm-fixed-price, undefinitized contract action for Cessna 208B intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) program production of ISR capabilities and spares,” it added.

Fiscal 2016 Section 2282 and counter-terrorism partnership funds are being obligated at the time of award for both contracts.

Works are expected to be completed September 30, 2019 and September 30, 2017, respectively.

Philippine-Brazil Defense Cooperation Agreement under negotiation

From Update.Ph (May 13): Philippine-Brazil Defense Cooperation Agreement under negotiation  

Philippine Ambassador to Brazil Jose D.R. Burgos has met with Undersecretary of National Defense Fernando I. Manalo during the ambassador’s recent official consultation meetings in the Philippines in April 2016. They have discussed the pending defense agreement and the aircraft acquisition from Brazil’s Embraer aircraft manufacturer.

The Department of National Defense is currently in process of acquiring six Close Air Support Aircraft with Embraer’s Super Tucano as the strongest contender.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said that during the meeting Manalo was informed about the efforts of the Philippine Embassy in Brasilia to develop further areas of defense cooperation between the Philippines and Brazil including the pending Philippine-Brazil Agreement on Defense Cooperation, the Philippine Air Force’s aircraft acquisition from Brazil’s Embraer aircraft manufacturer, and the West Philippine Sea among others.

“The Ambassador’s meeting with Undersecretary Manalo signifies the continuing efforts of cooperation between the two agencies in furtherance of the country’s security and defense interests,” DFA said.

“The Brazilian Air Force has offered Air Safety and Control Tower Operations for Officers of the Philippine Air Force while the Brazilian Army signified willingness to have joint Jungle Warfare Training with the Philippine Army,” DFA added.

Moreover, the Brazilian Navy is interested in exchange of training programs with the Philippine Navy, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine Courses as well as Brazilian middle and senior military officers taking up Masters in National Security Administration at the National Defense College of the Philippines.

Joma to end 30-year exile

From the Manila Times (May 12): Joma to end 30-year exile

Philippine communist rebel leader Jose Maria Sison has expressed hopes of ending nearly three decades in exile under the new presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, a potentially explosive homecoming opposed by senior military figures.

Sison, now 77, fled to Europe soon after peace talks failed in 1987 and has stayed abroad since, while one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies continued to claim thousands of lives.

“I will return to the Philippines if Duterte fulfils his promise to visit me,” the Netherlands-based Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder said in comments posted on his Facebook page late on Wednesday.

“The prospects [for peace talks] seem to be bright at the moment,” Sison added.

Sison, a political science professor, “reestablished” the CPP in December 1968 and it launched a guerrilla campaign three months later.

The rebellion has left at least 30,000 people dead, by official account.

The New People’s Army (NPA) is believed to have fewer than 4,000 soldiers, down from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s, according to the military.

The NPA, however, retains support among the deeply poor in rural Philippines.

President Benigno Aquino 3rd revived peace talks soon after taking office in 2010 but shelved them in 2013, accusing the rebels of insincerity in efforts to achieve a political settlement.

The talks got bogged down after the communists demanded the release of scores of their jailed comrades whom they described as “political prisoners,” which the Aquino government rejected.

Duterte, who was Sison’s student at a Manila university in the 1960s, is the long-time mayor of the southern city of Davao.

Some of the communists’ strongholds today are near Davao, and Duterte has maintained relations with them.

Last week, local television station ABS-CBN radio and television network released footage of Duterte chatting with Sison via Skype on his laptop.

“I’m a socialist,” said Duterte, who won Monday’s elections in a landslide.

The network said the chat took place shortly after communist rebels freed five police hostages last month in Davao.

Peace hopes

Sison said in the comments posted on Facebook that he had congratulated Duterte via an intermediary on his win and called for the resumption of peace talks, a ceasefire, the release of political prisoners and the “arrest and trial of Aquino.”

Duterte was ready to release ailing and elderly rebels on humanitarian grounds, as well as those whom the communist movement appoints as peace negotiators after vetting by the military, police and state prosecutors, his spokesman Peter Laviña said also on Thursday.

“Our people are suffering from the internal conflict… [Businessmen] doing business in these areas have been suffering for long. Any move to still the guns, declare ceasefire would be very welcome,” he told reporters.

Lavina said Duterte had planned to see Sison during a trip to Europe before the President-elect takes his oath of office on June 30.

Sison’s comments were a transcript of an interview he gave to Dubai’s Khaleej Times newspaper.

Sison said he hoped to return home after Duterte begins his term but the communist leader added that the new government must first take steps to ensure his personal safety.

“I will not dive into any situation in which the Duterte government is still unsettled and there are unwieldy elements… who violently oppose my homecoming,” he said.

Lavina said the new government would uphold previous security guarantees for rebel negotiators while the military said it would support Duterte’s peace efforts.

“If it’s part of the peace efforts, he [Sison] is welcome to come [back] here. But as for his other enemies, that would be another matter,” military spokesman Col. Noel Detoyato told Agence France-Presse but declined to elaborate.

Senator Antonio Trillanes 4th, a Duterte critic and former military rebel, warned last week that some in the military were “strongly averse” to Duterte’s long-standing ties with communists, and that the reaction “could be violent.”

Lavina said Trillanes’ warning was a personal opinion that “remains to be seen.”

The spokesman added that Duterte would consider communist figures for his Cabinet, where retired military and police figures would also be represented.

Former Navy research ship sailing for new home in Philippines

From Stars and Stripes (May 12): Former Navy research ship sailing for new home in Philippines

Vice Adm. Nora Tyson, left, 3rd Fleet commander, and Leo Herrera-Lim, Philippine Consul General in Los Angeles, sign documents transferring ownership of R/V Melville to the Philippine Navy during a ceremony April 27, 2016, at Naval Base San Diego, where it was commissioned as the BRP Gregorio Velasquez. The ship is now on its way to the Philippines via Hawaii and Guam.<br>Travis Litke/U.S. Navy photo

 Vice Adm. Nora Tyson, left, 3rd Fleet commander, and Leo Herrera-Lim, Philippine Consul General in Los Angeles, sign documents transferring ownership of R/V Melville to the Philippine Navy during a ceremony April 27, 2016,   Naval Base San Diego, where it was commissioned as the BRP Gregorio

A former Navy research ship given to the Philippines is set to sail out of Pearl Harbor on Thursday en route to its new home.

The BRP Gregorio Velasquez, formerly the R/V Melville, is the Philippines’ first dedicated marine research vessel.
The Navy formally transferred the vessel’s ownership during an April 27 ceremony at Naval Base San Diego. The crew then sailed for nine days to reach Hawaii and will stop in Guam before heading to the Philippines.
The U.S. has been trying to help the Philippines bolster its maritime presence as the country confronts claims by China over much of the South China Sea lying off the coast of the western island of Palawan. China has aggressively used its maritime fleet, which dwarfs the Philippines’, to stake its claim in the disputed Spratly Islands.
The Melville, first launched in 1968, had been placed on the Defense Department’s list of excess equipment slated to help the Philippines conduct oceanographic research.
The newly named Velasquez will be used to map the vast maritime domain belonging the archipelago nation.
In addition to the ship’s primary mission, it will serve as “a valuable platform in reviewing our anti-submarine warfare capability,” said Capt. Lued Lincuna, the country’s navy spokesman, according to Philippine news accounts.
Velasquez will also “enhance capacity and build capability to support the environmental protection efforts and exploration of the country for economic purpose,” he said.
During a visit to the Philippines in November, President Barack Obama announced the transfer of the Melville and the Coast Guard cutter Boutwell, which is expected to help the country conduct long-duration patrols.
“More capable navies and partnership with the United States are critical to the security of this region,” Obama said.
The U.S. previously gave the Philippines two former Coast Guard cutters, which are now among the largest ships in the country’s fleet.
America also funded the National Coast Watch Center in Manila Harbor.hip is now on its way to the Philippines via Hawaii and Guam

Hijacked Tugboat Released by Abu Sayyaf Rebels

From the Jakarta Globe (May 12): Hijacked Tugboat Released by Abu Sayyaf Rebels

Hijacked Malaysian tugboat MV Massive 6 has been released by the Abu Sayyaf group after being taken hostage for almost two weeks, Indonesian Foreign Affairs Ministry revealed in a statement on Wednesday (13/04). The four Malaysian crew members, however, have not been released.

The tugboat, carrying 7,500 tons of coals, departed from Tawau in Sabah, Malaysia on Tuesday at around 7.30 p.m., heading to Samarinda in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province.

The Abu Sayyaf had already released three Indonesians and two Burmese nationals who were part of the vessel's nine-member crew when it was hijacked on April 1. The remaining four Malaysian boat crews are still taken hostage.

“Highline Shipping, the owner of the vessel, has replaced the four crew members still held hostage with four Indonesian crew members,” the statement said.

The Indonesian Consulate in Tawau monitored and accompanied the four Indonesian crew members when they signed their contract with Highline Shipping, ensuring the crews will have all their proper rights taken care of.

Massive 6 was released shortly after a meeting between Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi and her Malaysian counterpart Dato' Sri Anifah Hj. Aman in Istanbul, Turkey on Tuesday.

Both countries have agreed to increase cooperation in maritime security and work together to resolve disputed sea borders.

Head of MILF truce monitoring team dies

From InterAksyon (May 12): Head of MILF truce monitoring team dies

Rasid Ladiasan

Rasid Ladiasan, the chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front contingent to the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, died of lung cancer Wednesday, May 11.

Ladiasan’s death was announced by the government peace panel that negotiated the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro with the MILF. 

‎He is survived by his wife Zuhaira, four children aged between 11 and 5, and his parents.

The government peace panel said it was “saddened” by Ladiasan’s death and extended its condolences to the MILF official whom it credited with “keeping the peace on the ground which led to an unprecedented record of zero skirmishes between government and MILF troops from 2012 to 2015, broken only by the tragic Mamasapano incident.”

The January 25, 2015 incident in Mamasapano, Maguindanao claimed the lives of 44 police Special Action Force commandos, 17 MILF fighters and three civilians in clashes that erupted in the course of a covert government operation to get Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, or “Marwan.”

At the height of the fighting, Ladiasan and then MILF ceasefire secretariat head Butch Malang “were instrumental in mobilizing MILF commanders on the ground to restore the ceasefire, extricate the fallen and return the weapons and belongings of SAF troopers seized during the fighting,” the government peace panel said.

He was also “an important figure in defusing tensions, preventing the escalation of violence and even in the settlement of clan conflicts or ridos during his term as MILF ceasefire head,” it added.

Ladiasan also initially represented the MILF at the Senate investigation into Mamasapano, the first time a rebel organization appeared before a congressional inquiry, until he was replaced by MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal.

AFP downgrades to blue alert status

From the Philippine News Agency (May 12): AFP downgrades to blue alert status

With the May 9 elections successfully concluded in most parts of the country, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has downgraded its red alert status to blue Wednesday afternoon.

This took place 5:00 p.m., said AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla.

By declaring blue alert, only 50 percent of all available troops and assets are required to be inside camp for immediate deployment in case of possible emergencies or contingencies.

In contrast, red alert requires 100 percent availability of all troops and equipment.

The AFP placed all its units in red alert starting midnight of May 7.

"We are now shifting our focus from election operations to internal security operations. However, the Unified Commands of the AFP remain to have the prerogative to implement security adjustments in their areas of responsibility as they see fit," acting AFP chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda said.

Also, security efforts will remain intensive in areas where the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has declared the conduct of special elections on Saturday.

COMELEC Resolution No. 10129 said there were a total of 52 clustered precincts from 11 towns, mostly in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Eastern Visayas where no elections were held on Monday due to problems in the ballots and security concerns.

"Due to this, many of our line units are committed in ensuring that the rest of the country gets to freely and safely cast their votes," he added.

Miranda stressed that the AFP, as professional military organization, respects the choice of the Filipino people and will remain solid behind the Constitution and other democratic institutions.

"We will follow our Commander-in-Chief and will implement the new President’s peace and security policies, especially those that will bring the conflicts that ail the country for decades to their just end," he added.

67 new officers formally join PA roster

From the Philippine News Agency (May 12): 67 new officers formally join PA roster

Sixty seven newly-graduated officers from the Philippine Army Officer Preparatory Course (OPC) Class 65-2015 formally joined the PA roster Thursday.

Graduation and commissioning ceremonies took place at the PA Officers' Club in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City at 10:00 a.m.

2nd Lt. Allan M. Due topped the class, while 2nd Lt. Mark Anthony Pantaleon and 2nd Lt. Romeo Marayad, placed second and third in the class ranking, respectively.

While 2nd Lt. Rhean Jelly Sanchez also received the Physical Fitness Award.

The group is composed of 49 males and 18 females who have successfully completed six months of rigid military training at the Officer Candidate School, Training and Doctrine Command, Philippine Army in Camp O'Donnell, Capas, Tarlac.

More or less 40 percent of the graduates are former enlisted personnel of the Army, while the remaining are professionals in the fields of Agriculture and Forestry, Criminology, Business Administration, Engineering, Information Technology and Education.

One of the graduates is former Police Office 1 of the Philippine National Police.

The graduation ceremony was graced by PA commander Lt. Gen. Eduardo M. Año.

He also encouraged the new lieutenants to harness the knowledge, skills, experience, and wisdom that they have acquired in the training.

“Your new responsibility demands your strength, commitment to service, and readiness to sacrifice oneself in the fulfillment of your duty,” Año said.

“As platoon leaders, in your hands lie the responsibility not only of leading our troops in the accomplishment of your missions but also of taking an active role in bringing the PA closer to its vision of becoming a world-class Army that is a source of national pride,” he added.

GPH-MILF peace process supports fight against organized crime and terrorism –Ferrer

From the Philippine News Agency (May 12): GPH-MILF peace process supports fight against organized crime and terrorism –Ferrer
Government of the Philippines (GPH) Chief Negotiator for Talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer underscored the importance of peace negotiations as a tool in curbing organized crime and terrorism that are threats to the security and development of the country.

“There is unprecedented opportunity to quell terrorism and crime with the success of a political process with a major player, as in the case of the GPH-MILF peace negotiations. Without this flank, the job would be much more difficult and deadly,” Ferrer said in an international forum held in the Thai capital today, organized by the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) and the Thailand Institute of Justice.

“Spatial, family, cultural, ideological affinity make borders porous but distinctions among groups should be made nonetheless," emphasized Ferrer. "Efforts to draw in the rank-and-file toward the peace process must continue, with the peace partner also as the most effective ally to serve as buffer if not counterforce to the seamless operations of criminal and terrorist groups,” she added.

The GPH chief negotiator also pointed out that the MILF has taken decisive steps to cut off their ties with international terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, and criminal groups in the Philippines like the Al Kobar Gang and the Pentagon Gang.

Meanwhile, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) integrees in the Armed Forces of the Philippines have actively participated in military campaigns against groups like the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

Ferrer recalled that two MNLF integrees in the AFP were among the 19 soldiers killed in Basilan last April 9, in an intense battle against the ASG.

Also with her in Bangkok is Lt. Col. Abdurasad Sirajan, the Government Panel's action officer for Western Mindanao, a former MNLF combatant who was integrated in the AFP as part of the Final Peace Agreement with the MNLF. Retired Major Carlos Sol Jr., the head of the GPH ceasefire secretariat based in Cotabato City, also accompanied Ferrer in representing the Philippine government in the experts' meeting.

“The nexus of crime and terrorism plus insurgency is inevitable. They share the same space, kinship ties, cultural affinity, and historical and ideological links,” Ferrer said. “[But] the peace process has progressed. It serves as a counterpole to violent movements. Also, functional mechanisms are in place, namely the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and the GPH-MILF Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) that enable valuable security cooperation.”

“Alternately, when the peace process broke down or floundered, conditions for the rise of other armed groups were enhanced, adding to the complexity,”‎ she added.

Despite the difference in the philosophical frameworks, Ferrer maintained that there is a need to infuse the dominant counter-terrorism and anti-crime framework with the peace orientation. “Such a cohesive approach is even more essential in complex or mixed situations where crime, terrorism, insurgency and revolution interplay within the same spatial dimensions -- terrestrial and intellectual,” she said.

UNICRI was established in 1965 and is mandated to support countries across the globe in preventing crime and facilitating criminal justice. Programs under the institute include creating and testing new and holistic approaches in preventing crime and promoting justice and development.

The chief negotiator has been lauded around the globe for her work on the Bangsamoro peace process. Ferrer is last year’s recipient of the Hillary Clinton Award for Advancing Women in Peace and Security for her “indefatigable work to bring about peace in the Philippines and for her historic role as the first female chief negotiator to sign a comprehensive peace agreement.”

“Promoting international peace and security is at the heart of the United Nations Charter. The rise of extremist Islamist movements is a matter of international concern,” Ferrer said previously.

“The UN also upholds the right of self-determination. In this instance, the reference is to internal self-determination or regional autonomy and this is what the foreign governments support,” she added, referring to the proposed Bangsamoro regional government that is parliamentary in form to provide more representation to the various stakeholders in the region and with more political and fiscal autonomy.

Unfortunately, the Congress failed to act on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) when it adjourned last February to give way to the recently concluded general elections. Proponents of the BBL have pledged to re-file the bill once the next Congress assumes power in July.

Ferrer urged the participants to see the larger picture of the peace architecture in solving the problem in organized crime and terrorism. “This is one case, but it reflects a dynamic that bears scrutiny. [It] doesn’t negate all the focused specific interventions along law enforcement and criminal justice but we must put these in a bigger peace-building frame, not the other way around,” Ferrer stressed.

Philippines 2016 election was ‘one of the cleanest and safest in history’

From the Asian Correspondent (May 12): Philippines 2016 election was ‘one of the cleanest and safest in history’

Philippine president-elect Rodrigo Duterte.

Philippine president-elect Rodrigo Duterte.

BASED on overall statistics, the Philippines held “one of the cleanest and safest elections” in its history on Monday, which saw the landslide victory of Rodrigo ‘Rody’ Duterte, a candidate known for his blunt speech and tendency to make controversial statements, earning him comparisons to U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump.

As for the vice presidency, in the third day of the unofficial tally, Camarines Sur representative Leni Robredo is still in the lead, ahead of Senator Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr, though the votes are still fairly close, with only a difference of some 200,000 votes.

SEE ALSO: Rodrigo Duterte claims Philippines election win

After polling stations were closed at 5pm on Monday, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) chair Andres Bautista told the press that the 2016 elections generally “went smoothly” compared to previous years.

According to the commission, this year’s polls outperformed the elections conducted in 2010 and 2013, based on complaints of malfunctioning Vote Counting Machines (VCMs) and actions taken by Comelec.

“As of 4pm, 2,363 precincts reported about problematic VCMs, but most of these issues had been addressed,” he said.

Bautista added that the voter turnout for this election was 84 percent – seven percent higher compared to the previous elections in 2013 and 2010.

Several areas, however, had failed to conduct polls due to issues with official ballots and safety concerns.

Failure of election was declared in 52 precincts with 17,657 affected voters in Cebu, Sarangani, Marinduque, Antique, Samar, Lanao del Sur, and Sulu.

Comelec said it is set to hold special polls in these areas this Saturday, with around 15,000 to 18,000 registered voters expected to cast their votes in those areas.

The National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) said on Wednesday that the 2016 elections ran peacefully and in an orderly manner despite some glitches.

Its secretary-general Eric Alvia said the conduct of the automated elections this year improved compared to the past two elections.

However, elections watchdog Automated Election System (AES) Watch did not share the same opinion: it issued a statement on Wednesday, criticizing Comelec for running the national and local elections on a “test run” mode.

“Comelec had all three years to prepare for the last election so that to reason that it had limited time to conduct the exercise is unacceptable. The poll body’s announcement weeks before the election that it was 100 percent ready was deceptive,” it said.

Among its complaints were: voting delays at polling precincts, malfunctioning VCMs, and glitches in the transmission of election results, as the Boards of Election Inspectors were not properly trained.

Another poll watch group, Kontra Daya, claims that its volunteers nationwide recorded over 600 complaints and lodged 280 cases of problematic VCMs.

Its convenor, Danilo Arao, said: “The reports gathered by Kontra Daya regarding the conduct of May 9 elections is that majority of the report have to do with the malfunctions and errors in the VCMs.”

“Aside from the VCM problems, we also noticed that the old style of cheating in the form of guns goons and gold, vote buying, military and police presence, we’ve seen such occurrences nationwide,” he said.

The group recorded some 54 cases of harassment and 60 cases of illegal campaigning in some areas.
On a lighthearted note, a local pastry chef from a bakeshop in Quezon City had to eat humble pie after he promised to give away 5 million pesos’ worth of cakes if Duterte won the presidency.

In November last year, Jack Labang expressed his disdain for Duterte on Facebook, calling the Davao City mayor a “liar” when he officially announced his presidential candidacy after previously saying that he would not, reported Rappler.

Now that Duterte has won the presidency, netizens are reminding Labang of his earlier promise, though he has since taken the post down.

Labang said he intends to fulfill his promise by holding cake samplings on a first come, first serve basis every month, but he could not help but include a jab at Duterte:

Eliaquim Labang
The people have spoken. Congrats to our new leader! As promised we will be happy to share our cakes for as long as he will also deliver his promise to solve criminality in 3-6 months..

Gov't: No Ransom Paid in the Rescue of Four Indonesian Hostages

From (May 12): Gov't: No Ransom Paid in the Rescue of Four Indonesian Hostages 

Gov't: No Ransom Paid in the Rescue of Four Indonesian Hostages  

The spokesperson for the Indonesian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Arrmanatha Nasir said that the release of four Indonesian national that were taken as hostages in the Philippines by an armed militant group did not involve any ransom payment.

"What I can say - as what our Minister of Foreign Affairs have said prior - that our government are steadfast on our stance of not giving in to ransom requests," said Nasir. "Not in the first case where 10 Indonesian nationals were rescued, and definitely not in the second case," said Nasir in Jakarta on Thursday, May 12, 2016.

Nasir released the statement as a response to reports that a certain amount of ransom was paid, which persuaded the militant group to release the four Indonesian crewmen - who were manning the tugboat 'Henry', owned by PT Global Trans-Energy.

The names of the hostages that were rescued are Moch Aryani from Bekasi Timur, West Java, Loren Marinus Petrus Rumawi from Sorong, West Papua, Dede Irfan Hilmi from Ciamis, West Java, and Samsir, a resident of Palopo in South Sulawesi.

According to Nasir, the rescued hostages are currently being prepared for repatriation to Indonesia on Thursday, May 12, 2016. "The Philippines government will formally hand them over to Indonesian representatives station on our warship stationed near the Indonesian-Filipino border, after which hopefully they could arrive in Jakarta either this afternoon or tomorrow morning," Nasir said.

The four crewmen were taken hostages off the waters of Zamboanga on April 15, 2016, and were held as captives in Sulu, the Philippines. Six other Indonesian nationals were also aboard the tugboat, but they were rescued by a Malaysia patrol boat and were taken to Tawau, Sabah in Malaysia, to receive medical treatment as a crewman suffered from a gunshot wound.

According to the Director for the Protection of Indonesian Citizens and Legal Entities, five out of the six crewmen rescued have been repatriated in April, while the injured individual has been released from the Malaysian hospital were he was treated on Wednesday, May 11, 2016.

Vietnam the new global hot-spot as pirates become hi-tech hackers to find high-value cargo

From The Load Star (May 11): Vietnam the new global hot-spot as pirates become hi-tech hackers to find high-value cargo

 south east Asia pirates

Piracy attacks in South-east Asia now account for 60% of global incidents, with a surge of activity in Vietnam marking it as a new global hotspot.

Using data from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a new report by insurance firm Allianz shows global piracy attacks increased for the first time in five years in 2015, albeit by just one incident, up to 246 compared with 245 in 2014.

While attacks in Africa are declining as international naval efforts slow down piracy off the coasts of Nigeria and Somalia, incidents are increasing in South-east Asia, with 55% of the region’s 147 attacks taking place against moving vessels, compared with 37% a year earlier.

A problem in the region is that the traffic is very dense and different national territorial waters are adjacent to each other, making it very hard to distinguish who has responsibility,” said Captain Jarek Klimczak, Allianz senior marine risk consultant.

The majority of attacks were low-level theft, which the IMB says increases risks to vessels and crew.

This was the case in Vietnam, where a surge of robberies on anchored vessels at the port of Vung Tau meant total nationwide incidents leapt from seven to 27.

And Vietnam is growing increasingly wary of regional piracy. According to local news reports, the Vietnam Maritime Administration (Vinamarine) has ordered port authorities across the country to inform shipowners of increasing crew abduction incidents in regional waters.

Vinamarine acted after receiving a report from the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP). The report cited three tugboat hijacking incidents in the coastal areas off eastern Sabah, Malaysia, and the southern Philippines.

Meanwhile, the Allianz report also highlights the relatively new phenomenon of ‘cyber-savvy pirates’ and the threat they pose to shipping companies.

Ron Johnson, regional marine manager for Allianz Pacific, cites the growing utilisation of Internet of Things (IOT) cloud-based technologies by the maritime industry as fuelling the “potential for hackers to access shipping company and port records, as well as on-board vessel identification and navigational systems”.

He added: “This leaves the entire shipping system exposed, enabling pirates and terrorists to identify target cargo and obtain information about more vulnerable ships and locations”.

In one recent example of the risk posed by so-called hacker-pirates, US telecoms giant Verizon made global headlines in March by revealing its role in foiling high-seas piracy aided by network intrusion.

Verizon’s security response team helped a major container carrier avoid further cargo losses after it suffered a series of highly targeted attacks, whereby, after boarding a vessel and forcing the crew into hiding, pirates would seek out and ransack specific containers, already aware of the high-value cargo within.

Recounting the incident in its Data Breach Digest report, Verizon said: “They’d board a vessel, locate by barcode specific sought-after crates containing valuables, steal the contents of that crate – and that crate only – and then depart the vessel without further incident. Fast, clean and easy.”

Upon investigation, the Verizon team was able to identify the source of the security breach as a web-based content management system (CMS) the container carrier used to handle bills of lading. After identifying the source of the hack, the servers were shut down to fix the vulnerability and prevent further targeted attack.

Although the risk of loss or damage as a direct result of cybercrime remains low, Allianz says, more needs to be done to educate shipping companies since “generally the risk is not well understood and the consequences can be disastrous.”

10 Malaysians among terror suspects nabbed in Sabah

From The Star Online (May 12): 10 Malaysians among terror suspects nabbed in Sabah

A group of suspected terrorists, including 10 Malaysians believed linked to the Royal Sulu Force and having possible plans of overthrowing the government, have been arrested.

The suspects, aged between 22 and 75, were detained during a special Ops Gasak III operation by the police, army, and Eastern Sabah Security Command on May 7.

Most were caught at villages where the 2013 Lahad Datu intrusion and war took place.

Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun (pic) said the arrests were made possible from public information on the suspects and their plans.

"Twenty of them, including the 10 Malaysians, were caught at housing areas in Tanjung Labian, Sungai Bilis and Tanjung Batu in Lahad Datu,” he told reporters here Wednesday.

“Two others were nabbed two days later in Ranau,” he added.

Rashid said the suspects were detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act.

State CID chief Datuk Salehuddin Abdul Rahman revealed that apart from the 10 Malaysians, the others caught were nine men who were without identification or documents, two who possessed birth certificates issued by the state government and one who has a Philippines visitor pass.

“They are being investigated under Section 130J of the Penal Code for soliciting or giving support to terrorist group and are suspected to be involved in a plan to overthrow the government and linked to the Royal Sulu Force,” he said.

DFA: AFP-Indon coordination led to release of 4 Abu captives

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 12): DFA:  AFP-Indon coordination led to release of 4 Abu captives

Foreign Secretary Jose Almendras said on Wednesday the close coordination between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Indonesia helped facilitate the release of the four remaining Indonesian hostages by the Abu Sayyaf.

“We thank the Indonesian government, particularly Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, for the very close coordination since this morning,” said Secretary Almendras in a statement on Wednesday.

He lauded the cooperation between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Indonesia as key in meeting the objective of getting back the Indonesians alive and safe.
The foreign affairs chief said the Philippines had a trilateral meeting with the foreign ministers of Indonesia and Malaysia to strengthen efforts to combat criminal activities.

Last April 25, Canadian citizen John Ridsdel was beheaded by his Abu Sayyaf captors.

Hostages who remain in the hands of Abu Sayyaf include Canadian Robert Hall, Hall’s Filipino girlfriend, Marites Flor, and a Norwegian, Kjartan Sekkingstad as well as other Filipinos.

Freed hostages ready to return to Indonesia

From the Jakarta Post (May 12): Freed hostages ready to return to Indonesia

Ten Indonesian tugboat crewmen taken hostage by Abu Sayyaf militants in the Philippines are greeted by officials upon their arrival at Halim Perdanakusuma Airbase in Jakarta on May 1.(AP/Dita Alangkara)

The Philippine government has handed over the remaining four Indonesian sailors previously held hostage by Abu Sayyaf militants, and their return to Jakarta is now expected within a day.

"They are currently onboard a KRI warship in waters bordering Indonesia and the Philippines where the handover was conducted," Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir told journalists on Thursday.

Following their release, the hostages were in the hands of local authorities in Sulu, where the men underwent a medical check-up before their return.

A team from Indonesia was deployed to their location and confirmed that the men were in good condition.

Arrmanatha said the crewmen would immediately sail to Indonesia, and their arrival was expected in the capital city on late Thursday or Friday afternoon.

He said a recent trilateral meeting between the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia had played an important part in contributing to the swift release of the hostages.

Foreign ministers and military commanders of the countries mentioned above met in Yogyakarta on May 5 to discuss maritime security.

The spokesman refused to disclose details behind the release. He said government discretion was in the interests of the safety of those involved.

Citing the complex situation in the southern Philippines, Arrmanatha said revealing identities and details of the negotiation processes could pose a danger to the participants.

"Since the very beginning, the government's priority has been the safe release of the hostages," he said.

As with the release of ten sailors earlier this month, the negotiations involved many elements from both government and non-governmental parties, Arrmanatha added.

The four sailors worked as crewmembers onboard the Henry, a tugboat, and the Christie, a barge, sailing in Malaysian and Philippine waters in mid-April when they were taken hostage by the Abu Sayyaf militant group.

VP Denies Ransom Payment to Release Abu Sayyaf Hostages

From the Jakarta Globe (May 12): VP Denies Ransom Payment to Release Abu Sayyaf Hostages

Vice President Jusuf Kalla played down rumors the government paid a hefty ransom to release four Indonesians taken hostage by militant group Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines.

"The government surely wouldn't," Kalla said in Jakarta on Thursday (12/05).

The four were released earlier on Wednesday and are currently heading to Indonesia where they are expected to arrive late Thursday in Jakarta.

Captain Ariyanto Misnan was held hostage for weeks with chief officer Loren Marines Petrus Rumawi, second officer Dede Irfan Hilmi and helmsman Samsir.

President Joko Widodo had earlier praised a trilateral meeting between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines on May 5, adding that Philippine authorities cooperated well with Indonesian parties.

An unconfirmed report had said the Indonesians were released after complying with 100 million Peso ($2.15 million) ransom demand. However, the Jakarta Globe is yet to confirm this information.

Letter-to-the-Editor: Deprived coco farmers as target of NPA extortion an ‘open secret’

Letter-to-the-editor posted in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 9): Deprived coco farmers as target of NPA extortion an ‘open secret’

 I came across a letter in a back issue of the Inquirer. Titled  “Chance for NPA to prove propoor concern” (Opinion, 12/9/15), the letter highlighted the New People’s Army’s extortion activities targeting coconut farmers in Camalig, Albay, causing them to live in deeper poverty and fear for years.

This wrongful, unlawful act of the NPA is an open secret in Masbate and it is not an isolated case. There have been a number of commentaries and news items in national broadsheets, local dailies and broadcast media about NPA extortion.

I hail from the province of Masbate, considered one of the poorest provinces in the country. Aside from too much politics, the unresolved insurgency problem is stunting the province’s economic growth. Just like the coconut farmers, some residents of Barangay Mabini, San Jacinto, Masbate, though not direct victims are adversely affected by the NPA’s harassment.

Last March 22, 12 NPA rebels forcibly stopped the ongoing dam and irrigation project in my place. If indeed they are propeople as they proclaim themselves to be, why then are they doing such barbaric acts that push more Masbateños deeper into the pit of misery?

Coupled with Masbate’s violent politics, the farmers-victimizing extortion activities of the NPA make me pity my place, my province, the beautiful island of Masbate. Worse, the impact on the Masbateños who are going to benefit from the project is not one-time but long-term.