Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Four soldiers, two NPAs hurt in new fighting

From the Manila Bulletin (May 25): Four soldiers, two NPAs hurt in new fighting

Four soldiers and two communist rebels were wounded in a fighting between government forces and members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Sultan Kudarat, the military said yesterday.

Capt. Danny Tapang, Army 39th Infantry Brigade Civil-Military Operations (CMO) officer, said the fighting broke out at around 10 p.m. Monday at Sitio Lamalis, Barangay Datal Blao, Columbio, Sultan Kudarat, after NPA gunmen belonging to the Guerrilla Front 72 attacked members of the Army’s peace and development team.

The exchange of fire lasted about two hours, Tapang said.

A police report said the incident left four Army troopers wounded – Sgt. Sarmiento, PFC Besande, PFC Martel, and PFC Bocala.

Tapang said they received reports that two maoist rebels were also wounded during the clash.

Pursuit operation is ongoing, while the police also conducted route security following information that land mines were planted by the rebels.



Terror Fugitive Santoso Attempts to Buy Weapons From Abu Sayyaf

From the Jakarta Globe (May 24): Terror Fugitive Santoso Attempts to Buy Weapons From Abu Sayyaf

Police say Indonesia's most wanted terror fugitive Santoso had attempted to purchase firearms from the Abu Sayyaf militant group, based in the Southern Philippines, despite being cornered by a 2,000-strong police and military force in a jungle in Poso, Central Sulawesi.

“Santoso wanted to buy weapons. We arrested his courier in Bitung [North Sulawesi] on his way to the Philippines. According to the communication we intercepted, the firearms purchase is connected [to Abu Sayyaf],” National Police Chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti said in Jakarta on Tuesday (24/05).

The authorities estimated only 22 or 23 terrorists are staying with Santoso, the leader of their East Indonesia Mujahidin group, in their hideout in Poso.

According to Badrodin, the Santoso group—who counts several Chinese Uighurs as its members—reportedly possess M16 and SS1 assault rifles, some of which are thought to have come from the Southern Philippines.

Santoso's current hideout is thought to be within a 60 square-kilometer area, which has been the target of the police and military's Operation Tinombala since the beginning of the year.

Badrodin earlier also confirmed a plan to rotate the police's mobile brigade personnel currently in the field.


Why Is There A Dispute In The South China Sea?

From Sky News (May 23):

Tensions have been rising between China and its neighbours in the South China Sea, which is home to a disputed group of small islands and reefs.
In 1947, the Chinese laid claim to a large area of the waters marked on some maps by a series of dashes, known as the nine-dash line.

The waters include two island chains - the Spratlys and Paracels - as well as a number of reefs.

The islands were previously occupied by the Japanese until they surrendered at the end of the Second World War.

Thitu island
:: Why is there a dispute?

China claims most of the South China Sea.

Battle for South China Sea.
The area of the nine-dash line (which became 10 after the Chinese added another dash to the east of Taiwan island in 2013) is close to a number of other countries.

They include the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei which say parts of the South China Sea, including the islands, belong to them rather than China.

The Philippines say the Chinese claim is against global law and has gone to the International Court of Arbitration to fight its case. The Filipinos are backed by the Vietnamese, while China rejects the other countries' claims.

The US believes the South China Sea are international waters, and sovereignty there should be determined by the United Nations Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Countries cannot claim sovereignty over any land masses submerged at high tide, or were previously submerged but have been raised above high tide level by construction, according to the UNCLOS.

:: Who occupies what?

The Spratly Islands are claimed in their entirety by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, while parts are claimed by Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei.

South China Seas
About 45 islands are occupied by relatively small numbers of military forces from China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

China has been carrying out large reclamations in recent years, piling on sand from the seabed. Vietnam has also done the same, albeit on a smaller scale.

Brunei claims a continental shelf 200 nautical miles from its shores.

The Paracel Islands are controlled by the Chinese, who have occupied them since forcing the-then South Vietnam navy off the islands in 1974. They are also claimed by the Vietnamese and Taiwanese.
Both the Philippines and China lay claim to a reef, known as the Scarborough Shoal.

:: Why do the Chinese want to control the South China Sea?

There are potentially massive oil and natural gas reserves on the sea floor and sovereignty would give China more energy security and independence.

woody island Surface to Air Missiles
If it controlled the area, the country would be allowed to dominate a major trade route where much of its imported oil passes through.

It would also allow China to disrupt, or threaten to disrupt, trade shipments to all countries in East and Southeast Asia, and could deny access to foreign military forces.

:: Building work on the islands

There is evidence that the Chinese have built an airstrip and port on Fiery Cross Reef and Subi Reef in the Spratly islands, using sand dredged from the sea bed to extend it.
Satellite images suggest the Chinese may be building a radar system, after two probable radar towers were constructed on Gaven Reef and Hughes Reef. The system would boost its ability to monitor surface and air traffic.

The Chinese have also built lighthouses on Subi Reef and Cuarteron Reef.

Beijing claims much of its construction in the South China Sea is aimed at fulfilling its international obligations on maritime safety, search and rescue and scientific research.

Subi reef, located in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, is shown in this handout CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative satellite image
:: Key flashpoints near Spratly Islands

In October 2015, the American guided missile destroyer USS Lassen sailed within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef which sparked an angry response from China, calling it "extremely irresponsible".

In May 2016, China scrambled fighter jets after another American guided missile destroyer, the USS William P Lawrence, travelled within 12 nautical miles of Fiery Cross Reef.

::Key flashpoints near Paracel Islands

In May 2014, a Chinese vessel allegedly rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat.

In November 2015, China landed fully-armed jet fighters on an expanded airstrip on Woody Island in the Paracels, and reinforced hangars have been completed, diplomats said.


Zambo gov't to pursue legal battle vs Misuari

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (May 23): Zambo gov't to pursue legal battle vs Misuari

THE City Government of Zamboanga is not backing out in its legal battle against Nur Misuari and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction he leads, in spite of the pronouncement of presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte to grant immunity to the Moro leader.

Vice Mayor Cesar Iturralde, in an interview Monday in his capacity as city caretaker, withheld any comments on Duterte’s statement during the campaign period that he was going to grant Misuari immunity from suit.

“At this point in time, it’s too premature to react on the matter. We will wait until the (incoming) president officially assumes office and make such declaration,” Iturralde said.

As far as the City Government is concerned, Iturralde said, “We stand by our position for justice to take its course.”

“We will fight until justice is served to the people of Zamboanga,” Iturralde declared when asked how long the city will keep its fight.

To recall, the City Government filed rebellion charges and violations of the International Humanitarian Law in court against Misuari and more than 200 of his followers in connection with the 21-day September 2013 siege.

The attack started September 9, 2013 when hundreds of MNLF members loyal to Misuari infiltrated and laid siege to at least five coastal villages of the city.
The siege has displaced more than 100,000 people.

Thousands of them remain in transitory sites until today as rehabilitation of the affected areas.


Zahid: Govt has asked Philippines to extradite wanted Abu Sayyaf duo

From the Star Online (May 24): Zahid: Govt has asked Philippines to extradite wanted Abu Sayyaf duo

The Malaysian government has appealed to Philippine authorities for two detained Abu Sayaf criminals to be extradited to Malaysia.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (pic) in a parliamentary written reply on Tuesday, however, said that the Philippine government was not bound by any treaty or agreement to adhere to the appeal.

“The two believed to involved in the kidnap and murder of Malaysians in Sabah were arrested by the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Upon receiving information on it, the Malaysian government had submitted an extradition appeal through diplomatic channels to extradite both criminals – Khadafi Muktadil and Saddam Jailani,” he said, adding that the appeal was submitted after the Semporna magistrate’s court issued an arrest warrant in December 2015.
Dr Ahmad Zahid added that it was now up to the Philippine government whether they would extradite the wanted criminals.

“As of now, the Philippine government has not given any official response to the extradition appeal but we will keep monitoring the situation with the aid of the Foreign Ministry,” he said.

Dr Ahmad Zahid was responding to Sandakan MP Wong Tien Fatt who had asked why Malaysia had not to tried the two wanted criminals who were arrested by the Philippine authorities.


'Poor intelligence' led to series of NPA attacks

From the Sun Star-Bacolod (May 24): 'Poor intelligence' led to series of NPA attacks

POOR intelligence operations led to the New People's Army's (NPA) successive attacks in Negros Occidental that claimed the lives of six people, including four soldiers, in recent weeks.

Colonel Leopoldo Galon, deputy commander of the Army's 303rd Infantry Brigade based in Murcia town, said in a telephone interview Monday that "obviously, there was a lapse in our intelligence network."

Admitting that there was also a lapse in the conduct of patrol operations, Galon said there was a "glaring disparity" between the sightings of rebels and the combat operations they conducted.

In a span of three weeks, the rebels carried out five atrocities, killing six people, including four soldiers and two farmers.

The first attack on May 1 in Barangay San Isidro, Toboso ended the life of Corporal Nelski Marino, a member of the 62nd Infantry Battalion assigned in Barangay Bato, Sagay City.

Five days later, members of the 79th IB conducting security operations at Sitio Malangsa in Barangay Talacdan, Cauayan encountered eight rebels.

The next day, about 15 rebels attacked the property of Isabela Mayor Enrique Montilla III at Sitio Iscuala in Barangay San Agustin. The shootout injured a security guard. The rebels disarmed the guards.

On May 14, the NPA rebels hit Sitio Carbon in Barangay San Isidro, Toboso, and killed three soldiers and wounded two others.

Members of the 62nd IB responded to the reported presence of 10 armed men, but they were ambushed on the way to the area.

The latest attack on May 22 at a farm workers' bunkhouse in Barangay General Luna, Sagay City, claimed the lives of two farmers and injured two others. The rebels also captured a paramilitary man, but later released him.

Galon said the Army needs to "step up" their operations and combat patrols, and intensify their intelligence network to avoid similar incidents.

He added that they also have to improve their information network and strengthen their relations with the community.

Galon said they have to focus on the people and address the root cause of the dissent because these problems are being exploited by the enemy.

These are just "recovery efforts" of the NPA to show their strength, launching tactical offensives and hostile actions against the civilians, he added.

The rebels want to send a message that they still have a strong foothold in the province, Galon said, but "they are not superior in strength."

'Don't be complacent, overconfident'

For his part, Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr., who condemned the attacks, said the Army and the police should intensify their security efforts, and should not be complacent and overconfident.

"They must always be on alert and be prepared like the Boy Scouts," he said.

The governor also called on the rebels to stop the atrocities and urged them to return to the folds of the law.

He said the government has programs to help them improve their lives.

Police identify perpetrators

Meanwhile, the police have already identified some of the 50 perpetrators who attacked the farm workers' bunkhouse in Barangay General Luna, Sagay City on Sunday.

Inspector Adrian James Albaytar, deputy chief of Sagay City Police Station, said they showed to the witnesses photos of 20 suspected members of the NPA and that they have identified at least 10 of them.

Albaytar said they are still looking at land dispute as the motive of the attack.

The victims have acquired ownership of the land under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (Carp), but members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers were also claiming ownership as well.

He said there were previous incidents involving the NFSW group who are "aggressive" in claiming the land.

There were also reported violence and threats in some localities, but the incidents were not recorded at the police station, he added.

He added there was an incident where the group were involved in a "firefight" against a Carp beneficiary.

Albaytar said they are still investigating if the NFSW group has a connivance with other groups, including the NPA.

He also said they are checking the backgrounds of the victims as the killing maybe due to personal reasons.

Killed were Jose Pios, 51, of Barangay Sta. Fe, and Dionesio Ebañez, 44, of Barangay Malasibog, all in Escalante City. Both were farmer-beneficiaries and roving guards in the area.

Also wounded was another roving guard Jovito Lutrago and Sunny Respondo, a member of the Special Civilian Armed Auxiliary (Scaa).

Scaa member Alex Garcia, who responded to the scene with Respondo, was held captive when the NPA retreated. He was later released in Escalante City.


Joma says 2014 interim peace agreement only a draft, not formal pact

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 24): Joma says 2014 interim peace agreement only a draft, not formal pact

Exiled Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria “Joma” Sison said that while an “interim peace agreement” was signed by representatives of the Aquino administration and exiled rebel leaders in a series of meetings in December 2014, the document should not be treated as a formal pact.

“It is a mere draft and it is not yet a peace agreement. Initialing a draft only means letting it stand for the next meeting,” Sison said in an online interview on Monday, referring to the document he called the “Draft Interim Ceasefire Agreement.”

But he said the 2014 draft, officially called the “Joint Agreement on the Resumption of the Formal Talks on the Peace Negotiations between the GPH (Government of the Philippines) and the NDFP (National Democratic Front of  the Philippines)” would no longer serve its purpose in the proposed reopening of the peace talks under the incoming administration of presumptive President-elect Rodrigo Duterte.

“Invalidated na yong dating draft for an interim ceasefire and related matters dahil ibinasura ni President Aquino at Deles. Magpanibagong working draft (The old draft for an interim ceasefire and related matters would be invalidated because this was junked by President Aquino and Presidential Adviser on the  Peace Process Teresita Deles. We should craft a new working draft),” Sison  said.

The draft document was signed by Sison and top NDFP negotiators Fidel Agcaoili, Vicente Ladlad and Danilo Borja, and members of the “secret” government delegation Hernani Braganza, Jaime Aristotle Alip, Efren Moncupa and Francisco Lara Jr.

Sison assailed the claim of an unnamed member of the government delegation during the meeting in The Netherlands that the CPP and NDFP representatives did not even demand the release of all rebel suspects, but only those involved in the peace negotiation.

Sison branded the claim as “ridiculous.”

“The release of all political prisoners was demanded as an obligation of the GPH in compliance with the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (Carhrihl) and the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (Jasig),” he said.

“The Aquino regime did not want to [order their] release. That is exactly why the Draft Interim Ceasefire Agreement never graduated from a draft to a  full-fledged official document of the GPH and NDFP,” he said.


Extremists ‘recruiting Moro youth’

From the Manila Times (May 23): Extremists ‘recruiting Moro youth’

GOVERNMENT peace panel chief Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer on Monday confirmed that extremists are actively recruiting young Muslims and warned that the administration of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte may face instability unless peace reigned in Mindanao through the enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

In a statement, Ferrer said there should be no conflict with passing the BBL and the next government’s plans of putting up a federal system of government through Charter change since the controversial law may be passed within the year while the country prepares for the transition to federalism, which would be a very lengthy process.

“Set up the Bangsamoro entity and let it exist. If we delay the road map, things might get worse. There are extremist ideologies existing around us recruiting among the Moro youth,” she said.

While Ferrer did not directly mention the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), it had been previously reported that the group is slowly gaining support from local Muslim groups.

“Any further delay with completing the Bangsamoro peace process will work against the stability of the next administration,” she warned, saying that “passing the BBL as soon as possible will help stabilize the situation in the Bangsamoro.”

“It will pave the way for the full-scale decommissioning of the MILF’s [Moro Islamic Liberation Front] weapons and combatants, the delivery of the socio-economic programs, and greatly enhance security cooperation between the government and the MILF,” she added.

According to the peace panel chairman, the partnership between the government and the MILF is essential in fighting crime and terrorism in the region.

Aside from the legislative track of establishing the Bangsamoro, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro also provides a roadmap for the implementation of socio-economic programs for the normalization of conflict-affected areas and the transition of MILF combatants back to civilian lives.

Without the enactment of a CAB-compliant Bangsamoro law, the decommissioning of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) and implementation of the normalization track will not push through.

Ferrer assured the incoming President and his peace lieutenants that the current government panel will turn over a fully functional set of mechanisms charged with overseeing all the different components of the CAB, from the ceasefire to the camps transformation and decommissioning to transitional justice and overall monitoring.

While Duterte openly expressed support for the BBL during the campaign, the presumed next Speaker, Pantaleon Alvarez, said there is no need to pass the BBL since Congress can go straight to the shift to federalism.

But Ferrer explained that any move to change the Charter “requires a lot of study and consultations” and that it will take several years since such a major change is not a mere amendment to the Constitution and is best done through a Constitutional Convention.

The BBL is the enabling law for the establishment of the Bangsamoro political entity that seeks to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). It provides for political and fiscal reforms that will greatly enhance the fiscal and political autonomy of the region.

But the proposed law was not passed by the current Congress before it adjourned in February for the national and local elections.


Marquez pins ‘heroism medal’ on RPSB-13 commander, 3 others for arrest of top-rank NPA official

From the Philippine News Agency (May 24): Marquez pins ‘heroism medal’ on RPSB-13 commander, 3 others for arrest of top-rank NPA official

Philippine National Police Director General Ricardo C. Marquez pinned on Monday the “heroism medal” on a police combat battalion commander and two other commissioned and a non-commissioned police personnel for the arrest of a ranking New People’s Army (NPA) official early this month.

Police Director General Marquez, during his farewell visit to Camp Rafael C. Rodriguez, the police regional headquarters here on Monday noon, pinned the “Medalya Ng Kadakilaan” (PNP Heroism Medal) on PSupt. Chito G. Bersaluna, the Regional Public Safety Battalion (RPSB)-13 Commander, Police Senior Inspector Julius B. Alamani, Police Inspector Mohammah Faiz M. Cosain and Police Officer 2 Romie E. Rosalad.

The police officers and personnel were cited for their significant role in the arrest of Ricardo Ampan Manili, aka “Joker” the alleged commanding officer of the Regional Operational Command (ROC), also known as the “Julito Tero Command” of the North Central Mindanao Regional Committee and six others at a PNP-AFP Comelec Checkpoint last May 2 in the areas of Barangay Mat-i, Las Nieves in Agusan del Norte and Barangay Remedios, Esperanza boundary of the province of Agusan del Sur.

Manili had six companions at the time of his arrest and recovered from their possession were an improvised caliber 22 rifle; a caliber .45 Edge pistol with magazine; a 9mm Jericho 94IF pistol with two magazines; 3 blasting caps; a fragmentation hand grenade; an inside holster, a pair of warning device; three bolos; a rip saw, 5 hammocks; 4 tapita cloth; 6 ropes; assorted backpack and sling bags; a medical kit; 12 assorted cellular phones; a hand radio; 19 SIM packs; 13 D size batteries; 12 micro SD; 8 micro SD adapter; 8 cellular phone chargers; 3 headsets, 5 compact discs; cash amounting to P300.00, subversive documents and personal belongings.

Manili and his group accordingly were on their way to a hinter village of Balet, San Luis town in Agusan del Sur to attend to the release of two soldiers who were abducted by the CPP/NPA in the said area.

The cops were cited for their “noteworthy accomplishment worthy of praise and emulation by the other members of the PNP.”


Cops, Army devise steps to thwart attacks on unarmed soldiers in North Cotabato

From the Philippine News Agency (May 25): Cops, Army devise steps to thwart attacks on unarmed soldiers in North Cotabato

Police and military personnel have taken safety measures to prevent attacks against unarmed members of the Philippine Army following the shooting and wounding of a soldier here Tuesday, police said today.

"We are working with the 7th Infantry Battalion," Senior Inspector Sindatu Karim, Pikit town police chief, said after unidentified gunman shot and injured Sgt. Reniel Cabunducan, assigned with the Artillery Operations Company of the 7th IB.

Cabunducan was biking at past 5 p.m. along Notre Dame Drive in Barangay Poblacion, Pikit when two men riding on a motorbike opened fire on him.

Cabunducan, who was unarmed, was hit on his upper arm and was rushed by passersby to the town hospital.

Karim said initial investigation showed that the suspects who fired one shot fled on the same motorbike toward the interior portion of Barangay Poblacion.

"It could be personal grudge but we are looking at other angles at the same time we have devised measures to prevent similar attacks on unarmed infantrymen in the future," Karim said.

According to Karim, police visibility in areas frequented by unarmed soldiers and police officers was one of the preventive measures.

"We are taking an active stance," Karim told reporters. "We have to admit that loose firearms proliferate in Pikit and nearby towns of Maguindanao," he added.

The town police chief said most of the cases of crime against life in Pikit was borne out of personal grudge and "motornapping."

"Police visibility is one steps we are taking," he said even as he urged residents to report any suspicious looking individuals on motorbikes to prevent crimes from happening.


Army camp holds send-off ceremony to new soldiers

From the Philippine News Agency (May 24): Army camp holds send-off ceremony to new soldiers

CAMP MELCHOR DELA CRUZ, Gamu, Isabela -- The 5th Infantry Division, Philippine Army (5ID, PA) officially conducted a send-off ceremony to new soldiers inside the camp on Monday.

The send-off ceremony was led by 5ID, PA assistant division commander B/Gen. Andres Aguinaldo Jr. and witnessed by military officials and enlisted personnel at the camp’s grandstand.

"Itakda ninyo ang pamantayan ng pagiging world class na sundalo lalo na kayo na nasa unang yugto pa lamang ng inyong military service," Assistant Division Commander B/Gn. Andres Aguibaldo Jr. said during he send-off ceremony.

A total of 115 new soldiers with the lowest rank of Private started their official duty yesterday.

B/Gen. Aguinaldo said the military discipline and doctrine learned during the training of the new soldiers must be applied in their respective assignments and advised them to keep in mind their mandate to be defenders of democracy, territory and people.

The new soldiers have undergone rigid trainings in the camp and upon finishing the training course they are prepared for duty as army soldiers.

The new soldiers are deployed in the 5ID, PA brigade command particularly at 501st, 502nd and 503rd brigades of the Army division.


EU confirms continued support for promoting stability, peace and development in Mindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (May 24): EU confirms continued support for promoting stability, peace and development in Mindanao

The leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) welcomed confirmation Tuesday by the European Union (EU) of its continued support for promoting stability, peace and development in the region of Mindanao, in the southern Philippines.

Senior MILF leaders met representatives of the EU during a visit to Brussels on May 23 and 24, 2016 to discuss the latest developments and prospects in the peace process between the MILF and the Government of the Philippines.

The visit also sought to raise awareness around the importance of peace in the Philippines to national, regional and global security, as well as the pressing development needs in Mindanao.

The visit was organized jointly by the EU and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD), a private diplomacy and conflict mediation organization.

The MILF delegation was led by its Chairman, Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim, MILF Peace Panel Chair and chief negotiator, Mohagher Iqbal, and MILF member, Abhoud Syed Lingga. The MILF delegation met representatives of the European Commission, including those from the Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development and the External Action Service, to request continued support from the EU and the rest of the international community for the peace process, and to discuss how best to address current development needs in Mindanao.

In March 2014, after 17 years of talks, a final peace agreement – the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) – was signed by the Government of the Philippines and the MILF, the country’s largest rebel group.

The CAB seeks to establish a new autonomous regional government in the south of the Philippines.

“The visit of the MILF leadership to the EU comes at a crucial time. It raises awareness in Europe about the importance of the peace process in Mindanao as well the risks which its stalling poses to sustainable development and (inter)national security,” said Gunner Wiegand, Managing Director for Asia and the Pacific of the European External Action Service. “Finding a lasting and peaceful solution to the conflict in Mindanao should be a priority for all of us,” he added.

HD has been supporting the peace process between the MILF and the Government of the Philippines since 2007. Camilo Miguel Montesa, HD’s Country Representative in the Philippines, highlighted that the MILF will “continue to demonstrate its commitment to peace both in Mindanao and abroad”.


President Aquino cites country’s gains from US’ MCC Compact grant

From the Philippine News Agency (May 24): President Aquino cites country’s gains from US’ MCC Compact grant

President Benigno S. Aquino III said on Tuesday millions of Filipinos are benefitting from the USD434-million grant assistance from the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact grant available for projects specifically targeted to reduce poverty in the country.

“Because we have done that, millions of Filipino families are benefiting from ease of access to quality healthcare, a dependable supply of potable water, increased farm production, and more regular attendance to school, among many others,” he said during the National MCC Corporation (MCC) Compact closing event.

President Aquino cited some MCC Compact-funded projects, including USD222.49 million that went to the widening and rehabilitation of Paranas-Taft-Borongan-Guiuan Road in Samar, the construction or rehabilitation of 61 bridges, and slope protection, drainage and road safety projects.

Once the road project is completed in July this year, this will provide access to 13 coastal communities and will cut travel time by an hour between Tacloban City, Leyte and Borongan City, Eastern Samar among its benefits, he said.

The Chief Executive also noted the completion of the Junction Taft-Oras-San Policarpio-Arteche-Lapinig Road, bringing down the travel costs and time.

“Everyone knows: having the basic facility of an improved transport system creates a wealth of possibilities. More efficient trade and transport creates a wealth of possibilities; more trade and transport must take place; tourism potential is heightened, and the delivery of services, facilitated,” he said.

President Aquino said through the compact, USD132 million went to 3,984 subprojects: from community water systems, sanitation projects, and new school buildings, health stations and access roads.

The President added that another MCC Compact project is the Department of Finance’s Revenue Administration Reform Project (RARP), which received USD79.42 million in funding.

President Aquino said the Electronic Tax Information System helps the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to collect, track and analyze data, making for more efficient, transparent and reliable audits.

The Chief Executive said with these, tax collections breached the Php1-trillion mark for the first time in 2012; while collections from the arrears management program also drastically increased from Php2.3 billion in 2013 to Php8.4 billion in 2015.

“All this has led to increased fiscal space for our administration and even our successors. Apart from the good practices we started, more funds can now be used for projects and programs that will benefit Filipinos,” he added.

The Philippines signed the MCC Compact a few months after President Aquino took his oath of office six years ago. The compact ended on Tuesday.


US carrier strike force visits Manila

From the Philippine Star (May 24): US carrier strike force visits Manila

The USS John C. Stennis

A carrier strike group from the US Navy's "Great Green Fleet" is in Manila for a port visit and for community relations projects.

According to the US Pacific Command, the USS John C. Stennis Strike Group began its port visits to Subic Bay on May 20 before sailing for Manila on May 21.

The group includes aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and destroyers USS Stockdale, USS Chung-Hoon and USS William P. Lawrence and cruiser USS Mobile Bay.

"This is a great opportunity for our sailors to see the sights and experience the warm hospitality of the Filipino people. Many of our sailors look forward to reconnecting with family and friends in the local area," US Navy Rear Adm. Marcus Hitchcock, commander of the strike group, said in an official release.

Around 238 of the 8,500 sailors in the strike group are of Filipino heritage, including Cmdr. Raphael Castillejo, commanding officer of the USS Stockdale.

While in the country, strike group personnel will participate in community relations projects, including visits to schools, cemeteries and memorials, and a medical center.
"The Great Green Fleet" is a US Navy initiative to conserve energy and to use alternative fuels like biofuel.

The Stennis strike group, meanwhile, is part of the US 7th Fleet, which acts as a ready force in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

Earlier this month, China sent fighter jets in response to a US ship sailing within 22 kilometers of a disputed reef in the South China Sea.

According to the US Defense department, the Chinese jets were scrambled while USS William P. Lawrence -- among the ships in the Stennis strike group -- sailed near Fiery Cross Reef (Kagitingan Reef), which China controls but which the Philippines claims as part of the West Philippine Sea.

"These excessive maritime claims are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention in that they purport to restrict the navigation rights that the United States and all states are entitled to exercise," US Department of Defense spokesperson Bill Urban said in reports on the incident.


Duterte to keep Davao bodyguards: police exec

From ABS-CBN (May 24): Duterte to keep Davao bodyguards: police exec

Rodrigo Duterte on a pick-up truck during the presidential campaign. Photo courtesy of Rody Duterte Facebook

Presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte will retain his set of bodyguards as mayor of Davao City as he assumes his new role as the country's chief executive, a police official said.

"Iyung mga dati nang nag-eescort sa kanya, sila pa rin, pero of course ma-aabsorb sila ng PSG [Presidential Security Group]," said Senior Superintendent Filmore Escobal, liaison officer of the Philippine National Police (PNP) for PSG's transition preparations.

Escobal said a group of 36 Davao City policemen was sent to the PSG training school to learn the rudiments of protecting the president.

"Taga-Davao lahat ang pinadala at mag-training. Iyung PSG naman, they are preparing to take over, pero yung mga taga-Davao natin, pine-prepare natin na mag-training," Escobal said.

The PSG is now in the thick of preparations as Duterte is set to take his oath of office on June 30 in Malacañang.


Suspected Abu Sayyaf member linked to Sipadan kidnapping nabbed in Taguig

From GMA News (May 24): Suspected Abu Sayyaf member linked to Sipadan kidnapping nabbed in Taguig

A suspected Abu Sayyaf member with a P900.000 bounty on his head was arrested in Taguig City on Tuesday, according to Emil Sumangil's report on "24 Oras."

Sakur Mustakin alias Junior was arrested by the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) after being positively identified by a former kidnap victim, the report said.

It added that Mustakin is wanted for 26 counts of kidnapping for the abduction of Jehovah's Witnesses members in Patikul, Sulu, in 2002, and of foreign guests in Sipadan Island in Malaysia in 2000.

"Isa siya doon sa mga talagang operatiba ng Abu Sayyaf na pumunta doon sa Sipadan, kinidnap yung mga guest ng resort," said Senior Superintendent Roland Oliver Lee, Chief of PNP-CIDG in the National Capital Region.

"After ng mga kidnapping doon, at nalaman niya meron na siyang warrant of arrest, ay tumakbo na siya dito sa Manila para magtrabaho ng legal. Pero na-trace natin siya," he added.

Mustakin, is said to be the "intelligence officer" of Abu Sayyaf leader Radullan Sahiron or "Putol," denied that he was a member of the terrorist group, saying he was a victim of mistaken identify.

"Sa totoo lang, hindi ako related diyan... nilabas ko mula pagka-elementary ko...mula pagkuha ko ng NBI clearance, court clearance, police clearance, barangay clearance," he added.

Mustakin has been taken to Bureau of Jail Management and Penology's Special Intensive Care Area in Camp Bagong Diwa.


Lt. Col. Almagro installed as new 55th IB Commander

From the Philippine Information Agency (May 24): Lt. Col. Almagro installed as new 55th IB Commander

PIÑAN, Zamboanga del Norte – Lieutenant Colonel (Lt.Col.)Pompeyo Jason M. Almagro has been installed as the new commanding officer of the 55th Infantry Batallion (IB) in a recent change of command ceremony held at the 101st Infantry Brigade, Philippine Army in Barangay Del Pilar here.

Almagro replaced Lt. Col. Vener Y. Morga whose accomplishments during his stint as 55th IB commander were given due recognition by Major General (MGen.)Felix F. Barrientos Jr., commanding officer of 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division based in Camp Major Sang-an, Pulacan, Labangan, Zamboanga del Sur.

Among his significant accomplishments include the neutralization of several threat group personalities within the province of Misamis Occidental, and the battalion’s recovery of enemy’s firearms, ammunitions, and subversive documents.

Morga did not only focus on combat operations but he also conducted numerous Civil-Military Operations (CMOs) such as medical and dental missions, cleanliness drives, and tree planting activities within his areas of responsibility.

During Morga’s watch, the 55th IB was able to help several barangays through the continuous conduct of Bayanihan Team Activities (BTA), benefiting the people in the area.

For his part, Lt. Col. Almagro, vowed to continue the unit’s mission of winning the peace and helping the people create an environment conducive for sustainable development to attain just and lasting peace.

The changing of the guard is part of the military's colorful tradition wherein the outgoing commander formally relinquishes his command to the incoming commander with the troops and stakeholders as their witness.


Duterte picks Rolando Bautista as PSG commander

From Rappler (May 23): Duterte picks Rolando Bautista as PSG commander

Bautista is described as a ‘well-rounded officer’ with a knack for conducting counter-terrorism operations and gathering intelligence

OFF TO PSG. Colonel Rolando Bautista (right) in Basilan. File photo by Richard Falcatan/Rappler

OFF TO PSG. Colonel Rolando Bautista (right) in Basilan. File photo by Richard Falcatan/Rappler

“It’s an honor and pride to serve the incoming president,” said Colonel Rolando Joselito Bautista after receiving word that president-elect Rodrigo Duterte has chosen him to be the next Presidential Security Group (PSG) commander.

Bautista told Rappler on Monday, May 23, that he has not talked directly to Duterte about his appointment but was told by Duterte’s executive assistant, Christopher "Bong" Go, that he has been chosen for the job. Go confirmed this with Rappler. (READ: LIST: Who's who in the incoming Duterte Cabinet)
Bautista, currently the Commander of the Joint Task Group in Basilan, said he would stick to tried and tested methods of ensuring the safety of Duterte but will be open to “innovations” that may be required for a president like Duterte.
“Apparently, we have existing protocols and procedures on how to secure a president that we observe. These have been tested and institutionalized. But of course, there will be additions and innovations depending on the desire of the president,” he said in a statement released on Monday, May 23.
A 1985 graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, Bautista served as commander of the 73rd Infantry Battalion covering Davao City and Davao del Norte from 2005 to 2007. Prior to his Basilan stint, Bautista was commander of Task Force General Santos in General Santos City.
Bautista, who hails from Pangasinan, took up a VIP Protective Detail Course conducted by the US Embassy in Manila.
AFP spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Noel Detoyato called him a “well-rounded officer.”
“He is an operations man and also adept in intel [intelligence]. He is a good family man but service-oriented,” he said.
Bautista is also said to be good friends with Duterte’s executive assistant Go, who, according to the transition committee, was in charge of vetting nominees for appointments under the Peace and Security cluster.

Duterte to release political prisoners to ‘build confidence’ for peace talks

From Rappler (May 24): Duterte to release political prisoners to ‘build confidence’ for peace talks

Duterte says he may release CPP leader Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma even before peace negotiations begin

DEALING WITH COMMUNISTS. The NPA releases 5 police officers to Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in April 2016. Photo by Editha Caduaya/ Rappler

DEALING WITH COMMUNISTS. The NPA releases 5 police officers to Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in April 2016. Photo by Editha Caduaya/ Rappler

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte said he would release political prisoners even before the resolution of peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army, and National Democratic Front of the Philippines as a “confidence-building” measure.

The prisoners to be released include Benito Tiamzon, leader of the CPP, and his wife Wilma, said Duterte during a press conference on Monday, May 23.
The two were captured by the military and police in March 2014, sparking condemnation from the CPP with whom the government had been reaching out for peace negotiations.
The military holds Tiamzon responsible for “the landmining, the killings, and the violence of the NPA."
Duterte said he may even release the couple before the peace talks begin.
“I might decide to just free them before the talks. Okay ako. Lahat, basta we deal in good faith. (All prisoners as long as we deal in good faith),” Duterte said.
The political prisoners may be released even before the peace talks reach an agreement.
Basta sabi ko kung mayroon nang talks. Before the resolution, hindi kailangan tapusin, in good faith ba. Show of confidence building. Oo sige, bitawan ko na kayo, mag-usap tayo dito,” he said.(I said, I will release as long as there are talks. I will release prisoners even before the resolution of talks, in good faith. Show of confidence building. Okay, I will let you go, let’s talk.)
Earlier CCP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison said he would come home only after political prisoners are released and a mutual ceasefire is agreed on. (READ: Coming home? Joma wants release of political prisoners, ceasefire first)
40-year insurgency
Duterte will continue releasing prisoners within the duration of negotiations regardless of how well the talks are going.
“Whether it is uncivil or civil, ill-mannered or good-mannered basta nandiyan na (as long as the talks have begun). ‘Pag umpisa niyan, sige i-release ko kayo kung gusto niyo and you take part in the talks (When it starts, okay I will release you and you take part in the talks),” he said.
Duterte has promised to end the 40-year insurgency of the communist rebels that has killed around 40,000 people. The CPP claims it has 150,000 cadres but the military puts their number at around 4,000.
The NDFP estimates that there are 543 political prisoners, 88 of whom are supposedly sick and elderly.
Duterte is friendly with Sison and other leaders of communist groups. (WATCH: Rappler Talk: Activists in Malacañang? Joma on Left's Role in Duterte Gov't)
Though admittedly a Leftist, he said he does not agree with the armed struggle of communists.
In a May 21 press conference he said, "In matters of national concern and security, I’ve always been a rightist. I’ve been with government and I’ve told the communists that I'm with government."