Friday, June 10, 2016

Confronting Threats in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas: Opportunities and Challenges

From The Diplomat (Jun 10): Confronting Threats in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas: Opportunities and Challenges

Tackling the manifold problems in the tri-border area will require some heavy lifting by concerned states.

Too often, headlines about maritime security in the Indo-Pacific tend to focus primarily the South China Sea or the Indian Ocean, mostly because they involve elements of major power competition. And to the extent that other challenges like piracy and trafficking get any attention, the Straits of Malacca is often the focus, given its strategic importance as the world’s most important trade route. The Sulu-Sulawesi Seas, by contrast, received comparatively little scrutiny as a front in Asia’s maritime space until a recent announcement by the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia about trilateral patrols in the area.


That is unfortunate. Even from a security perspective alone, the Sulu Sea – or, more specifically, the one million square kilometer tri-border area in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas between the southern Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia – is significant. Indeed, arguably no area better captures both the complexity of the region’s manifold maritime security challenges as well as the potential opportunities for greater multilateral cooperation among the states that rely on it.

On the one hand, the Sulu-Sulawesi seas are important to neighboring states and outside stakeholders because they facilitate the cross-border movement of millions of people as well as international navigation. According to one recent estimate by the Indonesian foreign ministry, every year more than 100,000 ships pass through the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas carrying 55 million metric tons of cargo and 18 million passengers.

But the area also presents challenges for the region. The tri-border area, with its porous borders and decades of weak governance, has been ridden with conflict, crime, and poverty, making it a hub for transnational organized crime and terrorist threats. For instance, in the case of the Philippines, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) main base of operations is in Jolo and Basilan in the Sulu Archipelago, while the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebel group’s headquarters is in Mindanao. The area is also at the center of several lingering interstate disputes, be it the Sabah issue between the Philippines and Malaysia or the Ambalat dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia.

Converging Trends

Now, headlines have temporarily thrust the Sulu Sea back in the global limelight. The immediate impetus for cooperation is the recent spate of kidnappings by the ASG involving Malaysian and Indonesian nationals. Though that is far from an uncommon event, the reaction from concerned states appears to have reached a new inflection point this time – at least for now. In particular, the decision by Kuala Lumpur, Manila, and Jakarta to pursue trilateral patrols in the Sulu Sea on the sidelines of the 10th ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) in Laos reflects a serious commitment if followed through (See: “Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines Agree on New Joint Patrols Amid Kidnappings”). And to those present at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, the outsized attention the issue received also clearly testified to its rising significance.

Yet for close observers of Southeast Asian security issues, the context in which this is occurring is in fact much broader and the product of the confluence of several trends. First, individual countries have become more determined about securing their maritime sovereignty and borders as their capacities grow. As I have emphasized before,

concerns about lingering interstate disputes and transnational challenges in the maritime domain still inform the ongoing military modernization of the three countries directly involved in the Sulu Sea. Malaysia’s efforts to reinforce the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) in Sabah and Indonesia’s capability upgrades as well as intensified patrolling and monitoring near the Ambalat sea block in the Sulawesi Sea off the east coast of Borneo are just two cases in point (See: “What Does Malaysia’s New Defense Budget for 2016 Mean?”).

Second, threats in that domain have also grown more serious in the past year or two. Though kidnappings have been commonplace, the recent series of incidents in April prompted a rather alarmist response, with Indonesian officials saying that the piracy surge could turn the Sulu Sea into the “new Somalia.” With respect to terrorism, fears of the growing reach of the Islamic State into Southeast Asia – made clear by the Jakarta attacks earlier this year – have also drawn attention once again to the porous borders and ungoverned spaces in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas, much like they did following the September 11 attacks and the rise of Jemaah Islamiyah. Indeed, some have even speculated that ISIS could look to the southern Philippines as a base or territorial foothold in Southeast Asia this year or next. Interstate disputes have also served as irritants from time to time, such as the invasion of Sabah by Philippine militants in 2013, known as the Lahad Datu Incident.

Third and lastly, opportunities have been expanding for greater subregional and extraregional cooperation. Subregionally, even defense ministers from countries surrounding the Sulu Sea now admit that the Malacca Straits Patrols (MSP), which commemorate their tenth year in 2016, serve as a good example for what could be possible in the Sulu Sea. Beyond that, the growing interest of external powers in the region could also offer other avenues for cooperation. For instance, in the midst of the Shangri-La Dialogue and in between the bilateral phases of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises that Washington does with the Malaysian and Philippine militaries, the U.S., Philippine, and Malaysian navies conducted a coordinated multilateral training activity in the Sulu Sea on June 4. As I have indicated previously, the move reflects the U.S. view that the Sulu Sea is one promising avenue through which Washington can pursue multilateralization with its Southeast Asian partners (See: “The Other Sea That Dominated Asia’s Security Summit in 2016”)

Addressing the challenges in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas requires a multi-pronged and multilateral effort. On the security side, the initiative that has dominated the headlines in recent months is the proposal for trilateral patrols between Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. In May, the foreign ministers and armed forces chiefs of the three countries met in Indonesia and issued a joint declaration that included a list of measures to begin operationalizing these patrols – which would be either coordinated or joint – including establishing a national focal point and hotline of communication facilitate coordination and intelligence-sharing (See: “Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines Agree on New Joint Patrols Amid Kidnappings”). The idea is to emulate the successful Malacca Straits Patrols (MSP), which reduced incidents of piracy and sea robbery in those waters.

While this is promising, such initiatives must be complemented by stringent efforts at the national level. Without the Philippines decimating the top leadership of the ASG in the southern Philippines or Malaysia cracking down more effectively on corruption within its security services, such illicit activities are likely to persist. After all, the strength of any sort of collective mechanism – be it coordinated patrols or intelligence-sharing – rests on the effectiveness of the individual participants.

And though security initiatives like patrols or armed operations can mitigate the challenges in the area, eradicating them entirely will require political and economic measures that get at their root causes. That means addressing the conflict, crime, and poverty within the tri-border area that either opens up space or drives support for illicit activities. In the southern Philippines, for instance, it would help if the incoming Duterte government could make progress on implementing a historic agreement with the MILF, inked under President Benigno Aquino III’s tenure, to end a decades-long insurgency, thereby providing an opportunity to facilitate stability and boost the local economy.

Economic initiatives can also help alleviate inequalities and address underdevelopment, which can fuel narratives of injustice and lead disaffected individuals to turn to nefarious activities. Apart from efforts taken by individual states, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, and Manila should also look to bolster inter-state collaboration to assist each other where possible. While new measures could be considered, countries can also utilize existing subregional and regional mechanisms as well such as the Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Philippines – East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA). The Philippines has an opportunity to shape such multilateral endeavors as both the chair of BIMP-EAGA beginning September 2016 and the chair of ASEAN starting January 2017.


Seasoned observers know that realizing all of this this will not be easy. On the military front, Philippine officials repeatedly stress the difficulty of rooting out the ASG due to serious problems ranging from the terrain to a lack of capabilities and manpower. Getting at root causes is also a heavy lift, and it is unclear if there is sufficient political will in various capitals to undertake efforts that will be controversial among either certain government bureaucracies or some segments of the population.

Once initiatives become bilateral or multilateral, additional complexities present themselves. Take the example of the proposed trilateral patrols. For one, remaining disputes between the countries could complicate cooperation. From Indonesia’s public concern about Malaysian incursions in the Ambalat block to incoming Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s suggestion that he could pursue Manila’s claim to Sabah, these issues do not seem to be going away anytime soon. Politics aside, there are also the operational challenges of getting these patrols underway, which these countries recognize. Getting to effective trilateral patrols requires resolving nettlesome questions around the nature of these patrols (whether joint or coordinated); the standard operating procedures that will govern them; and the necessary supporting infrastructure (in the case of the MSP, they were buttressed by other mechanisms, including air patrols and a formal intelligence sharing platform).

All this does not mean that one should pour cold water over the recent uptick in subregional and extraregional cooperation in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas, which has long been needed. But it does suggest that given the multitude of threats that exist and the challenges inherent in tackling them individually and jointly, managing this tri-border area is likely to remain a problem for the foreseeable future.

Opinion: Hush-hush return of the sailors

From the One Man's Meat column by Philip Golingai in The Star Online (Jun 11): Hush-hush return of the sailors

“I RECEIVED info. Haji X went to Sulu to fetch the 4 KVs, expected they return to Sandakan tomorrow 9am.”

My heart skipped a beat when I received a message on KVs (kidnap victims) from my source in Jolo island in Sulu province, southern Philippines. My source’s intel is usually A2 (source: reliable, information: probably true).

“In five minutes, I’m meeting an intel source. I’ll ask about the four KVs,” I replied to my source in Jolo.

“Sir, I think the four Sarawakian hostages have been released and they will arrive in Sandakan tomorrow morning,” I told my colleague Muguntan Vanar, The Star’s Sabah chief correspondent.

It was about 9.50pm on Tuesday. We were at Anak Mami restaurant along Lintas highway in Kota Kinabalu to meet an intel source.

“Do we break the story now? Or wait for confirmation?” I asked Muguntan.
“We get confirmation first,” he said.

Muguntan messaged several contacts. Many read his WhatsApp messages but didn’t respond.

“The information must be true,” he half joked. “They read but did not reply.”

(On April 1, eight Filipino gunmen in a speedboat boarded a Malaysian registered tugboat, MV Masfive 6, sailing in international waters off Sabah’s Pulau Ligitan.

The Abu Sayyaf-linked gunmen abducted brothers Wong Teck Kang, 31, and Wong Teck Chii, 29, their cousin, Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21, and Wong Hung Sing, 34. They released the foreign crewmembers – three Myanmar and two Indonesians.)

About five minutes later, my intel source arrived at Anak Mami restaurant. He was not aware of any release.

At 8.11am the next day, Muguntan called to say it was confirmed that the four from Sibu have been released. And The Star Online broke the news.

At 10.44am, Andy Chua, my colleague in Sibu, messaged in the Sarawak Bureau WhatsApp group: “According to family members, no hostages were released.”
My heart skipped a beat again.

“Oops,” I told myself, “don’t tell me our scoop is wrong. If it is, there goes our credibility.” (It is a credibility established since we covered the Sipadan kidnappings in 2000.)

“Ok, Andy. We wait,” I replied. “Sometimes police tell the family not to reveal that the hostage has been released.”

For example, I told the group, when a previous hostage was released, my colleagues and I called his wife to get confirmation.

Kalau betul saya punya laki sudah dibebaskan, saya betul betul gembira dan saya akan beritahu kau. Tapi saya sumpah tiada berita yang dia dibebaskan (If it were really true that my husband has been released, I would really be happy and I would tell you that he was released. But I swear that there is no news that he was released),” she told me.

I was taken aback that she would lie, as I had met and spoken to her over the phone several times.

In actual fact, our source had told us that she was with her husband in a hotel room in Sandakan. A few hours later, the police confirmed The Star Online news report that her husband was freed.

It was a waiting game on Wednesday to get official confirmation that the four Sarawakian hostages were freed.

After lunchtime, Philippines security forces confirmed that the Malaysians were freed. In the evening, I found that it rather strange that there was no word from the police on the release.

At 4.46pm, I tweeted: “It is rather curious that Sarawakian hostages released and yet no confirmation by Malaysian cops. I guess ...”

That night, a Chinese newspaper quoted deputy Inspector-General of Police Datuk Seri Noor Rashid Ibrahim as saying the four were freed.

On Thursday, in a press conference, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said the four were released and brought back by a Police Special Forces team in the wee hours of Wednesday.

I checked with a Filipino intel source in Zamboanga City, about a three-hour ferry ride from Jolo island, to get more information on the release.

He said Filipino emissaries and the four Sarawakians left Jolo island at around 11pm on Tuesday. In a speedboat, they headed to an island close to Malaysian waters.

They stayed on the island as there was a curfew on the east coast of Sabah.

And at the break of dawn, they left the island and landed in Sandakan town around 6am.

There is talk in Jolo that about 140 million pesos (about RM12mil, give or take, at the black market exchange rate) was paid for room and board for the hostages. However, Malaysian authorities have denied such payment.

“It was reported that the price for the 10 Indonesians was 50 million pesos and for the four Indonesians 15 million pesos,” my Filipino intel contact said, referring to the two groups of kidnapped Indonesians released after ransom was paid.

(On March 26, 10 Indonesian sailors were abducted off the southern Philippines as their tugboat pulled a barge. And on April 15, four Indonesian sailors were kidnapped on the high seas off the east coast of Sabah.)

After the release of the Malaysians, there are about half a dozen foreign hostages still in Jolo, including a Canadian and a Norwegian abducted in Davao, Philippines in Sept 2015. The Abu Sayyaf has beheaded two foreign hostages – Canadian John Ridsdel and Sarawakian Bernard Then – separately.

The Filipino intel officer warned that there will be rampant kidnappings.

“Ramadan is the best time. There’s a lull,” he said. “They’ll target Malaysian fishing boats and tug boats that go to international waters to fish.”

The cage in Jolo is nearly empty. It needs to be filled.

2 soldiers ambushed by NPA in Davao Oriental

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 10): 2 soldiers ambushed by NPA in Davao Oriental
Two soldiers from the Army’s 28th Infantry Battalion were ambushed by suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Davao Oriental on Friday, the military said.

The two soldiers onboard a motorcycle were heading toward Barangay (village) Calapagan in Lupon town when they were shot by communist rebels at about 6:45 a.m., said Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, commanding officer of the 28th Infantry Battalion.

“They were not there for combat mission. What we see here is an act of treachery of attacking unarmed and in civilian clothes personnel. These are members of peace and development outreach program teams who are just there trying to build a community,” he said.

The identities of the slain soldiers, with a rank of corporal and private first class, were withheld pending notification of their families.

Zagala said they would file murder charges against the perpetrators.

“We won’t let this pass. We will continue our operations against them,” he said.

Dureza denies opening Duterte admin’s door to ASG, BIFF

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 11): Dureza denies opening Duterte admin’s door to ASG, BIFF

Incoming Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza on Friday clarified that the Duterte administration will never negotiate with extremist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) the way it will negotiate with communist movement and Bangsamoro rebel groups.

Dureza issued the statement amid reports quoting him that the incoming Duterte government is open to peace talks with extremist and bandit groups.

He said the stance of Aquino government against the ASG and BIFF remains and will be carried over to the next administration.

Dureza who flew Friday to Paris en-route to Oslo, Norway for an informal meeting with communist leader Jose Maria Sison, stressed that he, as peace adviser to President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, will not talk peace with the extremists.

The ragtag BIFF was composed of former Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels who broke away in 2008. The government has sealed a peace deal with the MILF.

Dureza admitted having negotiated with the ASG for the safe release of his friend, Canadian tourist John Ridsel. But quickly added that in was not in the context government had talked with MILF, MNLF and the communist rebels.

“True, I have even directly negotiated with the ASG just recently to seek the release of my friend John Ridsel, whom they nevertheless beheaded as the families could not raise the demanded ransom amount,” Dureza said.

“But negotiating with them (ASG/BIFF) in the context of what we are doing with the Bangsamoro and the CPP/NPA/NDF is definitely not the way forward,” Dureza added.

“They have to face the force of the law for their terrorism and criminal acts,” he said of the terrorist organizations in southern Philippines.

On his trip to Oslo, Dureza was accompanied by incoming Secretary Silvestre Bello III and former Congressman Hernani Braganza.

“We look forward to a fruitful meeting under the auspices of the Norwegian Government in the sidelines of the Oslo Forum,” Dureza said.

Military adopts new tactic to combat armed rebels

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 10): Military adopts new tactic to combat armed rebels

The military has adopted a new approach to combat the armed communist rebels of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Northern Mindanao, a military official said Friday.

Capt. Patrick Martinez, spokesman of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, said that the military has shifted to “legal offensive” in the fight against NPA rebels in the region.

“We have adopted the legal offensive in coordination with the local police by serving the warrant of arrest to known NPA rebels with pending cases in court,” Martinez said.

He said that last Saturday, the joint operations of the military and the police successfully served the warrant of arrest for murder and frustrated murder suspects who turned out to be active NPA rebels.

Martinez said that the three NPA rebels were cornered in their safe house in a remote village in Butuan City where the warrant of arrest was served.

He said that the military and the police team also seized firearms, grenades, improvised explosive and subversive documents during the raid.

Many NPA rebels in Northern Mindanao have been charged since the military has stepped up its legal offensive against the rebels who were facing various criminal offenses in the region, Martinez said.

He said that the witnesses have also started to come out as the authorities encouraged the victims to testify against the rebel suspects.

Martinez said that Maj. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal, Jr., Commanding General of the Army’s 4ID, has ordered the implementation of the legal offensive against the communist insurgents in the region.

Family of slain trooper in Agusan Del Norte gets assistance from PA

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 10): Family of slain trooper in Agusan Del Norte gets assistance from PA

The Philippine Army (PA) has extended appropriate assistance to the family of the 23rd Infantry Battalion trooper killed during an encounter with New People's Army (NPA) rebels in Buenavista town, Agusan Del Norte on the morning of June 9.

Col. Benjamin Hao, PA spokesperson, said the family of Pvt. Plavin Jhon Ybañez will receive a special financial assistance which will be computed based on the basic salary of the deceased; a funeral service support amounting to Php80,000; Alay sa Kawal amounting to Php30,000; and house and lot remuneration.

The family will also receive Php250,000 special financial assistance from the Presidential Management Staff, Office of the President.

Ybañez was declared dead on arrival at the Butuan Doctors Hospital 8:30 a.m. Thursday after receiving a gunshot wound in the stomach after a firefight with NPA rebels in Barangay Rizal, Buenavista around 6 a.m.

Hao said the former's family is also entitled to another Php50,000 if Ybañez is found to be a member of the Armed Forces and Police Mutual Benefit Association (AFPMBAI), and another Php50,000 if a member of the Philippine Army Finance Center Producers Integrated Cooperative.

Ybañez is from Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental.

Meanwhile, Pfc. Jerwin Mancognahan, who was also wounded in the said encounter, is currently recuperating at Camp Evangelista Station Hospital in Cagayan De Oro City.

AFPSLAI to donate medical equipment, vehicles to PA

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 11): AFPSLAI to donate medical equipment, vehicles to PA
The Armed Forces and Police Savings and Loan Association, Inc. (AFPSLAI) will be donating assorted medical equipment and vehicles to the Philippine Army (PA) on Monday.

The turn-over ceremony will be held at the PA headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City at 7:30 a.m., Army spokesperson Col. Benjamin Hao said.

Items to be donated include a unit of Handheld Brain Hematoma Screening Device, a Toyota vehicle and two units of electric mobility.

Hao said these will be formally receive by PA commander Lt. Gen. Eduardo M. Año from AFPSLAI chief retired Lt. Gen. Virgilio O. Domingo.

Over the years, PA has received various donations from AFPSLAI, including medical equipment and ambulances.

The donations helped enhance the hospital's capability, and boost the morale of the Army personnel who are recipients of health care services provided by Army General Hospital (AGH).

The Army’s partnership with AFPSLAI is a realization of the Army Transformation Roadmap (ATR) and the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) "Bayanihan"'s objective to encourage stakeholder support through continuous engagement with key stakeholders

AFPSLAI is a private, non-stock and non-profit savings and loan association established and registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 1972.

It aims to promote industry, frugality and savings among its members.

To date, it has 21 branches nationwide and 50 extension offices established in strategic locations to serve more than 400,000 members from the AFP, Philippine National Police (PNP), Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) and Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) and its civilian employees. Its mission is to provide financial products and related services to its members that will improve their quality of life.

Fenton succeeds Kilrain at Special Operations Command, Pacific

From the Stars and Stripes (Jun 9): Fenton succeeds Kilrain at Special Operations Command, Pacific

Maj. Gen. Bryan P. Fenton talks with a guest after a ceremony at Camp H. M. Smith, Hawaii, Thursday, June 9, 2016, where he took command of Special Operations Command, Pacific.<br>Wyatt Olson/Stars and Stripes

Maj. Gen. Bryan P. Fenton talks with a guest after a ceremony at Camp H. M. Smith, Hawaii, Thursday, June 9, 2016, where he took command of Special Operations Command, Pacific.

Maj. Gen. Bryan P. Fenton took charge of Special Operations Command, Pacific during a rain-drenched ceremony Thursday, just minutes after receiving his second star.

He takes the reins from Rear Adm. Colin J. Kilrain, who has been nominated as commander of NATO Special Operations Headquarters in Belgium.
Fenton is the former deputy commanding general of operations for the 25th Infantry Division and the assistant chief of staff of G-3 for U.S. Army Pacific.
Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, praised Kilrain for leading the transition of Operation Enduring Freedom in the Philippines into a counter-terrorism partnership.
Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines was created in the early 2000s to assist the Philippine government with training and surveillance to defeat al-Qaida-linked groups in the southern part of the country. The special task force was officially deactivated last year after 13 years.
“You’ve ensured a well-synchronized effort to build the capacity of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to combat radical extremists inside their borders,” Harris said.
Harris also credited Kilrain for his role in coordinating a campaign named Red Phoenix, which is being used against transnational terrorist networks operating in South Asia.
“This campaign plan involved multiple joint and combined operations, activities and actions in conjunction with host nation counterparts,” Harris said while offering no further details about the sensitive operation.
SOCPAC serves as PACOM’s functional component for all special operations missions throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. It commands the 353d Special Operations Group and 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) on Okinawa, Japan; Naval Special Warfare Task Unit-Pacific and SEAL platoon at Apra Harbor Naval Station, Guam; and E Company, 160th Special Operations Regiment (Airborne), based in Taegu, South Korea.
Kilrain closed his remarks by talking about humility.
“We’re proud of our contributions, but despite popular folklore, movies and video games, we didn’t do it alone,” Kilrain said. “We learned early on that we couldn’t do our missions without integrating our operations with the joint force.
“SOC has received too much attention and a bit too much credit. Special operations doesn’t mean we’re better, smarter, braver or more valuable — because we’re not. We have specialized training and we’re encouraged to think differently, but in the end — and when we’re at our best — we recognize we represent a small part of a much bigger effort.”
Harris described incoming commander Fenton as “a combat-tested snake-eater” whose “tough jobs” in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa prove he “has what it takes to do this job.”
“PACOM and the nation depends on their special operations forces to provide unique capabilities and sustain presence in the most challenging areas throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific — and against the most challenging of adversaries,” Fenton said.

Where did the ransom money go, ask donors

From Free Malaysia Today (Jun 10): Where did the ransom money go, ask donors

Families of released hostages bombarded by calls from those wanting to know what happened to the funds they helped raised to free the victims.


PETALING JAYA: The families of four Malaysians abducted and subsequently released by Abu Sayyaf militants are now under pressure to reveal what they did with the money others gave them to help pay for the men’s ransom.

The sister-in-law of one of the victims, Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21, said the family had been bombarded with calls from people demanding to know what they had used the money for, after the police denied that a ransom had been paid to secure the release of the four.

According to the China Press, the woman, who only wanted to be known as Lim, said they understood the feelings of the well wishers who donated, and the family would provide an explanation as soon as possible.

According to her, the donors were from all over the country, with some even being foreigners.

Lau is the cousin of brothers Wong Teck Kang, 31, and Wong Teck Chi, 29, who were also abducted along with 34-year-old Wong Hung Sing, on April 1 by Abu Sayyaf militants. The four were released without harm on Tuesday.

The families had turned to the public to raise the RM30 million ransom (which was subsequently lowered to RM18 m). The families even went on a drive to collect funds during campaigning for the Sarawak election last month.

Lim and the grandparents of Lau were previously quoted saying they had surrendered the funds collected, to the police for their further action.

However, Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar yesterday announced that no ransom had been paid for the release of the four. He also denied knowing the whereabouts of the money raised by the kin of the victims.

Abu Sayyaf 'property manager' charged

From The Star Online (Jun 10): Abu Sayyaf 'property manager' charged

KUALA LUMPUR: A car painter was charged in a magistrate's court here Friday for managing the property of an Abu Sayaf terrorist group member.

Muhammad Aizam Mat Zin, 39, was accused of knowingly handling the property of Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee, 41, by way of giving RM700 cash for the latter's use and benefit.

He was charged under Section 130Q(1) of the Penal Code.

He faces a maximum 20-year jail sentence, a fine and forfeiture of the property if found guilty.
No bail was offered and no plea was recorded.

The charge was read to him in Bahasa Malaysia before magistrate Siti Radziah Kamarudin Friday.
The court later fixed Aug 1 for mention.

Mohd Nordin Ismail was the deputy public prosecutor while the accused was unrepresented.

On Wednesday, Muhammad Aizam was charged at the Petaling Jaya magistrate's court with possessing 65 pieces of A3-sized paper and three stickers related to the Islamic State.

He was found with the items at 6.20am on March 22 at a house in Taman Puncak Jalil, Seri Kembangan and was charged under Section 130JB(1)(a) of the same Code.

4 alleged top NPA members nabbed in Agusan del Norte raid

From GMA News (Jun 10): 4 alleged top NPA members nabbed in Agusan del Norte raid

[Video report]

Four alleged high-ranking members of the New People's Army were arrested in Butuan, Agusan del Norte on Thursday, a television report said Friday.

GMA's Unang Balita reported that the four rebels were trapped during a joint police and military operation on a targeted NPA safe-house in Butuan.

Government forces said they recovered from the scene of the operation assorted firearms, ammunition, explosives, and subversive documents.

The four suspects are facing multiple charges, including frustrated murder, robbery, attempted murder, frustrated homicide, homicide, and violation of the Comelec gun ban for the May polls.

MILF: Editorial -- Peace Panels to exist until Exit Agreement

Editorial posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Jun 9): Editorial -- Peace Panels to exist until Exit Agreement

The peace panels, among other mechanisms of the GPH-MILF peace process, will continue to stay until the Exit Agreement is signed. This Agreement will only be signed, signaling that negotiations are over and terminated, after the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT), the GPH and MILF Peace Panels, and the third party facilitator shall have validated and agreed that both Parties have implemented all agreements; meaning, both have complied with all their bilateral or unilateral obligations.

This is to correct impression that there is no more need for the peace panels, as well as the other mechanisms, because the peace process is already on the implementation stage.  This is not only a misconception but altogether a misreading of the agreements of the Parties.

Seriously, until the Exit Agreement is signed, the two peace panels will continue to steer the direction of the peace process and supervise the works and responsibilities of the various mechanisms. If necessary they will also meet to thresh out and decide on new issues including unresolved ones coming from the various bodies especially related to the normalization process.

In concrete terms, if for instance, a serious breach of the ceasefire agreement cannot be resolved in the level of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), where do they elevate the problem? Naturally, they will have to elevate it to the two peace panels for resolution. Similarly, if the two peace panels cannot resolve the same issue, where do they bring the matter? The answer is, they would have to meet under third party facilitation. This situation can be true to all the other mechanisms including those with international participation or players.

Even the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which is a unilateral responsibility of government, its accountability will still be engaged or asserted through its peace panel. The MILF, which is a revolutionary organization, cannot participate directly in the normal legal process of government, hence, the creation of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC). The BTC was constituted mainly through an executive order signed by the President. This is the personality and authority carried by those MILF leaders who engaged Congress and other government entities.

Of course, the informal track or what we usually referred to as back-channeling is part of the dynamics of peace-making. In fact, in many instances, they are very effective in breaking impasses or disagreements, but in no way this will replace the formal track. In back-channeling there is no official accountability. Only in the formal track that accountability of the parties are clear and established, because they are written and signed by the parties.

It is on this established protocol of the GPH-MILF peace process that we wish for the early composition of the GPH Peace Panel under the incoming Duterte administration.

MILF: Junctures: A Book on Selected Speeches and Statements on Bangsamoro peace process under Aquino launched at Malacañang Palace

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Jun 10): Junctures: A Book on Selected Speeches and Statements on Bangsamoro peace process under Aquino launched at Malacañang Palace

A book entitled: “Junctures: Selected Speeches and Statements”, a collection of selected speeches and statements made in the course of the peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was launched on Thursday, June 9 at Malacañang Palace, in celebration of the achievements of the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III in advancing peace in Mindanao.

The book features the speeches made by the President in key junctures of the process, and those delivered by GPH chief negotiator Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and MILF panel chair Mohagher Iqbal in several forums and discussions on the Bangsamoro peace negotiations held under the Aquino administration. Produced by the Government Peace Panel Secretariat, the book is published by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

Also included are speeches delivered by Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles, MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, GPH peace panel member Senen Bacani, MILF panel member Professor Abhoud Syed Lingga, and National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) Secretary Yasmin Busran-Lao in landmark events. Major statements issued during the same period make up the second part of the book.

 “The book is a tangible record of the thinking and sentiments of the main actors in the negotiations and implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) through the good times and the bad. Junctures will provide readers with an insider’s look of our journey the past few years from the signing of the Framework Agreement that preceded the CAB in October 2013 up to May 2016, with the signing of the Declaration of Continuity of the partnership between the government and the MILF,” said Ferrer of the publication.

Ferrer underscored the important role played by the President and the Executive Secretary in steering the direction of the peace negotiations. “Kaya naging matagumpay ang peace process natin sa ilalim ni President Aquino ay dahil naging bukas ang linya sa pagitan niya't ng kanyang opisina  at ng MILF, at maraming napag-usapang tuwiran at diretso na may tiwala sa isa’t isa (The peace process succeeded under President Aquino because of the openness between him and his office and the MILF, which  allowed matters to be discussed directly, with trust in each other),” she said.

MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in his message read for him by MILF Peace Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal said “The Significance of this effort is more so emphasized as we actively engage the Bansamoro people, especially the youth, to know more and learn about the intensity, acrimony, and triumphs of the peace talks which took 17 years in the making .Realistically, it is the next generation that will benefit from this undertaking, with all the more makes it imperative that we internalize the  history of the Bangsamoro struggle and the political objectives that we are fighting for”.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace process Sec. Teresita Quintos-Deles delivered the Opening Remarks.

Dureza flying to Norway to meet with Joma Sison

From Rappler (Jun 10): Dureza flying to Norway to meet with Joma Sison

(UPDATED) Dureza says he will be accompanied by incoming Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III and former congressman Hernani Braganza

Jesus Dureza, President-elect Rodrigo Dutere's appointed Secretary of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) is flying to Oslo, Norway Friday night, June 10, to meet with Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDF) head Jose Maria Sison.

Dureza made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Duterte had made peace talks with the communist rebels part of his platform during the presidential campaign.

Dureza, a veteran in the peace negotiating table, said that he is flying upon the instructions of Duterte. Dureza was appointed presidential adviser on the peace process from 2005 until 2008 under the government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

"I will be accompanied by incoming Sec. Silvestre Bello III and former congressman Hernani Braganza. We will look forward to a fruitful meeting under the auspices of the Norwegian government in the sidelines of the ‘Oslo Forum’,” Dureza said in his post.

The Royal Norwegian government is the third-party broker of the stalled peace talks. Bello is incoming labor secretary under the Duterte Cabinet.

Earlier, Duterte said he planned to send Bello and Dureza to Norway to initiate talks with the CPP and Sison.

NDF spokesperson Fidel Agcaoili told a press conference on Wednesday, June 8, Sison's coming home for peace talks was a "very ticklish issue” because the United States had put the CPP and the NPA in its terrorist list. This means it could have Sison intercepted and arrested during one of his stopovers en route to Manila from the Netherlands, where he is based.

Abu Sayyaf

Dureza also said he wanted to correct the rumor reported by some media outlets that he is open to negotiation with the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway group from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

"True, I have even directly negotiated with the ASG just recently to seek the release of my friend John Ridsdel whom they nevertheless beheaded as the families could not raise the demanded ransom amount,” Dureza said.

Dureza said negotiating with the ASG and BIFF is not the way forward and that they would have to face the full force of the law.

"But negotiating with them in the context of what are we doing with the Bangsamoro and the CPP/NPA/NDF is definitely not the way forward. They have to face the full force of the law for their terrorism and criminal acts,” Dureza said.

CARAT Philippines 2016 (4 PHOTOS)

From Update.Ph (Jun 10): CARAT Philippines 2016 (4 PHOTOS)

US Navy Lieutenants Eric Bowers and Eran Wilson discuss flight operations while in flight aboard a P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol craft above Subic, June 8. US Navy photo

US Navy Lieutenants Eric Bowers and Eran Wilson discuss flight operations while in flight aboard a P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol craft above Subic, June 8. US Navy photo

US Naval personnel aboard a P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol craft communicate with Armed Forces of the Philippines aircraft, June 8. US Navy photo

US Naval personnel aboard a P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol craft communicate with Armed Forces of the Philippines aircraft, June 8. US Navy photo

CARAT is short for “Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training” exercises. The exercises took place in multiple locations across the Philippines and in waters near Subic Bay and Palawan from June 6 to 10.

This year’s exercise features the guided missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG-63), the landing dock ship USS Ashland (LSD-48), and the diving and salvage ship USNS Salvor (T-ARS-52), along with a P-8 Poseidon aircraft, Navy expeditionary forces, Marines assigned to the III Marine Expeditionary Force-3rd Marine Division, a platoon from Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5, staff from Commander, Task Force 73 (CTF 73) and Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7, and the 7th Fleet Band Orient Express.

The Philippine Navy assets and units include the minesweeper frigate BRP Rizal (PS-74), the Del Pilar Class Frigate BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15), a landing craft heavy, an AW-109 helicopter, an EOD team, diving team, construction platoon, a marine company and the Philippine Fleet band. Also participating are various units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

This year’s CARAT Philippines focuses on combined operations at sea, amphibious landings, diving and salvage, maritime domain awareness, and community service events.

US Marines conduct an amphibious exercise with service members of the Philippine Marine Corps at Inagawan Beach in Palawan, June 7. US Navy photo

US Marines conduct an amphibious exercise with service members of the Philippine Marine Corps at Inagawan Beach in Palawan, June 7. US Navy photo

US Marines conduct an amphibious exercise with service members of the Philippine Marine Corps in West Philippine Sea, June 7. US Navy photo

US Marines conduct an amphibious exercise with service members of the Philippine Marine Corps in West Philippine Sea, June 7. US Navy photo

US, Japan, India to conduct high-end warfighting exercises in PH Sea

From Update.Ph (Jun 10): US, Japan, India to conduct high-end warfighting exercises in PH Sea  

The United Stated, Japan, and India maritime forces have started their high-end warfighting exercises, Malabar 2016, to advance multi-national maritime relationships and mutual security issues. Malabar 2016 is running from June 9 to 17.

“The at-sea portions of the exercise will be conducted in the Philippine Sea and are designed to advance participating nations’ military-to-military coordination and capacity to plan and execute tactical operations in a multinational environment,” US Navy’s Task Force 70 said.

The on-shore phase will be at Sasebo, Japan. Training will include subject matter expert and professional exchanges on Carrier Strike Group operations, maritime patrol and reconnaissance operations, surface and anti-submarine warfare, medical operations, damage control, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), helicopter operations, and visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) operations.

According to US Navy’s Task Force 70, the at-sea portions include liaison officer professional exchanges and embarks; a photo exercise; submarine familiarization; high-value unit defense; air defense exercises; medical evacuation drills; surface warfare exercises; communications exercises; search and rescue exercises; helicopter cross-deck evolutions; underway replenishments; gunnery exercises; VBSS exercises; and anti-submarine warfare.

US Navy assets joing Malabar 2016 include the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) with embarked Carrier Air Wing 9, the guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) and guided-missile destroyers USS Stockdale (DDG 106), USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) and USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93); a P-8A Poseidon aircraft; and a Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine.

JOSE MA. SISON | On talking peace, coming home, staying safe

From InterAksyon (Jun 10): JOSE MA. SISON | On talking peace, coming home, staying safe

This article is part of a series on the impending resumption of formal peace talks between the incoming administration of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte and communist rebels who have been waging armed struggle for close to half a century by independent media outfit Kodao Productions. This and previous articles are republished with permission.

MANILA, Philippines -- At the "Blue Meets Red" forum at the Ateneo de Davao University on June 8, National Democratic Front of the Philippines spokesperson Fidel Agcaoili said their chief political consultant Prof. Jose Maria Sison’s planned homecoming to the Philippines is still a "ticklish" issue owing to the United States recent relisting of the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and Sison as “terrorist.”

Kodao interviewed Prof. Sison on his thoughts about this development.

How do you feel that the US may spoil your homecoming?

Jose Ma. Sison:  It is disgusting that the US government has renewed its listing of the CPP, NPA and myself as terrorist.  It is trying to spoil the common determination and current efforts of the incoming (Rodrigo) Duterte government and the NDFP to resume the peace negotiations in July.  It is ironic that the biggest terrorist force in Philippine history and in the world today, US imperialism, is designating revolutionary forces and leaders as terrorist.

It is possible that the US will spoil my homecoming in one of several ways, including intercepting  me while in transit or upon redirection of the plane carrying me or  allowing me to land in Manila  without interference and eventually subjecting me to  “wet operations” (bloody attack) by its mercenary agents or by merely pummeling me with psywar (psychological war) to slander and discredit me or push me towards a direction against my rights and interest.  I am quite used to considering all these possibilities and I also think of how to counter them. 

How will this development affect the high level of confidence that the incoming Duterte government and the NDFP have reached for the resumption of the peace talks?

JMS: Any violent attempt to spoil my homecoming by any hostile force has the objective of spoiling the peace process and to discredit the Duterte government for failing to secure me.  Thus, it is wise to continue the series of formal talks in Oslo in accordance with the existing agreements.  Holding the formal talks either in the urban or rural areas in the Philippines will invite surprise attacks from the peace spoilers.
I can stay for two weeks to one month every time I visit the Philippines in order to do consultations with President Duterte and with the revolutionary forces and to promote the peace process. But it would be too risky  for me to stay for more than one month or I would have to be placed under conditions of maximum security that  practically make me  a prisoner of whoever gives me the maximum security.

What are the possible remedies to this situation?

JMS:  The formal talks of the negotiating panels must be carried out in Oslo in accordance with the established practice of peace negotiations and in accordance within the existing agreement between the Manila government and the NDFP.  Because I have to be present as Chief Political Consultant during the formal talks in Oslo, I must enjoy the right and freedom to travel between Norway and The Netherlands where my wife and two children reside as well as the right and freedom to travel to Philippines from time to time.

Will you ask for guarantees from both the Dutch and Norwegian governments? How about the US?

JMS: I would like to have the Philippine passport and to have residence either in The Netherlands or Norway while the peace negotiations are going on. The Duterte government can do me a favor if it requests the Dutch government or Norwegian government for the purpose of the peace negotiations.  Before I make a visit to the Philippines in July or August, I must have that residence permit and a return visum to a country in Europe priorly because the moment I step out of the European area of treaty protection I would be practically giving up the absolute protection  that I enjoy as a recognized political refugee under Article 3 of the European  Convention on Human Rights.

I do not wish to put myself in a position of being stranded in the Philippines, becoming vulnerable to extreme risks and pressures and worst of all becoming unable to participate in the peace negotiations in Oslo. While the peace negotiations are still going on, I should have the freedom to travel to the Netherlands residence of my wife who is a member of the NDFP negotiating panel, whether I travel from Norway or from the Philippines.

The Duterte government should request the US government to stop the designation of the CPP, NPA and myself as terrorist. In the first place, it was the Arroyo government that requested the aforesaid designation. It would be a big boost to the peace process if the Duterte government demand that the US cease to slander the revolutionary forces as terrorist.

What benefit will your homecoming be to the peace process and the hoped-for coalition with the Duterte government?

JMS: The main benefit from my initial and further visits to the Philippines is to generate goodwill, trust and confidence in the peace process and in the hoped-for alliance and cooperation of the NDFP with the Duterte government. The many who believe in the peace process will be further convinced that it is the way to move forward. Those who have doubts, especially on the revolutionary side,  will increase their confidence from the fact that I freely move in and out of the Philippines just like any Filipino, apart from the necessary  but inconspicuous security precautions.

If you’ve heard from Mayor Duterte about this, what did he tell you?

JMS: I have not had the opportunity of telling him what I manage to say in this interview.  It would be useful and helpful if President(-elect) Duterte, (incoming presidential peace adviser) Jesus Dureza and (incoming GPH negotiating panel chairperson Silvestre) Bebot Bello read in full this interview  so that they  can be informed of  the considerations for my initial and further visits to the Philippines while peace negotiations are held in a neutral venue abroad.#

'Work on alliance with Duterte but don't dream of meaningful change from reactionary govt' - CPP

From InterAksyon (Jun 10): 'Work on alliance with Duterte but don't dream of meaningful change from reactionary govt' - CPP

Communist rebels urged their forces to work on building an alliance with the Duterte administration but also warned against “reformism, particularly the hope of achieving meaningful change through the mere acts of representatives within the reactionary parliament and bureaucracy.”

The editorial of the June 7 issue of Ang Bayan, the publication of the Communist Party of the Philippines, said President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s indications of willingness “to continue the cooperation and friendship with the national democratic movement signals the possibility that an alliance with his government will be fruitful.”

Duterte has said he will resume formal peace negotiations with the rebels and has appointed several nominees of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, which represents the communists in the talks, to key government positions.

He has also indicated that he might release and pardon more than 500 political prisoners, including several consultants of the NDFP peace panel.

“In building an alliance with the incoming Duterte regime, the revolutionary movement is offered a great opportunity to broaden and promote the correctness of the national democratic line and analysis, principles and programs. Let us use this favorable situation to reach the broad masses and expand the organized forces and strengthen the mass struggle of workers, farmers, urban poor, youth and students, and other sectors,” the Ang Bayan editorial, written in Pilipino, said.

It also urged the mobilization of “hundreds of thousands” in Metro Manila and other urban centers to “support the peace talks and highlight the immediate demands of the workers, farmers and all other sectors.”

At the same time, it stressed the need for the mass movement to remain independent and “not following the lead or tied to the limitations of the reactionary parliament and bureaucracy.”

The editorial also said building alliances and advancing the mass movement and armed struggle are complementary “aspects” in engaging with the incoming administration.

“An alliance will help strengthen the democratic mass movement; on the other hand, the extent of the benefits from the alliance will depend on the independent strength of the masses,” it said.

It also stressed the need for “mass struggle and criticism” to convince the Duterte government “to heed the cry of the people” and said “the organized strength of the masses is more important and a truer measure of success for the tactics to engage the incoming regime.”

NOLCOM keeping close eye on Panatag

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 10): NOLCOM keeping close eye on Panatag

A Philippine flag flies on a rock in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal

The military’s Northern Luzon Command is keeping close watch on Panatag (Scarborough Shoal) amid concerns triggered by US claims that China intends to construct structures in the disputed territory off the coast of Zambales.

Speaking at a summit of defense chiefs in Singapore Saturday, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter warned of “actions being taken” over any Chinese construction on the shoal even as he urged stronger bilateral security cooperation between the two powers to prevent any mishap.

“Our naval and air assets have regular patrols (over) Benham Rise in the east (of Luzon) and Panatag Shoal in the west. What assets I have right now, (I) use them for monitoring, search-and-rescue and interdiction operations,” General Romeo Tanalgo, Nolcom chief, said.

He declined to provide details but assured that Nolcom “provides the necessary search-and rescue and patrol assets for efficient and effective enforcement of maritime law.”

The current tensions in the South China Sea, which have escalated over the past few years since China began building artificial islands and facilities that could be used militarily on features it occupies, can be traced to a 2012 standoff at Scarborough after the Philippine Navy apprehended several Chinese fishermen for poaching.

The US intervened and prevailed on both sides to withdraw. But Chinese coast guard vessels soon returned and, among others, began preventing Filipinos from fishing in the area.

Renato De Castro, convener of the National Security and East Asian Affairs Program of the Alberto del Rosario Institute, told a forum in Camp Aguinaldo earlier this week that the standoff prompted President Benigno Aquino III to negotiate the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US, which was signed in 2014.

The pact allows increased US military presence in the country and the use by the Americans of local facilities. The Philippines and US recently identified five such locations: Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa City, home of the Western Command (Westcom); Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga; Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija; Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro City; and the Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu.

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, while assuring the country would continue to insist on its claims over territories in the South China Sea, has also indicated willingness to enter bilateral talks with China, against which local and foreign experts have warned.

Pres. Aquino remains hopeful for passage of BBL in next Congress

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 10): Pres. Aquino remains hopeful for passage of BBL in next Congress

Outgoing President Benigno Aquino III is hoping that the next 17th Congress will pursue the peace process in Mindanao by passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

”We remain hopeful for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law in incoming Congress,” the President told the audience who witnessed the launching of ‘Junctures’, a compilation of the President’s speeches and statements about the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Thursday night at the Malacañang Palace.

Aquino promised to continue supporting the peace process even that his administration started not too many years ago when he decided to fly to Tokyo to meet with the MILF leaders headed by its chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim.

”In 21 days, I will be stepping down from office, but to all of you in attendance today, and to each person of goodwill who wishes to fulfill the promise of Mindanao, I will remain your friend and ally. Tell me how I can help this process, even as an ordinary citizen, and I will be by your side,” the President said.

”The book we launch today tells of the journey we have taken these past six years. We launch it fully aware that the journey is still ongoing—that there are more challenges we must overcome, and triumphs that await all of us,” he added.

The President said the people of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) have been enjoying the dividends of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) signed between the government and the MILF in 2012 and 2014, respectively.

”We have been able to give those in ARMM a significant boost up to catch up; and we are seeking to build a structure that promotes true leadership and public service in the region, as opposed to the previous status quo, where strongmen addressed only their own families’ needs, and, by chance, the needs only of their own tribe,” he said.

From 2011 to 2016, Aquino said the national and regional government invested a total of 61.64 billion pesos in roads, bridges, and flood-control projects in the ARMM.

The coverage of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) has also skyrocketed from only 37,564 households in 2010 to 442,924 as of 2016 aside from improving education and health care in the region.

The Aquino administration has also spent PHP2.60 billion pesos for the 1,133 poverty-reduction projects in ARMM.

Aquino reported that the total investments in the region have reached to PHP13 billion while the tourists in Tawi-Tawi have significantly increase from mere 200 to tens of thousands in 2014.

”These are only a few pieces of good news from ARMM; and there is a lot more to come if we continue along the road to a true and lasting peace,” the President said.

”This is the right path. It is a path that has benefited those in the margins of society; and it is a path that heals the fractures within the country we share. And the message that we now send to our countrymen is: We must continue along this path,” he added.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives failed to pass the BBL in the last 16th Congress due to time constraint and proximity of the last May 9 national and local elections.

The BBL is a codification of the CAB signed on March 27, 2014 with the main goal of ending the four decades of conflict in Mindanao.

Last February, the Philippine government peace panel (GPH) and the MILF signed a joint agreement in Kuala Lumpur for renewed commitments to pursue the peace process, including the enactment of BBL and the setting up of a new governance framework.

BRP Gregorio Velasquez to boost PN hydrographic and oceanographic survey capability

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 10): BRP Gregorio Velasquez to boost PN hydrographic and oceanographic survey capability

With the BRP Gregorio Velasquez (AGR-702) now in Philippine Navy (PN) inventory, the country will now have the capability for hydrographic and oceanographic survey.

"The ship will provide the PN the capability for hydrographic and oceanographic survey and will also become a platform for inter-agency collaboration partners from the academe and thus improve awareness of our sub-surface environment," Capt. Lued Lincuna, PN spokesperson, told the Philippines News Agency on Friday.

Lincuna said the ship can also perform search-and-retrieval operations and support to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

BRP Gregorio Velasquez left Guam on June 2 and arrived at Manila Bay by 11 a.m. last June 8.

The ship left San Diego, California last April 27 after being formally transferred to the PN. She arrived in Guam on May 28.

The BRP Gregorio Velasquez is commanded by Cmdr. Edwin Nera.

Aside from helping map the country's vast maritime domains, the BRP Gregorio Velasquez (formerly the US research vessel Melville) will also help develop the PN's anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability.

"Aside from its primary mission, AGR-702 would also be a valuable platform in reviewing our anti-submarine warfare capability," he said.

Lincuna did not give specifics on this but the PN is in the process of developing its ASW capability after signing a contract to acquire two AW-159 "Wildcat" anti-submarine helicopters with AgustaWestland last March. The contract is worth Php5.360 billion.

These helicopters are expected to be deployed among the PN's large ships which include the two Gregorio Del Pilar-class frigates and incoming two strategic sealift vessels, of which one is expected to be delivered this month, and the BRP Gregorio Velasquez.

Lincuna said the acquisition of the latter ship also aims to address the issues in terms of marine scientific researches/surveys and to gather marine scientific data beneficial to naval operations.

"Also, said vessel will enhance capacity and build capability to support the environmental protection efforts and exploration of the country for economic purpose," he added.

The ship is the country's first oceanographic research vessel.

The BRP Gregorio Velasquez is being manned by a crew of 50 Filipino officers and enlisted personnel who have undergone familiarization and orientation training on various systems of the ship since last March.

"Said vessel is one of the two ships pledged by the President of the United States of America, Barack H. Obama, to be donated to the Philippines during his visit as part of the APEC Leaders Summit last November 2015," Lincuna stressed.

Per policy, auxiliary research vessels are to be named after national scientists, hence her namesake, Dr. Gregorio Velasquez, a pioneer in Philippine physiology.

Dr. Velasquez was elected as academician in 1978 and conferred the honor as National Scientist in 1982.

He was conferred with a Distinguished Science Medal and Diploma of Honor from the Republic of the Philippines (1956), the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1956-57), Man of Science, Division of Biological Sciences (1969), World's Who's Who in Sciences (1970) and the Republic of the Philippines Cultural Heritage award (1972).

PAF in the market for Php28.3-M worth of C-295 electrical spare parts

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 10): PAF in the market for Php28.3-M worth of C-295 electrical spare parts

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) is now looking for manufacturers capable of supplying it with Php28,374,251 worth of spare parts needed for the maintenance of the electrical systems of its brand-new Airbus Military C-295 medium transport aircraft.

PAF Bids and Awards Committee chair Brig. Gen. Nicolas Parilla said pre-bid conference is set on June 15, at 9 a.m. at the PAF Procurement Center Conference Room, Villamor Air Base, Pasay City.

Submission and opening of bids is on July 7, 9 a.m. at the same venue.

The PAF has three C-295 aircraft in its inventory. These are assigned to the 220th Airlift Wing which is based in Mactan, Cebu. All three planes are worth Php5.3 billion.

The 220th Airlift Wing of the PAF operates and maintains the above-mentioned aircraft.

The PAF uses the medium lift aircraft for tactical and medium airlift requirements, and are essential to internal security operations in ferrying personnel and logistical requirements of different line/combat units to any part of the country.

The timely deployment of troops and supplies is vital to ensure the success of any military operations.

The Airbus Military C-295 is a new generation, very robust and reliable, highly versatile tactical airlifter able to carry up to nine tons of payload or up to 71 personnel, at a maximum cruise speed of 260 kt/480 km/h.

Fitted with a retractable landing gear and a pressurized cabin, it can cruise at altitudes up to 25,000 feet, while retaining remarkable short take-off & landing (STOL) performance from unprepared short, soft and rough airstrips, as well as low level flight characteristics.

President Aquino to lead 118th PHL Independence Day celebration on Sunday

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 10): President Aquino to lead 118th PHL Independence Day celebration on Sunday

President Benigno S. Aquino III will lead the celebration of the 118th anniversary of Philippine Independence on Sunday, June 12, with the theme, "Kalayaan 2016: Pagkakaisa, Pagaambagan, Pagsulong."

According to Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., President Aquino will lead the 8 a.m. flag-raising and wreath-laying rites at the Rizal Monument in Rizal Park, Manila.

Simultaneous commemorative rites will also be held in key cities nationwide, including Kawit in Cavite; Malolos in Bulacan; Angeles in Pampanga; Davao City; Cebu City; San Juan City; Caloocan City, and several other parts of Metro Manila.

”The President will also hold on Sunday the traditional Vin d’Honneur for the diplomatic corps at Malacanang," Coloma said.

The National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), in partnership with other participating government agencies, has also lined up other commemorative activities leading up to the June 12 celebration, including the Balik-Tanaw cultural heritage tour at the Pasig River, cultural performances at the Paco Park and Rizal Park, simultaneous job fairs nationwide, trade fairs, and public exhibits.

”We enjoin our people to participate in these commemorative activities and celebrate the freedom that our forefathers have fought hard for,” Coloma said.

Static display showcasing the current capabilities and equipment of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police and Philippine Coast Guard will be held as part of the celebration.

Various trade fairs and exhibits will also highlight the anniversary while the Light Rail Transit and Metro Rail Transit will offer free rides to the public from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday.