Thursday, June 16, 2016

NPA Mindanao declares war on drugs but assures ‘due process’

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 17): NPA Mindanao declares war on drugs but assures ‘due process’
The war on drugs declared by President-elect Rodrigo Duterte has drawn an ally that the incoming leader is no stranger to—communist guerrillas in Mindanao.

The New People’s Army (NPA) in Mindanao announced that it would take the war on drugs a notch higher to stop drug trafficking that had reached communities considered as guerrilla bases.

Efren Aksasato, spokesperson of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in Far South Mindanao, said guerrillas would try drug lords and offenders in revolutionary courts and impose the penalty of death on those found guilty.

In an interview with the Inquirer at a guerrilla base, Aksasato said guerrillas, however, would respect the right to due process of drug suspects.

In his invectives-laden speech during a thanksgiving party for supporters in this city, Duterte offered cash rewards for dead drug lords and pushers and encouraged people to effect citizens’ arrests on suspected criminals and shoot the suspects dead if they had guns.

Aksasato said under the guerrillas’ revolutionary brand of justice, the accused would stand trial and be given the chance to defend themselves with the help of lawyers.

“But if the court will find them guilty beyond reasonable doubt, then they will definitely face death penalty,” said Aksasato. “There will be no exemptions.”

Aksasato said while guerrillas had yet to catch a big fish in the drug trade, they had taken into custody drug pushers and users in rebel territories.

The guerrilla spokesperson said among the penalties imposed on drug offenders arrested by guerrillas in the past was “community arrest” through which the offender would be closely watched by a “revolutionary council” and barred from leaving the village where he was arrested.

Another form of punishment being imposed on offenders, he said, was hard labor. The offenders, he said, “have to work for their community, including helping in the farms.”

Aksasato said some of the penalties might be considered light but this was because they were part of the guerrilla campaign to make communities aware of the dangers of illegal drugs.

The campaign, he said, had become effective in drawing the surrender of small-time pushers and users who sought NPA help to reform.

Among those currently being held by the NPA for an alleged drug offense is Chief Insp. Arnold Olgachena, police director of Governor Generoso town in Davao Oriental province.

Another rebel spokesperson, Rigoberto Sanchez of the NPA-Southern Mindanao region, said the capture of Olgachena was “a blow against the unholy alliance” of government and military officials in the province that allowed the drug trade to proliferate.

Sanchez said guerrilla units in Davao Oriental “have already gathered information from the ground regarding the festering illegal drug trade” there.

The flow of money from drugs, he said, had been traced to “political elites and ranking government forces.”

The NPA had offered to release Olgachena to Duterte but the incoming President told the guerrillas that the officer’s fate was in their hands and penalties, including hard labor, should be imposed should the guerrillas find Olgachena guilty in their court.

Aksasato, however, said the war on drugs needed a corollary effort to address poverty to be successful.

“We have to understand that the small pushers are doing it because they are poor and they need to bring food for their families,” Aksasato said.

Who got the money that Abu Sayyaf didn’t?

From the Free Malaysia Today (Jun 17): Who got the money that Abu Sayyaf didn’t?

It's easier to believe that ransom was paid than to buy the story about RM12 million being given to charity.


Malaysians are obviously relieved that four Sarawakian sailors have been freed from the clutches of Abu Sayyaf. However, many must be appalled by the farcical way in which the authorities have tried to explain matters pertaining to the ransom demanded by the militants.

We have heard various versions of what has happened to the RM12 million that the families of the four raised from well wishers and the sale of their own assets.

First came an announcement from the families that they had passed the money to the Special Branch in Sandakan and that it was to be paid to the kidnappers.

The police initially did little to counter the families’ version of the story, but subsequently decided to make a vehement denial that a ransom was paid. Police officials insisted that the militants were pressured into freeing their hostages following a barter trade ban imposed by Malaysia on the Southern Philippines.

Note that this flew in the face of assertions by negotiators and Filipino authorities who have dealt with Abu Sayyaf that it would never release its hostages without a ransom payment.

And then, yesterday, we heard an explanation from Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in his classic obscure style.

Zahid said the RM12 million was not paid to the kidnappers, but would be passed to “legally and religiously sanctioned” organisations and agencies in the Philippines. He said these organisations, the names of which he could not disclose, were involved in welfare and various other legal activities.

He explained that this was in line with the government’s “pay no ransom” policy. He denied that the money was still with the police. When pressed further, he said he would get the police to release details surrounding the case to the public in due time.

The government probably thinks it deserves a pat on the back for a so-called charitable act that benefits foreign organisations, forgetting that the money was not its own, but came from well-wishing taxpayers and the families of the hostages.

If the government was feeling charitable, why didn’t it channel the money to local welfare bodies and organisations, which are seriously in need of funding? Why give Malaysian taxpayers’ money to foreign bodies? If the government was keeping to its policy of refusing to entertain ransom demands, why did it accept the money from the victims’ families in the first place? Why not ask them to donate it to charity?

The families’ version of what happened to the money is a lot more plausible. They did name the bank it was deposited into and even gave the date and time of the deposit.

And remember that the hostages, during a press conference after their release, knelt on the ground in a classic Chinese gesture of respect to people deserving of utmost gratitude, who in this case would be the donors. This reinforced the notion that they were not lying about the ransom being paid.

We await the detailed report from the police that Zahid ordered.

Video: Are Abu Sayyaf inmates 'political prisoners'?

From ABS-CBN (Jun 16): Video: Are Abu Sayyaf inmates 'political prisoners'?

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) is expected to push for the release of all political prisoners upon the resumption of peace talks in July. But as this report tells us, over 80 alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf are included in the current list of political prisoners compiled by human rights group, Karapatan, for the NDFP. - The World Tonight, ANC, June 16, 2016

Claims Of Another 4 Malaysians Kidnapped Unconfirmed - IGP

From the Malaysian Digest (Jun 16): Claims Of Another 4 Malaysians Kidnapped Unconfirmed - IGP

KHALID: We are still awaiting confirmation from the Philippine authorities.

KHALID: We are still awaiting confirmation from the Philippine authorities

The claims that another four Malaysians have been kidnapped off Sulu waters this morning could not be confirmed yet.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said the police were still awaiting confirmation from Philippines authorities.
Philippines broadcaster ABS-CBN earlier today reported that gunmen have kidnapped four Malaysians from a ship off the east coast of Sabah, where Abu Sayyaf militants were known to operate.
"Whether or not they were seized by the Abu Sayyaf or brought to the Philippines, we have yet to confirm," Tan reportedly said.
Just last week, Abu Sayyaf militants had released four Malaysian sailors whom they held for more than two months.
The Abu Sayyaf, a loose network of Islamic militants, has earned millions of dollars from kidnappings in recent years.
Formed in the early 1990s, the Abu Sayyaf is a radical offshoot of a Muslim separatist insurgency in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines.
The kidnap-for-ransom group regularly abduct foreigners and locals to extort money for their release.

Unconfirmed report of another Abu Sayyaf abduction fuels ransom rumours

From the Malay Mail Online (Jun 16): Unconfirmed report of another Abu Sayyaf abduction fuels ransom rumours

News of a possible fresh kidnapping incident by Abu Sayyaf militants here right after four Sarawakians hostages were freed this week have triggered a storm of rumours online that a handsome ransom was paid to the terrorist group.

The talk on social media has been that the hostages were ransomed, and that the money for their freedom is encouraging more kidnappings.

 “Easy money for them. Kidnap, get ransom, wait a week till it runs out then kidnap again. Millions for one job. When will it end?” said one Facebook user Alphy Alan.

Many shared similar sentiments of disbelief that the four who were abducted on April 1 were released from captivity without payment as Malaysian authorities have asserted, especially after news broke that the relatives of the Sarawakians had raised RM12 million and passed the sum to the police in Sandakan.

But Sabah police chief Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun urged the public not to speculate on unconfirmed news reports by the Philippines media that another four Malaysians have been snatched from the state and taken to the Sulu province this morning.

 “Please, let everyone calm down while we wait for the news to be verified without spreading any kind of rumours or speculations,” he told reporters here today after receiving Hari Raya donations from Putatan MP Datuk Marcus Mojigoh.

 “I have contacted my counterparts to verify the news. Let’s wait for confirmation,” he added.

Earlier today, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters in Putrajaya that the RM12 million collected by the Sarawakians kin were given to Filipino welfare groups and not the Abu Sayyaf abductors.

He emphasised that the government does not recognise kidnap-for-ransom activities and would not use funds for such purposes.

Four brothers, Wong Teck Kang, 31, and Teck Chii, 29, their cousin Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21 and Wong Hung Sing, 34, were kidnapped from a commercial barge, MV Massive 6, in the waters off Pulau Ligitan on April 1 while returning to Tawau, Sabah after sending a cargo of wood to Manila.

On the morning of June 8, they were taken to a boat and travelled to Sabah before reaching a jetty in Sandakan at 6am when the seven armed men who could speak Malay and English, told them they were safe.

Cash, not caliphate, drives kidnappers in Philippines

From CBC News (Jun 16): CBC IN PHILIPPINES: Cash, not caliphate, drives kidnappers in Philippines

Abu Sayyaf are gangsters posing as religious fanatics, experts and military commander say

An image released by the Philippine National Police shows a top commander of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group, left, posing with comrades on Mindanao island in the southern Philippines.

An image released by the Philippine National Police shows a top commander of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group, left, posing with comrades on Mindanao island in the southern Philippines. (Philippine National Police/Associated Press)

The captors' video has all the markings of the now-familiar terror genre.
There are masked gunmen, handcuffed prisoners in orange shirts, a black flag with Arabic writing. There are threats to kill "infidels," and many references to Allah.

But for those responsible for beheading Canadian Robert Hall this week — a group called Abu Sayyaf — it's considered mostly a facade. They have become gangsters posing as religious fanatics, experts and military commanders say, using extortion to bankroll themselves.
They demanded more than $8-million for the release of Hall, and the same amount for the life of retired Canadian mining executive and journalist John Ridsdel in April. Sources say offers of more than $1 million were rejected as not enough.

Former Ontario premier Bob Rae, who advised Ridsdel's family during the ordeal, called the demands "ridiculous."

Robert Hall-Sekkingstad
The killing of Canadian Robert Hall, right, was confirmed this week. The whereabouts of Norwegian national Kjartan Sekkingstad, left, are not known. (Reuters)

The Hall family put out a statement saying, "The efforts to free Robert were vast and exhaustive." They also said they "wholeheartedly" support Ottawa's position not to pay ransom to kidnappers.

Both Hall and Ridsdel were beheaded less than an hour after the last deadline passed with no ransom delivered. Many here think that's a warning to other hostages and their families. That includes two people kidnapped at the same time as the Canadians, a Filipina woman and a Norwegian man.

John Ridsdel
Canadian John Ridsdel was killed by Abu Sayyaf gunmen in the Philippines in April. (@JBR10000/Twitter)
"What's the purpose? Just to get the money," says Col. Roy Trinidad, a former commander in the Philippines Special Forces who spent years going after Abu Sayyaf in the jungles of the south.

Indeed, more than half the Philippine military is stationed in that region, with thousands of troops specifically targeting Muslim extremists.

For 13 years the U.S. had its own special task force in the region, 600 American soldiers training and helping Philippine forces. Recently, they were joined by at least two members of Canada's elite Joint Task Force 2, sent as military advisers after Hall and Ridsdel were kidnapped. For all that, Abu Sayyaf has been pushed back but not defeated.

Col. Roy Trinidad, a former commander in the Philippines Special Forces, spent years going after Abu Sayyaf in the jungles of the south. (Saša Petricic/CBC)

Greed doesn't seem to have always been its driving motive. Abu Sayyaf ("Bearer of the Sword" in Arabic), started with solid credentials in the world of Muslim extremists.

Originally a violent offshoot of an independence movement for the impoverished islands in the south of the Philippines, it was funded by Osama bin Laden's brother-in- law, recognized by al-Qaeda, and led by jihadists fresh from Afghanistan. They wanted their own caliphate.

It had links to Jemaah Islamiyah, the Indonesian militant group responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings. And most recently, it switched allegiances with a vow of loyalty to ISIS and a nod of support from the Syrian-based terror flag-bearer.

Westerners are the most valuable

But Abu Sayyaf gradually learned that human lives have a high cash value, especially if those seized are Westerners.

One security consultant in the Philippines says an informal ransom list is about $10,000 for Filipinos, $100,000 for others in the region and at least $1 million for North Americans and Europeans.

"Of course, the foreigners have the capacity to pay," says Trinidad. "These bandits have been involved in kidnap for ransom because it is lucrative. They have turned their backs on the ideological struggle that they once espoused."

The ransoms demanded increased significantly in 2014 after a German couple was kidnapped from their yacht and released after an unprecedented amount was paid, reportedly as much as $5 million each.
Even as Hall and Ridsdell were seen begging for their lives, others were being quietly released after ransom deals were negotiated on their behalf.

Fourteen Indonesian sailors left the Philippines just days after Ridsdel's execution.
Still, some say the ransom inflation isn't just about greed on the part of Abu Sayyaf.

'Everybody has their finger in the pie'

Many others in the southern Philippines also get a cut, says Marc Singer, director of business intelligence for Pacific Strategies and Assessments, a Manila security consulting firm that has been involved in some hostage negotiations. That's part of the reason many in the local community support Abu Sayyaf.

"Everybody has their finger in the pie," says Singer.

"If ransom money goes down there, it's getting divided in all directions. You'd be surprised to find that the most senior Abu Sayyaf leader isn't making as much as some military types and some more senior politicians down there."

Ces Drilon
'You know, it's your life,' says Ces Drilon, a Filipina TV reporter kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf in 2008. (Saša Petricic/CBC)
Recently, a retired Italian priest and pizza restaurant owner in the Philippines was released after his family paid $600,000 in ransom, a relatively low amount. Singer says the key was that the family dealt directly with the kidnappers and cut out all government and military officials.

Ces Drilon knows all about the negotiations that can lead to success or failure, life or death.

The Filipina TV reporter was kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf in 2008. She remembers listening as her captors haggled on the phone over the price of her freedom, just minutes before the deadline.

"I was prepared. My prayers were for God to give me the grace to accept my death, if it happened," she says.

"But of course the idea of giving more money to these bandits, I felt ashamed in a way. You just make the problem worse. But … you know, it's your life."

Philippines map: Canadian hostage killed in 'heinous' act
Originally a violent offshoot of an independence movement for the impoverished islands in the south of the Philippines, Abu Sayyaf has become a group of gangsters posing as religious fanatics, experts and military commanders say. (Canadian Press)

Radical Islamist group in Philippines threatens beheading of hostages

From UPI (Jun 16): Radical Islamist group in Philippines threatens beheading of hostages

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte was elected president in a landslide this spring, and is due to take office on June 30. He has promised a crackdown on criminals, gangs, and Islamist terrorists. Photo courtesy of Malacañang Photo Bureau/Government of the Philippines

Incoming President Rodrigo Duterte is stepping up efforts to beat back the Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf after it threatened to behead a Filipino woman and Norwegian man if it does not receive a $13 million ransom.

Duterte's chief negotiator, Jesus Dureza, is talking directly with leaders of the militant group in an effort to free Kjarten Sekkingstad, a citizen of Norway, and Marites Flor of the Philippines. They have been held hostage since being abducted from a resort in the Philippines in September. The extremist group beheaded two others taken hostage at the same time -- Canadians Robert Hall and John Ridsdel.

"We will upload a new video soon for our new ultimatum. No ransom, another beheading," Abu Sayyaf spokesperson Abu Raami said Wednesday.

Abu Sayyaf leaders said Hall's beheading was intended to embarrass Duterte, who will take office on June 30. Duterte had promised Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau an end to the beheadings after Ridsdel's death in April.

Incoming National Police Chief Robert Dela Rosa suggested martial law may be imposed in some areas, allowing the government to impose strict curfews and suspend civil rights.

10 battalions hunt Abus in Sulu

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 16): 10 battalions hunt Abus in Sulu

SULU OFFENSIVE Government soldiers patrol a highway during a search operation for the body of beheaded Canadian hostage Robert Hall in Indanan town, Sulu, on Tuesday. AFP

SULU OFFENSIVE Government soldiers patrol a highway during a search operation for the body of beheaded Canadian hostage Robert Hall in Indanan town, Sulu, on Tuesday. AFP

The military has deployed 10 battalions to “selected target areas” in Sulu province to go after the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers who beheaded two Canadian hostages in the last two months after failing to get their ransom demand.

Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson for the Western Mindanao Command, said all resources from land, sea and air had been made available for the mission, which could involve some 5,000 troops belonging to the Marines, Army, Air Force and Navy, including their Special Forces.

“We have about 10 battalions, including Marines. Ten battalions of two brigades. All service commands are involved,” Tan said.

But he clarified that the operations would not be on a “wide scale,” but would focus on areas known to be supportive of the Abu Sayyaf.

“We will go to the communities known to provide refuge to bandits,” he said. “There are selected target areas. These bandits have relatives and they hide in the populace.”

On Monday, Abu Sayyaf bandits beheaded Canadian Robert Hall after the P600-million ransom money they had demanded was not delivered. Another Canadian, John Ridsdel, suffered the same fate on April 25.

The group is still holding hostage Filipino Maritess Flor and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad.

All were kidnapped in an exclusive marina in Island Garden City of Samal in Davao del Norte province on Sept. 21 last year.

Police were checking “an intelligence advisory from the higher office” that four Malaysians were abducted by armed men in Sabah, Malaysia, on Wednesday night.

“So far, no confirmation,” Senior Supt. Joselito Salido, police director of Tawi-Tawi province, told the Inquirer by phone.

Tan refused to give the exact number of soldiers or the units deployed in Sulu, and where the operations would be.

“Just imagine our operation maps are filled with pins,” he said. Pins indicate deployment of troops on the ground.

Abu Raami, spokesperson for the Abu Sayyaf, said his group would make it hard for the government troops to locate them.

“We know the terrain,” he said in a phone interview on Thursday morning.

Raami said that every time a military aircraft would hover over them, “we run for cover, we put off all communications and we hide.”

On Wednesday, President Aquino visited Jolo, Sulu, to check on the operations of the military against the Abu Sayyaf.

Sulu Vice Gov. Abdusakur Tan said he chose to snub the President “because he is responsible why all these problems are besetting our place.”

Tan said Mr. Aquino did not consider his earlier recommendation to involve the communities in the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf. “Instead … he poured more troops and changed the police officers and replaced officers who were not functioning.”

On Mr. Aquino’s visit, Tan said: “Who do you think will listen to him? Coming down here when he has only 15 days left (as President).”

“That is what we call ‘too late to play a hero.’ Lives have been wasted, resources reportedly poured but we never saw it, never felt it,” said the vice governor.

In Manila, Sen. Bam Aquino said yesterday that it was time for the government to do all it could to crush the Abu Sayyaf in the wake of threats that it might behead another hostage if its ransom demand was not met.

Senator Aquino lamented that the Abu Sayyaf already wrought extensive damage on the country’s image, economy, tourism industry, and the way of the life in several areas in Mindanao.

“It is time to take the appropriate action to pulverize the bandit group at the earliest possible time,” he said.

“We support any action of the present government and the incoming administration of President-elect Duterte as long as it conforms with the law.”

Group pickets CHR demanding justice for Paquibato killings

From the Mindanao Times (Jun 16): Group pickets CHR demanding justice for Paquibato killings

PROGRESSIVE group Karapatan yesterday held a lighting rally in front of the Commission on Human Rights office in the region to demand action on the recent killings in Paquibato District.
Jay Apiag, Karapatan spokesperson, said they were alarmed about the recent killings in the region.
“What is our government doing? The CHR is doing nothing while bodies are piling up,” Apriag said.
Around 20 demonstrators joined the protest.
The TIMES, meanwhile, tried to get the statement or reactions from the CRH-IX but the officer-in-charge and the public information officer of the agency were out of the office at that time.
Apiag cited the killing of a farmer in Paquibato district. On May 29, Segundo Jorolan, 52, of Barangay Mapula, Paquibato District was killed at Pasi-an, Purok B in Barangay Mapula, Paquibato.
Based on the investigation conducted by PO3 Noel Fajardo of Paquibato Police Precinct, Jorolan was feeding his chickens outside his house when someone arrived and shot him. Recovered from the crime scene were three fired cartridges of Carbine rifle, and a live ammunition from a .45 caliber pistol. Police are still investigating the case.
Moreover, Apiag has also questioned the efficiency of the CHR, which still has to release a resolution on the “Paquibato Massacre” a year after the tragedy.
On May 30, 2015, three people were killed when a volley of gunfire jolted people awake in a remote village in Purok 7, Barangay Paradise Embac in Paquibato District.
It was previously reported that 69th IB commander, Lt. Col. Rodney Intal, said that Datu Ruben Enlog, tribal leader and chair of Nagkapul, Ramil Enlog and Randy Carnasa were members of the New People’s Army and they were killed in a legitimate miliraty operation.
But Karapatan said the victims were farmers and killed when elements of 69th IB strafed the house of Aida Seisa. Seisa’s 12-year-old daughter was wounded during the attack while her husband and two other children were unharmed.
Seisa is a leader of Paquibato District Peasant Alliance and secretary general of Sabokahan, an organization Lumad women.

LIVESTREAM: Manila Defense and Security Symposium

From Rappler (Jun 16): LIVESTREAM: Manila Defense and Security Symposium

On Friday, Jun 17, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio delivers a lecture on developments on the Philippines' historic case China over disputed waters

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio is set to discuss the Philippines' maritime case against China during the Manila Defense and Security Symposium on Friday, June 17.

The symposium, organized by private nonprofit organization Trident Defense, will be held at the Forum, Solaire Resort, in Parañaque City starting 2 pm.

Participants from the private sector, government, diplomatic community, military, and the academe are expected to join the event.

Carpio will deliver a lecture and share developments on the Philippines' legal challenge over disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

In 2013, the Philippines filed a historic case against China, challenging before an international tribunal Beijing's so-called 9-dash line that virtually claimed the entire South China Sea.

The Philippines, meanwhile, is asserting that the disputed waters fall within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

The Philippines is expecting the tribunal to issue its ruling this month.

Watch the livestream on Rappler.

China blamed for ASEAN U-turn on South China Sea

From InterAksyon (Jun 16): China blamed for ASEAN U-turn on South China Sea

Chinese pressure was blamed Thursday for a stunning diplomatic U-turn by Southeast Asian Nations that saw them retract a statement sounding alarm over Beijing's island building in the South China Sea.

The chaotic events at the end of a meeting of foreign ministers from China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Tuesday have led to allegations of bullying by Beijing.

The document, released by ASEAN member Malaysia and described as a joint statement from the bloc, warned developments in the hotly contested South China Sea could "undermine peace, security and stability".

The statement specified "land reclamation" as a source of tension, a clear reference to China's massive island building activities where it is trying to cement a claim to almost the whole sea.

But just hours later, Malaysia said the grouping was retracting the statement for "urgent amendments", but offered no reason. Various participants have since given conflicting explanations over what happened.

An ASEAN diplomat who was present at the meeting in the Chinese city of Kunming told AFP that China had put the screws on some Southeast Asian nations to get them to withdraw their support.

"The usual factor, pressure from China," said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, when asked why unity crumbled.

"I suspect the two countries that opposed the statement were Cambodia and Laos."

'Crude, arrogant'

Singapore's Straits Times newspaper also reported on Thursday that the joint statement was "scuttled by the Chinese, who lobbied its friends in the grouping to block" it.

"Malaysia releasing it was a manifestation of the extreme frustration of the original five ASEAN members plus Vietnam at the particularly crude and arrogant behaviour of the Chinese," the Straits Times reported an ASEAN official as saying.

The Philippines also said Thursday that there had originally been unanimous support within ASEAN for the strongly worded statement.

"By the time the meeting ended, there was an agreement among ASEAN foreign ministers. They agreed on the text of the ASEAN statement and they agreed it would be released," Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose told reporters in Manila.

Jose said the statement was then retracted after the meeting had ended and most foreign ministers, including the Philippines' Jose Rene Almendras, had left the venue to start returning home.

Jose would not be drawn on whether Chinese lobbying was to blame, but insisted Malaysia's initial release had not been in error.

Asked why Malaysia gave the statement to the media, Jose said: "That was the point where there was consensus among ASEAN to have that statement. So by the time it was released, there was agreement."

Indonesia said on Wednesday the release -- titled "Media statement by the ASEAN foreign ministers" -- was issued by mistake, and that it was only meant to be a "media guideline".

China has responded to the controversy by insisting there had not been unanimous support for the original statement

"It is clear that if ASEAN wants to issue an official statement, such statement will be based on consensus," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Wednesday.

ASEAN disunity

The events have been widely seen as another example of ASEAN's inability to present a united front toward China as it dramatically expands its presence in the waterway.

China claims nearly all of the sea -- home to some of the world's most important shipping routes and of vast military importance.

ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, have competing claims to parts of the sea.

While the Philippines and Vietnam have been particularly critical, Laos and Cambodia have been generally regarded as preferring to side with their giant neighbor and benefactor.

In 2012, ASEAN foreign ministers failed to release a joint statement for the first time at the end of their annual gathering, with the Philippines blaming event host Cambodia for blocking criticism of China.

Laos this year has the rotating presidency of ASEAN, and will host a series of meetings over the coming months in which the South China Sea will inevitably be a hot talking point.

US deploys more fighter planes to PH for training stint, SCS access operations

From InterAksyon (Jun 16): US deploys more fighter planes to PH for training stint, SCS access operations

An EA-18G Growler attack aircraft is seen in file photo from the US Navy's Naval Air Systems Command site.

The United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) has deployed four airborne electronic attack aircraft to augment eight other air assets already stationed at Clark Air Base, according to a statement released Thursday by the US Embassy in Manila.

The US fighter planes have arrived in the Philippines for a training mission and operations to ensure access to the disputed South China Sea, the US Navy said Thursday.

The Philippines' longtime ally deployed the aircraft to train Filipino pilots as Manila remains locked in an increasingly tense maritime dispute with Beijing.

The US Navy made a veiled reference to so-called freedom of navigation operations in which Washington sends a ship or plane to pass by a Chinese-claimed island to reject its claims of sovereignty.

"Growler aircraft will support routine operations that enhance regional maritime domain awareness and assure access to the air and maritime domains in accordance with international law," the US Navy said in a statement, referring to the EA-18G Growler airborne electronic attack planes.

Clark hosts the headquarters of the 1st Division of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) based in Pampanga.

The air assets already there, before this latest deployment, as five A-10C Thunderbolt aircraft, and three HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters.

“At the direction of the U.S. Pacific Commander, and with the approval of the Government of the Philippines, the United States stood up an Air Contingent in April 2016 to promote interoperability and US-Philippines security cooperation,” it said.

The announcement comes amid widespread expectation of a ruling soon by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague on the case filed by Manila, challenging Beijing's unilateral imposition of its “9-dash line” that claims 90 percent of the disputed sea and overlaps the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines and other claimants Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The US Embassy said the new deployment is meant to enhance interoperability with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which has newly acquired lead-in jet fighters FA-50 “Golden Eagle” from South Korea.

“As part of this contingent, the US Navy sent a detachment of EA-18G Growler airborne electronic attack aircraft to Clark Air Base on June 15, where it will train with Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) FA 50 aircraft pilots,” the Embassy said.

As part of the PAF’s program to modernize its aerial capability, the AFP has ordered 12 units of the lead-in jet fighters worth P18.9 billion from manufacturer Korean Aerospace, Inc. (KAI).

The deployed EA-18G Growlers contingent has 120 personnel assigned to the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, in addition to the 200 personnel deployed for the A-10C Thunderbolt aircraft and Hawk helicopters contingent.

“In addition to these bilateral training missions, Growler aircraft will support routine operational missions that enhance regional maritime domain awareness,” the Embassy explained.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines offered to host the US Air Contingent at Clark Air Base for the duration of their mission for the purposes of training the AFP’s FA 50 pilots and its support units for TDO, specifically on Maritime Security Operations. Clark Air Base is the home of the FA 50 and its pilots in training. Placing the U.S. Air Contingent at this base gives the AFP an opportunity to train with U.S. servicemen on Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR),” the embassy advisory added.

“The U.S. Air Contingent training with the AFP is part of the Mutual Defense Board Activities agreed upon by the Philippine and U.S. governments as part of Maritime Domain Awareness and the promotion of interoperability between both nations’ armed forces,” it further added.

The US deployments of aircraft and personnel in the country is part of the PH-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), widely seen as meant to blunt China’s aggressive military expansion that several countries say restrict the $5-trillion economic sea lanes.

China's reclamation spree has destroyed coral reefs inside the Kalayaan Island Group, a municipality of Palawan, by converting these features into artificial islands for military purposes.

WITH VIDEO | Incoming govt, NDFP end Oslo meet with joint statement, eye formal talks late July

From InterAksyon (Jun 16): WITH VIDEO | Incoming govt, NDFP end Oslo meet with joint statement, eye formal talks late July

Negotiators of the incoming Duterte administration and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, with representatives of the Norwegian government, who engaged in informal talks on the resumption of formal peace negotiations, in Oslo. (photo from the Twitter account of Hernani Braganza)

(UPDATE 2 - 2:17 p.m.) Peace negotiators of the incoming administration President-elect Rodrigo Duterte and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines concluded informal talks in Oslo, Norway late Wednesday with a joint statement agreeing to resume formal talks in the third week of July.

The joint statement said the formal negotiations will be “conducted in accordance with previously signed agreements” with the incoming government panel promising to recommend to Duterte the release of more than 500 political prisoners, both those the NDFP has described as its “consultants” and, thus, covered by the Joint Agreement on Immunity and Security Guarantees, and the rest “based on humanitarian grounds.”

The statement was signed for the Duterte government by Silvestre Bello III, who will chair the incoming government panel, member Hernani Braganza, and incoming presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza; for the NDFP by its chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni, peace panel member Fidel Agcaoili, and chief political consultant and Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Ma. Sison; and Ambassador Elisabeth Slattum, special envoy to the Philippine peace process of the Norwegian government, which hosted the talks and acts as third-party facilitator of the negotiations.

The joint statement signed in Oslo, Norway by peace negotiators of the incoming Duterte administration and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (image from incoming peace adviser Jesus Dureza's Facebook page)

Both parties agreed to the following agenda when the formal talks resume:
  • Affirmation of previously signed agreements
  • Accelerated process for negotiations, including the timeline for the completion of the remaining substantive agenda for the talks: socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and end of hostilities and disposition of forces
  • Reconstitution of the JASIG
  • Amnesty proclamation for the release of all detained political prisoners, subject to concurrence by Congress
  • Mode of interim ceasefire

Among the key agreements the government and NDFP have signed in the course of the often-stalled peace talks are The Hague Joint Declaration, which lays down the framework and agenda for the negotiations, the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, and the JASIG.

The JASIG, which protects the negotiators of both parties and their personnel from arrest and prosecution for the duration of the talks, has proven contentious with the NDFP demanding the release of several alleged rebel leaders it says are its consultants and therefore covered by the agreement and the governments of both President Benigno Aquino III and his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, accusing the rebels of laying down preconditions and using the pact as a pretext to spring their comrades from jail.

Bayan Muna party-list Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate welcomed the results of the informal talks, lauding the “openness of both parties to jump start the long-stalled peace process, as well as their commitment to respect past agreements already signed.”
“The resumption of talks is a very welcome development, especially because the expiring Aquino administration had exhibited no genuine interest in resolving the state of unpeace in our country,” he said.

“Aside from jailing the leaders of the revolutionary movement, the Aquino government reneged past agreements and subjected the talks to a maze of roadblocks, resulting to an impasse. The peace talks was treated as a counterinsurgency measure, and shrugged off the legitimate grievances of the marginalized that has fueled one of the longest-running insurgencies in the world,” he added.

Incoming Kabataan party-list Representative Sarah Elago had a more cautious response.

Elago welcomed the imminent resumption of formal talks, saying the Oslo agreement “shows the sincerity of both parties to pursue just and lasting peace” in contrast to “the disastrous handling of the peace negotiation by the outgoing Aquino administration.”

But while saying they “have high hopes for the outcome of this new round of peace negotiations,” Elago said the youth “will remain vigilant and closely monitor the progress of the negotiations, noting that the outgoing Aquino administration … similarly signed a joint statement with the NDF back in 2011, but eventually reneged on honoring the pertinent points of the statement.”

2 political prisoners released after Cavite court throws out charges - Karapatan

From InterAksyon (Jun 15): 2 political prisoners released after Cavite court throws out charges - Karapatan
A screen grab from a YouTube video shows political prisoners Adelberto Silva and his wife Sharon Cabusao while being interviewed at the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group detention center. (
Two political prisoners were released Wednesday after the regional trial court in Bacoor, Cavite threw out the charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives filed against them and one other, the human rights organization Karapatan said.

Karapatan said Bacoor RTC Branch 19 granted the motion to dismiss of Sharon Cabusao, Isidro de Lima and Adelberto Silva, describing the search and seizure on them as “unreasonable” and the evidence purportedly found on them the “proverbial fruit of the poisonous tree.”

Silva, who the military claimed was the secretary general of the Communist Party of the Philippines at the time of his arrest, his wife Cabusao, and De Lima were captured in Bacoor June 1 last year. Three rifle grenades, subversive documents, components for making improvised bombs and electronic devices were allegedly seized from them.

However, Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said Silva remains detained at the Special Intensive Care Unit-1 of Camp Bagong Diwa, from where De Lima was released, because he still has pending murder, attempted murder and frustrated murder charges.

Cabusao was released from the Taguig City jail, Palabay added.

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines, which represents communist rebels in negotiations with the government, has been demanding the release of Silva, who it said is a consultant of its peace panel, like 18 other alleged rebel leaders in detention.

Karapatan said the dismissal of the case against the three detainees by the Bacoor court is the latest in which judges deemed the charges and evidence “fabricated” and the accused’s right to due process violated through illegal searches and seizures.

“Many other political prisoners face the same trumped-up criminal charges,” Karapatan said, citing the case of former University of the Philippines students Gerald Salonga and Guiller Cadano, who the group said “were illegally arrested, tortured and are still detained in Nueva Ecija” while facing illegal possession of firearms and explosives charges based on “sacks containing guns and explosives (that) were planted in the house where the two were staying while conducting research on the plight of the farmers in Carranglan.”

It also cited the case of alleged CPP leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, who were arrested with five others in Cebu in 2014 and also charged with illegal firearms possession “when they only had their personal belongings and pet cats and dogs in their vehicles.”

Karapatan said there are 509 political prisoners in the country, “at least 297” of them “illegally arrested” during the term of President Benigno Aquino III.

2 dinukot na estudyante, pinalaya na

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jun 16): 2 dinukot na estudyante, pinalaya na (Two kidnapped students, freed)
Pinalaya ng mga kidnappers ngayon Huwebes ang 2 estudyante matapos ng halos dalawang linggong pagkakabihag sa kanila sa Lanao el Norte province.

Iniharap naman ng National Bureau of Investigation at pulisya ang dalawa na sina Berzon Rey Paeste at Cid Rick Jamias na parehong estudyante ng Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.

Nabawi umano sila ng mga awtoridad, ngunit limitado naman ang impormasyon ukol sa grupong dumukot sa dalawa noon June 4. Kasama sila sa 6 na hinila ng mga armado sa bayan ng Linamon sa Lanao del Norte.

Naunang pinalaya noon June 6 ang sina Eloisa Lacson, Hannah Yurong, Juhary Gubat at Kevin Limpin, subali’t naiwan ang dalawa sa hindi malamang kadahilan. Patungo sana sa bayan ng Lala sa Lanao at Pagadian City sa Zamboanga del Sur ang mga estudyante sakay ng kanilang van ng sila ay maharang sa highway.

Piniringan diumano ang kanilang mga mata habang tinatanong ng mga armado kung ano ang trabaho ng kanilang mga magulang habang bumabaybay at sa bayan ng Bacolod at Munai sila itinago.

Nabatid na binigyan pa ng pamahasahe ng mga kidnappers ang 4 estudyanteng pinalaya. Hindi naman sinabi ng mga awtoridad kung nagbayad ng ransom ang mga magulang ng 6 biktima. Walang umako sa kidnapping, ngunit lugar umano ng Moro Islamic Liberation Front ang nasabing lalawigan.

Troops accused of rape, torture and killing captured rebels in Davao City

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jun 16): Troops accused of rape, torture and killing captured rebels in Davao City

The National Democratic Front, the political arm of communist rebels, which is negotiating peace with the incoming Duterte administration, has accused the government troops of raping a captured female fighter and torturing two others before executing them all in Davao City.

Rubi del Mundo, a spokesman for the NDF in southern Philippines, tagged members of the 72ndInfantry Battalion and pro-government militias from the notorious Alamara forces were behind the killings.

He said the trio – Mary Jane Quimbo, Will Biliran and Elenita Garing – were captured following a firefight in Lumiad village in Paquibato district on June 9 and had been tortured and raped before killing them and their bodies dumped by soldiers in a ditch.

“The National Democratic Front in Southern Mindanao condemns the most recent horrendous commission of war crimes perpetrated by AFP troops in the region that are clearly designed to undermine and derail the initial goodwill being established by the NDFP and the incoming government of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte,” Del Mundo said.

“Masses in Paquibato witnessed enemy troops carrying Ka Will and Ka Milo at around 8 p.m. in Barangay Lumiad. They were brutally tortured and summarily killed. Their bodies bore torture marks and were dumped in a ditch. Ka Milo was raped by the enemy,” he added.

Del Mundo said the government soldiers violated war conventions and international humanitarian laws. “This recent barbaric violation of war conventions and international humanitarian laws shows how degenerate the AFP has become in the face of defeat in the people’s war,” he said.

He said just last month, government troops also executed 6 innocent villager suspected as rebels or NPA sympathizers. Del Mundo accused the military of sabotaging the peace talks with the Duterte administration. There was no immediate statement from the military on Del Mundo’s allegations.

4 Malaysians dinukot sa Sabah?

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jun 16): 4 Malaysians dinukot sa Sabah? (4 abducted Malaysians in Sabah?

Inaalam ngayon ng Malaysia ang balitang 4 na mga nationals nito ang napaulat na dinukot sa Sabah na kalapit lamang ng Tawi-Tawi, isa sa 5 lalawigan ng magulong Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Sinabi ni Malaysian Police Inspecor-General Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar na wala pa silang kumpirmasyon sa naganap, ngunit patuloy naman ang pagsisikap nito na makakuha ng impormasyon sa panibagong problema.

Posibleng Abu Sayyaf ang may gawa nito, ayon sa mga ulat, subali’t maging si Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Rashid Harun ay nagsabing wala silang ulat ukol dito. Ayon sa balita, dinala sa Tawi-Tawi ang mga biktima at saka inilipat sa Sulu.

Isinara na ng Sabah ang border nito sa Pilipinas dahil sa sunod-sunod na kidnappings ng Abu Sayyaf doon. Ipinagbawal na rin ng Malaysia ang lahat ng trading activities sa Sabah at Tawi-Tawi. Pumutok ang balita halos 3 araw matapos na pugutan ng ulo ng Abu Sayyaf si Canadian Robert Hall sa lalawigan ng Sulu. Wala naman kumpirmasyon ang Western Mindanao Command sa pangyayari at nagpapaimbestiga na rin ito. Wala rin pahayag ang pulisya sa ARMM.

US Pacific Partnership team in Legazpi on June 27

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 16): US Pacific Partnership team in Legazpi on June 27

The United States Navy (USN) Pacific Partnership team is expected to arrive in this city on June 27 to provide medical services to the people of Legazpi and neighboring towns, City Health Office chief Fulbert Gillego said Thursday.

Gillego said village chiefs of pre-qualified patients should give them referrals to the US medical team for them to avail of medical services such as medical check-up, minor surgery, optical, dentistry and other public health services.

The USN, in partnership with the Department of Education, will also construct school buildings in different villages of the province, he added.

The US Pacific Partnership is an annual deployment of forces from the USN Pacific Fleet, in cooperation with the local government units and military forces.

Gillego said the USN personnel will teach barangay health workers the proper caring for their patients and interact with students of the Tamaoyan Elementary School in the southern portion of this city to know from them what kind of services the team should give to the people in the community.

The USN crewmen, CHO personnel and other employees of the city will also hold a clean-up activity in different coastal areas of this city, he said.

Gillego said the USN and the personnel of Naval Forces for Southern Luzon will jointly perform a three-day live band entertainment for the local residents at the Ibalong Centrum for Recreation, Albay Astrodome and Bicol University.

The medical mission of the US Pacific Partnership to the Philippines is part of strengthening the relationship and security ties between the two nations.

Mindanao Army division accepts 314 new soldier-trainees

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 16): Mindanao Army division accepts 314 new soldier-trainees

More than 300 candidate soldiers will undergo rigid military training in the country's best Philippine Army training school after they took their oath before Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the 6th Infantry "Kampilan" Division.

The 314 recruits were among the more than 1,000 aspirants who underwent written, physical and mental examination before they were chosen to undergo formal military training at the 6th ID Division Training School (6thDTS) in Barangay Semba, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.

In a statement, the 6th ID public affairs unit said the applicants went through rigid screening and a series of examinations to ensure that the recruitment process is strictly followed and the most competent and the toughest candidates are recruited before they were qualified to join the military training.

After their oath, the candidate soldiers will undergo more than 20-week series of rigid military training. The group is composed of 290 males and 24 females from the provinces of North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and from other parts of Mindanao.

Of the 24 females candidates, 14 were quota from 1st Infantry Division. Officials of the 1st ID have chosen the 6th ID training school because 6thDTS is the best division training school in the whole Philippine Army.

The training will be done in two phases. The first part is the Basic Soldiery Training and the second phase is the Jungle Warfare and Mountain Operations Course.

The candidate soldiers will go through an abrupt change on their personal lifestyle particularly the acculturation into the military routine from their civilian antics.

“We want the candidate soldiers not to bleed in the battle, we want them to live and be able to go back to their family, to retire and enjoy the good life after,” Pangilinan said.

The 6th ID chief is very optimistic that the 314 aspirants will be honed to become disciplined, well-trained and strong soldiers that will contribute mainly in the peace initiatives of the Kampilan division, the Philippine Army and the Armed Forces of the Philippines as a whole.

PAF looking for essential C-130 spare parts

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 16): PAF looking for essential C-130 spare parts

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) is now looking for manufacturers capable of supplying it with essential spare parts needed for the maintenance of its Lockheed C-130 "Hercules" transport aircraft.

Budget for this program is placed at PHP9,497,722, said PAF bids and awards committee chair Brig. Gen. Nicolas Parilla.

Bid submission and opening is on July 7, 9:00 a.m. PAF Procurement Center Conference Room, Villamor Air Base, Pasay City.

The PAF has four C-130 transport aircraft in its inventory. Another one is scheduled to be delivered later this year.

It is the Air Force's lead aircraft in transport and disaster response missions.

Youth party hails success of exploratory talks in Oslo

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 16): Youth party hails success of exploratory talks in Oslo

The Kabataan Partylist hailed on Thursday the successful conclusion of the two-day preliminary talks between representatives of the incoming Duterte administration and the National Democratic Front (NDF) in Oslo, Norway and said that the speedy agreement of both sides to accelerate the peace negotiations is a good way to jump-start the stalled peace process.

Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago said the youth are also expressing high hopes for the outcome of the formal peace negotiation slated to begin on the third week of July, also in Oslo.

“The youth extend our warmest congratulations to the representatives of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte and the NDF for the success of the preliminary talks in Norway. The speedy agreement between the incoming government and the NDF on the points for discussion in the formal peace negotiations shows the sincerity of both parties to pursue just and lasting peace,” Elago said.

Earlier, the two panels had signed a joint statement signifying their commitment to discuss during the formal round of negotiations five substantive points:

* The affirmation of previously signed agreements;

* Accelerated process for negotiations, including the timeline for the completion of the remaining substantive agenda for the talks which include socioeconomic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and end of hostilities and disposition of forces;

* Reconstitution of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) list;

* Amnesty Proclamation for the release of all detained political prisoners, subject to the concurrence by Congress; and,

* Mode of interim ceasefire.

However, despite high hopes for the new round of peace negotiations, Elago said that the youth will remain vigilant and closely monitor the progress of the negotiations due to the government’s failure to honor pertinent points of previously signed agreements under previous administrations.

She said these agreements included the Hague Joint Declaration of 1992 and JASIG.

In the meantime, the Kabatan Partylist solon said that they would intensify campaigns to highlight the importance of the peace negotiations for the youth and other marginalized sectors.

“We plan to hold nationwide peace gatherings aimed at actively pushing for the youth’s peace agenda which we aim to forward to the joint peace panel. This agenda includes fundamental changes in the system of education and the fulfillment of the youth’s call for free public education at all levels,” Elago said.

CA reverses ruling on conviction of 2 Indonesians

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 16): CA reverses ruling on conviction of 2 Indonesians

The Court of Appeals (CA) has reversed its earlier decision upholding the conviction of two Indonesians involved in the Awang Airport bombing in Datu Odin Sinsuat town in Maguindanao in 2003.

In a six-page resolution released on Wednesday, the CA's Sixteenth Division said that Indonesians Zulkifli Julkifli and Taufiq Rifq had no lawyer when the CA promulgated its decision, which violated their right to counsel.

The decision written by Associate Justice Marie Christine Jacob said that the guilty verdict should only apply to Feliciano De los Reyes and Dinno Amor Pareja, the two other respondents in the case.

The CA said that it discovered the discrepancy when it processed the notice of appeal of De los Reyes and Pareja filed before the Supreme Court (SC).

The CA admitted that it failed to act on the motion for review and withdrawal as counsel filed by Cesar Solis, Rifqi and Julkifli's lawyer.

The CA then resolved to give the two Indonesians a period of 15 days within which to hire a new lawyer.

In a 24-page ruling written by Associate Justice Marie Christine Azcarraga-Jacob, the CA's Special 16th Division denied the appeal filed by the four respondents seeking to set aside the ruling rendered by the Pasig City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 154 finding them guilty of the crime of murder with double attempted murder.

The resolution was promulgated on April 20, 2016.

The respondents, who are members of the notorious Rajah Solaiman Movement, bombed the Awang Airport on Feb. 20, 2003.

The incident led to the death of Sgt. Nelson Corpuz and injured many others.

Several houses were also burned and the airport's terminal building was damaged.

The incident led to the arrest of the accused as well as their conviction.

The respondents, according to the CA's earlier ruling, will face "the penalty of reclusion perpetua without eligibility for parole."

The CA also ruled that the award of moral damages be increased to PhP75,000 for the heirs of Sgt. Corpuz.

WESMINCOM now coordinating with communities in fight against ASG

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 16): WESMINCOM now coordinating with communities in fight against ASG

The Western Mindanao Command (WESMINCOM) on Thursday said that coordination has been made with some Sulu communities in the ongoing efforts to neutralize the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

This in-line with President Benigno S. Aquino III's order to the military and police work hand-in-hand with the civilian population and local government in eliminating the bandit group.

However, despite the alliance, rooting the ASG menace is very difficult as some of the communities are coddling the ASG because of kinship.

"We have sufficient intelligence operations; it’s just that the ties between the radical group and the community need further assessment and action. These are a few of the factors that the security force has to confront and address," WESMINCOM spokesperson Major Filemon Tan said.

But despite these obstacles, WESMINCOM remains committed to intensify the conduct of focused military operations and support the law enforcement operations of the police remains true.

"We are doing everything to pursue the Abu Sayyaf. We are also supporting the platform of the incoming president to resolve the radicalization in the province as we believe in the wisdom of our leaders, and we stay true and committed in fulfilling our mandate," Tan stressed.

Last Wednesday, President Aquino and ranking military officials paid a visit to Camp Teodulfo Bautista in Jolo, Sulu and met to discuss the prospective solutions to eliminate ASG threat and safely rescue the remaining hostages.

Incoming AFP chief willing to look into martial law option in war vs. ASG

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 16): Incoming AFP chief willing to look into martial law option in war vs. ASG

Incoming Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff and incumbent Southern Luzon Command head Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya is open to the proposal of declaring martial law in Sulu and Basilan as part of efforts to eliminate threats from the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

"Declaration of martial law is always an option to restore order (in Sulu and Basilan) but it should be studied first," he added.

Visaya said this could help the government in its campaign against the ASG menace those kidnapping attacks have skyrocketed in the past months.

"Martial law can be also an answer to prevent the ASG from continuing their kidnapping activities," he added.

The incoming AFP chief stressed that they would complete staff studies on the matter before recommending the same to President-elect Rodrigo Duterte.

As of the moment, the AFP presence in Sulu is placed at 11 battalions but the force is having difficulty in trailing the bandits due to the difficult terrain.

Earlier, President Benigno S. Aquino III said he considered placing the entire province of Sulu in a bid to rescue the remaining Samal Island hostages being held by the ASG.

He added considered he considered this option when the ASG gave June 13 deadline where they threatened to behead Canadian hostage Robert Hall if ransom will not be paid for latter's release.

Hall was beheaded last Monday while fellow Canadian John Ridsel was killed in April 25.

However, President Aquino said he did not push through his plan as he fear that it might draw sympathizers for the ASG in the area.

President Aquino assesses military campaign against Abu Sayyaf

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 16): President Aquino assesses military campaign against Abu Sayyaf

President Benigno S. Aquino III visited Jolo, Sulu on Wednesday to assess the ongoing military operations against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a few days after the bandits beheaded their Canadian hostage.

The President arrived at Camp Teodulfo Bautista at about noon and was immediately briefed by Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) officials on the military campaign against the Abu Sayyaf.

“Nandito ako ngayon para ma-review nga lahat ng operations na nangyayari puwera dun sa nire-report sa atin pagkatagal-tagal na,” the President said in an interview with the media.

“Gusto kong makapanayam dito ang ating mga ground commanders para makuha ang mas kumpletong larawan nang mga kaganapan dito. At ‘yun nga napagkasunduan ngayong hapon kung paano ire-refine, mula kaninang umaga, paano ire-refine ang ating operations para successfully nating ma-rescue lahat ng natitirang hostages.”

Aside from assessing the ongoing efforts in Sulu, which began several months ago, the President was also updated regarding the military operations in Central Mindanao, as well as in Basilan.

Asked to comment on the killing of the Canadian hostage, the second Canadian to be beheaded by the ASG since April, the President pointed out that the security concern in Sulu is complicated and difficult to address.

He said he has spoken with the respective prime ministers of Canada and Norway and discussed the hostage-taking issue.

According to President Aquino, he apologized to the Canadian prime minister for the death of the two Canadians.

He also expressed his gratitude to the Canadian government for sticking to the no-ransom policy, the same stance taken by the Philippine government.

Paying ransom would only encourage more people to join the Abu Sayyaf, the Chief Executive explained.

On the ongoing military campaign against the Abu Sayyaf, he said he understands the difficulty of fighting the bandits, especially due to the help of local communities, the Abu Sayyaf’s mastery of the terrain, and Sulu’s thick forest cover.

The support of the local population has made it more difficult for the military to gain intelligence from the ground, he said.

And despite the huge bounty for the Abu Sayyaf leaders, until now no informant has come forward, he added.

Noting that he could not divulge the military’s plan to rescue the remaining hostages, the President made an assurance, saying, “We hope we are more focused and therefore increase the chances of resolving the situation successfully.”

Wesmincom officials said a total of seven hostages are still being held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf — five locals and two foreigners.

The military on Monday confirmed that the Abu Sayyaf had beheaded Canadian Robert Hall after ransom demands were not met.

In late April, John Ridsdel, another Canadian, was killed by the Abu Sayyaf. His severed head was found in Sulu province.

The two Canadians, Hall’s Filipina girlfriend Marites Flor, and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad were abducted by the Abu Sayyaf on September 21 last year from a resort on Samal Island.