Tuesday, June 28, 2016

AFP: Abu Sayyaf demanding P230-M for Indonesian sailors

From ABS-BN (Jun 27): AFP: Abu Sayyaf demanding P230-M for Indonesian sailors

Terror group Abu Sayyaf has demanded for RM20 million or roughly P230 million in exchange of the safety of seven Indonesian sailors abducted last week, the Philippine military reports.

Major Filemon Tan Jr., chief of the Public Affairs Office of the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) told ANC's Dateline Philippines on Monday the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) has gotten in touch with the families of the kidnap victims.

"It was said that the abductors contacted the family, but as to the Armed Forces, we do not talk to these people, that’s why they do not give us the demand," he said.

"It was said to be a ransom of 20-million ringgits for the seven people," he said.

READ: Indonesia says coal on hold for PH after 7 sailors abducted

Tan confirmed that the ASG abducted seven Indonesians who are on their way to Cagayan de Oro to deliver coal, but the military have yet to identify which sub-group it was.

"We are studying it further, we need more reports to identify what group it is, and we are prepared to conduct operations against that group," he said.

The military is also not able to pinpoint the exact location of the abduction "because of the open seas and one report said that the navigational equipment was taken from the ship."

But Tan maintained, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), specifically the Wesmincom, "is doing its best, is doing its mandate, its commitment to the people."

"The Philippine government knows the urgency of the situation and what the navy needs, that’s why I believe, they are also looking for ways to expedite this kind of request," he said.

With vast sea channels, Tan said "it’s not that we are not capable really; we have a limitation to our capabilities."

He reported that as of late, there are eight to ten casualties from the side of the terrorists, with 15 others wounded. Meanwhile, the military lost one soldier, while 15 others are wounded.

Tan would also accept President-elect Rodrigo Duterte's decision to talk with the terror group if the chief executive initiates it, as he believes the "leadership has the wisdom on how to deal with these bandits groups."

"If the leadership deems it necessary to talk to this group so that lives will be saved, so that [there will be] a better chance for peace, then the soldiers will support the government for that," he said.

"We trust the leadership that before they make action, or they take action, they also consult the soldiers, the leadership, and they also think very deeply of the repercussions and consequences of the acts also," he said.


AFP: Indonesian troops allowed only in PH waters

From ABS-CBN (Jun 29): AFP: Indonesian troops allowed only in PH waters
MANILA - The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) clarified Wednesday that the involvement of Indonesian troops in the counter-insurgency operations of Mindanao is limited only to maritime patrol.

AFP spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla said the entry of Indonesian forces in Philippine territory is consistent with a 1975 agreement between Manila and Jakarta.

The agreement, however, only covers maritime patrol and does not allow the Indonesian military to conduct operations in Philippine soil, Padilla said.

"Part of that document includes an article on hot pursuit. This allows forces from both our Navies and Coast Guard to pursue pirates or criminals who are found committing a crime and they may pursue these criminals beyond their territorial areas, including maritime zones after passing international waters," Padilla said in an interview with "Mornings at ANC."

"As to the issue on land, that is not part and parcel of the agreement. It is still against our Constitution," he added.
Padilla's statement comes after reports that the Philippine government has given approval for the Indonesian military forces to enter its territory in efforts to gain the release of seven Indonesian sailors taken hostage by two militant groups in waters off the Philippines last week.

"They approved us to enter into Philippine waters and land," Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said, as quoted by Kyodo News.

Ryacadu said the arrangement was decided during his meeting with his Philippine counterpart Voltaire Gazmin on Sunday.

But Padilla said that the arrangement is not applicable to the case of the seven hostages, since they have already been located.

"Whatever protocols that were discussed earlier are not part of the current situation that we have regarding the seven hostages that are already found to be in the hands of the kidnap-for-ransom group in the area," he said.

"These are talks and agreements that will be applicable to whatever future scanarios or situations that may come up."
The official declined to disclose the exact location of the captives.

READ: Abu Sayyaf demanding P230-M for Indonesian sailors - AFP

Padilla also confirmed that Indonesia authorities may fire upon bandit groups roaming Philippine seas, if necessary in future operations.

"Being able to exercise aggressive action against any of those who are committing criminal acts may be done at sea. It is warranted."

He added that officials from Manila and Jakarta are set to meet again soon to iron out the implementation of their 1975 agreement.

Padilla also believes that the incoming administration of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte will uphold the arrangement.
"We all want to solve and we want to address the current situation and prevent any future abduction," he said.

"Much of the navigatable waters in these areas are frequented by the transport of goods between our countries, especially our coal requirements for our power plants. The soonest we can get this arrangement in effect is going to be good for our country and theirs as well."

Duterte has said that he could be open to talks with the Islamic militant group, which recently beheaded two foreign hostages and kidnapped seven more.

"The Abu Sayyaf is not my enemy. I know it is connected with the issue of Mindanao," Duterte told supporters in a speech in Cebu late Saturday.

"That is why I want to ask them: are they willing to talk or do we just fight it out?" said the firebrand politician, who takes office on June 30.

Duterte also claimed his camp was responsible for successfully negotiating the release of one of the group's hostages, a Filipina who had been kidnapped along with several foreigners in September.

The bandits beheaded two Canadian hostages who were among that group. The fourth hostage, a Norwegian, is still being held.

Abu Sayyaf is a loose network of a few hundred Islamic militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.


Stormtroopers ignites media-military partnership

Just posted to the Samar News (Jun 9): Stormtroopers ignites media-military partnership

8ID media camp

June 9, 2016

CAMP LUKBAN, Catbalogan,SamarRecognizing the role of media in the society as one of the pillars of democracy, the 8th Infantry (Stormtroopers) Division, Philippine Army ignited its partnership with the media practitioners all over the Region through fellowship and Boot Camp at 801st Brigade Headquarters, Camp Eugenio, Brgy. Fatima, Hinabangan, Samar from June 04 to 05.

The two-day activity was graced by Maj. Gen. Jet B. Velarmino, AFP, Commander 8ID as guest of honor and speaker together with his wife, Mrs. Imelda D. Velarmino, Col. Cesar M. Idio, Assistant Division Commander and other officers and men of the Stormtroopers family who intermingled with more than forty media practitioners.

Aside from the usual social gathering, 8ID facilitated the boot camp that allowed the media participants to experience a short, intensive, rigorous but fun-filled and exciting course of training. It includes basic marksmanship, obstacle and rope course challenge, unit run and other team-building activities which gave the participants a taste of military life.

According to Maj. Gen. Velarmino, the activity was an opportunity for the media and the military to strengthen their camaraderie. He emphasized that media should not be treated as an enemy but an ally in resolving conflict and a partner in accomplishing the Army's mandated mission and pursuit for genuine reform and transformation.

The 8th Infantry Stormtroopers Division, highly acknowledge the importance of their professionalism and their ability to show impartiality, fairness, and responsibility as media practitioners.

“Without the media, our earnest commitment and sincere efforts as protectors of the region to attain a just and lasting peace will never be realized and recognized and most of all winning the hearts and minds of the people will never be possible," he added.


‘Guns quiet by August’

From The Standard (Jun 27): ‘Guns quiet by August’

The government and the communist National Democratic Front have postponed an envisioned ceasefire even before President-elect Rodrigo Duterte delivers his first State of the Nation Address to Congress, but only for a week or so, chief government peace negotiator Silvestre Bello said Monday.

“We will resume in July then immediately after resumption, we will declare a ceasefire,” Bello said. “Early August, we hope there will be a bilateral ceasefire between the two sides.”

“We have an agreement that upon the formal resumption of peace negotiations, there will be a bilateral ceasefire. That is what’s important in the peace talks, the declaration of ceasefire between the government and the [Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army],” he added.
Silencing the guns. Designated government negotiator and incoming Labor secretary Silvestre Bello (right) announces a change in the scheduled ceasefire with the communist insurgents during the weekly forum of the Samahang Plaridel at the Manila Hotel. Also at the forum was congressman-elect Harry Roque of the Kabayan party-list. EY ACASIO

Bello reiterated that the incoming Duterte administration is committed to concluding a peace agreement with the communists in nine to 12 months and finally end the 40-year communist insurgency, one of the longest-running communists rebellions in the world.

“The killings will stop. The troubles will stop. There will be peace in our country for as long as we continue talking until we finally achieve Filipinos’ dream of lasting peace,” Bello said.

Bello did not explain why they changed the scheduled ceasefire which was initially envisioned to start before Duterte’s Sona on July 25, but he earlier said both peace panels plan to hold simultaneous negotiations on the remaining issues.

“To be able to fast-track the process, we will continue with a new track that is simultaneous [with] talks on the three remaining issues… Caser [Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms], the PCR [political and constitutional reforms] and end of hostilities and disposition of forces,” Bello said.

He said they plan to hasten the talks by increasing the number of negotiators for each side from four to seven.

Bello said that the incoming administration will use the Arroyo administration draft of the Caser, which includes issues of genuine land reform and national industrialization.

Among those being eyed for the government panel are former Pangasinan congressman Hernani Braganza, former Comelec commissioner Rene Sarmiento, and indigenous peoples’ representative Noel Pellongco from Cebu. Women will also be represented in the talks, Bello said.

The government and the communist rebels have been pursuing the talks sequentially—first finishing the substantive agenda on human rights and international humanitarian law.

“The position of the [government] panel is we honor all commitments that we signed. To show good faith, we have to stand by our agreements,” Bello said.

Bello added that “to tackle these three remaining issues, the panel created three reciprocal working committees.”


Editorial: Breeding impunity

Editorial posted to the Philippine Star (Jun 29): Editorial: Breeding impunity


It’s one thing to shoot someone dead; it’s another to kill by chopping off someone’s head. Whichever side of the law the killer is on, decapitating someone suggests not just a necessity to kill, but a psychopath’s perverted enjoyment of taking life.

In the past weeks, Abu Sayyaf bandits have perpetrated this atrocity on two Canadian captives, and for what? Not in the name of any ideology, religious belief or social advocacy, but simply for love of money. If there are lowlifes who deserve to be eliminated in this country, the Abu Sayyaf should top the list.

Keeping those atrocities in mind, the incoming administration must tread carefully in its reported plan to discuss peace with the Abu Sayyaf. In the first place, peace has never been on the agenda of the group. The only goal ever mentioned by its founders, and rarely mentioned by subsequent commanders, has been the creation of a pan-Islamic state – an impossible dream in this country. The group also promises death, in the most brutal manner, to anyone who gets in the way of the self-styled “Bearer of the Sword.” Soldiers wounded or captured by the group are beheaded.

Catholic priest Roel Gallardo had his toenails pulled out before he was dragged through a dirt road and murdered by the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan. The terrorists have attacked churches and convents in the conflict zones of Mindanao, killing priests and a bishop, and lopping off the breasts of nuns before killing them. The incoming president may think members of the clergy, like journalists, deserve a fate worse than death, but there cannot be a place for barbarism in a free society.

Apart from priests and nuns, the Abu Sayyaf has also targeted teachers for execution and raided schools, becoming one of the worst hindrances to public education in the conflict zones where learning is badly needed.

For sure there are people who support the Abu Sayyaf out of extreme poverty, or out of necessity due to threats to their safety. But they will not be the ones to represent the group in case the government pushes through with peace overtures; the representatives will be the leaders who are directly responsible for the atrocities.

Why should persons in possession of two sachets of shabu be killed, while those who have tortured and murdered scores of innocent people deserve a second chance? That is surrender by the state, and it breeds impunity.


Indonesia waits for new Philippine administration to finalize details on joint security measures

From The Jakarta Post (Jun 29): Indonesia waits for new Philippine administration to finalize details on joint security measures

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (center) talks with (from left to right) Philippine Navy Chief Rear Adm. Caesar C. Taccad, Philippine Foreign Minister Jose Rene Almendras, Malaysian Armed Forces Chief Gen. Zulkifeli Mohd. Zin, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Armed Forces Chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo and State Secretary Minister Pratikno during their trilateral meeting on maritime security issues at the Presidential Palace in Yogyakarta, Central Java, May 5. The gathering was held following the kidnappings of Indonesian and Malaysian crewmen by Abu Sayyaf militants in the waters off southern Philippines where Indonesia share a border. (AP/Rana Dyandra)

Jakarta will wait for the new Philippine government to finalize the details on an agreement that will allow Indonesia to join security operations with the Philippines should another hostage-taking incident occur in the future.

Coordinating Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said the government was still in the process of deliberating the measures within the agreement that would be followed up on as the new Philippine administration under President Rodrigo Duterte was inaugurated only last week.

"We cannot give details yet since we are waiting for the plans to progress pending the new [Philippine] administration taking office," Luhut told journalists on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Ryamizard assured reporters that the new government under Duterte would not change the Philippines' current stance that had agreed to allow Indonesia enter its territory should in future Filipino militant groups again kidnap Indonesian sailors.

Ryamizard said the successor of Philippine Defense Minister Voltaire Gazmin had also attended the coordination meeting with Indonesia, adding that discussions between both countries had been conveyed to Duterte himself. The decision to allow Indonesian forces to enter Philippine territory and join security operations in the case of another abduction of Indonesian nationals by militant groups came up in a meeting between Ryamizard and Gazmin on Sunday, on the heels of Indonesia's efforts to secure the release of seven Indonesian sailors abducted by the Abu Sayyaf militant group in the waters off southern Philippines on June 20.


Indonesian Sailors Recount Hijacking

BenarNews (Jun 28): Indonesian Sailors Recount Hijacking


Navy police officers escort sailors from Tugboat Charles 001 after it arrived at a navy base in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, June 25, 2016.

On that sweltering afternoon, June 20, 2016, Tugboat Charles 001 was sailing at normal speed in the waters between Jolo and Tawi Tawi in the southern Philippines, pulling the barge Robby 152 after making a coal delivery at Cagayan De Oro, Philippines.

Indonesian sailor Rudi Kurniawan was at the helm, keeping an eye on the tugboat’s coordinates and speed. Three crew members were with him in the wheelhouse.

“It was almost time for a crew change. I was tired after being at the helm all day,” Rudi told BenarNews in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, on June 26.

His sleepiness vanished when two speedboats pulled up on either side of the tugboat and a dozen men pointed rifles in their direction.

“It crossed my mind, they are Abu Sayyaf. There’s been piracy before in the waters off Tawi-Tawi,” he said. Fourteen Indonesian sailors were snatched in two separate incidents in March and April, then released in May after being held by Abu Sayyaf, a group known for taking foreigners hostage and killing some of their captives.

Rudi and his three colleagues rounded up the nine other crew members, and all of them crowded into the wheelhouse. Meanwhile, armed men were getting on board.

“Some of them had already gotten on the boat, pointing their guns at us. We couldn’t do anything but put our hands up in a sign of surrender,” said Rudi, who still appeared exhausted.

‘Where are the engineers?’

By Rudi’s count, seven pirates boarded the tugboat. One of them, using a Malay dialect, began asking for the tugboat’s engineers. They tied up the tugboat captain Ferry Arifin, chief engineer Muh Mahbrur Dahri and engineer Edi Suryono.

“They were looking for machinists. ‘Where are the engineers, where are the engineers!’” said Andi Wahyu, another crew member, imitating the pirates.

“Edi’s hands were immediately tied with rope. Then they grabbed Ferry and Mahbrur, pointing their guns at them.”

The three were loaded onto a speedboat, along with most of the tugboat’s communications equipment.

One of the sailors started crying as the three most senior members of the crew were led away.

“Seeing our mate cry, the pirate who spoke Malay said we didn’t need to worry because they are only after money from the owner of our boat,” Andi said.

In Jakarta on Monday, Indonesian Armed Forces chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo told reporters that the kidnappers had demanded a ransom of 200 million Philippine pesos, the equivalent of almost 65 billion Indonesian rupiah (U.S. $4.9 million).

He said the hostages were likely being held on Jolo, in the Sulu archipelago of the southern Philippines. Authorities believe two different groups are behind the snatchings, one of them led by Abu Sayyaf figure Al Habsyi Misaya.

“The other one we don’t know yet, and we’re looking into it,” Gatot said, adding that Indonesia’s government was in close contact with counterparts in the Philippines.


A navy police officer stands on the dock as Tugboat TB Charles 001 pulls in to Semayang Port in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, June 25, 2016. (Gunawan/BeritaBenar)

Second attack

As soon as the pirates took off, the remaining crew set a rapid course away from Jolo, while trying to get a signal on a cell phone a crew member had managed to hide from the hijackers, Andi said.

“Our panic had not even subsided, we had just started up again, when another speedboat with armed men appeared,” he said.

The crew tried to outrun this boat, abandoning the barge to increase their speed.
“We weren’t as fast as them even after we let the barge go. In the end the armed men boarded the boat,” Andi said.

The second group, wearing brown camouflage uniforms and bullet-proof vests, looked even more terrifying than the first.

With no senior crew left to snatch, this group tied up four members of the crew.
“Without saying too much, they took our four crew mates,” Andi recounted.

Deeply shaken, the six remaining sailors started their journey once again, heading for Kalimantan.

“For 35 hours, we took turns driving the boat out of Jolo waters until we reached Berau [Kalimantan] and immediately called the [shipping] company on the remaining cell phone,” Andi said.

Indonesia had announced a moratorium on coal shipments to the Philippines after the earlier kidnappings, but shipping companies did not comply.

Plans by Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to mount joint patrols in waters along their shared borders to prevent more maritime hijackings have not yet materialized.

The release of the 14 sailors in May was secured through diplomatic efforts and not ransom payments, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said at the time.

Malaysia acknowledged that 12 million ringgit (U.S. $2.94 million) was paid to unnamed organizations in the Philippines to obtain the release earlier this month of four Malaysian sailors kidnapped in April. But the money was not ransom paid to Abu Sayyaf, Deputy Prime Minister Adhamd Zahid Hamidi said.


Indonesian security forces can chase criminals into PH territory - DND

From InterAksyon (Jun 29): Indonesian security forces can chase criminals into PH territory - DND

Indonesian security forces can cross into Philippine territory if they are in “hot pursuit” of lawless elements under the terms of a 1975 border crossing agreement, the Department of National Defense said Wednesday.

“Consistent with the 1975 border crossing agreement, Indonesian security forces are allowed to enter PH maritime zones under the concept of hot pursuit in the same way that PH forces are allowed to enter Indonesian maritime zones,” DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said in a statement .

But Galvez also stressed that Philippine security forces should be “immediately informed so that a coordinated and joint operation could immediately be undertaken.”

He said the cross-border operations are intended “to further strengthen collective commitment to address, prevent and resolve transnational crimes.”

Galvez’s statement came a few days after Indonesia confirmed seven sailors were seized by suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen from a tugboat towing a coal barge last week.

It was the latest kidnapping of Indonesians in the Sulu Sea following incidents in March and April, when 14 sailors were also snatched on the high seas. The previous victims were all released in May.

The most recent incident prompted Indonesia to indefinitely stop coal shipments to the Philippines.


COMMUNITIES PROTECT THE BANDITS Dureza: Abu Sayyaf pays, arms children to guard hostages

From GMA News (Jun 28): COMMUNITIES PROTECT THE BANDITS Dureza: Abu Sayyaf pays, arms children to guard hostages

Incoming peace adviser Jesus Dureza said Tuesday that the Abu Sayyaf Group uses 12-year-old boys to guard their hostages and members of communities in far-flung areas of Mindanao provide them protection.

In an interview with News To Go, Dureza said freed hostage victim Marites Flor told him that the children were armed and were given money by the bandit group.

"Sabi ni Maritess, 'Sir, may mga bata pa r'un na gumagwardya sa amin na may mga baril, 12 years old.' Tapos kinakausap niya eh they have no other life they know, they don't have schools there, they don't have facilities, they're just poor, nakikibahagi sila kung may kita yung mga kidnappers," he said.

Flor was released last week to Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan.

She was kidnapped along with Norwegian national Kjartan Sekkingstad and Canadians Robert Hall and John Ridsdel on Samal Island in September 2015. The bandits have beheaded the two Canadians while negotiations are ongoing for the release of Sekkingstad.

He said that according to Flor, they constantly in the move during her nine months in captivity to avoid military detection.

Dureza said that based on Flor's recollection, the villagers would provide perimeter security for the bandits.

"May mga areas na pupuntahan nila, yung members of the community will even provide them the security cordon to protect the hostages and also the hostage taker," he said.

"Karamihan ng community members they also benefit from it dahil 'pag may pera daw na makukuha from some other ransom sources, hati-hati 'yan, may pabigay sa lahat ng tumutulong. In other words, naging kabuhayan na rin ng iba in the community," he added.

There's no gov't there

Dureza said that this is the reason why the government cannot just launch attacks on the known lairs of the ASG, to keep civilians from harm.

"We cannot deal with this situation just sinasabi ng iba na bobombahin na lang yun, aatakihin na lang yun. There is a community around it and you have to address the reasons why they are also involved in that way," he said.

"They are isolated. They are very poor. They don't have schools there. There is no government there. They have not felt the presence of government. So kailangan siguro i-address din 'yan eh, hindi lang yung terrorist dun," he added.

Dureza said there is a need to isolate the communities from the 'bad guys.'

"They should be isolated from these bad guys. 'Yung siguro ang entry point natin, while you deal with hard iron fist way with the bad guys, you have to deal with the community out there," he said.

"It is a military problem but then you have to deal with the environment, hindi lang military solution," he further said.


Dureza said some people in the community find colluding with Abu Sayyaf as a way to earn money. 

"Yung iba dyan pera-pera lang. They find this as a very lucrative way of earning money," he said.

Dureza, meanwhile, declined to reveal other information provided by Flor as "some of them have tactical value to our soldiers and police officers."

During a thanksgiving party in Cebu on Saturday night, President-elect Rodrigo Duterte said he does not consider the Abu Sayyaf an enemy but asked the group to clarify whether it wants to be seen by the government in an adversarial way.

“Abu Sayyaf, hindi ko sila kalaban. I know that is connected with the issue of Mindanao. Nais ko lang linawin, sila ba? Are they willing to talk or just fight it out?” he said.

Although Duterte’s camp has negotiated with the Abu Sayyaf for the release of Flor, Dureza earlier clarified that opening lines of communications does not mean the government will talk peace with the local terror group.


Philippines OKs Indonesian troops' involvement on hostages

From ABS-CBN (Jun 28): Philippines OKs Indonesian troops' involvement on hostages

The Philippine government has given approval for the Indonesian military forces to enter its territory in efforts to gain the release of seven Indonesian sailors taken hostage by two militant groups in waters off the Philippines last week, an Indonesian Cabinet minister said Tuesday.

"They approved us to enter into Philippine waters and land," Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu told reporters, saying that the arrangement was decided during his meeting with his Philippine counterpart Voltaire Gazmin on Sunday.

The move is possible under a 1975 bilateral agreement between the two countries that enables the Indonesian forces to hunt terrorists and pirates across the border of the two countries.

The defense ministers discussed in their talks the repeated kidnappings of Indonesian sailors by militant groups in the southern Philippines, including the Abu Sayyaf group.

In the meeting, the Philippines also decided to allow Indonesian soldiers to escort Indonesian vessels sailing to and from the Philippines so that they can take quick action in the event the ships come under attack.
In the latest kidnapping incident, the tugboat Charles 001 was towing a barge in the Sulu Sea on June 20 when its 13 crew members were kidnapped. Six of them were later released.

It is the third such case in three months targeting Indonesian sailors in the southern Philippine area.

Task force binuo kasunod ng pagdukot sa 7 Indonesian

In the two previous incidents in March and April, the kidnapped sailors were later released unharmed. It has not been confirmed whether ransoms were paid.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said in a press statement Tuesday that based on information she had received, the condition of the seven hostages is good.

Although they were initially taken hostage by two different groups, Retno said they are detained together, although they are sometimes moved to a different place and divided into two groups.
"They keep moving, but they are still in or around Jolo Island," she added, referring to the primary island of the Sulu Archipelago in the southwestern Philippines.

Indonesian Defense Force Commander Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo has said the military believes the two groups are Abu Sayyaf and al-Habsy Misaya, a faction of the Abu Sayyaf group operating on Tapui Island in the southern Philippines.

"We are also still verifying the request of ransom, which is said to be 200 million pesos," Gatot said late Monday.

The Abu Sayyaf claims to promote an independent Islamic state comprising part of Mindanao Island and the Sulu Archipelago in the Philippines.

Besides kidnappings for ransom, it has engaged in bombings, assassinations and extortion, making it one of the Philippines' most serious security threats.


PROJECT SHOEBOX | 4ID spearheads the distribution of thousands of shoeboxes

From DWDD AFP Civil Relations Radio Website (Jun 29): PROJECT SHOEBOX | 4ID spearheads the distribution of thousands of shoeboxes

Shoebox -Phil Army (File Photo)

Cagayan de Oro City–In partnership with various government agencies such as the Department of Education (DepEd), National Commission on Indigenous People, Philippine Information Agency (PIA) together with local executives in Mindanao and business entities, the 4th Infantry “Diamond” Division by Philippine Army launched the “Project Shoebox” in Camp Evangelista that aimed to uphold the education of elementary students in remote areas, June 28.

Students from Kindergarten to Grade 6 in different elementary schools were the expected beneficiaries of 32, 739 shoeboxes–produced by 4ID containing assorted school supplies.

Meanwhile, 4th Infantry Division’s Commander Major General Benjamin R. Madrigal Jr. expressed his gratitude to private companies and industries who took their part and supported the said advocacy.

He said, “I would like to thank all the people behind the success of this endeavor especially to the benefactors…”

“Through this project shoebox we are sharing our blessing to the less fortunate families especially in the far-flung areas where basic services could hardly reach their places,” Madrigal added.

Project shoebox started in February 2012, almost 5 years in serving the poor and to the marginalized sector. This advocacy commenced during the time of Ltc Thomas Sedano Jr., commanding officer of the 4th Light Armor “Masigasig” Battalion, a Lucena City-based Philippine Army camp.


NDF: What Dirty Trick Is Norberto Gonzales Up To This Time?

Propaganda statement posted to the National Democratic Front Website (Jun 26): What Dirty Trick Is Norberto Gonzales Up To This Time?  

By Dan Borjal
NDF Political Consultant

It is to the credit of president-elect Rodrigo Duterte that even before formally taking office he has already sent his trusted team to meet with NDFP representatives in Oslo to prepare for the resumption of the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations as he had promised. One of the qualities that has won over the overwhelming majority of the people to vote for him was his straight-forward no-nonsense manner of speaking. He has convinced the people that he means what he says. As a result of the preliminary talks in Oslo with the team sent by president-elect Duterte, the NDFP has expressed its optimism and hopeful expectations that it can work out an agreement that is beneficial to the Filipino people with the incoming Duterte government.

But there can be spoilers, lurking in the dark corners waiting for every opportunity to strike, because they do not want to see the success of the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations. One such potential spoiler is Norberto Gonzales, National Security Adviser and Defense Secretary under the unlamented Gloria Arroyo regime. This dyed-in-the-wool anti-communist remains stuck emotionally and intellectually in the bygone era of the Cold War. His shameless defense of the rotten status quo goes against the fresh wind that has come with the electoral victory of Duterte by the biggest margin in Philippine history given him by the people who are aching for change.

His article in the Manila Times “The Philippine Roadmap to Communism” may just be his opening salvo in a wrecking operation by the most reactionary elements in Philippine society who still maintain enormous power and influence in the GPH armed forces, the Catholic Church and the business community.

I have been involved in the GPH-NDFP negotiations since 1998 and I personally think that the two GPH presidents that have done the most harm to the GPH-NDFP negotiations have been Arroyo and Aquino III. But between the two of them, Aquino did harm with his notorious “noynoying” or doing nothing during his six years except to allow OPAPP head Ging Deles and GPH panel head Alex Padilla to wage a media war against the NDFP. On the other hand, Arroyo was very much pro-active in sabotaging the negotiations. And I am quite sure this rabidly reactionary anticommunist Norberto Gonzales who was Arroyo’s National Security Adviser and Defense Secretary had everything to do with it.

Displaying her canine devotion to the US, Arroyo pledged adherence to the US “war on terror” and pleaded with her imperialist masters to put NDFP Chief Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) in the US “terrorist list.” Her agents also openly campaigned for the European Union (EU) to follow the example of the US to put Joma, the CPP and NPA in the EU “terrorist list.” This clearly showed the treachery and bad faith of the Arroyo regime. It was pretending to talk peace with the NDFP while stabbing the latter in the back with the so-called “terrorist listing”.

Furthermore, in a high level national security meeting in late 2004 attended by Arroyo, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales proposed the assassination of Joma, perhaps emboldened by their “success” in lobbying for Joma to be put in the US and EU “terrorist lists.” It has been standard operating procedure for the US to first demonize its victim before going in for the kill. Their puppets in the third world are wont to copy such methods from their mentors. Accordingly, the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security (COCIS) instructed an interagency intelligence staff to prioritize as “high impact projects” the assassination of CPP spokesperson Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal and Joma.

In 2006 Norberto Gonzales was instrumental in pushing the request of the Philippine government to the Dutch government to file murder charges against Prof. Jose Maria Sison. In the same year, he caused the filing of an omnibus rebellion charge against Prof. Sison and 50 others, including members of Congress and anti-Arroyo military officers. After gathering false testimonies in Manila against Prof. Sison, the Dutch prosecution office caused his arrest in August 2007 and the police raids on his home, on the NDFP office in Utrecht and the homes of NDFP negotiators and consultants. The Arroyo regime and Gonzales practically turned the Dutch authorities into fools by supplying them with false testimonies and disinformation that were described as rubbish by the Philippine Supreme Court when it ruled against the aforesaid rebellion case against Prof. Sison in June 2007.

We have to thank Gonzales for revealing the treacherous stratagem that was adopted by the Arroyo government in the peace negotiations. From his article it is now clear that it was Gonzales who pushed for the rearranging of the agenda so that the 4th item, “End of hostilities and disposition of the armed forces of the two sides” (what he prefers to call DDR – Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration) would be placed ahead of the discussion on socio-economic reforms and political and constitutional reforms originally agreed upon as the second and third items of the substantive agenda as provided for in the Hague Joint Declaration. The logic of the original sequence is that the necessary socio-economic and political reforms must first be discussed and agreed upon before the permanent end to the armed hostilities can be assured.

Straight from the horse’s mouth:
“The Arroyo government launched an enhanced campaign during its last two remaining years, with an end-objective of “softening” the communist threat. The military component of this campaign succeeded in neutralizing more than 50 percent of all communist guerrilla fronts. Significant is the fact that neutralized guerrilla fronts are mostly in areas where the communists were supposedly most influential. With this gain, it was deemed then that peace talks with the communists could be resumed with the DDR framework as the prevailing mode.”
Again straight from the horse’s mouth:
“A clear agreement on DDR of the armed component of the insurgent group is an essential pre-condition to the discussion of possible political accommodations.”
In the twisted logic of this defender of the rotten status quo, the revolutionary forces must first be so weakened that they will be forced to surrender according to the terms of Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration. The victorious GPH would then be in a position to dictate the terms and decide on “possible political accommodations” it was willing to grant to the defeated “insurgents.” This fellow is daydreaming!

The “enhanced campaign” that Gonzales speaks so highly about is the notorious Oplan Bantay Laya that was infamous for targeting unarmed civilians, activists, labor leaders, human rights workers, anti-mining activists among the indigenous people, among others. It never achieved the false claim of “neutralizing more than 50 percent of the communist guerrilla fronts.” But it certainly succeeded in committing the worst kinds of human rights violations such as extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances among others.

It was during this period that the bloodthirsty Gen. Jovito Palparan had his heyday and distinguished himself by his brutality in ordering the summary killing of unarmed activists. Among his victims were the two UP students Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan who were tortured, raped and disappeared upon his orders. These atrocities prompted the United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston to urge Arroyo to stop “targeting and executing individuals working with civil society organizations”.  The EU was also obliged to express concerns over the scandalous human rights situation in the country.

And yet, Gonzales has the gall to make an arrogant demand for leniency for Arroyo and Palparan! I cannot fathom such moral depravity. In fact, Gonzales is as guilty as Arroyo and Palparan for the atrocities committed during this period. But under the present unjust social system, criminals like him can continue to walk scot free and even enjoy the freedom to sabotage efforts intended to work out the necessary societal reforms for the benefit of the people.

Norberto Gonzales tries to employ the overused scare tactic of raising the communist bogey. To dispel the willful ignorance of Norberto Gonzales, I have to point out that communism is not even on the agenda of the current peace negotiations. Communism needs the emergence of more advanced material conditions to become realizable. The Philippines remains underdeveloped with no real industries to speak of and the peasantry who comprise the majority of our people are still mired in feudalism. There can be no talk of communism with such backward material conditions.

The socio-economic reforms that the NDFP has put forward still lie within the ambit of bourgeois or capitalist reforms. The complementary programs of national industrialization and genuine land reform are bound to result only in the creation of a modern industrial economy which will basically solve the problem of economic backwardness and widespread poverty.
I am tempted to advise the incoming President to just ignore such wackos as Norberto Gonzales and proceed to do what needs to be done. But it is probably wiser to advise the president-elect to also watch his back against such elements as the traditional oligarchs and their agents like Norberto Gonzales who will surely fight with all their might to maintain the oppressive status quo. These oligarchs still pack considerable influence and power in the GPH armed forces, the Catholic Church hierarchy and the business community. They retain a big potential for making trouble and they can always get the support of the US for their trouble making.

But the president-elect has oftentimes surprised many of us with his unconventional ways. I hope he shall surprise us again by going against the deeply entrenched vested interests in Philippine society and carry out together with the NDFP and other progressive forces the long-awaited reforms being demanded by the Filipino people.


US, AFP sabotaging peace talks with Reds, NDF warns

From The Standard (Jun 29): US, AFP sabotaging peace talks with Reds, NDF warns
The spokesperson of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines Fidel Agcaoili said the US government and the Philippine military are bent on spoiling the upcoming peace negotiation between the Philippine government and the Communist Party of the Philippines-NDF.

Agcaoili issued  this statement after a court issued on Tuesday a warrant for the arrest of 15 activists   for cases of kidnapping and serious illegal detention. 

Among the 15 people facing the  charges are Rius Valle, Rev. Jurie Jailed, Hanimay Suazo, Ryan Laniba, Tony Salubre, Jimboy Marciano, Mary Ann Sapar, Jaja Encasio, Pedro Arnado, Kerlan Fanagel Sr., Stella Matutina, Restita Miles, Isidro Andao and Kharlo Manaro. The court recommended no bail against the accused.

The NDFP spokesman said the government of President Benigno Aquino III is running after activists who are fighting for the rights of the indigenous people.

“Why are they issuing a warrant of arrest now?,” Agcaoili asked.

Valle, one of the accused, belied the allegations of kidnapping and serious illegal detention of more than 700 lumad evacuees in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines Haran.

He said that the cases against them were clearly filed to sabotage the upcoming peace talks.

“It is so clear that they are doing this to sabotage the efforts of peace between Net and the Philippine Government in the incoming [Rodrigo] Duterte administration,” Valle said.

“This was how the Aquino administration wanted to finish all of us leaders who defend the lumad and their education,” he added.

Meanwhile, the government peace negotiating panel said it  saw no need to bring  home the founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Jose Maria Sison.

Peace panel consultant Secretary Silvestre Bello said   that  Sison’s return to the country will only be possible if the government followed diplomatic procedures to lift the terrorist tag against Sison.

He said the government peace panel has not discussed the possible return of Sison.

“It is not necessary for him to join the peace talks,” Bello said after the second day of the Hugpong Kalinaw: Unity for Just and Lasting Peace Forum held at the Davao City recreational gym.

He said that they are doing a panel to panel negotiation as of the moment and Sison may not join the panel of the CPP-NDF.

 Bello  explained that the GPH is not yet planning to remove Sison from the terrorist watchlist.

Bello explained that if Sison will continue to cooperate with the peace negotiations, the United States might reconsider their tagging.

“If Joma will join the peace talks, the US Government will see that he is talking for peace, which is a clear proof that he is not a terrorist,” he said.

Bello also clarified that it is not the government who requested for the inclusion of Sison in the US terrorist watchlist.

Prior to Bello’s statement, Agcaoili said it was the responsibility of the government to make a move to exclude Sison from the terrorist watchlist since it is the government that asked for his inclusion in it during Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s term.

“It has to be their initiative because they are the ones who requested for it,” Agcaoili said.

He added that the government has to follow a diplomatic procedure to lift Sison from the list.


Abu Sayyaf using kids in crimes

From The Standard (Jun 29): Abu Sayyaf using kids in crimes

ARMED boys, some no older than 12, guard hostages while entire communities collude to prove a safe haven for the ruthless Abu Sayyaf bandits, a member of the incoming administration’s peace panel said  Tuesday, citing the experiences of freed hostage Marites Flor.

Incoming presidential adviser on the peace process Jesus Dureza was instrumental in obtaining the release of Flor, who was abducted with her Canadian boyfriend Robert Hall, another Canadian John Ridsdel and a Norwegian, Kjartan Sekkingstad, in September 2015.

The Abu Sayyaf beheaded Ridsdel and Hall after the bandits did not get the ransom they demanded. Sekkingstad is still being held by the bandits.

“Marites said, ‘Sir, there are even children who would guard us with guns, some of them are 12 years old,’” Dureza told GMA News.

“They don’t have schools there, they don’t have facilities, they’re just poor,” Dureza said, adding that they were helping the bandits to gain a small share of the ransom they earn from the hostages.
                             Jesus Dureza 

Even the community would provide perimeter security for the bandits, making it more difficult for government security forces to obtain accurate intelligence.

“The members of the community will even provide them with a security cordon to protect these hostages and also the hostage takers,” Dureza said.

“Most of the community members also benefit [from the ransoms paid]…. In other words, it has been a source of livelihood for the community,” he said.

“They are just in it for the money. They find this a very lucrative way of earning money,” Dureza added.

Dureza said to combat the Abu Sayyaf, the government must maintain a presence in the far-flung areas that they have neglected or even abandoned.

He said while the problem required a military solution, the government must also deal with the environmental factors that have allowed the bandit group to survive despite sporadic government crackdowns.

“We cannot deal with this situation just because the people are saying that you should attack them at once. There is a community around it and you have to address the reasons why they are also involved in that way,” Dureza said.

“They are isolated. They are very poor. They don’t have schools there. There is no government there. They have not felt the presence of government. We should also address that, not only the terrorists there,” he added.

Dureza declined to reveal other information provided by Flor as some of them might have tactical value to the military and the police.

“They should be isolated from these bad guys. ‘That should be our entry point. While you deal with an iron fist with the bad guys, you have to deal with the community out there,” he said.

The Abu Sayyaf released Flor, a native of Valencia, Bukidnon, after months of captivity after she and her companions were snatched from a resort on Samal Island in Davao del Norte in September 2015.

Earlier, Duterte said the Abu Sayyaf must be clear if it wants to be treated as an enemy, and said he was open to a dialogue with the group.

“The Abu Sayyaf, they are not my enemies. I know that is connected with the issue of Mindanao. I would like to clear. Would they? Are they willing to talk? Or just fight it out?” Duterte told his Cebuano supporters.

Duterte also vowed a “day of reckoning” for the Abu Sayyaf, after they beheaded two Canadian hostages when the deadline for their ransom passed.

Duterte said that they are still negotiating for the release of Sekkingstad.

Dureza said the government couldn’t simply launch an attack because innocent lives were at stake.

“We have to talk to them [Abu Sayyaf] to save lives, but it’s not in the context of peace... The full force of the law will have to be applied here,” he said.

He added that the administration cannot take a single approach in dealing with the bandit group because the situation on the ground is complex.

“The situation is complicated. You cannot put it in one box,” he said when asked whether the Duterte administration’s policy regarding the Abu Sayyaf will be negotiation or launching an offensive.

“It has to be a calibrated approach,” Dureza added.

But incoming Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya pledged a “24x7 fight” to neutralize the Abu Sayyaf.

“We are planning to fight the ASG 24/7. We would like to defeat the ASG the fastest way,” he said.

Even as the Abu Sayyaf released Flor, it abducted seven Indonesian sailors in the Sulu Sea, eight days after Hall was beheaded.

Visaya added that the Armed Forces has more than enough resources as the military has 11 battalions deployed in Sulu alone hunting these terrorists.

“There will be some procurement, and there will be realignment of resources also,” he said.

The incoming AFP chief also said civilian support and cooperation are needed in addressing the ASG threat.

“We have more than enough forces to match them but they are very hard to locate on the ground, so it is essential for civilians to cooperate,” he added.

“In our military operations, we have to separate the terrorists from the civilian communities in order to cut off their logistics and contain them in areas conducive for battle where there would be no civilian collateral [damage]. Once that separation is done we have to build safety measures to make sure these terrorists don’t have a chance to return and mingle or blend into the community again for cover,” Visaya said.

Visaya said the use of force was still the most viable approach to eliminate an armed threat such as the Abu Sayyaf.

“For example in Sulu, we’ve have enough soldiers already deployed there and we don’t have to deploy more. As of now, up to 11 battalions or roughly 5,500 soldiers are already there, more than enough against the ASG, which according to the latest report, has only 500 or 1,000 maybe. All we’ve to do is craft a practical and doable plan in a comprehensive manner on how to deal with the Abu Sayyaf problem, and we already have that plan,” he said.


Incoming AFP chief eyes non-stop ops vs Abu Sayyaf

From Malaya Business Insight (Jun 29): Incoming AFP chief eyes non-stop ops vs Abu Sayyaf

INCOMING Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya yesterday vowed to implement non-stop operations against the Abu Sayyaf group after he assumes the top military post on Friday.
“As far as I am concerned, I will fight them 24/7,” Visaya said in an ambush interview in Camp Aguinaldo, referring to the Abu Sayyaf which is notorious for kidnappings, beheadings, and bombings.

Visaya said the focus of the military operations will be Sulu where the Abu Sayyaf is keeping several foreign and Filipino hostages, including Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Dutchman Ewold Horn.
Visaya, the outgoing commander of the military’s Southern Luzon Command, will assume the post of AFP chief on Friday afternoon in rites to be presided by Rodrigo Duterte who is due to be sworn in as president tomorrow.

‘”We would like to defeat them the fastest way and that can be the best option – to fight them (24/7),” Visaya said. “I would like to fight them 24 hours a day… I don’t want to give timelines but we will do our best,” he said.

Visaya said the military has sufficient forces in the Abu Sayyaf’s bailiwick provinces of Sulu and Basilan. He said more military equipment will be sent to these areas as part of the military’s thrust to defeat the Abu Sayyaf.

Visaya said there are now 11 battalions deployed to fight the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and four battalions in Basilan. A battalion is composed of about 500 officers and men.

“The problem in Basilan now is not that serious as compared to Jolo (town in Sulu) so our focus will be in Jolo,” said Visaya, an Army Scout Ranger officer who once served as a brigade commander in Basilan.

Visaya said he plans to visit Sulu shortly after he assumes the top military post to supervise the offensive against the Abu Sayyaf.

Military estimates place the strength of the group  at 300 to 400 men.

“I have to visit the different branches of service, the Air Force, the Navy and the Army and then attend to some functions here (in Camp Aguinaldo) and then I will go to Jolo,” the incoming military chief said.

Duterte last week vowed to crush the Abu Sayyaf which recently beheaded two Canadians they kidnapped from Davao del Norte in September last year, along with Sekkingstad and Marites Flor who was released last Friday.


Aquino boasts of modernization, thanks AFP in final speech

From Rappler (Jun 28): Aquino boasts of modernization, thanks AFP in final speech

Benigno Aquino III addresses the Armed Forces of the Philippines one last time as commander-in-chief   

FINAL PARADE. The armed forces and their commander-in-chief, June 27, 2016, Camp Aguinaldo. Photo courtesy of MalacaƱang Photo Bureau

FINAL PARADE. The armed forces and their commander-in-chief, June 27, 2016, Camp Aguinaldo. Photo courtesy of MalacaƱang Photo Bureau

Rain threatened to dampen President Benigno Aquino III’s testimonial parade at the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)’s headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo on Monday, June 27, but the skies cleared early enough for the outgoing president to bid the military goodbye.

In his farewell speech, Aquino waxed nostalgic as he thanked the AFP for its service while highlighting improvements it's seen throughout his tenure. (For more on the Aquino administration, visit our Aquino Legacy page)

“Good governance is good economics,” said the President as he explained how, under his administration, more than P60 billion had been spent on much-needed modernization.

Acting AFP chief Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda, speaking before the President, heaped praises on the outgoing commander-in-chief for the military upgrade. (READ: Aquino and the PH military: Toys for the big boys)

Sa tamang pamamahala, at tamang paglalaan ng pondo, naging makasaysayan ang modernisasyon ninyo. Yung ilang mga dating pinapangarap lang natin, tangan na natin ngayon. Ang maganda pa: Hindi lang kayo tumatanggap ng biyaya mula sa estado; sinusuklian ninyo ito ng karampatang serbisyo. Sa huli, naging virtuous cycle ito; nagtutulungan ang lahat, at sa dulo, Pilipino ang panalo,” said Aquino.

(Through good governance and the proper allocation of funds, the modernization you’ve underwent has been historic. What we once merely dreamed of, we have achieved. What makes it better is that you didn’t just accept graces from the state; you gave back through your service. In the end, it was a virtuous cycle; everyone helped each other and in the end, it’s the Filipino who won.)

Innovation when resources lacked

Aquino cited instances in his presidency where the military managed to get the job done, even if its resources were lacking.

The President praised the Navy’s show of “seamanship” in its the mission to resupply Marines stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre, the country’s unconventional naval detachment in the middle of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Since China had far superior resources, Philippines troops opted to pass fishing vessels through shallow parts of the sea, to keep modern Chinese vessels at arm’s length.

Ganitong tapang at paninindigan, diskarte at inobasyon ang di dapat mawala sa ating kaisipan. Di pwedeng maging de-kahon, walang imahinasyon, at kapos sa inspirasyon ang pagtutupad ng ating tungkulin,” said the president, who was surrounded by current and former key officials of the AFP under his administration.

(This courage and resolve, strategy and innovation is something we must never let go of. We cannot be boxed in, without imagination, lacking in inspiration when it comes to fulfilling our duty.)

The dispute between the Philippines and China over the West Philippine Sea is the driving factor in the upgrades that the AFP has seen under Aquino. Still, the country’s military remains among Asia’s weakest.

Manila has chosen the arbitration route through an international court which is expected to release its ruling by July 2016.

Aquino’s many thanks

The President, who was awarded full military honors on Monday, made sure to thank the men and women who’ve served under the defense department and the military, particularly those who worked closest to him.

Voltaire Gazmin, Aquino’s first and only defense chief, had initially agreed to only one or at most, two years in the post.

Pasensiya ka na Secretary Gazmin, nakalimutan ko 'yung usapan nating iyon, three days to go na lang, isagad mo na (My apologies, Secretary Gazmin because I seemed to have forgotten our agreement. With three days to go, I hope you make the most of it),” quipped Aquino.

Gazmin headed the Presidential Security Group (PSG) during the presidency of Aquino’s mother, the late Cory Aquino. The defense chief, a close friend of Aquino family, shares a storied history with them. (READ: Voltaire Gazmin: The untouchable)

Aquino’s father, the late senator Benigno Aquino Jr., was Gazmin’s wedding sponsor. When the older Aquino was jailed in Nueva Ecija during the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos' rule, it was Gazmin who was officer-in-charge of the detention facility.

During the ceremony, Aquino conferred the Medal of Merit onto several officers who worked closely with him throughout his presidency:

Major Xavier C. Celestial - For his composition of the Presidential March;

Lieutenant Bryner R. Las - For his service as junior military aide de camp (JADC);

Major James Erasmus F. Cagni - For his service as JADC;

Lieutenant Colonel Justino T. Ramolete - For his service as senior military assistant to the President;

Rear Admiral Raul R. Ubando - For his service as former Senior Military Assistant to the President and for his service as group commander of the PSG

Siguro, ang iniisip ng iba, ang sarap ng buhay maging aide ng Pangulo. Ang di po alam ng marami, sila ang katapat at unang tagasalo ng stress, at pati na minsan, ng init ng ating ulo,” said Aquino of his aides.

(Others might think it’s easy to be the aide of the president. What many don’t know is that they’re the first to encounter and absorb the stress, even my anger.)

The 32nd Infantry Batallion, meanwhile, was awarded the Presidential Unit Streamer for their work in the 2013 Zamboanga siege.

Aquino’s crises

The President is known for being on the ground in several crises, particularly in 2013 when a strong quake hit the Visayas, a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) tried to take over Zamboanga City, and the strongest typhoon to make landfall ravaged central Philippines.

Aquino thanked the PSG, led by Ubando, for having to deal with situation that naturally put the President at risk.

Sa bawat hakbang sa Daang Matuwid, naging panatag ang loob ko, dahil nariyan kayo at laging nagpapamalas ng propesyunalismo, at maayos na pakikipag-ugnayan sa atin pong security forces,” he said.

(In every step along the Straight Path, I never feared for my safety because you were also there and you always showcased your professionalism and coordination with our security forces.)

The son of two democracy icons, seemingly confident of the legacy he was leaving behind, also reminded the military of martial law, a time when the military was “used by a dictator to abuse our fellow countrymen.”

The People Power Revolution, which saw civilians protect military-men-turned-rebels on the street of EDSA, was a “reconciliation and reunion” after years of alienation from the common Filipino.

Sa pagtatapos po, dito natin nadadama kung gaano kakapos ang pagsasabi lang ng maraming, maraming salamat po sa inyong lahat. Palagay ko po, talagang kinakatawan ko ang sambayanang Pilipino na damang-dama nila lahat ng sakripisyo, lahat ng pinagdaanan niyo para sa kanilang kapakanan,” said the President.

(It’s only now as I end my speech that it’s clear how saying thank you is not enough. But I think I speak in behalf of the entire Filipino nation that knows what you’ve sacrificed and what you’ve gone through for their sake.)

Aquino officially ends his term on June 30, to make way for President-elect Rodrigo Duterte.


US Navy's lead hospital ship returns to PH

From Rappler (Jun 28): US Navy's lead hospital ship returns to PH

More than 1,000 American sailors disembark at the Legazpi City seaport for a 2-week humanitarian mission

PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP. Photo by Rhaydz Barcia/Rappler

PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP. Photo by Rhaydz Barcia/Rappler

The USNS Mercy, the lead ship of the United States Navy's hospital ships, returned to Legazpi City on June 28, to provide humanitarian assistance to impoverished families and share their expertise in disaster management as part of the 2016 Pacific Partnership initiative.

More than 1,000 sailors disembarked Legazpi City's seaport to take part in the two-week, multinational effort between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the United States Armed Forces (USAF). (READ: US troops head to Albay for 2016 Pacific Partnership mission)

The commanding officer, US Navy Captain Peter F. Roberts, MC, said the hospital ship first visited Legazpi City in March 1987 to provide humanitarian support following super typhoon Sisang (international codename Nina).

RDML Bruce L. Gillingham, added the US Armed forces wanted to share humanitarian and disaster capabilities, skills, and knowledge, as well as compassion, the trait from which the Mercy series of hospital ships sprang from. Gillingham added the Pacific Partnership team has set up an ambitious schedule during their time here, with cooperative health engagements, health fairs and medical care planned. There will also be an emphasis on developing capacity for all who participate, as the events will occur at 7 sites within Albay Province.

"Today we celebrate the beginning of the Pacific Partnership mission here in beautiful Legazpi, and look with great anticipation to the days ahead as we combine our skills, knowledge and compassion, working side by side to treat sickness and injury, growing together as healers and strengthening the partnership between our nations,” Gillingham said.

"The relationship between our countries is as important today as it was in 1987. We were committed then – as we are now – to providing medically ready forces that produce medical readiness and to leverage that training for partner nations such as the Philippines,’ he said.

Gillingham also remarked that more than 600 men and women from the USNS Mercy – made up of medical experts from the US and partner militaries as well as volunteers from non-governmental health organizations – will go shoulder-to-shoulder with Filipinos to establish and strengthen friendships.

"As this multi-national effort occurs," he explained, "women and men from several different nations will link arms to teach each other how to alleviate suffering and restore health."

Additional members of this humanitarian mission for the Pacific Partnership include the Royal Australian Navy and Royal New Zealand Air Force.