Saturday, July 2, 2016

RI wants Philippines to do more in securing release of crew

From the Jakarta Post (Jul 2): RI wants Philippines to do more in securing release of crew

As the new Philippine government assumes power, Indonesia has asked its neighboring country for determined measures to secure the release of seven Indonesian sailors abducted by the Abu Sayyaf group, and to guarantee safety in the Sulu waters, emphasizing that abductions cannot be tolerated.

Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi traveled to Manila to meet her counterpart Perfecto Rivas Yasay Jr. on Friday, a day after the latter was sworn in for his position under the newly elected President Rodrigu “Rody” Roa Duterte,

In the meeting with her counterpart, Retno called on the neighboring country’s authority to guarantee the safety of the Sulu waters.

Yasay, in response, underlined the strong commitment of his newly elected president to eliminate crimes in the waters and ensured that Philippine authorities would maintain close coordination with Indonesia.

The two countries are pushing for a speedy conclusion in determining a sea lane corridor across the economically strategic but abduction-prone waters in southern Philippines, for commercial ships to sail under tight security of the military forces. The two countries’ foreign ministers agreed to this in a meeting held in Manila on Friday.

The corridor is a follow up to a tripartite meeting between Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia’s foreign ministers and military chiefs in March that agreed on the formulation of a standard operation procedure (SOP) for joint patrols in the waters, following a series of abductions of Indonesian and Malaysian sailors by Abu Sayyaf.

But a mere military operation might not be enough to tackle rising threats in the waters that observe US$40 billion of shipments every year, an expert says, as the repeated kidnappings show a lack of commitment from the Philippines in settling its domestic security threats and the need for additional intelligence cooperation between related countries.

Retno, being the first foreign dignitary to meet the Philippines’ new foreign minister, made the journey to discuss the fate of seven Indonesian sailors taken hostages by Abu Sayyaf while transporting coal to the neighboring country last week.

“The meeting with minister Yasay is very important to reiterate a commitment to cooperation between the Indonesian and Philippine governments in efforts to release the hostages,” she said in a written statement.

The meeting ensures that cooperation between Indonesia and previous Philippine governments will be maintained and that communication between the foreign ministers will be intensified, she said.

The two foreign ministers also agreed to precipitate concrete cooperation in maintaining security in Sulu waters, including by establishing a sea lane corridor across, the statement said.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir said the sea lane corridor was designed as a shipment route for vessels passing through the waters, with tight monitoring by joint patrols comprising Indonesian, Philippine and Malaysian navies.

While the sea lane corridor will not be mandatory for commercial ships passing through the waters, Arrmanatha explained, the ships will be highly advised to take the route, as any security threats will be easily detected by patrolling officers in the area.

The abduction of the seven sailors — manning tugboat Charles from Makassar — is the latest of three separate incidents involving 21 Indonesian crewmen by the militant group in the last three months.

Military and security observer Mufti Makarim argued that talks on the sea lane and joint patrol showed that the three countries were on the right track.

Sabah wants action, Manila told

From the Star Online (Jul 3): Sabah wants action, Manila told

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is keeping a close eye on the new leadership in Manila that promises to wipe out Abu Sayyaf militants for the numerous cross-border kidnappings.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said that a lot has been said and Sabah wants to see the actions taken under the leadership of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

“We have to evaluate their actions, not their words,” he said when contacted yesterday.

Duterte has on several occasions said that his priority was to eliminate the Abu Sayyaf, responsible for the beheading of two abducted Canadians and Malaysian Bernard Thenin Jolo, and other kidnappings these past 15 years.
“We are hoping the security problems will be be solved once and for all,” Masidi said in reference to the militant group, which is linked to al-Qaeda and operates in southern Philippines.

Our agencies under the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) have taken steps to thwart the Abu Sayyaf and other criminals, he said.

He said Sabah had also been forced to suspend barter trade with the southern Philippines due to the cross-border security threats.

This caused the prices of goods on the Philippine side to spike, increasing the hardship faced by the people there.

“The ball is in their court. Our Government has vowed to do its utmost to keep Sabah safe,” Masidi said.

Duterte’s defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the kidnappings were affecting the country economically, with Indonesia stopping its boats from sending coal to the Philippines.

The Abu Sayyaf have kidnapped Indonesian sailors on several occasions.

#Journeyto30 Confessions of a captive

From the Philippine Star (Jul 3): #Journeyto30 Confessions of a captive

#Journey-to-30 traces the most significant milestones in our country’s history as covered by The Philippine STAR. The series, which began on Jan. 3, runs until July 24, 2016, leading to The STAR’s 30th anniversary on July 28, 2016.

It was supposed to be a holiday for Martin and Gracia Burnham, who celebrated their 18th wedding anniversary at the posh Dos Palmas Resort in Honda Bay, Palawan.

For 17 years, the two had been working in the Philippines as members of the New Tribes Mission, a Christian evangelical group. Martin was a pilot who flew in supplies to communities where NTM proselytizes, while Gracia worked for the congregation’s aviation program.

They had a pleasant life of spreading Christianity and raising their three children, all of whom were born in the Philippines – until the Islamist terrorist group Abu Sayyaf kidnapped them on May 27, 2001.

During the early hours of that day, armed men woke up the couple and, at gunpoint, forced them and other hotel guests and staff into two waiting boats. Another American, Guillermo Sobero, was also taken captive. The terrorists abducted a total of 20 people, mostly, Filipino-Chinese tourists.

The hostages were brought to Basilan Island in Mindanao, more than 500 kms. southeast of Palawan and one of the islands where the terrorists operate. The group had already kidnapped another group of tourists in Sipadan Island, Malaysia, as well as a number of local and foreign journalists in the previous year.

Upon arrival at Lamitan town in Basilan, the Abu Sayyaf took a church and a hospital hostage. The Burnhams and the other hostages from Palawan were joined by 20 more people, mostly doctors and nurses from the Dr. Jose Torres Memorial Hospital and parishioners at the St. Peter Church. But four hostages from Palawan “escaped,” after allegedly paying ransom. 

Despite a massive military operation that should have cornered the terrorists in what was dubbed as the Lamitan Siege, the terrorists were able to slip through the tight military cordon into the mountains of Basilan.

Eventually, all the other hostages either escaped or were released after paying ransom, while others were killed. Sobero was among those beheaded in what the terrorists call a “ribbon-cutting” ceremony, after reportedly being injured in the foot, which made him unable to walk. Only the Burnhams and a Filipino nurse, Ediborah Yap, remained in captivity.

The couple spent more than a year in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf and endured the inhumane treatment and perilous conditions of being pursued by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“We asked God for everything we needed,” Gracia told CBN News in 2012. “If we needed a drink of water, I asked God for a drink of water. And if we came to a stream, I drank the water. It didn’t matter that it was dirty and the guys were… doing stuff up river, it was water, and God provided it for us.”

The lack of food and the constant movement, coupled with scorching heat on clear days and the cold during the rainy season, emaciated the couple.

“I remember that we hadn’t eaten for — we were going on our 10th day. I didn’t know you could live for 10 days without food. But we had salt, and we had water,” Gracia
explained. “We would eat little leaves from certain plants that we had passed by… ”

By summer of 2002, the Abu Sayyaf was running out of hiding places in Basilan as the AFP closed in on them. They moved the hostages across the Basilan Channel to the Zamboanga Peninsula, where the terrain was larger and more forested.

To keep themselves strong and focused on their survival, the couple would look at family photos that they were able to carry with them in a bag. But most of the time, the ordeal made them lose faith about carrying on.

“I don’t know how much longer I can do this. I always said that to him,” she said.
“And he said, ‘You know, Gracia, I think we’re going to get out of here. I just don’t know when’.”

Finally, around noon of June 7, 2002 – after 376 days in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf – the AFP mounted a rescue operation for them in an area between the towns of Sirawai and Sibuco in Zamboanga del Norte.

It was a Pyrrhic rescue operation as the AFP was able to rescue only Gracia. The terrorists had shot Martin during the gun battle, while Ediborah was caught in the crossfire. Despite the death of Martin and Ediborah, then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo praised the AFP for the rescue operation.

In 2004, after fully recovering from her injuries, Gracia faced some of her captors in court, where she recalled her traumatic ordeal. She also published a book “In the Presence of My Enemies,” where she recounted the ordeal in detail.

The book was controversial as it shed light on the alleged collusion between the Abu Sayyaf and some AFP officials during the hostage crisis. To this day, the AFP denies any connivance with the terrorists, and no one has been charged, much less convicted, of collusion.

With the resurgence of the Abu Sayyaf in recent months and its spate of abductions and beheadings of foreigners, the story of Burnhams’ captivity gives us crucial insight into the complicated and shady world of kidnapping for ransom, where everything seems black and white, yet nothing is what it seems.

Abducted toddler rescued in Sulu

From ABS-CBN (Jul 2): Abducted toddler rescued in Sulu

A two-year-old girl abducted from their home in Arena Blanco, Zamboanga City was rescued by the Zamboanga City Police in Patikul, Sulu last June 28.

The girl was rescued in a shanty in the far-flung village of Anuling, a known lair of the Abu Sayyaf Group.

According to Superintendent Nonito Asdai, chief of Police station 7 in Zamboanga City, they were able to arrest three suspects: Danny Patta, 28; Muktadir Mohammad, 41; and Haron Sahirun, 52, all natives of Sulu.

Asdai said the suspects were arrested during an entrapment operation in the port area of Jolo.

The suspects demanded P20,000 from the victim's parents in exchange for her safe release.

But one of the suspects directed the child's mother to proceed to the village of Anuling where the transaction should take place instead.

Police followed the tricycle carrying the child's mother until they tracked down Patta with his two companions along the road.

The suspects were forced to reveal the location of the child. Asdai said they found the child in a small house, crying inside a dark room.

The child was taken to Jolo municipal police station and then back to Zamboanga City on Friday night.

Patta explained that they are not members of a kidnap-for-ransom group, or the Abu Sayyaf Group. He said he took the child due to the parents' unpaid debt amounting to more than P60,000.

Patta said the parents of the child failed to pay their debt despite repeated promises. He thought of forcing the child's parents to pay their debt by abducting their daughter.

A case of kidnapping with serious illegal detention was filed against the suspects.

Meanwhile, Superintendent Luisito Magnaye, Zamboanga City Police Director, said they are looking into the possibility that the three suspects are somehow connected to the Abu Sayyaf Group, citing initial information that these persons have been long living in the area known as bailiwick of the bandits in Patikul.

Soldier dead, 3 hurt in Maute attack in Marawi

From ABS=CBN (Jul 2): Soldier dead, 3 hurt in Maute attack in Marawi

One soldier was killed and three others were wounded after suspected members of the Maute terrorist group attacked a military camp in Marawi City Friday evening.

M203 grenade launchers targeted the compound of the 103rd Infantry Brigade.

Part of the camp's wall collapsed after it was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED).

This is the latest in the group's attacks against soldiers in Marawi City.

On June 25, the group shot a soldier while getting a carwash. On June 28, another soldier was ambushed, followed by a firefight, which left a two-year-old civilian dead.

The Maute terrorist group is responsible for atrocities in Butig, Lanao del Sur, including the beheading of two kidnapped civilians and the bombing of a Lanao del Sur tower.
It is known to have pledged allegiance to the terror group Islamic State.

China to hold drills near disputed islands ahead of court ruling

From ABS-CBN (Jul 3): China to hold drills near disputed islands ahead of court ruling

China will hold military drills around the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, the maritime safety administration said on Sunday, ahead of a decision by an international court in a dispute between China and the Philippines.

China routinely carries out exercises in the South China Sea, where its territorial claims overlap in parts with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Tensions have been rising ahead of a July 12 ruling by an arbitration court hearing the dispute between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea in the Dutch city of The Hague.

In a brief online statement, China's maritime safety administration said the drills would take place from July 5-11, and gave coordinates for the drills that cover an area from the east of China's Hainan island down to and including the Paracels.

Other ships are prohibited from entering those waters during that time, it said, without further elaboration.

The Paracels are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.
China has built a runway on Woody Island, the site of the largest Chinese presence on the Paracels, and placed surface-to-air missiles there, according to U.S. officials.

China says it is perfectly within its rights to do what it wants on the islands in the South China Sea, saying they have been Chinese territory since ancient times.

About $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year though the energy-rich, strategic waters of the South China Sea.

DESPITE US’ TERROR TAG ON CPP Dureza confident ‘third party countries’ will allow Joma’s return to PHL

From GMA News (Jul 2): DESPITE US’ TERROR TAG ON CPP Dureza confident ‘third party countries’ will allow Joma’s return to PHL

The Philippines may no longer need to ask the United States to lift the terror tag on the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to pave the way for the return of communist leader Jose Maria Sison to the country after decades in exile.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza told state-run Radyo ng Bayan on Saturday said that they will tackle the possibility of allowing Sison to return to the country when the need arises.

"These will be things that we will attend to pag kailangan na dahil ito namang negotiations natin, these are between the Philippine government and the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front). Hindi kasali dito ang Amerika. Hindi kasali dito ‘yung mga ibang bansa," Dureza said.

He said he was confident that third party countries will "find a way to be not in the way" should the Philippine government and the CPP leadership agree on the need for Sison to return home to join the formal peace talks.

President Rodrigo Duterte himself had said that Sison is welcome to return home to participate in the peace talks.

Labor and Employment Secretary Silvestre "Bebot" Bello III, who leads the government's negotiating panel, had said that the US' terror tag on the communist group may be a hindrance to Sison's possible return to the country.

NDF spokesperson Luis Jalandoni had warned that Sison may be arrested by the Interpol on his to Manila because of the terror tag.

Dureza asked for more patience on the issue of Sison's return to the Philippines.

"Well, tsaka na lang ‘yan dahil kasama ‘yan sa usapan. ‘Wag na lang tayong mag-mamadali dahil there are issues to be resolved pa. There are some things that we have to resolve," he said.

He said that the government's panel will return to Oslo, Norway on the third week of July to resume the peace talks with the communist movement.

Sison was involved in the exploratory talks held in Oslo last month.

Kerry warns Beijing vs Provocative acts

From The Standard (Jul 2):  Kerry warns Beijing vs Provocative acts

Secretary of State John Kerry has told Chinese officials that Washington will launch countermeasures if Beijing takes further provocative acts in the South China Sea, American diplomatic sources said  Thursday.

If Beijing unilaterally declares an air defense identification zone over the disputed waters, for example, “It will force our hand,” Kerry was quoted by one of the sources as saying during the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue on June 5 to 7 in Beijing.

Kerry stopped short of saying what kind of countermeasures he has in mind. But he appears to have signaled actions such as strengthening US freedom of navigation operations and the deployment of US military units in the South China Sea.
US Secretary of State John Kerry
Kerry also demanded that China abide by a ruling that a UN-backed arbitral tribunal will hand down on  July 12  regarding the legitimacy of Beijing’s claims to almost the whole South China Sea, sources said.

The world is watching China’s response to the ruling to be issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Kerry was quoted by the source as saying.

The Philippines brought the arbitration case to the court, arguing China’s claims to most of the South China Sea violate the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Many experts believe the coming ruling will be unfavorable for China.

During the talks in Beijing, Kerry expressed displeasure about China’s lobbying the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations not to support the arbitration process.

“We know what you are doing—dividing Asean,” Kerry was quoted by another source as saying.

A Chinese official, however, said that China was “not bound by the Unclos,” the source said.

China has said it will not accept arbitration on the South China Sea and repeated its preference to negotiate bilaterally with other claimants such as the Philippines and Vietnam in a perceived attempt to overwhelm them with its economic might.

The United States is considering expanding the Navy’s surveillance activity in the South China Sea as Beijing has stepped up island construction and militarization of outposts in the disputed waters in an apparent attempt to unilaterally alter the status quo there.

Washington is closely watching whether Beijing will take further provocative measures such as unilaterally declaring an ADIZ over the South China Sea and reclaiming Scarborough Shoal, which Manila claims as its territory.

Separately, the United States has informed China that it will refrain from taking specific actions on the South China Sea before Beijing hosts a summit of the Group of 20 major developed and developing nations in September, according to a diplomatic source.

The move signals Washington’s push on Beijing to exercise restraint ahead of planned talks between President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the  Sept. 4 to 5  summit in Hangzhou, eastern China.

In Beijing, Xi Jinping said China would never compromise on sovereignty.

The ruling party must maintain absolute power in the country, strengthen its military and enhance its role on the world stage, Xi told serried ranks of top officials in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, at a ceremony to mark the 95th anniversary of the Communist Party.

“No foreign country... should expect us to swallow the bitter pill of harm to our national sovereignty, security or development interests,” Xi said, adding: “We are not afraid of trouble.”

His remarks come as regional tensions rise over Beijing’s claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, with the US sending naval patrols close to artificial islands Beijing has built in the disputed waters.

Xi took an apparent stab at the US, saying: “We will not show up at other people’s front doors to flex our muscles. That does not show strength or scare anyone.”

An international tribunal in The Hague will rule on  July 12  in a case brought by the Philippines challenging China’s claims in the strategic waterway.

Beijing insists that the Permanent Court of Arbitration has no jurisdiction over the issue and has boycotted the proceedings.

Since assuming the party’s top post in 2012, Xi has rapidly consolidated power while overseeing a more assertive foreign policy and a tighter authoritarian stance at home.

In his speech, Xi heaped praise on the ruling party and vowed to maintain the country’s centralized Communist-led political system.

“All party comrades must remember what we are constructing is socialism with Chinese characteristics, and not any other ideology,” he said.

The Communist party, which had some 88.7 million members at the end of last year, must maintain “absolute leadership,” he said.

Xi has won popularity with a much-publicized anti-corruption campaign that has claimed the scalps of several former top-ranked officials.

“The biggest threat to our ruling party is corruption,” he said, calling for a “complete purification of the party’s political environment”.

He credited the Communist party with expelling “imperialism” from Chinese soil, and stressed the country’s economic growth in recent decades.

He stressed the need for “Mao Zedong thought” but did not refer to the tens of millions killed in famines and political campaigns launched by the founder of the People’s Republic.

The speech contained more than 20 references to “Marxism” and was followed by a rendition of the left-wing anthem “The Internationale” by a brass band.

He also issued a warning to Taiwan’s newly elected President Tsai Ying-wen -- saying: “We will resolutely oppose all Taiwanese separatist forces”.

Shortly before the ceremony began, a Taiwanese warship mistakenly launched a supersonic “aircraft carrier killer” missile towards the mainland, which landed in the Taiwan Strait, Taipei’s navy said.

Xi vowed to “build, in line with our global status and in accordance with national interests, a strong army and consolidate national defense”.

He also said that China would take an active role in what he called “global governance”, suggesting it was seeking a weightier role in international affairs.

Xi added: “China will actively participate in building a global governance system, and will contribute Chinese wisdom to perfecting such a system.

Set the tone on sea row, think tank urges Rody

From The Standard (Jul 3): Set the tone on sea row, think tank urges Rody

THE Philippines should stand firm on its position once the Permanent Court of Arbitration issues a favorable ruling on its claim over its territory in  the West Philippine Sea, according to a private think tank.

“The Philippines should immediately set the tone of what is to follow,” Stratbase ADR Institute President Dindo Manhit said at a recent forum on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement organized by the think tank.

“In the days ahead, the country should continue to advocate that all states, including China, must abide by the terms of the ruling and that all claimants should avoid any activity that could worsen tensions in the region,” Manhit said.

Manhit said the incoming Duterte administration could pursue its claim in the South China Sea while still improving the country’s economic partnership with Beijing, as the two are not mutually exclusive.

“Developing a credible defense posture in the region should be seen as a complement to the strategic deterrence provided by US and partnerships with Japan and Australia,” he said.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute senior analyst Lisay Sharland said Edca underscores not only American involvement in the region but is also a reminder of the value of other partnerships for the Philippines.

“Australia and the Philippines will work together in regional platforms to develop architecture supportive of security stability and cooperation and to provide confidence building measures to minimize the risk of conflict in the region,” she said.

The decision is expected to be a test for the Duterte administration, not only on the international rule of law but also on diplomacy and communication.

“How China and the Philippines react to that decision will have an impact on regional security dynamics,” Sharland said.

Prof. Katsuyuki Yakushiji of Toyo University said the Japanese government shares its official stand with the governments of the Philippines, the US and South Korea.

“Any intimidating concept or provocative unilateral action that could alter the status quo, increase tension and disrupt freedom of navigation and overflight should be condemned,” he said.

AFP to realign resources, apply military strength to finish terrorists

From Update.Ph (Jul 2): AFP to realign resources, apply military strength to finish terrorists

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will focus unrelenting pressure against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and its allied terrorist cells. This was stressed by newly-appointed AFP chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya during his assumption speech at GHQ Grandstand, Camp Aguinaldo on Friday.

Present were President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo, newly-appointed Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, former president Fidel V. Ramos and other ranking military leaders.

“We will be unrelenting in our focused military operations against terrorist groups like the ASG and all its allied terrorist cells. We will reallign military resources to their identified bailiwicks and sanctuaries and apply our military strength to suppress them, hunt them down and finish them,” Visaya stressed.

“We will continue to apply the full force of the law 24/7 to go after these criminals and profit-seeking elements who operate under the guise of religious fervor and holy war,” he added.

And to ensure this, Visaya said the AFP will have to think its armament acquisition program to further beef up its capacity and capability to search and engage these rogue and lawless elements.

“Over and above our role to run after the terrorists, we will also intensify our support to law enforcement agencies, particularly the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in their mission to eliminate widespread criminality and the wanton destruction of lives brought about by the spread and use of illegal drugs,” he added.

“We will start the same advocacy with our ranks by continuously weeding out those scalawags who use drugs, who have links with illegal groups and activities. Then we will proceed to build alliances with our counterparts to bring down syndicates and other organized crime groups,” the AFP chief pointed out.

US Carrier Strike Group patrols West Philippine Sea

From Update.Ph (Jul 2): US Carrier Strike Group patrols West Philippine Sea

US Navy Strike Strike Group Ronald Reahan

United States Navy Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group (CSG 5) has initiated a patrol mission in West Philippine Sea, the US Navy said June 30. The said naval group included the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) and USS Shiloh (CG 67); Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers from Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15 and aircraft from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5.

Before the said operations in West Philippine Sea, the strike group has been operating in Philippine Sea to maintain improve their readiness and develop their cohesion as a strike group, the US Navy said.

“Our forward-deployed ships are operating here to maintain the seas open for all to use,” said Rear Adm. John D. Alexander, commander, Task Force 70 (CTF 70). “The U.S. Navy has flown, sailed and operated throughout the Western Pacific in accordance with international law for over a century, and will continue to do so.”

The US Navy said many US ships have conducted similar events in the 7th Fleet area of operations including the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Decatur (DDG 73), USS Momsen (DDG 92) and USS Spruance (DDG 111) as part of 3rd Fleet’s Pacific Surface Action Group.

CSG 5 is the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed strike group located in Yokosuka, Japan, and routinely operates throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific.

Duterte to military: Help me bring about peace

From Rappler (Jul 1): Duterte to military: Help me bring about peace

'My job is to talk to the enemies of the state, to the Communist Party of the Philippines, to the MILF, and see if I could make a difference in our lives,' says President Duterte

President Rodrigo Duterte reminded the entire Armed Forces of the Philippines that his job as the country’s new leader is to bring peace.

“The first job of the president is not to go to war but rather to bring peace in this country,” said Duterte on Friday, July 1, during the change of command ceremony of the AFP.
That day, acting AFP chief Lt General Glorioso Miranda relinquished his position to give way to new AFP chief Lt General Ricardo Visaya.
Duterte, who had taken his oath as president just the other day, said the peace process with different rebel groups would be among his administration’s priorities.
“My job is to bring peace. My job is to talk to the enemies of the state, to the Communist Party of the Philippines, to the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), and to the men, and see if I could make a difference in our lives,” he said.
While efforts to resuscitate peace talks with the Left are already underway, Duterte said he may have to go to Jolo, Sulu at an unspecified time to talk to Moro rebels.
He has spoken with MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and plans to go to Jolo to talk to his “friend”, MNLF founder Nur Misuari.
Duterte said he is willing to give Moro rebel leaders a “safe conduct pass” to facilitate peace talks.
He will again speak to the MILF in the coming days. 
“Next week, we are to talk to the MI[LF]…I’m willing to give them safe conduct passes, only the leaders,” he said.
Soldiers have come face to face with both NPA rebels and Moro rebels in violent encounters that have led to deaths on all sides.
But Duterte said such conflicts must end sooner than later.
“We cannot fight forever. We do not have the weapons, the armor, the bullets or the mortars. My job is to bring peace, but hand in hand, I must also bring order to my land,” he said in the presence of the military’s highest officials.
Abu Sayyaf, drugs
Duterte sounded less tolerant of the Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group responsible for much of the violence in certain parts of Mindanao.
Though he said he is “not warning Abu Sayyaf,” he said, “There will always be a time for reckoning. We can only swallow so much. We cannot be the whipping boy of the few who wants nothing but maybe money and power in their hands.”
He also asked the military for their help in fighting the drug menace in the country.
One practice he wants stopped is the drug-dealing which, he claims, happens inside Philippine prisons. Such a practice was discovered in the New Bilibid prison.
“We will eliminate the druglords once and for all. Ako ay nasusuka na (I am so sick of it). You have to help me put a stop to this,” said Duterte.
The president warned druglords to count, not the days, but the hours until they are caught.
Bitawan na niyo ngayon ‘yan o kainin ninyo ngayon ang supply ninyo,” he said to a cheering audience. (Let go of your trade now or eat your entire supply.)
New AFP chief Visaya, who spoke before Duterte, vowed to help the President achieve his goal of peace.
“We will support the peace process with rebel groups and participate in consensus-building so we can already proceed forward in unity and harmony with our fellow Filipino citizens,” he said.
He added, the AFP’s fight against the Abu Sayyaf would be “unrelenting.”
As to cracking down on drugs, Visaya said the military under his watch would help the police and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).
“We will also intensify our support to law enforcement agencies, particularly the PNP and PDEA in the mission to eliminate widespread criminality and the wanton destruction of lives brought about by the spread and use of illegal drugs,” said the AFP chief.
He and other army officials also plan to purge “scalawags” within their ranks – military men or women involved in the illegal drug trade.

New PNP chief Dela Rosa, top brass take drug test

From Rappler (Jul 1): New PNP chief Dela Rosa, top brass take drug test

The new PNP chief shows the 160,000-strong PNP he means business: 'Walang rason ang pulis sa baba na hindi magpa-drug test. Ako nga, nagpa-drug test; sila, hindi?

3-6 MONTHS. Director General Ronald dela Rosa has 3-6 months to help achieve President Rodrigo Duterte's campaign promise to put an end to crime and illegal drugs. Photo by Kiwi Bulaclac/PPD

3-6 MONTHS. Director General Ronald dela Rosa has 3-6 months to help achieve President Rodrigo Duterte's campaign promise to put an end to crime and illegal drugs. Photo by Kiwi Bulaclac/PPD

Where are your excuses now?

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa took a drug test on Friday, July 1, mere hours after he was officially installed as the country’s top cop.

Dela Rosa, who assumed the post a day after President Rodrigo Duterte’s inauguration, said he did it as a show of transparency. (READ: Dela Rosa warns cops involved in drugs: 'You have 48 hours')

S'yempre, to be transparent to show everyone na ako mismo ay drug-free. Para lahat sila walang rason ang pulis sa baba na hindi magpa-drug test. Ako nga, nagpa-drug test; sila, hindi?” said Dela Rosa, after taking the test. (Of course, to be transparent and to show everyone that I’m drug-free myself. So the police on the ground don’t give reasons not to take a drug test. I’m taking a drug test. Why won’t they?)

It’s been an action-packed day for Dela Rosa. In the morning, he was installed into office and promoted from one to 4-star general. He then joined a command conference with the PNP’s top officials.

After noon, Dela Rosa joined Duterte to witness the change-in-command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines at Camp Aguinaldo. By 4:30 in the afternoon, Dela Rosa held another command conference with his team of officials.

Other top PNP officials – the command group, the directorate staff, regional chiefs, and national support unit chiefs – also underwent a drug test Friday afternoon.

Curbing the spread of illegal drugs is among the key missions of the PNP under Duterte and Dela Rosa. Stopping – or "supressing" – crime and illegal drugs in 3 to 6 months was a key promises during Duterte's campaign.

Dureza: Peace talks to be inclusive

From Rappler (Jul 2): Dureza: Peace talks to be inclusive

The presidential adviser on the peace process says the Duterte administration will honor signed peace agreements, but adds they will have to be consistent with planned reforms

Under the Duterte administration, peace talks with communist and Muslim guerrillas will not only be inclusive and committed to all signed peace agreements, but will also be consistent with planned reforms.

This is what chief government negotiator Jesus Dureza said on Saturday, July 2 in an interview over radio dzRB.

Dureza, the presidential adviser on the peace process, said that aside from preparing for the July peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front-New People’s Army (CPP-NDF), he is also working on talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

The possibility of having a ceasefire with the NDF is part of the agenda that will be discussed in Oslo, Norway third week of July, Dureza said.

Peace agreements

"Right now we are still in the process of working on a possible road map. And we are taking the cue from the policy statement of President Duterte during the inauguration," Dureza said.

"We are committed to these peace agreements that have been signed but they will have to be consistent [with] the planned constitutional reforms and the legal reforms that we will implement," he added.

Dureza noted that this also covers the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which was
signed in March 2014 between the Aquino administration and the MILF after 17 years of peace talks.

The Duterte administration will likewise implement the 1996 Final Peace Agreement signed with the MNLF, Dureza added.

"We will also look into the ARMM [Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao] Law which is [Republic Act] 9054. We will look into the IPRA [The Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act] Law which is to Indigenous Peoples," he said.

After complying with the commitment to honor these peace agreements, Dureza said that they will look into formulating one law that will be inclusive to all stakeholders concerned. (READ: Dureza: We are now at the threshold of peace)

Political will

He added that he is planning to meet with various groups in Cotabato, possibly next week, and other parts of Mindanao to hear their suggestions for the peace process.

Dureza reiterated Duterte's priority of bringing peace to the country. "You have to do a lot of effort and I think he (Duterte) will exercise great political will to see this happen," Dureza added.

During the change of command ceremony of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Friday, July 1, Duterte declared, “My job is to bring peace. My job is to talk to the enemies of the state, to the Communist Party of the Philippines, to the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), and to the men, and see if I could make a difference in our lives.”

Duterte also said, “We cannot fight forever. We do not have the weapons, the armor, the bullets or the mortars. My job is to bring peace, but hand in hand, I must also bring order to my land.”

Soldier killed, 3 others injured in Marawi ambush

From InterAksyon (Jul 3): Soldier killed, 3 others injured in Marawi ambush

Troops were deployed to pursue a group of gunmen behind the ambush early Saturday that killed a soldier and injured three others in Marawi City.

Maj. Filemon Tan, Jr., Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) spokesman, said the ambush took place around 3:30 a.m. Saturday in Barangay Buadi Sacayo, Marawi City.

Tan said the soldiers of the Bravo Company and Scout Platoon of the Army’s 65th Infantry Battalion and 51st Mechanized Company were traveling to the headquarters of the 103rd Infantry Brigade when ambushed by at least 10 gunmen.

Tan said the gunmen set off an improvised bomb and opened fire while the soldiers, who were aboard a truck and armored personnel carriers, were passing by.

He said the troops returned fire that triggered a 20-minute firefight after which the ambushers fled to different directions.

Tan did not release the identities of both the slain and wounded soldiers.
He said troops were tracking down the ambushers as of press time.

Rebel, civilian slain in clash

From the Mindanao Times (Jul 2): Rebel, civilian slain in clash

A REBEL and a civilian were killed during an encounter between the New People’s Army (NPA) in Sitio Boay-Boay, Barangay Basak, Magpet, North Cotabato at 4:40 a.m. yesterday.
Capt. Daniel Tapang, civil military operations officer of 39th Infantry Battalion, said the encounter lasted about an hour and resulted in the death of the rebel and the civilian who was caught in the crossfire. However, Tapang said authorities were still establishing the identities of the two.
The encounter took place as the soldiers were conducting a blocking operation.
Soldiers recovered a M16 rifle, 11 improvised explosive devices, six cellular phones, backpacks and medical kits.
Tapang said days before the encounter, the military received reports that there were men asking for food. This prompted the military to launch an operation.

Lumad ‘bakwits’ not kidnapped nor illegally detained – human rights activists

From MindaNews (Jul 1): Lumad ‘bakwits’ not kidnapped nor illegally detained – human rights activists

The 700 Lumad “bakwits” who stayed at the UCCP’s Haran Evacuation Center here were not kidnapped nor illegally detained, according to human rights activists.

Jong Monzon, secretary general of Pasaka Confederation of Lumad Organization in Southern Mindanao, told MindaNews that the Lumads voluntarily moved to Haran, an evacuation center run by the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP), in April 2015 due to militarization.

The statement came after the Regional Trial Court Branch 10 here issued warrants of arrest with no bail recommended against 15 human rights activists for kidnapping and illegal detention.

The accused included Rev. Jurie Jaime, Bayan Southern Mindanao Region (SMR) secretary general Sheena Duazo, Karapatan SMR secretary general Hanimay Suazo, Ryan Laniba, Tony Salubre, Jimboy Maciano, Gabriela Davao secretary general Mary Ann Sapar, Jaja Encosio, Pedro Arnado, Pasaka SMR chairperson Kerlan Fanagel, Sr. Stella Matutina, Sr. Restita Miles, Isidro Andao, Kharlo Manano, and Save Our Schools (SOS) Network spokesperson Rius Valle.

Valle said that it was only on the last day of the peace forum called “Hugpong sa Kalinaw” at the Davao City Recreation Center (formerly Almendras Gym) on Tuesday that they learned of the arrest warrant.

Monzon, of the Mandaya tribe in Davao Oriental, said only about 300 Lumad evacuees, from the original 700 last year who came from Talaingod and Kapalong in Davao del Norte and White Culaman in Bukidnon, are staying today at Haran.

He said as much as they want to return to their communities, they no longer feel safe due to the presence of military forces who allegedly were arming some of the Lumads and recruiting them to join a paramilitary group.

Monzon said Lumads are hopeful that President Rodrigo R. Duterte will be able to listen to their concerns and asked his help to drop all the alleged trumped-up charges, scrap the Mining Act of 1995, disband paramilitary groups, and pass the People’s Mining Bill.

He claimed that extractive mining activities displaced several Lumads from their homes.

The Lumads, Monzon claimed, are not totally opposed to mining but it should responsible mining that is done and benefited by the Filipinos, not by big multinational mining companies.

Pasaka deputy secretary Kailo Bontolan, a lumad from Talaingod in Davao del Norte, is hoping Duterte would heed their calls so that they can go home safely.

“I think Duterte is sincere in his words. He is also consistent in his pronouncements to help the people since the start of the campaign,” he said.

Bontolan said he would have harvested about 40 sacks of rice last year had he not left his home and his farm.

He said that he is hoping Duterte would help the Lumad “bakwits” in their livelihood as they no longer have the means to earn a living.

New PDEA Chief vows to suppress drugs in 3 to 6 months

From CNN Philippines (Jul 2): New PDEA Chief vows to suppress drugs in 3 to 6 months

Outgoing PDEA Chief Arturo Cacdac Jr. officially turns over leadership to Isidro Lapeña.

Newly-installed Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Director General Isidro Lapeña said on Saturday he is focusing on reducing the demand for drugs at the community level.This is to complement the PDEA's ongoing efforts to curb the flow of drugs into the country.

Lapeña's predecessor, Arturo Cacdac Jr., formally turned over to him the agency's leadership on Saturday morning.

The new PDEA chief said drug use is still prevalent in the barangay level, and he wants to address this during his term at the agency.

He is also bent on fulfilling President Rodrigo Duterte's marching order to suppress drugs in three to six months.

"I was given the honor to handle that top concern of the President and we will deliver," he said.

He believes this is doable with the help of other departments, such as the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Health Department.

Lapeña wants a holistic approach to the problem, adding it can only be done through inter-agency action.

Lapeña also warned those involved in drugs to take Duterte's anti-drug campaign seriously. He said it was done in Davao City, and it can be replicated in the whole country.

"That should be a very strong warning against them and if we take the example of Davao City in addressing the drug problem, we have a very strong address against drugs… When they get into it, it’s really very risky upon themselves. It would be, I would say, as good as suicide, even," he said.ña.html

Military: “High-probability” body in Sulu belongs to Canadian Robert Hall

From CNN Philippines (Jul 2): Military: “High-probability” body in Sulu belongs to Canadian Robert Hall

(File photo) The missing body was found almost three weeks after Canadian Robert Hall was beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf group. The PNP earlier said it can still determine the body’s identity.

A headless body dug up in Sulu Saturday morning, is believed to be that of Robert Hall, the Canadian hostage slain by the Abu Sayyaf.

Masasabi natin na malaki ang probability… and it resembles Hall (There’s a high probability that it is Hall’s),” Maj. Filemon Tan, spokesman for the military’s Western Mindanao Command (WesMinCom) told CNN Philippines.

Tan said the decaying, Caucasian-looking body was recovered by the Joint Task Force Sulu in Talipao town at around 11: 35 a.m, following information provided by the locals.

Related: Military: ASG may be hiding beheaded hostage’s body

He however explained that the body has to undergo DNA testing for it to be declared Hall’s. It will be turned over to the Philippine National Police (PNP)’s Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO).

Through a DNA test, the PNP crime laboratory earlier confirmed that the head found in Jolo, Sulu on June 13 was Hall’s. The head was found in front of a church--hours after the Abu Sayyaf beheaded Hall.

The militants were asking for P300 million pesos in ransom for Hall’s release but both the Philippine and Canadian governments rejected the demand.

Also read: Trudeau: Canada will not give in to 'fear-mongering tactics'

Related: PH gov't condemns ‘brutal and senseless’ murder of ASG hostage

Chief Supt. Emmanuel Aranas, director of the PNP crime laboratory, earlier said they have the technology and capability to determine the body’s identity even if it is already decaying.

In its official statement, the military decried Hall’s beheading as a “barbaric act,” and once again vowed to put an end to the Abu Sayyaf.

“Focused military operations in the area are being undertaken to neutralize the Abu Sayyaf members and possibly rescue the remaining kidnap victim,” Tan said.

Hall was abducted from a resort on Samal Island in September 2015, along with fellow Canadian John Ridsdel, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Filipina Tess Flor.

Ridsdel was beheaded last April 25, Flor was released June 24, while Sekkingstad remains in the hands of the ASG. President Rodrigo Duterte said negotiations are underway for Sekkingstad’s release.

He also said there will soon be a "day of reckoning" with the Abu Sayyaf and promised to dismantle the group.

Read: Who are the Abu Sayyaf?

New DND chief worked hard to ensure proper benefits for Filipino WW II veterans -- PVAO

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 3): New DND chief worked hard to ensure proper benefits for Filipino WW II veterans -- PVAO

Newly-appointed Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has worked hard to ensure that Filipino World War II veterans, who served in the US Army, get their much needed benefits.

“Coordinating closely with the RP-based Filipino veterans, Sec. Lorenzana worked for the unification of Filipino-American efforts in support of World War II Filipino Veteran Equity lobby in the US, which was greatly instrumental in the passage of the two Filipino veteran equity bills in both houses of the US Congress and the eventual passage of the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund," Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) administrator Ernesto G. Carolina said.

Lorenzana, a member of Philippine Military Academy Class of 1973 and a retired major general, served as Special Representative and Head of the Office of Veterans Affairs in Washington D.C.

Carolina added that many of the modern facilities enjoyed by veterans at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) came from the annual US Veterans Affairs (USVA) grant-in-aid, which the new DND chief was instrumental in obtaining.

Also, another development where Lorenzana has positively contributed is the approval of the US Immigration Parole System for Filipino World War II veterans, which would allow Filipino veterans who became US citizens to bring their family members to the US.

Due to Lorenzana’s efforts, PVAO succeeded in bringing home from the US National Archives of History the digitized copies of very valuable World War II records.

AFP to help law enforcement agencies in war vs crime, illegal drugs

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 3):  AFP to help law enforcement agencies in war vs crime, illegal drugs

Aside from focusing military pressure on terrorist groups known to be operating in the country, newly-appointed Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya vowed to intensify their support to law enforcement agencies in a bid to eliminate crime.

He made this statement during his assumption speech at the GHQ Grandstand, Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon last July 1.

"Over and above our role to run after the terrorists, we will also intensify our support to law enforcement agencies, particularly the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in their mission to eliminate widespread criminality and the wanton destruction of lives brought about by the spread and use of illegal drugs," he added.

Visaya earlier vowed to launch a "24/7 fight" against the Abu Sayyaf bandits and its allied terrorist groups in a bid to totally neutralize these lawless elements.

"We will start the same advocacy with our ranks by continuously weeding out those scalawags who use drugs, who have links with illegal groups and activities. Then we will proceed to build alliances with our counterparts to bring down syndicates and other organized crime groups," he added.

Regarding matters of territorial defense, Visaya said the AFP will abide by the political, legal and democratic processes to settle the issue and support national policy to strengthen our position in the regional and global area.

"The AFP will rationalize our relationship with our allies in order to strengthen our military ties with them while at the same time prioritize the interest of our force and our nation," he stressed.

Challenge accepted: New PSG Commander assumes post

From CNN Philippines (Jul 2):Challenge accepted: New PSG Commander assumes post


(File photo) Presidential Security Group (PSG) Commander Col. Rolando Bautista says he's ready to "rise up to the challenge" of securing the safety of President Rodrigo Duterte.

New Presidential Security Group (PSG) Commander Col. Rolando Joselito Bautista formally assumed his post Saturday with a pledge to protect the two highest officials of the country.

Personally handpicked by President Rodrigo Duterte, Bautista is aware of the big task ahead of him. But he said he is up to the challenge.

“The PSG collectively, under my leadership, shall rise up to the challenge of securing the President according to established and tested security protocols,” Bautista said during the PSG change of command ceremony.

Bautista earlier said the PSG "will have to adjust" to meet Duterte's requests. Back in the campaign trail, Duterte said he does not want a lot of PSG members tailing him, and that the PSG does not have to keep an eye on him when he's in his bailiwick, Davao City.

Bautista asked for the PSG's “whole-hearted cooperation” in securing the safety of Duterte, Vice President Leni Robredo, and their families. 

 “Fellow officers and men of PSG, I enlist your whole-hearted cooperation and support in working towards the attainment of a harmonious interpersonal relationship,” Bautista said.

He urged the men and women of PSG to join him in transforming it "into a cohesive, socially relevant and incorruptible unit."

Bautista said they should follow the fitting example set by the President – from his simple inauguration and genuine humility. He also thanked Duterte for his trust and confidence in allowing him to lead the PSG.

Bautista took over the post previously headed by Rear Admiral Raul Ubando, his mistah in the Philippine Military Academy Sandiwa Class of 1985.

For his part, Ubando thanked former President Benigno Aquino III and the rest of the Aquino family for the opportunity to serve them.

“To the past President Benigno Aquino III and his family, please accept my sincere gratitude for the trust and confidence that you have given me,” Ubando said.

He also cited his achievements during his term including the successful visit of Pope Francis, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit; and the visits of heads of states including U.S. President Barack Obama, and Japanese Emperor Akihito.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya was present in the event and said he's confident Bautista will do his job well after being handpicked by the President himself.

Duterte, who is back in Davao City, was not present in the turnover ceremony, but his executive secretary, Salvador Medialdea attended on his behalf.

DFA chief: Phl committed to implementing EDCA

From the Philippine Star (Jul 2): DFA chief: Phl committed to implementing EDCA

The Duterte administration is committed to the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States and is not planning to have it reviewed, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said yesterday. Perfecto Yasay/Facebook

The Duterte administration is committed to the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States and is not planning to have it reviewed, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said yesterday.

“I don’t believe that there is any move for us to review EDCA,” Yasay said in his first press conference.

In Washington, the State Department said the US is looking forward to working with Duterte.

Leaders of militant groups met with President Duterte on Thursday at Malacañang after his inauguration and called for a review of the EDCA, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the 1950s-era US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.

Yasay explained a review of any provisions of EDCA should be in accordance with a process mutually agreed upon by parties, noting that the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the defense arrangement last January.

“There has been no request from any of the parties to EDCA to review the same document,” Yasay said. “So on that basis I will categorically say to you that EDCA stands firm and the Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality.”
In his inaugural speech, Duterte vowed to respect international treaties and obligations entered into by the Philippines.

Yasay said he does not know of anyone in the Cabinet who does not fully subscribe to the President’s declaration that “we are firm in our commitments with respect to our international agreements and treaty obligations.”

“I know everyone in the Cabinet strongly supports the President on this matter,” he pointed out.

Yasay stressed that while the President is the architect of foreign policy, he is obliged by the Constitution to uphold and protect foreign relations for the sake of national interest, sovereignty and right to self-determination.

“So in that regard, the matter of making sure that our relationship with everybody is also maintained,” he said.

He maintained that while the Philippines has a special relationship with the US, it also has special ties to preserve and enhance with China despite the latter’s claiming waters within Philippine jurisdiction.

“It is our objective to make sure that everybody, as mandated by the Constitution, adheres to the principles of international law and the rule of law. We will pursue resolution of conflicts with them within the context allowed by our Constitution,” Yasay said.

“So I don’t see any relationship or any conflict with what President Duterte said that we’d like to be friends with China. It doesn’t mean we’ll be the enemy of the US. We’ll be friends of both China, the US, Japan and any other country that would like to be friends with us,” he said.

He gave assurance the country’s relationship with the US would continue to flourish and Manila would always be willing to accept assistance from its superpower ally, just as it would from China.

But the Philippines, he said, would not take any offer that is inconsistent with the country’s interest.

“So we’ll be looking in a very objective manner in our desire to carry on an independent, balanced and pragmatic foreign policy.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said EDCA has very clear benefits for the Philippines. In addition to strengthening the Philippines’ defense capabilities, it also allows for enhanced inter operability with the defense systems of security partners.

Abu Sayyaf wants to talk to Duterte admin for negotiation

From the Philippine Star (Jul 2): Abu Sayyaf wants to talk to Duterte admin for negotiation

An earlier file image posted on Site Intel Group’s Twitter account shows Abu Sayyaf members with the Samal Island hostages

The Sulu-based Abu Sayyaf group holding hostage foreign nationals expressed desire to talk to the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, according to its spokesman.
But the Abu Sayyaf warned of executing the last Samal captive Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad should the government refused.

Muammar Askali alias Abu Rami, spokesman of the Sulu-based Abu Sayyaf group, said over a local radio DXRZ on Friday that they have opened the line for the government to have a dialogue with them.  
Askali said they particularly want Presidential Peace Adviser Secretary Jesus Dureza to negotiate with them and relay their grievances to Duterte.

The spokesman declined to divulge their “concessions” from the government except to Dureza whom they want to initiate the talks.

Askali said they would be forced to execute Sekkingstad if they do not hear from the government starting Friday until Saturday next week.
“If they will just disregard us, as soon as possible, we will no longer issue any ultimatum we will execute him (Sekkingstad),” Askali said.
Askali didn’t mention anything about their new seven Indonesian captives.

The Abu Sayyaf group earlier demanded P300 million ransom in exchange for the release of Sekkingstad.

The group beheaded Sekkingstad’s fellow captives, Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, but released Filipina Marites Flor last week following alleged payment of huge ransom.

MILF: Duterte’s federalism may not solve Bangsamoro problem

From GMA News (Jul 2): MILF: Duterte’s federalism may not solve Bangsamoro problem

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has pitched anew for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress despite President Rodrigo Duterte's pronouncement that only federalism can bring peace to Mindanao.

"We say that federalization per se may solve the general problem of the country but we feel that it may or may not solve the specific problem in the Bangsamoro homeland," MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told reporters following the signing of a Joint Communique for Peace with the Moro National Liberation Front at Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on June 29.

"We will still push for the continuity of peace process and then the implementation (of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro), because we said practically the negotiation has already ended. It's a matter of implementation of the agreement (through BBL)," Murad said.

The BBL seeks the creation of a new autonomous region that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the entity created after the government reached a peace deal with Misuari's MNLF.

The BBL, however, failed to take off in the 16th Congress amid suspicion that MILF members were involved in the botched Mamasapano anti-terror operation in January 2015, which resulted in the death of 67 people, including 44 Special Action Force troopers.

Offering federalism as an alternative, Duterte, then a presidential candidate, repeatedly said his proposal will address injustices such as unequal distribution of wealth in Mindanao by allowing regions to keep most of their income, which could be used to develop poor areas.

Duterte believes that Moro rebels may like the idea of federalism as long as key aspects of the BBL are present.

The MILF and the MNLF had said they support the President's campaign for a shift to federalism.

Also, in their joint communique, the MILF and the MNLF promised "to work at common goals and objectives to engage" with the Duterte administration.

“As they join together, they declared a cohesive stand on their efforts to regain their lost freedom and self-determination so that they will enjoy the blessings of peace, justice and development," they said.

Duterte's allies, led by incoming House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, have already filed resolutions to jumpstart the debate on establishing a federal system of government.

The President, meanwhile, will meet with MILF leaders next week to follow through on the peace negotiations with the rebel group.

He also plans to visit MNLF founder Nur Misuari, who is said to be hiding in Sulu to escape prosecution for the bloody Zamboanga siege in September 2013.

Duterte previously met with MILF and MNLF leaders in Davao City weeks before he assumed the presidency on June 30.

Sulu rep. succumbs to liver cancer

From the Manila Bulletin (Jul 1): Sulu rep. succumbs to liver cancer

The people of Sulu yesterday mourned the death of First District Rep. Habib Tupay Loong, who died of liver cancer in Manila at dawn yesterday. He was 69.

Loong who was re-elected to his post in the May 9 polls, died at about 12:30 a.m. yesterday after being confined for more than a month at St. Lukes Hospital in Quezon City.

Loong was one of the founders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and held a rank of commander before he quit in 1974.

His remains arrived in Zamboanga City shortly before 1 p.m. yesterday on a commercial flight from Manila.

Mourners trooped to the local airport here to meet his remains, which were brought to the family residence in Tumaga here.

After an hour, he was brought to Jolo, Sulu onboard a military fast craft for Muslim rites and interment.

Army presses offensive against NPAs in North Cotabato following clash that kills 2 rebels

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 2): Army presses offensive against NPAs in North Cotabato following clash that kills 2 rebels

The military here has intensified its pursuit operations against a band of communist guerillas who have been harassing farmers in a remote village in North Cotabato.

Government forces belonging to 39th Infantry Battalion and New Peoples Army (NPA) clashed Friday dawn in Barangay Balite, Magpet, North Cotabato that left two rebels killed, according to Capt. Danny Boy Catapang.

Catapang, speaking for the 39th IB, said two high powered firearms were also seized during the 5 a.m. clash in Sitio Lukuakon, Balite and in nearby Sitio Boay-Boay, Barangay Basak, also in Magpet, one of the towns in North Cotabato infiltrated by communist rebels.

Tapang said residents of two sub-villages tipped off the military about the presence of heavily armed NPAs asking food supplies from farmers at gun point.

As the military was responding, they were fired upon by about 40 NPAs, triggering a brief fire fight.

Another fire fight erupted in nearby village when retreating guerillas clashed with another group of soldiers.

Government forces recovered one high powered firearms and improvised bomb making materials from slain rebels who remained unidentified.

No casualty was reported on government side, Catapang said.

Clearing operations are still on going after reports that NPAs from nearby villages in the borders of North Cotabato and Davao City have been massing.