Saturday, July 23, 2016

Duterte confident of peace pact with CPP-NDF before end of term

From GMA News (Jul 23): Duterte confident of peace pact with CPP-NDF before end of term

President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday said he was confident that the government sign a peace pact with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-National Democratic Front (NDF)-New People's Army (NPA) before the end of his term in 2022.

Speaking before local officials in Maguindanao, Duterte said that his administration's peace efforts with the communist group is "progressing little by little."

"I do not... I do not think that it will be there even mga four, five years, and I’d be happy that if by the time I go out, then there is a settlement somewhere," Duterte added.

Duterte, who was able to maintain a good relationship with the NPA group in Davao during his incumbency as mayor, said that the country will not get anything out of the continuous armed confrontation with the communist rebels.

"Maganda na iyan sa atin eh kaysa magpatayan. Ano ba ang makuha natin diyan? You cannot defeat government and we cannot overthrow the government," he said.

Duterte also talked about the government's peace efforts with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Nur Misuari's faction of the Moro National Liberation Front.

"We can always develop this country. Make everybody happy. Magreresputahan lang tayo, okay na 'yan," he said.

The resumption of peace talks between the government and the communist group will resume on August 20 in Oslo, Norway.

Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said that before the resumption of talks, the government will release 11 communist leaders who will participate in the negotiations. The peace talks, according to Dureza, will begin with a ceremonial opening.

 It will be followed by an affirmation of signed agreements and talks on the ceasefire, joint agreement on safety and immunity guarantees (JASIG), and then the possible release of other political prisoners.

Other substantive political and socio-economic issues may also be discussed.

 Aside from the representatives of both sides, the incoming Senate President and House Speaker are also invited to observe  the peace talks.

162 AFPPS military, civilian personnel successfully hurdle surprise drug test

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 23): 162 AFPPS military, civilian personnel successfully hurdle surprise drug test

All 162 officers, enlisted personnel and civilian employees of the AFP Procurement Service have passed the surprise random drug testing conducted last July 21, according to AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard in a statement Saturday.

Arevalo said the random drug test was ordered by AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya as part of the efforts to keep the military service drugs free.

He said the testing took place on July 21, which was in time for the AFPPS' two-day semi-annual Command Conference held in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

"All the 162 officers, enlisted personnel, and civilian employees underwent the test and everyone passed," he added.

The AFPPS, which is commanded by Brig. Gen. Alvin Francis A Javier, was the third AFP unit based in Camp Aguinaldo to conduct service-wide drug testing.

The first was the AFP Command General Staff College and the General Headquarters and Headquarters Service Command and both were declared 100 percent drug free.

Members of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Task Force “Moses” conducted the random drug testing while the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency supervised the process to ensure that proper procedures were observed.

“This is in line with our Commander-in-Chief President Rodrigo Duterte’s all-out campaign against illegal drugs that is being vigorously implemented in various AFP units at the headquarters and the units below by the AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya,” Javier said.

For his part, Visaya reiterates that, “The AFP will continue to fulfill its mandate to protect the people and the State and secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory.”

“And I intend to do that through an illegal-drugs free Armed Forces of the Philippines to ensure that the AFP will be the example of an institution that supports the vision of our President and Commander-in-Chief Rodrigo Duterte," he added.

FVR accepts offer to head China talks

From the Manila Times (Jul 23): FVR accepts offer to head China talks

Former President Fidel V. Ramos has accepted the offer of President Rodrigo Duterte to head the team that will open bilateral talks with China following the decision of an international tribunal invalidating Beijing’s claim on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Ramos accepted the offer when he met with Duterte at the Marco Polo Hotel in Davao City Saturday night.

The meeting took place a few days after Duterte named Ramos as the Philippines’ special envoy to China, explaining his post-arbitration predicament that “war is not an option,” and peaceful talks are the way to go.

However, it was not known when the talks will start since the Philippine government had rejected China’s condition that the tribunal’s ruling will not be discussed in the bilateral talks.
In his speech in Maguindanao on Friday, the President said he is considering following Ramos’ suggestion to set aside the court’s ruling when the Philippines talks to China.

“Ramos said that it’s all right if we take out the arbitral judgment from the talks,” Duterte said. “If it’s really the will of the people, especially Congress, maybe this will lead to progress.”

“If we can just have a settlement with them despite the arbitral judgment, I think that we can get many benefits,” he added.

Duterte was referring to possible investments from China that may flow to his home island of Mindanao if Ramos succeeds in repairing the strained ties between the two countries.

“It’s China that has money, not America. America doesn’t have money. So, I really pray that we are able to settle our fundamental [problem], the China Sea,” the President added.

 The arbitral tribunal had ruled that China has no historic rights over the South China Sea and that it violated the rights of the Philippines with its actions in the disputed waters.

But China rejected the ruling and said that it will push on with its construction works in disputed waters.

Police arrest 14 IS suspects

From The Sun Daily (Jul 23): Police arrest 14 IS suspects

One of the suspected IS militant being escorted by members Federal Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division into a light-aircraft following arrest at an undisclosed location. — Pix credit PDRM
The Federal Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division arrested 14 suspected Islamic State (IS) militants, including a woman, following raids launched nationwide.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said the suspects were detained by the police in Selangor, Perak, Kedah, Pulau Pinang and Sabah between July 14 and Wednesday.

The 14 aged between 20 to 49 years comprised of four unemployed individuals, three self-employed, two individuals working as cooks at a franchise restaurant in the Klang Valley, two private companies' employees.

The remaining three includes a mechanic, welder and a private university student respectively.
"12 out of the total suspects detained belonged to the same cell and were suspected of taking orders from known militant Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi to launch attacks in the country.

"We (police) also seized an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) weighing about 1kg in an undisclosed location," Khalid said in a statement today.

He said one of the suspects also admitted to sharing knowledge of how to make an IED with other militants through the Telegram social media application.

"Muhammad Wandy is also suspected of supplying him (the suspect) with a pistol to defend himself against the police," he added.

Meanwhile, another suspect, 49, who was arrested in Kedah was one of the main members of IS and was active in recruiting members through secret "usrah" (religious) talks in Sik, Kedah.

"One of his recruits was Abu Ghani Yaacob @ Abu Kedah who was killed in Syria on April 17," Khalid added.

In Perak, a 43-year-old woman was arrested for active in promoting IS propaganda and was planning to go to the southern Philippines with the help of Dr Mahmud Ahmad, a militant in Abu Sayyaf group.

The suspects were detained under chapter VIA - Offences Related to Terrorism, Act 574 Penal Code and will be investigated following the procedure under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Act 747).

Kidnapped Malaysian sailors yet to reach Jolo hideout

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 23): Kidnapped Malaysian sailors yet to reach Jolo hideout

The five Malaysian sailors kidnapped off Sabah last week have yet to slip into Abu Sayyaf’s mountainous jungle hideout in Jolo.

They are believed to be held by self-proclaimed Abu Sayyaf commander Apo Mike alias Najan Sahidjuan at Pandami Island near Jolo in the Sulu province.

READ: 5 Malaysians feared abducted near Tawi-Tawi, Sabah

Jolo-based anti kidnapping activist Prof. Octavio Dinampo said they were held at Pandami where the gunmen felt secure as it was the “territory” of another Abu Sayyaf leader Mulphi Jurahmad, a comrade of Najan.

Mulphi and Najan were said to be among the kidnappers of the 21 Malaysians and foreign tourists from Sabah’s east coast Sipadan island in 2000.

“From there, the gunmen will try to bring in the five kidnap victims into Maimbung or Parang in Jolo before taking them to their mountainous jungle lair at Indanan,” Octavio said.

He said the abduction of the five sailors from a tugboat on July 18 was carried out notorious kidnap for ransom gang brothers Nikson and Brown Muktadil.

The five were then handed over to Najan who is perceived to be “reliable” among the Abu Sayyaf gunmen to guard the hostages and to deal their release.

“It’s a case of one success leading to another. He was successful in handling the Indonesian sailors a few months ago and they expect this to continue,” Octavio added.

He said there was a delay in bringing the five Malaysian sailors into Jolo amid house to house checks by Philippines security forces in the past week.

READ: Muktadir brothers suspected in abduction of Malaysians

“They are carrying out the checks on the pretext of looking for drug pushers and addicts. They are hoping to catch other criminals as well,” Octavio added.

The five were reported missing from their tugboat at 3 p.m. on Monday by its owners after it was spotted listing in Dent Haven waters in Lahad Datu an hour earlier.

The other missing tugboat crewmen were Abd Rahim Summas, 62, Fandy Bakran, 26, Tayudin Anjut, 45, and Mohd Zumadil Rahim, 23 all  from Tawau and Mohd Ridzuan Ismail, 32, from Pahang.

Malaysian police foil plot on top officers, 14 IS suspects arrested

From the Asia Times (Jul 23): Malaysian police foil plot on top officers, 14 IS suspects arrested

14 IS suspects arrested in Malaysia
One of the IS suspects (C) in the custody of the federal police Special Branch’s Counter-Terrorism Division

Malaysian authorities said on Saturday they had foiled a bomb attack on top police officers and arrested 14 suspected Islamic State (IS) operatives in a week-long operation.

The suspects included a senior IS member who is believed to be responsible for recruiting a Malaysian IS militant, Abu Ghani Yaacob, who was killed in Syria on April 17, Inspector-general of police Khalid Abu Bakar said in a statement.

“Based on a search, police managed to seize one completed IED weighing one kilogram, for use in a planned attack on the top PDRM leadership,” Khalid said in a statement, using the Malay acronym for the Royal Malaysian Police, and referring to an improvised explosive device, or bomb.

Malaysia’s security agencies are on guard against IS spreading in the Muslim majority, but multi-ethnic Southeast Asian nation.

A few months ago, officials estimated nearly 50 Malaysians, most of them from the Muslim ethnic Malay majority, had joined IS in Syria and Iraq.

Khalid said police believe the 49-year-old senior IS member detained in the northern state of Kedah was an active recruiter and was responsible for arranging for IS members to travel to Syria.

A 43-year-old woman, who was believed to have been planning to sneak into the South Philippines to join the IS-aligned Abu Sayyaf group, was detained in a separate raid in Perak state.

The 12 others detained in separate operations in various places including the capital, Kuala Lumpur, are believed to be from the same cell, Khalid said.

One of the suspects was believed to have passed on bomb-making instructions at the behest of a Malaysian IS recruiter based in Syria identified as Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi.

The 14 suspects are aged between 20 and 49, and include cooks, a mechanic, a welder and a student.
Police did not identify any of them.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said this year police had foiled an IS plot to kidnap Prime Minister Najib Razak and other senior ministers last year.

While both al-Qaeda and IS have recruited Malaysians, there has been no significant attack by either group inside the country since the specter of Islamist militancy loomed in the wake of al-Qaeda’s 2001 attacks on the United States.

Dureza and Murad: a reunion across the breakfast table

From MindaNews (Jul 23): Dureza and Murad: a reunion across the breakfast table

From 2001 to 2003, lawyer Jesus Dureza, Presidential Assistant for Mindanao, sat across the negotiating table in Kuala Lumpur with Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, vice chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and chief of staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, the former as government (GPH) peace panel chair, and the latter as chair of the MILF peace panel.

Early Thursday morning, July 21, Dureza, now Peace Adviser of the first Mindanawon President, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, sat across the breakfast table with Murad, now chair of the MILF, exchanging pleasantries over a selection of deep fried hito (catfish), pastil (steamed rice with shredded chicken, wrapped in banana leaves), boiled eggs, pan de sal and madang (milkfruit).

It was a reunion 13 years after they last met as panel chairs.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Sec. Jesus Dureza meets with Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim on Thursday to discuss the implementation phase of the peace process at the MILF's headquarters in Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. MindaNews photo by Keith Bacongco

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Sec. Jesus Dureza meets with Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim on Thursday to discuss the continuation of the implementation phase of the peace process at the MILF’s headquarters in Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. MindaNews photo by KEITH BACONGCO 
Dureza and Murad were the panel chairs when peace negotiations resumed in early 2001, after the talks that started in 1997 under the Ramos administration collapsed in 2000 with the declaration of an “all-out war” by then President Joseph Estrada.

When Estrada was ousted in January 2001 and Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took over as President, she declared an “all-out peace” and named Dureza, her Presidential Assistant for Mindanao, as her peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF.

Dureza became the first non-military chair of the GPH peace panel in the peace negotiations with the Moro since 1974, and specifically with the MILF since 1997. Previous peace panel chairs were retired military generals.

Murad, then MILF vice chair for military affairs and chief of staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) was the first military chair of the MILF peace panel since it entered into formal negotiations with the government in 1997.

From “all-out peace” to “Buliok war”

Arroyo’s “all-out peace” brought Dureza and Murad across the negotiating table. But it would be Arroyo’s “Buliok war” against the MILF that would finally set them apart.

The “all-out peace” policy was off to a good start with the signing of the Agreement of the General Framework for the Resumption of Peace Talks Between the GRP and the MILF  on March 24, 2001 in Kuala Lumpur, the first agreement facilitated by Malaysia, and the Tripoli Agreement of 2001, the “mother of all agreements” in the GPH-MILF talks, in June that year in Tripoli, Libya.

Two more rounds of formal talks happened that same year in Kuala Lumpur.

The terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 in the United States, however, would take its toll on the Bangsamoro peace process when the Philippines became the “second front” in the United States’ “war on terror.”

Arroyo suspended the talks in March 2002 but sent Norberto Gonzalez, Presidential Advisre for Special Concerns to do back-channeling efforts, even letting Gonzales sign some of the agreements, such as the May 6, 2002 Joint Communique on the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group.

Threats that they would be labeled a terrorist group prompted then MILF chair Salamat Hashim to write US President George Bush on January 20, 2003 that the MILF is “a national liberation organization, with leadership supported by the Bangsamoro People, and with legitimate political goal to pursue the right of the Moro Nation to determine their future and political status.”

By early February 2003, residents in Pikit North Cotabato started fleeing their homes following the arrival of government troops in their area, just as Dureza and his panel were presenting their draft peace proposal to then Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Jose de Venecia.

Alerted by what was happening on the ground, Dureza appealed for sobriety and urged the security cluster in the Cabinet to hold their fire. He set a meeting with Murad’s panel in Cotabato City for February 12 but the MILF did not show up. A day earlier, on the feast of Eid’l Adha, ground and air attacks were launched in Buliok, Pagalungan in Maguindanao and neighboring Pikit town purportedly to serve arrest warrants on members of the Pentagon kidnap-for-ransom group allegedly being harbored in MILF areas.

Then Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes was called to the Senate to explain the Buliok operations that displaced thousands of civilians, including more than half of Pikit’s population.


Dureza resigned on May 9, 2003. In his five-paragraph letter to President Arroyo, he said that “due to the current status of the talks and the urgency of attending to Your Excellency’s directive to fast-track development efforts,” he believes he can “give my best if I can be relieved of my tasks as chairman of the panel and concentrate on the equally important work of taking full charge of your development thrusts in Mindanao.”

Before he resigned, Dureza’s last act in the government peace efforts with the MILF was as head of delegation to the “exploratory talks with the MILF in Kuala Lumpur where they signed a “Joint Statement” on March 28, 2003 to resume the talks.

For those keenly watching the developments in the peace process then, Dureza’s resignation was “long overdue,” as veteran columnist Patricio Diaz said.

Eid Kabalu, then the MILF spokesperson, said Dureza was “bypassed many times” by the government back channel negotiator.

Mohagher Iqbal, then MILF information chief, said his resignation was good because “he was being sacrificed.”

Dureza told MindaNews then: “well, they can say anything but really, this is (resignation) is something that I had been wanting to do.”

Years later, recalling the challenges he faced as chief peace negotiator, Dureza would tell peace advocates that sometimes, it was easier to negotiate with the other side (MILF) than within government itself.

Warrants of arrest
Murad, meanwhile, was faced with warrants of arrest, along with other MILF officials (including MILF chair Salamat Hashim) for, among others, multiple murder with multiple frustrated murder in connection with the March 4 airport and April 2 seaport bombings in Davao City that left 38 persons dead and 200 others injured.

The bombings were blamed on the MILF, which repeatedly denied the allegations. A spokesperson of the Abu Sayyaf claimed responsibility for the March 4 bombing but Reyes refused to believe the claim.

Efforts to return to the negotiating table were intensified and on July 19, 2003, the effects of the warrants of arrest against Hashim, Murad and company were suspended as the complaint for murder with frustrated multiple murder was forwarded to the Department of Justice for review.

Six days earlier, however, Hashim had passed away in Lanao del Sur due to an illness that got complicated in the aftermath of the Buliok war. Hashim’s death was kept from the public until August 4, 2003 when MILF Vice Chair for Political Affairs Ghazali Jaafar confirmed Hashim had passed away on July 13.

Jaafar also announced that Murad was now the MILF chair and Iqbal took over as peace panel chair.
In 2004, Murad and company were cleared of the charges of multiple murder and frustrated murder, according to resolution issued by then Justice Secretary Merceditas Gutierrez.

Dureza served in other capacities under the Arroyo administration until June 30, 2010.

New Defense chief lays out plans for DND, AFP

From GMA News (Jul 23): New Defense chief lays out plans for DND, AFP

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Saturday vowed to transform the Department of National Defense (DND) into a "credible defense organization" that will ensure security in the Philippines.

In his first officially issued guidance to the DND, Lorenzana charted the department's future direction, affirming President Rodrigo Duterte's pronouncement on continuing the Armed Forces of the Philippines' (AFP) modernization program.

"The SND’s guidance is to continue the implementation of the AFP Modernization Program," the DND said in a press release.

To enhance the military's capabilities, the DND will prioritize acquisition of aircraft and other equipment which will support internal security operations.

"The Department shall also expedite acquisition activities on the pipeline and prioritize acquisition projects intended to enhance internal security operations capability," it said.

Lorenzana also directed the AFP to submit proposals that would execute Duterte's decision to convert the BRP Ang Pangulo into a hospital and the utilization of air assets of the 250th, Presidential Airlift Wing.

The DND will also improve the responsiveness of AFP to disasters. Terrorism In his directive, Lorenzana underlined increased efforts to eliminate the terrorist groups in the Philippines.

"The Department shall relentlessly focus military operations against terrorist groups and terrorist cells and likewise intensify its support to law enforcement agencies," the guidance said.

Recently, there has been a spike in the number of kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf Group. The bandit group abducted 14 Indonesian and four Malaysian tugboat crew members in three separate incidents from May to June.

Lorenzana is set to meet the Defense chiefs of Malaysia and Indonesia on the first week of August to address the issue.

He stressed that the department will support the peace processes, and adhere to the principle of human rights.

Lorenzana also mentioned the importance of the Philippines becoming a strategic player in the Asia Pacific region.

"Defense cooperation with ASEAN and other key allies was identified as critical to stability and progress of the region and protection of a rules based international order," the DND chief said.

Duterte confirms IS presence in Sulu

From the Manila Times (Jul 23): Duterte confirms IS presence in Sulu

“ISIS is a product of desperation,” President Rodrigo Duterte said during his visit here late Friday, virtually confirming the presence of the jihadist groups in the country.

“They exist in Sulu and even contaminated the nearby province of Basilan,” Duterte told hundreds of people present during his visit here. He did not elaborate.

ISIS is an another acronym for the radical group of Islamic State in the Middle East, staging atrocities in other regions.

Basilan and Sulu are among the provinces in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) located near the border of the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, where government forces were fighting with members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) since January as violence renewed in the region including skirmishes, kidnappings and beheading of hostages.

The ASG, which pledged allegiance to the IS, recently beheaded Canadian Robert Hall and John Ridsdel.

The jihadists are still holding Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and several other nationals.

One of the hostages, Filipina Maritess Flor, who was kidnapped in Samal Island, Davao del Norte on September 21, 2015 along with Hall, Ridsdel and Sekkingstad was released earlier.

Private negotiation for Sekkingstad’s safe release was underway, officials said.

The notorious IS recently named ASG’s chief Isnilon Hapilon, who also heads the group’s faction al-Harakat al-Islamiyah in Basilan, as commander covering its supporter jihadists networks in Southeast Asian countries. Hapilon has a $5 million bounty on his head under the United States (US) Rewards for Justice Program.

A senior member of Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM), Abdul Rahman, appeared in a recent IS video saying that Hapilon was chosen by the self-proclaimed caliph IS leader Abu Baker al-Baghdadi as the commander in Southeast Asia.

The IS, which controls large-swathes areas in Syria and Iraq, had established a caliphate form of government three years after civil war started in Syria. The group had claimed responsibility for several attacks this year in Basilan, Sulu and Lanao del Sur.

In his meeting with top military and police officials at the Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao headquarters in Zamboanga City on Thursday, Duterte said more government troops are needed to put an end to the “embarrassing” terrorism in the country.

“It started many, many years ago. It’s like we’re being slapped on the face, every time there is a foreigner executed or a local … it embarrasses the country,” he said.

The president said 10,000 to 20,000 additional troops would be needed to combat terror groups in various areas in Mindanao.

The president also met with other top security officials at the Army’s 6th Infantry Division based in Maguindanao, which has jurisdiction over Central Mindanao, hours before he visited here where he also met with other military officials from the Army’s Eastern Mindanao command.

Duterte urged Muslims not to be swayed by the IS ideology, saying that the jihadists in Syria and Iraq were “driven by hatred”.

He said the ISIS members were “desperate” after the fall of leaderships in Iraq and Libya and the continued oppression against the Syrian people, specially the plight of the children. That could be the reason why “ISIS is everywhere,” he said.

Abu Sayyaf member arrested in Zamboanga City (Photo)

From GMA News (Jul 23): Abu Sayyaf member arrested in Zamboanga City

Abu Sayyaf member arrested in Zamboanga City

A member of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) allegedly involved in kidnapping of tourists in Sipadan, Malaysia in 2000 has been arrested in Zamboanga City.

The suspect was identified as Bads Adjam, alias "Pamadol." He is the third member of the notorious terrorist group to be arrested in the city this year.

A report by Jamie Santos on Balitanghali said Adjam was presented by the police to the media in Camp Crame on Saturday morning.

The suspect was arrested in a private subdivision in Barangay Sta. Maria, after a witness positively identified him.

According to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-National Capital Region, Adjam was involved in the kidnappings of 10 Malaysians, nine Europeans, and two Filipinos in Sipadan Island last 2000.

The suspect was also part of the kidnappings of six members of religious group Jehovah's Witness in Patikol, Sulu in 2002, police said.

Adjam is facing a case of kidnapping with serious illegal detention with ransom in the Pasig Regional Trial Court and has a P600,000-reward for his arrest.

"We are still looking for the other wanted suspects in the Sipadan and the Jehovah's Witness case. We are vicious in our effort to arrest them all," said Sr.Supt. Billy Tamayo, chief of CIDG-NCR.

Duterte vows to continue AFP modernization

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 23): Duterte vows to continue AFP modernization

Mindanao military ops to be prioritized

President Rodrigo Duterte has assured the troops that he will continue the previous administration’s efforts to modernize the military.

A press statement from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office quoted Duterte as saying as much, when the new Commander in Chief visited for the first time the Sixth Infantry Division headquarters at Camp Siongco in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao, on Saturday.

“There will even be no refocusing of the modernization thrust. We will only adjust our priorities,” Duterte was quoted as saying.

“For the time being, we will be attending to the more pressing needs of our soldiers now engaged in focused military operations in Basilan, Sulu, central Mindanao, and other areas in southern Philippines,” Duterte added.

“The procurements will be more of force protection equipment for our soldiers like helmets and vests, more night-fighting systems capability, additional fast crafts for our Navy, additional helicopters capable of night flight for the Navy and Air Force, and more communications equipment,” Duterte said to the gathered troops, personnel officers, among which was AFP Chief of Staff General Ricardo R. Visaya, Army chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano, Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Edgar R. Fallorina, Navy chief Vice Adm. Caesar C. Taccad, and Sixth Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Edmundo R. Pangilinan.

“The AFP appreciates this manifestation of our Commander in Chief Rodrigo Duterte’s genuine concern for our troops in the field who face peril to life and limb on a daily basis,” Visaya said.

“The fast crafts and helicopters will be of immense help in foiling kidnapping attempts by the members of the Abu Sayyaf [Group], among others acts of terrorism and criminality by unscrupulous individuals and groups, these may prevent or curb,” Visaya added.

Visaya also thanked Duterte for committing to allocate budget for the enlistment and training of 10,000 more personnel to beef up the AFP by yearend.

“With this manifest support of the President, it behooves the AFP to accomplish its mission of protecting the people and the atate, securing its sovereignty and the integrity of the national territory,” Visaya said.

3 Days in rural Mindanao: Human rights abuse and land grabs

From Fight Back! News (Jul 22): 3 Days in rural Mindanao: Human rights abuse and land grabs

International solidarity mission to the Philippines

Bishop Antonio Ablon
Bishop Antonio Ablon (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Guinoman, Zamboanga Sibugay, Philippines - On July 16, three vans stuffed with passengers traveled the badly eroded, muddy, narrow road from Pagadian City to the village of Guinoman in Western Mindanao, in the province of Zamboanga Sibugay. On the roof of one of them was a dog, standing on all fours, that managed to stay on its feet through one of the torrential downpours that are a daily occur-rence in July.

The vans included 14 members of the International Solidarity Mission, including activists from Canada, the U.S., Australia and Kenya. About half were Filipino, and all were there to support the Filipino people fighting for their rights.

One Filipina activist, Rita Baua, International Officer for BAYAN (New Patriotic Alliance) explained, “The movement here defines rights not just as civil liberties, but economic rights as well.”

These include trade union rights for workers, the right to land for the peasants or farmers, or the right to self-determination and control of ancestral land for the indigenous Lumad people. All these rights have come under fire as a result of new international agreements, such as the Trans Pacific Partnership pushed by the U.S. This latest so-called ‘free trade’ law will eliminate limitations on the profits of multinational companies in mining and agriculture.

Imperialist militarization in the Pacific

The U.S. ‘pivot to Asia’ announced in 2012 is in part a military response to the rise of the People’s Republic of China as an economic power. It’s also designed to help enforce U.S. corporate interests in the Philippines and elsewhere in the Pacific. Imperialism as a factor in national economic and political affairs is constantly present in the Philippines.

For example, as delegates were arriving in Manila, there was the latest news from Japan that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to revise the clause in the constitution that renounces war. Abe’s revival of militarism is part of Japan’s role as junior partner to the U.S. in Asia, aiding in the U.S. objectives to contain China, as well as destroy socialist Korea. It also reminds the region of Japan’s role in the Second World War, when the occupation of the Philippines resulted in over 1 million deaths.

The backdrop of foreign militarism helps set the stage for the presence of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Mindanao, the epicenter of militarism in the country. 60% of the AFP is concentrated there because of the so-called War on Terror. Nene, a Filipina activist who had worked in this part of the country, pointed out that the Pentagon claimed the AFP recently attacked the group, Abu Sayyaf. In their statement, the military claimed that the shadowy group had about 200 fighters in Mindanao. “They have been claiming Abu Sayyaf has 200 for 15 years. It’s just the pretext for intervention.”

Militarism - at home in the Philippines

In Guinamon, the delegates heard testimony from witnesses of the very real use of force by company goons, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and paramilitaries against the local people. One man, a small scale miner named Benedicto, reported being fired upon by the AFP in October 2013. “Under the command of Col. Idan of the 44th Infantry Brigade, four trucks of AFP and Philippine National Police came and conducted demolition,” of the mining site he was working on Balabag Mountain. Troops then opened fire, strafing their camp. The miners retreated to safety.

A woman named Fe told the story of her husband, Rene, a laborer employed by the small scale miners. Her husband’s job was hauling bags containing cans of gas, carbon and other materials up to the sites on Mount Balabag. “The Blue Guards wouldn’t allow him to deliver to the location.” Blue Guards are a security firm hired by the large scale mining company, Toronto Ventures, Inc., which had been awarded a contract to explore for gold and silver on Mount Balabag. Their contract expired in 2012.

In 2013, her husband was working for Silva, a company that contracted with the miners, proving equip-ment for the extraction of gold from the ore. “He was working at night because the company wouldn’t let the small miners return even after their contract expired. The Blue Guards fired on him and our sons. My husband fell off a cliff, breaking something in his back. He is now disabled.”

These attacks bear the marks of the counter insurgency approach taken by the government of the Philippines under the direction of the U.S. military Counter Insurgency guide. The new president, Rodrigo Duterte, seems to be taking a different approach, reopening peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, and releasing political prisoners allegedly linked to the communist led New People’s Army (NPA). Agreeing with the president’s approach, Amirah Ali Lidasan, the coordinator of the ISM in Western Mindanao, remarked, “NPA presence in areas where there are people’s resistance can’t be denied. Hence, discussion of peace talks is a must.”

International solidarity mission: Upholding people’s rights

The activists from around the world that came here were invited by the International Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP). Many of the over 200 delegates went to Mindanao, where the AFP’s anti-insurgency campaign Oplan Bayanihan targets especially the Lumad or indigenous peoples of Mindanao. Many of the miners, farmers and laborers, including Benedicto, Fe and her husband, displaced from the village of Bayog at Balabag Mountain are members of the Subanen tribe.

Bishop Antonio Ablon of the Philippine Independent Church in Pagadian, Zamboanga Sibugay, said, “This ISM is bigger, and the agenda is more comprehensive than before.” The growth of the international solidarity effort seems to mirror the advances in the people’s struggle across the Philippines. Lidasan noted, “Over 200 people are traveling from Western Mindanao to rally at the State of the Nation Address by President Dutarte. They are joining 5000 from across Mindanao.” She clarified, “We are going not to celebrate, but to support the platform that the president ran on, to ask for justice.” Justice including an end to the human rights abuses, an end to impunity for the extra-judicial killings, and for an end to the land grab from the Lumad.

IS Calls on Indonesian Militants to Avenge Santoso

From the Voice of America (Jul 22): IS Calls on Indonesian Militants to Avenge Santoso

Police carry body bags — one of which is believed to contain the remains of Santoso, the country's most wanted militant, killed in a clash with security forces — from an ambulance at a hospital in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 19, 2016.

Police carry body bags — one of which is believed to contain the remains of Santoso, the country's most wanted militant, killed in a clash with security forces — from an ambulance at a hospital in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 19, 2016.

A former member of the Jemaah Islamiah militant group says Islamic State leaders are calling for vengeance over Jakarta's recent killing of Indonesia's most wanted Islamist extremist.

Indonesian security officials on Tuesday confirmed that Santoso, also known as "Abu Wardah," died in a gunbattle with police on Monday. Santoso's body was positively identified after he and another militant were slain in the Poso region of the eastern island of Sulawesi, where police and military forces have been waging an intense manhunt for him for five years.

In an interview with VOA's Indonesia service, Ali Fauzi Manzi, a self-described deradicalized former militant, said Santoso's followers posted the Islamic State (IS) fatwa commanding retaliation on their Indonesian-language Facebook page. According to Ali, the edict was submitted by Syrian-based IS spokesman Syech Muhammad Al Adnani, shortly after the announcement of Santoso's death.

A former member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Filipino secessionist group based in Mindanao, Ali says both Philippines- and Indonesia-based radicals may be planning strikes on soft targets across the archipelago.

“Certainly the target of the group is the police and the military, because of their anti-terror operation [in Poso]," he said. "Also, because its members are not only in Poso ... there’s a possibility their members in Java would also retaliate. Members of Santoso group, such as Basri and Alika Lora, still exist, so I think there’d be indiscriminate attacks by the group in various areas.”

"Of most importance [right now] is being on alert," he told VOA, adding that "many of the Santoso group [members also] tweeted the latest fatwa."

The younger brother of two perpetrators of the 2002 Bali suicide bombing, Ali was arrested by the Philippines police and extradited to Indonesia in 2006, where, Indonesian officials say, he was deradicalized before joining Jakarta's Crisis Management Committee as an instructor for military counterinsurgency training in the Ambon and Poso regions.

Since 2009, he has served as a weapons and terrorism analyst for the Indonesian government. He is also a lecturer at an Islamic academy in Lamongan East Java, and serves as a guest lecturer in several universities in Indonesia.

His brother, Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, was executed in 2008 for perpetrating the 2002 bombing. His other brother, Ali Imron, is serving a life sentence for the same crime.

Duterte ready to give BBL to MILF

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 23): Duterte ready to give BBL to MILF

FAREWELL TO (SOME) ARMS  To show its sincerity in pursuing peace in Mindanao, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is turning over 75 high-powered weapons and decommissioning 145 fighters on Tuesday.  DENNIS JAY SANTOS/INQUIRER MINDANAO
Moro Islamic Liberation Front. INQUIRER MINDANAO FILE PHOTO
CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao—There is enough land in the Philippines for everyone, including the Bangsamoro people, President Duterte declared on Friday.

Lauding Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Al Haj Murad for deciding to pursue peace talks with the government, Mr. Duterte said that in the pursuit of peace, he was ready to give the MILF the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) it wanted but minus the contentious provisions deemed unconstitutional.

“I’d like to publicly salute Murad for opting, for choosing to talk further,” Mr. Duterte said as he addressed government troops at the 6th Infantry Division headquarters in Camp Siongco, Maguindanao.

The proposed BBL, written by government and MILF negotiators after the signing of a peace agreement in 2014, would establish an autonomous Bangsamoro region in Mindanao.

But an investigation of a clash between elite police forces and Moro rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, in January last year that left 44 police commandos, 17 MILF fighters and three civilians dead delayed deliberations on the BBL in Congress, and the legislature adjourned in February without passing the proposed Bangsamoro charter.

Mr. Duterte noted that there were warnings of a return to war if Congress failed to pass the proposed BBL, making him visit the MILF camp during the presidential campaign to ask the secessionist group’s leaders to keep the ceasefire with the military so they could talk if he won the election. The MILF stood by its promise to talk, Mr. Duterte said.

“I am ready to give the BBL minus the constitutional issues that are contentious and cannot be solved by an agreement between me [and the MILF],” he said.

One such issue is the proposed regional armed forces and regional police, which breaks the chain of command and cannot be allowed, the President said.

But Mr. Duterte said he was willing to grant the unquestioned provisions of the BBL, and the same goes for Nur Misuari’s faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which signed a peace agreement with the government in 1996.

“Even if you give them that part of the territory (the proposed Bangsamoro region), there’s enough land in the Philippines. The Philippines is vast. As long as there is no fighting, everybody can be accommodated, and we can establish industrial zones,” the President said.

If there is no fighting, new investments will come into the Philippines, creating jobs, he said.
Mr. Duterte said the desire for industrial zones was the reason why he had misgivings about the Paris Agreement on climate change, which would limit carbon emissions.

Philippine industries are still developing, but the other signatories to the agreement are industrialized countries, he said.

The Duterte administration is continuing the implementation of the peace agreements with the MILF and the MNLF, officials said.

Earlier, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said the Bangsamoro Transition Commission would be reconstituted for the drafting of a new enabling law for the proposed Bangsamoro region.

RI mulls deploying armed guards on ships

From the Jakarta Post (Jul 22): RI mulls deploying armed guards on ships

Indonesia is looking at the option of posting security guards aboard commercial ships passing through the waters of Sulu in the Philippines, which are infested by militant group Abu Sayyaf. 

While enabling security forces to accompany commercial vessels is legally possible, an expert warned that potential clashes resulting from the onboard presence of armed security personnel could aggravate the situation and be seen as an intrusion into the Philippine purview.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said on Thursday that allowing private security armed forces in Sulu waters was among the options being deliberated by the Indonesian, Philippine and Malaysian governments as a follow up to a tripartite meeting.

He added, however, that legal preparation was needed to realize such a move, as there were currently no supporting regulations.

“We are looking into IMO [International Maritime Organization] regulations and there is a stipulation that allows for the deployment of armed forces.”

If the move is agreed by the three countries, companies will be encouraged to voluntarily employ security forces at their own expense, complementing joint patrols to be carried out by naval forces from the three countries.

Abu Sayyaf has repeatedly abducted sailors in the waters located between the three countries for ransom. Since March 24, Indonesian nationals have been taken hostage by the group in four separate kidnapping incidents, with 10 remaining in captivity.

The three countries’ foreign ministers and army chiefs met in Yogyakarta to discuss the matter, leading to an agreement to formulate a standard operating procedure (SOP) that will include establishing joint naval patrols and setting up a sea lane for ships to safely navigate.

The SOP is currently being finalized, Arrmanatha said, with the use of armed force under deliberation.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan previously said that sea marshals could be posted on board vessels shipping goods to the Philippines, with the government deliberating the move in accordance with IMO regulations.

The IMO, on its website, says that ships using privately contracted armed security personnel (PCASP) are subject to diverse legal regimes and that there are no agreed minimum performance standards.

Its position on the matter has evolved overtime, it says, from strongly discouraging armed protection to “acknowledging that the deployment of armed security personnel on board ships has become an accepted industry and flag state practice in certain circumstances”.

It reaffirmed in 2011 that it neither endorsed nor condemned the use of armed personnel on board merchant ships and accepted that the issue was subject to the law of individual flag states.

University of Indonesia law and security expert Hikmahanto Juwana said that while it was legally possible to install sea marshals or private armed guards on ships, with the only obstacle possible Philippine objections, the government needed to consider how possible clashes between armed personnel and Abu Sayyaf members might lead the group to become more aggressive toward Indonesian sailors.

“While it may be entirely possible for the Philippines to allow armed personnel to enter, given the rising tensions in its southern territory, we need to bear in mind that the group is formed with political motives and that it is common for them to see their government as the enemy,” he said.

Abu Sayyaf was initially a militant faction of the separatist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), before the latter reconciled with the government in the late 1990s.

Salazar: Zamboanga needs military outpost

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Jul 22): Salazar: Zamboanga needs military outpost

“A PERMANENT military outpost in the village of Rio Hondo, Zamboanga City.”

This was the request of Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar during her meeting on Wednesday, July 20, with Defense Secretary Miguel Delfin Lorenzana.

The proposed military outpost is to be established at the Mindeva property in the village of Rio Hondo, which the National Government had bought for P50 million during the Aquino Administration.

It broke ground last January but actual construction has yet to begin, thus Salazar reiterated the matter under the administration of President Duterte to facilitate and expedite the construction of the facility.

The military outpost will soon take charge of the security measures in the village and the neighboring areas.

This is to ensure a stationary deployment of troops that maintain law and order in the village of Rio Hondo and nearby areas.

It will be recalled that the village of Rio Hondo and nearby areas were the most affected villages during the 21-day September 2013 siege.

The siege broke out on September 9, 2013 after hundreds of Moro National Liberation Front members infiltrated and laid siege in at least five coastal villages in the city.

WATCH | Chinese coastguard buzz Filipino fishermen off Panatag Shoal

From InterAksyon (Jul 22): WATCH | Chinese coastguard buzz Filipino fishermen off Panatag Shoal

Chinese Coastguard speedboat approaching to buzz off Filipino fishing boat off Panatag (Scarborouggh) Shoal.

Elements of China's Coastguard buzzed off Filipino fishermen after they approached Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc, going to the extent of deploying a siren to drive them away.

The incident happened about a week after the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines, which brought up the case for arbitration regarding China's aggressive moves to claim much of the South China Sea as embodied in a controversial "nine-dash line" that dates from 1940s maps and stretches close to other countries' coasts.

Its extensive decision also said that China's construction on Mischief Reef had "violated the Philippines' sovereign rights with respect to its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf."

After a 12-hour trip from Masinloc, the fishermen approached the shoal to fish, but they were promptly challenged by three vessels of the Chinese Coastguard, one of which sounded a loud blast from a long range audio siren intended to drive away the local fishermen and prevent them from conducting the fishing activity.

On top of that, the Chinese side dispatched a rubber patrol dinghy for added measure, to shoo away the locals.

A Chinese speed boat also came along to support their action.

When the locals decided not to pursue the matter to turn back, the Chinese side tailed the fishermen for an hour, and even snapped photographs of the encounter, slacking off only after the locals were about nine miles from Panatag.

Click and view the video report of Dindo Flora below:

[Video report]