Saturday, August 6, 2016

NDF/NPA: Abusive AFP operating troops in Monkayo, Comval struck in NPA counter-offensives, 6 firearms seized

New People's Army propaganda statement posted to the National Democratic Front Website (Aug 5): Abusive AFP operating troops in Monkayo, Comval struck in NPA counter-offensives, 6 firearms seized  

Press Statement, New People’s Army, Regional Operations Command, Southern Mindanao Region

The 8th Pulang Bagani Company-New People’s Army carried out a series of counter-offensives against the operating troops of the 25th Infantry Battalion, punishing 11 fascist soldiers and seizing six firearms during a raid, an attritive action and an ambush on August 2, 4 and 5, 2016 in Monkayo town, Compostela Valley.

The NPA’s punitive action is a just reprisal in the face of atrocities committed by the 25th IB combat soldiers such as ransacking of civilian houses and farms, mauling and intimidation of peasants and Lumads in Monkayo town since June. In fact, the notorious Army unit had not reduced the intensity of its combat-intel-psywar operations in the communities during GRP. Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s short-lived unilateral ceasefire last week.

The 8th PBC-NPA on August 2, neutralized Cpl. Castro, an intelligence operative of the 25thIB who was caught conducting combat intel operation in the communities of Brgy. Baylo, Monkayo. Seized from him were a 9mm caliber and .22 caliber pistols.Two days later, the Red fighters engaged a platoon of the 25th IB in Brgy. Pasian, Monkayo, killing two Army soldiers and wounding three others.

At around 7:30 this morning, August 5, the Red fighters successfully ambushed a company of the 25th IB in Sitio Inuburan, Brgy. Rizal, killing 5 AFP troops, seizing two M203 grenade launchers, one M4 rifles, Harris radios, and several other military hardware.

The 8th PBC’s tactical counter-offensives against an abusive AFP unit in the peasant and Lumad villages should serve as a stern warning to other operating Army units in Southern Mindanao region. These AFP troops that are active in combat-intel-psywar operations in the countryside continue and remain to be legitimate targets of the Red Army.

The NPA Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command has directed all Red fighters in the region to remain on alert status, intensify its base building and base defense work, expand its services in the guerilla bases and guerilla zones, punish AFP troops operating in civilian communities, and pursue revolutionary justice for the basic masses who are victims of repression and fascist abuses.

As it awaits positive development in the forthcoming peace negotiations between the GRP and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the Red Army shall defend its ranks and the masses through armed offensives and counter-offensives, foil the AFP’s treacherous and ruthless military operations, and remain committed in addressing the roots of the armed conflict.

Rigoberto F. Sanchez

Fast craft to boost Navy capability to defeat pirates, curb terror threats

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 7): Fast craft to boost Navy capability to defeat pirates, curb terror threats

The Philippine Navy (PN) will be faster and more capable of intercepting and defeating piracy, terrorism and kidnapping threats once the the decision to acquire more naval fast craft is finalized.

This was stated by PN public affairs office head Lt. Cmdr. Marineth Domingo in a message to the PNA.

"Acquisition of (more) fast craft will be of great help to our organization since it will provide additional defense and interdiction capability to thwart piracy, terrorism, kidnapping and other dubious activities of lawless elements in the country," she added.

Earlier, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte vowed to fast-track the procurement of more fast craft for the Navy and attack helicopters for the Air Force to help in the government's internal security operations.

"The PN supports the pronouncements of the President," Domingo pointed out.

A fast craft is a small, fast, agile and offensive warship armed with anti-ship missiles, gun and/or torpedoes.

It is usually operated in close proximity to land as they lack both the seakeeping and all-round defensive capabilities to survive in blue waters.

The size of the vessel also limits the fuel, stores and water supplies. In terms of size, they are usually between 50–800 tons and can reach speeds of 25–50 knots.

AFP in high morale with series of President Duterte's camp visits

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 7): AFP in high morale with series of President Duterte's camp visits

The morale of the 125,000-strong Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been very high due to the recent visits of President Rodrigo Duterte in various military camps nationwide.

This was stressed by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana who said that this can be gauged by the warm responses and cheers the President gets during his interactions with military personnel.

The former has been accompanying the Chief Executive in these tours and have so far visited headquarters of Lucena-based Southern Luzon Command, Davao City-headquartered Eastern Mindanao Command and Zamboanga City-based Western Mindanao Command.

Last Friday, President Duterte paid a visit to 3rd Infantry Division headquarters in Camp Macario Peralta in Jamindan, Capiz and Cebu-based Central Command.

During his talks with troops, the President emphasized his desire to upgrade military equipment as part of the AFP modernization especially in dealing with the bandits Abu Sayyaf believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State (IS).

“I will give you an edge; I will see to it that you are in an advantageous position. We fight only when we are ready. We will end terrorism,” Duterte said.

As for the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing the New People’s Army, he said these groups are not a force to reckon with.

Also, he mentioned about the upgrade of military hospitals by procuring high-end equipment that will aid wounded soldiers from the battlefield such as an MRI, gamma x-ray and the construction of a new hospital buildings

President Duterte also talked about the educational benefits for military dependents, citing that their children will avail free education to the nearest school from kinder to high school while college level will only be available for deserving ones under a scholarship grant.

Lastly, he discussed the effects of illegal drugs and how it menaced the country.

Once again, he stressed the important role of the military in support to the PNP’s anti-drug drive.

Fierce clashes with NPA escalate

From the Manila Bulletin (Aug 7): Fierce clashes with NPA escalate

Armed encounters between the government and the New People’s Army (NPA) erupted in Compostela Valley and Bukidnon provinces Friday that reportedly killed four soldiers and two rebels, while another soldier remained missing.

Twelve soldiers were also reported wounded.

Compostela Valley and Bukidnon Map

Armed conflict between the government and NPA rebels continued to escalate in Mindanao after President Duterte withdrew his earlier order of a ceasefire with the insurgents.

In a police report, a 45-minute firefight between the Scout Platoon of the 25th Infantry Battalion and the 60-fully armed NPA rebels under the Southeastern Command 20 of the Southern Mindanao Regional Command (SMRC) took place at Km. 56 in Barangay Rizal in Monkayo, Compostela Valley while the soldiers were conducting field monitoring on Friday morning.

Identified as wounded in that encounter were “First Lieutenant Damaso, Cpl Bornasal, Cpl Rebuta, PFC Lagunday, PFC Necesito , Cpl Embo, Cpl Bayta, Cpl Mapa, PFC Lagura, PFC Sarmiento, PFC Torrefiel and Pvt Laput.”

Of these wounded, three were reported to have been declared dead on-arrival at the hospital. Their names were withheld pending information of their families.
A certain PFC Del Mundo was reported as missing in action.

On the side of the NPA, a female fighter was killed, while three others who were wounded were put under arrest.

In Barangay Parasanon, Maragusan, Compostela Valley, another encounter left a soldier dead.

Army troops also found the body of a rebel, a carbine rifle, and an IED.

Meanwhile, in Sitio Kambangon, Barangay Lilingayon in Valencia City, Bukidnon, a Special Forces trooper was reported killed after soldiers fought it out with a band of NPA rebels, also Friday.

Capt. Patrick Martinez, spokesperson of the Army 4th Infantry Division, Martinez withheld the name of the slain soldier, who belonged to the Army’s First Special Forces Battalion, pending the notification of the next of kin.

Martinez said government troops were able to captured nine high-powered firearms that included eight AK-47 rifles; three M14 rifles, a rifle grenade; a gallon of gasoline; three handheld radios and NPA classified documents in the encounter.

Capt. Rhyan Batchar, 10th Infantry Division spokesperson, said the encounter in Monkayo, Compostela Valley was sparked by a skirmish earlier on Thursday when troops of the Charlie Company were engaged by the insurgents in a 15-minute firefight at Km 56 in Barangay Rizal. There was no casualty reported.

President aids 17 ex-NPA rebels

From the Manila Bulletin (Aug 7): President aids 17 ex-NPA rebels

President Duterte is helping 17 former communist rebels start a new life with a promise to give them a land to till as he vowed to implement genuine land reform.
The President met with the 17 former New People’s Army (NPA) rebels during his visit to Camp Gen. Macario B Peralta, Jr. in Jamindan, Capiz last Friday.
A statement from the Army 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) said that while the visit was a strict military affairs, Duterte extended his time to reach out and talk with the former rebels from the remote town of Tapas.
The President asked the returnees about their condition after giving up life in the underground movement and being in constant run due to military offensives.
One of returnees asked if the President could help them to start a new life to which the Chief Executive gave his assurance that they will be given a land of their own, seedlings, fertilizers and farm implements.

Militia attack revives ‘pangayaw’ fear

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 7): Militia attack revives ‘pangayaw’ fear

A MEMBER of the Tigwahanon tribe sleeps on the floor in a shelter in Malaybalay City where several tribespeople fled after an attack on July 30.JAJA NECOSIA/CONTRIBUTOR

A MEMBER of the Tigwahanon tribe sleeps on the floor in a shelter in Malaybalay City where several tribespeople fled after an attack on July 30.JAJA NECOSIA/CONTRIBUTOR

THREE months pregnant and still cradling her firstborn only a few months old, Makinit Gayoran had no inkling that the merrymaking after the tribal wedding she was attending in San Fernando town in Bukidnon province would be a target of attack by anticommunist militiamen that day.

Gayoran succumbed to a bullet wound in the chest and seven others, five of them children, were wounded as the gunmen from atop a hill strafed at the house in a Tigwahanon community in Sitio Tibugawan, Barangay Kawayan, on July 30, police officials said.

At least 48 terror-stricken families fled the community and are camping out at the provincial capitol grounds in Malaybalay City. They appealed to Bukidnon Gov. Jose Maria Zubiri Jr. for help as the perpetrators are still at large.

The governor’s office has yet to issue a statement.

Heavy NPA presence

Police have tagged Kawayan as one of the areas in Bukidnon with a heavy presence of New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.

The shooting happened hours before President Duterte lifted his unilateral ceasefire with the communists after the National Democratic Front of the Philippines failed to meet his deadline for the group to reciprocate his declaration.

Supt. Surki Sereñas, regional police spokesperson, said the attack could to be part of the “pangayaw” (tribal war), launched allegedly by Aldie “Butsoy” Salusad of the New Indigenous People’s Army for Reform against other “lumad” or NPA sympathizers.

Initial move

“Datu Cris Linsagan, municipal tribal chieftain, made initial move so that the problem will not escalate,” Sereñas said in a text message, adding that “the Army is on standby if needed.”

Citing witnesses, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) in northern Mindanao said the attackers were led by Salusad’s group. The religious group runs a school in Kawayan.

Salusad was said to be searching for Datu Jimboy Mandagit, whom he suspected of being an NPA member, and threatened to kill everyone in Tibugawan if he could not find his target.

“Datu Jimboy was one of the leaders who accompanied the Tigwahanon families that evacuated to Haran compound in Davao City a year ago after intensive military operations in their communities,” RMP said.

Mandagit said he was hoping Zubiri would listen to the plea of those displaced by the shooting and not to other lumad leaders who want the case settled amicably under the traditional justice system. Salusad, under that system, must turn over his firearms and live with the tribal leader until an amicable agreement is reached.

“We don’t want an amicable settlement with Butsoy. What we want is for him to be arrested and face the charges against him in court. He should be held accountable for what he did,” Mandagit told the Inquirer by phone.

Datu Jomorito Goaynon, chair of the lumad group Kalumbay, said that “knowing Salusad’s personality, there is no assurance he would surrender.” He had called on tribal leaders to give law enforcers the power to arrest the suspect.

Provincial police officials said they had suspended operations to locate the militia leader to give tribal leaders time to subject him to the traditional justice system.

Senior Insp. Danielo Bellezas, chief of police community relations office in Bukidnon, said the lumad leaders had asked authorities to stand down to avoid more bloodshed.
They proposed a dialogue to prevent retaliation from the families of the aggrieved persons, he said.

“They want to resolve the killing using their traditional method hoping an agreement could be reached,” Bellezas said in an interview on Monday. He was referring to an appeal by Datu Cris Linsagan, tribal chieftain in San Fernando.

Salusad has yet to be brought to court for the 2012 killing of Jimmy Liguyon, the barangay chair of Dao in San Fernando, community leaders Balangas Anlamit and Mabini Manobia, and others.

“They (tribal leaders) did not even act on those killings. How could they compel Butsoy to yield to them? Until now there is still no justice for Jimmy and the others,” Mandagit said.

He said the conflict started when Salusad began harassing the residents in Kawayan to protect mining interests. The paramilitary group are allegedly controlling the trade of small-scale gold mining in Barangays Dao and Kiranggol in San Fernando, RMP said.

Goaynon said the tribal leaders and local government officials had failed to convince him to surrender and hand over his guns.

Shooting retold

Recounting the gun attack, RMP said Salusad and his men were positioned atop a hill. “They fired at the entire community but concentrated on the house where 80 individuals were gathered for the wedding,” it said.

Hours before the shooting, Datu Arnold Manhura, tribal representative in Kawayan, saw Salusad and noticed that he was geared for war, the group said.

“Salusad was fully armed. At least 11 other armed men were with him,” RMP said.

Mangura reportedly asked Salusad not to proceed to the community as his presence might disturb the celebration. “Salusad went on and in just a few minutes indiscriminately fired at the community,” RMP said.

“The community calls for justice against the uncalled for violence,” it said.

Reds threaten to abort talks, seek amnesty

From The Standard (Aug 7): Reds threaten to abort talks, seek amnesty

COMMUNIST rebels threatened to call off the peace talks if the government fails to release 22 jailed consultants of the National Democratic Front, adding that they will only declare an interim ceasefire if the Duterte administration declares a general amnesty.

National Democratic Front chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni and Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison made the declarations in a video conference from Utrecht in The Netherlands as government troops clashed with communist rebels in Mindanao.

At least five soldiers and two rebels were killed in separate battles in Bukidnon and Compostela Valley on Friday.

Twelve soldiers and two rebels were also wounded in the gunfights while three New People’s Army rebels were also captured in the fierce fighting, said military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla.

“As of now, both sides we will continue the peace talks [set for August 20],” National Democratic Front chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni said in a video conference from Utretch in The Netherlands.

 “But if the releases of the 22 people will not be realized for some reason or the GPH side will put up complicated requirements, the NDF together with its consultants will postpone again the resumption of peace talks to accomplish the releases,” Jalandoni said.

At the same time, CPP founder Jose Maria Sison said the Communist Party of the Philippines will only declare an interim ceasefire if the Duterte administration declares a general amnesty for all political prisoners.

“My confidence in the Duterte administration will only rise when it honors the agreement,” Sison said. “For all planned political prsioners to be released under a general amnesty proclamation in exchange of an interim ceasefire... pending a comprehensive agreement on the end of hostilities.”

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello on Saturday said they are working to give safety conduct passes to 22 NDF consultants in the peace talks.

Sison said that while it is not a condition in the resumption of the peace talks “that there should be a ceasefire,” an interim ceasefire for both could be declared “following the release of political prisoners and the resumption of formal peace negotiations.”

In the same video conference, Sison stressed that for the government to prove its sincerity about the peace talks, they should be able to propose an amenable comprehensive agreement on social and economic reforms to be discussed by both panels in Oslo.

“The best way to prove sincerity is to act for the benefit of the people. [The government] has come to terms with the proposed comprehensive social and economic reforms...[CASER]...People have democratic rights,” Sison said.

“As for the line which tasks the CPP-NPA-NDFP to prove its sincerity by ending the armed struggle, you cannot have peace talks where there is no armed struggle,” Sison said.

 “The armed revolution is the not the cause, the resistance of the people is the result of oppression and exploitation. We must assert our own national and democratic rights and promote them inside and out of the peace negotiations,” he added.

Sison said he will no longer reply to the taunting of the ill-tempered Duterte.
“I’ll let it pass I cannot answer a comment that comes from an angry person. I would rather talk with President Duterte personally or behind closed doors about the substantive agenda of peace talks in order to push it forward. I have a high level of tolerance,” he said.

But fighting was fierce at Monkayo and Marusagan towns that resulted in the death of four soldiers, Padilla said, adding that army troops were able to recover several high-powered firearms from the rebels.

Padilla said the hostilities initially erupted Thursday afternoon at Kilometer 56 in Barangay Rizal in Monkayo leaving an army soldier killed and two others wounded.
After a lull, fighting resumed the following with pursuing army troops from the 25th Infantry Battalion interdicting around 60 fully armed rebels in the same spot.

In that encounter, three soldiers were killed by an improvised explosive device while nine others were wounded.

As the troops overwhelmed the insurgents and eventually cornered them, the  rebel band withdrew leaving one of their comrade dead while three others wounded.

Hours later, fighting erupted anew after elements of the 71st Infantry Battallion caught up a 30-man rebel band at the vicinity of Barangay Parasanon leaving a soldier and a rebel killed.

“One of our soldiers was killed in action while scores from the enemy side were also believed to have been killed or wounded,” Padilla said.

Duterte criticizes NPA for landmine use

From GMA News (Aug 7): Duterte criticizes NPA for landmine use

President Rodrigo Duterte, who was in Camp Panacan in Davao City early Sunday morning visiting the wake of four soldiers killed in clashes with the New People's Army (NPA), criticized the communist insurgents for using landmines.

Duterte pointed out that the communist insurgents were quick to invoke the Geneva Conventions "if it is to your (the insurgents') advantage."

"But one of the important, and very, maybe, humane provisions [of the Conventions] is binabawal po yung landmine," explained the president.

Duterte said that if the NPA continued to use mines, he would instruct Philippine security forces to respond in kind, and the weapon would be employed against the insurgents.

"It cannot be a different rule for you, and a different rule for the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the police," argued the president. "Decide now! Gagamit ba tayo ng landmine?"

Duterte also linked the landmine issue to the peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

"Include the land mine [use] in the peace talks or else - no peace talks," he added. "Then we fight for another 45 years. Walang problema!"

NPA attacks prompt banana firm to close shop

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 7): NPA attacks prompt banana firm to close shop
A WOMAN employee of Stanfilco weeps after learning of the company decision to close shop following attacks by communist guerrillas.          CHRIS PANGANIBAN/INQUIRER MINDANAO

A WOMAN employee of Stanfilco weeps after learning of the company decision to close shop following attacks by communist guerrillas. CHRIS PANGANIBAN/INQUIRER MINDANAO
BAROBO, Surigao del Sur—Multinational banana firm Dole-Stanfilco has decided to shut down its operation here and in nearby Tagbina town following a series of attacks by suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, which targeted its container trucks.The company employed over 1,500 workers on its 400-hectare plantation.

Dole-Stanfilco has already sent a notice to the Caraga regional office of the Department of Labor and Employment that it was indefinitely shutting down its operations starting on Tuesday.

The company said it could no longer afford to incur losses because of the NPA attacks, which came after it continuously refused to pay revolutionary tax.

Dole-Stanfilco said the escalation of the attacks, including the burning of container trucks that transport bananas to Davao City where it will be transported for export to other countries, has already cost the company at least P20 million in losses.

The latest attack happened a few days ago, when NPA rebels blasted a truck with explosives.

This year, Dole-Stanfilco said it lost seven trucks already. From 2010, the rebels had burned a total of 19 trucks, the company said.

The displaced workers held a march-rally here early this week and denounced the NPA’s attacks that caused the closure of the company.

The protesters, many of them contractual farm workers, asked what would happen to their families now that they have lost their jobs.

“Where now are their claims that they are soldiers of the masses that will look after our welfare? We are here not to fight with arms but to condemn the extortion activities of the NPAs which cost our livelihood,” said Concepcion Jumao-as, who spoke at the rally.

Jumao-as said company officials have told them the NPA’s use of powerful explosives that burned the two trucks carrying the container vans was the main reason for the company decision to shut down its operations.

“Before, they use gasoline in torching the trucks but lately they already use bombs,” she said.

(Update) Trooper killed, undetermined number of NPAs wounded in Bukidnon clash

From the Manila Bulletin (Aug 7): (Update) Trooper killed, undetermined number of NPAs wounded in Bukidnon clash

A soldier from the 1st Special Forces Battalion was killed while an undetermined number of New People’s Army (NPA) insurgents were wounded during a two-hour clash in Valencia City, Bukidnon Friday afternoon.

Location map photo courtesy of

Location map photo courtesy of

The incident took place at 2 p.m. at Sitio Kambangon, Barangay Lilingayon, said 4th Infantry Division spokesperson Capt. Joe Patrick Martinez.
Government forces were deployed in the area after several residents forwarded complaints of the ongoing NPA extortion mission in their locality.
Martinez said the rebel band immediately fired at the responding soldiers, killing one soldier. Return fire from government units wounded several of the insurgents.
The clash ended with the NPAs retreating some two hours later. Several blood trails were discovered by troops, indicating that many of the rebels were wounded in the fighting.
Recovered from the encounter scene were two AK-47 automatic rifles, two M-653 carbine, five M-16A-1 rifles, an improvised explosive device, eight AK-47 magazines, three M-14 magazines, one M-16 magazine, a rifle grenade, five gallons of gas, three handheld radios, and numerous NPA belongings and subversive documents with high intelligence value.
“I congratulate our troops for successfully pushing the NPA extortionists away from that peaceful community. Unfortunately, while our troops are performing their duty, one of our soldiers have paid his ultimate sacrifice when he offered his own life just to free our people from NPA atrocities. To our brave soldier, your heroism will always be remembered by the people to whom you dedicated your life and service,” 4th Infantry Division commander Major Gen. Benjamin Madrigal said.

US Embassy: $32M aid for PHL law enforcement not new funding

From GMA News (Aug 6): US Embassy: $32M aid for PHL law enforcement not new funding 

The United States government clarified on Saturday that the $32-million aid to the Philippines for law enforcement training and services is not a new assistance but has been set aside way back in 2014.

"On record, we would clarify that the mentioned $32 million for law enforcement assistance is not new funding," said Emma Nagy, deputy press attaché of the US Embassy in Manila.

"It was already appropriated, in fiscal years 2014 through 2016, but programming using those funds has only recently begun to be implemented."

Nagy also said assistance provided by these funds "is subject to the same rigorous vetting as our other security assistance."

President Rodrigo Duterte mentioned about the American assistance on Friday when he visited soldiers in Capiz as part of his tour of military camps where he assured them of government support especially in dealing with groups like the Abu Sayyaf.

In his speech, Duterte said he plans to divide the amount between the military and police.

The funding was one of the talking points during US Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to Duterte in Malacañang on July 27.

Duterte and Kerry also discussed terrorism, crime, drugs, religious fanaticism, climate change, maritime security and the Philippines' legal victory against China's expansive claims in the South China Sea.

Abductions continue: Family kidnapped in Zamboanga Sibugay

From Rappler (Aug 6): Abductions continue: Family kidnapped in Zamboanga Sibugay

A group of armed men kidnap a government employee, his wife, and their child in Barangay Kulisap, Payao in Zamboanga Sibugay

A couple and their child have been abducted in Zamboanga Sibugay barely two months after police declared a major victory against its campaign against kidnap-for-ransom groups.

A government employee, his wife, and their child were abducted in Barangay Kulisap, Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay, early Friday night, August 5.

A senior police officer based at Regional Police Office 9 in Zamboanga City told Rappler that there is an ongoing combined police and army operation in the area.

"Hopefully we can recover the victims soon. We believe the kidnappers have not slipped out of the area yet," the police officer said in Filipino.

At least 7 armed men have reportedly taken the victims at gunpoint.

The police officer identified the victims as Payao government employee Elmer Romoc, 41 years old; and his wife Nora, a businesswoman.

The family owns a general merchandise store and a coconut plantation from which, according to police, the victims recently earned P300,000 worth of copra.

The abduction took place barely two months after the police said they had crippled a kidnapping syndicate in Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga Sibugay with the arrest of its leader.

Abu Sayyaf kidnap group

On June 14, authorities nabbed Abner Gumandol, also known as Sehar Mulok and "Commander Red Eye," who the police claimed was an accomplice of Abu Sayyaf kidnap group. (READ: Abu Sayyaf 'outsourcing' kidnap operations – police)

Police Senior Superintendent Edwin Buenaventura Wagan, Zamboanga del Norte police provincial commander, said that Gumandol and his group operated in Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga del Norte.

Gumandol was brought to Zamboanga del Norte to face charges for the kidnapping of former Italian missionary Rolando del Torchio and Mayor Jeffrey Lim of Salug, Zamboanga del Norte, in 2012.

Authorities earlier described Gumandol, who is said to have more than 20 followers in Salug, as the Abu Sayyaf's "spotter" in the case of Del Torchio.

Gumandol's wife, Shariffa, denied her husband was a member of the Abu Sayyaf group.

"He is not connected with Abu Sayyaf," she said, adding that Gumandol is "an active brigade commander of the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) based in Tungawan, Zamboanga Sibugay."

Military to provide Misuari security if Duterte meeting pushes through

From the Philippine Star (Aug 5): Military to provide Misuari security if Duterte meeting pushes through

Nur Misuari is the founding chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front, a secessionist political organization which started in 1969. In this March 5, 2013 photo, Nur Misuari gestures during a press conference in Taguig, Philippines. AP/Aaron Favila, File

The military said it is ready to provide security to fugitive Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chair Nur Misuari once he's given the safe conduct pass to meet with President Rodrigo Duterte in Sulu, according to an official.
Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said they are ready to provide security for the president and the person he is intending to meet in Sulu.
Duterte in a statement to newsmen in Malacañan last Monday said he intends to meet with Misuari as part of his visit in Mindanao.
“Anybody who wants to talk peace and help in making Sulu and other parts of the country peaceful for the people is a welcome move,” Tan said.
Misuari, who has a standing warrant of arrest as he was tagged as the mastermind of the bloody September 2013 siege in this city, has been in hiding in his enclave in Indanan town, Sulu.
Misuari revolted after his 1996 MNLF final peace agreement with the Ramos administration was set aside when the Aquino government forged the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro with their rival Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Tan said that once they get a directive, the military and the police are ready to coordinate with the MNLF leadership in Sulu following the existing ceasefire truce mechanism through the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities.
“We believe on the president and there are mechanisms in doing so,” Tan said.

Suspected NPA members burn three trucks in Apayao

From GMA News (Aug 5): Suspected NPA members burn three trucks in Apayao

Some 40 suspected members of the New People’s Army burned three trucks owned by a company which allegedly refused to pay revolutionary tax in Apayao province.

A belated police report showed that around 6:00 p.m. on August 3, alleged members of Leo Cauilan Command-Kalinga entered the compound of Omengan Construction Development Corporation (OCDC) in Brgy. Guina-ang, Conner, Apayao.

Campbell Calawen, OCDC project manager, told police that perpetrators went to their compound, gathered all employees, and confiscated all their mobile phones.

The alleged NPA members then talked with the employees to persuade them to join their group.

They also reportedly demanded for supplies such as rice, clothes, and revolutionary taxes but these were not given to them.

The group thus left a demand letter to OCDC signed by certain Ariel Santiago of the NPA under Leo Cauilan Command-Kalinga.

Before leaving, the suspects burned two dump trucks and one forward truck owned by the company.

They left onboard a dump truck and a white pick-up each driven by company employees toward Brgy. Manag.

An hour later, the two OCDC drivers returned using the Estrada pick-up and informed their supervisor that the dump truck used as getaway vehicle fell on a five-meter ravine.

Duterte set to meet wanted rebel leader to talk peace

From Anadolu Agency (Aug 6): Duterte set to meet wanted rebel leader to talk peace

Philippines president to speak to Moro National Liberation Front chairman Nur Misuari during Aug. 12 visit to Basilan

Duterte set to meet wanted rebel leader to talk peace

President Rodrigo Duterte is set to meet with the wanted leader of a Moro rebel group Aug. 12, during his second visit to a southern island province since he took over the presidency, according to a report Friday.
The Manila Standard quoted Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo -- due to accompany Duterte -- as saying the president would speak with Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Chairman Nur Misuari during the visit to Basilan.
The president has repeatedly said he is eyeing to talk with Misuari to focus on building the framework for the Bangsamoro peace process that will include the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
It is the president's second trip to Basilan, since visiting the area July 21 to be briefed on the army's ongoing battle with Daesh-linked Abu Sayyaf militants in the area.
Misuari is currently a fugitive, eluding charges filed against him and his men for a siege on the predominantly Christian city of Zamboanga in September 2013, in which around 300 people were killed and thousands of houses razed.
The MILF is currently involved in an ongoing peace process with the government, however a faction under Misuari considers the MILF’s 2014 peace deal a betrayal of a 1996 Organisation of Islamic Cooperation-brokered agreement.
Misuari -- who launched the siege on Zamboanga to protest the new MILF deal -- is reported to be hiding in southern Sulu, where he is mingling with people loyal to him and protecting him from the authorities.
Duterte has repeatedly stressed he is willing to give Misuari a safe-conduct pass to start the talks between the government and the Moro rebels.
“When you talk to the rebel, you have to give them a safe-conduct pass, or at least a sense of security to face you and talk to you about what’s bugging the country,” Duterte told reporters on Monday.
“If I won’t talk, how do I fix this thing?”
While in hiding, however, Misuari has been helping the government recover Indonesian sailors abducted by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu, according to Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza.
He said Misuari’s lawyers could have his case reviewed.
“The effort is to bring him out of Indanan,” Dureza said.
“The warrant is out and he is considered a fugitive. Any effort to get him out must go through the legal process. It is for his lawyers to initiate a reinvestigation of his case.”
Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortion in a self-determined fight for an independent Islamic province in the Philippines.
It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.
In March and April of this year, the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 17 Indonesian sailors who were later freed although it was not clear if ransoms were paid.
Two Canadians, however -- kidnapped on Samal Island resort in Davao del Norte in September 2015 with a Norwegian and Filipina -- were beheaded after ransom deadlines passed.
The Abu Sayyaf group freed the Filipina hostage unharmed in June but has kept the Norwegian captive.
The group is still holding Malaysian seamen and Japanese, Dutch, Norwegian, and Philippine citizens.

Sabah police: Latest 'kidnapping' not ala Abu Sayyaf

From The Star Online (Aug 6): Sabah police: Latest 'kidnapping' not ala Abu Sayyaf

KOTA KINABALU: The latest claims of a kidnapping of a fishing trawler skipper in Sabah’s east coast Kinabatangan waters – the third in a month- have puzzled the police as it did not fit the modus operandi of cross border kidnap for ransom groups.

Investigators are wondering if copycats might be adopting the modus operandi of the notorious southern Philippines-based kidnap groups linked to the militant Abu Sayyaf.

Two crewmen of the Sandakan-registered trawler had returned to Sandakan waters with the vessel on Friday claiming that their skipper, Harman Mangga, a 30-year-old Indonesian, was held hostage by gunmen in southern Philippines.

They had told Malaysian police that the gunmen were demanding for RM10,000 for Harman’s release.
However, the kidnapping claims have drawn ‘red flags’ among the investigators as the demand for RM10,000 was a far cry from the opening demands of up to RM20mil in previous cases.

The released crewmen also claimed that they were taken to at least two islands before they were sent back to get the money.

“We are trying to establish if the incident was really a kidnapping. We are questioning the two crewmen to establish the facts,’’ Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Abdul Rashid Harun told a press conference in Tawau on Saturday.

Declining to speculate on police doubts about the case, Rashid said they were trying to establish the events leading up to the alleged kidnapping as well confirm the exact area where the kidnap took place.

Based on the facts of the incident reported by the two released crewmen, aged 24 and 26, Rashid said that the trawler with three men left Sandakan at about 6.30pm on July 31.

At about 4.20pm in waters off Kinabatangan, four men armed with M16 rifles came alongside as they were pulling up their nets.

The crewmen claimed that the gunmen wore military fatigues and spoke in Malay with a foreign accent.

They took the crew with their trawler to a nearby island before moving to another island.

“They claimed that they took all equipment on board the trawler as well as their personal belongings including phones,’’ Rashid said, adding that they released the two crewmen and asked for RM10,000 for the release of Harman.

“We don’t know exactly where they were fishing. We are not sure if they were in our waters or in neighbouring waters. We have to establish this,’’ he said, adding that the trawler had yet to be equipped with Automated Identification System which becomes mandatory on Aug 8 for all tugboats and fishing trawlers.

“If they had AIS, we could respond immediately when they are in distress.

“How do we help if owners don’t make an effort to set up the system,’’ he said.

On July 8 three Indonesian fishing crew members of a Lahad Datu registered fishing trawler were taken off Dent Haven in Lahad Datu and on July 18,  five Malaysians sailors were kidnapped off the same waters close to the Philippines border waters.

Indonesia diplomat in Philippines to talk kidnappings

From Anadolu Agency (Aug 5): Indonesia diplomat in Philippines to talk kidnappings

Daesh-affiliated group holding captive at least 11 Indonesian sailors kidnapped at sea earlier this year

An Indonesian envoy is in the Philippines troubled predominantly Muslim province of Sulu to seek the release of 11 Indonesian hostages being held captive by a Daesh-affiliated group.
Indonesia’s ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary Johny Josephus Lumintang told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Friday that he was hoping his countrymen would soon be released by their Abu Sayyaf captors.
The notorious militant group is holding captive at least 11 Indonesian sailors, who were taken in the waters between Sabah and Tawi-tawi earlier this year.
“I would like to ask the government and the people of Sulu to help our brothers out there, to help us, because we all look the same, you see Filipinos and Indonesians are very similar in all features, we all look the same, so we need to end this [kidnapping],” Lumintang said.
“We don’t know for sure but I hope that as soon as possible, our brothers will come out safe and our brothers in the Philippines will help to release them,” he said.
Lumintang confirmed that a retired general—who personally knew Moro National Liberation Front Chairman Nur Misuari—was working with Sulu officials for the release of the Indonesian captives.
Misuari -- hiding out in Sulu since orchestrating a 2013 siege against the majority Christian city of Zamboanga -- is reported to have helped out the government in recovering abducted sailors.
Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortion in a self-determined fight for an independent Islamic province in the Philippines.
It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.
In March and April of this year, the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 17 Indonesian sailors who were later freed although it was not clear if ransoms were paid.
Two Canadians, however -- kidnapped on Samal Island resort in Davao del Norte in September 2015 with a Norwegian and Filipina -- were beheaded after ransom deadlines passed.
The Abu Sayyaf group freed the Filipina hostage unharmed in June but has kept the Norwegian captive.
The group is still holding Malaysian seamen and Japanese, Dutch, Norwegian, and Philippine citizens.

NDFP hopes gov’t will do everything to release detained consultants for Oslo talks

From GMA News (Aug 5): NDFP hopes gov’t will do everything to release detained consultants for Oslo talks

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), is still hoping that the Duterte administration will make good on its promise to give their detained consultants safe conduct passes ahead of the scheduled Aug. 20 peace talks in Oslo, Norway.

“We still hope the releases will be expedited despite the delays and that the process be made simpler. We remain optimistic that the GRP [government of the Republic of the Philippines] and all its agencies and concerned officials will do everything to comply in good faith with its commitments to release the detained NDFP peace consultants so that they can timely participate in the formal peace negotiations starting August 20 in Oslo,” said NDFP panel convernor and legal consultant Edre Olalia.

“We trust that the trial courts handling the cases of these consultants will keenly take into account the sense of the Court as a barometer in considering motions for their release based on their urgency and import in the higher interests of peace and unity,” he added.

The Supreme Court (SC) on Friday denied the temporary and conditional release of Tirso Alcantara, Alex Birondo, Winona Birondo, Maria Concepcion Bocala, Reynante Gamara, Alan Jazmines, Ma. Loida Magpatoc, Adelberto Silva, Benito Tiamzon, and Wilma Tiamzon.

The high court said that motions and pleadings for the 10 should be filed for the consideration of trial courts.

The SC has only granted release of Randall Echanis and Vicente Ladlad, with a P100,000 cash bond for their provisional liberty.

Despite the 'setback,' Olalia said they still welcome SC’s resolution and hope the administration will work harder to ensure that the peace consultants will be able to join the peace talks.

Opinion: Sison and the peace talks

Opinion piece by in the Get Real column by Solita Collas-Monsod in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug ): Sison and the peace talks

JOMA SISON has been out of the Philippines for almost 30 years and has been living in the Netherlands in self-imposed exile. I have no idea how he supports himself and his coterie. If it is the Dutch government or Dutch NGOs that give him a pension, that’s their problem. If it is the Communist Party of the Philippines that supports him, it should start rethinking the 30-year burden on it that he represents. But whatever the case, it seems he has been living off others for the past 30 years. Who wants to be a sponge for that long?

Another Sison trait that one can question is the ease with which he changes positions. For example, from 1993 to the present, his (or his party’s) position has been that Ferdinand Marcos should not be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. It would be “a grave travesty of justice and monumental historical distortion tantamount to declaring hero a dictator who committed crimes against humanity.”

Yet, very recently, in support of President Duterte’s stand, he has stated, with a straight face, that he now favors the dictator’s burial in the heroes’ cemetery. Why? Because, he said, Marcos is not being buried as a hero, he is being buried as a former soldier. Or, alternatively, the cemetery is a cemetery  of “reactionaries.” So, Marcos can be buried there.

Here’s another example. In one interview Sison praised Mr. Duterte for his strength of character, his political will, his commitment. Within weeks, that changed, in connection with Mr. Duterte’s lifting of the unilateral ceasefire that he had declared: Now, Mr. Duterte is too “volatile,” a hoodlum (“butangero”).

Another example, again in connection with the Marcos burial: Sison said the burial was being carried out by “the President of the reactionary government” (meaning Mr. Duterte, right?), while almost simultaneously, he was praising Mr. Duterte as a socialist and a progressive (after all, didn’t he just appoint three members of the Left or sympathizers of the CPP/NPA/NDF to his Cabinet?).

So how come, despite these negative attributes, Sison continues to exercise so much influence? About two years ago, Alex Padilla of the government’s peace panel already said that it seemed Sison was no longer in control of the CPP, the National Democratic Front (its political arm) and the New People’s Army (its armed wing). Why? Because he noticed that Sison would agree to one thing, and then would change his mind the next day, as if his position were being countermanded by the CPP/NPA/NDF on the ground. Is that why he is called “chief political consultant” of the NDF? What does that mean?

Which is why I was glad when I read that the Tiamsons (Benito and his wife, Wilma Austria), incarcerated since 2014, would be provisionally released (by order of the Supreme Court) and given safe-conduct passes to Oslo, Norway, for the peace talks there. Benito is chair of the CPP, and Wilma is its secretary-general. No one can countermand them. In fact, why don’t they hold the peace talks here, instead of in Oslo?  They are the true representatives of the party, not Sison, who hasn’t set foot in the country for 30 years.

Another disturbing thing: It seems that the NDF has too much influence on the composition of the government panel. During the Aquino administration, Sison objected to the membership of Gen. Manny Bautista in the panel (because the latter was the architect of the ISP-Bayanihan, which is the military’s most successful program so far against the CPP/NPA). Apparently, he succeeded, because Bautista never became a member. Why is that? Isn’t it a fact that it is the military men whose lives are lost or endangered in the armed encounters—and yet their views are not considered, or other people talk for them? How can that be?

Then, too, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello is supposed to be a member of the government panel. Isn’t he one of the three Cabinet secretaries who are reported to be sympathizers or members of the NDF?

What effect will this have on our negotiations? It seems the cards will be stacked against the Filipino people. General Bautista is a soldier’s soldier, with great experience. Why not put him in the panel? His only drawback is that he is not from Davao.

Additionally, the sincerity of the CPP/NPA/NDF is still in question. Not only were they so slow-moving to declare a ceasefire in response to PDu30’s unilateral move,  but also there is a controversy as to  who attacked first in the July 27 military-NPA encounter that caused Mr. Duterte to lift the ceasefire.

Did the military subvert the President, or is it the NPA that took advantage? Let us analyze. From an intellectual point of view, who would benefit more if there was no ceasefire? Certainly not the military: The ceasefire gives the soldiers rest, and lifting it brings them back to fighting and dying. What about the NPA? The ceasefire would definitely put a stop to the rebels’ “revolutionary tax” activities, which take care of their resource needs. That is why they seem to  want to hold off the ceasefire as long as possible, and are asking so much from the government in return.

From the practical point of view:  Two of the militiamen in the encounter were hurt by an IED (improvised explosive device, a land mine).  These IEDS take time to be planted. Which means that the action was premeditated by the NPA, which uses IEDs. Also, the Reader must know that these militiamen were auxiliaries—deployed only for security patrols, which are different from military combat operations that use the whole armory (which does not include IEDs).

Conclusion: The military is telling the truth. The CPP/NPA/NDF are lying. This does not augur well for the coming peace talks.

What now? AFP modernization in the time of Digong Duterte

From Rappler (Aug 6): What now? AFP modernization in the time of Digong Duterte (By Leslie V. Advincula-Lopez)

While it may take years, even decades, to catch up with the military capability of our nearest neighbors, the impetus has been initiated, and is now moving with its own momentum that cannot be halted abruptly

More than ever, the Armed Forces of the Philippines is faced with a very complex and challenging external and internal security environment.

The passage of RA 10349, also known as the Revised AFP Modernization Program, under the administration of former President Benigno S. Aquino III was a recognition of the need to upgrade the lagging capability of the AFP. For many observers, RA 10349 was primarily designed for the AFP to achieve a minimum credible defense status to protect the country’s sovereign territorial interests, if ever the need arises. In short, the focus was more on external defense.

Meanwhile, the current administration of President Digong Duterte stated in no uncertain terms that the AFP’s modernization will continue during his term. However, the priority would be the needs of soldiers engaged in military operations in Basilan, Sulu, Central Mindanao, and other areas in southern Philippines. To do this, the government plans to purchase more protective equipment for soldiers like helmets and vests, more night-fighting systems capability, additional fast crafts for the Navy, additional helicopters capable of night flight for the Navy and Air Force, and more communications equipment.

AFP Chief Lieutenant General Ricardo Visaya confirmed that the military’s modernization shall now be refocused on internal security operations rather than external defense of the country.

For many, AFP modernization is synonymous with upgrading the technology used by the country’s military. And while technology upgrade is a huge component of any modernization program, how things would actually unfold on the ground will actually be influenced by a host of other factors. Farell and Teriff (2002) pointed out how military change is affected by 3 broad factors:
  • Strategic developments, in particular, in-state politics and politics within the military organization
  • Culture, specifically the need to emulate another state’s military organization
  • Strategy, politics, and culture will interact with technology in affecting military change
Using these parameters, the next section examines the case of the Philippines, in particular, the ongoing AFP modernization program.

The AFP’s strategic environment is now in a state of flux

At first glance, the pronouncement of President Duterte for the military’s modernization to focus more on internal defense might seem to be a reversal of the previous administration’s focus on external defense. Or is it really the case?

A close reading of the previous administration’s 2011-2016 National Security Policy indicates that the government never really put internal security in the back burner. The plan, however, made explicit that the modernization plan of the AFP is geared to address the need to focus on the internal socio-political stability of the country and at the same time, the imperative to exercise full sovereignty on the country’s territory including the protection of its marine and other strategic interests.

In an attempt to stop China's construction frenzy in the rock formations in the South China Sea, the Philippines filed a case against China with the Permanent Court of Arbitration The Hague. The complaint cited China's violation of the United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea to which both countries are signatories. On July 12, 2016, the arbitral tribunal ruled that China has no historical claims on the rock formations bounded by the 9-dash-line.

This seems to be an overwhelming victory for Manila. But not to douse water on the country’s euphoria, Lawrence Martin, a member of the Philippines' legal team in the arbitration proceedings, pointed out that the ruling is just the beginning of an even harder battle for the Philippines. The ruling body has no authority to compel China to follow its decision. Thus, it is imperative for Manila to get as many countries as possible on its side in order to “pressure” China to heed the international court’s ruling. For sure, the continued muscle-flexing of China in the South China Sea will remain a major concern for many years to come.

As of July 28, the following countries have called on China to heed the Hague ruling: United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, and Vietnam. The inability of the ASEAN to issue a joint communique citing the ruling indicates an uphill struggle for the Philippines. Necessarily, to deal with China, the strategy would need to include all channels of negotiation without necessarily foregoing the parallel need to upgrade the current state of the AFP’s capability.

On the local front, the resumption of peace talks with the various insurgent groups is a welcome development. However, the current administration has to do this in a very calibrated manner. An AFP-wide study cited the perceived soft stance of the political leaders toward communist guerillas as one of the main causes for the repeated coup attempts of the AFP in the 1980s and the 1990s.

Although the strategic environment of the military has changed drastically since the last coup attempt, some AFP members still treat insurgent groups with wariness. What may be going for President Duterte’s administration is the good mix of military and political advisers who have a good grasp of the insurgency problem without necessarily ignoring the crucial role of the AFP for internal security operations and thus, the need for its continued capability upgrade.

The culture of emulation with US as the model of military development

From its inception up to today, the country’s military organization was patterned after that of the USA. The National Defense Act of 1935, also known as Commonwealth Act No. 1, stipulates the organization of an independent Philippine Army under the guidance of a Senior Military Adviser, General Douglas MacArthur. Among others, the Act calls for the creation of military districts across the country, the provision for military reserve forces, and the creation of a military academy to train the pool that will comprise the core of future officers of the armed forces.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, two important agreements that initially defined the legal parameters of PH-US security relations were signed. These are the Philippine-US Military Bases Agreement (MBA) and the Philippine-American Military Assistance Agreement (MAA). In furtherance of these agreements, the two countries also signed a Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) on August 30, 1951.

The treaty stipulates that “an armed attack in the Pacific Area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its own peace and safety… and in accordance with its constitutional processes” (Mutual Defense Treaty between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America).

Through the MBA, the US initially maintained 23 military installations in the country, including the Clark Air Force Base and the naval installation in Subic Bay, for an initial lease period of 99 years. The MBA, however, was amended in 1979 and updated in 1983 to downgrade the lease period to 25 years. The decision to extend the lease period for another 10 years was rejected in a landmark decision by the Philippine Senate in 1991, and the last ship sailed out of Subic Bay in November 1991. In all those years, the US served as the ultimate source, not only of military equipment, but also the doctrines that guide the formation of every Filipino soldier.

The decision not to extend the presence of US military bases in the country resulted in a lukewarm relationship between the two countries. This, however, proved to be just a temporary hiatus in the longstanding Philippine-US relationship.

In February 1998, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was signed and eventually ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999. The VFA stipulates the terms and conditions covering US personnel visiting the Philippines for bilateral military exercises. Compared with the earlier MDT, the VFA was treated as an executive agreement that need not be ratified by the US Senate.

The Balikatan 16 Exercises that took place in the country in April is actually one of the many, probably already numbering to hundreds, of exercises between the Philippines and the US military. This year, about 5,000 US, 3,000 Philippine, and about 80 Australian defense personnel, with observers from 12 countries, participated in the Balikatan exercises.

WAR GAMES. US troops and their Philippine counterpart take their position during the live fire exercise as part of the 2016 Balikatan Exercises at the Crow Valley, Capas Tarlac Province on Thursday, April 14, 2016. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

WAR GAMES. US troops and their Philippine counterpart take their position during the live fire exercise as part of the 2016 Balikatan Exercises at the Crow Valley, Capas Tarlac Province on Thursday, April 14, 2016. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

Aside from Balikatan, a number of joint military exercises involving Philippine and US forces have been regularly conducted in the country. As listed in the VFA Commission’s website, there are about 20 of these joint military exercises/activities yearly. Many of these military exercises, including Balikatan, are geared towards improving the interoperability of Philippine and US forces against external aggression. The objective is to improve tactics, coordination, and maneuvers against a hypothetical external threat (Ramos 2005).

With this backdrop of regular military exercises subsumed under the agreed upon protocols of the Visiting Forces Agreement, an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) was agreed upon by the representatives of the two countries and was finally approved in time for the visit of President Barack Obama in the country in April 2014. The US government’s policy of “Rebalance to Asia and the Pacific” strategy is also generally perceived as material to the expeditious approval of the EDCA.One of the highlights of the EDCA is the provision allowing US troops, ships, and planes access to the facilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to undertake high-impact and high-value security cooperation exercises.

As stated in the signed agreement, the objectives of the agreement include the pursuit of maritime security and maritime domain awareness. More important, however, is the provision to address the Armed forces of the Philippines’ short-term capability gaps and long-term modernization. EDCA would allow the US to upgrade Philippine facilities and infrastructure for joint use of Philippine and US forces in yet to be determined locations within the Philippines. Although its legality was questioned before the Supreme Court, the High Tribunal declared it as constitutional in January of this year.

This extended historical link indicates that the AFP will always look up to the US armed forces as its model of military development. Recently, a steady stream of big-ticket military equipment was handed over to the Philippine armed forces under the US government’s excess defense article and the foreign assistance act. To date, two Hamilton-class cutters – BRP Gregorio del Pilar and BRP Ramon Alcaraz – have been turned over to the Philippine Navy to enhance its seriously depleted maritime assets. Another Hamilton-class cutter commissioned as BRP Andres Bonifacio was turned over to the Philippine Navy last July in a ceremony held in the US. The vessel is expected to sail home by October of this year.

Under President Aquino’s administration, the government also purchased two FA50s. This is the lighter and more affordable version of the T50 developed by the Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI). T50 is a supersonic advanced jet trainer and light attack aircraft jointly developed by KAI and the American aerospace company Lockheed Martin. (READ: Aquino and the PH military: Toys for the big boys)

The Philippine military has also explored other sources for its military upgrade. An example would be the recently delivered BRP Tarlac which is a Makassar class landing platform dock made in Indonesia and was officially commissioned on May 16 of this year.

BIGGEST SHIP. President Benigno S. Aquino III christened landing dock vessel BRP Tarlac during the Philippine Navy 118th Anniversary Celebration on June 1, 2016. Malacañang Photo

BIGGEST SHIP. President Benigno S. Aquino III christened landing dock vessel BRP Tarlac during the Philippine Navy 118th Anniversary Celebration on June 1, 2016. Malacañang Photo
The ratification of EDCA by the Supreme Court on January 12, 2016, means an even greater presence of US Forces in the country, and, most likely, even closer military relations between the two countries. Undoubtedly, the AFP has been open in exploring different models of change for its modernization but the long-standing close relations between the Philippines and the US is way too entrenched and will always be a huge factor in the consciousness of individual members of the AFP.

In the absence of a more detailed national security strategy of the government, it may be a challenge for the Philippines to independently chart its own course of military modernization. For the Chinese government, the close US-Philippine alliance can pose as an additional thorn in the side of the already fragile relations between China and the Philippines.

AFP modernization: the curious cocktail of internal and external security situation, political leadership and the unique culture of the military

President Duterte already gave the assurance that the AFP modernization will continue. However, the external impulses provided by the fluid situation in the South China Sea, coupled with the age-old insurgency problem in the country, continuously provide the shocks shaping the character of the new modernization program.

The AFP, like many military institutions across the world, is steeped in its own culture with their traditions and norms. For some individual members of the military, the communist bogey has been too inculcated into their consciousness to be dismissed notwithstanding the pronouncement of the national government to extend the hand of peace to the members of CPP/NPA.

The Philippine armed forces, partly because of the country’s insurgency problem, has always been dominated by the ground forces, the Philippine Army.

Nonetheless, the growing restiveness in the West Philippine Sea heightened the need to have an invigorated naval forces. The specific sub-culture of each different branch of service will affect the way they react to these impulses.

Eber (2014) pointed out how the military, in contrast to the widely held belief, is not a monolithic institution. It is composed of dynamic groups and communities that actively interact and negotiate with one another. These groups have their own unique interpretation of complex, and, at times, contradicting external and internal imperatives and situations. The reality is that specific groups within the AFP react idiosyncratically to the external stimuli presented by the security concern in the West Philippine Sea, the invigorated relations with the US via the EDCA, and the nagging internal security problem of the country.

There are also specific units within the AFP known for its closer ties with its US counterpart. The Philippine Marines is one of these units. From its inception, the Philippine Marines is known for its close organizational connections with the US Marines. These are reflected in the almost identical uniforms and insignias, training doctrines and operational strategies, as well as the borrowed rituals and traditions from their US counterpart. This uniquely locates the organization vis-à-vis the AFP’s modernization program given that a substantial portion of the equipment upgrade will be coming from the US.

Meanwhile, the leaders and representatives of major service commands have different layers of connection with the national and local political leaders who ultimately would approve or disapprove which, in what numbers, and under what terms the new equipment, personnel upgrade and training would be procured, including the very doctrine that would be adopted as a guide for the AFP’s quest to modernize.

While it may take years, even decades, to catch up with the military capability of our nearest neighbors, the impetus has been initiated, and is now moving with its own momentum that cannot be halted abruptly. Even with the broad policy statement coming from the head of the country to focus more on internal security operations, the commitments made by the previous administration cannot be ignored. In the end, however, all these developments need to go hand-in-hand with the new administration’s pronouncements of pursuing peace negotiations with various insurgency groups.

Ultimately, a broader appreciation of the AFP’s effort to modernize means prioritizing first the basic welfare of the soldiers. In his recent trip to the AFP Medical Center, President Digong Duterte vowed to do just that. Nevertheless, for some groups brutalized by years of costly and heartbreaking fighting, their reservations about the proposed peace process is understandable. In the end, however, successful peace negotiations with various insurgent groups would redound to fewer casualties for all sides.

[Leslie V. Advincula-Lopez is a research associate at the Institute of Philippine Culture, Ateneo de Manila University. She just finished her ASEAN-Fulbright (University of Maryland) research grant on the gains and challenges of the Philippines and the US defense cooperation and is currently working on her PhD dissertation at the Department of Sociology, University of the Philippines in Diliman.]