Monday, August 29, 2016

Victims of NPA mass purging in Leyte remembered

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 29): Victims of NPA mass purging in Leyte remembered

Family members of victims of the mass killing initiated by the New People’s Army (NPA) commemorated on Sunday the Inopacan mass grave discovery and exhumation in this city.

More than a hundred family members from this city, Inopacan and Mahaplag towns in Leyte visited the final resting place of the skeletal remains of their loved ones.

Skeletal remains of 67 individuals were unearthed from shallow graves in Subang Daku village in Inopacan town on Aug. 28, 2006 through the help of villagers.

The mass purging tagged by the NPA as “Oplan Venereal Disease,” has claimed the lives of about 300 residents in Leyte province, based on estimates of former rebels and the victims’ relatives.

The Philippine Army called the place where the skeletal remains were discovered as “The Garden.”

Among those who joined the 10th year commemoration was Carmelita Tenaja, whose husband was one of those executed. She personally witnessed the summary executions done by insurgents in their village.

Tenaja asked President Rodrigo R. Duterte to help them attain justice.

“Mr. President, you are the only one who can help us. We need your intervention to give justice for the fathers who were killed, for the mothers who were executed and orphaned children,” she added.

Former rebel Erlinda Caiwan recalled that her son was killed by insurgents after she surrendered to military in 1984.

Caiwan admitted that she was part of the group that executed farmers. She was ordered to kill at least four people unknown to her.

“I was compelled to kill because if I would not do it, my life would be at stake,” she told reporters.

After killing the fourth victim, she realized that joining the revolutionary group would not bring her a peaceful life.

Caiwan left the NPA-controlled village at midnight. “They would kill me if they know that I’m leaving. Everyone in our village are either NPA members or sympathizers,” she recalled.

Four days after she surrendered in a military camp in Mahaplag town in 1984, the rebels killed her son.

On Sunday, the old woman joined several others in calling for justice for her son.

She also asked the government not to free those who are facing charges for the murder of their family members despite the ongoing peace talks in Norway between the national government and the Communist Party of the Philippines.

After the mass grave discovery, the Philippine Army filed 15 counts of murder before the Manila Regional Trial Court against couple Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, Satur Ocampo, Vicente Ladlad, Randal Echaniz, Rafael Baylosis, Exusperado Lloren and several others.

The Tiamzons got temporary freedom to be part of the on-going peace talks between the government and the NDF in Oslow, Norway.

“I hope that the President will not allow these people to be free from the charges because they are the reason why people living in remote villages remain poor. They suppressed the right of the people to attain progress. They should face trial and be put in jail,” Caiwan exclaimed.

Col. Francisco Mendoza, brigade commander of the Army’s 802nd Infantry Brigade expressed hope that cases filed against NPA leaders will be pushed through.

“One of the topics in Norway is how to give justice to the victims of atrocities. Let us hope that the government panel will be able to make a better representation to the victims of these killings,” Mendoza said.

“We are always here to protect you and to ensure that these things will never happen again,” he added.

President Duterte reiterates ‘No War Policy’ vs. China

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 29): President Duterte reiterates ‘No War Policy’ vs. China

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Monday said that he wishes to seat in front of the Chinese Ambassador or his representative in order to lay down the Philippines’ position regarding the West Philippine issue (South China Sea) as he reiterated his stand for peace.

President Duterte in his speech during the commemoration of the National Heroes Day at the “Libingan Ng Mga Bayani” in Taguig said “China, it’s not worthy, I don’t go to war.”

The President said he wants the talks with China to prosper and will not do acts that may affect it. The Philippines through former President Fidel Ramos, who leads the panel for the talks with China, has met with Chinese officials recently to look into future discussion between the two countries on the West Philippine Sea issue.

Earlier, the President said that the country will not open the topic on the South China Sea nor the arbitral decision so as not to affect the on going talks between the two countries.

“I’ll keep silent now, and the ambassador is there. But I will state my case before you. I will never bring the matter, because it might lead only to the suspension of the talks with China,” Duterte said.

He had also earlier intimated his objection to outsiders meddling into the affairs of the country and the issue of the country with China is something personal to the two countries, reason it should be discussed only with China.

The President said “I propose that we just have a soft landing everywhere but for now, Mr. Ambassador, I want to just talk to you for a moment.”

With the Chinese Ambassador present during the National Heroes Day commemoration, President Duterte jokingly asked that China give the Philippines the time to build its force to cope with their superiority.

The West Philippine Sea, known for its vast marine resource, entices fishermen to go there to catch fishes for livelihood. PRRD also asked China to treat the Philippines like its brother and understand the plight of the poor Filipino fishermen. “That’s why they are there because they are poor.”

President Duterte emphasized “the Chinese people this time might find a place in their hearts for the Filipinos. After all, I come from--- there’s a Chinese blood in me, so I hope that you treat us your brothers, not your enemies and take note of the plight of our citizens,” he said as he spoke before members of the diplomatic Corps during the event.

(Update) Bodies of two helicopter crash victims airlifted at Villamor Airbase

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 30): (Update) Bodies of two helicopter crash victims airlifted at Villamor Airbase

Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) said the bodies of the two helicopter crash victims Capt. Miguel C. Logronio and his Aircraft Mechanic Eng. Jay Gregorio were airlifted at 11:00 a.m. Tuesday by the 505th rescue group in a Sokol helicopter at Villamor Airbase Grandstand.

The exact crash site according to rescuers on the ground from the 48th infantry battalion of Philippine Army is at Sitio Macua, Brgy. Kabayunan, Dona Remedios Trinidad, Bulacan near the boundary of Quezon province.

The helicopter an AS350B2 type is operated by Macroasia Air Taxi Services with registry number RP-C2688 is on rescue mission extracting trapped miners inside the Sumag diversion tunnel project by MWSS when the accident happened.

Catholic prelates hail signing of ceasefire deal between GPH and CPP-NDF-NPA in Oslo

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 30): Catholic prelates hail signing of ceasefire deal between GPH and CPP-NDF-NPA in Oslo

Catholic prelates have lauded the signing of the indefinite ceasefire deal between the Philippine government (GPH) and the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front-New People's Army (CPP-NDF-NPA) in Oslo, Norway.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said he is hoping that the signing of the pact will settle the decades-old conflict and finally attain peace in the country.

"I congratulate them for agreeing on a ceasefire. I hope this leads to trust that will bring about real peace," he said.

Lipa Bishop Ramon Arguelles believes that resting the arms is a step in achieving peace.

"Peace is always of highest value. Silence of arms is a good step to achieve peace," he added.

Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez said the signing of the deal between the government and the insurgents is a good decision.

"Good decision. No shooting, no death," he said.

On Friday, the Philippine government and leaders of the communist guerrillas signed the landmark deal to facilitate peace talks aimed at putting an end to the insurgency which has lasted close to five decades.

ASG death toll in Sulu focused military operations now at 25

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 30): ASG death toll in Sulu focused military operations now at 25

The number of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits killed in the ongoing focused military operations in Sulu has climbed to 25 as four more brigands were killed in separate encounters Monday.

This was disclosed by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo in a message to the PNA Tuesday.

The first clash took place 1:50 p.m. in Sitio Kugan, Barangay Bakung, Patikul when troopers from the 21st Infantry Battalion clashed with an estimated 30 ASG bandits led by sub-leader Jamiri Jawong.

In the 30-minute firefight, two of the terrorists were killed and an undetermined number, including Jawong, were wounded, forcing the ASG to retreat.

No losses were recorded by government troopers in this encounter, Arevalo said.

In the second clash at 3: 42 p.m., an estimated 80 brigands were encountered by members of the 4th Scout Ranger Battalion.
In the ensuing 30-minute firefight, two more of the bandits were killed while two soldiers were wounded.

Earlier, 21 ASG terrorists were reported killed after the AFP started focused military operations against the brigands last Aug. 26, in the wake of the brutal beheading of 18-year-old Patrick Jhames Almodavar last week.

(Update) 15 soldiers killed, 10 wounded in Sulu clash with ASG

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 30): (Update) 15 soldiers killed, 10 wounded in Sulu clash with ASG

Fifteen soldiers, from the 35th and 21st Infantry Battalions, were killed while another 10 were wounded following a clash with an estimated 120 Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits led by Radullan Sahiron in Patikul town, Sulu on Monday afternoon.

An officer is among the 15 soldiers killed in the battle, said Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo.

The encounter took place 4: 30 p.m. at Sitio Kan Jalul, Barangay Maligay, Patikul.

"We are withholding the names of those KIA (killed in action) and WIA (wounded in action) until their next-of-kins were duly notified," he added.

"Other soldiers operating in the area immediately rushed to the encounter site to pursue the withdrawing terrorists. Other Army units provide the blocking forces," Arevalo stressed.

ASG losses are still undetermined as of this posting. Troops were pursuing the terrorists when they encountered Sahiron's group, triggering a one hour and half firefight which ended 6:00 p.m. Monday.

"As we gaze at the national flag that flies at half mast anew, soldiers knew that one too many hero among them has again offered his life --that others may live," AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya said.

"Much as every soldier, sailor, marine, or airman knows that laying down one's life is all part and parcel of their job, we in the AFP vow to pursue this battle to conclusion," he added.

And while admitting that the road will be rough, Visaya said the AFP, despite casualties, will continue with its duty to eradicate these bandits and end their terrorist threat.

"We have all the time. Keep the pressure on the enemy until they wear out. Just ensure they won't be able to leave the island and we will be triumphant in the end," he added.

Focused military operations have been ongoing against the bandit group since Aug. 26 since the brigands beheaded 18-year-old Patrick Jhames Almodavar last Aug. 25.

President Duterte welcomes wounded soldiers to Palace, urges them to “fight again”

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 30): President Duterte welcomes wounded soldiers to Palace, urges them to “fight again”

President Rodrigo Duterte lived up to his promise to bring soldiers who were wounded in action, including a blind soldier who made him teary-eyed when they met a few weeks ago, to Malacañang Palace, which he prefers to call “Palace of the People”.

In a dinner he hosted for them Monday night, the Commander-in-Chief reiterated his assurance that he will not abandon his troops, particularly those who are wounded in action.

”I can assure you: My presidency will take care of you, you have nothing to worry about,” President Duterte assured the soldiers, most of whom visited the Palace for the first time.

While making the rounds of military camps nationwide, President Duterte promised to double the salary of soldiers and police, and provide them scholarships for their children, modern military equipment, and state-of-the-art medical facilities.

Saying that not every Filipino is given a rare chance to die for his country, President Duterte encouraged the wounded soldiers not to lose hope.

”There’s always a drawback somewhere when there is fighting. Whether you like or not, there is always a day for you. So kayong medyo lumusot (So those of you who escaped death), it means to say: ‘Fight again,’” the President told them.

Lt. Jerome Jacuba, who lost his eyesight after he was hit by an improvised explosive device during an operation in Maguindanao several months ago, received a laptop he requested from the President.

”Here’s your laptop, ibigay mo sa kanya pati siguro kotse na, isali mo na (also give him a car),” the President instructed his staff, drawing applause from the crowd that included Senate President Aquilino ‘Koko’ Pimentel III and Cabinet officials led by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

In response, Jacuba expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the President for giving him hope that he thought would never come again after the Maguindanao blast that left him totally blind.

”Mahirap mawalan ng paningin. Marami pa ako gustong gawin. Marami pa akong pangarap sa buhay. Paano na ang mga anak ko? Hindi ko na makikita kung paano sila mag-drawing, gaano sila kagaling sumayaw. Pero ganun pa man, simula ng bumisita si President Duterte, talagang nagbago ang lahat,” Jacuba said.

("It is difficult to lose one's eyesight. I still want to achieve a lot of things. I still have a lot of dreams. What will happen to my children now? I will never see their drawings or how they will dance. Nonetheless, President Duterte's visit changed everything," Jacuba said.)

He said blessings have begun to pour in for him and his family after his emotional meeting with President Duterte at V. Luna Hospital last August 2. The meeting where the crying Jacuba tightly hugged the President went viral in the internet.

”Yun sana ang unang pagkakataon na makaharap at makita nang personal ang isang President pero ipinagkait pa. Masayang-masaya ako dahil sa inyo Sir, nagkaroon ulit ako ng pagasa,” he said.

("It was my one chance to come face to face with a President but it was denied to me. I am so happy that, because of you Sir, I began to have hope again," he said.)

The 28-year-old Jacuba also thanked the President for his sincerity to serve the Filipino soldiers and the entire country.

”Kung kami ang mga bayani, kayo naman ang bayani ng mga bayani. Ikaw ang naglift up ng morale ng mga sundalo. Kayo ang leader na may puso at sinsero,” Jacuba said.

("If we soldiers are heroes, then you sir is the hero of heroes. You lift the morale of soldiers. You are a leader with heart and sincerity," Jacuba said.)

PN now guarding strategic Sulu areas to prevent ASG reinforcement

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 30): PN now guarding strategic Sulu areas to prevent ASG reinforcement

Philippine Navy (PN) units are now blocking strategic areas of Sulu to prevent Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) sympathizers from resupplying and reinforcing their beleaguered comrades in the island.

This was stressed by AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo in a press briefing Monday.

"While not sufficient large to support (all its commitment) it has sufficient assets to (carry out) the operation," he added.

PN units are also tasked to prevent ASG terrorists from escaping from their Sulu enclaves which are now under heavy military pressure.

During Monday's briefing, Arevalo said total ASG bandits in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi are placed at 481 fighters.

However, they do not have exact figures on the bandit group's sympathizers, supporters or operatives recruited through dubious means.

Total number of ASG bandits killed in the ongoing focused military operations in Sulu are placed at 25 along with undetermined number of wounded.

While military losses were placed at 15 killed and 12 wounded.

Operations against the bandits started last Aug. 26 after the terrorists brutally beheaded 18-year-old Patrick Jhames Almodavar last Aug. 25.

2 Japanese destroyers now in South Harbor for PHL visit

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 30): 2 Japanese destroyers now in South Harbor for PHL visit

Two ships of Escort Division Seven of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) have arrived at Pier 15, South Harbor Manila for a goodwill visit that started Monday and will end on Thursday.

The ships, which arrived at 8:00 a.m., are identified as the Murasame-class destroyer JS Juudachi (DD-103) and the Asagiri-class destroyer JS Yuugiri (DD-153), said Philippine Navy (PN) spokesperson Capt. Lued Lincuna.

The JMSDF vessels were met by BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF-16) in the vicinity of Corregidor Island and were escorted to their designated anchorage area.

Lincuna said the meeting procedure is an internationally-observed naval tradition where the host ship meets the visiting ships and escorts them to their port of call.

Representing PN flag-officer-in-command Vice Admiral Caesar Taccad, Capt. Primitivo S. Decio, led the PN delegation who welcomed the Japanese ships and crew.

A port briefing related to security and health was conducted aboard one of the visiting vessels.

JMSDF delegates headed by Division Commander, Capt. Takashi Inoue, are set to render a courtesy call to Taccad during the duration of the visit.

Lincuna said a series of confidence building activities between the visiting navy and their Filipino counterparts will be undertaken such as shipboard tour on board the Japanese ships and reciprocal receptions.

The visit aims to continue enhancing the already strong relationship between the PN and the JMSDF.

It is a demonstration of fostering commitment to the cooperation between the two nations which benefits regional peace and stability.

Palace saddened by death of 15 soldiers in heightened war against Abu Sayyaf

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 30): Palace saddened by death of 15 soldiers in heightened war against Abu Sayyaf

Malacanang on Tuesday described as ‘unfortunate’ the death of 15 soldiers, including an officer, in the government heightened campaign against the Abu Sayyaf Group in Patikul, Sulu.

”It is unfortunate that the number of our troops have already lost their lives,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a press briefing.

However, Abella said the government will continue to track down the ASG bandits.

”As Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on August 29, we are going full force and all-out operations against them,” Abella said.

He said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is sending reinforcement of five battalions in Sulu.

”The President is definitely focused in making sure that the threat of the ASG should be terminated as soon as possible. Already, this is a manifestation of his campaign against the Abu Sayyaf,” Abella said.

Abella said there is no timeline set for the all-out operation against the ASG bandits but “it should not be an extended engagement.”

President Duterte had ordered to destroy Abu Sayyaf after the kidnap-for-ransom group beheaded James Patric Almodovar last week.

The ASG kidnapped the 18-year-old Almodovar last July 16 outside his house in Jolo.

The terrorist group reportedly beheaded Almodovar after his family failed to pay the PHP1 million ransom.

The ASG has been listed by the United States and the Philippines as a terrorist group for kidnappings, beheadings and bombings.

PH: China risks being 'losers at the end of the day'

From Rappler (Aug 30): PH: China risks being 'losers at the end of the day'

'As you can see, China is practically alone,' Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr says   

TOP DIPLOMAT. Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr holds a news conference on July 27, 2016, after the recent ASEAN meeting in Laos. Photo by Noel Celis/AFP

TOP DIPLOMAT. Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr holds a news conference on July 27, 2016, after the recent ASEAN meeting in Laos. Photo by Noel Celis/AFP
The Philippines urged China on Tuesday, August 30, to heed an arbitral tribunal’s historic ruling on the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), or risk being “losers at the end of the day.”
“We are trying to make China understand, especially when the dust settles, that unless they respect and recognize the arbitral tribunal, they will be the losers at the end of the day on this matter,” Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr said in a congressional budget hearing on Tuesday.

“I do not think it is quite correct to say that China has won,” Yasay added. “We have won. This is a great and resounding victory for the Philippines.”

Yasay made this statement as the Philippines eyes bilateral or one-on-one talks with China on the West Philippine Sea dispute.

The Philippines’ top diplomat said on Tuesday: “When we start formal negotiations or bilateral engagements with China, we will have to do it within the context of the arbitral tribunal decision. There are no buts or ifs insofar as our policy on this matter is concerned.”

“We will not engage China if they will impose as a condition that we will only have bilaterals outside the framework of the arbitral tribunal's decision,” he added.

China ‘practically alone’

Before holding formal negotiations with China, however, the Philippines for a “provisional arrangement… particularly in Scarborough Shoal, for our fishermen to use this area as their traditional fishing ground.”

On this provisional arrangement, Yasay said, “This is what we would like to be as some kind of a baseline before we really even open formal engagements with China.

He added: “We are also getting the pressure on the part of the international community to urge China to precisely respect and recognize the decision of the arbitral tribunal. This pressure on the part of the international community is building up.”

“As you can see, China is practically alone,” Yasay said.

President Rodrigo Duterte himself on Monday, August 29, urged China to consider the plight of Filipino fishermen as Manila and Beijing try to mend their sea dispute.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua, for his part, said in an interview with reporters, “We cannot accept the arbitration award but we do look forward to talk to the Philippines bilaterally of the troubles we have.”

Duterte gov't to go 'full force' vs Abu Sayyaf – Palace

From Rappler (Aug 30): Duterte gov't to go 'full force' vs Abu Sayyaf – Palace

Five more battalions, composed of around 2,500 soldiers, will be sent to Sulu to fight the bandit group

The Duterte administration intends to go "full force" in quashing the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) amid the recent killing of 15 soldiers in Sulu by the terrorist group, Malacañang said on Tuesday, August 30.

About the military's casualties, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella in a press conference said, "It is unfortunate that a number of our troops have already lost their lives."

Abella said the series of offensives against the Abu Sayyaf are "manifestations of his campaign" against the bandit group.

On August 26 and 27, the military claimed it killed at least 14 ASG members in two separate encounters in Sulu. Over a span of two weeks, the AFP's Joint Task Force Sulu has captured two and killed 19 members of the ASG.

"Definitely, the President is focused on making sure that the threat of the Abu Sayyaf Group should be terminated as soon as possible," said Abella.
"He is concentrating full force against [Abu Sayyaf]," he added.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Monday, August 29, that the government is "intensifying" its operations against the Abu Sayyaf.
It is set to deploy 5 more battalions composed of 2,500 soldiers in Sulu alone, Lorenzana said in a chance interview with reporters.
"We will go into full force and all-out operations against them soon. We are adding 5 battalions – around 2,500 people. That's only for Sulu" he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
He said the existing number of troops in Basilan, another stomping ground of the bandit group, is sufficient for the military's operations there.
The Abu Sayyaf recently beheaded a young Sulu native, one of its hostages. The group continues to hold captive Indonesians, Malaysians, and one Norwegian for whom they are demanding ransom. (READ: Duterte vows to 'destroy' Abu Sayyaf after new beheading)

Duterte to appoint Palace chief protocol officer Paynor as US ambassador

From Rappler (Aug 30): Duterte to appoint Palace chief protocol officer Paynor as US ambassador

(UPDATED) The President plans to appoint former UN attache and ABS-CBN anchor Robert Borje as the new Palace Chief Protocol Officer

President Rodrigo Duterte intends to appoint Malacañang Palace Chief Protocol Officer Marciano Paynor as the Philippines' Ambassador to the United States.

Duterte told this to media during an ambush interview on Monday, August 29, in Malacañang Palace.

Paynor's "stretch in the foreign service" and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana's recommendation of him were among the reasons why Duterte picked him.

Paynor was also the Director General of the 2015 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) National Organizing Council.

"He's good...Kaya niya 'yan (He can do it)," said Duterte.

Duterte said he is yet to nominate Paynor for the position. The appointment will also have to go through the Congress' Committee on Appointments.

Paynor served as Philippine Consul General to San Francisco, Washington DC, Gabon, Budapest, Rome, Israel, Cyprus, and Los Angeles.

Prior to his foreign service career, Paynor was a military man. He was an alumnus of the Philippine Military Academy but left the military in 1983 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Duterte's choice comes after Lorenzana declined the post of ambassador to the US.
With Paynor's upcoming appointment, the post of Chief Protocol Officer will be offered to ABS-CBN anchor Robert Borje.

"I have one nominee, I don't know if he's qualified, Borje," said Duterte.

Borje, who hails from Duterte's hometown Davao City, also entered the foreign service. He is the son of a former military man, retired Commodore Adolf Borje of the Philippine Navy, supposedly a friend of Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza.

Cotabato City cops on alert over grenade attacks

From InterAksyon (Aug 20): Cotabato City cops on alert over grenade attacks

Police in Cotabato City have gone on high alert following successive grenade attacks on its units.

A smoke grenade was lobbed at the office of the Traffic Management Unit. Monday afternoon, city police Station 2 was attacked with a fragmentation grenade.

No one was hurt in both incidents.

City police spokesman Senior Inspector Rowell Zafra said the grenade attacks could be part of attempt to spring crime suspects locked up in police holding cells, noting that those at city police station 1, which is beside the TMU office, and 2 are currently crowded.

Acting Mayor Cynthia Guiani attributed the attacks to what she described as efforts to derail the improved peace and order situation in the city, including the local anti-drug campaign.

Meanwhile, a former village councilman of Pikit, Cotabato was killed and two other persons were wounded in an accidental grenade explosion Tuesday morning.

Reports from Pikit said a farmer found an unexploded round from a grenade launcher and took this to the rest house of Mayor Sumulong Sultan where it detonated.

The identities of the victims were not immediately available.

Mt Province rebels kills ‘military agent’ on first day of ceasefire

From InterAksyon (Aug 30): Mt Province rebels kills ‘military agent’ on first day of ceasefire

Communist rebels in Mountain Province said they  killed a militiaman that said was also working as an Army intelligence agent on August 21, soon after the start of a seven-day unilateral ceasefire their national leadership declared for the formal resumption of peace talks with government.

Magno Udyaw, spokesman of the New People’s Army’s Leonardo Pacsi Command, said Junjun Angtan, alias Dadpaas, a native of Barangay Bantaugan, Bauko town and a member of the 77th CAFGU Active Auxiliary Battalion of the 5th Infantry Division, was meted the “death sentence” for “crimes against the revolutionary movement and the people.”

Angtan, said Udyaw, “overzealously and continuously monitored the movements of NPA units operating in the western side of Mt Province and directly reported to his superiors in the 54th IB (Infantry Battalion) since 2010,” when he acted as lead scout of a massive military operation on the borders of Tadian, Bauko, Besao and Sagada that led to the discovery of a rebel camp and a subsequent battle on Mount Alipiniw.
The NPA spokesman said the operation was mounted after hearings by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau on mining activities in the area.

Following this, Angtan “regularly reported” to the 54th IB in Bontoc and accompanied military agents on operations and in setting up networks, going with the unit when it transferred its headquarters to Paracelis town in 2012, where he “continued his nefarious activities in eastern Mountain Province and eastern Ifugao,” he added.

Even before the 2010 military operation, Udyaw said the NPA had repeatedly warned Angtan against his intelligence work and advised his relatives to dissuade him.
However, Angtan ignored the warnings.

Udyaw said the death of Angtan should “should serve as a warning” to Igorots “not to become traitors to the tribes and communities they come from by working as devout paid agents of the oppressors.”

AFP: Despite jail raid, Maute terror weakened under pressure

From InterAksyon (Aug 29): AFP: Despite jail raid, Maute terror weakened under pressure

Marawi, where the jailbreak to spring followers of the Maute terror group occurred.

Despite the Maute terror group's brash move to raid the provincial jail situated in Marawi City and spring 23 inmates, including its followers, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla asserted on Monday that the strength of the Muslim extremists have been degraded by the series of armed encounters with security forces.

"Yung latest assessment ay hindi ko hawak pero na-diminish na yung strength nila dahil nga sa nakaraang mga enkwentro sa kanila (While the latest assessment is not in my hand, I can say their strength has diminished under the pressure applied by the military and the police in past encounters)," Padilla said.

On Saturday, 50 heavily-armed men from the group, which claims support for the Islamic State (IS), stormed the provincial jail that caught the jail guards, the military and the police flat-footed.

According to provincial jail warden Acmad Tabao, most of the escapees were high-value target criminals.

Tabao said the terrorists came to the gate of the provincial ostensibly to deliver food for the detainees, but the jail guards reacted a tad too late as the armed visitors forced their way into the compound.

He said the raiders' objective was to spring their eight comrades arrested on August 22, and the rest of the escapees became their instant recruits.

The incident prompted the military to declare a red alert in support to the police operations against the escaped inmates.

But Padilla stressed that the job to recapture the escapees is the principal mission for the police to execute.

"It's law enforcement. But, of course, we work with the police in the pursuit and the recapture of all these prisoners, fugitives," he said.

In the middle of last year, the Maute terror group posted on YouTube their oath of allegiance to IS and started their terror operations, engaging in kidnappings and bombings and making the town of Butig in Lanao del Sur their "playground".

In February this year, the military and police started a campaign of attrition that lasted for weeks, and the terror group was flushed out of their camps and splintered into small groups.

One of the World's Biggest Fisheries Is on the Verge of Collapse

From the National Geographic (Aug 29): One of the World's Biggest Fisheries Is on the Verge of Collapse

Major disputes in the South China Sea are putting critical habitat—and the food supply of millions—at risk.

Picture of dock workers use cranes to offload frozen, net caught, tuna

Dock workers use cranes to off-load frozen tuna from a Chinese-owned cargo vessel at the General Santos Fish Port, in the Philippines. Tuna stocks in the South China Sea have plummeted in recent years because of overfishing.

Years ago Christopher Tubo caught a 660-pound blue marlin in the South China Sea. The fishing was good there, he says. Tuna fishermen would come home from a trip with dozens of the high-value fish as well as a good haul of other species.

“Here there’s none of that,” he says, looking toward the Sulu Sea, the Philippine sea where he’s been fishing for the past four years. His two boats, traditional Filipino outriggers called bancas, float in the shallow water nearby, new coats of white paint drying in the sun.

Tubo is sitting on a wooden bench in front of his home, which perches on stilts above the bay. One of his four kids wraps an arm around his leg. Worn T-shirts and shorts flutter on clotheslines behind them.
Picture of fisherman offloading line caught tuna




A worker carries a line-caught yellowfin tuna at the General Santos Fish Port, which is known as the “tuna capital of the Philippines.” The South China Sea, through which tuna migrate, produces more fish than almost anywhere else, but it has been severely overfished and is nearing collapse. Photograph by Adam Dean, National Geographic

Glancing over at his wife, Leah, and the other children, he says, “It’s just chance, whether or not we can feed our families now.”
Tubo lives in Puerto Princesa, a city of 255,000 on Palawan, a long finger of an island that faces the Sulu Sea and the Philippine archipelago to the east and the contested South China Sea to the west. He’s one of the nearly 320,000 fishermen in the Philippines who have traditionally made their livelihoods from the South China Sea—and one of a growing number who are now fishing in other waters because of increasing Chinese interference. Beginning around 2012, China adopted a more assertive posture in the sea’s long-running territorial dispute, building military installations on contested islands and increasingly using its coast guard to intimidate fishermen from other countries.

It was after a Chinese coast guard vessel attacked a friend’s fishing boat with water cannons that Christopher Tubo stopped fishing the South China Sea.
 Picture of fishermen                                                        Filipino fishermen aboard the Ninay haul in sardines and scad in national waters near the South China Sea. The territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea have increased competition for dwindling fish stocks of all species. Photograph by Adam Dean, National Geographic

“One minute you’ll see an airplane, the next thing there’s a naval boat,” he says, describing how the Chinese attempt to keep fishermen from other countries out of the disputed area. “If we kept going over there, maybe we won’t be able to go home to our families.”
“As they see it, it’s theirs now, and Filipinos are forbidden,” says Henry Tesorio, an elected councilor for a fishing village in Puerto Princesa.
Vietnamese fishermen could say the same thing. Some 200 Vietnamese from the island of Ly Son, 15 miles (24 kilometers) off the mainland, reported being attacked by Chinese boats in 2015, according to local Vietnamese government officials.

Picture of boat lights

The lights on the Melissa attract fish toward the boat and up to the surface. A storm later forced the boat to return to Quezon, a fishing village on the island of Palawan, in the Philippines. Fishermen from the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, and elsewhere all fish the South China Sea. Photograph by Adam Dean, National Geographic

Tubo’s decision not to fish in the South China Sea speaks to the rising tensions in the region, which are causing fierce competition for natural resources. Encompassing 1.4 million square miles (3.7 million square kilometers), the South China Sea is of critical economic, military, and environmental importance: $5.3 trillion in international trade plies its waters annually; in terms of biodiversity, it is thought of as the marine equivalent of the Amazon rain forest; and its fish provide food and jobs for millions in the 10 countries and territories that surround it.

Of those, seven—China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia—have competing claims to the sea’s waters and resources. So it’s understandable why all eyes have been focused on the political and military wrangling. If war broke out over these claims, it would pit two superpowers, China and the United States—a longtime Philippine ally and guarantor of freedom of navigation in the Pacific Ocean—against each other.

But another less publicized, also potentially disastrous, threat looms in the South China Sea: overfishing. This is one of the world’s most important fisheries, employing more than 3.7 million people and bringing in billions of dollars every year. But after decades of free-for-all fishing, dwindling stocks now threaten both the food security and economic growth of the rapidly developing nations that draw on them.

China argues that it has a right to almost the entire South China Sea because it says it has historically exercised jurisdiction in that area, which China delineates on maps with a U-shaped “nine-dash” line (see map). Every other disputant in the South China Sea, including the Philippines, bases its maritime claims on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, an international agreement that defines maritime zones.
Opposing Beijing’s expansionist claims, in 2013 the Philippines brought a case against China before an arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration—a forum for settling international disputes—in The Hague, Netherlands. China refused to participate. On July 12, the tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines on almost all its claims, declaring that China forfeited the possibility of any historically based rights when it ratified the UN convention in 1996. China has vowed to ignore the ruling.

Picture of sleeping crew member

Crew members take shelter from a storm aboard the Ninay. Filipino fishermen have reported increasing interference from Chinese coast guard vessels in the South China Sea. China claims most of the South China Sea for itself. Photograph by Adam Dean, National Geographic

Competition for fish has exacerbated the dispute, and the dispute has intensified competition among fishermen, further depleting fish. Some parts of the South China Sea have less than a tenth of the stocks they had five decades ago. And high-value fish such as tuna and grouper are becoming scarcer.

“What we’re looking at is potentially one of the world’s worst fisheries collapses ever,” says John McManus, a marine biologist at the Rosenstiel School at the University of Miami who studies the region’s reefs. “We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of species that will collapse, and they’ll collapse relatively quickly, one after another.”


Fishermen on the Front Lines
As coastal waters are depleted, fishermen have been forced to venture farther offshore and into disputed waters to make a living. China has seized this as an opportunity to bolster its claims by aggressively supporting its fishermen. Beijing has consolidated the coast guard, militarized fishing fleets, and begun offering subsidies for bigger and better boats, water, and fuel. There’s even a special subsidy specifically for fishermen to fish in the contested Spratly Islands, more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) to the south.
“The only reason that smaller [Chinese] fishermen go out to the Spratlys is because they’re paid to do so,” says Gregory Poling, the director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank, the Center for Strategic Studies. This extra pressure has sped up the depletion of fish stocks, he says.
The Chinese have also been building artificial islands atop reefs in the Spratlys to support military installations there. “Possession is nine-tenths of the law,” says Zachary Abuza, an expert on Southeast Asian politics and maritime security at the National War College, in Washington, D.C. “China is trying to enforce its sovereignty through the construction of these islands and by denying other countries access to natural resources.”

Picture of  couple sit on the stoop of their home

A couple sits outside a home built over the water in Quezon, where most people have family members who work as fishermen. Overfishing has put the livelihoods of many Filipinos at risk. Photogrpah by Adam Dean, National Geographic

Eugenio Bito-onon, Jr.—until recently the mayor of the Kalayaan municipality, which includes islands in the Spratlys—is an outspoken advocate for the Philippines’ claims. Bito-onon and I met in the island’s cramped satellite office in Puerto Princesa, where he had a gigantic map of the South China Sea marked up with his own handwritten labels and colored dots showing which countries claim which features.

He pulls up Google Earth on his laptop and finds Thitu, an island in the Spratlys known locally as Pag-asa, where about 200 Filipinos, including a small number of troops, live part-time, their presence demonstrating the Philippines’ claim to the island. Rice, clothing, soap, and other necessities must be brought in by boat or airlift, and two government-owned generators are the only source of electricity. Bito-onon points out just how close Chinese-claimed Subi Reef is to Thitu. So close, he says, that on a clear day residents can see it on the horizon.
Even closer, though, are Chinese fishing boats, which he says have fished the reefs empty. “For the past three years, [the Chinese] never leave,” Bito-onon says from behind his laptop, now displaying satellite imagery of reefs around Thitu. “Chinese fishing boats come and go, replacing each other,” he says, but there are never not boats within sight of the island.

Picture of a fisherman wade to shore with boxes of fresh fish Picture of dock worker signaling to a crane operator


A Filipino fisherman wades from boat to shore with part of the crew’s catch. Fishermen who go to the South China Sea report that their catches have gotten smaller in recent years.

Right: The Navotas Fish Port in Manila is the largest in the Philippines. The markets at the port trade in seafood from freshwater farms, national waters, and international waters, including the South China Sea.
Photograph by Adam Dean, National Geographic
Gilbert Elefane, the Filipino captain of a tuna boat based in the municipality of Quezon, on Palawan, says he now sees up to a hundred boats, many Chinese, on a single two-week fishing trip in the South China Sea. Just a few years ago, he says he’d have seen no more than 30.

Beijing has provided military training and sophisticated GPS and communications technology to its fishermen so they can call in the coast guard if they have a run-in with a foreign law enforcement vessel or alert the coast guard of the presence of fishermen from other countries.

In the face of China’s island building, Vietnam has done some small-scale land reclamation of its own in an attempt to bolster its capacity in the Spratlys. Its efforts, however, have been less destructive than China’s.

Picture of dock workers

A dock worker uses a mallet to dislodge frozen tuna aboard a Chinese cargo vessel docked at the city of General Santos in the Philippines. The cargo vessel spends up to two months at sea with a fleet of a dozen tuna boats working to fill its freezer. Photograph by Adam Dean, National Geographic

Lawless Sea

As long as the conflict in the South China Sea continues, it will be nearly impossible to regulate fishing.

When one country tries to protect its fishing grounds, tensions flare. In March, for instance, Indonesian maritime law enforcement officials arrested eight Chinese on charges of illegal fishing. The fishermen were less than three miles (five kilometers) from Indonesia’s Natuna Islands. The Natunas themselves are not in dispute, but the waters north of them, which are particularly rich in gas, have become a new flashpoint. Under international law they’re Indonesian, but they partially overlap with China’s nine-dash line claims, so China says it has a right to fish there.

Picture of woman walking

A pregnant woman wades in the dirty water near the Navotas Fish Port. The Philippines' economy relies heavily on fishing and the seafood trade, as do most of the countries around the South China Sea. Photograph by Adam Dean, National Geographic

When Indonesia’s vessel began towing the Chinese boat back to port, an armed Chinese coast guard ship appeared and began ramming the Chinese boat to break it free. The Indonesians were forced to let the boat go and retreat.

“It’s unclear whose laws you’re enforcing when you have seven overlapping sets of fisheries laws,” Poling says. “States have a vested interest in purposely violating fishing laws of other states.”

That’s because abiding by another country’s fishing law is tantamount to accepting that that country has jurisdiction over that region, which no country has been willing to do.
In 2012, a Philippine navy warship attempted to arrest Chinese fishermen at Scarborough Shoal, about 138 miles (220 kilometers) from the Philippine coast, on suspicion of illegal fishing and poaching rare corals, giant clams, and sharks. A Chinese coast guard ship interfered to prevent the arrests, forcing a standoff. After 10 weeks both sides agreed to withdraw, but once the Philippines left, China remained, effectively seizing control of the shoal. 


Left: A fisherman at the General Santos Fish Port carries a yellowfin tuna caught in the South China Sea. Fishermen say the fish they catch now are smaller than before.
Right: Workers at the Navotas Fish Port unload and sort fish from commercial boats that have returned from the South China Sea, where overfishing has exacerbated the land and sea disputes in the region. Photograph by Adam Dean, National Geographic
As Filipino fishermen have seen their catches—and the fish themselves—getting smaller, they’ve increasingly been resorting to dangerous, illegal fishing methods.
Blast fishing, which Filipinos call “bong bong” fishing, involves setting off homemade bombs underwater to kill dozens of fish at one time. Cyanide fishing, which involves squirting fish in the face with poison to stun them, is used to catch live reef fish to supply high-end live seafood restaurants in Hong Kong and other large Asian cities.
Both practices kill coral and other fish, collateral damage that’s pushing the sea ever closer to an overfishing crisis.

 Reefs Under Siege
Picture of markets at Navotas Fish Port

Dock workers at the Navotas Fish Port sort through mussels. If the South China Sea fishery were to collapse, it would threaten the food supply of millions.Photograph by Adam Dean, National Geographic

China's island building and giant clam poaching have caused most of them documented reef destruction in the South China Sea, an area totaling 62 square miles (163 square kilometers). Island building grinds up corals for use as foundation material, smothers reefs that become the base of islands, and creates sediment plumes that suffocate nearby reefs. Dredging to deepen ports also causes serious damage. And poaching of giant clams entails grinding up corals to loosen the shells from the reef.

“It’s quite possible we’re seeing a serious decline in about half of the reefs,” John McManus, the marine biologist, says. “That’s what I expect will happen, if it hasn’t happened already. It’s just total destruction.”

When a reef is destroyed, the ecosystem unravels. Reef fish lose their habitat, and pelagic fish such as tuna lose an important source of food. Furthermore, reefs in the South China Sea are connected. Fish larvae from one reef ride the current across the sea to repopulate another reef. If a reef disappears, so does that source of larvae, increasing the chance that local extirpations of fish species will be permanent.

Picture of dock workers and fisherman buy food from a street vendor

Dock workers and fishermen buy food from a street vendor at the Navotas Fish Port, in Manila. Some 320,000 Filipinos fish the South China Sea, and many more work on the docks, as fish packers, and as seafood traders, among other jobs. Photograph by Adam Dean, National Geographic

McManus says that many of the damaged reefs will be able to recover in a decade or two—if the island building and destructive giant clam poaching stop. He champions the idea of a “peace park,” a kind of marine protected area where all countries would put a freeze on their claims and halt all activities, like island building, that bolster those claims.

Experts also say cooperative regional management could go a long way toward making the South China Sea fishery sustainable. It would require dramatic cutbacks in the number of fishing boats and restrictions on fishing methods such as the use of huge fishing vessels that use powerful lights at night to attract tuna. All this would in turn mean helping fishermen find other ways to earn a living.

Under a sustainable management plan, tuna and mackerel could recover 17-fold by 2045, Rashid Sumaila and William Cheung at the University of British Columbia predicted in a 2015 report. Reef fish would recover up to 15 percent, and the catch and value of reef fish would also increase. Sharks and groupers, which are also high-value fish, would make a comeback too.
But Poling, of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, questions whether such a plan will happen in time. “What that requires is setting aside the disputes,” he says. “It’s possible—it’s just not likely. In order to have a successful joint management system, the first step is to agree on what area you’re talking about.” With China clinging to its nine-dash line while other countries base their claims on international law, agreement just won’t be possible, he says.
As it now stands, the South China Sea’s most important resource—its fish—is disappearing, and countries are either passively standing by or actively encouraging their fishermen to take more.

Picture of children fishing

Children fish at dusk in the fishing community of Quezon in the Philippines. Fishermen here ply their trade in national waters and the South China Sea. hotograph by Adam Dean, National Geographic

This story was produced by National Geographic’s Special Investigations Unit, which focuses on wildlife crime and is made possible by grants from the BAND Foundation and the Woodtiger Fund. Read more stories from the SIU on Wildlife Watch. Send tips, feedback, and story ideas to

Malaysia’s Najib Vows to Defend Sabah Sovereignty in Duterte Meeting

From The Diplomat (Aug 29): Malaysia’s Najib Vows to Defend Sabah Sovereignty in Duterte Meeting

Premier reiterates firm stance on the issue.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak vowed to defend the country’s claim to Sabah when he meets with new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte following suggestions that the latter may reignite the dispute between the two countries, a Malaysian daily reported Monday.

Duterte, the tough-talking former mayor of Davao City who was sworn in as president in June, had previously made headlines when he appeared to recognize the claim of the sultanate of Sulu, which had ruled over parts of Sabah before the British had transferred it to the Federation of Malaysia in 1963 (See: “The Philippines Under Duterte: Reassurance Needed at Home and Abroad”).

Sabah is one of Malaysia’s 13 states and one of two on the island of Borneo, with the other being Sarawak.

As I noted before, though the president-elect is notorious for his offhand comments, his remarks struck a chord in Malaysia, which just in 2013 had seen over 200 descendants of the sultanate attempting to assert the Philippine claim to Sabah, leaving dozens of militants, civilians, and Malaysian security forces dead in what is termed the Lahad Datu Incident. In response, Malaysia’s foreign ministry reiterated the country’s position that it did not recognize any claims by any party on Sabah, while Najib warned Duterte not to reignite the issue in a regional forum (See: “Malaysia Warns Philippines’ Duterte Against Reigniting Sabah Dispute”).

On Sunday, according to The Star, Najib again vowed in a speech to party officials in Sabah that he would defend the sovereignty of Sabah in a future meeting with the Philippine president.

“If I meet Duterte, I would defend Sabah’s sovereignty,” Najib said at the joint opening of four Sabah UMNO divisions in the town of Kudat.

The daily said that while Najib did not mention Manila’s claim to Sabah directly, he did emphasize the unquestioned sovereignty of the state.

Meanwhile, Duterte is set to head off to his first foreign trip since taking office next month, where he will visit Laos for a series of ASEAN meetings as well as Brunei and Indonesia (See: “Duterte’s First ASEAN Tour: What’s on the Agenda?”.

Editorial: Abu Sayyaf and Islamic State now a linked threat

Editorial posted to the Manila Times (Aug 29): Abu Sayyaf and Islamic State now a linked threat

It is good news that the Philippine military, through the Army’s Western Mindanao Command, has lately inflicted heavy casualties on the rebel Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in a series of clashes in Sulu. And the military will continue such operations in order to press for the release of kidnapped hostages who remain in the clutches of the rebel group.

This suggests that President Duterte’s order to the AFP to “destroy” the ASG may be achievable. That, however, is easier said than done.

It is bad news that in another development in Mindanao, the Maute group, an extremist group claiming links to the Islamic State stormed the Lanao del Sur provincial jail on Saturday and freed about two dozen detainees, including eight of their comrades who were arrested just a week earlier. This assault on a government penitentiary constitutes a major blow to law and order. Police and military must move swiftly and firmly to contain the situation.

Marawi City Chief Inspector Parson Asadil said the armed men freed their leader, Hashim Balwawag Maute, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. The men were well armed, he added, and even carried rocket-propelled grenades during their assault on the provincial jail.

On Aug. 22, a joint Army-Philippine National Police checkpoint in Lumbayanague town in Lanao del Sur arrested eight men, including Hashim Balawag Maute, leader of the Maute group, who were reportedly involved in various terrorist activities in Lanao del Sur.

The jailbreak is just the latest mass escape from poorly secured jails, with the incidents often involving Muslim extremists.

We make a point of discussing these two events together in one editorial in order to underscore how precarious and volatile the situation in Mindanao remains to day, despite recent military gains in the conflict, and the greater push for peace and stabilization under President Duterte.

The simultaneous accession of three Mindanaoans to the presidency, the House speakership and the Senate presidency, has had no substantive effect on the situation in Mindanao. Peace must still be won by either strife or negotiation.

What complicate the situation further are signs of an increasing interest by the Islamic State in an alliance with Filipino Muslim rebel groups.

In June, the Islamic State declared in a video that it considered ASG’s Isnilon Hapilon, aka Abu Abdullah, as the representative of IS in the Philippines. Any linkage of the IS and ASG will present a potential problem to our government’s effort to finish off the Abu Sayyaf and the larger bid to forge a lasting solution to conflict and rebellion in our southern regions.

US intelligence and military officials say that “ISIL recognizing Hapilon has put the Philippines directly under its terror network, and this is a game-changer.” The game change could come in the form of greater rebel activity in the South.

President Duterte is indubitably correct in saying that the Philippines should now be ready to confront militarily the threat posed by the Islamic State.

In the past, our government has tended to dismiss any apprehension that the Islamic State may strive to make inroads among disaffected Muslim communities in the South.

The danger is clear and present now. There should be no delay on the part of our government and military in developing a strategy to successfully confront the menace of this rebellion.