Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Japanese destroyers on 2-day visit

From the Business Mirror (Aug 30): Japanese destroyers on 2-day visit

TWO Japanese destroyers arrived on Tuesday for a two-day goodwill, as Japan and the Philippines continue to strengthen their defense cooperation amid their separate territorial dispute with China.

The visit of the two Japanese warships was the first since Manila won its maritime claims against Beijing, which was supported by Tokyo and other regional allies of the country.

Capt. Lued Lincuna, director of the Naval Public Affairs Office, said Murasame-class destroyer Japanese Ship (JS) Yuudachi (DD 103) and Asagiri-class destroyer JS Yuugiri (DD 153) docked at the Pier 15, Manila South Harbor at around 8 a.m.
The destroyers, which operate under Escort Division 7 of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), will stay until today.

Japan and the Philippines have strengthened their defense and security cooperation over the years through regular visits of Japanese ships in Manila and the signing of various defense agreements with Tokyo.

Japan, other than agreeing to cooperate with Manila in the “defense of islands,” has even agreed to lease five maritime planes to the Philippines for its patrol of maritime waters, including the West Philippine Sea.

Lincuna said the Navy’s flagship, BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF16), accorded honors to the two Japanese destroyers as they sailed toward the pier in Manila. “This meeting procedure is an internationally observed naval tradition where the host ship meets the visiting ships and escorts them to their port of call,” Lincuna said.

“The visit aims to continue enhancing the already strong relationship between the Philippine Navy and the JMSDF. It is a demonstration of fostering commitment to the cooperation between the two nations, which benefits regional peace and stability,” he also said.

JMSDF officials, headed by the division commander Capt. Takashi Inoue, were scheduled to pay a courtesy call to Vice Adm. Caesar Taccad, Navy flag officer in command.

“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,” Lincuna said.


‘Ceasefire guidelines out in 60 days’

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 30): ‘Ceasefire guidelines out in 60 days’

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza hold a press conference after his arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airpor in Pasay City. ARNOLD ALMACEN/INQUIRER

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza hold a press conference after his arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airpor in Pasay City. ARNOLD ALMACEN/INQUIRER
THE PHILIPPINE government and communist leaders plan to hammer out guidelines for a bilateral ceasefire within 60 days, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said on Monday.

The cessation of hostilities is to be enforced through mechanisms that would monitor violations and enable joint cooperation, as the indefinite ceasefire declarations by the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), remain separate unilateral gestures for now.

“It is important to have mechanisms so there would be ways to prevent possible clashes—who will intervene and for what reasons,” Dureza told reporters in a briefing on arrival in the country at the end of the first round of talks in Oslo, Norway.
He said it might be possible for the government to adopt a template similar to its ceasefire with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, but added that the NDFP might have other proposals in mind.

The government and the NDFP will return to Oslo for the second round of talks on Oct. 8-12.

President Duterte said on Monday the ceasefire should not prevent soldiers from patrolling around the country.

The President reminded the Armed Forces of the Philippines to comply with the ceasefire agreement that the government and the NDFP signed during the first round of talks in Oslo.

“But I do not believe in the theory that just because there is a ceasefire, there is an area where the soldiers or the policemen cannot enter,” Mr. Duterte said during his visit to the wake of a policeman in Catbalogan, Samar.

The President said government forces and the communist rebels should stop killing each other.

For now, Dureza said: “We cannot discount [the possibility of shooting incidents], but the idea is that both sides are committed. Don’t expect this to be a walk in the park. There are still plenty of issues.”

While the peace panels came up with an “indicative timeline” to finish an agreement within one year, Dureza stressed the importance of taking things one step at a time.
“While we’d like to see an early end, please also manage  expectations. The road map is not always rosy,” he said.

He described the basic advocacies of the NDFP as “malalim at matindi (deep and serious),” as he acknowledged the need for socioeconomic structural reforms.


GPH, MILF panels meet in Davao for strategic workshop

From the often pro-CPP online publication the Davao Today (Aug 30): GPH, MILF panels meet in Davao for strategic workshop

Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza speaks with former Cotabato mayor and a Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader Muslimin Sema about a possible merger between the MNLF and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) during their meeting at the Apo View Hotel in Davao City on Tuesday, August 9, 2016.  (Karl Norman Alonzo/PPD)

Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza speaks with former Cotabato mayor and a Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader Muslimin Sema about a possible merger between the MNLF and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) during their meeting at the Apo View Hotel in Davao City on Tuesday, August 9, 2016. (Karl Norman Alonzo/PPD)
The negotiating panels of both the government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are holding a strategic workshop here to understand the processes needed to pass a law to replace the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
In a press conference upon his arrival from the first round of the formal peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza on Monday, August 29, said he will be joining the workshop here where there will be inputs to aid both panels to understand the process and review the mechanisms that needs to be continued.

He said after the workshop they will concentrate in constituting the group that will work again for the replacement of the failed BBL, “the enabling law that will put in place the mechanisms for the implementation of the past agreements with the MILF, and also the (Moro National Liberation Front) and the other sectors.”

Dureza said they will also discuss the process of convergence of the agreements in the 1996 Final Peace Agreement with the MNLF, the Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro in 2014.

“Tapos na yung final peace agreement pero malaki pa yung problema. How to implement them?” he said.

The strategic workshop came  two weeks after both parties agreed to pursue a new peace roadmap that will “ensure inclusivity” in the Bangsamoro Peace Process in a two-day talks of the implementing panels which were launched in Kuala Lumpur,Malaysia on August 13 to Agust 14.

He said on August 31 they will be meeting with the peace and development advocates of the MNLF, a group of MNLF chairman Nur Misuari who were involved in the implementation of the peace agreement.

He said during the meeting he will get updates on how the government can engage with Misuari “personally”.


Esperon, Quiambao at AFPREVA awarding

From The Standard (Aug 30): Esperon, Quiambao at AFPREVA awarding

National Security Adviser Gen. Hermogenes C. Esperon Jr. will address the Armed Forces of the Philippines Retired Veterans Association Inc. (AFPREVA) on its 62nd Anniversary celebration on August 31 at 7 p.m. in  Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Col. Simplicio F. Duque, AFPREVA president,  said that Esperon is expected to talk to rally  AFPREVA members  behind  President Duterte’s  campaign against illegal drugs and corruption.
Gen. Hermogenes C. Esperon Jr.
Esperon will be joined by Bayambang, Pangasinan Mayor Cesar T. Quiambao, a well-known entrepreneur who built the Skyway infrastructure in Metro Manila.

Esperon, Quiambao and eight others will receive  the AFPREVA SANDIGAN AWARD as part of the association’s commemoration of National Heroes Day on August 29.

Chartered in 1954 by the Veterans Federation of the Philippines in accordance with Republic Act 2640,  AFPREVA has been  serving its members in securing their benefits and other entitlements.

Esperon was Presidential Management Staff chief under President Gloria Arroyo and AFP chief of staff under President Ramos.

The campaign against  illegal drugs, now considered a security problem, has eliminated more than 2,000 pushers and users since President Duterte  enforced  his promise to make the country drug-free in 3 to 6 months.


Philippines says China must recognize South China Sea ruling

From Reuters (Aug 30): Philippines says China must recognize South China Sea ruling

A Philippine flag flutters from BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated Philippine Navy ship that has been aground since 1999 and became a Philippine military detachment on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea March 29, 2014. Picture taken March 29, 2014.  REUTERS/Erik De Castro

A Philippine flag flutters from BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated Philippine Navy ship that has been aground since 1999 and became a Philippine military detachment on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea March 29, 2014. Picture... REUTERS/Erik De Castro

China will be the 'loser' if it does not recognize an international court ruling against its territorial claims in the South China Sea, Philippine Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay said on Tuesday.

An arbitration court in The Hague infuriated China in July when it ruled that China had no historical title over the South China Sea and it had breached the Philippines' sovereign rights.

China has ignored the ruling that none of its claims in the disputed Spratly Islands entitled it to a 200-mile (320 km) exclusive economic zone. Its construction work on reefs there has alarmed other claimants, as well the United States and Japan.

"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 that day on this matter," Yasay told a congressional hearing.

Prior to starting bilateral talks, the Philippines plans to seal a deal for China to allow Philippine fishermen to access the resource-rich waters, Yasay said.

China seized Scarborough Shoal in 2012, denying Philippine fishermen access, one of the factors that prompted Manila to seek arbitration.

"When we start formal negotiations or bilateral engagements with China, we will have to do it within the context of the arbitral decision. There are no buts or ifs insofar as our policy on this matter is concerned," Yasay said.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims in the sea, believed to be rich in energy deposits.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said last week he expects talks with China to start within a year.


Addressing the security challenges of the Philippines

Posted to New Europe (Aug 29): Addressing the security challenges of the Philippines (By Jesus Dureza Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process of the Philippines)

(L-R) Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Silvestre H. Bello, author and Communist party founder Jose Maria Sison, Elisabeth Slaattum from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, Norwegian Foreign Minister Boerge Brende, Philippine government (GPH) representative Jesus Dureza and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) chief negotiator Luis Jalandori pose for a group photo in Oslo, Norway, 22 August 2016.

On the invitation of the Philippine Ambassador for Belgium and Mission to the EU, H.E. Ambassador Victoria Bataclan, I visited Brussels on August 25 in order to share developments in the Philippines with Belgian and EU officials. It so happened that I was in the area, in Oslo, for peace talks with leaders of the Philippines’ communist rebels.

Like Europe, the concern for peace and security in the Philippines is a priority of the government. In a radical effort to turn the country around on a peaceful path, the new Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, has sought to make peace not only with the communists, but also with Muslim separatists. Both security problems are decades-old, and have held back the full growth potential of the Philippine economy, now with a base population of 104 million.

As a childhood friend of the President, and seeing his accomplishments in Davao as its mayor, I was one of the few who tried very hard to convince him to run for the highest office in the land. He was a reluctant candidate who filed his candidacy beyond the official deadline, so it was a big surprise to me that he won by such overwhelming numbers. He had no political machinery, and was an “outsider” — he comes from Mindanao, the poorest island of the archipelago. It does not help that the “inelegant” way he speaks is frowned upon by the traditional elite.

Yet, his campaign promise to rid the country of illegal drugs resonated strongly with the common Filipino, including those who are based abroad. In the democratic elections held last May 11, the will of the Filipino people spoke clearly and definitively. Everyday concerns of crime, corruption, and drugs — all of which are interlinked — were the people’s priorities.

For the outside world, nothing better illustrates the magnitude of the Philippines’ drug problem than the discovery, made in the previous administration, that the national prison houses and protects drug lords who blatantly ply their trade in its confines.

Statistics show that illegal drugs have affected at least 3 million Filipinos. If there are doubts about this figure, it must be said that even the government was surprised that in the six-week old war against drugs, more than 600,000 drug dependents have come forward to be rehabilitated.

The drug scourge is a problem that the Philippines, as a sovereign nation, will have to address primarily on its own. But since the illegal drug trade is international in scope, forces within and outside the country will do their concerted best to derail the momentum, using their vast resources. Regretably, some quarters are unwittingly helping them.

The most glaring is when drug-related killings are misframed as “extra-judicial killings” (EJK). Police authorities have been emphatic in differentiating the deaths that resulted when drug pushers used lethal force to resist arrest, and the deaths perpetrated by other elements, labeled as “vigilante killings”.

Attempts have been made to attribute vigilante killings to the President, who has employed colorful language and unconventional  techniques. But as a lawyer and former prosecutor, the President knows the law thoroughly, and is aware of the limitations imposed by the law.

The killings being internationalized as EJK are plain and simple murder. These are criminal acts, being committed by drug syndicates. No ordinary Filipino would go vigilante, and police authorities have no reason to do so. Only corrupt policemen are capable of doing such extra-legal killings: in the face of the intense campaign against drugs, those involved in the drug trade are trying to erase implicating links. Sadly, the drug scourge has deeply embedded itself in all sectors of Philippine society, even in the police and the judiciary.

But it is also true that the intensified efforts can be abused by corrupt elements. It is important to therefore show to the Filipino people the unwavering commitment of the government to uphold human rights, by investigating the deaths that did not result from police operations.

Barely two months after the assumption of the Duterte administration, the war against drugs has produced massive gains. It is odd that years of lackluster attention from government and inaction has now led to suspicion about this dramatic turnaround.
Although the campaign is being miscontextualized as about killing drug pushers, the reality on the ground is that it has yielded more than 11,000 arrests, on top of hundreds of thousands of drug addicts who have come out on their own.

In achieving these unprecedented figures, there was no government directive to disregard human rights. The use of lethal force is only necessary when the lives of the police in the buy-bust operations are in danger. In a country that was on its way to becoming a narco-state, drug dealers, who are also drug addicts themselves, have guns and regularly employ violence. Little attention is given to the fact that too many policemen have been killed by such criminals in the present campaign.

The overwhelming grassroots support that the President presently enjoys will only continue if the gains on the security front — in the war against drugs, in ending the communist insurgency and the Muslim rebellions — are sustained. At the end of the day, it is the Filipino people who will judge how true the President has been to his word.


Du30: Misuari willing to sit down with MILF

From The Standard (Aug 30): Du30: Misuari willing to sit down with MILF

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said that Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman and founder Nur Misuari is willing to return to the peace negotiations with the government as he expressed that there is now a lull on all three fronts in the talks.

“We have established the modality of the talks and I would like to salute Murad of the MILF and Nur Misuari for expressing his intention to join us, maybe in one place or different settings, whatever it is, it is good for me as long as we talk,” Duterte said in his speech during the commemoration of the National Heroes’ Day at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
MNLF Founder and Chairman Nur Misuari
Duterte had earlier hinted that he is willing to give Misuari a safe conduct pass to join the peace talks under the proposed Bangsamoro enabling law, replacing the failed Bangsamoro Basic Law.

There is a warrant of arrest on Misuari over the MNLF’s 20-day siege in Zamboanga City in 2013.

Duterte also said he doesn’t want anything to happen to the Misuari as he may lose the chance to talk peace with the Moro group if anything happens to him.

The President said he is hopeful that a long-lasting peace can be finally achieved in Mindanao now that the government is in talks with the rebel groups—New People’s Army, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and MNLF.

“So now we have a lull in the three fronts that we really have been fighting ever since. We’re talking with the Communists now, maybe establish a modus vivendi somewhere with the MI and MN and let’s begin to talk about peace,” he said.

Also on Monday, Duterte expressed his disproval on the statements from the Communist Party of the Philippines which recently scored the military for allegedly militarizing communities.

The President insisted that soldiers have all the right to scout the whole land to protect communities from any threats, even if there is an indefinite ceasefire in effect.


President Duterte to visit wake of 15 fallen soldiers

From Update.Ph (Aug 31): President Duterte to visit wake of 15 fallen soldiers

Duterte salute

President Rodrigo Duterte is scheduled to visit the wake of the 15 fallen soldiers on Wednesday, Aug. 31, in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City.

The 15 fallen soldiers that included a junior officer were killed in an intense firefight against 120 Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) brigands on Monday in Barangay Maligay, Patikul, Sulu. Ten others were wounded in the same firefight.

The wake of the fallen soldiers is at the gymnasium of Camp Navarro that houses the headquarters of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) in this city.

The President is set to plane in from Manila after lunch. He will proceed to Camp Navarro to pay his last respect to the fallen soldiers.

President Duterte, after the wake visit, will visit the wounded soldiers admitted at the Camp Navarro General Hospital and at a private hospital.

The President will meet with the top military officials to get first hand information on the ongoing focus military operations against the ASG brigands in Sulu.

The focus military operations have been ongoing against the bandit group since Aug. 26, a day after the brigands beheaded 18-year-old Patrick Jhames Almodavar.

Additional forces have been deployed to continuously pursue the ASG brigands in the hinterlands of Sulu.


More crew members of BRP Andres Bonifacio scheduled to leave for US

From Update.Ph (Aug 31): More crew members of BRP Andres Bonifacio scheduled to leave for US

BRP Andres Bonifacio Philippine Navy crew members man the rail. US Coast Guard photo

The remaining officers and enlisted personnel tasked to man the country’s latest frigate, the BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF-17), is scheduled to leave for Alameda, California by the third week of September.

“The remaining crew will depart on the third week of September from the Philippines to (join their fellow crew members) in Alameda, California,” Philippine Navy (PN) spokesperson Capt. Lued Lincuna in a message to the PNA Wednesday, said .

The BRP Andres Bonifacio, ex USCG Boutwell, has a crew of around 100 officers and enlisted men.

The first half are already in Alameda, California and conducting departmental and practical training on machineries, fire control system, deck landing and training on navigational equipment for the safe operation of the ship, Lincuna added.

The USCGC Boutwell was retired last March 16 and handed to the PN last July 21 (American time).

She will be the third Hamilton class cutter in PN service after the BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (FF-15) and BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF-16) which were acquired in 2011 and 2013, respectively.


Duterte sending blind soldier to law school

From Update.Ph (Aug 31): Duterte sending blind soldier to law school

Duterte blind law school

President Rodrigo Duterte told Second Lieutenant Jerome Jacuba during a dinner in Malacañang’s Heroes Hall August 29 that “there is life after the accident. I will reinvent you.” Jacuba lost his eyesight in combat.

“I am not a soldier, I don’t know kung saan ako papunta, pero ganito iyan. Lahat naman tayo eh, lahat tayo may sinusunod. Whether you like it or not, there is always a day for you. So kayong medyo lumusot, it means to say, fight again. But this I can assure you, my presidency will take care of you. Wala kayong dapat alalahanin.”

He encouraged Jacuba to learn braille and he hopes to send him to law school, talk to San Beda to come up with a program on law for blind people.

He gave the blind soldier a braille laptop, an electric wheelchair for another and promised to give a Glock 30 firearm. This is apart from the promise to the law enforcers that they will start to receive a salary double the amount of what they are getting before the end of the year.

In his many visits to the living heroes of the country, Duterte is the first to salute, not the other way around, and retains his hand on the forehead until the soldier acknowledges, an uncommon gesture from a high ranking official, the AFP’s Commander-in-Chief, a gesture expressing that he (Duterte) recognizes the importance, respect and honor to a soldier regardless of his rank.


You are the hero of heroes – blind soldier tells President Duterte

From Update.Ph (Aug 31): You are the hero of heroes – blind soldier tells President Duterte

Blind soldier duterte

Like a father of a family who provides guidance and inspiration to his children, President Rodrigo Duterte continues to inspire soldiers and policemen as he visits the different military camps the wounded and the families of those who passed away while performing their jobs.

2LT Jerome J. Jacuba, during the President’s dinner with some 63 other soldiers who were wounded in different military and peace and order operations said, “kung bayani kami, ikaw bayani ng mga bayani.”

Jacuba related that his resurrection from the dead came when the President visited AFP Medical Center in August. “Four months na nagmumukmok lang ako sa kwarto nag-iisip ang hirap ng dinanas ko na nawalan ng paningin. It was the lowest moments in my life.”

But with the President’s visit, his life changed as blessings started to come.

Relating his story, he said “inisa-sa kaming kausapin ni Presidente. First time ko sanang makita ng harapan ang Presidente ng Pilipinas. First time ko sanang makita ang viral video ng pagdalaw niya, pero bulag na ako.”

Even if he did not see President Duterte, Jacuba said he felt him. At the hospital, Jacuba hugged the President as he approached him on his bedside. Inside Malacañang’s Heroes Hall, they again hugged each other tightly like father and son, with President Duterte giving him a pat on the back, to reassure him that he will be all right.

When Jacuba spoke before his fellow soldiers and some families, he said “salamat po kasi nirerecognize mo ako kahit san ka mapunta. Ikaw ang naging buhay at nagtaas ng moral ng mga sundalo.”

He described the President’s act of visiting the ground troops as a sincere gesture from a leader. “Isa kang lider na sinsero,” and they are willing to give the last drop of their blood, to serve and die for the country.


AFP chief tells troops: Wear out Abu Sayyaf

From Malaya Business Insight (Aug 31): AFP chief tells troops: Wear out Abu Sayyaf

FLAGS flew at half staff yesterday at the military’s headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo and other military camps as the Armed Forces mourned for soldiers killed in clashes with the Abu Sayyaf in Patikul town in Sulu Monday.

Sporadic fighting was ongoing yesterday.

An updated number of military casualties showed 15 fatalities and 10 wounded. Initial reports on Monday night said there were 12 dead and five wounded.

The military vowed to bounce back from the “temporary setback.” Before the Monday clash, the military had the upper hand in the intensified operations against the kidnap-for-ransom group as it had killed 21 bandits in clashes since Thursday last week, without incurring any fatality.

On the Abu Sayyaf side, the military counted 30 dead, including six from the Monday clashes.

The death of the 15 soldiers is the largest in a single encounter since April 9 when 18 soldiers were killed during an assault on an Abu Sayyaf camp in Tipo-tipo town in Basilan.

The Basilan operation resulted in the capture of the camp. The military said 38 bandits died in the operation, including a Moroccan terrorist, but only a few enemy bodies were recovered by soldiers.

AFP chief Gen. Ricardo Visaya said the tragedy will not stop the military from pursuing its mission of defeating the Abu Sayyaf, which the military has around 480 members.

He asked ground commanders to keep the pressure on the Abu Sayyaf. 
“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 said.

The latest fighting broke out in Sitio Kan Jalul at around 4:30 a.m. Monday, National Heroes Day. The clash involved troops from the 35th and 21st Infantry Battalions and about 120 Abu Sayyaf men led by Radullan Sahiron.

“This is just temporary setback,” said Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the AFP public affairs office. “We will continue (with the operation), we will press on, we will employ all assets of government, of the Armed Forces.”

“We have fresh troops. The enemy will grow tired and weary and probably run short of ammunition, manpower in due time. The Armed Forces have those... We are hopeful, and we should be, in the end the one victorious,” said Arevalo.

Tan said two other armed encounters with the Abu Sayyaf took place last Monday. The first occurred at around 1:50 p.m. against 30 Abu Sayyaf men in Sitio Kugan, Barangay Bakung also in Patikul.

The 30-minute firefight left two Abu Sayyaf men dead and several severely wounded, including sub-leader Jamir Jawong Jauhari, said Tan.

The second clash occurred at around 3:42 p.m. against 80 bandits in Barangay Kuttong in Talipao town.

The 30-minute clash left four Abu Sayyaf men dead and two soldiers wounded.

Tan said the Abu Sayyaf suffered 24 dead during last Thursday’s encounter in Patikul, up by three from last Monday’s figure.

Tan said this brought to 30 the number of Abu Sayyaf men slain during the renewed campaign against the Abu Sayyaf, including the six terrorists who were killed in last Monday’s clash.

The slain soldiers included 2Lt. Ernan Gusto,   platoon leader at the Army’s 35th Infantry Battalion. The others were S/Sgt Ruel Catubay; Sgt. Jay Erwin Almohallas; Corporals Omar Raddulan, Ronald Galoniga, Elid Ismael, Salik Mandangan; Privates First Class Nestor Bacaling, Jison Falcasantos, Gerald Yubal, Dhendo Dujo, Roselito Arnoco, Glend Resma, Rogelio Vincoy; and Pvt. Jonas Lumayan.

Arevalo said the 15 died in an engagement, downplaying talks the soldiers were ambushed.

“It’s really an encounter. It’s just that they clashed with a large group (of Abu Sayyaf men). The report that reached us is they clashed with 120 fully-armed ASG terrorists,” said Arevalo.

“We have been saying that the enemy is not an ordinary enemy… We definitely have the superiority of training, superiority of armaments but they are not giving our soldiers an easy fight,” said Arevalo.

Arevalo said government troops remain determined in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf which is keeping around 20 foreign and Filipino hostages in Sulu. The previous Aquino administration also tried, but failed, to defeat the Abu Sayyaf.

President Duterte has said he wants the Abu Sayyaf destroyed during his term.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella yesterday said President Duterte wants the Abu Sayyaf Group “terminated as soon as possible.”

“Well, definitely the President is focused on making sure that the threat from the Abu Sayyaf Group should be terminated as soon as possible,” he said but said no definite timeline was set.

Tan said “more troops, more equipment and more firepower will be committed to destroy the ASG.”

AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla belied insinuations the troops were ambushed.

“Hinahabol kasi nila (yung Abu Sayyaf), eager yung mga tropa natin na maka-score uli dahil sunod-sunod yung score natin. E ang problema, nabanga kasi nila yung malaking grupo na. Hindi nila na-anticipate yun,” said Padilla.

On whether there was a lapse on the part of the troops, Padilla said: “That is the subject for the field commanders to check, not us (in Camp Aguinaldo).”

Pressed if there is already an ongoing investigation into the incident, Padilla said it is not the time to find fault.


No soldier beheaded by Abu Sayyaf in Sulu clash - AFP

From CNN Philippines (Aug 31): No soldier beheaded by Abu Sayyaf in Sulu clash - AFP

A Philippine flag covers each of the 15 caskets of the fallen soldiers.

It was a sad day at the Edwards Andrews Airbase in Zamboanga City on Tuesday as over a dozen caskets were brought down from a C-130 plane from Jolo, Sulu in the afternoon.

The flag-draped caskets contained the bodies of the 15 members of the 35th Infantry Division who were killed in clashes with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

Security was tight as the base was on red alert — even the media members were not allowed inside the premises.

But amid the mourning, relatives of one of the fallen soldiers can take solace in the fact that none of the troopers was mutilated or decapitated as previously reported by other media groups.

This was according to Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan Jr.

Video: Families of killed soldiers mourn

The beheading story came about when earlier in the day, messages were sent from the phone of one of the slain soldiers, Pfc. Jison Falcasantos.

The message read, "Your son is dead, we have decapitated him."

Apparently, the messages were sent by an alleged member of the bandit group.

"Beheading not true... There was no decapitation among our soldiers," Tan said in Filipino.

Maj. Filemon Tan.jpg

Wesmincom spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan Jr. 

Tan also said the series of fighting, which started last Friday, would most likely continue in the following days. He said the clashes were just the beginning, "the tip of the iceberg."

"There will be more troops, more equipment, more firepower," he said.

Related: U.S. investors exploring Mindanao

Meanwhile, the remains of the soldiers were set to be brought at the St. Peter's funeral parlor were they will lie in state.

The military is set to give honors to the fallen soldiers at Wesmincom headquarters, tentatively the next day.

Most of the slain soldiers were from Lanao del Norte and the Zamboanga Peninsula.


Philippines to add 2,500 troops to insurgency-plagued southern island

From Reuters Business Insider (Aug 31): Philippines to add 2,500 troops to insurgency-plagued southern island

The Philippines will send an additional 2,500 troops to a remote southern island this week as the army steps up an offensive against the Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf, a presidential spokesman said on Tuesday.

About 45 soldiers and Muslim rebels have been killed on Jolo island since Thursday when the army launched an air-and-ground assault on the main base of the militants after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Abu Sayyaf to be "destroyed".

"We are going full force, launching an all-out operation against the Abu Sayyaf there," presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella told reporters. "We are adding five battalions or about 2,500 people."

The Abu Sayyaf has dogged successive Philippine governments, entrenching its network with vast sums of ransom money in what has become one of Asia's most lucrative kidnapping rackets.


AFP: Intel units on Heightened Alert vs ASG diversions in NCR, Davao, Cebu

From InterAksyon (Aug 31): AFP: Intel units on Heightened Alert vs ASG diversions in NCR, Davao, Cebu

AFP Spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla. Photographed by Kaye Imson, News5

The various intelligence arms of the government's security and law enforcement agencies are on Heightened Alert status for possible diversionary attacks by the Abu Sayyaf, as the government continues to pound the terrorist group's lairs in the South, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said Wednesday.

This, Padilla, pointed out, is part of the preparedness posture of the government in the wake of the ongoing intensified pursuit of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) particularly in Sulu, that has exacted a toll of at least 15 soldiers dead, so far. The government said 30 of the terrorists have been slain.

The ASG last week decapitated yet another of its hostages after the ransom demand deadline was not met by the family of the victim.

Padilla, in an interview on radio dzMM Wednesday morning, said all relevant intelligence operatives in the various security and law enforcement units are inter-operating in coordinated mode regarding the situation: "Hindi tayo nagpapahinga. Heightened Alert ang mga intelligence agencies (We are not resting in this.
Intelligence agencies are all on Heightened Alert), sharing information across all units. This has been going on for quite a while, it's part of our standard operating security protocols."


Family grieves after Abu Sayyaf member said Army soldier was beheaded

From GMA News (Aug 31): Family grieves after Abu Sayyaf member said Army soldier was beheaded

Relatives of an Army soldier are grieving after receiving a message from an alleged member of the Abu Sayyaf Group that he was beheaded, a report on News To Go on Wednesday said.

The alleged ASG member sent a text message to the family of Private First Class Jison Falcasantos and said he was beheaded because his troop entered their territory.

Falcasantos' mother, who is in Zamboanga City, said her son's cellphone was used by the alleged ASG member in sending her the text message.

The ASG member then issued a threat and said she will also be beheaded.

Falcasantos was among the soldiers killed in Patikul, Sulu on Monday during an armed encounter with ASG.

The clash occurred at 4:30 p.m. in Sitio Kan Jalul in Brgy. Maligay, said Marine Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the Public Affairs Office of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The government troops from the Philippine Army's 35th Infantry Battalion and 21st Infantry Battalion faced "more or less 120 heavily armed terrorists" during the gunfight, Arevalo added.

Only son

Falcasantos is the third of seven children in his family, and the only son.
He has been helping support his family financially.

Falcasantos' family appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte for help in seeking justice.


The AFP, meanwhile, denied that a government soldier was beheaded by the ASG

It said reports of decapitation are just propaganda of the rebel group.


Duterte: Nur Misuari eyeing meeting in Kuala Lumpur

From GMA News (Aug 31): Duterte: Nur Misuari eyeing meeting in Kuala Lumpur

President Rodrigo Duterte revealed on Wednesday that he has already spoken with Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari Tuesday night.

Speaking before repatriated overseas Filipino workers from Saudi Arabia at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Duterte said Misuari suggested to meet in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the peace talks.

Misuari has a standing arrest warrant for the Zamboanga City siege in 2013.

Duterte disclosed his phone conversation with Misuari after speaking about the ongoing clearing operations against Abu Sayyaf, which resulted in the deaths of 15 soldiers.

The military said at least 30 Abu Sayyaf terrorists were also killed in separate clashes in Sulu.


Duterte to supervise Manobos’ return to Surigao Sur – priest

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Aug 29): Duterte to supervise Manobos’ return to Surigao Sur – priest

SAN FRANCISCO, Agusan del Sur – President Duterte is expected to personally supervise the planned return of the more than 3,000 Manobo evacuees to their homes in Lianga town in Surigao del Sur on Sept. 2.

Bishop Modesto Villasanta of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines, convenor of Friends of the Lumad in Caraga, said he was hopeful that the President would make good his commitment to be in Tandag City on that day based on what they discussed in their meeting in Malacañang on Aug. 15.

“The President himself had assured us during our meeting that he will personally supervise the safe return of the lumad (indigenous people) back to their communities,” Villasanta said.

The scheduled homecoming of the displaced lumads will happen exactly a year and a day after they were forced to leave their communities when members of the paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani killed three lumad leaders in the village of Diatagon town on Sept. 1, 2015.

Col. Isidro Purisima, commanding officer of the 75th Infantry Battalion, has assured all parties concerned that his troops will pull out from their Army camp in Sitio Han-ayan once the Manobos notify the Army on the exact date of their return.

Purisima said the Army would just assist the residents upon their return and would turn over Sitio (subvillage) Han-ayan to ensure their safety and show them that the military has not damaged any of their properties.

“Even before, we are ready to assist them. This is our mandate to protect the civilians from any harm,” he said.

The Army official said they would discuss the details of the turnover and military pullout in Han-ayan during their meeting with the representatives of the lumad, including Villasanta, on Tuesday.

He denied claims from Malahutayong Pakigbisog sa mga Sumusunod (Persevering Struggle for the Next Generation) or the Mapasu, an indigenous peoples’ organization, that his men had ransacked the houses and damaged the facilities of the lumad school Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev).

“There is no truth to that. In fact, we guarded Han-ayan from anybody who would infiltrate the community while the residents were away,” Purisima said.

But Mapasu said members of the group that visited the site on August 24 were “enraged upon seeing the large military camps in our communities in Kilometer 9 and Han-ayan.” The ocular inspection in 11 communities was initiated by the provincial government.

“Our hearts were crushed upon seeing our houses damaged, our once productive farms covered with weeds and our schools rendered unusable,” Mapasu said in a statement.

IN AN IMAGE as haunting as the tales of horror it portrays, children of the Manobo tribe in Surigao del Sur  sleep on the ground in a gymnasium converted into a shelter after their families fled a series of armed attacks, killings and arson in their communities being blamed on a militia. PHOTO FROM KARAPATAN-CARAGA

In this Oct. 31, 2014 file photo, children of the Manobo tribe in Surigao del Sur sleep on the ground in a gymnasium converted into a shelter after their families fled a series of armed attacks, killings and arson in their communities.  A group of militiamen has been blamed for the attacks. (PHOTO FROM KARAPATAN-CARAGA)

The lumads left their homes last year after three lumad leaders, Dionel Campus; Emerito Samarca, administrator of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alcadev); and Juvello “Bello” Sinzo were shot and killed by the Magahat-Bagani militiamen in Han-ayan.

Mapasu’s strong opposition to the entry of logging and mining companies in Lianga might have drawn the ire of the Magahat-Bagani militiamen, an armed anti-communist group led by Datu Calpet Egua. The military has also branded Mapasu as a communist front.

Then Gov. Johnny Pimentel said the Magahat-Bagani was created by the military, an accusation that the Armed Forces of the Philippines had denied.

Almost a year after the killings, no suspect has been arrested, even as the government dangled a P3.6-million bounty for the heads of suspected militia leaders Bobby and Loloy Tejero and Margarito Layno.


NPA to AFP: Do not undermine ‘historic’ peace talks

From the often pro-CPP online publication the Davao Today (Aug 29): NPA to AFP: Do not undermine ‘historic’ peace talks

Both negotiating panels of the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front expressed optimism on the resumption of the formal talks which opened on Monday, August 22, in Oslo, Norway. (Photo by Kodao Productions)

Both negotiating panels of the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front expressed optimism on the resumption of the formal talks which opened on Monday, August 22, in Oslo, Norway. (Photo by Kodao Productions)
The New People’s Army slammed the Armed Forces of the Philippines for maintaining their presence in areas believed to be stronghold of the communist rebels.
In a press statement on Saturday, August 27, the armed-wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines perceived such move as an attempt to undermine the ongoing peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

“The presence and operations of the AFP in rural communities undermine the credibility of the Duterte government among the people as it projects an image of disunity within the GRP or refusal of the AFP to abide by the order of its commander-in-chief,” the NPA said.

The NPA has identified 20 civilian communities across the country where the state security forces believed to maintain their presence.

These communities are in Kalinga, Isabela, Abra, Aurora, Nueva Ecija, Batangas, Quezon, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon, Northern Samar, Western Samar, Negros Occidental, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Sur, Davao del Norte, Bukidnon and Compostela Valley.

Their presence in the rural communities could endanger the ceasefire declarations separately issued by GRP President Duterte and the CPP, the group warned.

The communist rebels claimed that military troops have encamped in public places such as “barangay centers, occupying barangay halls, community schools and day care centers, senior citizen centers and other civilian structures.”

Military troops have also set-up detachments within civilian communities, the NPA said. They also asserted that AFP are conducting “psywar, surveillance and search and combat operations against the NPA.”

With this, the communist rebels has urged the Communist Party of the Philippines to strongly criticize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The NPA’s statement came as the NDFP and GRP ended the five-day peace talks on Friday, August 26. As a gesture of goodwill, the NPA has released seven prisoners-of-war in Surigao and Compostela Valley.

“In light of GRP President’s call, we anticipate him to be sympathetic to the plight of the peasants and Lumad and see the urgency of ordering the withdrawal of AFP troops from civilian communities,” the NPA said.

On the other hand, Armed Forces of the Philippines, said that a long-term ceasefire will help them bring the Peace and Development Outreach Programs in the civilian communities.

“Now that a ceasefire with the CPP-NPA is in effect, we expect that the implementation of the government’s peace and development programs in the countryside will be able to proceed much faster providing the much needed services to even the remotest barangay,” Army commander Lt. Gen Rey Leonardo B. Guerrero said during the 10th year anniversary of the Eastern Mindanao Command here on Friday, August 26.

Guerrero has attributed the success implementation of the PDOP in far-fung communities through the effective “convergence” of local government units and agencies, organizations, civil society organizations and the security sector and management groups.


PNP releases mugshots of escaped terror suspects

From the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Aug 30): PNP releases mugshots of escaped terror suspects

WANTED. Four of the eight members of the ISIS-inspired Maute Group who escaped from the Lanao del Sur Provincial Jail in Marawi City. The terror suspects escaped after some 50 of their cohorts stormed the jail at about 5:40 p.m. on Saturday, August 27. (PNP PHOTOS

OFFICIAL of the Police Regional Office (PRO) in Northern Mindanao is urging the public to report any information on the eight alleged members of a local terror group who escaped from the Lanao del Sur Provincial Jail in Marawi City, on Saturday afternoon, August 27.

Police Superintendent Surki Sereñas, PRO-Northern Mindanao spokesperson, said state security forces are conducting hot pursuit operations against the eight fugitives affiliated with the Isis-inspired Maute Group who were sprung from jail by some 50 other group members around 5:40 p.m., on Saturday, August 27.

Sereñas released mugshots of the eight, identified as Hashim Balawag Maute, Abdul Jabbar Tominaman Macabading, Jamil Batoa Amerul, Muhammad Sianodin Mulo, Omar Khalil, Hafidah Romato Maute, Norhanna Maute and Nasifa Pundug.

He also identified the 15 other escapees: Alawiya Mimbisa, Daud Basari, Saidamin Malna, Muamar Mocsir, Asnawi Manabilang, Danny Abdul Wahab Manabilang, PFC Harry Gamelo, Cardawi Batugan, Aradine Manambilang, Rafsan Macaumbos Salik, Alinor Macaundas, Akil Binong, Rayan Dipatuan Alug, Hasim Bantuas Amatonding, and Abulais Sarangani.

Sereñas said the group is also known to be using eight vehicles: a Mitsubishi Montero (UCI 725), a black Isuzu Dmax (NIR 518), Toyota Innova with temporary plate 130102, and five Toyota Fortuners with plate numbers TQL 601, UIO 713, TDQ 440, TQB 689 and TOD 531.

PRO-Northern Mindanao regional director Chief Superintendent Noel Constantino has ordered all PNP units to intensify and strengthen the conduct of checkpoints and intelligence monitoring to thwart the entry of the Maute group in the region.

"These escapees pose serious threat to public safety and must be prevented from sowing further terror. Rest assured your PNP is doing our best in coordination with the AFP and other government agencies to neutralize this terror group in this part of Mindanao," Constantino said.

Lanao del Sur provincial director Police Senior Superintendent Agustine Tello likewise said they have received reports that the fugitives and their cohorts have already rejoined the bigger group based in Butig town after they reportedly crossed Lake Lanao.

Tello also belied reports that the PNP supposedly received a warning a day before the raid not to interfere as the Maute group considers only the military as its target.

"So far wala pa kaming na receive peru hindi talaga pwede yan. Once they have violated the law they (Maute group) will always be the target of police and military operations and they have to answer for their unlawful act,” Tello said.

Army Colonel Roseller Murillo of the Army's 103rd Brigade said they are prepared to assist the police recapture the fugitives.

"We have done our part and after the inquest proceedings in the court it was then under the police authority and jurisdiction and suspects were turned-over to the Provincial Jaill," Murillo said.

"The military is always prepared to assist the PNP in the manhunt operations against the 23 escapees particularly the Maute local terrorist group,” Murillo said.


President Duterte honors wounded-in-action soldiers at Palace dinner

From the Manila Bulletin (Aug 30): President Duterte honors wounded-in-action soldiers at Palace dinner

President Rodrigo Duterte hosted a dinner at Malacañang to honor modern-day heroes — the wounded-in-action soldiers – in line with the commemoration of the National Heroes Day.

The selected 64 soldiers invited to the banquet were soldiers that were wounded while performing their duties against groups such as the Abu Sayaff and the New People’s Army (NPA) in Western and Central Mindanao.

The Commander-In-Chief re-assured the soldiers that their welfare will be taken cared of under his presidency and that financial support will continue on for the wounded soldiers. The President also promised promotions for the country’s fighters.

“My presidency will take care of you. Wala kayo dapat alalahanin,” the President said.

The head of state also reported that P4.6 billion pesos allotted for the widows and retired soldiers was already released.

President Duterte encouraged the soldiers to rebuild their lives not only for themselves but for the betterment of the nation.

“Do not be too sentimental about it because there is life after being wounded,” said the President.

(Video from RTVM)


Battles ongoing between Philippines army and Abu Sayyaf

From Anadolu Agency (Aug 30): Battles ongoing between Philippines army and Abu Sayyaf

Day after 15 gov't troops die in fierce gunfight, soldiers again battling heavily-armed Abu Sayyaf unit in country's south

Battles ongoing between Philippines army and Abu Sayyaf

One day after 15 government soldiers were killed, two of them beheaded, by a Daesh-linked group in the southern Philippines, heavy fighting between the two have resumed.
 Army soldiers of the Philippines army's 21st Infantry Battalion are reported to again be battling a heavily-armed Abu Sayyaf unit, led by sub-leader Jamiri Jawong Jauhari, in the Abu Sayyaf stronghold of Patikul.
In a news briefing Tuesday afternoon, Western Mindanao Command spokesman Major Filemon Tan Jr. emphasized that since Aug. 26 efforts to eradicate the group have intensified, with the Abu Sayyaf suffering heavy losses of its own.
"The number of killed Abu Sayyaf bandits is already 30 while 11 others [have been] injured. On the government side, we suffered 15 killed in action and 29 others wounded," Tan told defense reporters in a press briefing at Camp Navarro, Upper Calarian, Zamboanga City.
"So the total number of deaths on both sides is 45, and 40 others including our troops and Abu Sayyaf were injured since Friday fighting."
Tan reflected on the deaths of the 15, which occurred Monday -- Philippines National Heroes Day -- in a fierce gunbattle in Patikul, less than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from Jolo, the capital of southern Sulu province.
"Our forces fought gallantly, the firefight was intense and our troops sacrificed their lives to give the next generation the peace and security they truly deserve," Tan said. 
"We will mourn the loss of our brothers, but it will not dampen the fighting spirit of our troops. The momentum is on our side and we will continue this fight until we accomplish the mission."
He warned that whoever blocks troops or helps the Abu Sayyaf would be dealt with severely.
"What you see is just the tip of the iceberg - more troops, more equipment and more firepower will be committed to destroy the Abu Sayyaf. It is just a matter of time," said Tan.
Meanwhile, Joint Task Force Sulu Commander Brig. Gen, Arnel de la Vega said in a statement that intense fighting has been ongoing in Sulu since 1.50 p.m. (0550GMT) Monday.
The 15 soldiers were reported to have died at 4.30 p.m. in the village of Maligay in Sulu.
"In a fierce ongoing armed encounter, two ASG [Abu Sayyaf] members were killed and a number of them severely wounded as they withdrew southeast," Lobos said.
The security forces suffered zero casualties, he added.
Tan placed the total Abu Sayyaf fighters in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi at 481, but added that the military does not have exact figures on how many sympathizers, supporters or "operatives recruited through dubious means" the group has.
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 province in the Philippines.
It is among two militant groups in the south who have pledged allegiance to Daesh, prompting fears during the stalling of a peace process between the government and the country's biggest Moro group that it could make inroads in a region torn by decades of armed conflict.

US, Japan conduct anti-submarine warfare exercise in Philippine Sea

From Update.Ph (Aug 30): US, Japan conduct anti-submarine warfare exercise in Philippine Sea

The United States Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMDSF) have conducted anti-submarine warfare exercise in Philippine Sea August 22-26. The said exercise is called Ship Anti-Submarine Warfare Readiness Effectiveness Measuring (SHAREM) program.

SHAREM is a series of events focused on anti-submarine warfare procedures and tactics designed to measure how effectively surface ships and aircraft can detect and track submarines, the US Navy said.

US Navy guided-missile destroyers USS Decatur (DDG 73) and USS Spruance (DDG 111), a Los Angeles-class nuclear submarine, Japanese Akizuki-class destroyer JS Teruzuki (DDG 116), an Oyashio-class diesel-electric submarine participated in the exercise.

“SHAREM was an exceptional opportunity to improve our anti-submarine warfare skills and work alongside our Japanese allies,” said Lt. j.g. Sean Quirk, anti-submarine warfare officer, Destroyer Squadron (CDS) 31. “These unique exercises improve our bilateral capabilities, making us a stronger combined force to deter any adversary.”

The US Navy said Decatur and Spruance, along with USS Momsen (DDG 92) and the embarked “Devil Fish” and “Warbirds” detachments of Helicopter Strike Squadron (HSM) 49 are part of the 3rd Fleet Pacific Surface Action Group (PAC SAG), led by CDS 31 and operating under Commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet, as demonstrating the “3rd Fleet Forward” concept.


Harpoon missile-armed US littoral combat ship deployed to Western Pacific

From Update.Ph (Aug 30): Harpoon missile-armed US littoral combat ship deployed to Western Pacific

USS Coronado launches a Harpoon Block 1C missile for the first time during exercise Rim of the Pacific. US Navy photo

USS Coronado launches a Harpoon Block 1C missile for the first time during exercise Rim of the Pacific. US Navy photo

After participating in the exercise Rim of the Pacific 2016, United States Navy Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) departed Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam August 26 to continue its independent deployment to the Western Pacific, US Navy 7th Fleet’s area of operations.

During the RIMPAC 2016, USS Coronado successfully launched a Harpoon Block 1C missile July 19.

“The firing of the Harpoon missile from Coronado represented the first time over-the-horizon (OTH) missile technology has been introduced to the littoral combat ship class,” the US Navy said.

“Throughout deployment I expect a total team effort culminating with a safe and successful deployment characterized by smart execution, conspicuous professionalism, rigorous preparation, and the completion of all assigned operational tasking,” said Cmdr. Scott Larson, commanding officer of Coronado and LCS Crew 204.

USS Coronado is assigned to 3rd Fleet. While deployed to 7th Fleet, Coronado will conduct routine patrols, port visits and exercises with regional navies. Among the interactions Coronado is scheduled are exercise Kakadu in Australia and Deep Sabre in Singapore.


Coast Guard Special Operations Group starts training

From Update.Ph (Aug 30): Coast Guard Special Operations Group starts training

Coast Guard photo

The Philippine Coast Guard Special Operations Group has commenced training of fifty seven (57) candidates. The Coast Guard Special Operations Course (CGSOC) Class 25-2016 was convened August 26.

The CGSOC is a rigorous course conducted by the Coast Guard Special Operations Group for aspirants to become physically and mentally fit. “The candidates must be in excellent physical condition to last the grueling first phase of the course which is the motivation phase,” the Coast Guard said.

“The course is a battle of the body and mind wherein candidates must fully embrace that any goal is worth pursuing and have to struggle to surpass pain and discomfort in order to develop their attitudes as best rescuers,” it added. “Candidates must also push their bodies and minds so that they meet adversity with braveness and strength to become efficient special operators.”

The training is divided into four phases: Motivation Phase which includes Physical Conditioning and Hell Week; SCUBA Phase which covers Occupational SCUBA and Technical Diving; Tactics Phase covering Hydrographical Reconnaissance, Demolition, Air to Ground Operations, Small Unit Tactics, and Marksmanship; and Non-Academic which covers Physical Training and Development, Aptitude, and Peer Rating.


Norwegian facilitator 'cautiously optimistic' about PH, NDF talks

From Rappler (Aug 30): Norwegian facilitator 'cautiously optimistic' about PH, NDF talks

Ambassador Elisabeth Slattum brings her experience from the successful Columbian peace talks to the Philippine peace process   

FACILITATOR. Norwegian envoy Elisabeth Slattum assumed the role as facilitator of Philippine peace talks in 2014 and was behind an aborted attempt to revive it in 2015. Photo by Edwin Espejo/OPAPP

FACILITATOR. Norwegian envoy Elisabeth Slattum assumed the role as facilitator of Philippine peace talks in 2014 and was behind an aborted attempt to revive it in 2015. Photo by Edwin Espejo/OPAPP

Norwegian Ambassador Elisabeth Slattum sat down with both panels from the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) August 22-27 as facilitator of the negotiations that led to a historic joint statement on the resumption of talks and indefinite ceasefire.

Slattum is an experienced facilitator who was part of the initial secret negotiations between the Colombia government and FARC rebels, which resulted in the recently announced historic peace deal.

She assumed the role as facilitator of Philippine peace talks in 2014 and was behind an aborted attempt to revive it in 2015. (READ: Talks with Reds casualty of Mamasapano, too)

The recently concluded talks in Oslo was only the first of what is hoped to be several rounds of talks that the Philippine government aims to complete within a year.

Rappler's Carmela Fonbuena interviewed Slattum in Oslo to assess the prospects of ending Asia's longest running communist insurgency.

What is the role of Norway in the peace talks between the Philippine government and the communist rebels?

In general, when we are facilitating a peace process, we have our role as facilitator at the table which includes what goes on on the table and all the logistics of it. We host meetings, not only formal meetings like this, but also informal meetings and informal dialogues between the parties if there is a crisis or if the parties leave the table and they are too proud maybe to take the initiative to talk again. It’s good that a third party can invite them to come back to try to address the issues that made them separate in the first place. It is often easier for them to say yes to the facilitator than say yes to each other if there is a deep wound or there is a deep crisis.

Talks have collapsed too many times between the Philippine government and the communist rebels. What has kept Norway going?

We were asked by the parties to be the facilitator in 2001. For Norway, in our work on peace processes, we have a very long term mindset. We know that peace processes are marathons and not sprints. We believe that if there’s a chance, even if it’s not very big, that the parties can reach an agreement, we want to contribute to that happening. That risk is worth taking. That is our mindset especially when people ask us how much money do you spend on this. It takes a lot of resources but, in our view, conflict is one of the most important obstacles to development and it leads to so much human suffering. We believe that the money that we can spend on trying to prevent or solve conflict is money well spent.

CLOSED DOORS. Ambassador Elisabeth Slattum inside closed-door panel to panel meetings in Oslo. Photo by Edwin Espejo/OPAPP

CLOSED DOORS. Ambassador Elisabeth Slattum inside closed-door panel to panel meetings in Oslo. Photo by Edwin Espejo/OPAPP
How was it sitting down with negotiators of the warring parties?

The parties have conducted these peace talks with great dignity. I’m very impressed with the way that they’ve conducted their peace talks. They’ve shown a great amount of respect for each other, but they have also been constructive and solution oriented even when discussing very difficult matters. This is something that not only makes our job much easier. It gives great hope for the talks.

Norwegian foreign minister Borge Brende called them 'the most kind and the most warm negotiators.'

You can definitely feel that there is a great amount of trust between the parties. It is obvious there have been informal talks on the sidelines and that there has been prior contact between parties. You can feel that in the room because things are going really smoothly at the table. That helped, definitely. They seem to almost like each other.
For enemies in an armed conflict, it is rare to find that kind of constructiveness and mutual respect.

Did the friendly relationship between the two parties surprise you?

It is true that the parties are very able to often get along well in a human level but when it comes to substance, it doesn’t mean that they necessarily agree or reach an agreement. This time around they were very solution oriented. I think that the trust that they built between themselves definitely helped. In general, sometimes you might have to differentiate between the human level and the actual substantive level. They are definitely negotiators primarily.

What did you do when there were heated exchanges in the negotiating table?

I cannot comment on what goes on inside the room.

Are you optimistic that this time the talks will be successful?

I would say I’m cautiously optimistic. I think this joint statement was unprecedented and historic. It’s a very promising start, but at the same time we have very difficult issues ahead. I’m very happy that the parties have been able to tackle some of the procedural issues that have been blocking the peace process for a long time, and I’m very glad that parties will now be able to address substantive issues.

GREAT START. The Philippine government and the National Democratic Front signed on August 26, 2016 a joint statement on resumption of talks and indefinite ceasefires. Photo by Edwin Espejo/OPAPP

GREAT START. The Philippine government and the National Democratic Front signed on August 26, 2016 a joint statement on resumption of talks and indefinite ceasefires. Photo by Edwin Espejo/OPAPP

Norway also facilitated the historic peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels.

The Colombian peace talks, the secret phase or the very informal phase, started in 2011. I was part of the team from Norway that facilitated the talks between the FARC guerrilla and the government in the secret phase and also in the formal phase until I started this job [in 2014]. It’s so great. We are extremely happy. Finally, after 5 years of of talks we finally have a peace. They had almost continuous talks. FARC lived in Cuba all those years and the government negotiators traveled forth and back between Colombia and Cuba. They had very frequent meetings to address the root causes of conflict.

Can you compare the two peace talks?

We’ll see how. This is just the start [of the Philippine peace talks]. We haven’t really started discussions on substance. We don’t have a framework yet. We’ll have to see, I think. But there seems to be right now a similar level of commitment especially from the President’s side.

The President is always a big factor?

Oh, very much. Both sides need to have that strong decisiveness, determination and commitment. There will always be crisis and reasons to walk out, but you need that commitment to stay at the table. This is what we will see also in this peace process: If that commitment is so strong that no matter what happens on the ground, the parties will not leave the table.

In the Colombian peace process, in the beginning of the secret talks, the leader of the FARC was murdered. He was killed by the military. We thought maybe that was it. It was not going anywhere. But FARC returned to the table, and today we have a peace agreement. It's the same with the government. A general was kidnapped and they reacted very strongly, but they did never leave the table. So you need that level of commitment.

No matter how desperate, you don't give up.

You need that patience and determination, but you also need a willingness to take risks because there are a lot of stakes in peace proceses. Both sides will probably have to make decisions that might not be popular in all sectors of society, but it is important to be able to take those risks.