Sunday, October 16, 2016

President Duterte vows to buy 2 helicopters for Coast Guard

From Update.Ph (Oct 16): President Duterte vows to buy 2 helicopters for Coast Guard

“I heard President Duterte say ‘You will get it.’ President Duterte assured the Commandant that we would get the two helicopters that were already included in the budget but was not signed before the term of former President Simeon Benigno Aquino III ended on June 30,” Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson Armand Balilo said as quoted in GMA News Online report October 15.

The Coast Guard spokesperson said he overheard President Rodrigo Duterte promise the two new helicopters while having a conversation with Coast Guard commandant Rear Admiral William Melad. The helicopters will be in addition to already ordered vessels and equipment.

The Coast Guard commandant mentioned to the President that two helicopters will boost Coast Guard’s rescue and search operations.

“These could be utilized in the conduct of air drop of relief goods, dropping of rescue swimmers, immediate medical evacuation of a ship’s crewmember out at sea, and air evacuation of people trapped on roofs and on trees during calamities,” Balilo said.

The conversation between the President and Coast Guard commandant took place during the tour of BRP Tubbataha after its commissioning October 12.

BRP Tubbataha is the first of ten Japan-made Parola-class 44-meter patrol vessels. The Philippine government has ordered 10 Parola-class patrol vessels from Japan through the Maritime Safety Capability Improvement Project (MSCIP) Phase I.

The MSCIP Phase I for PCG, providing 10 44-meter MRRVs, was awarded to Japan Marine United (JMU) last year. Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) signed Japanese ODA loan agreement with Philippine government to provide funding for the said project in December 2013.

Meanwhile, President Duterte has approved the acquisition of two (2) heavy weather, high endurance 94-meter MRRVs under the MSCIP Phase II.

Filipino peacekeepers most respected in the world for gallantry

From Update.Ph (Oct 17): Filipino peacekeepers most respected in the world for gallantry

US PACOM photo

The Philippines is one of the most respected providers of peacekeepers in the world, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office Col. Edgard Arevalo said Sunday.

“The Philippines is looked up to with much respect. Not only because it had been a primary source of peacekeepers not only in the region but also in the world. It is also because Filipino peacekeepers have distinguished themselves in that field, noting their gallant stand against Syrian rebels in Golan Heights in August 2014,” he added.

Arevalo was referring to members of the 7th Philippine Contingent at the Golan Heights (PCGH)who figured in tense stand-off with Al-Qaeda-affiliated Syrian rebels after the insurgents attempted to take the Filipino-occupied Positions 68 and 69 in the Syrian side of Golan Heights in August 2014.

The Filipinos exhibited their bravery and commitment when they stood their ground even after the rebels succeeded in taking over the positions held by Fijian peacekeepers, taking 45 Fiji nationals as hostages.

Members of the 7th PCGH, with the help of other United Nations peacekeepers, eventually repositioned themselves, without casualties, to their headquarters in Camp Faouar, Syria taking with them all their equipment and leaving nothing behind for the frustrated Syrian rebels.

“The AFP has been a significant force contributor in the different UN peacekeeping missions worldwide. This meeting has been an important avenue in sharing our years of experience as a peacekeeping force and in promoting an ASEAN region highly capable and effective in UN peacekeeping missions,” AFP chief-of-staff General Ricardo R. Visaya said.

As this develops, the three-day 4th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Peacekeeping Center Network (APCN) meeting came to a close last Oct. 14 with a firmer resolve to advance a linkage of stronger, more cohesive ASEAN peacekeepers.

Duterte to raise South China Sea ruling with Beijing, says won't 'barter away' territory

From InterAksyon (Oct 16): Duterte to raise South China Sea ruling with Beijing, says won't 'barter away' territory

President Duterte and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, at last month's ASEAN+3 meeting in Laos. REUTERS FILE.

(UPDATE, 8:04 P.M) President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday he would raise a controversial arbitral ruling on the South China Sea with China's leaders, and vowed not to surrender any sovereignty or deviate from the July award by the tribunal in The Hague.

Duterte said his trip to China this week represented a turning point in bilateral ties, but he acknowledged there was some public concern about his rapid rapprochement moves and reassured Filipinos that would not impact on the country's maritime sovereignty.

In comments that will not sit comfortably with the Chinese leadership, Duterte said the decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration would be talked about and the parameters of the award would be discussed, but there would be no "hard imposition" of it.

The ruling dealt a blow to China's extensive claims in the South China Sea. Beijing has refused to recognize the case and has chided any country telling it to abide by the ruling.

"I will not bargain anywhere, we will continue to insist that is ours," he told a news conference in his home city of Davao.

"The international tribunal decision will be taken up."

Won't 'barter' away Philippine territory

He vowed he will not "barter" away territory and economic rights.

China had rejected the ruling and claims nearly all of the strategically vital waters and has in recent years built artificial islands in the disputed areas that are capable of hosting military bases.

Duterte had earlier vowed not to "taunt or flaunt" the July ruling as he aims to improve trade and investment ties, which some critics warned could entail surrendering exclusive economic rights to the sea to Manila's powerful neighbour.

"I will be very careful not to bargain anything (away) for after all I cannot give what is not mine and which I am not empowered to do by any stretch of imagination," he told reporters in Davao city.

"The international tribunal's decision will be taken up, but there will be no hard impositions. We will talk and we will maybe paraphrase everything in the judgment and set the limits of our territories and (exclusive) economic zones."

During the election campaign, Duterte said he was willing to "set aside" the sea dispute in return for China building a railway through the impoverished southern Philippine region of Mindanao.

His willingness to launch negotiations with China over the dispute has been welcomed by Beijing.

Agrees with Justice Carpio

On Sunday Duterte said he agreed with senior Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio that the president could be impeached and removed from office if he gave away Scarborough Shoal, a fishing ground within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone that China seized in 2012.

READ ALSO: Carpio: With Malampaya gas gone in 10 years, PH must assert EEZ control in West PH Sea

"He (Carpio) is correct. I would be impeached. It's an impeachable offense. I don't fight with that statement. It's all correct it's all legal and so I agree with him," Duterte said.

"It belongs to the Filipino people. I cannot be the sole authorised agent, for that is not allowed under the constitution."

Since coming to power in May, Duterte's push to restore ties with China has been accompanied by fiery rhetoric against the United States.

He scrapped a series of annual war games and joint South China Sea patrols with the US military after President Barack Obama criticized Manila's brutal war on drug crime which has left more than 3,000 people dead.

Striking reversal of policy

The unpredictable president's moves to strongly engage China, just a few months after an arbitral award that sparked fears in the region of a backlash by Beijing in the South China Sea, mark a striking reversal in Philippine foreign policy since he took office on June 30.

Duterte goes to China on Tuesday with at least 200 members of the Philippine business elite to pave the way for what he calls a new commercial alliance. Among the areas expected to be prioritized are financing for Philippine businesses, farm exports, major infrastructure investments and tourism.

It comes amid a torrent of anti-American comments by Duterte that have cast a cloud over a longstanding relationship with the United States.

While he continues to chastise and hurl abuse at Washington for expressing concern about his bloody war on drugs, he insists his strategic gambit is about abiding by a constitution that enshrines an independent foreign policy.

He spoke of his intention to "intensify" trade ties and work closer with China, but would not avoid discussing what is a bone of contention between them.

400 benefit from medical, dental mission in Davao

From the Sun Star-Davao (Oct 16): 400 benefit from medical, dental mission in Davao

AT LEAST 400 people benefited from the medical and dental mission conducted by private groups along with military medical teams Phase 1 Monte Maria in Catalunan Grande, Davao City on Sunday.

The outreach program was conducted by the San Isidro Parish Divine Mercy Apostolate and Davao City Entrepreneur Lions Club with the Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao Command and Task Force (TF) Davao.

Captain Mario Tena, spokesperson for the TF Davao, said the residents of the Monte Maria and its nearby areas were able to avail free dental checkup and tooth extraction, optical test and medical checkup at the covered court.

"Aside from the dental and medical checkups, the residents were also given medicines and reading eyeglasses. It was indeed a successful medical and dental mission because kasi marami-rami na naman tayong natulungan," Tena said.

Tena said this will not be the last medical and dental mission to be conducted by the government authorities with the non-government organizations.

Tena added that there will be more outreach programs to be done in the coming days.

Communists recruiting amid ceasefire – Army official

From the Philippine Star (Oct 17): Communists recruiting amid ceasefire – Army official

Col. Francisco Delfin, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, disclosed they were able to monitor movements of a small group of rebels visiting some Negros hinterland barangays, which did not have any of the Army Bayanihan Team members conducting meetings with the populace. File Photo

Recruitment by the New People’s Army (NPA) in southern Negros continues amid the ceasefire being observed by the government and communist rebels, a Philippine Army official said yesterday.

Col. Francisco Delfin, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, disclosed they were able to monitor movements of a small group of rebels visiting some Negros hinterland barangays, which did not have any of the Army Bayanihan Team members conducting meetings with the populace.

Bayanihan, or the Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP), is the military’s counter-insurgency program.

Delfin said they believe that the NPA was recruiting new members.

But Delfin said he was optimistic that the people would no longer be “fooled” as they were now aware of the true intentions of the rebel group.

Despite the developments, Delfin said the ceasefire in Negros Island Region appeared to be holding as there were no violations monitored on both sides.

The ceasefire agreement calls for the cessation of hostilities between government troops and communist rebels as peace negotiations resumed.

Delfin said he was hoping that the peaceful atmosphere in the hinterlands would continue.

Luis Jalandoni, former chief negotiator of the National Democratic Front, disclosed in a recent peace forum in Davao City that the NPA should not be made to lay down their arms, because they should be able to continue to protect the communities.

With the ongoing ceasefire, Delfin said they were maximizing their Bayanihan Team activities in the Negros hinterlands amid criticisms from the NDF-Negros.

“If they (NPA) want to help, it will be most welcome,” Delfin said, adding “this will further strengthen our effort to help those in the hinterlands.”

The Communist Party of the Philippines issued a statement criticizing the military for allegedly “maintaining their presence and continuing to make aggressive moves in and around the areas of operations of the NPA, including Negros Occidental, which it claimed forms part of the territories of the people’s democratic government.”

“There have been persistent reports of continuing presence of armed operating troops of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) in barangay centers, occupying barangay halls, community schools and daycare centers, senior citizen centers and other civilian structures. They continue to set up detachments or physical bases in the center of civilian population,” the CPP said.

Delfin clarified only combat operations were being prohibited. The Bayanihan squads
 and teams will continue their presence in barangays to help the populace, he stressed.

Chief Supt. Renato Gumban, Negros Island Region police director, said while they were not operating against identified areas of the CPP-NPA, they would not spare anybody in their law enforcement campaign, including the serving of arrest warrants to NPA members facing charges in court.

Terror group seen behind cargo of bullets

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Oct 17): Terror group seen behind cargo of bullets

Authorities are seeing a link between the attempt to transport thousands of bullets in a bus terminal here and the operations of Maute Group, which is being held responsible for the September bombing in Davao City that killed 15 persons.

On Thursday last week, more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition for machine guns and four pieces of grenades, estimated to be worth P372,000, were seized by policemen and soldiers at the integrated bus terminal in Agora Complex in Barangay Lapasan here.

Supt. Surki Sereñas, Northern Mindanao police spokesperson, said he believed that the bullets were for Maute Group, based in Butig, Lanao del Sur province. The group had pledged allegiance to the international terror network Islamic State.

“There are indicators that point to Butig as the possible destination (of the bullets),” said Sereñas. He said the bullets, kept in boxes, were without permits and are therefore “intended for illegitimate purposes.”

Chief Insp. Melgar Devaras, deputy chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in the region, said law enforcers arrested Amer Macarangal and Jabar Mangadag, both residing in Marawi City but natives of Butig.

The two were carrying the boxes of bullets and had misdeclared these as car parts.

Maguindanao vice mayor survives attack

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Oct 17): Maguindanao vice mayor survives attack

A town vice mayor in Maguindanao survived an attack on Saturday but his bodyguard was not as lucky.

Chief Inspector Bryan Bernardino, Esperanza town police chief, said Vice Mayor Samsodin Ampatuan Sangki of Datu Abdullah Sangki, Maguindanao, was wounded when unidentified men fired at the house of Melchor dela Cruz, chair of Barangay Kangkong here.

Dela Cruz was also wounded.

Bernardino identified the lone fatality as Harold Sayed Kalon, an electrician and Sangki’s bodyguard. He was declared dead on arrival at a hospital.

Investigation showed that three armed men emerged from the back of the village chair’s home and fired using automatic rifles at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Responding police officers recovered seven empty shells for cal.-45 pistols, two cartridges for cal.-30 Garand rifle and two M-1 Garand bullet casings.

Bernardino said the motive and the identities of the perpetrators remained unknown as of posting.

Rody to PCG: Fight pirates, sink their ships

From the Philippine Star (Oct 15): Rody to PCG: Fight pirates, sink their ships

PCG spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said the President gave the instructions to commandant Rear Admiral William Melad during the agency’s 115th anniversary last Wednesday. PCGA

President Duterte has ordered the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to crush sea pirates and other lawless elements who will fight arrest during operations within the country’s territorial waters.

He said the PCG could subdue the sea pirates or even sink their ships to make navigation and marine resources safe.

Earlier, Duterte said sea pirates engaged in kidnapping and other illegal activities must be destroyed.

PCG spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said the President gave the instructions to commandant Rear Admiral William Melad during the agency’s 115th anniversary last Wednesday.

During the event, Duterte formally commissioned the agency’s latest vessel, the 44-meter BRP Tubbataha, to help the PCG perform its duty.

“President Duterte told Rear Admiral Melad that all forms of lawlessness such as sea piracy (must be stopped); if they fight back, if needed…they should be subdued even to the point of sinking their ship,” Balilo said.

Balilo expressed belief that the President might also be referring to terrorists, the Abu Sayyaf and those engaged in hijacking of a ship and illegal drug activities.

Balilo said Duterte empowered the PCG personnel when he sent out the message that he had their back in lawfully performing their functions to ensure maritime security.

“We are being given clearance that our people should not be afraid to perform their functions. We have the security, we have the peace of mind in knowing that the President has given this guidance,” he added.

Balilo admitted that in the past some of their troops would hesitate in exercising their functions because they were afraid that a legal case could be filed against them.

In September, Duterte and Indonesian President Joko Widodo agreed to work more closely to tackle Islamist extremism and crimes at sea while also bolstering maritime security in a region struggling to fight piracy.

The two leaders, noted for their tough approach to drug offenders, signed an agreement to strengthen cooperation on maritime security in the Sulu Sea separating the two archipelagoes.

Duterte said he supported allowing Indonesian forces pursuing suspected pirates to enter Philippine waters but, for now, coordination would be the priority.

Speaking to members of the Filipino community before his meeting with Widodo, Duterte said if Indonesian forces were in hot pursuit of pirates, they could enter Philippine waters and “blast them off.”

The two countries, along with Malaysia, have been shaping plans for joint patrols and discussing ways to enable pursuits into each other’s territorial waters in a bid to stop a surge in piracy and abductions this year.

There's a new push to counter the rise of ISIS in Southeast Asia

From The Military Times (Oct 16): There's a new push to counter the rise of ISIS in Southeast Asia

With much of the United States' national security focus centered on the Middle East, one senator is speaking out about the rise of Islamic State group sympathizers in Southeast Asia and the long-term problems that could cause if left unchecked.

The concern has grown more urgent in recent months. ISIS-linked militants there have urged supporters in the region to “join the mujahideen in the Philippines” if they cannot travel to take part in the group's main fight in Syria and Iraq. Since then, cities in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia have been attacked.

More recently, the Philippines' newly elected president, Rodrigo Duterte, has called for an end to the U.S. military's counter-terror mission in the Pacific's nation's volatile south. He's also questioned the two countries' broader alliance.

Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, has called for increased attention on the issue, saying the region is a potential breeding ground for terrorist plots if the militant groups who operate there aren’t closely monitored. 

"Joint military drills and training with the Philippines is something that I've called on this administration to increase and refocus on ‎to counter ISIS in Southeast Asia, who has started to band together previously splintered radical Islamic extremist groups in the region,” she said last week. “If we don't show American leadership and strong support for our allies that want and need our help against a common enemy, I fear we will see our allies look elsewhere for help.”

The Asia-Pacific region has been a key focus of President Barack Obama's foreign policy. Over the last several years, military rotations and engagements there have increased in large part to reassure America's allies as China has sought to expand its influence.

The terror threat is another matter entirely. In the Philippines, U.S. counter-terror efforts date to 2002 and the rise of Abu Sayyaf, which has sought to establish a separate Muslim state. In 2014 its leaders swore allegiance to ISIS. The U.S. greatly reduced that mission last year, and now only a small group of American forces remains to advise the Filipino military and provide intelligence support.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Southeast Asia “clearly is a place [ISIS leaders] aspire to be spreading.”

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said he broached the topic during a meeting with foreign defense leaders in early September, given the problems they see in and from the region.

“There are a thousand foreign fighters alone that we estimate have come from Indonesia into Syria and Iraq,” he told lawmakers at the hearing. “There are hundreds that came from the Philippines. Other countries as well are dealing with that issue.”

But Dunford also expressed confidence that military leaders in the region are coordinating with other U.S. agencies to combat the problem. It's unclear whether this new political friction between Washington and Manilla might change that calculus. 

Duterte has established a frosty relationship with Obama, warning the American president not to lecture Philippine leaders about human rights and calling him "a son of a whore" for broaching the topic. 

He has said there are no plans to dump his country’s defense treaty with the United States. But Duterte contends that joint combat exercises between the two countries benefit only America, and he has since ordered his military leaders to scale back.

The Pentagon has said that any reduction in joint military drills and coordination could reduce both nations’ ability to respond to regional crises. 

Rachel Stohl, a senior associate at the Stimson Center, said the United States has sent more than $570 million in security assistance and more than $2 billion in arms sales to the Philippines in the last 15 years, even as outside concerns have mounted over human rights abuses connected to Duterte’s crackdown on the drug trade.  

Stohl said those financial ties need to be re-evaluated. “The United States should not let counterterrorism priorities override the potential risk of human rights violations."

But Ernst said U.S. officials can’t afford to overlook the ISIS threat in the region by cutting ties to the country.

“While I remain concerned about alleged human rights violations in the region, it is my hope that our long history of working with the Philippines is not over,” she said. “It's important they know we are a dedicated friend and ally.”

At the Association of Southeast Asian Nations defense meeting in Hawaii on Oct. 1, Carter requested a workshop in early 2017 on counterterrorism and strategy gaps to help tackle the long-term ISIS problems in the region. Ernst called that “a step in the right direction, but ‎we must do more."

Moro youth pursues peace under federalism

From the Philippine Information Agency (Oct 16): Moro youth pursues peace under federalism

Since the establishment of the Commonwealth of the Philippines in 1935 under the leadership of President Manuel L. Quezon, the country has adopted the unitary or presidential system of government. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s strong pronouncements on the nationwide shift towards federalism have mostly been met with thunderous applause, approval, and yearning for more comprehension on what federalism would entail. Thus, rather than take the public’s concurrence for granted, a group of young Moros took it upon themselves to jumpstart community-wide engagement and dialogue on the matter.

In a recent visit to Iligan City – roughly an hour away from their hometown of Marawi City – members of the Coalition of Moro Youth Movements, Inc. (CMYM) took time to discuss the group’s plan of action in light of the Duterte administration’s two-pronged approach to the decades-old Moro rebellion in Mindanao: implementation of all signed peace agreements parallel to the proposed nationwide shift towards federalism. This government believes that the rebellion is continuously being fueled by historical injustice and the continued search for self-determination of our Moro brothers and sisters.

The group first made headlines last year after having collected 500,000 signatures from different parts of Mindanao in support of the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) after only three months and despite having only 100 youth volunteers. “We felt very frustrated because we were repeatedly assured by the Aquino administration that the Bangsamoro Government would be established under his watch,” said CMYM Chairperson Marjanie Salic Mimbantas Macasalong, recalling the non-passage of the BBL last February when the 16th Congress expired.

The proposed enabling law – the BBL that CMYM supported and fought for – is now dead. It is actually a testament to the GPH’s (Government of the Philippines) and the MILF’s (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) commitment to peace and the strength of the various ceasefire mechanisms in place that war did not break out. Recalling what happened in 2008 when the Supreme Court of the Philippines declared the GPH-MILF Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA AD) unconstitutional, the current state of relative peace in the land could rightly be considered a minor miracle.

Far from being discouraged, Macasalong explained how they channeled their frustration into something positive and productive. “The immediate action we did was to console the people on the ground. Although we were also frustrated, we reminded everyone that it is not yet the end of the world. We appeal to them to give the new coming administration a chance to implement the Agreement.”

Macasalong was referring to the 2014 peace accord Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) – a product of more than 17 years of negotiations between the GPH and the MILF – which remains in place and binding.  “We conducted a series of meetings within our links and networks to convince people in their own areas and organization to wait for the next administration and the 17th Congress,” he explained.

Duterte’s assumption into the presidency last May 2016 would ultimately prove that the group’s resolve and faith have not been misplaced. During his inaugural speech at the Malacañan Palace on 30 June 2016, the President minced no words in providing direction on the future of the peace process. “[M]y administration is committed to implement all signed peace agreements in step with constitutional and legal reforms,” Duterte announced, with the said reforms alluding to his support for a nationwide shift toward federalism.

It would be remembered that independent polling organization Pulse Asia has released the results of a survey showing that 91% or nearly all Filipinos trust President Duterte. The same study showed that 97% of the respondents residing in Mindanao trust the first President of the Republic to hail from the same place as them.  Social Weather Stations (SWS), a similar organization to Pulse Asia, also released its own survey showing that Duterte gained 84% trust rating across the country.

Macasalong shared that similar to the majority of the Bangsamoro, he was both delighted and hopeful when Duterte won the presidency. Macasalong stated that among all the candidates, it was Duterte who best understood the centuries-old peace and security problem in Mindanao.

“Beyond words, the Bangsamoro people as a whole were very elated. In fact, even before he won, the Bangsamoro People already declared their support for his candidacy because of his statements that clearly show his unbiased understanding of the grievances of the Moros,” the CMYM chairperson shared.

Asked what these statements were, Macasalong specified, “When he (Duterte) said that the problem in Mindanao would never be solved without first correcting the historical injustices committed against the Moros. That alone was more than enough to convince us that he is serious in finding lasting peace in Mindanao.”

“After he won and again declared his determination to solve the Bangsamoro Question, we dared to dream that the Bangsamoro Government would finally be established during Duterte’s administration. We just hope and pray that this euphoria will not be in vain at the end of his term,” Macasalong said.

Federalism and a more inclusive road map to peace

One week before his SONA, President Duterte approved in its entirety the peace formula forwarded by Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP) Secretary Jesus G. Dureza, which will address the Bangsamoro issue, the impending resumption of peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front (CPP/NPA/NDF), and the implementation of closure agreements with other rebel groups in the country.

During his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on 25 July 2016, President Duterte elaborated further on how federalism complements the CAB, even the BBL, and vice-versa. “Iyong BBL, ibigay na natin (Let us give them the BBL)… minus the things that you do not want, such as the Constitutional issues. Tanggalin muna natin (Let us remove them first). Ibigay na natin at when the federal system comes, isali mo na sa package (Let us give it to them and when the federal system comes, we’ll then include the constitutional issues in the package),” said the President, addressing directly the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Specific to the Bangsamoro peace process is the operationalization of a mechanism where an all-Moro body will be tasked to draft anew a more inclusive proposed enabling law to be filed with Congress, in lieu of the so-called BBL. The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) – the body that drafted the original BBL -- will be reconstituted with representation coming from the MILF; the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF); the sultanates; the indigenous peoples; the local government units (LGUs); and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) among other Bangsamoro representatives.

Macasalong commented that their group is supportive of this new, more inclusive road map. “I think it is a positive move to include other groups, sectors, and stakeholders in Mindanao. Even the MILF has said many times that they do not claim ownership of the Bangsamoro Government. It is for all, regardless of religious belief.”

The leader of the CMYM also expressed confidence that “the grievances of the Moros would be addressed properly through federalism”.

“It is said many times that the reason why the BBL would not be approved is because of constitutional issues. When we shift to federalism, I think the main idea of decentralization of power will be put into the new constitution. After all, what the Bangsamoro people have been fighting for is to exercise their right for self-determination; and that will be more possible when we have the system of federalism.”

Educating for peace

When it became clear that the way forward under President Duterte is through federalism, CMYM embarked on a new mission to help the government educate the public on federalism. Similar to their self-funded endeavor to gather more than half-million signatures for the BBL, the education drive for federalism is purely volunteer-based.
  “Now, we are focused on seminars and advocacies that explain the concept of federalism as a whole in relation to the CAB and the BBL. This includes discussion, study, and research on the CAB and the BBL as a model or template for federalism. We are also identifying provisions that are non-negotiable to the MILF, and possibly come up with ideas that will become alternative solutions,” shared Macasalong, pointing out that they are willing to share their findings and input if the MILF or the government needs them.

He also added that unlike before, they are open to collaborating or receiving assistance if it would mean that the community dialogues they started would be widened in scope. “We are planning to include barangay level, school-based, and community-based seminars and advocacies. This is to make sure that not only those in urban areas understand the concept of federalism and the CAB, but also those in the rural areas.”

With regard the more than half-million signatures they’ve previously collected and verified, the group feels that those should be enough manifestation of wide support from the Moros especially the youth. “As of now, we are considering the idea that we should submit these signatures to the new administration. What constrains us a bit is our connection to the new administration. We have not yet established contacts with the officials of the Duterte’s administration,” Macasalong said.

Regardless of what happens in the future, it is clear to Macasalong and the CMYM why they are offering their time, resources, and strength for this particular advocacy. “The benefit is for all of us, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. For instance, foreign direct investments will certainly increase when we have peace on the ground. Our economy will become good and stable.”

 “We reiterate to the Filipino people that our clamor for peace is not only for Mindanao and Mindanaoans… We try our very best to communicate with the non-Muslims because we believe that when they understand that the peace that we clamor for is not only for the Muslims, but for the whole Filipino people, they would support the measure.” (OPAPP)

In solidarity with internally displaced Moros, indigenous people camped in UP, DSWD expresses support and provides food packs to Lakbayan 2016

From the Philippine Information Agency (Oct 16): In solidarity with internally displaced Moros, indigenous people camped in UP, DSWD expresses support and provides food packs to Lakbayan 2016

Employees  of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) visited the People’s Camp located at the University of the Philippines  in Diliman to provide food packs to the Moros and Indigenous People currently staying at the school grounds where the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya para sa Sariling Pagpapasya at Makatarungang Kapayapaan is being held.

Together with DSWD Assistant Director for Disaster Response and Management Bureau (DREAMB),  Carlos C. Padolina,  the employees provided 3,500 food packs to the Moros and Indigenous People.

According to Dir. Padolina, the food packs consisted of 6 kilos of rice, 4 tins of sardines, 4 tins of corned beef/ beef loaf, and 6 sachets of coffee/ cereal drinks.  Members of the Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Katribu) and Suara Bangsamoro also assisted the employees in the distribution of goods.

“It is DSWD’s mandate to provide assistance to the families and communities experiencing emergency situations and displacement due to natural or man-made calamities. The Moros and Indigenous People in UP are internally displaced persons (IDP),” Dir. Padolina said.

DSWD Assistant Secretary for Special Concerns Jose Antonio Hernandez also gave a message of solidarity before the distribution of food packs.

“Rest assured that DSWD will continue to be responsive to the needs of the national minorities. We will also ensure that we maintain an open line of communication with our Moro and indigenous brothers and sisters,” Asec. Hernandez said.

Based on the discussions the employees had with the indigenous people and Moros in the camp, most of them left their homes due to continued harassments from the military and paramilitaries.

 According to Katribu and Suara Bangsamoro members, this is due to the continuation of the counter-insurgency program of the previous administration called Oplan Bayanihan, and due to land grabbing of their ancestral lands perpetuated by corporations and landlords.

The participants of Lakbayan aim to bring to the heart of the country the struggle of the Moros and indigenous people for their right to self-determination, their call to end militarization, and their call to stop the plunder of their ancestral lands. They have also expressed support to President Duterte’s independent foreign policy and to the ongoing peace talks between the Government and the NDFP.

Manilakbayan has been a yearly event for Moros, indigenous people, and settlers in Mindanao. This year, it will be a  convergence of Moros and indigenous people from north to  south.

This year’s participants to Lakbayan include the Moros from the tribes of Maguindanao, Maranaw, Tausug, Iranon, Kagan, Sama, and Sangir; the Lumads of Mindanao from the tribes of Bagobo, Manobo, Higaonon, B’laan, Manobo-Dulagan, Talaindig, Subanen, Mandaya, Mansaka, Mamanwa, Tiboli, and Tagakaolo-Bagobo.

Contingents from Luzon are the Cordilleran tribes of Kankaney, Ibaloi, Bontoc, Isneg, Kalinga, Ifugao, Tinggian, Iyapayao, Bugkalot, Aggay, Malaweg and Bago. Mangyan, Dumagats, Palaw’an of Southern Luzon, and Aytas and Dumagat of Central Luzon.

“We are now learning through the help of Lakbayan 2016, that though their situation has improved in the past few months as some Lumads were already able to return home safely,  still several Moro and indigenous communities from different parts of our country continue to experience displacement and their rights violated. We need to get to the root causes of these problems to ensure that their communities develop based on their interest and customs,” DSWD Secretary Judy M. Taguiwalo said.

To further show  solidarity with the IDPs in Lakbayan, a bigger event is scheduled on October 20.  The  event will be participated in by a larger number of DSWD officials and employees.

Just this 12th of October, two motorcycle-riding gunmen gunned-down Jimmy Saypan, 48, a peasant from the Mandaya tribe and leader of Compostela farmers. A few days ago, Anoy Pasaporte, 28, a member of Panalipdan youth was shot dead in Mabini Compostela Valley. (DSWD)

Commander Madrox men fall to joint gov’t, MILF operation

From the Philippine Information Agency (Oct 16): Commander Madrox men fall to joint gov’t, MILF operation

More than a dozen henchmen of Samad Masgal alias Commander Madrox, notorious leader of an armed group of lawless elements involved in the drug trade and operating in North Cotabato, were turned over yesterday by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines 602nd Infantry Brigade and elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Central Mindanao Front to the Provincial Police Office of Cotabato after being nabbed in a successful joint law enforcement operation.

The said operation was conducted from 5 to 11 October 2016 in the areas of Nabalawag, Kapinpilan, and Kadingilan in Midsayap, North Cotabato. The joint Government of the Philippines (GPH)-Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) as well as the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) were tapped to help coordinate the operation since it was conducted in areas with strong MILF presence.

“For the past six days, eh nakita natin yung sigasig ng MILF at saka ng government forces na maipatupad ang kautusan ng ating Presidente na mag all-out campaign against illegal drugs and criminality (We’ve seen in the last six days the determination of the MILF and the government forces to enforce the directive of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to launch an all-out campaign against illegal drugs and criminality),” said Director Carlos T. Sol Jr. of the combined secretariat of the GPH-CCCH and the AHJAG.

The CCCH and AHJAG are composed of members from the GPH and the MILF with the International Monitoring Team (IMT), as the third party. Established in 1997, it has been tasked to coordinate the implementation of the GPH-MILF Ceasefire Agreement and resolve complaints over ceasefire violations so that small skirmishes do not intensify. The AHJAG, meanwhile, is a mechanism, seeking to isolate and interdict lawless elements that take refuge in or near MILF communities. It was initially formed during the May 2002 Joint Communique between the GPH and the MILF in Cyberjaya, Malaysia.

“Ngayon nakikita natin sa harap yung mga taong responsible sa kriminalidad at saka sa proliferation ng illegal drugs especially shabu doon sa areas of operation (We can see now people responsible for the criminality and the proliferation of illegal drugs especially methamphetamine in the areas of operation),” he added. The apprehended personalities were received by the Philippine National Police (PNP) as witnessed by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency of Region 12.

A similar operation was conducted last August by the AFP and the MILF against the group of Commander Madrox which resulted in the death of four of his followers while three from the Philippine army were killed in action.

“[T]he fight against illegal drugs transcends all affiliations and it even unites people with diverse backgrounds... [N]gayon po kami ay natutuwa dahil ang pagsasama-sama ng mga pwersa ng Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines at ang pag sanib na rin ng MILF sa ating hanay na mga lumalaban sa illegal na droga ay naisakatuparan. (We are very delighted that the coming together of the PNP, the AFP, and the addition of the MILF among our allies against illegal drugs is becoming a reality),” announced PDEA-12 Regional Director Lyndon B. Aspacio.

“[W]e all have a personal stake in this fight and I hope that in the coming days we will be seeing more of this operation,” he added.

“Everything is clear with mutual trust and cooperation. We are here because of this. We are here to participate in the government’s campaign against illegal drugs. Our cooperation has brought about one of our objectives and that is to stop the proliferation of illegal drugs,” commented PNP North Cotabato Provincial Director Police Superintendent Emmanuel B. Peralta.

On 12 July 2016, the government’s and MILF’s respective CCCH and AHJAG signed the Agreement of Cooperation and Coordination in the Campaign against Illegal Drugs in MILF controlled areas. The agreement allows for “information exchange/sharing which includes, but not limited to the submission of the MILF of a list of drug personalities identified in its area subject to validation of the law enforcement agencies” as well as to allow the MILF to “conduct information drive on the ill-effects of illegal drugs in the MILF affected areas as part of its demand reduction activities” among others.

“When President Duterte came into power, the MILF formalized an agreement with the government that will allow it to lead the anti-illegal drug campaign in MILF controlled areas… This pursuit operation has resulted into better and peaceful lives for our stakeholders as well as stronger confidence between GPH and MILF forces,” said MILF Central Mindanao Front Commander Gordon Sayfulah.

“I would like to commend this new administration for its strong commitment to end illegal drugs in our country. I would also like to express my gratitude to those who have been part of the operation which includes the operating troops and coordinating body,” the MILF leader said further.

The thirteen apprehended personalities, who have outstanding warrants of arrest, are the following: Ali Masgal Buat; Guiamalodin Kalay Palakad; Guiama Milikano y Masgal; Mandag Mamalinta y Mamao; Nandi Pagao y Sinangkad; Taokie Habip Lumilis; Kenny Gumbila Dima; Ronnie Ferrer Catulogn; Morem Masgal Milicano; Omar Masgal Angking; Sari Alim Lumilis; Mantoa Amal Gombila and Tiyabong Mamalinta. Commander Madrox, himself, remains at large.

Also recovered during the operation were two grenade launchers; two M16 rifles; an M14 rifle; a homemade shotgun; a .30-caliber Garan rifle; a homemade .50-caliber sniper rifle; one rocket propelled grenade launcher ammunition; and two fragmention grenades alongside a handful of short firearms. A number of shabu-containing heat-sealed sachet packs as well as other drug paraphernalia were also recovered during the operation.

AFP 6th Infantry Division Commander Major General Carlito Galvez, Jr., for his part, commented that the successful law enforcement operation also serves as another building block toward reaching a permanent peace with the Moro rebel groups.

“Let us guard the opportunities that we have at hand; and maybe, if we can continuously work with the same enthusiasm and commitment, we can finally put an end to the decades- or centuries-long conflicts that have been happening. Now is the time for us to unite and fight together this drug problem.”

“I hope that this is just the beginning; if we have a strong partnership that is united in implementing the intentions of the President I know that we will be able to accomplish many things together,” he added. (OPAPP)

5th ID units now on heightened alert for 'Karen'

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 16): 5th ID units now on heightened alert for 'Karen'

The Isabela-based 5th Infantry Division has placed in units in Region 2 and the Cordillera Administrative Region on heightened alert as typhoon "Karen" continue to pummel the above-mentioned provinces.

With this, 5th Infantry Division commander Brig. Gen. Paul T. Atal also advised all units in Region 2 and the Cordillera Region, especially those covering low-lying areas, to be ready for possible deployment to evacuate and rescue residents affected by floods and other disasters that may be caused by the typhoon's onslaught.

"Karen" made landfall in Baler, Aurora at 2:30 a.m. Sunday and is now crossing Luzon.
He added that the 5th Infantry Division Disaster Task Group is led by Major Jimson P. Talamayan is now in full alert and ready for deployment anytime.