Wednesday, November 23, 2016

AFP crowd control units on stand-by for 'Black Friday' protest actions

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 24): AFP crowd control units on stand-by for 'Black Friday' protest actions

If needed, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will deploy crowd control units to secure the "Black Friday" protest actions in Rizal Park, Manila.

This is in wake of the Nov. 18 interment of former president Ferdinand E. Marcos at the "Libingan Ng Mga Bayani" in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.

However, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said they have yet to receive any augmentation request from the Philippine National Police.

He added that these units, numbering some 200 troops, are on stand-by-- meaning they will be only deployed if needed.

And if not, these soldiers will remain at their headquarters, Arevalo stressed.

And when asked if they expect Friday's rally to be violent, the military said they are hoping for the best.

"We're hoping for the best but we are preparing to be deployed and to perform what we will be asked to peform in terms of maintaining order, in terms of maintaining discipline in areas where the exercise of freedom of expression (is allowed) but this is in observance of their responsibility to ensure that it will be peaceful and orderly and in accordance with respect to other people," Arevalo stressed.

Outgoing AFP chief denies connivance with Marcos family in burial of late dictator

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 24): Outgoing AFP chief denies connivance with Marcos family in burial of late dictator

Outgoing Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya has denied connivance with the Marcos family in the unannounced interment of the late dictator Pres. Ferdinand Marcos last Nov. 18.

Visaya said he would be ready to go jail once proven that the military connived with the family of the late president in burying the remains at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

He said the AFP merely complied with the Supreme Court order and the Marcos' clan's request to keep the interment confidential.

He made the comment after militant and anti-Marcos groups filed a contempt petition at the High Court against him, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, AFP deputy chief-of-staff for reservists and retirees, the Philippine Army's Grave Services Unit, the Marcos family including Imelda Marcos, Imee, Bongbong, and Irene, for proceeding with the late president's interment even when the 15-day period to file a motion for reconsideration has not yet lapsed.

Visaya, a member of Philippine Military Academy Class of 1983, is scheduled to retire on Dec.7.

Latest PH Navy frigate sails for home

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nov 24): Latest PH Navy frigate sails for home

ALAMEDA, California — The Philippine Navy’s latest frigate, the BRP Andres Bonifacio, left the US Coast Guard Base in Alameda, California on Nov. 1, on its voyage to the Philippines. Commanding the ship is Captain Brendo J. Casaclang.

It is the third Del Pilar Class Frigate of the Philippine Navy, following the commissioning of the BRP Gregorio del Pilar and the BRP Ramon Alcaraz.

Philippine Consul General to San Francisco Henry S. Bensurto, Jr. led the send-off party composed of Mrs. Mariza Bensurto, Consulate officials, Philippine Defense and Armed Forces Attaché B/Gen Eric Calip and members of the Filipino American community.


Philippine Defense and Armed Forces Attaché B/Gen Eric Calip, Consul General Bensurto, Capt. Brendo Casaclang and a US Coast Guard officer. CONTRIBUTED
Consul General Bensurto congratulated the crew for completing their training, and for preparing the BRP Andres Bonifacio to take on its new mission of protecting the Philippines and the Filipino people.

He added that “traditional and non-traditional security concerns continue to confront our country, and the BRP Andres Bonifacio and its crew would indeed be a welcome asset of the Philippine Navy and the Armed Force of the Philippines in addressing these concerns.”


The BRP Andres Bonifacio at US Coast Guard station in Alameda, California, before sailing for San Diego and the Philippines. CONTRIBUTED

He also thanked the US Coast Guard personnel who, on top of their regular duties, provided support and assistance in training the crew of the Andres Bonifacio. Following tradition, he wished the crew a safe journey across the Pacific Ocean and “fair winds, clear skies and following seas.”

At the end of the ceremony, the crew immediately boarded the ship and prepared to depart the US Coast Guard base for their next port of call in San Diego, California.

The BRP Andres Bonifacio is the third high-endurance US Coast Guard cutter that was transferred to the Philippines last July, as part of the Excess Defense Articles Program.

BGen. Farnacio assumes as new 8ID Commander

From Samar News (Oct 13): BGen. Farnacio assumes as new 8ID Commander

8ID Change of Command Ceremony

October 13, 2016
CAMP LUKBAN, Catbalogan City – Brig Gen Raul M Farnacio AFP has formally assumed his post as Commander of the 8th Infantry (Stormtroopers) Division, Philippine Army in a simple Change of Command Ceremony held at its Headquarters in Brgy Maulong, Catbalogan City last Thursday, October 6, 2016 at 10 o'clock in the morning.
Brig. Gen. Farnacio replaced Maj. Gen. Jet B Velarmino who officially retired from the military service after serving in the AFP for more than 38 years.
The Change of Command Ceremony was presided by Lt Gen Eduardo M Año, the Commanding General of the Philippine Army and was witnessed by Gen Ricardo R Visaya AFP, Chief of Staff, Armed Forces of The Philippines; Maj Gen Raul L Del Rosario AFP, Commander, Central Command; PCSupt. Elmer Cruz Beltejar, RD, PRO8; Bishop Isabelo C Abarquez, Diocese of Calbayog; members of 8ID Multi Sectoral Advisory Board; 8ID Press Corps; Local Chief Executives; Stakeholders and other guests from the private and public sectors.
"We must see our vision for lasting peace and progress in the region as a response, as well as our vision to the call for change by our administration. We need to align our objectives with the higher headquarters, we need to align our effort to Army Transformation Roadmap which we expect to succeed our mission for peace and progress and we should fit ourselves as worthy implementers of these goals," Brig Gen Farnacio emphasized.
"We must also align our efforts in support to the ongoing peace talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF, as well as the government's drive against criminality and illegal drugs," Farnacio added.
Lt Gen Eduardo M Año AFP, Commanding General of the Philippine Army commended and congratulated MajGen. Velarmino for the successful accomplishments of this Command. Likewise, he challenged BrigGen. Farnacio to equal if not surpass, the commendable accomplishments of his predecessor in winning the peace in Eastern Visayas.
Brig Gen Raul M Farnacio AFP previously served as the Battalion Commander of the 20th Infantry (We Lead) Battalion in 2005 and 43rd (We Search) Battalion in 2006. At present, Brig Gen Farnacio is the 20th Commander of 8th Infantry (Stormtroopers) Division.

NPA: armed encounters to erupt in Mindanao

From the often pro-Communist Party of the Philippines (Nov 22): NPA: armed encounters to erupt in Mindanao

A spokesman of the New People’s Army said its unilateral ceasefire declaration might be cut-short because of a looming armed encounter between their troops and that of the government.

In a statement on Tuesday, Ka Allan Juanito, spokesperson of the NPA in North Central Mindanao said the military has deployed five battalions under the army’s 4th Infantry Division and the 13th Regional Public Safety Battalion of the Philippine National Police in 78 villages in the cities of Butuan, Gingoog, Malaybalay and Valencia and the provinces of Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon.

The government and the NDF separately issued a unilateral ceasefire declaration following the successful resumption of the peace talks in Oslo in August.

President Rodrigo Duterte reissued the ceasefire on August 24 and ordered the government troops to “be friendly with the forces of the revolutionary government of the Communist Party of the Philippines.”

Read: Duterte reissues ceasefire with CPP; tells soldiers, cops to be friendly with revolutionary forces

Meanwhile, the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA issued an indefinite ceasefire on August 28, 2016.

Counterinsurgency operations

The NPA scored the Philippine Army for its operations in the communities through the anti-drug campaign Oplan Tokhang, medical and dental mission, and census.

“They would be entering far flung communities, interrogating residents and ransacking houses. Their census, in essence, is a form of tactical interrogation,” he said.

Juanito said the soldiers stay at the village from three days to three weeks. Juanito said the military told residents that “the ceasefire only concerns Duterte  and the NPA.”

He also accused the military of pressuring barangay councils to pass a resolution “requesting” the presence of the Army for protection.

Juanito said those who will not agree with them will be subjected to tight security in the community. He added the soldiers attended council meetings of villagers and dictated on the contents of barangay resolutions.

Juanito said on Oct. 21, around 35 troops of the 13th Regional Public Safety Battalion entered the mountainous part of Barangay Bit-os in Butuan City.

“Around 4 p.m. the next day, 18 troops passed by Malihaw and the other 17 went to an area near Amparo. These villages in Butuan are where the soldiers go to during combat operations,” he said.

‘Call for end of ceasefire’

On Nov. 16, he said the houses of farmers inside the plantation of Del Monte in Barangay Plaridel, Claveria, Misamis Oriental were demolished. An army official told farmers that they will reclaim back their lands in exchange of signatures that will make it appear that they “surrendered” to the government.

Juanito said the farmers were told that they will only be assisted to reclaim their lands if they will promise the soldiers that they will not join rallies.

The NPA leader also said that the residents are asking for a stop of the ceasefire because the soldiers continue to threaten them.

In some villages, Juanito said there are residents who are initiating a petition to ask for the soldiers to leave their communities or they themselves will evacuate.

No official reports

Meanwhile, government chief negotiator and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said they have not yet received any official complaint of ceasefire violation on either side of the National Democratic Front or the military.

In a press conference in Malacañang on Tuesday, Bello told reporters that ceasefire violation cases should be submitted to the Joint Monitoring Committee of both the GRP and NDF.

“So far there is no report, in other words, our ceasefire commitment is holding up,” he said.

Ka Oris: NPA holding back offensives
In a statement on Oct. 8, NPA national spokesperson Jorge Madlos said “not a few NPA units are having difficulty holding back offensives amid threats of armed troops of the AFP which continue to conduct Oplan Bayanihan counter-insurgency intelligence, psywar and combat operations in the guerrilla zones of the NPA.”

Read: Ceasefire violations amid peace talks

“There are reports of continuing AFP operations across the country, from North Luzon to Southern Mindanao. There are even reports that military units are telling civilian residents that the ceasefire is no longer in effect to justify their operations and presence in their communities,” he said.

The NPA’s Agustin Begnalen Command based in Abra said the Army’s 24th Infantry Battalion have been telling civilians in Sallapadan town that the ceasefire has ended.

Gov't tightens security at tourist sites in south

From the Visayan Daily Star (Nov 23): Gov't tightens security at tourist sites in south

The Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office, in tandem with the Philippine Navy and Army infantry units in southern Negros, have started to further tighten security in prime tourist destinations, especially in Sipalay City and neighboring areas.

Lt. Col. Roderick Garcia, 79th Infantry Battalion in southern Negros, reported earlier that documents gathered from the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group showed that it has been gathering physical information about resorts and their locations in Negros Oriental, including pictures of sea crafts used by the tourists, which are essential in their kidnapping operations.

Senior Supt. William Señoron, provincial police director of Negros Occidental, confirmed yesterday the deployment of Philippine Navy personnel in Sipalay City.

The city of Sipalay is known for its white-sand beach resorts and famous diving sites, and many of the resorts are also owned by foreigners.

Various state security agencies, including the branches of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine National Police are scheduled to meet next week to discuss security measures, and ensure smooth coordination, in case of any emergency situation that may arise.

Señoron said they will also invite beach resorts owners, whom he urged to be vigilant, to discuss security concerns.

“We are not taking chances,” Señoron, who attended the declaration of 10 drug-cleared barangays yesterday in Sipalay City, said.

There have been reports that the six ASG members sighted in Cebu returned to Dapitan in Mindanao via Negros Oriental.

Philippine Navy assets and personnel are now stationed at a port in Sipalay City.

Garcia disclosed during the recent Peace and Order Councilmeeting in Negros Oriental that the ASG terrorists are mobile and that they strike whenever there is an opportunity.

At present, there are tourist police deployed in prime-tourist destination resorts in Sipalay, who are also complimented by Regional Public Safety Battalion 18 troopers.

The 79IB troopers have also been deployed in southern Negros, following the pull out of the 47th Infantry Battalion.

A leg up through football in strife-torn Mindanao

From Channel News Asia (Nov 23): A leg up through football in strife-torn Mindanao

He had just moved from the Malaysian state of Sabah to Tawi Tawi Island, a poverty-ridden area in southern Philippines. His father was out of a job after a work-related accident, and he had very few friends.

But the programme Footballs for Peace has helped lift his spirits. “I practise every day, it really helps me focus," he said. "Eventually, I want to help my family with the help of football."

Soldiers wanted to find a way to reach out to the local community. (Photo: Aya Lowe)

Footballs for Peace was started by marines stationed in the south of the Philippines, an area fraught with violence.

The soldiers wanted to find a way to bridge the gap between themselves and the local community.

“It's a way to pull civilians and military together; our way of getting their trust," said Corporal Almuni Alih, a coach for the Footballs for Peace programme. "Because before, they knew us as bad soldiers. We organised Footballs for Peace for them to know what we're doing is good."


Many children in the southern islands of Mindanao grow up in areas where violence is a daily part of life. They are often exposed to clan wars and clashes between the military and extremist groups, such as the Abu Sayyaf.

"When you visit Sulu and Basilan, you can see that the culture of violence is high. Most of the households there have their guns and every day kids are seeing these guns," said Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Cabanlet, founder of Footballs for Peace.

"They are seeing soldiers passing through the roads and they are seeing the violence of clan wars or army offensives. Because of this, they can become easy targets when Abu Sayyaf look to recruit soldiers," he added.

"If they are offered guns, they would be likely to say ‘okay’. That’s why the purpose of the programme is to change their lives from a culture of violence to one of peace."

Footballs for Peace is now in its fifth year. (Photo: Aya Lowe)

The marines see football as a chance for the children to enjoy their youth despite their circumstances. They said that they have seen children put aside their clan divisions to play football together. It has even brought parents from different clans together to watch their children play.

Footballs for Peace is now in its fifth year. What began with one ball kicked between a group of marines as a way to pass time has inspired a movement to give children a chance to play across the islands of Basilan, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu and Tawi Tawi - all areas in southern Philippines marred by clashes and violence.

A ball may seem like a small offering of peace, but Cabanlet sees it as much more. As he watches the children play and train, he sees them as future messengers of peace who could take the camaraderie displayed on the football pitch and use it in daily life.

Drones, high-speed boats sought to fight illegal mining, smuggling

From the Manila Bulletin (Nov 24): Drones, high-speed boats sought to fight illegal mining, smuggling

There is an urgent need for the national government to employ a fleet of drones to monitor the destruction and smuggling of natural resources such as black sand out of the country as well as the entry of ships that could bring in raw materials for the manufacture of shabu, Sen. Richard J. Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, said yesterday.
High-speed boats could also be used to check the criminal activities of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in southern Philippines whose “kumpits” outrace the slow boats of the Navy or the Philippine Coast Guard, he said.
Gordon winded up his public hearing on a Senate resolution of Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson on destructive mining operations and “treacherous” excavations in Zambales province, including the alleged smuggling of soil and rocks that were used to build Chinese islands in the South China Sea.
Gordon said the drones may be used by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to monitor the activities of mining and logging activities throughout the country.
Black sand is being illegally mined in Cagayan and Leyte, then shipped to China, and it is possible that the ships that bring them out could also bring in raw materials for the manufacture of shabu, according to Dr. Carlo Arcilla of the University of the Philippines (UP) National Institute of Geological Sciences (NIGS).
“I had earlier said drugs come from China. They can bring in precursors for factories in Pampanga (and other sites). They can bring elements to make shabu,” he said.
Gordon said the national government has been buying ships worth tens of millions of pesos but they are so slow-moving that they are outraced by fast Abu Sayyaf  kumpits in  piracy and kidnapping activities.
He said the government should buy small but fast boats with an powerful engines and they should have  the latest communications equipment to help them catch Abu Sayyaf boats.

How will Germany handle Abu Sayyaf’s US$5 million demand?

From the Asia Times (Nov 24): How will Germany handle Abu Sayyaf’s US$5 million demand?

The Abu Sayyaf Group’s (ASG) German captive Juergen Kantmer this week is seeking the help of both the Philippine and Germany governments for his safe release from the hands of the Abu Sayyaf Group, Southeast Asia’s most feared terror group.

A Facebook video circulating in the Philippines this week showed Kantmer pleading for help and reported that his abductors were seeking a ransom money to the tune of US$5 million dollars for his safe release. Kantmer was abducted in November 5 while cruising on board a private yacht in the Philippine-Malaysia border along with his German partner, Sabine Merz. Unfortunately, Merz was shot several times when she reportedly fought back her ASG abductors. Police found Merz’ body lying dead in the yacht.

This is not the first times ASG abducted German nationals in the Southern Philippines. The recent German abduction this year were two German nationals Dr. Steven Okonek and Herike Dielen who were abducted in April this year but were released 6 months later after a huge ransom was reportedly delivered to the hands of the ASG.

Reuters quoted the ASG that they received the ransom. The ASG earlier demanded US$5.6 million ransom and the stoppage of US-led air strikes in Syria otherwise as a pre condition to release Okonek and Dielen.

Reuters quoted ASG leader Abu Rami saying, “the ransom just came, nothing more, nothing less.
Meanwhile, two Canadians Robert Hall and John Ridsdel were beheaded when their families refused to deliver the US$12.8 million ransom money on time.

How will the Germany government address this crisis? It may consider three negotiation options to address this crisis:
  1. Coordinate with Philippine security officials who have the authority to use their military assets to run after the ASG. Security forces in the Philippines often do not enjoy the community support in the hinterlands of Basilan and Sulu compared with the ASG’s support it can generate from the communities, which presents a challenge. The ASG reportedly has been bribing communities to mislead security forces. No less than the Philippine military announced they are having difficulty getting intelligence information in the mountains of these two provinces, a known cradle of the ASG. The difficulty to get intelligence information in the mountains is one main factor the ASG has been elusive from security forces.
  2. Adopt President Rodrigo Duterte’s approach using a revolutionary leader to negotiate for the release of their German national. Previously, Duterte tapped the services of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader Nur Misuari to put pressure on the ASG to release the ASG captive Kjartan Sekkingstand, a Norweigian national. The German government may seek the help of Duterte and request him to tap Misuari to negotiate for the release. Misuari the founding chair of the MNLF is facing rebellion charges and the Philippine courts granted for the temporary suspension of his arrest after President Duterte’s office requested for the termporary suspension of his arrest for six months. But the challenge here is Misuari’s freedom will only be until April 2017. If his suspension of arrest will not be extended, then he can be arrested anytime after April 2017 to face the rebellion charges in court.
  3. Seek the assistance of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The MILF, the largest Islamic revolutionary organization, is in the process of finalizing a peace pact with the Philippine government. The organization has been helping the government running after suspected drug traders in the Southern Philippines. On the other hand, the German government also has been instrumental in providing technical and development assistance to areas controlled by MILF in the Southern Philippines and the German program has a visible presence in Cotabato and Maguindanao provinces where relatives of MILF members have become recipients of Germany’s government programs assistance. But the challenge here is up to what extent can the MILF accord to the German government? Will the assistance involve military, intelligence gathering or will it be limited to negotiation?
ASG’s extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom activities have been disturbing obstacles to the Duterte administration to achieve lasting peace in the region. While President Duterte has opened communication lines to revolutionary organizations such as the MNLF, MILF and New People’s Army (NPA) to start the peace process, the ASG was excluded in any peace talk with the government because the Philippine government observes a non-negotiation policy with terrorists.

Because of this policy, Duterte sent 10,000 soldiers this July to run after the ASG. Despite the military offensives against this group of 400 armed bandits, the latter remain to be elusive and still has the capability to engaged in terror activities. While Duterte is perceived to be a strong leader in the eyes of many Filipinos and ASEAN community, the growing terror aggression of the ASG is a remaining challenge to the Duterte leadership.

So how will the Germany and the Philippine governments handle the US$5 million ransom money demand from the ASG? The two countries have to strategize well.

No talks with Abu Sayyaf for German hostage

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nov 24): No talks with Abu Sayyaf for German hostage

Various factions of the Abu Sayyaf group have demanded ransom money for German captive Juegen Kantner, who has been held captive since early this month, making it difficult for the military to pinpoint his exact location,  a ranking military official said on Wednesday.

Kantner and his wife, Sabine Merz, were sailing in Malaysian waters when kidnapped on Nov. 5. Merz was killed after she allegedly tried to shoot the attackers.

Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo de la Cruz, the commander of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, said the military has not pinpointed which Abu Sayyaf faction was really holding the German captive.

“There’s a lot of them asking for ransom. There was Alhabshi Misaya (who is under Radulan Sahiron) and there is Muammar Askali, who is also asking for ransom,” De la Cruz said.

Askali, a self-proclaimed Abu Sayyaf spokesperson, was the latest Abu Sayyaf figure who had asked for ransom for Kantner. Askali said they wanted P500 million—not P5 million as earlier reported—for the foreigner’s freedom.

“We are demanding P500 million in ransom, not P5 million, and we will issue an ultimatum soon,” Askali said, without directly saying what the bandit group planned to do with Kantner if no ransom was received.

It was also Askali who announced the beheading of Canadian captives Robert Hall and John Ridsdel earlier this year after Canada refused to fork over ransom for the two victims.


But De la Cruz said the Abu Sayyaf might not get what it wanted for Kantner, describing the German captive as some sort of an “unwanted” person by the German government.

“I think the Abu Sayyaf erred in kidnapping the victim,” he said, adding that Kantner still reportedly owes the German government serious money when it paid Somali pirates so he and Merz could be released from captivity.

The two were snatched by Somali pirates as they sailed the Gulf of Aden in 2008. A German newspaper later reported the German government paid the Somalis some $600,000 for the release of the couple.

“They borrowed money from the German government. Soon after they were secured, the German government sought to be paid,” De la Cruz said.

Apart from the German, the Abu Sayyaf is currently holding hostage a Dutch national, several Malaysians, two Indonesians and four Filipinos.

The military recently lost four soldiers, while 17 others were wounded during an operation in Sulu, where it had sent thousands of troops this year to crush the group.

Editorial: Balance Piston and our emerging new policy

Editorial from the Manila Bulletin (Nov 23): Editorial: Balance Piston and our emerging new policy


Joint Philippine-American exercises begin today for the month-long Balance Piston in Palawan, with 40 elite Filipino troopers taking part. The US and Philippine officials have agreed to forego live-fire maneuvers, Philippine Army spokesman Col. Benjamin Hao said. This appears to be a change resulting from President Duterte’s earlier declaration that while we will respect the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US, assault and live-fire drills will be discontinued.

Secretary of Foreign Affairs Perfecto Yasay Jr. explained the change in a briefing for media last Friday. He said he had met with US Secretary of State John Kerry and the US government had agreed that joint exercises will now be redirected to cooperation in fighting terrorism, illegal drugs, and corruption, and in disaster risk management, away from combat exercises.

President Duterte, Secretary Yasay said, has assured that the Philippines will respect EDCA and other support agreements under the Mutual Defense Treaty, but the joint exercises should not be “demonstrative of preparing ourselves for any eventual attack from aggressors, particularly China.”

Yasay said the Mutual Defense Treaty was executed in 1951 at a time when it was feared that if Korea fell to the Communists, the other countries in the region – Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and the Philippines would be next, like falling dominoes. Well, the domino theory has not materialized, he said. In Southeast Asia today, there is instead a strong Association of Southeast Asian Nations, rather than a Communist hegemony as feared.

“So we have told the United States that maybe we should tone down and not focus on joint military exercises,” Secretary Yasay said. Instead the focus should be on fighting new threats like terrorism, drugs, and natural disasters.

In recent months, President’s statements in relation to the US have been described as controversial and subjected to clarifications, interpretations, and justifications, with one cabinet member even urging that they be considered with creative imagination. They have been seen as generally negative, while tending to favor closer ties with China as well as with Russia.

What is now developing is a new Philippine foreign policy. It is not a rejection of our close traditional ties with the US, only a modification that includes closer ties with other nations, particularly our giant neighbor to the northwest, China. We have issues with China, particularly our overlapping claims in the South China Sea, but President Duterte believes these can best be settled under his new, more independent foreign policy. The new focus of Balance Piston is in line with this emerging new policy.

NPA sees ceasefire collapse due to deployment of troops in rural areas

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nov 23): NPA sees ceasefire collapse due to deployment of troops in rural areas

New People’s Army (NPA) on Tuesday threatened to end the unilateral ceasefire it has declared in deference to the resumption of the peace process even as it accused the Armed Forces of the Philippines with sustained deployment of troops to the countryside.

The ceasefire, according to an NPA statement, is now in danger of being terminated unless the military stops deploying soldiers to the countryside.

Ka Allan Juanito, the NPA spokesperson for north-central Mindanao, said the deployment of government troops in rural areas has been a clear counter-insurgency move amid the peace process.

He said this has defeated the purpose of the cessation of hostilities.

With the continued deployment, the military now maintains presence in 78 barangays (villages) in 22 towns in Agusan del Sur and Agusan del Norte and Butuan City in the Caraga region; and in the Northern Mindanao provinces of Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon, as well as the cities of Gingoog, Malaybalay, and Valencia, according to Juanito.

He said that aside from soldiers, policemen have also been sent to rural areas.

Juanito said the military has entered more rural communities in the guise of delivering medical and dental services and conducting census to do surveillance. He said soldiers have also been questioning civilians, albeit illegally.

Capt. Joe Patrick Martinez, the spokesperson of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, said soldiers have been stationed in some communities on the request of local government officials.

Caraga and Northern Mindanao regions are under the 4ID’s military jurisdiction.

Martinez said the Army would only enter an area if invited by local leaders. The military’s presence in a particular area, he said, was covered by a memorandums of agreement or understanding.

Martinez said the memorandums of agreement or understanding indicated the specific roles the military could perform, including helping implement infrastructure projects and address the socio-economic needs of the locals.

The military’s assistance, he added, would be beneficial to the local governments as it would mean savings in funds, which could then be used for other purposes.

So far, we have not received any report of violations,” Martinez said, indicating that the troops have complied with the conditions in the memorandum.

He said the soldiers have been allowed to enter the communities to help residents since the military had the manpower, resources and the technical expertise to extend services needed by communities.

“Whatever we can help the people in the communities with, we will extend it,” Martinez said.

Martinez did not specify how many communities have so far asked the military’s help in the implementation of infrastructure programs or other concerns, but he said many of them were known to be conflict-stricken areas.

Philippines scraps 2 war games with US: military chief

From ABS-CBN (Nov 23): Philippines scraps 2 war games with US: military chief

The Philippine military said Wednesday it has scrapped two joint exercises with American troops, as President Rodrigo Duterte shifts the country's alliances away from the US.

Cancelled were the Philippine Amphibious Landing Exercise (Phiblex) and Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training Exercise (Carat), navy and marine drills geared towards territorial defense, said General Ricardo Visaya, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Duterte wanted to do away with "showy war games," said military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla.

Phiblex focuses on beach landings, recovering islands from enemies, and neutralizing invaders. Carat, on the other hand, involves joint maneuvers at sea to repel an approaching enemy.

The Balikatan Exercises will continue, Padilla said, but no longer as a war game. It will focus instead on humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR).

Visaya said 258 of more than 260 joint exercises will remain. The Department of National Defense, meanwhile, said only half of 13 major joint exercises will be left.

The issue of territorial defense has also been removed from the priority areas of concern for the joint exercises.

Padilla said the AFP has been instructed to focus only on disaster response, counter-terrorism operations, and maritime security along the Philippines’ porous borders.

This is almost a complete departure from the policy of Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, who sought the US’ help in building the military’s capability to defend itself from territorial incursions, especially in South China Sea.

Duterte, who has been vocal in his resentment of the US, has opted to befriend China instead.

Since Duterte’s high-profile visit to China, Chinese coast guard authorities have eased up its barricade in Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

‘Obama optimistic Philippines-US ties will improve under Trump’

From the Philippine Star (Nov 23): ‘Obama optimistic Philippines-US ties will improve under Trump’

U.S. Admiral Harry Harris, right, U.S. Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, poses with Philippine Armed Forces Chief Gen. Ricardo Visaya for a photo following their annual Mutual Defense Board meeting at Camp Aguinaldo in suburban Quezon city, northeast of Manila, Philippines Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016. The annual meeting came at a time when Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the scaling down joint military exercises and other activities between the two countries. AP Photo/Bullit Marquez

Compliment or snide remark?

Outgoing United States President Barack Obama expects a “better and stronger” relationship between Manila and Washington under his successor Donald Trump because of the businessman’s similarities with President Duterte, a Cabinet official said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said here Monday Obama had told him that Duterte and Trump seemed to have “the same kind of temperament.”

“My response to him was ‘well, I hope so’,” Yasay told reporters. 
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It was not clear when Obama relayed the message to Yasay. The two, however, had opportunities to talk during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) gala dinner and the traditional photo shoot of APEC leaders – events that Duterte missed reportedly because of jet lag.

Trump defied expectations and humiliated pundits and pollsters when he defeated former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton in an election that observers said was rife with unprecedented mudslinging and personal attacks.

Duterte, for instance, has assailed the US, the European Union and the United Nations for calling him out on his anti-drug war. He also slammed the Catholic Church for its supposed “hypocrisy” and asked supporters to kill those into illegal drugs.

Trump, meanwhile, did not mince words in assailing illegal immigrants, Muslims and journalists who were critical of him. He was more sober though after winning the elections and vowed to be the president of all Americans.

Yasay believes the issues surrounding the relationship between the Philippines and the US are “more fundamental than personalities involved.”

“We want to convey our message to America that our relationship can be stronger if there will be a reevaluation and readjustments of our relationship where this time, dependency will not be allowed. That is more fundamental,” the foreign affairs chief said.

Yasay said Obama did not have a message for Duterte, who had been hurling tirades against the American leader for supposedly interfering in the Philippines’ affairs, including the crackdown on illegal drugs.

“But he (Obama) was really saying something that, to my mind, was forward looking. Perhaps he saw that our relationship has been strained only with the leaders involved. But with Trump, maybe he is more optimistic,” Yasay said.

“I think we have all the fundamentals that would ensure that our relationship will even be stronger,” he added.

Yasay said ties between the Philippines and the US would grow stronger if certain fundamentals were “managed properly.”

“It will be towards a direction (where) both countries will treat each other as sovereign equals and with mutual respect. That’s basic insofar as carrying out a mutually beneficial relationship,” he said.

Earlier this month, Duterte said he could get along well with Trump, whom he described as “the chosen leader of the most powerful country.”

“I can always be a friend of anybody especially presidents, chief executive of another country. He does not call me out over my campaign about human rights,” the Philippine leader told reporters in an interview last Nov. 15.

Duterte is hopeful that Trump will be fair to the more than 270,000 Filipino illegal immigrants in the US.

But he said Trump’s election would not make him change his pivot to China and Russia after announcing his “separation” from the US.

Still close 

Despite Duterte’s pivot to China and Russia, military relations between the Philippines and the US remain robust.

Senior Filipino and US officials made this known yesterday following the conduct of the yearly Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) meeting held at the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Philippine fishermen decry Duterte's disputed shoal ban

From InterAksyon (Nov 23): Philippine fishermen decry Duterte's disputed shoal ban

Philippine fishermen on Wednesday criticized President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to ban them from a rich South China Sea fishing ground, part of his efforts to ease tensions over disputed waters controlled by China.

Duterte's aides said he had made a "unilateral" declaration to make the lagoon at Scarborough Shoal a protected marine sanctuary, after raising the issue during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a regional summit in Peru last weekend.

It was not clear whether Xi supported the plan.

The two neighbors both claim the shoal as part of their territory. But China took control of the ring of reefs just 230 kilometers (140 miles) from the main Philippine island of Luzon in 2012 after a standoff with the Philippine navy.

"We fear that declaring it as a marine sanctuary would pave way for another fishing blockade," Fernando Hicap, chairman of fishermen support group Pamalakaya, said in a statement. 

"This time it will be our own law and government that will prohibit (Filipino fishermen), not China," he added.

After taking control of the shoal in 2012, China banned Filipino fishermen from operating there. The ban was eased last month after Duterte visited Beijing to mend ties, with the Filipinos allowed to fish outside the lagoon.

A spokesperson for Duterte told AFP on Wednesday his office would soon release an executive order on the new "no-fishing zone" for both Filipinos and Chinese fishermen. 

"This would be subject to friendly negotiations so we won't create friction with other claimants," said Ana Marie Banaag, presidential communications assistant secretary. 

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang on Tuesday had no comment on Duterte's declaration but said Beijing had made "proper arrangements for fishing activities".

However, Filipino fishermen told AFP the Duterte plan would hurt their livelihood.

"We are against that because it is inside the lagoon where there is more catch," said Charlito Maniago, village captain in Infanta, one of the main Scarborough Shoal fishing towns on Luzon.   

Duterte move favors China: expert

Maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal said Duterte's declaration favored China since the Philippines could further lose access to the shoal. 

"China could just as easily accept the Philippine move and not act in return, because they derive the benefit anyway," Batongbacal said in a statement.

Following a case brought by Duterte's predecessor Benigno Aquino three years ago, a UN-backed international tribunal in July declared the shoal a common fishing ground for surrounding nations.

It also ruled that China's claim to most of the South China Sea was without legal basis, in a resounding legal victory for the Philippines.

But Duterte, 71, pivoted his country's diplomacy away from traditional ally the United States and towards China.

Soon after his ice-breaking trip to Beijing, Chinese vessels stationed at Scarborough allowed Filipino fishermen to fish outside the lagoon.

Bonifacio Naval Station to be opened to motorists to ease traffic

From InterAksyon (Nov 23): Bonifacio Naval Station to be opened to motorists to ease traffic

Another military facility is being opened to motorists to improve the flow of traffic, in expectation of the usual congestion in the run-up to the holidays.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) will open the Bonifacio Naval Station (BNS) in Taguig City as an alternate route for public vehicles with the appropriate decals.

Last week, officials said parts of Camp Aguinaldo will be opened to motorists who secure pass cards or decals beforehand.

Such decals or pass cards to be issued to motorists in Camp Aguinaldo will also be honored for those seeking to enter the BNS facility, MMDA General Manager Tim Orbos said.

Motorists coming from Villamor Airbase in Pasay City going to Bonifacio Global City area and vice-versa can use the BNS to bypass the traffic snarl along Lawton Avenue.

At present, only vehicles of military personnel and those with decals or pass cards are allowed to pass through BNS going to Pasong Tamo Extension from Lawton Avenue.

Orbos said motorists wishing to use the route may apply for the decal or pass card starting Thursday, November 24, 2016.

The application forms are available at the MMDA main office in Makati City.

Earlier, the MMDA, along with the I-ACT, announced that Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City will be opened to motorists to decongest the area on EDSA northbound, accommodating vehicles going to and coming from Katipunan Avenue and nearby roads.

Search uncovers high-powered arms in Talitay, Maguindanao

From InterAksyon (Nov 23): Search uncovers high-powered arms in Talitay, Maguindanao

A portion of the cache of high-powered arms recovered in Talitay, Maguindanao. Photographed by Jay Alcantara, InterAksyon

Combined security forces based in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) on a massive search mission brought to light on Wednesday an assorted cache of high-powered weapons and associated ammunition from an apparent private armory in Talitay, Maguindanao.

The continuing law enforcement operation, which was carried out based on 25 search warrants and complemented with armored and aerial action Friday last week by some 300 government troops, raided the residence of Mayor Montasir Sabal, who has not reported for work for weeks, seizing a small quantity of suspected drugs and three firearms.

Photograph from Brigada Magundanao Facebook Post

The homes of the vice mayor, Regional Assemblyman Sidik Ameril and the town’s Association of Barangay Chairmen president were also raided.

Recovered on Wednesday morning were various weapons that included two caliber .50 machine guns, four caliber .30 machine guns, assorted ammunition and 81 and 60 mm mortar rounds, ammunition reloaders abandoned at a marshy spot of Barangay Pagada, according to Police Inspector Razul Pandulo, spokeman of the Maguindanao police and incumbent office-in-charge of the police station in Talitay.

The security and law enforcement establishment have begun an investigation into the development that carries serious implications for safety, security and law and order.

Tension is high, and numerous residents of Talitay have voluntarily evacuated for fear of possibly getting caught in untoward armed confrontations.

The mayor of Talitay was tagged as a "narco-politician" by President Rodrigo Duterte. According to ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman, he will be declared absent without leave and indefinitely suspended.

Hataman said Talitay has been "headless" since Sabal went into hiding.

Photo: Special Force of Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao

Posted to the Mindanao Times (Nov 22): Photo: Special Force of Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao

SOLDIERS, belonging to the Special force of the Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao, are on their heavily-armed fast craft, as the newly created Joint Task Force Haribon, a counter-terrorism unit, blesses its maritime assets at Task Force Davao in Sta. Ana wharf on Saturday. BING GONZALES

Troops find gun, IEDs in Maguindanao town

From the Mindanao Times (Nov 22): Troops find gun, IEDs in Maguindanao town 

SOLDIERS recovered improvised explosive devices, sniper rifle and ammunition during the conduct of clearing operation in Talitay, Maguindanao over the weekend.
Military report showed that operating troops of 62nd Division Reconnaisance Company (DRC) were conducting combat clearing operation in Barangay Pageda, Talitay, Maguindanao at 5:20 a.m. yesterday.
They were able to recover 11 ammo boxes consisting of 7,439 rounds of 7.62 mm linked ammo and an ammo box consisting of 2,224 rds of 5.56mm ball ammo. They are still continuing their clearing operation.
On Saturday, troops of 5th Special Forces Battalion (SFB), composed of four officers and 10 enlisted personnel on  board five airboats, conducted clearing operation  in Butilen Marsh covering barangays Bentan and  Pageda, both of Talitay town. They found one improvised Barrett sniper rifle.
Around 4:30 p.m., the troops recovered two IEDs, with two 60mm mortar ammo as the main charges, and several 5.56mm ammo for M16 rifle of same barangay.  The recovered items are now under the custody of 5th Special Forces Battalion (SFB) for safekeeping.

‘Continuing attacks’ against Lumad hit

From MindaNews (Nov 23): ‘Continuing attacks’ against Lumad hit

Two progressive lawmakers have called attention to what they said are continuing attacks against Lumad or indigenous peoples in Mindanao.

In a statement Wednesday, ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro said that since October 11, students and teachers of Center and Lumad Advocacy and Services (CLANS) in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat had been “harassed and intimidated” by government officials.

Castro said the alleged harassment and intimidation was committed by Palimbang Mayor Abubacar Maulana, representatives from the Education, Social Welfare and Development and Local Government departments, Philippine Marines and Philippine National Police.

“Due to this continuing harassment, about 1,003 students including adult learners were affected and have stop schooling…,” he said.

CLANS is a community school for Dulangan Manobos in Palimbang.

Castro urged Education Secretary Leonor Briones to reprimand DepEd Region 12 director Pudja Acub and other officials involved in the alleged intimidation.

He said Briones should prove her advocacy for alternative education and learning systems “by standing for the Lumads and exacting accountability from her colleagues in the cabinet for the actions of their local officials against the Lumad school.”

“The new Secretary should scrap DepEd Memo 221 that legalizes the military encampment in schools because this only brings terror to students, teachers, and to the communities who had been deprived of their right to education for so long,” he added.

In a privilege speech on impunity on Monday, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate also cited the reported continuing attacks against Lumad under Oplan Bayanihan, the counterinsurgency program that started under the Aquino III administration.

Zarate said a teacher and Lumad leader from CLANS approached Congress last week to seek assistance for their plight.

He said the reported harassment was disturbing because justice had not been rendered for Lumad victims like Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo.

The lawmaker was referring to three Lumad leaders in Surigao del Sur who were killed by alleged paramilitary men late last year.

The 54-year old Samarca was executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development while Campos was chair of the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod, a Lumad organization protesting mining operations, land conversions and plantations.

Karapatan-Caraga in a statement on September 1 last year, narrated that at around 4 a.m. “known elements” of the Magahat-Bagani “opened fire” at Campos and Sinzo “as community members in Km. 16, Han-ayan, Barangay Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur were roused from bed and forced to gather in the middle of the community early this morning.”

Japanese cargo ship attacked in Sulu Sea

From the Mindanao Examiner (Nov 22): Japanese cargo ship attacked in Sulu Sea

Suspected Abu Sayyaf rebels or pirates had attacked a Japanese cargo ship in the Sulu Sea near Tawi-Tawi province in southern Philippines, reports said on Tuesday.

The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia or ReCAAP reported that the bulk carrier Kumiai Shagang thwarted the November 20 attack and continued its voyage from Port Hedland in Australia to Qingdao in China.

The Sulu Sea in the southwestern area of the Philippines is separated from the South China Sea in the northwest by Palawan and from the Celebes Sea in the southeast by the Sulu Archipelago.

“The Japanese bulk carrier Kumiai Shagang was attacked by pirates or militants on November 20 in Sulu Sea, north of Tawi-Tawi Island, Philippines. The bulk carrier thwarted attack by anti- pirates maneuvering, vessel continued voyage from Port Hedland, Australia to Qingdao, China,” the ReCAAP report said.

The cargo ship is owned by Southern Pacific Holding and managed by Kumiai Senpaku.

According to ReCAAP, the regional piracy watchdog, the crew on the ship took anti-piracy measures and successfully prevented boarding by the perpetrators.

It said since March this year, there have been 11 incidents in the area and most of these were claimed by the Abu Sayyaf.

At least 44 crewmen have been abducted this year off Sabah in Malaysia and the Abu Sayyaf is still holding over a dozen kidnapped Malaysian, Indonesian and Vietnamese sailors, including a German boater Jurgen Kantner.

There was no immediate statement from the military’s Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City in southern Philippines.

AFP turns over Php5.9-M reward money to 2 informants for capture of 2 ASG bandits

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 23): AFP turns over Php5.9-M reward money to 2 informants for capture of 2 ASG bandits

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday has formally turned over Php5.9 million worth of reward money to two confidential informants who provided crucial information which led to the neutralization of two Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits involved in kidnap for ransom activities.

Col. Edgard Arevalo, AFP public affairs office chief, said the two informants will share in the reward.

He added their "actionable intelligence information" led to the arrest of ASG member Suhud Yakan alias Ben Yasser and the death of sub-leader Sihatra Muallam Asmad alias Latip.

Asmad was involved in the kidnapping of foreign guests and workers of Sipadan Beach Resort in Sabah, Malaysia in April 2000 and members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Patikul, Sulu in August 2000.

Wanted for six counts of kidnapping and illegal detention, Asmad was killed in a joint law enforcement operation last May 23, 2014. He had a bounty of Php5.3 million for his capture.

Meanwhile, Yakan was wanted for kidnapping and serious illegal detention for his involvement in the kidnapping of 15 and killing of two residents of Golden Harvest Plantation on June 11, 2001 in Barangay Tairan Lantawan, Basilan.

Yakan was arrested by elements of the Philippine Army and Philippine National Police on May 23, 2014. He carries a reward of Php600,000.

The reward system was established on June 12, 2001 to encourage civilians to provide vital information needed to neutralize personalities in the rewards list and thwart threats to peace and security.

The system is managed through the AFP-PNP Joint Reward Valuation Committee which is chaired by the AFP deputy chief-of-staff for intelligence and the PNP director for intelligence.

“The information provided by the informants was vital in the identification and eventual arrest and neutralization of wanted personalities who have committed crimes against the people and our peace and security,” said AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Ricardo R. Visaya.

“Beyond the reward money that they will receive, we hope that this endeavor will compel other people to step up in the fight against terrorism. Security, after all, is a shared responsibility and we must do our part in ensuring that our communities are safe,” he added.

Sen. Lacson to PNP: Clean up police ranks first

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 23): Sen. Lacson to PNP: Clean up police ranks first

While the campaign against illegal drugs has good intentions, Senator Panfilo Lacson said on Wednesday that it will be more effective if the police ranks are cleaned up first.

“They (Philippine National Police) are focused on cleansing society from illegal drugs. Somehow, they are succeeding but the problem is there are controversies. Equally important is the cleansing of PNP scalawags,” Lacson told reporters in an interview.

“They should fix their problems in the ranks first and not simply close their eyes because the operations against illegal drugs are working,” he added.

Lacson, who is a former PNP chief, said the reality is that the PNP is cleansing to “cover up” their own involvement in the illegal drug trade which would make the country’s illegal drug problem “never-ending.”

The senator made this remark after PNP chief Director General Ronald Dela Rosa, during the second Senate hearing into the killing of Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa, got emotional over the public's losing trust on the PNP.

Dela Rosa was in tears when he admitted that he could not blame the public for losing trust in the PNP, saying that he himself did not know who to trust anymore.

“I do not know who I can trust. I pass on to the Lord the current situation of the PNP. I really want to reform the PNP because I really love our organization. I am having a very difficult time but I will never surrender,” Dela Rosa said.

He admitted that there are indeed policemen who are “blinded by money” because of poverty, and promised President Rodrigo R. Duterte that he would clean their ranks even if it costs him his life.

The PNP chief, meanwhile, appealed to the public anew to understand that they are “not Superman” but “only human.”

Joint military and civic exercises with US forces pegged at 258 for 2017

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 23): Joint military and civic exercises with US forces pegged at 258 for 2017

Joint military and civic exercises with US military forces in 2017 will only hit the 258 mark or five lower than the 263 proposed.

These figures include even small units and civic military operations.

This was stressed by outgoing Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya Wednesday.

"(These) exercises will be more focused on counter-terrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, engineering civic actions, so that will be in line with the pronouncements and the guidance of our President to the AFP," he said.

Earlier, the Department of National Defense (DND) recommended to President Rodrigo Duterte a re-focusing of bilateral activities on command post exercises, tabletop exercises, staff exercises and simulation exercises and training; maintenance of bilateral humanitarian and disaster response and counter-terrorism exercises; and giving focus on non-traditional security concerns such as counter-narcotics and transnational crimes.

AFP getting upper hand in ongoing campaign against ASGs

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 23): AFP getting upper hand in ongoing campaign against ASGs

Outgoing Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya said efforts to neutralize the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Basilan and Jolo (Sulu) is getting better as more and more bandits are being eliminated in the ongoing focused military operations.

"I would like to tell you that the situation in Mindanao, particularly in Basilan and Jolo is getting better and this only the first time in the history of (the) Armed Forces that a mass surrender of ASG (around 20 brigands) took place," he noted.

Visaya was referring to the surrender of 20 ASG bandits, along with their weapons, last Sept. 23 in Basilan.

He also dismissed claims that kidnapping attacks perpetrated by the bandits are on the rise, adding that it was greatly reduced with the Navy's ongoing sea denial operations and deployment of the BRP Tarlac (LD-601) between the maritime boundaries of the Philippines and Malaysia.

"There were two kidnapping incidents happened in Malaysia but the perpetrators were unable to enter our territory because of the strategic location of our naval assets there," Visaya stressed.

Since the AFP conducted its offensive against the ASG in July, bandits killed in Sulu during the July-October period has reached 60, with another 19 wounded, and 30 captured.

While in Basilan, military units have killed 10, wounded three, and captured two while 34 voluntarily surrendered to the AFP.

Visaya said these operations have made a sizeable dent against the ASG terrorists those active strength is estimated to around 400 armed men
These figure includes the death of key terror personalities Mohammad Said, Jamiri Jawhari, Musanna Jamiri, and Nelson and Braun Muktadil.

Visaya, a member of Philippine Military Academy Class of 1983, is scheduled to step down on Dec. 7.

Former rebels receive cash assistance from Davao del Norte government

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 23): Former rebels receive cash assistance from Davao del Norte government

The 16 former members of the New People’s Army received cash assistance and firearms remuneration from the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the provincial government of Davao del Norte under the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP).

This was reported by 2 Lt. Amadeus Celestial, civil-military operations officer of 60th Infantry Battalion, who said Wednesday that a total of PHp1,105,000.00 cash assistance and firearms remuneration were handed over by Davao del Norte Governor Anthony del Rosario to the former rebels in a ceremony held on Monday at the Girl Scouts of the Philippines Training Hall in Mankilam, Tagum City.

Celestial said the turning over of cash assistance, which was held Tuesday, was also witnessed by the heads of various CLIP implementing agencies in the province.

CLIP is a government initiative that seeks to permanently and peacefully end all armed conflicts with armed groups specifically with the NPAs.

“The AFP together with the different local government units (LGUs) will continue to promote the program since custodial debriefing reports of surrendering rebels revealed that it is among the significant factors that NPA members consider,” Celestial said.

With the support of the government now in place, more NPAs have realized the benefits that they and their families will gain if they decide to return to the folds of the law than continue with the armed struggle, he added.

Eight of the total number of former rebels who surrendered through the 68th IB received their cash assistance amounting to PHp65,000.00 each.

The eight others who yielded to the elements of 60th IB received cash remuneration ranging from PHp45,000.00 to PHp214,000.00 for their surrendered firearms.

DILG provincial director Alex Roldan emphasized the sincerity and commitment of the government to the full realization of the peace process.

After the cash assistance were given to the former rebels, the regular Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) meeting was also opened by Governor del Rosario.

The PPOC meeting was also joined by representatives from various line agencies of the government and LGUs. Primary discussions and updates during the meeting were the progress attained by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) in their continued support to the on-going peace process.