Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Grenade blast rocks gas station in North Cotabato

From Sun Star-Davao (Jan 12): Grenade blast rocks gas station in North Cotabato

 PIKIT, North Cotabato -- A gas station worker was injured when unidentified men tossed a hand grenade at the Shell Gas Station along the national highway in this town at 11 a.m. Thursday, January 12.

North Cotabato Police Provincial Director Emmanuel Peralta said the blast injured Jay Salac, 34, a resident of Barangay Poblacion, Pikit. Superintendent Romeo Galgo Jr., speaking for Police Regional Office-Soccsksargen, said the victim who sustained injuries on his elbow was brought to Cadulong emergency hospital.

Galgo said police are reviewing the gas station's CCTV footage. “Investigation is still ongoing as to the motive,” Galgo added.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. Last week, the village hall of Barangay Poblacion was also subjected to grenade attack by motorcycle-riding men.

Fortunately, the grenade failed to explode. Pikit Mayor Sumulong Sultan has asked the Philippine National Police for augmentation force as crimes are on the rise in the town due to intensified police operations against illegal drugs.

Malaysian officials in Mindanao to help in peace efforts

From ABS-CBN (Jan 12): Malaysian officials in Mindanao to help in peace efforts

Malaysia’s deputy defense minister and 30 other officials of the Malaysian Armed Forces visited central Mindanao on Thursday to help improve security and strengthen peace efforts between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Deputy Defense Minister Dato Sri Mohd Johari bin Baharum was given a military guard of honor by the 6th Infantry Division (ID) upon his arrival at the headquarters in Awang, Datu Odin Sinsuat.

Johari met with 6th ID Commander Major General Carlito Galvez and the two discussed the present situation in central Mindanao and challenges it could face in the future.

After the visit, Johari went to the headquarters of the International Monitoring Team-11 in Cotabato City where he was briefed by head of mission Major General Datuk Wira Zamrose bin Mohd Zain on the current situation of the ongoing ceasefire between the Philippine government troops and the MILF, and the role of the monitoring team.

On Thursday afternoon, the Malaysian deputy defense minister stopped by the central committee of the MILF headed by first vice- chairman Ghazali Jaafar in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao, where Malaysian officials will discuss with their MILF counterpart on how to improve security and development aspect in Mindanao.

After the camp visit, he will visit the grand mosque in Barangay Kalanganan, Cotabato City where he will give assistance to 30 orphans in the Shariff Kabunsuan Orphanage.

The International Monitoring Team was deployed in Mindanao in 2004. It consists of 37 members, 16 of which came from Malaysia and the other members are from Indonesia, Brunei, Japan and the European Union to monitor the ongoing ceasefire agreement between the Philippine government troops and the MILF.

2 suspects in deadly pirate attack nabbed: police

From ABS-CBN (Jan 12): 2 suspects in deadly pirate attack nabbed: police

Police operatives have arrested two of 11 suspects in the seajacking incident in waters off Siromon Island, Zamboanga City that left eight fishermen dead.

Seven men survived the seajacking incident on Monday as five men jumped overboard and swam to a nearby island, while two others who remained on the boat were unharmed, Philippine Coast Guard officials said.

Arsani Samlani, a local fisherman, was invited to the police station Wednesday after a survivor positively identified him as one of the culprits, officials said.

Another suspect identified as Mizfar Nuno alias Ravin Atain was nabbed earlier this week during a buy-bust operation in Seaside Sangali.

Multiple murder raps have been filed against Samlani while cases of multiple murder and illegal possession of explosives and illegal drugs were filed against Nuno.

Air Force getting 30 attack, combat helicopters this year – report

From Update.Ph (Jan 12): Air Force getting 30 attack, combat helicopters this year – report

During the 69th founding anniversary celebration of the Philippine Air Force last July 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to procure more helicopters with night vision capabilities. “We will acquire more helicopters and night vision capability. ‘Yan ang nagha-hamper e. If I have that then we can improve our performance,” President Duterte said during the celebration.

This vow from the President is now on progress, as per MaxDefense Philippines’ report. “Based on information gathered from MaxDefense sources, the Philippine Air Force is expected to proceed the process of procuring 30 helicopters this year,” MaxDefense said in a post today on its Facebook page.

MaxDefense sees that these helicopters will be proportioned into AgustaWestland AW-109 (Power) armed helicopters and Bell 412EP combat utility helicopters (CUH).

President Duterte previously said that AFP modernization will continue.

“There will even be no refocusing of modernization thrust, we will only adjust our priorities,” the President said during his first visit to 6th Infantry Division headquarters in Camp Siongco, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao. “For the time being, we will be attending to the more pressing needs of our soldiers now engaged in focused military operation in Basilan, Sulu, Central Mindanao, and other areas in southern Philippines.”

The procurements will be more of force protection equipment (FPE) for our soldiers like helmets and vests, more night-fighting systems capability, additional fast crafts for our Navy, additional helicopters capable of night flight for the Navy and Air Force, and more communications equipment,” the President said.

Islamic State supporters post video of German hostage believed kidnapped

From Street Insider (Jan11): Islamic State supporters post video of German hostage believed kidnapped

Islamic State supporters posted a video on Wednesday showing an elderly German man believed to have been kidnapped by Filipino Islamist Abu Sayyaf rebels last November.

The video shows the German man in an orange jumpsuit standing in a freshly dug grave as black-clad. Masked militants behind him held assault rifles and, speaking Arabic, threatened the German government in English while the Islamic State black flag stood in the background.

"To the German government: it seems that you are not paying attention to our demands. Failure to pay the ransom will cause the beheading of this German citizen," one of the masked men can be heard saying.

The German foreign ministry declined to comment on the video, saying it was its policy not to discuss cases involving Germans kidnapped abroad.

Soldiers had found the body of a German woman on an abandoned yacht in the troubled waters of the southern Philippines on Nov. 7 and said they suspected her companion may have been taken captive by Abu Sayyaf rebels.

The body was found naked and with gunshot wounds on the yacht which bore a German flag and was docked on a remote island in the Sulu archipelago, a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf.

Abu Sayyaf is an al-Qaeda linked group known for kidnapping and increasingly, piracy. Several of its factions have declared their allegiance to Islamic State since 2014.

The Filipino army at the time said the Abu Sayyaf leader, Muamar Askali, had made claims on radio that they were holding a 70-year-old German after intercepting the yacht in Sabah, eastern Malaysia, a week earlier.

Abu Sayyaf rebels have since March been intercepting slow-moving tug boats towing coal barges in waters near the borders of Malaysia and the Philippines, taking captive more than a dozen Indonesian and Malaysian sailors.

Several hostages have been freed, after paying ransom to the Abu Sayyaf, a group known for kidnappings and beheadings, including two Canadians this year.

It is holding 15 captives, including a Netherlands citizen, five Malaysians, two Indonesians and seven Filipinos.

Bayan to AFP: Disclose contents of new Oplan

From The Standard (Jan 10): Bayan to AFP: Disclose contents of new Oplan

THE Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Department of National Defense should disclose the actual contents of their new campaign plan, Development Support and Security Plan Kapayapaan, launched last week at a top level command conference, the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said on Tuesday.

If it is a sequel to Oplan Bayanihan, claiming to put primacy on the peace negotiations and so-called non-combat “development” work, but continuing the militarization of communities, then it is not new nor will it succeed, Renato M. Reyes Jr., Bayan secretary-general said.

Reyes said: Will DSSP Kapayapaan cause the pullout of troops from lumad and other occupied areas? Will this cause the suspension of military operations masquerading as non-combat, development operations in civilian communities?

Will this end the “IP-centric” approach adopted by Oplan Bayanihan that has resulted in human rights violations in indigenous communities? Will this make the AFP stop targeting legal activists, whether through trumped-up charges or by extrajudicial killings? 

“Will the AFP disband paramilitary groups especially those most notorious for rights abuses such as massacres?”

“If the answer to all these questions is No, then we are in for more of the same. Maybe even worse,” Reyes said.

Reyes said Oplan Bayanihan of Aquino also claimed to recognize the primacy of the peace process but instead unleashed war on the people.

“It was an utter failure as the peace talks were stalled while the AFP failed to stop the advance of the revolutionary forces.”

He added it was “this reality that served as the basis for the Duterte administration to enter into peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines,” Reyes said.

According to Reyes, the AFP should upload and make available the new DSSP Kapayapaan to allow its scrutiny by all stakeholders and interested parties, including human rights groups, peace advocates, and members of Congress.

Kapayapaan’s predecessor Oplan Bayanihan was made available to the public by the previous regime and can be found at the AFP’s website.

Reyes claimed people in the countryside continued to call for the pull-out of AFP troops operating in civilian communities.

Venue of peace talks with communist rebels shifts to Rome

From CNN Philippines (Jan 11): Venue of peace talks with communist rebels shifts to Rome

(File photo) The resumption of the GPH-NDF peace negotiations in Oslo has been described as historic as it also served as a venue for the reunion of Filipino Marxist leaders who assumed top positions in the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). 

Peace talks between the government and the communist movement will resume this month in Rome.

It's far from the freezing temperatures of Norway, but both parties are in for fiery debates — tackling major issues including a proposed bilateral truce.

 Discussions between government and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) panels can get intense - some panel members even liken it to a boiler room.

But participants admit, the cold can get in the way of becoming more productive in the peace talks.

"It affects the mood, the tempo, lack of sleep," NDFP legal consultant Edre Olalia said.

For the first two rounds of talks, a number of panel members fell ill due to pnuemonia, colds and cough as temperatures in Norway can drop to 10 degrees Celsius.

"It was serious, you know why? One third of the room were wearing masks, and people were coughing and coughing all over again. And they couldn't sleep. People have lost their appetite," Olalia said.

Anti-Marcos advocate Boni Ilagan was hospitalized in Oslo after suffering from temporary amnesia in 2011.

He fell over hardened snow while filming a documentary about the peace talks.

"I did not quite realize, when I stood up, I could not remember anything. In fact, I panicked, because I could not explain to myself what I was doing in such a strange land," Ilagan said.

There was even a time when the talks were held inside Norway's airport.

"Because the elderly people from GRP requested that they don't want even to go out of the airport, sa sobrang lamig," Olalia said.

When the talks resume on January 18, it will now be in a warmer city — Rome.

This is upon the request of the two panels.

Other cities like Lisbon in Portugal and Athens in Greece were considered.

Rome, however, had stronger diplomatic ties with Norway, the talks' facilitator.

"Theres no other reason, except that it wants to make people more comfortable, more condusive to talks, and then para walang mga sickness basically [so there would be no sickness basically," Olalia said.

There were previous proposals to move the talks to Asia.

After all, the two peace agreements with Moro rebel groups were signed in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur.

But NDFP chief political consultant Joma Sison can only do limited travel.

As an asylum seeker in the Netherlands, Sison could face sanctions or even arrest in non-European countries.

The third round of talks in Rome will tackle crucial issues such as the bilateral ceasefire agreement and socio-economic reforms.

Rody invites pal Trump to Asean summit

From the Philippine Star (Jan 11): Rody invites pal Trump to Asean summit

Presidential Communications Office Secretary Martin Andanar said Trump has not committed yet to visit the country for the ASEAN summit. United States President Donald Trump will take oath on Jan. 20. AP /Evan Vucci

President Duterte sent an official invitation to incoming United States President Donald Trump to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit to be held in the country in November.

Presidential Communications Office Secretary Martin Andanar said Trump has not committed yet to visit the country for the ASEAN summit. Trump will take oath on Jan. 20.

Duterte telephoned Trump last year to congratulate him for winning the US presidential elections.

Meanwhile, the military and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) are preparing for the launching of the ASEAN summit in Davao City on Jan. 15.
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The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is mobilizing an entire task force and all military components to secure the launching of the ASEAN summit at the Davao SMX Convention Center.
The government will officially launch the ASEAN 2017 to raise awareness regarding the country’s summit hosting and its benefits, Andanar said.

President Duterte will be the guest of honor during the launching ceremonies.

Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the AFP Public Affairs Office, said Joint Task Force (JTF) Haribon of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) has geared up to support the Philippine National Police (PNP).

About 600 personnel from the Air Force, Navy and the Army will be committed to the 1,000 security personnel to be deployed to secure the activities related to the ASEAN summit.

“Our plan is in support of the PNP plan and we consider different possible scenarios and we are closely coordinating with different concerned agencies, particularly the PNP,” said Brig. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, JTF Haribon commander.

Gapay also said sea, air and land capabilities and assets of the military would be on standby alert for the summit.

As part of the security preparations, JTF Haribon has initiated tabletop exercises to ensure that security requirements in areas of engagements are all covered.

Early this month, a joint exercise was held along Davao Gulf to fine tune naval security measures and to enhance interoperability among the deployed and committed units.

Gapay said that security has been heightened around Samal Island as it is one of the potential areas to be visited by ASEAN delegates.

Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno said the DILG is also on its toes as chair of the Committee for Security, Peace and Order and Emergency Preparedness and Response for the country’s hosting of the summit.

The committee conducted orientation meetings and contingency planning and inspected proposed billeting areas, meeting sites and places of interest in Boracay, Iloilo, Bacolod, Pampanga and Metro Manila.

“The year brings much excitement and challenge to the Philippines as we are hosting the ASEAN 2017 on its 50th or golden anniversary, which is an opportune time to show to the ASEAN region as well as to the world our capability to host international and important events, including the upcoming Miss Universe pageant,” Sueno said.

The Philippines held the chairmanship of the ASEAN in 1987, 1999 and 2006.

A member-state that assumes the chairmanship leads the ASEAN summit and other related summits, the ASEAN Coordinating Council, the three ASEAN community councils, ASEAN sectoral ministerial bodies and the Committee of Permanent Representatives.

Moro and Indigenous Peoples Forge Historic Alliance for Self-Determination

From Intercontinental Cry (Jan 9): Moro and Indigenous Peoples Forge Historic Alliance for Self-Determination (By Cristina Rey)

Photo: Sandugo - Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination (facebook)

On Oct. 19, 2016, protesters rallied in front of the U.S. embassy in Manila to call for an end to the United States’ economic and political control over the Philippines. The demonstration in support of President Rodrigo Duterte’s independent foreign policy was heavily repressed by a militarized police force that protected the U.S. Embassy at the expense of the Filipino protesters.

When amateur videos showing a Philippine police van ramming protesters at the Embassy went viral, American media outlets like the New York Times and the L.A. Times picked up the story. The episode was framed as an incident of Philippine state violence against anti-American student activists, erasing the Moro (ethnic Muslim) and indigenous claims to self-determination in the Philippines that contextualize the protest.

The October protest was not an isolated event. It was one of many mobilizations organized by the newly formed Sandugo Alliance of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination (Sandugo). Sandugo, as the movement is called, unites the national minorities of the Philippines in their collective struggle for the rights to self-determination and just peace.

The formation of the Sandugo Alliance marks a milestone in the political history of the Philippines. For the first time, Moro peoples and Indigenous Peoples have joined forces to create a unified movement. While the movement is new, its struggles date back to the colonial legacy of mining extraction.

The Philippines is one of the most mineral-rich countries in the world for gold, nickel, copper, and chromite. The country has a long history of mining that began before Spanish colonization, but in the early twentieth century the U.S. brought the means for extraction to new levels. The U.S. issued Act 468, a law that “basically gave the government the right to reserve mineral lands for its own purposes” and “claimed a number of areas as ‘reserved areas’ for future mining.”

More recently, the government liberalized the mining industry through the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and the 2004 National Mineral Policy Agenda in the name of economic development. Today, over 500,000 hectares of Philippine land are covered by mining concessions.

For Roland G. Simbulan, professor of Development Studies and Political Economy at the University of the Philippines in Manila, extractive mining industries and corporate exploitation are the gravest threats facing Indigenous Peoples in the country today. Mining companies have subjected indigenous communities to forced eviction, loss of livelihood, disintegration of communal ties, and the militarization of their territories.

The Philippines now ranks among the most dangerous countries for human rights defenders in the world. Human rights organizations confirm that anti-mining activists are particularly vulnerable in the Philippines. According to a Global Witness report, the Philippines has the second highest death toll on record with over 30 murders of environmental defenders per year (second only to Brazil). In 2015, there were 22 documented killings of Lumad activists in Mindanao, making it one of the most dangerous regions in the world for land and environmental defenders.

Sandugo: A Historic Alliance

Indigenous and Moro peoples organized a caravan traveling across the Philippines to gather in a national convening at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. On Oct. 15, 2016, over three thousand people announced the formation of the Sandugo Alliance of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self Determination. The word “Sandugo,” invoking the pre-colonial tradition of peace pacts among differing tribes, signals the unity of marginalized sectors that represent over 15 percent of the Filipino population.

The newly formed Sandugo Alliance led a series of protests in front of the national headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP), the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and Department of Justice (DOJ), and the US Embassy.

The protests highlighted the crimes committed by the military, the police inaction against paramilitary criminals in indigenous communities, and the repression of civilians in anti-insurgency campaigns.

The most publicized protest was at the U.S. Embassy, where demonstrators denounced the government’s tacit support of violence against Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines. Sandugo called for an end to U.S.-backed militarization of their communities, which has resulted in land-grabbing, human rights violations, extrajudicial killings, and displacement. It has also infringed on the rights of Moro and Indigenous Peoples to self-determination.

To this day, the U.S. continues to give millions of dollars in military aid to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which has at least 56 percent of its forces deployed in Mindanao, a region home to 18 indigenous tribes in the southern Philippines.

Surigao del Sur: Killings and Forced Displacement

The Manobo peoples from Lianga, Surigao del Sur, Mindanao, know the lengths the Philippine military will go to protect the mining industry. They were forced to evacuate from their land after the brutal assassinations of Emerico Samarca, Dionel Campos, and Datu Juvello “Bello” Sinzo on Sept. 1, 2015. All three victims were anti-mining activists. Emerico Samarca was the executive director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV), a school for Lumad children. Dionel Campos was the leader of an anti-mining community organization, Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (MAPASU). Campos’s uncle, Juvello Sinzo, was a Manobo leader and member of MAPASU.

Two nights before their murders, on Aug. 30, 2015, the Philippine Army's 36th Infantry Battalion and Special Forces Regiment arrived in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. They asked to talk to Campos and detained Samarca.

The next day, the paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani arrived in the village.

Witnesses recognized members of Magahat-Bagani as fellow Manobo peoples who had been recruited, trained, and armed by the armed forces to conduct counterinsurgency operations. That day, Magahat-Bagani burned the anti-mining MAPASU cooperative and began firing at civilians.
On Sept. 1, at around 4am, members of the AFP-trained Magahat-Bagani publicly assassinated Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo. Remains of Emerico Samarca’s slain body were found at the ALCADEV school.

The paramilitary group told community members that they would also be massacred if they did not leave Surigao del Sur within three days. Thousands of Lumad were forced to evacuate their lands, not returning until September 2016.

The army has admitted that their troops were camped nearby when the assassinations took place, but did not take action to stop the killings or prosecute the killers, who have since been identified. In 2016, Human Rights Watch found the Philippine military guilty of the violent attacks and displacement of Indigenous Peoples as well as acting as paid security for mining and plantation operations.

On Sept. 1, 2016, thousands of the Manobo peoples began the journey back to their homeland, a year after their forced evacuation. Less than a month later, they marched as part of the Sandugo Alliance to demand justice for the crimes committed against their community.

Repression at the US embassy

Roberta Ryan, a Bay Area-based activist of Anakbayan, accompanied the Manobo tribe during their transition back to Surigao del Sur.

Ryan traveled with the Manobo peoples to join the Manilakbayan and participate in the Sandugo Alliance week-long program from Oct. 17 to 27, 2016, which included the protest at the U.S. Embassy. According to Ryan, there were approximately a thousand people from Sandugo who marched to the gates of the U.S. Embassy to demonstrate the Filipino people’s strong opposition to U.S. political, economic, and military intervention.

After a smaller embassy protest the week before, members of the Sandugo Alliance anticipated a heavy police presence on Oct. 19, 2016. As expected, lines of police officers attempted to control the protests. A contingent of high school students successfully created a diversion to confuse police officers, spilling fake blood on the gates of the embassy as protesters marched to meet them. Two blocks before the protesters reached the gates, they were met with water cannons.

Although many protesters were hit by the cannons, a special team immediately took action and began cutting the police’s water hoses as they were being used against the crowd.

Shortly thereafter, another police force dressed in all black arrived. Colonel Marcelino Pedrozo questioned why the troops had not arrested any protesters yet and ordered his men to run them over.
Witnesses from the Kabataan Party-List confirm that this is when Pedrozo orderedthe violent dispersal. Fire trucks approached and the use of water cannons continued. Ryan remembers seeing something shoot in the sky, later realizing that it had sprayed her with tear gas. As she tried to find her group in the crowd, she saw the police indiscriminately beating her friends and Sandugo allies. She then witnessed the police van ram into the crowd of protesters. In her view, it was “very obvious that they had the intent to run the [protesters] over.”

Dozens of protesters were injured and arrested during the violent dispersal. Still, the Sandugo allies reconvened and continued on, marching to the Manila Police District to demand their release.

Agitated speakers stood on top of jeepneys and expressed their concerns without restraint. According to Ryan, the police blared Christmas music on large speakers in an attempt to drown out their voices.
In spite of the police’s aggression, Sandugo’s multi-sector alliance was able to provide legal resources, funds to pay for medical expenses, and on the ground medical assistance. The arrested protesters were released and did not suffer any fatalities.

Speaking about the dispersal, Ryan recalls “It was the most violent thing I had ever witnessed and at the same time seeing everyone stay together to march to the police district after [the violent dispersal] is the type of unity that I’ve also never experienced.”

Resistance, stronger than ever

Since its foundation, the Sandugo Alliance has continued to galvanize support across the nation with the formation of new chapters and the growing number of Filipino individuals vowing to support their struggle.

As for the Manobo tribe, recent developments have revealed their resolve to take on the mining industry. While Environment Secretary Gina Lopez earlier cleared the firm Claver Mineral Development Corp. (CMDC) during a crackdown on irresponsible mining, on Dec. 16, 2016, two tribal chieftains in Surigao del Norte went over her head. Datu James Biol of the Manobo tribe along with Datu Renante Baklas of the Mamanwa tribe filed a grave and graft misconduct complaint to investigate Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay of the CMDC  for conspiracy to illegally mine, transport and sell nickel ores from their ancestral lands. According to the chieftains, “Respondent Pichay could not have successfully committed the foregoing criminal acts which continues and persists up to the present were it not for the active participation of all the respondents from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau.”
While repression against them increases, the Moro and Indigenous Peoples of the Sandugo Alliance are sending a strong message to the U.S., Philippine government, and mining industry alike: the fight continues, and they’re stronger than ever.

[Cristina Rey is a Filipina/Cuban American student activist and educator currently based in Western Massachusetts.]

MILF commander told: Explain killings

From Malaya Business Insight (Jan 12): MILF commander told: Explain killings

THE Moro Islamic Liberation has directed one of its commanders, Abdullah Macapaar, popularly known as Commander Bravo, to explain his supposed role in the recent execution by firing squad of three men in Lanao del Sur.

In its website, the MILF said it does not allow the death penalty for offenders.

Macapaar once headed the MILF’s 102nd Base Command which was blamed for attacks in Central Mindanao, following the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain during the Arroyo administration. He is currently commander of the MILF’s North Eastern Mindanao Command operating in the Lanao provinces.

The MILF sought an explanation from Macapaar after a video of the execution went viral. The video, posted on Facebook, showed Macapaar giving the final order to execute the three men after being found guilty of murder under the Shariah law.

It was not clear in the video when the execution took place. A government source first disclosed in November last year the existence of the video which he said was taken a month earlier.

The MILF said it has banned the operation of so-called mobile Shariah courts in the Lanao provinces that handle cases submitted to them to prevent clan conflict.

“The truth is that until now, the MILF has not allowed death penalty even for major crimes; instead it permits only the payment of blood money to the families of the victims,” the MILF said.

It said the Shariah justice system can be dispensed only by people who know the Islamic law very well. It said being a judge is the “least desired profession” among Muslims because once appointed, the judge’s foot “is already considered in the ridge of hell.”

New Malaysian facilitator in GPH-MILF peace talks

From InterAksyon (Jan 11): New Malaysian facilitator in GPH-MILF peace talks

Tan Sri Zakaria bin Abdul Hamid, the new Malaysian facilitator. PHOTO FROM VERAFILES

The Philippines and Malaysia have agreed on a new facilitator in the government’s peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), re-affirming the role Malaysia has played in the peace process for the past 16 years.

Tan Sri Zakaria Bin Abdul Hamid, 71, is the third Malaysian to act as facilitator in the talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the MILF. He replaces Tengku Datuk Abdul Ghafar Mohamed who passed away on Sept. 2, 2016.  Like the late Tengku, Zakaria is the choice of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak.

The first facilitator was Datuk Othman Abd Razak, an appointee of former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.

Zakaria’s appointment was made after the Philippines reconsidered its position on the need for a third-party facilitator.

In a letter to the Malaysian Secretariat of the GPH-MILF Peace Process dated Jan. 4, GPH panel implementing chair Irene Santiago and her MILF counterpart Mohager Iqbal jointly reaffirmed the continued participation of Malaysia as Third Country facilitator.

The government had earlier informed Malaysia it was rethinking that role, since the peace process is already in the implementing stage.

Last November, hours before the scheduled bilateral meeting of Najib and President Rodrigo Duterte in Kuala Lumpur, the Philippines’ National Intelligence Coordinating Agency Director-General Alex Monteagudo informed the Malaysian side that the Philippine government would no longer accept the Malaysian facilitator but wanted the Malaysian International Monitoring Team (IMT) to continue, a source said.

The Malaysian side sought clarification from Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza and was told that the Philippine side wanted a different label to the role that Malaysia is playing in the peace process because “facilitator” would connote an ongoing negotiation when they are actually already implement the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

Malaysia officially informed Dureza of the appointment of Zakaria as the new GPH-MILF Peace Process facilitator in a letter dated Oct. 18, 2016.

Zakaria is currently the chairman of Landmarks Berhad, an investment holding company that expanded its business to the hospitality industry and property development. He served the Malaysian government for 33 years. The last position he held was as director-general of the Research Division in the Prime Minister’s Department, a strategic office that coordinates both the foreign and defense ministries, and provides policy advise to the Prime Minister on matters of international and domestic concern.

In a copy of his curriculum vitae attached to the Oct. 18 letter to Dureza, Zakaria listed his personal strengths, including excellent cross-cultural negotiation skills, crisis management, re-inventing organizational culture, change and direction, analytical assessment of strategic issues and requirements and visionary attribute.

“Tan Sri Zakaria Bin Ab. Hamid had been chosen based on his wide knowledge and experience in the peace process…The Prime Minister of Malaysia also firmly believes that Tan Sri Zakaria Bin Ab. Hamid would be neutral as the new facilitator of the GPH-MILF peace process,” said Malaysia’s letter requesting Dureza’s concurrence on Zakaria’s appointment.

He was instrumental in the turnover to the Philippine government of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari when the latter fled from rebellion charges and sought refuge in Malaysia. Interestingly, days before Duterte’s visit to Malaysia, Misuari was in MalacaƱang pledging his support for Duterte’s quest for federalism and peace in Mindanao.

In an interview on Dec. 27, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. confirmed the government was rethinking having a facilitator at this stage of the peace process, but that the IMT would stay. Other than the facilitator, Malaysia deploys security personnel in Mindanao acting as peacekeepers and overseers of the ceasefire agreement implementation.

“The framework had been completed. We don’t need a facilitator and Malaysia agreed to that. Maybe we can go to a higher level of monitoring and making sure that the entire process will be completed where we have gone past the stage of negotiation,” Yasay said.

Yasay said that both governments of Malaysia and the Philippines remain committed to the peace process and will pursue the roadmap together. “So by the time that we would have a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), we would be getting into the amendment of the constitution as part of our intention to federalize and maybe integrate certain aspects of the amendments. These are things that we will be doing slowly and very carefully and no one is being left out,” Yasay said.

The Philippines has embarked on a peace process to resolve the decades-old problem of secessionism in the Southern Philippines that has killed more than 120,000 and displaced more than two million people in the Mindanao.

The peace talks began with the MNLF, and a peace agreement to end the protracted conflict in Mindanao was signed in 1996 providing for an Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). But that agreement split the biggest Muslim secessionist group and gave birth to the MILF.

Malaysia’s role as broker started in 2001, and there have been criticisms about it, given the Philippines’ long-standing claim on parts of Sabah, which is occupied by Malaysia.

After 15 years of talking peace with the MILF, a Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) was signed October 15, 2012 and the CAB on March 27, 2014. It provided for the creation of a Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that would draft the BBL and would pave the way for the creation of a new autonomous political entity called the “Bangsamoro,” to replace the ARMM.

The 16th Congress under the Aquino administration, however, failed to pass the BBL. Under the new government, the process resumed with the drawing up of a Bangsamoro peace roadmap. Duterte will reconstitute the new and expanded BTC this month by naming 21 members, including MNLF leader Muslimin Sema. The new BTC is expected to finish the draft BBL by July 2017

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)

Feature: Fire, fight and faith: A soldier’s verve

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 11): Feature: Fire, fight and faith: A soldier’s verve

Behind the audacity, vigor and skillful tactics of a soldier is a habit of mind and heart to exude faith as evinced in his kindness and love for his fellowmen and the Supreme Being.

For Lieutenant Colonel Rey Pasco, commanding officer of the 4th Civil Military Operations (CMO) Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, Philippine Army, “being a uniformed personnel serving the government doesn’t imply a privilege you can claim, but a duty you must perform. There’s no other option than to uphold the ethical and legal standards in the execution of tasks and fulfillment of missions.”  
It means standing your ground and acting on it to support the interests of the republic and its citizens and ensuring local and national security, enunciated Pasco. “We often hovered between life and death situations and that entails extraordinary bravery and moral courage to surpass the challenges. When we pledged for genuine public service, we mean carrying out our job wholeheartedly even by risking our lives for others,” he added.

The reward of valor

Keeping the confidence in his ability to perform well under the difficult and demanding conditions of battle, LTC Pasco and his comrades in the armed service exemplified an indomitable spirit worthy of emulation.

With his vast experience in the field of combat operations, LTC Pasco courageously spearheaded his troops in maneuvering and assaulting enemy position amidst heavy hostile fires. This led him to receive a gold cross medal for his conspicuous courage and gallantry in action during an encounter against more or less fifteen dissident terrorists at Sitio Bagang, Brgy. Kamuayan, Balingasag, Misamis Oriental in October 1998.

Another gold cross medal was accorded to him on July 2000 for his combat skills, bravery, teamwork and timely execution of operation plan during an encounter against more or less 230 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels at Balo-i, Lanao del Norte. He and his cohorts defended the area through face-to-face combat fighting with the strong first line of defense of the enemy.

“As I left the tour of duty for taking actions to defeat insurgency, I sit in relief for I managed to hurdle and undertake what I am called on to do. Nothing feels exhausting when you are passionate about the profession you pursue,” underscored Pasco.

A man of military bearing with a tenacity of legendary warriors, a bronze cross medal was awarded to him in March 2002 for possessing the highest degree of professionalism and exceptional courage in the face of danger. He bravely and actively participated and supervised in the conduct of special intelligence operations resulting to the successful neutralization and apprehension of Muhammad Kiram, the local contact of arrested Indonesian national Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi also known as Abu Saad, a member of an international organization called Jammal Islameah, an Islamic Terrorist Group who has link with the Al-Queda terrorist group.

Imbued with the high sense of professionalism and dedication to duty, he and his comrades effectively carried out their assigned tasks by exerting maximum efforts to ensure the accomplishment of the mission. The extraordinary traits, tailored with proper intelligence training and background displayed, the coordinated efforts and utmost enthusiasm coupled with perseverance, significantly contributed to the success of the operation. This laudable achievement has brought credit not only for himself and the group but for the entire Philippine Army.

The fight for peace progresses and this doesn’t stop him from moving ahead. In March 2006, Pasco was further awarded with a bronze cross medal award for acts of heroism involving risk of life while serving as the intelligence officer/intelligence operative of the 401st brigade, 4th Infantry Division. It eventually yielded positive results during the conduct of combat operations at Nasipit and Buenavista, Agusan del Norte.

For those individuals whose heroism, noble and substantive acts that were never known to many, they deserve to earn homage for being in the line of unsung heroes who unconditionally take charge on matters with commitment and conviction.

The sacred devotion

The stern discipline reflects a stiff soldier always ready to conquer an opponent amidst danger and toil.

In almost half a golden year of blitz and aggressive fire and fight maneuvers to defeat the enemy and those who are in armed resistance against the government, LTC Pasco never omit his spiritual and moral obligation which he ought to perform not only as a uniformed official in service but as a person of holistic human portrayal.

“It is vital to recognize the authority of Christ. I wrestled all my life under unpredictable instances despite proficiency in my bailiwicks. And in seeking for divine protection and guidance, I opted to be ruled by His command and power over men,” modestly admitted Pasco.

He pointed out further the unseen heroic deeds and astounding sacrifices of soldiers, the enormous costs to personal safety of their own lives and their families, the coping measures from anguish of leaving their loved ones behind, and the mixed emotions of confronting the probability of getting injured or even death. “With my fellow armies, we were able to hurdle all these according to our faith, individual convictions, and sacred devotion to duty and the Almighty,” he said.

Rededicating army’s spiritual home

Following the zest and motivation to lead and function as a dedicated serviceman comes the transcendence that creates more meaningful impact.

The genuine camaraderie displayed by Rev. Fr. Joshue Cadorna of the Order of Discalced Augustinians (OAD) as the spiritual mentor of LTC Pasco has truly inspired him to take a forward stride in pursuing warfare in a sphere different from that of the battlefield. This is when the circle of Christian armies at the 4th Civil Military Operations Battalion proceeded in combined action for the rehabilitation of the brigade chapel at the 4ID Advance Command Post, Camp Bancasi.

It was three decades ago, September 7, 1986 to be exact, when the construction of the brigade chapel started and was inaugurated under the then command of Col. Renato Palma.

With the generous help of the civilian friends, devotees and close allies in public service such as the Philippine Information Agency Caraga team led by regional director Abner Caga, the Beata Virgine del Santo Rosario (Our Lady of the Holy Rosary) Chapel was successfully renovated on September 1, 2016 and a rededication was held on October 30, 2016.

It was graced by 4th Infantry Division, Philippine Army commander Major General Benjamin Madrigal, Jr. and other officials. “Such accomplishment is a manifestation that wonderful things can be achieved through teamwork and bayanihan,” underscored Madrigal.

The bayanihan, as a thrust of Philippine Army’s Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP), encaptulates the idea of cooperation in order to achieve real change and development. “Truly, the spirit of bayanihan is alive in Caraga,” stated Madrigal.

Meanwhile, Fr. Cadorna, delegated chaplain and prior of the OAD led the blessing of the brigade chapel. “I am really grateful for the dedicated heart of Lt. Col. Pasco and his troops in the realization of this project. Everything was made possible through the generous support from the private individuals and military friends of the brigade,” stressed Fr. Cadorna.

He also said that “more than the ideal execution of the game plan among the cream of chivalrous soldiers, the spiritual nurturance should also be given utmost priority in order to spell a proper disposition and a perfect conditioning of mind, body and soul.”

The drive for volunteerism

Built inside a 48-hectare vicinity utilized by the Philippine Army in Brgy. Bancasi, this city, the Beata Virgine del Santo Rosario Chapel erects beautifully and sturdily, showing how the infatigable hands of the people who voluntarily spent their time and efforts for the completion of the project.
Apart from the benevolence of persons who provided the materials needed for he renovation, the chapel now captures the minimalistic element of its design that suits the serene environment through the artistic contribution of local artists, namely, Ronald Rudinas and Chito Alegre.

Inspired also by the kindness of heart and humility, Antolin Lara Adlawan, together with other volunteers, offered in all sincerity their services by physically doing the construction works.

The involvement of Adlawan tells an inspiring story of a wealthy and wise man who enjoys the perks of life until he unpleasantly experienced a turnaround of his fortunes.

“Life for me was so easy then as I gamble but I have to be candid with this. Money is a very good servant but a very bad master. When money speaks, everybody listens. Until such time, I lost my faith and discredit my Creator,” bluntly admitted Adlawan.

Confronted with a dilemma of almost losing a child for battling a cancer illness, Adlawan gradually regain his divine belief and was back on his feet, creating a sense of worthiness and self-esteem. He became known for his sacrificial commitment by being literally nailed on the cross and went walking under the scorching heat of the sun for seven months following the route from Agusan del Norte in Mindanao to Manila metropolis.

That’s when his total transformation began. He engages himself in evangelizing as a Catholic faith defender (CFD). Out from the natural brilliance of his mind and learned experiences, he’s able to live a renewed life.

“In the eyes of a flying eagle, there is no difference between an islet and a continent. Now, I prefer a simple but productive life serving the community and the church. To be successful in life, you must have the four Ds – desire (to serve), devotion, determination and discipline to achieve fulfillment in life,” expressed Adlawan.

There are many fecets of life where an individual can reveal his full potentials. Not only does it propel volunteerism or motivate others, but also permeate positivity and provide wisdom and enlightenment. Hence, a fully geared up soldier knows dominion over his opponent and keeps a dosage of faith and prayer.

Army’s 4SFBN honors civilian partners for peace, development in Basilan

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 12): Army’s 4SFBN honors civilian partners for peace, development in Basilan

Nobody does things alone, not even for big organizations like the military in winning the peace in conflict-affected communities in Basilan.

In a fitting ceremony at the 4th Special Forces Battalion in Isabela City, Basilan, the army honored civilian individuals and organizations for being partners for peace and development in Basilan for their contribution in accomplishing the mission of the army unit for 2016.

LtCol Andrew B. Bacala Jr., commanding officer, 4th Special Forces Battalion (Riverine) thanked his men and the civilian partners for making the year 2016 fruitful and meaningful for the army in serving the people of Basilan.

Meanwhile, Col. Lincoln Francisco T. Tagle, Special Operations Task Group Commander/SFRA, SOCOM, PA also commended the civilian stakeholders’ contribution to the army unit’s accomplishments.

“I look forward to the day when I’ll come to Basilan, not as a soldier but a tourist, enjoying the beauty of Basilan with my family,” he said.

Tagle cited the important role of the civilian stakeholders in winning the peace in Basilan.

During the ceremony, Dr. Christlen B. Delgado (Dentist), Dr. Romeo F. Bagongon (eye doctor), and Rene V. Carbayas (government media from the Philippine Information Agency) were awarded the “Parangal sa Kapanalig ng Sandatahang Lakas ng Pilipinas,” the highest honor given to civilians by the Special Forces Regiment (Airborne), Special Operations Command, Philippine Army, based in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija.

The army said that the award was given for the dedicated service and exemplary achievement in support to the public affairs and civil relations objectives of the Armed Forces of the Philippines as contingents of the 4SFBN during the conduct of Civic Action, civic relations and public information in the island barangay of Dasalan, Hadji Mutamad, Basilan last October 20-22, 2016.

Certificate of appreciation were also given to Dr. Arlyn Jawad Jumao-as of the Children of War Foundation, the Rotary Club of Basilan, JCI Basilan, JCI Lamitan, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries-ARMM, the United Workers Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Multipurpose Cooperative (UWARBMC), the Isabela Water District (ISAWAD), and the Nagdilaab Foundation Inc.

The 4SFBN also held donning of ranks to soldiers who significantly contributed to the unit’s mission.

In his message, LtCol Bacala underscored that “whatever recognition we, as your officials receive because of what we accomplished together, we recognize you our men on the frontline and on field…walang iwanan, sama-sama tayo kung saan man tayo pupunta (nobody is left behind, we go together where we want to go).”

“All for one, one for all”, this is the motto that I would always bring with me in times of war, walang iwanan sa gyera (nobody is left behind in war).

He reminded, however those with new ranks the added responsibility attached with the new ranks. “Take it as a challenge,” he said.

In the army’s fight against terrorism and the Abu Sayyaf, the bronze cross medal is awarded to the following: SSg Henry E. Manipol, SSg Juanito G. Mangay-ayam, PFC Abduhajal M. Ahajul, PFC Reben John R. Pranggos, PFC Gerald A. Panaguiton, and PFC John Rudolf E. Bulanadi.

The Military Merit Medal with Spearhead Devise is awarded to TSG Jale Jun C. Calawigan, SSG Wilfredo B. Gutierrez, PFC Alvivo T. Bentillo, PFC Joseph C. Tambauan Jr, PFC Andreux A. Mertalla, and PFC Hurries S. Caducio.

The Military Merit Medal with Bronze Anahaw Leaf is awarded to TSG Eulogio N. Cabusog, SSg Vicente Z. Vallejo, SSg Jason C. Tacio, Cpl Ellazar S. Silvosa, Cpl Oscar D. Alcaraz, and PFC Rommel F. Salazar.

The Special Forces Regiment (Airborne) is an elite Philippine Army unit, primarily trained in both Unconventional Warfare Operations and Psychological Warfare Operations.

Camp Crame hit by two bomb scares

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 11): Camp Crame hit by two bomb scares

The National Headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Camp Crame, Quezon City was hit by two bomb scares on Wednesday.

The first bomb scare happened when a suspected dynamite with wirings was found by garbage collectors along 4th Avenue, Barangay Bagong Lipunan, Crame, Quezon City.

Supt. Edwin Eleazar, of the Philippine National Police-Explosive and Ordnance Division (PNP-EOD) officer-in-charge, said that the suspected bomb was made to look real but it was not an explosive.

Eleazar saw no "criminal intent" in the suspected bomb having been found in trash.

He noted that the suspected bomb was composed of rolled cupboard, wirings and digital timer, but it was not capable of exploding.

Eleazar said that the suspected bomb was negative of explosive component which was found near Camp Crame.

The dynamite-shape material with wirings and digital timer was found by a garbage collector at about 11 a.m. on Wednesday.

Personnel of the PNP-EOD immediately responded to the area.

The PNP-EOD official termed it as "inert" which is used as a training aid in the conduct of lectures.

Quezon City Police District (QCPD) director Chief Supt. Guillermo Eleazar said that the QCPD operatives were now conducting "follow-up operation" to determine who disposed the suspected "bomb" in the garbage.

Eleazar added that also being investigated was the area where the suspected bomb was found.
The second bomb scare occurred when a suspicious object inside a plastic bag was found inside Camp Crame, Quezon City on Wednesday afternoon.

The area where the object was found was immediately sealed off by Camp Crame authorities.

Experts from the PNP-EOD inspected first the suspicious package and immediately detonated the same.

The second suspected "bomb" was "disrupted" by the PNP-EOD.

The PNP-EOD personnel detonated the suspected bomb placed inside a trash can in Camp Crame.

After using a "disruptor", the result was negative on the suspected package inside Camp Crame.

Three boxes full of cable wires were found after the suspected bomb was disrupted near the PNP General Hospital in Crame Crame.

PN to sign recruitment MOA with 3 schools, Manila, Quezon City LGUs

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 11): PN to sign recruitment MOA with 3 schools, Manila, Quezon City LGUs

As more modern ships are acquired and commissioned, the Philippine Navy (PN) is needing more and more qualified men and women to man these vessels so vital in protecting the country's vast waters.

In line with this, the PN will sign memorandum of agreement (MOA) with Adamson University, Mapua Institute of Technology, Technical University of the Philippines, and the local governments of Manila and Quezon City this Jan. 12 to beef up its recruitment efforts.

PN spokesperson Capt. Lued Lincuna said the MOA will formalize the PN's collaboration efforts with these institutions and ensure the naval force will have a vast manpower pool for its crewing needs.

Newly-acquired ships of the PN are the BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF-17), BRP Tarlac (LD-601) and the BRP Gregorio Velasquez (AGR-702) and the five "Balikpapan" landing craft heavies.

Expected to arrive in the near future are the BRP Davao Del Sur (LD-602), the sister ship of BRP Tarlac, and the two-missile-armed frigates which will be constructed by South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries.

The MOA signing will be held at PN headquarters in Roxas Boulevard, Manila.

Expected in the 9 a.m. signing ceremonies are Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista, the presidents of the above-mentioned schools and PN flag-officer-in-command Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph S. Mercado.

AFP assures Miss Universe pageant to conclude peacefully

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 11): AFP assures Miss Universe pageant to conclude peacefully

With the country's Miss Universe hosting about to go into high gear by the fourth week of January, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday said it will do everything to secure the safety of the Miss Universe contestants.

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

He, however, clarified that the military will only be playing a support role to the Philippine National Police (PNP) in securing the Miss Universe candidates, staffers and tourists who will be flocking to the country to witness the annual gathering of the world's most beautiful and lovely women.

Arevalo also stressed that appropriate military units, along with their police counterparts, will be deployed to secure the Miss Universe candidates in whatever part of the Philippines they will be visiting.

"If they will be going in Davao City, they will be secured by the Eastern Mindanao Command's Joint Task Force Haribon, Central Command if they are going in Cebu, Northern Luzon Command if they are planning to go into Vigan, Ilocos Sur and Joint Task Force National Capital Region if they are going somewhere in Metro Manila area," he said in Filipino.

And while the AFP is still to detect any direct threat to the pageant, Arevalo said security preparations will be tight and similar to the one implemented during the recently-concluded Black Nazarene Procession or "Traslacion."

Additional 500 troops deployed to Davao City to secure launch of ASEAN Chairmanship 2017

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 11): Additional 500 troops deployed to Davao City to secure launch of ASEAN Chairmanship 2017

Around 500 troops from the Army, Navy and Air Force were flown to Davao City to augment the Philippine National Police (PNP) contingent tasked to secure the launching on Jan. 15 of the ASEAN chairmanship 2017.

These uniformed personnel consists of explosive ordnance disposal experts and K-9 units and their handlers, were flown Wednesday, said AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo. Arevalo said these troops will be subordinated to Eastern Mindanao Command's Joint Task Force Haribon which will is the premier military anti-terrorist unit in the area that is also tasked to support the PNP in securing the ASEAN Summit 2017. He added additional troops will be deployed if needed. Aside from terror threats, Joint Task Force Haribon is also tasked to respond to disaster incidents and internal security operation.

Despite these preparations, the AFP official said that they are still to detect any direct threats for the ASEAN Summit 2017.

Code of Conduct in disputed waters possible by mid-2017, Yasay says

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 11): Code of Conduct in disputed waters possible by mid-2017, Yasay says

The long-delayed framework for the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea may be finally completed by the middle of the year, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said on Wednesday.

In a press briefing, Yasay said the Philippines, as chairman of this year’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), will intensify efforts to fast track the discussions on the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and eventually complete the COC.

In fact, discreet discussions are currently underway and China has been “very cooperative” in the process, he said.

“The formulation of the COC is precisely being discussed right now. I don’t want to preempt anything by revealing further information but I hope that it will be achieved by mid-2017,” Yasay said. “There is now a convergence of national interest to come up with the COC and we are fortunate to have gotten this level.”

The COC has been in the works since 2002 but “intervening events,” as Yasay called, prompted years of delays and prevented it from moving forward.

He said that the COC might “open the door to speed up bilateral engagement” with China to eventually enforce the ruling of an international arbitral tribunal in the disputed waters.

The framework, Yasay disclosed, will include key elements and principles for the legally-binding COC.

“I hate to think a party not to be bound by it or deviate from it. I’m sure that they will be bound by it,” he said, pointing out that the COC should be agreed by all the parties unanimously.

The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration last year nullified China’s excessive claims in the contested waters as it upheld the Philippines’ rights to areas within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Apart from the Philippines, other ASEAN countries that have overlapping claims in the South China Sea are Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Legarda: 2017 budget funds increase in combat duty and incentive pay of cops, soldiers

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 11): Legarda: 2017 budget funds increase in combat duty and incentive pay of cops, soldiers

Senator Loren Legarda on Wednesday said that uniformed personnel of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will continue to receive their increased combat duty and incentive pay under the 2017 national budget.

Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, said that Php 12.1 billion had been allocated under the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund for the said purpose.

“We know very well that our soldiers and policemen deserve to receive remuneration commensurate to their enormous and dangerous task,” Legarda said.

She added that, “We cannot overemphasize the value of the arduous mission they have to undertake in order to protect the people and the State from lawless violence, invasion, rebellion, terrorist acts and other activities that might affect public safety and bring harm to the independence of our nation.”

Only last year, qualified members of the AFP were still receiving Combat Duty Pay worth Php 500 per month and Combat Incentive Pay worth Php 150 per day of actual combat but not exceeding Php 1,500 per Operations Order or Fragmentary Order.

Meanwhile, qualified members of the PNP used to receive a maximum of Php 340 per month as Combat Duty Pay.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s Executive Order No. 3 issued in September 2016 mandates that the Combat Duty Pay of qualified members of AFP and PNP will be fixed at Php 3,000 per month; while Combat Incentive Pay will increase to Php 300 per day but not exceeding Php 3,000 per month.

Majority of 10,000 new troops to be allocated to Army -- AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 12): Majority of 10,000 new troops to be allocated to Army -- AFP

Majority of the 10,000 additional troops which the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is now authorized to recruit will be given to the Army.

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

Out of the 10,000 additional troops, 8,000 will be allocated to the Army while the remaining 2,000 will be divided evenly between the Air Force and Navy.

He also clarified that the additional soldiers will be used to bring to bring up to strength undermanned units.

"These new troops will be used to reinforce under strength units. We will not be raising any new divisions or battalions despite being allowed to recruit 10,000 more soldiers," Arevalo said in Filipino.

He also clarified that the additional 10,000 troops have been long requested by the AFP but was only granted by the incumbent Chief Executive.

At present, the AFP numbers around 125,000 troops with an 85,000 allocated to the Army and remaining 45,000 split between the Air Force and Navy.

"These additional troops are needed for our various security engagements," Arevalo when asked on the reason for the new troopers when the government is now engaged on peace talks with various separatist groups.

By security engagements, the AFP official is referring to the Abu Sayyaf, Maute Group and other lawless elements.

Besides this, new soldiers are needed to man the brand-new equipment and platforms now being acquired by the AFP.

He added that recruitment of these new troopers is already accompanied by a budget allocation.