Friday, February 24, 2017

Piracy threatens Polloc Port as ARMM shipping hub

From the Philippine Star (Feb 24): Piracy threatens Polloc Port as ARMM shipping hub

A ship carrying corn imported from Indonesia by a local cornstarch manufacturer is berthed at the Polloc Port in Maguindanao. John Unson, file

Piracy in seas around this province and in Tawi-Tawi is hurting the Polloc Port in Maguindanao, Asia’s trading gateway to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Lawyer Ishak Mastura, chairman of ARMM’s Regional Board of Investments, on Friday said he is bothered by the suspension of this year’s supposed expansion of operations by foreign shipping companies to the Polloc Port over security issues.
The island provinces of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi and Maguindanao, which is located in central Mindanao, are component provinces of ARMM.
“Piracy in the Sulu seas is stifling our international trade activities, causing revenue losses for the ARMM government, which operates the Polloc Port," Mastura told The STAR Friday.
The office of ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman and the region’s Department of Public Works and Highways spent P150 million, drawn from the region’s yearly infrastructure subsidy from the national government, in improving the Polloc Port in the past three years.
The port management has remitted to the national coffer, through ARMM’s treasury, more than P300 million in revenues collected during the period.
Hexsan Mabang, port administrator, on Friday said international firms that were to connect the facility to seaports abroad starting this year balked from proceeding with their plans due to piracy threats.
“Obviously, they were threatened. I hope the situation will soon improve, improve sooner than expected,” Mabang said.
He said large shipments of industrial supplies from Singapore and other Asian states were held by suppliers, whose chartered boats are to fare through hostile routes in the Sulu seas, within easy reach of the Abu Sayyaf group.
The Abu Sayyaf, boasting loyalty to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is using Sulu to hold abducted boat crew as well as merchants and tourists snatched from nearby provinces and from island resorts in Malaysia.
Just this week, gunmen attacked the Vietnamese cargo ship Giang Hai in the Sulu seas, about 20 nautical miles off Pearl Bank in Tawi-Tawi, and snatched seven crew members of different nationalities.
The vessel was to deliver 4,500 tons of cement from Vietnam to the Polloc Port, located in Parang town in the first district of Maguindanao.
Mabang said a Singapore-based shipper of wood chips needed to run a bio-mass power facility for a big cornstarch factory in Maguindanao has cancelled its shipment after the incident.
He said owners of shipping companies abroad earlier suspended planned maiden voyages to the Polloc Port in late 2016 and in January, scared by possible attacks by pirates in the Sulu seas.
“We have a plan to hold a security dialogue among local contacts of the affected foreign shipping companies, representatives from the embassies of Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia and Brunei and officials from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to discuss the problem,” Mabang said.

Abu Sayyaf fails to seize foreign boat crew in Tawi-Tawi

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Feb 25): Abu Sayyaf fails to seize foreign boat crew in Tawi-Tawi

THE Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) tried but failed to kidnap anew crewmen of foreign cargo vessel in the high seas of the southern Philippines.
Rear Admiral Rene Medina, commander of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NFWM), on Friday, February 24, said the naval component of the Joint Task Force Tawi-Tawi thwarted the kidnapping attempt by the ASG in the waters of Tawi-Tawi province.
Medina said the attempt was prevented as Navy ships were immediately deployed in response to a distress call from a Panamanian-flag carrier, M/V Dong Hae Star, at 10 a.m. Wednesday, February 22.
Medina said the M/V Dong Hae Star, reported to the Littoral Monitoring Station (LMS) in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, that suspicious black speedboats with five persons each on board were pursuing them in the sea waters off Pearl Bank, Tawi-Tawi.
He said the Panamanian-flag vessel, at the time it transmitted the distress call, was transiting in the Sulu Sea from China to Indonesia.
He said the M/V Dong Hae Star transmitted a radio message that the speedboats stopped from chasing them and maneuvered to the open sea upon sighting the responding Navy ships.
The NFWM has deployed additional vessels to the Joint Task Force Tawi-Tawi and Sulu for maritime interdiction and to support the law enforcement operations in the area.
Medina said the LMS in Bongao continue to monitor vessels transiting in Tawi-Tawi as well as continue to patrol the area to ensure safe passage.
 The ASG is still holding captive 33 people, including 27 foreigners and six Filipinos, who were separately seized.
The hostages included the following: 12 Vietnamese; seven Indonesians; five Malaysians; six Filipinos; a Dutch; a German; and a Korean. Most of the foreign hostages were seized by the ASG aboard foreign vessels transiting the Sulu sea.

Abu Sayyaf Group - Kidnapping Incorporated

From the SITE Intelligence Group/Insight Blog on Terrorism & Extremism (Feb 24): Abu Sayyaf Group - Kidnapping Incorporated

German National Jurgen Kantner appearing in second ransom video

German National Jurgen Kantner appearing in second ransom video

In 2008, German nationals Jurgen Kantner and Sabine Merz were sailing not far from the Gulf of Aden when they were captured by Somali pirates.The two were released safely, only to be confronted once again in November 2016 during an excursion off the coast of the southern Philippine province of Tawi-Tawi, this time by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). Members of the Philippines-based jihadi group attacked the sailing partners, killing Merz and capturing Kantner on November 7, 2016.

Kantner is currently being held for a ransom of 30 million pesos (approximately 600 thousand U.S. dollars). Since his recapture, he has appeared in three videos, in which he pled with the German government to meet ASG’s demand and communicate with the Philippine government to negotiate his release. In his most recent video, Kantner also said goodbye to his family.

Since the start of 2014, ASG has become increasingly notorious for using kidnapping-for-ransom as a way to fund itself, as it appears to have modified its original ideological goals to more financially oriented ones. At any given time, it reportedly maintains over 10 hostages, demanding payments through notes, messages, and videos. However, as the group has shown ties to the Islamic State (IS), it is important to note the motives of ASG’s separate factions. The faction discussed here seldom refers to IS and seemingly acts independently from its counterparts, especially in its media distribution. Its focus remains almost entirely on extortion and hostage taking, and its demands are almost always financial. In regards to hostages, the majority of its victims are Filipino. However, the group frequently captures foreign nationals, including Australians, British, Canadians, Chinese, French, and Germans.

Hostages are rarely – if ever – released by ASG without receipt of the ransom. In the case of Kantner, his third video was provided as a “final ultimatum,” and, on February 16, 2017, the Philippines’ Armed Forces announced a rescue mission to recover him as well as ASG’s 26 other foreign and local hostages.

Kantner’s execution is set for February 26, 2016 at 3 P.M.


2014: During 2014, ASG demanded ransoms for their captives without the use of video. In the case of two captives, Stefan Okonek and Henrike Dielen, the group released three photos. The majority of cases below took place off the coast of Sabah, Malaysia, with some near the shore of Palawan, Philippines. ASG held its victims in Sulu, Philippines.
  • A message attributed to ASG was disseminated in September 2014 claiming the capture of two German nationals, Stefan Okonek and Heinrike Dielen, in April of the same year. The messages demanded a payment of 250,000 pesos in addition to requiring the German governments to halt supporting U.S.-led coalition airstrikes on the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria.
  • Along with the message, ASG released three photos of the hostages, two showing Okonek and Dielen kneeling in front of ASG fighters, and one of Okonek alone talking on a phone.
  • Okonek and Dielen were freed on October 18, 2014. ASG claimed receiving the total ransom payment, though from whom is unknown.

Photo of Heinrike Dielen and Stephen Okonek in front of ASG members

  • On April 2, 2014, armed gunmen abducted Chinese national Gao Huayun and Filipino resort worker Marcy Dayawan from the Singamata Adventures Reef and Resort in Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia. Approximately a week later, the Malaysian Minister of Home Affairs at the time, Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi, reported receiving a note setting Gao’s ransom at 500 million pesos. ASG later released both Gao and Dayawan on May 31, which Mayalsian Prime Minister Najib Razak stated was due to the cooperation between the security forces of Malaysia and Philippines.
  • A second Chinese national, Yang Zailin, was abducted by masked gunmen from the fish farm where he worked on the east coast of Sabah on May 6, 2014. Despite the Sabah police commissioner’s claim that no ransom was provided for Yang’s release, some media agencies reported the undisclosed ransom was paid. He was recovered on July 10.
  • Several media reports detail a second kidnapping from a fish farm in Kampung Sapang on June 16, stating that the hostage, Chan Sai Chuin, remained in the custody of ASG at the time of Zailin’s release. However, on Dec. 10, Chuin was freed by ASG following negotiations between Filipino emissaries and ASG. His ransom demand was 3 million Malaysian Ringgits (approx. 675 thousand U.S. dollars).
  • ASG fighters kidnapped Malaysian police constable Zakia Aliep at the Mabul Water Bungalow Resort in Sabah on July 12, 2014. Aliep was held for a much longer period of time than the aforementioned cases, for a total of eight months, with his release on May 7, 2015.
  • On July 27, 2014, ASG attempted to abduct Malaysian National Ab Rajah Jamuan in Sabah; however he was killed during the attempt.
2015: ASG continued its kidnapping operations off the coast of Sabah, Malaysia. The group additionally released a series of videos showing four foreign nationals captured in Samal, Philippines, two of whom were later beheaded after demands were not met. A fifth foreign national of South Korean descent was abducted in Zamboanga Sibugay. He was found dead 11 months later.
  • South Korean Noi Sung Hong was abducted in Zamboanga Sibugay in January 2015. ASG released a photo of Hong, demanding a ransom of 500 million pesos, but supplied no video. The group never received the ransom payment, and Hong was discovered dead in a sack in November that same year. It was determined that Hong potentially died from illness as no trauma was found on his body.
  • On Sep. 21, 2015, ASG kidnapped two Canadian nationals, one Norwegian, and one Filipino, Robert Hall, John Ridsdel, Kjartan Sekkingstad, and Marites Flor, respectfully, from Samal, Philippines. The group released a series of videos of the hostages, demanding the sum of 1 billion pesos for each of them, though it later lowered the ransom for Hall and Sekkingstad. The group extensively increased its threats of torture and murder throughout the video series, including execution, beheading, and infliction of pain.

Marites Flor, Robert Hall, John Ridsdel, and Kjartan Sekkingstad appearing in second hostage video
  • In response, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged Ridsdel’s family taking part in negotiations with the group, but indicated his government will not pay the ransom. Despite militarily assessing the capability of a rescue operation, both Canadian hostages were executed. The beheading of John Ridsdel was shown in a video released May 3, 2016, while he was killed in April. Robert Hall was beheaded in a video released June 14, 2016, one day after reports of his beheading following the expiration of the deadline.
  • However, after reportedly receiving 32 million pesos (638,000 dollars), ASG released Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad on September 17, 2016. Filipino Maries Flor was additionally released on June 24, 2016.
  • On May 15, 2015, two Malaysians, Thien Nyuk Fun and Bernard Then, were abducted by ASG from the Sandakan Resort in Sabah. The ransom amount was set at 30 million pesos for the two of them, and, upon receipt of the ransom, Thien Nyuk Fun was freed on Nov. 9, 2015.
  • However, after freeing Fun, ASG raised the amount of the ransom and eventually beheaded Then eight days later on Nov. 17, 2015.
2016: During the year 2016, ASG increasingly kidnapped sailors and fishermen, demanding ransoms from respective governments or companies. Operations continued to take place in Sabah as well as Sulu and Basilan. 2016 is additionally the year Jurgen Kantner was once again kidnapped, this time by ASG, and his partner, Sabine Merz, was killed. While no videos were released for the several kidnappings of sailors, the group disseminated three videos of Kantner, the third of which dedicated Feb. 26 as his date of execution.

  • On March 26, 2016, ASG captured ten Indonesian sailors off the coast of Sulu from the Brahma 12 tugboat and Anand 12 barge carrying coal to the Philippines’ Tawi-Tawi province. The cmopany that owned the boats paid the ransom of 50 million pesos, and all ten sailors were released on May 2, 2016.
  • ASG kidnapped four Malaysians aboard a tugboat as they arrived on the shore of Ligitan Island in Sabah on April 1, 2016. The four were released two months later on June 8, though the Philippine Army did not confirm if the ransom was paid.
  • On April 15, four passengers were kidnapped from Indonesian tugboats after being attacked by ASG fighters. They were released on May 11 with the help of the Philippine government.
  • A South Korean skipper and Filipino crewman were kidnapped on Oct. 21, 2016, after 10 ASG gunmen boarded their ship bound for South Korea off the shore of Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, Philippines. Their status is currently unknown.
  • A Vietnamese cargo ship was attacked by ASG fighters on Nov. 11, 2016. Six sailors, including the captain, were abducted from the ship. the Vietnamese Embassy is currently working with the Philippine government to recover them.


ASG is structured almost as an octopod, with its tentacles extending into the various Philippine provinces, but seemingly acting independent of each other. Despite having initial support from al-Qaeda (AQ) in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the group in its current incarnation is divided between those who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and one that retained the “Abu Sayyaf” brand and appear autonomous. Isnilon Totoni Hapilon (AKA Abu Abdullah al-Filipini), the former ASG central leader and operated out of Basilan, has since pledged to IS and serves as the group’s official for all affiliated fighters in the Philippines. Other factions within ASG have also pledged to the IS, including the Jund al-Tawhid Battalion and Ma’arakat al-Ansar Battalion in Sulu, and the Ansar al-Shariah Battalion. As part of the IS, all that a constituent group produces, including statements and multimedia, is directed through the IS media machine. Just as they cede autonomy in decision-making and operations, they also give up media independence. Important to note is that ASG additionally has ties to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a jihadist group in Southeast Asia, the leader of which, Abu Bakar Bashir, pledged loyalty to IS in July 2014. JI supplies funding to ASG in exchange for harboring JI militants.

Here, only the ASG division conducting the kidnappings continues to use the group name and release its own media, indicating that it operates independently. Also, converse to established IS practices in its public releases to demand prisoner swaps and cessation of airstrikes in return for hostages, the ASG division in Sulu that captured the Canadians, Norwegian, and German asked for financial ransoms. However, in the case German hostages Stefan Okonek and Henrike Dielen in 2014, ASG additionally made demands of the German government to halt participation in the U.S. coalition on IS in Iraq and Syria.

ASG divisions that have pledged to IS:

  • On May 19, 2015, a self-professed affiliate of ASG calling itself “Ma’rakat al-Ansar,” pledged to IS in a video.
  • Fighters in the Philippines, including leaders and representatives from three factions, pledged allegiance to IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a video released Jan. 4, 2016. Notably, featured in the video is Isnilon Hapilon (AKA Abdullah al-Filipini), the leader of the Basilan-branch of ASG, who leads the fighters in the pledge.
  • On March 21, 2016, a video from Jund al-Tawhid Battalion, a group belonging to ASG in the Sulu region of the Philippines, showed members pledging to Baghdadi. IS’ Amaq News Agency also reported on the pledge.
  • IS' ‘Amaq News Agency published an infographic on June 10, 2016, on pledges of allegiance to IS from militant brigades in the Philippines as well as the death toll among Filipino soldiers between April 2015 and April 2016. According to the infographic, ten militant brigades have pledged to the IS in six provinces of the Philippines, with the first "official" pledge having come in January 2016.

'Amaq Infographic On Pledges to IS from Militant Brigades in the Philippines

Additional shows of support for IS:
  • An audio message from an alleged member of ASG identified as Abu Muhammad al-Filipini was disseminated by the pro-IS media group al-Battar Media Foundation on June 23, 2014. The fighter called upon Muslims worldwide, and in the Philippines specifically, to “support their brother Mujahideen in the ISIS with their money and souls...”
  • In September 2014, while detailing the ransom for German hostages Stefan Okonek and Henrike Dielen, ASG also demanded that the German government “must stop” supporting the U.S.-led coalition “in the killing of our Muslims brothers in Iraq and Sham [Syria] in general, and the mujahideen of the Islamic State in particular.”
  • A pro-IS Telegram channel posted a message attributed to Abu Mujahid Al Filibiyn on Nov. 29, 2016, detailing IS activity in the Philippines. The message reported that IS currently holds four active frontlines in the country, which it described “the only Christian Country in Southeast Asia.” After naming the frontlines and detailing their history and leadership, it declared that IS fighters in the Philippines will expand into southeast Asia, as they are preparing for a “bigger or bitter war.”

The objective of ASG is establishing an independent Islamic State in the southern Philippines, and as it pertains to the branch responsible for kidnappings in Sulu and elsewhere, focuses the majority of its operations on kidnappings-for-ransom in order to finance its jihad. While ASG is estimated to have between 200 and 400 members, operating primarily in the provinces of Sulu Archipelago and Tawi-Tawi, Philippines, it is important to remember its relationship with the Islamic State (IS) and division among its factions. Here, the fighters who conduct the majority of kidnappings appear to be independent of IS and more so financially driven.

As the group has taken on this financially-driven motive, the fate of Jurgen Kantner likely heavily relies upon the receipt of his 30 million peso ransom. In only one case, the May 15, 2015, kidnapping of Bernard Then discussed above, ASG beheaded its captive following the receipt of his ransom. In this instance, however, the group decided to raise the ransom despite receiving the previously-agreed upon sum, and in turn beheaded Then. It is widely believed that no captives are ever released without ransom, and rescue missions have unfortunately often failed in the past.

Additionally, another widespread belief is that separate militant groups operating in the Philippines regularly sell captives to ASG, as the name recognition allows for a greater sum.

ASG has grown dramatically within the past few years, likely due to its funds acquired through kidnapping, and it remains one of the most violent terrorist groups in the Philippines. Its notorious ransom and beheading videos most often feature foreign nationals, in which demands are made upon the victims’ respective governments. In 2013, Germany, the home country of Kantner, along with most other major Western countries, signed a commitment not to pay ransom to terrorist groups. Consequently, the fate of Kantner is still unknown.

IN NIR: ,New Army chief

From the Visayan Daily Star (Feb 24): IN NIR: New Army chief

Negros Island Region will have a new Army chief next week.

Army Col. EliezerLosañes will take over command of the 303rd Infantry Brigade, that supervises two Army battalions stationed in Negros island, on March 1, Capt. Eduardo Precioso, 303IB Civil Military Operations officer, saidyesterday.

Losañes will replace Brig. Gen. Francisco Delfin, who is reportedly slated to be as the incoming Assistant Division Commander of 3rd Infantry Division.

Delfin served as commander of the 303rd Infantry Brigade for almost one year and eight months.

Before his new assignment, Losañes served as deputy commander of the 301st Infantry Brigade in Iloilo.

Maj. Gen, Jon Aying, 3ID commanding general, will officiate at the change of command between Delfin and Losañes to be held at Camp Major Nelson Gerona in Brgy, Minoyan,Murcia.

Aying also served as 303rd Infantry Brigade commander.

Precioso said that the inauguration of the new gym inside the military camp will also be held before the change of command ceremony.

PH, China coast guards line up joint drills for 2017

From Rappler (Feb 23): PH, China coast guards line up joint drills for 2017

The Philippine Coast Guard says there will also be high-level visits, port calls, and cooperation against transnational crimes

SUBIC MEETING. Philippine Ambassador-designate to China Chito Sta Romana (in white) witnesses the signing of an agreement between Philippine Coast Guard Commodore Joel Garcia and China Coast Guard Deputy Director Chen Yide. Photo courtesy of PCG

SUBIC MEETING. Philippine Ambassador-designate to China Chito Sta Romana (in white) witnesses the signing of an agreement between Philippine Coast Guard Commodore Joel Garcia and China Coast Guard Deputy Director Chen Yide. Photo courtesy of PCG

The coast guards of the Philippines and China lined up joint drills to be conducted within the year to implement an agreement that President Rodrigo Duterte signed during his state visit to China in October 2016.

"To enhance exchange and cooperation between the two maritime law enforcement agencies, both sides agreed to conduct bilateral exchange activities in 2017, including high-level visits, maritime operations and related exercises, vessel visits, and capacity building," said Commander Armand Balilo, spokesman of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

Balilo said there will be drills on search and rescue, oil pollution management, boarding, and law enforcement, particularly on combating drug trafficking and other transnational crimes.

The joint activities also include establishment of a direct communication line between the coast guards of the two countries and visits by PCG officers to China. Chinese ships will call on a port in Manila and Philippine ships will call on a port in Guangdong.

Officials of the China Foreign Affairs Ministry and China Coast Guard were in the Philippines for 3 days this week, February 20-22, for the 2nd meeting of the Joint Coast Guard Committee (JCGC). The committee's task is to enhance relations amid territorial disputes over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

The two coast guards have adopted implementing guidelines for the memorandum of understanding signed by Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping, as well as terms of reference for the working groups that will implement the agreement.

Philippine Ambassador-designate to China Chito Sta Romana joined the meeting led by PCG officer-in-charge Commodore Joel Garcia and China Coast Guard Deputy Director Chen Yide.

The Philippines is seeking warmer ties with China following years of shutting down communication lines. Manila filed an arbitration case against Beijing before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, which dismissed China's sweeping claims over the South China Sea. China refused to acknowledge the ruling, however.

#DuterteLive: Launch of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission

From Rappler (Feb 24): #DuterteLive: Launch of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission

President Rodrigo Duterte. RTVM screengrab
President Rodrigo Duterte. RTVM screengrab

President Rodrigo Duterte attends the launch of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission. Watch

The other appearances of the President can be watched here too:


Launch of rehab center in Davao del Norte

ADB 50th anniversary

PMA alumni homecoming

Manila Times Business Forum

Bureau of Customs founding anniversary

Presentation of PNP scalawags

Launch of BIR tax campaign for 2017

Launch of the Solar Powered Irrigation System Pilot Area in North Cotabato

38th National Convention of the Philippine Association of Water Districts

Oathtaking of AFP officials

Duterte appeals to Muslims in Mindanao: Resist extremism

From Rappler (Feb 24): Duterte appeals to Muslims in Mindanao: Resist extremism

The President asks Mindanaoans to avoid extremism 'because it will destroy all of us'

MINDANAO'S MAN. President Rodrigo Duterte believes extremism could tear the country apart. File photo by Karl Norman Alonzo/PPD

MINDANAO'S MAN. President Rodrigo Duterte believes extremism could tear the country apart. File photo by Karl Norman Alonzo/PPD

The first Mindanaoan president appealed to Muslims in Mindanao not to fall for the siren's song of extremism, despite the many unresolved problems in the Philippines' southern island.

"I’m asking you now, resist extremism, kasi magkagulo tayo (because there will be chaos). Hindi ko na ma-control 'yan (I can't control that)," President Rodrigo Duterte said on Friday, February 24, during the launch of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).

The BTC is tasked with crafting a new basic law for the creation of an autonomous Bangsamoro region, a measure Duterte believes is the key to attaining peace in Mindanao.

He warned Muslims in the region, whom he referred to as Moros, about the indoctrination of extremism by terror group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). (READ: Duterte: ISIS followers radicalizing Filipinos in Mindanao)

"They are now attempting to try to inject the IS, that's bad. That is why also we must avoid extremism or even entertain it or accomodating them because it will destroy all of us. This will be a country torn apart," he said.

While religion is good, Duterte differentiated extremists from those who are only religious by citing their penchant for wanton violence. Duterte is the first Philippine president to speak of the presence of ISIS in the country.

"They are driven by insanity. They kill people for nothing, burning women because they do not want to have sex with them, throwing a child into a burning bakery oven and just simply killing people," he said.

To avoid the "bloodbath" that extremists could bring to Mindanao, Duterte appealed to Moros to be forgiving, in spite of all the historical injustice done to their people.

"Let us avoid extremism. Huwag natin sundin 'yung mga Arabo kasi tayo Malay (Let us not follow the Arabs because we are Malay). The Malayans [have] always a forgiving heart," he said.

He assured Muslims of Mindanao that he is a "man in a hurry," determined to "fast-track" the creation of a Bangsamoro region.

He reminded them of his affinity for the region and his roots that bind him to their people.

"Where else can you find a President whose grandmother is a Maranao? I am from here and I know the agony we have gone through, the Christian Filipinos and the lumads. We must have peace at all cost," he said.

If the BTC is able to craft a law in 3 to 4 years, and if it receives Congress' nod, Duterte promised to ensure that it would be implemented.

Duterte: I'll ask every Filipino to support Bangsamoro law

From Rappler (Feb 24): Duterte: I'll ask every Filipino to support Bangsamoro law

President Rodrigo Duterte urges the Bangsamoro Transition Commission to navigate the hindrances and draft an 'acceptable' Bangsamoro law   

BANGSAMORO. President Rodrigo Duterte says he will see to it that the Bangsamoro law will pass during his term. Photo by Robinson Ninal/Presidential Photo

BANGSAMORO. President Rodrigo Duterte says he will see to it that the Bangsamoro law will pass during his term. Photo by Robinson Ninal/Presidential Photo
President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday, February 24, said he is "fast-tracking" the fulfillment of his promise to create the new Bangsamoro region during his term while reiterating his warning against peace spoilers.
At the launch of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) in his hometown Davao City, Duterte underscored the difficult task ahead for the group that will revise the Bangsamoro draft law that failed to pass the previous 16th Congress.

Duterte said they should aspire for a draft that is "acceptable" and he will ask Filipinos nationwide to support it.

He said additional powers may be given to the region when the government has shifted to a federal set up.

"I'm urging the BTC to navigate the hindrances and obstructions. Hanapin ninyo ang daan patungo ng kapayapaan. Mahirap 'yan (Look for the road towards peace. It is going to be hard). It is a long journey, But if there is a product that is acceptable to all, makikita ninyo ako (you will see me) – maybe in front of the Filipino nation – I will ask every Filipino to vote for it because it will make us a great nation," Duterte said in his speech.

"I leave it up to you. You know the history, equation, composition, and religions here. The indiosyncracies of the tribes," Duterte said.

Duterte said he wants the new region that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in place on the 3rd year of his administration.

Duterte said that peace in Mindanao is his centerpiece advocacy. He claimed he only ran for president because he was afraid that none of the other candidates understood the violence that could befall Mindanao if the peace process breaks down.

His predecessor, former President Benigno Aquino III, failed to urge Congress to pass the Bangsamoro law in the aftermath of the bloody Mamasapano tragedy, a botched police operation where 44 elite cops were killed inside the territory of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Duterte promised during the campaign that he will push for the law. "We must have peace at all cost. As president, ang gusto ko talaga mangyari ay kapayapaan (I really want to have peace). But it must be one country, one nation, one flag.

Duterte also warned against radicalism in Mindanao, urging the people to reject influences of groups like the Islamic State (ISIS).

Duterte says China misunderstood Yasay's remarks on South China Sea

From InterAksyon (Feb 24): Duterte says China misunderstood Yasay's remarks on South China Sea

President Rodrigo Duterte. (REUTERS/File photo)

President Rodrigo Duterte said on Friday he was not sure why China's commerce minister had canceled a trip to his country, and that Beijing misunderstood his foreign minister's comments about its militarization in the South China Sea.

Duterte said he wanted solid ties with China and there was no urgency in pressing it to abide by last year's arbitration ruling on the Philippines' maritime boundaries and sovereign rights, which went in favor of Manila and infuriated Beijing.

On Tuesday, Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, the chairman of a meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the region had "grave concerns" about China putting weapons installations on its manmade islands in the Spratlys.

[Read related story: ASEAN unsettled by China weapon systems, tension in South China Sea]

"The problem is I think Secretary Yasay was misunderstood by the Chinese government," Duterte said in a speech.

"I would like to assure China, and this is what I had committed to do when I was there, that we will talk as friends," he said, referring to a trip he made to China in October last year.

China's Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng decided at the last minute to postpone an official trip on Thursday to the Philippines to sign about 40 joint projects worth billions of dollars. No reason was given by either side.

[Read related story: Chinese commerce minister abruptly postpones PH trip: sources]

However, on Friday, the Chinese government announced the appointment of a new trade minister to replace Gao, as part of a reshuffle ahead of a crucial Communist Party meeting later this year.

Establishing better relations with China has been a key plank of Duterte's sometimes perplexing foreign policy, which has seen him lash out at major donors and investors such as the United States and European Union.

He is keen to tap China for loans, tourists and infrastructure.

On Friday, Duterte said the Philippines' longstanding alliance with the United States did not make it "duty bound to follow" Washington's foreign policy, and conflict with Beijing was not an option.

"We cannot go to war because we cannot afford it," he said. "And as much as possible, the bilateral relations between the two countries would be enhanced and improved and trade and commerce between the two countries greatly improved."

But that could be affected by Yasay's comments that ASEAN members were "unanimous in their expression of concern" about "very unsettling" developments. He mentioned China by name, something the 10-nation grouping is often reluctant to do.

China's foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, on Thursday told a regular briefing that Yasay's remarks were "baffling and regrettable", and he hoped Yasay would "speak and act cautiously".

Security measure ready for Araw

From the Mindanao Times (Feb 24): Security measure ready for Araw

AS CRIMINAL and terrorists groups may take advantage of the upcoming celebration of 80th Araw ng Dabaw, authorities have vowed to impose the necessary security with around 6,000 personnel set to be deployed to maintain peace and order in the city.

During yesterday’s City Peace and Order Council (CPOC) meeting in a local hotel, Davao City Police Director (DCPO) director Sr. Supt. Michael John Dubria said they will have a maximum deployment of personnel to conduct of patrols and checkpoints in the different parts in the city.

DCPO is assigning 1,603 police officers to be part of the contingent with a total of 5,981 security officers to be deployed during the festivity next month in the city.

The contingent is also composed of 1,500 personnel from the Task Force Davao, 930 in Central 911, 870 from the Public Safety and Security Command Center (PSSCC), 750 from the City Transport and Traffic Management Office (CTTMO), and 238 from the Bureau of Fire and Protection (BFP) XI.

Chief Supt. Marcelo Morales, the police regional deputy director for administration, said there is a possibility that criminal groups and lawless elements will take advantage of the festivity so they have to increase the police visibility in all places.

Morales urged the support of the barangay tanod and force multipliers to help in maintaining peace and order.

PSSCC chief Ret. Gen. Benito De Leon said the AFP is also contemplating to deploy additional forces of one battalion with at least 500 members.

“Visible during the activity are the police, the outer range will be covered by the Task Force Davao, or the military component,” De Leon said.

The recent activities of the communist rebels in far-flung barangays have bothered the security officers.
Col. Erwin Bernard Neri, the commander of Task Force Davao, admitted that the threat of terrorism is still high.

“But with the number of security forces that we have right now, the security is very manageable even with the conducts of so many activities,” Neri said.

Panamanian freighter escapes from Sayyaf off Tawi-Tawi

From the Mindanao Examiner (Feb 24): Panamanian freighter escapes from Sayyaf off Tawi-Tawi

A Panamanian freighter narrowly escaped an attempt by suspected Abu Sayyaf rebels to hijack the ship while it was sailing off Tawi-Tawi province in southern Philippines, security officials said Friday.

Officials said armed men on board several black speed boats chased MV Dong Hae Star while it was heading to Indonesia from China on February 22. The ship sent out a distress call to the Philippine Navy base in Bongao, the provincial capital, and immediately sent out patrol boats to intercept the gunmen.

“MV Dong Hae Star, a Panamanian flag ship transiting the Sulu Sea from China to Indonesia, reported to Littoral Monitoring Station in Bongao that suspicious black speedboats with 5 persons each on board was pursuing them in sea waters off Pearl Bank. The speedboats desist from chasing them and maneuvered to open sea upon sighting responding navy ships,” said Lt. Jose Covarrubias, a navy spokesman.

He said Rear Admiral Rene Medina, commander of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao, ordered the deployment of more patrol boats in Tawi-Tawi near the Sabah border to protect seafarers sailing in the area.

“Navy ships under Joint Task Force Tawi-Tawi continue to patrol the area and deployed additional vessels in Tawi-Tawi and Sulu for maritime interdiction and to support the law enforcement operations in the area,” Covarrubias said.

The military’s Western Mindanao Command also said that clashes erupted on Friday between troops and Abu Sayyaf under Aldin Bagadi in Indanan town in nearby Sulu province. Army Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, a spokeswoman for the Western Mindanao Command, said the fighting broke out in the village called Paligi, but there were no immediate reports of casualties from both sides.

But Petinglay said soldiers recovered an automatic rifle and ammunition, including 2 hammocks and a pair of combat boots, and a bandoleer.

She said military operations against the Abu Sayyaf which is holding over 2 dozen foreigners, mostly sailors, continue in Sulu as well as in Tawi-Tawi. Both provinces belong to the restive Muslim autonomous region.

Gov't troops on high alert vs rebels’ attacks

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 24): Gov't troops on high alert vs rebels’ attacks

Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the region have been placed on high alert following reports that the New People’s Army (NPA) has intensified its insurgency operations against government forces.

Colonel Bartolome Vicente Bacarro, commander of the 502nd brigade based in Echague town, said the rebels have recruited and retrained new recruits even during the declarations of unilateral ceasefire between the government troops and the communist rebels.

Bacarro said the armed group has also intensified its re-organization activities and collection of its revolutionary taxes against businesses, projects, private companies and other vulnerable individuals.

Bacarro advised the members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) to be alert, too, as the armed group may also attack their stations and seize their weapons.

He likewise warned the public that the rebels are wearing uniforms, combat boots and backpacks similar to that of the government soldiers.

“This is one of their tactics to deceive the public,” Bacarro added.

TJRC Report: GPH-MILF Peace Implementing Panels to seize Bangsamoro opportunity

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 24): TJRC Report: GPH-MILF Peace Implementing Panels to seize Bangsamoro opportunity

The Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) Report submitted to the GPH-MILF Peace Implementing Panels underscores the issue on land dispossession and listening process calling on both panels to seize the Bangsamoro Opportunity.

The TJRC was created by both panels in line with the Annex on Normalization of the mutually signed Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

Its mandate include the conduct of a study and recommend to both Panels the appropriate mechanisms to address legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people, correct historial injustices, address human rights violations and marginalization through land dispossession towards healing and reconcilation.

As the TJRC Report contains the issue on land dispossession and listening process, Chair Mô Bleeker emphasized that the only way to realize their mandate is to listen to the Bangsamoro people and in order to understand their grievances.

“Listening to the Bangsamoro people was the only way to realize our mandate. We chose to listen in order to understand their grievances and affirm that the Bangsamoro were capable of articulating what they needed and how we ought to journey together toward reconciliation, healing and peace,” she said.

The stories and ideas were shared during the listening process sessions in which they engaged over 3,000 community members and local officials in some 211 Moro, indigenous and settler communities in Mindanao and in the island provinces, she said.

Along the consultation process, Bleeker said, the Commission was surprised to find that seeing these conditions as part of the Bangsamoro Problem, the people recognized them as Bangsamoro opportunity and that peace is possible with political will and wider set of stakeholders’ participation and involvement.

According to the report, there are four key findings made during the listening process: legitimate grievances, historical injustices, human rights violations covering abuses against their political, economic, social and cultural rights, and land dispossession.

Lead coordinator of TJRC listening process Prof. Rufa Cagoco-Guiam said listening process is a very important tool in order to know the Bangsamoro people’s concerns and what could possibly be the solution to their problems.

“We conduct listening process to listen with empathy, to listen with compassion and to acknowledge their concerns and to provide possible solutions and recommendations. We assure them of the confidentiality of the data that we gathered. “she said.
From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 24): GPH-MILF peace implementing panel heads cite TJRC Report

Acknowledging the relevance of the Report, GPH Peace Implementing Panel Chair Irene Santiago, calling for genuine listening process, emphasized the importance of men, women and children in the human engagements.

“Men, women and children, we need to encourage genuine human engagements. We need platforms from which continuous dialogue, actions and solutions take place. We look forward to the strong partnership of the MILF and the Bangsamoro people in exercising a moral imagination. Because if we can’t imagine it, we can’t work for it,” Santiago said.

MILF Peace Implementing Chair Mohagher Iqbal, on the other hand, expressed his appreciation in behalf of the MILF, to the government for its continuous support to the Bangsamoro community. 

“Foremost, we truly appreciate and welcome the statement of GPH Peace Implementing Panel Chair Irene Santiago that the government of President Rodrigo Duterte will organize the National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission on the Bangsamoro or NTJRCB”, Iqbal said.

Such gesture, Iqbal said is a bold step on the part of the government.

According to Iqbal, the creation of the NTJRCB is a major recommendation made in the 125-page TJRC Report which was turned over to both GPH and MILF panels in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in February 2016.

The NTJRCB as described in the said report shall oversee and support the operations of four sub-commissions to ensure the implementation of the dealings in the past framework, promote healing and reconciliation, Iqbal said.

In line with practice, Iqbal said, they hope to be given the chance to look at the draft of the proposed executive order creating the NTJRCB, giving meaning and substance to the GPH-MILF partnership and efforts for the resolution of the conflict in Mindanao.

Iqbal said, he is pushing that the TJRC Report be included and shall form part of the Annex on Normalization under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).

Army, local govt keep kids in school, promote peace

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 24): Army, local govt keep kids in school, promote peace

A total of 456 schoolchildren, composed of preschoolers up to grade six pupils, recently benefitted from the feeding project as soldiers of the 403rd Infantry ‘Peacemaker’ Brigade (403Bde) and Malaybalay City local government worked hand in hand in promoting peace and fighting childhood malnutrition.

Col Eric C Vinoya, 403Bde commander of the Philippine Amy’s 4th Infantry Division (4ID PA), said this feeding program—which aims to facilitate resolution of local issues, improve school attendance, and nutritional status of children especially in remote communities—is a testament to the Philippine Army’s commitment in supporting the government to promote good health among schoolchildren.

In a statement, he said “contrary to the false accusations of the NPA leaders that our troops are doing psychological warfare (PsyWar) and intimidation, the real fact is that we are doing this and many other activities because these are beneficial to communitie. We now challenge the NPAs, especially their leaders, that if they are truly for people, then they should join us in this undertaking. Otherwise, their intentions would be very clear––they would just persecute our troops by capitalizing on local issues and using these things to agitate people, arm them, and let them fight against government with extortion-motivated attacks.”

"I congratulate our troops who, despite New People’s Army (NPA) rebels’ attacks, still they continue risking lives to fulfill the Army's commitment of serving people through our Community Support Program. I commend the troops for their service and I urge people to work together in finding peaceful solutions to local issues instead of using terroristic and violent acts,” he stressed.

As part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ “Kalayaan” project, it supports the Department of Education's "Adopt a School" program. It is regularly conducted in far-flung barangays where the brigade’s Community Support Teams are deployed.

In Malaybalay City, BCT Elementary School which has 16 undernourished pupils is just one of the many beneficiary schools of the army’s feeding program. Among which are Barangays Manalog and Kibalabag of Malaybalay City, where, just recently, three soldiers facilitating the program were brutally murdered by NPA terrorists.

It can be recalled that among those soldiers who were brutally murdered earlier this February, was Sgt Owen B. Yee of the 8th Infantry Battalion. He was an advocate of this Feeding Program and was able to serve hundreds of Lumad children in Impasugong town and Malaybalay City, all in Bukidnon.

Other line units specifically the 1st Special Forces Battalion, 8th Infantry Battalion and the 58th Infantry Battalion, are also conducting same program in various IP-dominated areas in Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental provinces in collaboration with local government units and other government agencies.

Cops tag Maute group member as mastermind in Leyte town plaza blast

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): Cops tag Maute group member as mastermind in Leyte town plaza blast

The Philippine National Police (PNP) has tagged a Muslim convert and Maute group member as mastermind in the Dec. 28, 2016 Hilongos, Leyte town plaza bombing that injured 35 people.

The PNP-Special Investigation Task Group (SITG) identified the suspect as Jake Anthony Macuto, 26, a “Balik Islam” convert who has been conducting preaching activities in Dolores, Eastern Samar since 2015.

PNP filed on Feb. 22, 2017 multiple frustrated murder charges before the Office of the Assistant Provincial Prosecutor in Hilongos town against Macuto and three John Does.

The three were seen by some witnesses accompanying Macuto hours before the explosion.

Police deputy regional director for operations Sr. Supt. Allan Cuevillas, SITG Commander said Macuto is also one of the suspects in planting an improvised explosive device outside the US Embassy last year.

Cuevillas said the information provided by the Muslim community in Hilongos town helped in their investigation and identification of suspects.

“This also helps in ending speculations that members of Muslim community in Hilongos are involved in the bombing incident,” Cuevillas added.

The official hopes that more witnesses will come out after the filing of charges against the suspects.

Muslim extremist group have been using “Balik Islam” convert in their terroristic activities since they could easily mingle with other people. Their physical appearances and way of speaking are not traceable to being a Muslim, according to the police.

Cuevillas added that they are now waiting for the court to issue a warrant of arrest against Macuto so they could release his pictures to media for people to help in identifying his present location.

With this development, PNP Regional Director Chief Supt. Elmer Beltejar said they are monitoring activities of “Balik Islam” converts in the region.

“Based on our intelligence report, Muslim communities in the region are not involved in terroristic act, but there are “Balik Islam” who have the tendency to become members of Maute because they are more aggressive than other Islam believers,” said Beltejar.

Over 1,000 people were watching the boxing match at the town plaza when the first bomb hidden under the water tank exploded at 9 p.m. A few minutes later, the second bomb hidden near the stage exploded, but it didn’t cause much damage because the bomb’s blasting cap failed to open.

As people ran in different directions, even bumping against the wall at the plaza, 32 people, mostly children and farmers were sprawled on the floor..

President Rodrigo Duterte visited the blast victims at the Hilongos District Hospital and gave cash assistance of PHP5,000. The mayor’s office, Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Philippine Red Cross also extended assistance to the 32 victims.

Joint Task Force Tawi-Tawi steps up sea patrol to deter kidnapping

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): Joint Task Force Tawi-Tawi steps up sea patrol to deter kidnapping

The Joint Task Force Tawi-Tawi has beefed up the conduct of seaborne patrol to deter the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) from staging kidnapping in the high seas of the southern Philippines.

Rear Admiral Rene Medina, commander of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NFWM), on Friday announced that additional vessels were deployed to the Joint Task Forces Tawi-Tawi and Sulu for maritime interdiction and support to law enforcement operations in the Sulu Sea.

Medina disclosed the naval component of the Joint Task Force Tawi-Tawi has thwarted a recent kidnapping attempt by the ASG in the waters of Tawi-Tawi province.

Medina said the attempt was prevented as Navy ships were immediately deployed in response to a distress call from a Panamanian-flag carrier, M/V Dong Hae Star, at 10 a.m. Wednesday, February 22.

He said the M/V Dong Hae Star reported to the Littoral Monitoring Station (LMS) in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi that suspicious black speedboats with five persons each on board was pursuing them in the sea waters off Pearl Bank.

He said the Panamanian-flag vessel, at the time it transmitted the distress call, was transiting in the Sulu Sea from China to Indonesia.

He said the M/V Dong Hae Star later transmitted a radio message that the speedboats stopped chasing them and maneuvered to the open sea upon sighting the responding Navy ships.

He said the Navy ships under the Joint Task Force Tawi-Tawi continue to patrol the area in the Sulu sea.

2 soldiers, 3 militiamen hurt in North Cotabato highway mishap

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): 2 soldiers, 3 militiamen hurt in North Cotabato highway mishap

Two soldiers and three militiamen were injured in a vehicular crash along a highway in the borders of Arakan and President Roxas towns in North Cotabato late Thursday.

The soldiers and members of Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) were on their way to their camp from a secluded area when their vehicle flipped and rolled over after one of its front tires blew out along the national highway in Barangay Ilustre in President Roxas.

The Arakan PNP identified the injured infantrymen as Private First Class Lord John Singson and Rocky Villamore and the militiamen as Ric Gomez, Ronnie Librando and Delio Dangin.

Singson and Villamore both belong to the Army’s 39th Infantry Battalion which has jurisdiction over the towns of Arakan, Magpet and President Roxas, three towns infiltrated by the communist New Peoples Army.

Government forces and NPA guerillas have frequently figured in clashes the past week.

Police said the driver of KM450 vehicle lost control of the steering wheel after one of its front tires exploded at about 6 p.m., causing the road crash.

Army exec names 5 NPA rebel-returnees from Masbate

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): Army exec names 5 NPA rebel-returnees from Masbate

The five suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, who surrendered on Thursday afternoon to the Philippine Army’s 2nd Infantry Battalion in Barangay Bacolod, Milagros town in Masbate have been identified, an Army official said Friday.

Maj. Virgilio Perez, spokesperson of the Philippine Army’s Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM), said the NPA rebels who yielded five service firearms--M14, M16, M1 carbine, .45-caliber and.38 cal. handguns, were identified by their "nom de guerre" or aliases--“Ka Aris,” “Ka Bunso,” both vice squad leaders; “Ka Jason;” “Ka Gina,” a finance officer; and “Ka Pogs.”

“The rebel surrenderees, who are undergoing debriefing, are all Masbate natives and members of an NPA guerrilla front under the regional party committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines,” said Perez.

He said the guerrilla front is operating in the northern part of Masbate covering the towns of Aroroy, Baleno, Balud, Mandaon and Claveria.

Perez said the returnees can avail of financial assistance through the “Comprehensive Local Integration Program” for rebel returnees.

Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Manolito Orense, 9th Infantry Division commanding general based in Pili, Camarines Sur, recently visited the headquarters of the 2nd IB to commend the troops for their successful combat operations in Barangay Pangle in Aroroy, Masbate on February 13 that resulted in the death of four NPA rebels.

The clash between government troops and rebels occurred shortly after President Duterte declared an all-out war against the NPA after lifting of the ceasefire agreements between the communist rebels and government forces early this month.

Orense gave commendations to the troops from the Scout Team and elements from the Alpha Company of the 2nd IB led by 1st Lt. April John del Rosario.

During the clash at 6:30 a.m., the platoon of Army soldiers engaged a 20-man group of NPA guerrillas in a 20-minute firefight. Recovered from the encounter scene were two M14 rifles, two M16 rifles and an M230 grenade rifle.

The slain rebels were identified as Luis Gonzaga, alias "Jaypee," commanding officer of the section platoon of a north guerrilla front in Masbate; Marjun Malahico alias “Erwin," vice commanding officer; Raymart Rapsing alias "Gerome/Ruben," political officer and head of NPA education committee; and Abnito Tugbo alias "Mark/Frank," an NPA member.

Perez said remains of the rebels were claimed by their relatives last February 14.

Gonzaga's body was claimed by his mother Nelita Gonzaga of Barangay Cawayan Interior in Masbate City; Malachico's by relatives from Barangay San Antonio in Milagros town; Tugbo's by a sister from Barangay Cajonday in Baleno, Masbate; and Rapsing's remains by Edgardo Ena of Barangay Igang also in Masbate City.

China's Foreign Ministry claims Yasay’s recent statement contradicts what Duterte and Xi agreed upon

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): China's Foreign Ministry claims Yasay’s recent statement contradicts what Duterte and Xi agreed upon
China admitted that they did not like what Foreign Affairs Sec. Perfecto Yasay Jr. said during a get together luncheon meeting with media Thursday, which claimed otherwise what President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping have agreed on during the Philippine leader’s visit in Beijing in October 2016
“As we have noted, Mr. Yasay’s recent remarks apparently deviate from the consensus of the two leaders, go against the current trend of the sound and rapid development of China-Philippine relations, disagree with the overall stable situation of the South China Sea, and run counter to the shared desire of regional countries to maintain peace and stability of the South China Sea and promote regional cooperation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang said.

“China finds them baffling and regrettable. We hope that Mr. Yasay can follow the consensus reached by the two leaders and the shared desire of regional countries, exercise prudence, and make concrete efforts to uphold China-Philippines relations and regional peace and stability,” he added.

Geng was responding to a question if it was true that China promised Duterte that they would not build structures on Scarborough Shoal as Yasay claimed.

“On the South China Sea issue, including on building structures on Huangyan Dao, China's position is consistent and clear and is subject to no change,” he said.

The Chinese official further said President Duterte's visit to China last year resulted in the two leaders agreeing to adhere to good-neighborliness and friendship, properly handling differences and pursuing common development.

The two sides have returned to the right track of properly dealing with the South China Sea issue through bilateral friendly consultations and have seen booming cooperation in various sectors.

Geng insisted that Yasay’s remarks were not consistent with what the two leaders had agreed on during last year’s visit in Beijing.

NSA Esperon dismisses probability of destabilization plot with De Lima arrest

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): NSA Esperon dismisses probability of destabilization plot with De Lima arrest

National Security Adviser (NSA) Hermogenes Esperon scoffed off the probability the arrest of Senator Leila De Lima on drug-related charges would trigger a destabilization plot against the Duterte administration.

He made the statement when asked by a reporter during the sidelights of the EDSA-1 Catholic Mass at the AFP Grandstand in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City on Friday.

Esperon said he finds it amusing that critics of the Duterte administration will defend a former justice secretary suspected involved in the spread of illegal drugs in the Philippines.

"Are they fighting for that? That's not a good reason. This season (31st anniversary of the EDSA People 1) should be spent celebrating and planning of things that will aid in nation building," he said in Filipino.

Esperon added the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police (PNP) remain on top of the security situation and are ready to quash any destabilization threat.

Muntinlupa City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 204 Judge Juanita Guerrero on Friday ordered De Lima be placed under the custody of the PNP at its Custodial Center in Camp Crame, also in Quezon City.

"The Court finds sufficient probable cause for Violation of Comprehensive Dangerous Drug Act of 2002, Sec. 5 in rel. to Sec. 3, Sec.26 & Sec. 28 of R.A. No. 9165 (Illegal Drug Trading). Wherefore, accused Leila M. De Lima is ordered committed to the Custodial Service Unit in Camp Crame, Quezon City," the order read.

The Muntinlupa RTC Branch 204 is handling Criminal Case No. 17-165 which specifically charged De Lima for violations under Republic Act 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

PHL to host global peace convention next week

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): PHL to host global peace convention next week

Business heads, government officials, NGO leaders and entrepreneurs will sit down in a series of forums at the 2017 Global Peace Convention (GPC) to be held here next week.

The annual event will be held for the second time in the country on Feb. 28 to March 3 at the Marriott Convention Center in Pasay City with the theme, “Moral and Innovative Leadership: New Models for Peace and Development”.

The convention is set to discuss the role of private sector business in significant issues, such as poverty reduction, sustainable development and regional stability, highlighting emerging markets in Southeast Asia.

During the meeting, regional and global experts will engage in a dynamic exploration of industry and corporate practices that can contribute to true "bottom line" -- the peace and prosperity of all people.

Business leaders, including Philippine Islands Chamber of Commerce president Jose Luis Yulo Jr. and Congressman Arthur Yap, will examine the role of government in promoting and facilitating an entrepreneurial environment for sustainable commerce and industry, and the entrepreneur's role in creating jobs.

The Philippines hosted the Global Peace Foundation’s first Global Peace Convention in 2009.

This year's meeting will bring in leading global experts and practitioners to share their best practices for sustainable peace and development, in various convention tracks, which include Youth Leadership and Service, Transforming Education, Women’s Leadership Culture, and Economic and Business Forums.

The convention expects nearly 4,000 participants from 40 countries. It has projects in 23 countries across the world.

2 rebels killed, assorted weapons seized in Capiz

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 24): 2 rebels killed, assorted weapons seized in Capiz

Two New People's Army (NPA) rebels were killed while two shotguns and two hand grenades recovered following an encounter with the 61st Infantry Battalion troops in Maayon town, Capiz province Friday afternoon.

The 30-minute clash took place around 3:40 p.m. at Sitio Maknoy, Barangay Jebaca, according to 3rd Infantry Division spokesperson Lt. Col. Ericson Rosana.

Government troops were conducting combat operations when they encountered around seven rebels under a certain Romulo Gangoso alias "Rigan."

In the ensuing firefight, two rebels were immediately killed, prompting the remaining rebels to immediately flee, leaving behind their dead comrades and weapons.

There were no reported casualty on the government side as pursuit operations by the 61st Infantry Battalion continue.