Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Suspected NPA rebels raze container van in Agusan del Sur

From GMA News (Mar 1): Suspected NPA rebels raze container van in Agusan del Sur

Suspected rebels belonging to the New People's Army on Tuesday burned a container van carrying bananas in Rosario, Agusan Del Sur, a report on Unang Balita on Wednesday said.

The driver of the container van said that it was around 3 p.m. when the alleged rebels had intercepted them.

They were immediately told to alight from the vehicle before the alleged rebels razed the container van.

Military forces condemned the said act saying it was opposed to the call of the armed rebels for the resumption of peace talks with the government.

The NPA, meanwhile, has yet to comment on the issue.


AFP: Air assets to wipe out Sayyaf

From The Standard (Mar 1): AFP: Air assets to wipe out Sayyaf

THE Philippines’ air assets will be used for the first time to boost the military’s campaign to crush the Abu Sayyaf bandits, President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday.

He made the statement as he apologized to the German government and to the German people after their fellow German Jurgen Gustav Kantner was executed by the terrorists on Sunday after the deadline passed to pay the P30-million ransom they had been demanding.

“For the first time, we [will be] using air assets [that we did not use before because of] the problem of collateral damage,” Duterte told reporters in a chance interview on Tuesday

FRIGHTFUL FINISH. A video grab Monday of 70-year-old Jurgen Kantner, held for three months,  being beheaded by Abu Sayyaf militants in Mindanao after a deadline to pay ransom had passed. It was the second time Kantner had been abducted, the first along with his partner, Sabine Merz, by Somali pirates for nearly two months in 2008. Mark Navales
 Armed Forces Chief Eduardo Año said the forces tasked to rescue Kantner actually chanced on a group of Abu Sayyaf bandits holding him during the critical hours before his beheading, but the bandits escaped in the nick of time.

Foreign Affairs on Tuesday condemned “in the strongest terms” the beheading of Kantner, who was executed three months after he was kidnapped in Southern Mindanao.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs is greatly saddened by the death of Mr. Juergen Gustav Kantner,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said in a statement.

“We condemn, in the strongest terms this cruel and inhuman act by the Abu Sayaf Group.”

Ozamis Archbishop Martin Jumoad said Kantner’s execution was a “sad moment for all people who respect and value life.”

“When does God’s justice fall upon them so that they may see the light? Are they really believers of one God or money is the one they adore?” Jumoad said.

Duterte insisted on the need to improve on the military’s night-flying capability to track down the terrorists.

“Well, we need equipment. Until such time that we have the fast boats, the eight remaining frigates or whatever, that was ordered from Japan, but we paid for it, actually ... and we plan to purchase more helicopters,” Duterte said.
OUT OF HARM’S WAY.  Philippine marines inspect a passenger jeepney at a checkpoint in Indanan, Sulu as the military pressed its pursuit of Abu Sayyaf gunmen who beheaded their German hostage Jurgen Kantner. AFP
“The numbers, I would not want to tell you now but I have to improve on our night-flying capability. We’re nearing to it.”

In a speech before alumni of the Philippine Military Academy during their homecoming earlier this month, Duterte told the security forces to use all government resources to protect Mindanao from the Abu Sayyaf.

“The Sulu-based ASG is focused on kidnap-for-ransom. The Basilan-based ASG under [Isnilon] Hapilon remains focused on assimilating the IS violence today,” Duterte said.


Pro-Islamic State militants re-emerge as Philippine nightmare

From the Malay Mail Online (Feb 28): Pro-Islamic State militants re-emerge as Philippine nightmare

 Government troops conduct checkpoint operations for the German kidnap victim who was believed to be executed by Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf in Indanan town, Sulu province February 27, 2017. — Reuters pic

Government troops conduct checkpoint operations for the German kidnap victim who was believed to be executed by Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf in Indanan town, Sulu province February 27, 2017. — Reuters pic

With ultra-fast boats, millions in ransom payments and sympathetic locals, pro-Islamic State militants on lawless southern Philippines islands who beheaded a German hostage this week have re-emerged as one of the nation’s top threats.

The Philippines is planning to bring in foreign maritime forces to help fight the Abu Sayyaf, after a kidnapping spree that has raised fears the waters around its island strongholds may descend into a Somalia-like haven for pirates.

Declarations by key leaders of the Abu Sayyaf, a loose network of militants backed by local criminals and corrupt officials, of allegiance to the Islamic State group have further stoked alarm.

“The nation’s problem, the biggest threat, I would say, in the coming years it would be terrorism. It’s sure to come,” President Rodrigo Duterte said recently.

In an interview with AFP in February, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana listed the Abu Sayyaf and other “terrorist” groups that have pledged allegiance to IS as the Philippines’ top internal security threat.

“We are trying to put more effort into suppressing the growth of ISIS in the south,” Lorenzana said.

Over the past two years the Abu Sayyaf has been involved in kidnapping dozens of people in increasingly brazen attacks mostly on foreign cargo vessels, but also on coastal tourist resorts in the south and neighbouring Malaysia.

The militants yesterday posted a video online of them beheading Jurgen Kantner, a 70-year-old German sailor who was abducted from his yacht in southern Philippine waters three months earlier.

They killed him after a demand for a ransom of 30 million pesos (RM2.6 million) was not met.

Two Canadian hostages kidnapped from yachts moored at a marina on a tourist island in the southern Philippines in 2015 were also beheaded last year after demands for ransoms of similar amounts went unfulfilled.

Pirates’ haven -The Abu Sayyaf is holding 19 other foreigners on its remote southern island strongholds of Sulu and Basilan, according to the military.

Most of them are Vietnamese, Indonesian and Malaysia sailors abducted from cargo vessels in or near the Sulu and Celebes seas.

To counter, the Philippines has said it is looking to Chinese and American forces to help patrol waters in the area, which also includes a busy international shipping channel called the Sibutu Passage.

Separately, the Philippines is in talks with Malaysia and Indonesia for joint patrols.

In his interview with AFP, Lorenzana said the Philippine naval and coast guard vessels could do little to catch the pirates’ boats, which travelled at speeds of more than 80 kilometres (50 miles) an hour.

“The Abu Sayyaf has better boats than us,” Lorenzana said.

Turning points

The Abu Sayyaf’s spike as a kidnapping threat can be traced back to two events in 2014, according to security analysts.

One was the winding back of a US military programme to train Philippine forces on how to counter the Abu Sayyaf, and provide intelligence. The programme saw a rotating force of about 600 troops stationed in the south.

It ended in June 2014 after local Islamic extremists had “largely devolved into disorganised groups”, according to a US government statement at the time.

Previously the Abu Sayyaf was regarded as a much bigger threat. It was accused of involvement in the 2004 bombing of a ferry in Manila that killed more than 100 people and other deadly attacks, as well as high-profile kidnappings.

During the 12 years of the American presence the Abu Sayyaf’s numbers were cut from more than 1,000 to about 300, according to Philippine military estimates then, and many of its top leaders were killed or detained.

“The departure of the US advisers led to a steady resurgence of the ASG (Abu Sayyaf) and eventually the emergence of two dozen IS-centric groups,” Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based regional terrorism expert, told AFP today. 

Also in 2014 the Abu Sayyaf had one of their biggest paydays ever, claiming to have secured the full ransom of more than US$5 million dollars for releasing two German sailors kidnapped that year.

That, and subsequent paydays worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, enabled the kidnappers to buy better weapons and boats, as well as pay local Muslim communities that harbour and protect them, according to analysts.

“The community celebrates when there’s delivery of ransom. They kill cows, goats in festivity,” Rommel Banlaoi, chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research in Manila, told AFP.

Banlaoi and other analysts said corrupt politicians and security forces were also involved, getting a share of payouts and ensuring the Abu Sayyaf survived military offensives.

“It’s really organised crime,” Banlaoi said.


The Regional Guide to Counter Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia

Posted to the ReCAAP Information Sharing Center: The Regional Guide to Counter Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia

Go the following URL for a full copy of the report: http://www.hellenicshippingnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/regional-guide-to-counter-piracy-and-armed-robbery-against-ships-in-asia-3.pdf

Piracy and armed robbery in the Asian region has been evolving over time. The definitions of ‘piracy’ (in accordance with UNCLOS) and ‘armed robbery against ships’ (in accordance with IMO) can be found in Annex A. The Asian region in this guide refers to the area as marked on Marsec Charts Q6112 and Q6113 (Annex B).

It should be noted that piracy and armed robbery in Asia differs significantly from that of Somalia-based piracy. While Somalian-based pirates generally attacked ships in order to hijack them and then hold the crew for ransom, the type of criminal activity occurring in Asian waters generally revolves around theft of personal property and hijacking of ships for the purpose of cargo theft. Although the common modus operandi in the region has not changed significantly in the last decade, there were some trends in recent years which have attracted attention. The Tug Boats and Barges (TaB) Guide Against Piracy and Sea Robbery launched in January 2013 was a response to the increase in number of incidents involving tug boats and barges between 2008 and 2012. A spike in the number of incidents involving oil cargo theft from 2014-2015 prompted the release of the Guide for Tankers Operating in Asia against Piracy and Armed Robbery Involving Oil Cargo Theft in November 2015.
Beyond the more specific trends involving particular types of ships, it is notable that the last four years (2012-2015) has witnessed a general increase in the number of boardings involving all types of ship while underway and at certain ports and anchorages in Asia. Refer to Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia Information Sharing Centre (ReCAAP ISC)’s website (www.recaap.org) for updates on incidents and trends.

With attacks becoming more widespread and in some cases violent, the maritime community has requested a comprehensive guide which covers all types of ships operating in Asian waters. This guide encompasses the TaB Guide Against Piracy and Sea Robbery and Guide for Tankers Operating in Asia against Piracy and Sea Robbery Involving Oil Cargo Theft; and will take into consideration the occurrence of incidents involving all types of ship while underway and at ports and anchorages in Asian waters.


After failed rescue effort Philippines president apologizes for German hostage death

Posted to the Hellenic Shipping News (Mar 1): After failed rescue effort Philippines president apologizes for German hostage death

The number of attacks on vessels in the Sulu and Celebes Sea have surged recently with a corresponding increase in the severity of the attacks. In a recent incident six crew members were abducted with one crewman being shot dead. The International Fusion Centre (IFC) has now reported a total of 37 incidents in this area, of which 17 have included abduction of crew, since January 2016.

The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) details known incidents and has published the Regional Guide to Counter Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia.

Littoral states are also considering the establishment of a high security corridor along the Sulu Sea however this has not yet been agreed.

Members are recommended to follow IMO’s Guidance to ship owners and ship operators, shipmasters and crews on preventing and suppressing acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships MSC.1/Circ.1334 .The following specific precautionary measures are recommended:
  • If a viable option consider alternate routing to avoid transiting the area.
  • Prior to entering the area conduct a risk assessment, brief crew and conduct a drill, prepare and test an emergency communication plan.
  • Proceed at maximum sustainable speed whist in the area.
  • Maintain good communications via VHF Channels 08 and 16 with littoral law enforcement agencies and the IFC. A map and contact details of the relevant local authorities is attached at Annex A of the IMO Guidance referenced above.
  • Activate the ship’s Automatic Identification System (AIS). This should be restricted to ship’s identity, position, course, speed, navigational status and safety related information.
  • Increase vigilance in watch-keeping and deploy additional lookouts.
  • Use CCTV cameras for coverage of vulnerable areas (if available).
  • Keep ship’s whistle and fog horn ready for immediate use.
  • Secure or lift external ladders to prevent their use and to restrict external access to the bridge.
  • Deploy appropriate Ship Protection Measures with reference to the ReCAAP guide. There is a high incidence of kidnap for ransom cases and vessels can considerably reduce the chances of crew being kidnapped by having an effective citadel and practiced citadel drills
  • Evasive manoeuvres have also been proven to deter perpetrators in the reported incidents in this specific area.
  • Consider restricting personnel access to upper decks and bridge wings during Sibutu Passage transits, so as to not present a target for potential small-arms fire. All non-essential personnel should be located in a secure part of the ship where practicable.
Members requiring further information should contact the Loss Prevention department.
Source: West of England


After failed rescue effort Philippines president apologizes for German hostage death

From Deutsche Welle (Feb 28): After failed rescue effort Philippines president apologizes for German hostage death

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said troops came close to rescuing a German hostage held for three months. Duterte commiserated with the German people.

Philippinen Entführung Jürgen Kantner (Getty Images/AFP/N. Butlangan)

President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte apologized on Tuesday for the beheading of German hostage Jurgen Gustav Kantner at the hands of militant separatist group Abu Sayyaf.

The group released a video of the 70-year-old's grisly death on Monday, after a deadline for his ransom had passed, but the Philippines military said it came close to rescuing Kantner.

"I am very sorry that the hostage or a national of your country has been beheaded. I sympathize with the family. I commiserate with the German people," Duterte said at a news conference.

"We really tried our best. We have been there, the military operation has been going on for some time already but we have failed," he said. He stressed that the Philippine government policy of not paying ransoms would be maintained. Payments would just enable the militants to grow in number, he said.

Almost saved by troops

Military chief of staff General Eduardo Ano told reporters that his troops fought with the Abu Sayyaf militants holding Kantner a day before he was killed but about six gunmen managed to remove him from the battle scene near the town of Indanan on the island of Sulu.

Ano said the militants behind the beheading were led by a young commander, Moammar Askali, who uses the nom de guerre Abu Rami.

An intelligence report found Askali pushed for Kantner's death, but other militants wanted to wait for a ransom payment of 30 million pesos (566,000-euros or US$599,000), according to a report by the AP news agency.

Duterte said his government had taken several steps to combat a wave of kidnappings by Muslim militants, including sending a request to China to help patrol the international waters bordering the southern Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia - the scene of many piracy incidents and abductions.

"I asked China if it can contribute to patrolling because the might of China in terms of sea power is a huge one," he said, adding China did not respond to his request.

Filipino soldiers recover abandoned yacht (picture alliance/dpa/Wesmincom)

The man was captured from his yacht while sailing in the southern Philippines with his wife, who was killed during the kidnapping

Outrage in Germany

Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned "this abominable act, which shows once again how inhumane and without conscience these terrorists act," she wrote in a statement. "We must all stand together to fight against them."

Video footage appeared to show Kantner slumped on a grassy lot with a man holding a knife to his neck.

"Now they'll kill me," the man said before he was murdered.

Islamic separatists
Abu Sayyaf, a loose network of militants based in the Philippines' remote southern islands, has defied more than a decade of US-backed military operations seeking to eradicate it. Lucrative kidnapping sprees have been undertaken by the group in recent years.

Authorities believed Abu Sayyaf to be holding about 20 other hostages. In the past the group had freed several in return for ransom payments.

In 2000 the group abducted 21 tourists, including a German family, from a diving island in Malaysia. They were released after a ransom payment. In 2004 the group killed 116 people in an attack on a ferry in the Philippines. In 2014 the group abducted a German couple from their sailing yacht and released them after several months. This year, two Canadians were abducted and decapitated.


Eastern Visayas Army steps up support to anti-drug war

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): Eastern Visayas Army steps up support to anti-drug war

Soldiers in Eastern Visayas have intensified their support to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency's (PDEA) fight against illegal drugs in the region.

Major Gen. Raul Farnacio, commander of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division has assigned a special unit to help the anti-narcotics agency in the conduct of anti-illegal drugs operations.

The joint forces of the military and PDEA, according to Farnacio, has been running after high-value targets and street level drug traders.

“It’s only the policemen who are not actively engaged in anti-illegal drugs campaign. In our case, the campaign did not stop and we even dedicated a special unit for that,” said Farnacio.

Last week, soldiers and PDEA agents arrested five drug personalities in five separate anti-drug operations in Tacloban and Maasin cities, resulting to seizure of suspected shabu, cash and several drug paraphernalia.

Earlier, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the police to suspend its anti-drug operations and focus on the war against police scalawags. The order stemmed from the recent killing of Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo allegedly by policemen inside Camp Crame.

The Chief Executive’s directive prompted the Philippine Army to step up its support to PDEA’s anti-drug campaign.


Duterte meets young ASG kidnap victim in Malacañan

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): Duterte meets young ASG kidnap victim in Malacañang

An eight-year old kidnap victim from Zamboanga Sibugay was reunited with his parents in the presence of President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañan on Tuesday following seven months of captivity from the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Sulu.

Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza presented the child to President Duterte. He was abducted with his family in Zamboanga Sibugay in August last year and was freed last Monday.

The family was brought to Sulu after they were kidnapped. The mother, Nora, was released in August 22 after paying a small amount, according to Dureza. Elmer, the father, was freed last Nov. 13 after handing over Php 1 million, thinking the son will also be released.

Dureza said the family sold everything, including their sari-sari store, and borrowed from friends and relatives to raise the ransom money.

Dureza said he was instructed by the President to work for the release of the boy and with the help of Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members, was eventually reunited with his parents.

Dureza said the boy will undergo psychiatric trauma treatment, noting that the President will also assist the family so they can start a new life away from Mindanao.

The family, whose life was in shambles after selling all possessions, decided to leave Zamboanga Sibugay and relocated with relatives outside Metro Manila, according to Dureza.

He also clarified that no ransom money was paid in freeing the boy since the family no longer has the money after disposing its source of livelihood.

President Duterte expressed his gratitude to Secretary Dureza, and Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan for their humanitarian job.

The President however said that there will be a lot of work to do in freeing some reported captives saying, “I would like to assure everybody that for as long as there is violence being perpetrated, the Republic of the Philippines will continue with its military operations.”

But in order for the military to be effective, the President said the soldiers would need new equipment as well as fast boats, frigates and more helicopters.

“We plan to purchase more helicopters. The numbers, I would not want to tell you now but I have to improve on our night-flying capability. We’re nearing to it,” the President said.

But for those in Mindanao who want reintegration or ceasefire, the President reiterated that it is also his desire to adopt a federal system of government.

PRRD expresses sympathies to Kantner's family

At the same time, the President extended his sympathies to the family of German national Jurgen Gustav Kantner, who was brutally murdered by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu.

“I am very sorry that the hostage or a national of your country has been beheaded. I sympathize with the family. I commiserate with the German people,” President Duterte said.

The President also told Kantner’s family and the German government that his administration really tried its best to secure the safety of the victim.

The President also tackled the anti-illegal drug campaign, saying that he has ordered Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Dir. Gen. Ronald Dela Rosa during Monday’s command conference to recruit patriotic young men in the PNP to be the members of the task force.

“Every station should have one pero ‘yung piling-pili, ‘yung walang mga kaso at walang history ng corruption,” he said.


US envoy stresses peaceful resolution in South China Sea

From InterAksyon (Feb 28): US envoy stresses peaceful resolution in South China Sea

US Ambassador Sung Kim greets President Rodrigo Duterte in this January 2017 file photograph from the Philippine News Agency.

While United States Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim was noncommittal on what specific action his country will take in the event China proceeds to build structures on disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea just west of Zambales Province, he nevertheless stressed US interest in the peaceful resolution of issues among all claimant states in the disputed waters.

Kim was the keynote speaker at the general membership meeting of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) Tuesday at the Peninsula Manila hotel in Makati City.

Ambassador Kim said that the US was not a claimant in the maritime disputes, but it hopes that countries would refrain from taking unilateral actions, such as building structures and intensifying militarization. He added that the US cares deeply about respect for fundamental rights, like freedom of navigation.

In relation to this, Kim clarified that the US has no problems with the Philippines or any other country working to improve relations with China, amid the misconception that it was opposed to President Rodrigo Duterte's efforts to broaden ties with Beijing.

"That's not at all correct," the ambassador said.

Nevertheless, he assured the audience that the alliance between the US and the Philippines remained strong, and that the military trainings and exercises planned for this year would push through. The USwas also communicating with officials of the Philippine Army to ensure that they are prepared for any external threat.

Kim was confident that the strong partnership between the two countries would continue, given that the security environment at the moment was "complex".
When asked if the U.S. would remove visa requirements for Filipinos heading to the US as proof of how much the North American country valued its relationship with the Asian nation, Kim said that U.S. law lays out strict requirements for a country to be included in a visa-waiver program. Unfortunately, the Philippines did not meet the requirements currently.

"But this is not permanent," he pointed out. "So we may find that a few years from now, the Philippines would meet all the requirements and would be included in the visa waiver program."

Nonetheless, he guaranteed that the Embassy was working very hard to make the visa application process as painless and efficient as possible, even as he reported that they processed over 200,000 non-immigrant visas in 2016. 

Is the BPO industry in trouble?

Kim also fielded questions about whether the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry in the Philippines would be affected by President Donald Trump's "America first" thrust, and said that it was too early to tell whether the new administration would implement policies directly relevant to BPO operations of U.S. companies in the Philippines.

He said there were many reasons why US companies chose to establish operations here, as Filipino employees were "very capable", "smart", and fluent in English. The labor cost was also "reasonable".

Kim predicted that there would be no "dramatic" changes in the operations of U.S. companies in the Philippines, but if there was anything that would make an impact, it would be technology advancement - Artificial Intelligence, in particular - and not Washington's policies.

On the drug war

Kim was also asked if US businessmen were concerned that the Philippines was becoming an unstable environment to do business in, given the drug war.

He said that it was a big issue, but added that he has told President Duterte that the US understood the challenges he was facing, and why he was trying to curb the drug, crime, and corruption problems. But there were concerns about how some aspects of Duterte's campaign were being practiced.

Kim added that the drug war was particularly relevant. As companies make decisions about further investments and expanding operations in the Philippines, they have to consider what was happening on the ground.

"It's a complicated situation, obviously," he said. There were businessmen who were confident about the prospects in the Philippines, but there was also concern back in the U.S. headquarters about how they should be managing their operations.

Strong women

Meanwhile, Kim was also able to touch on the subject of women empowerment, which he was "very, very proud of".

This included getting involved in the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence with the United Nations, and a lineup of activities the Embassy would be holding in March for Women's History Month.

He said he was an advocate for women empowerment because he has two daughters and has worked with strong women, including former US Secretaries of State Hilary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice.

"I know firsthand what strong women are capable of," Kim said.

Careful consideration

From the Mindanao Times n(Feb 28): Careful consideration

Mayor Sara reads NPA reply but yet to comment

MAYOR Sara Duterte is carefully considering the counter-proposal of the New People’s Army (NPA) for a possible localized peace dialogue.

“The Mayor has already read the reply of the NPA to her previous offer,” said City Information Office head Jefry Tupas Sunday night.

“Right now, she is carefully looking into it and will come up with a statement in the coming days.”

Rigoberto Sanchez, the NPA regional operations command for southern Mindanao, in a rejoinder to Mayor Duterte’s offer, said the rebel group is willing to meet with her at a mutually agreed time and date in any NPA-controlled territory within the city.

“The NPA would gladly discuss any matter that she would like to take up with the revolutionary movement, the duties and responsibilities of the people’s democratic government, the role of the NPA, the on-going all-out war of the AFP and the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations,” Sanchez said.

Mayor Duterte offered her hand of peace to the NPA after a series of skirmishes hit earlier this month in Paquibato and Calinan districts, which killed at least 12 and wounded around 20 AFP troopers.

“The revolutionary forces recognize Sara Duterte’s willingness to talk to the NPA as a group and not to individuals amid the growing public clamor to resume the suspended GRP-NDFP peace negotiations and achieve substantial gains in the peace process,” Sanchez said.

However, Sanchez questioned Sara’s remaining trust with the military, quoting her as saying she would “leave everything to the AFP” if the talks failed.

“Mayor Sara must know by now that the AFP is a corrupt, wily and mercenary organization that makes a mockery of the peace process and continuously sabotages her father’s and the NDFP’s efforts at peace every chance it gets,” Sanchez said.

“Furthermore, we are optimistic that Mayor Sara would judiciously discern the realities of the civil war, not merely through the statistics of AFP casualties and its civilian victims but by seeing the imperative to address the roots of the armed conflict.”

Mayor Duterte earlier said that her offer for a dialogue would be limited only to her jurisdiction of Davao City and would welcome dialogues not from individual surrenderees but the NPA “as a group.”


Troops clashed with NPAs anew

From the Mindanao Times (Feb 28): Troops clashed with NPAs anew

GOVERNMENT soldiers clashed with the New People’s Army in Asuncion, Davao del Norte and Kiamba, Sarangani on Sunday, Feb. 26.
Two bodies of communist rebels and two AK-47 firearms were recovered by soldiers in the encounter site in Asuncion.
Capt. Rhyan Batchar, spokesperson of 10th Infantry Division, said troops from 60th Infantry Battalion engaged around 20 rebels of Guerilla Front 33 in a 40-minute firefight in Sitio Alungan, Barangay Sangayen, Asuncion around 10 a.m. on Sunday.
Two MG520 attack helicopters supported the troops with rocket fires at the position of the NPA rebels.

Meanwhile, in a separate incident, at around 12:45 p.m., troops of 27th Infantry Battalion engaged in a five-minute firefight the NPA belonging to Guerrilla Front 73 at Sitio Tulad, Barnagay Nalus, Kiamba, Sarangani.
Reports reaching the 10th ID revealed that families near the encounter sites have evacuated to safer grounds.

Military and PNP checkpoints have been established in different areas to prevent the NPA from fleeing the area.

Maj. Gen. Rafael Valencia, 10ID commander, lauded the troops for their accomplishments.

“We must press on the fight and put more pressure on the NPA until they finally realized that armed struggle is not the solution to our problems,” he added.

In related news, Lt. Erwin Bugarin, civil- military operations officer of 8th Infantry Battalion, said the first incident happened around 5:40 p.m. when armed men stormed the office of a hydro-electric power plant in Barangay Lumbayao, Valencia City, Bukidnon.
They planted an improvised explosives device inside the building and fired gunshots on their way to escape.

At around 10 p.m. of the same day, undetermined number of NPAs burned two spray trucks of Davco Agri Venture Corporation in Barangay Merangiran, Quezon, Bukidnon and immediately fled from the scene.

“They no longer act on their ideals these are simply terroristic act,” Bugarin said. In doing so, they are no less a terrorists who does nothing but instill fear to the people making their extortion activities unquestioned.”

8-year old kidnap victim freed

From MindaNews (Feb 28): 8-year old kidnap victim freed

An eight-year old boy who was kidnapped in Zamboanga Sibugay and held hostage in Sulu for almost seven months was reunited with his family on Tuesday, Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said.

In a statement Tuesday, Dureza said they brought Rexon Romoc to Manila and turned him over to his parents Elmer and Nora Romoc after a medical checkup done by Dr. Rose Liquete, chief of the National Kidney and Transplant Institute in Quezon City.

“President Duterte, who was on top of our recovery efforts, witnessed the reunion in Malacanang,” Dureza said.

“It has been a long ordeal. Rexon was kidnapped by armed men together with his parents on August 5, 2016. They were brought to Sulu by their kidnappers,” he said.

The official said Nora was released on August 22 after paying some small amount to their captors.

She then sold everything they owned including their “sari sari” store and borrowed money from friends and relatives to pay for the release of Elmer and Rexon, he added.

Dureza said the captors released Rexon’s father on November 15, but kept the boy hostage until his recovery on Monday.

He said the ordeal forced Rexon’s family to leave Sibugay and relocate outside Manila with relatives.

He said the boy’s first question upon arriving from Sulu was: “Asa si Mama ug Papa ( Where is Mama and Papa)?”

To make sure he was the real Rexon, Dureza said he asked who his parents are.
“His quick, terse reply: ‘Elmer ug Nora!’ Bingo! I hugged him tight. ( I also have a grandson his age.),” he said.

He said Rexon will undergo psychiatric treatment for the trauma he may have acquired after seven months in captivity and witnessing firefights between his captors and government forces.

“When NKTI chief Doc Rose gifted him with a toy car with ‘PEACE LOVE’ markings while being medically examined, he told me he also wanted to have a helicopter for a toy,” Dureza said.

When he asked why, Rexon told him he saw military helicopters occasionally hovering over them while his captors tagged him along while seeking cover.

Dureza noted that Rexon, although from a Cebuano-speaking family, now uses more Tausug words.

He said his Tausug emissary, Edmund Gumbahali, helped him with the translation.


Sayyaf sub-leader killed in Zamboanga raid

From the Mindanao Examiner (Feb 28): Sayyaf sub-leader killed in Zamboanga raid

Police commandos, backed by soldiers, raided a hideout of the Abu Sayyaf before dawn Tuesday and killed its sub-leader who was tagged as behind the spate of ransom kidnappings in Zamboanga Peninsula in southern Philippines, officials said.

Officials said two gunmen and a commando were also wounded in the fighting in the village called Tampalan in Zamboanga Sibugay’s Alicia town. The slain rebel leader had been identified as Imam Yasin.

Two of Yasin’s followers – Auhaie Mohammad Abdulkarim and Murad Mohammad – were shot and wounded and captured by the raiders. But a policeman, PO2 Larry Palidnang, a member of the 84th Special Action Force, was also injured and taken to hospital in nearby town of Ipil.

Officials said security forces also recovered weapons from the hideout of Yasin, who was facing a string of criminal charges in Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga del Norte provinces.

No other details were made available by the police and military on the operation and how it tracked down Yasin’s group.


DA-OPAS receives farm mechanized equipments from PAMANA program

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 28): DA-OPAS receives farm mechanized equipments from PAMANA program

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP) through the Department of Agriculture (DA) Farm Mechanization Project under the PAyapa at MAsaganang PamayaNAn (PAMANA) Program for the Province of Eastern Samar and through the Office of the Provincial Agricultural Services (OPAS) – Eastern Samar received 50 mechanized tractors and 15 Floating Tiller.

According to Dr. Deogracias C. Paano, Provincial Agriculturist – (DA-OPAS), the 50 mechanized tractors and 15 Floating Tiller is a grant to seven municipalities namely: Jipapad, Maslog, Arteche, San-Policarpo, Oras, Dolores, and Can-avid.

Dr. Paano disclosed that the seven municipalities were given these facilities because the said areas are affected by conflict and communities covered by existing peace agreement.

Paano added that this is a huge help to the farmers. Based on the conducted 2016 Provincial Rice Areas Validation, the Province of Eastern Samar has a total rice area of 23,277.45 hectares distributed as follows: irrigated – 2,922.35 has. (16.20%); rain fed – 19,316.76 has. (79.63%); and upland – 1,038.00 has. (4.17%). Not all of these rice areas are being tilled in every cropping period due to the lack of farm equipments and the high cost of rentals of needed machineries.

The beneficiaries of these equipments are the farmers who are members of registered farmers association in the seven rice producing PAMANA focused municipalities of the province and they are the primary/direct beneficiaries of this project.

The qualified farmers associations of the seven municipalities entitled are as follows: Jipapad – 7 hand tractors (HTs) and 2 floating tillers (FTs), Maslog – 8 HTs and 2 FTs, Arteche – 10 HTs and 2 Fts, San-Policarpo – 8 HTs and 2 FTs, Oras – 9 HTs and 2 FTs, Dolores – 10 HTs and 3 FTs, and Can-avid – 8 HTs and 2 FTs.

The cost of each hand tractor is P130,000 while each floating tiller's cost is P120,000.

The total amount of these equipments is P10-M.

The unit shall be turned-over for their use and proper maintenance, however, prior to the turn-over, an orientation on the equipments care and maintenance shall be done to all recipient associations.

Each recipient association shall shoulder the maintenance and operational expenses of such equipments, hence they will be required to formulate and adopt a policy mechanism to sustain the operation of the project.

Technical assistance on the project’s operation shall be provided by the province through OPAS in close coordination with the recipient municipalities.

“With these equipments, the rice insufficiency problem in the province will be addressed,” Paano further said.


Phil Army in E. Samar urges youths to join the organization

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 28): Phil Army in E. Samar urges youths to join the organization

Around 200 youths in Eastern Samar State University Maydolong Campus, Maydolong Eastern Samar participated the Information Awareness Drive conducted by army authorities in said area.

The objective of the activity is aimed at encouraging more applicants to join the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Civil Military Operations Officer 2lt. Dennis S. Carig of the 14th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army told Philippine Information Agency that one of the topics discussed during the info drive was about career guidance particularly on how to apply to become an officer and soldier in the Philippine army.

“Being a soldier is a noble profession, that each individual dedicates their lives for his/her love of the country,” Carig said.

14th IB Commanding Officer Lt.Col. Manuel Leo Gador said the said activity is also one way of reaffirming the commitment of the 14th IB in reaching out to the academe and youth sector that would bring inspiration on their role in nation-building.

“We hope that our partners from the academe followed suit and also be our active partners in molding the youth as agents of peace and development of our country,” Gador said.


1 soldier wounded in Surigao Norte clash

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 28): 1 soldier wounded in Surigao Norte clash

A soldier was wounded and civilian properties damaged after New People's Army (NPA) rebels allegedly blasted one improvised explosive device (IED) in Tinago, Malimono, Surigao del Norte, 9:30 a.m. Monday.

The soldiers under the 30th Infantry Battalion (30IB), Philippine Army encountered the rebels after they responded to complaints by civilians over the alleged harassment and extortion activities of the NPA in the community.

Lieutenant Colonel Rico Amaro, 30IB commanding officer, identified the wounded soldier as 2Lt. Daniel F. De Guzman.

"This is another violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect to Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) which was the only document duly signed by the GPH and the NDF at the Hague, the Netherlands, which prohibits the stockpiling of explosives inside or near the vicinity of community as it will endanger the lives of the civilians," said LTC Amaro.

“We will continuously intensify our anti-extortion drive against these communist terrorists. As what I had promised to the residents of Malimono. We will not allow anymore the NPA to conduct extortion activity, harassment and other forms of atrocities not only in Malimono but in whole province of Surigao del Norte,” Amaro added.

Pursuit operation is ongoing to apprehend the terrorist group. 


Army troopers discover NPA camps in Kalinga

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 28): Army troopers discover NPA camps in Kalinga

Army troopers recently discovered two camps of alleged New People’s Army (NPA) in the municipality of Balbalan after intensified combat operations that have forced the rebels to abandon their base.

2Lt. Edgar Jeric Gonzales, 50th Infantry Battalion Civil-Military Officer, said the first camp was discovered on February 14 at barangay Ab-abaan, Balbalan while the other one was on Feb. 23 at Sitio Guin-ang, Dao-angan, both in Balbalan.

The discovery of the camps was based on tips from civilians who pinpointed the general vicinity where armed dissidents splintered into small groups to evade government soldiers.

The 50IB resumed the conduct of focused military operations in their area of responsibility following the lifting of the unilaterally-declared ceasefire on Feb. 4. Pres. Duterte directed the military to launch an all-out-war after the failed peace talk with the NDF-CPP-NPA.

Earlier, soldiers overran a rebel camp in a remote village in Asipulo town in Ifugao following a gun battle with the NPA.

LTC Gulliver Señires, 50IB Commanding Officer , lamented the cancellation of the peace talk but said they will still pursue local peace talks provided the NPAs are sincere, present sensible terms, and the right people are involved.

While no peace talk is in the offing, Duterte’s all-out-war policy shall be sustained with public assurance that human rights are respected, international humanitarian law and rules of engagement are observed, he assured.

He reiterated the call for NPA members including the militia ng bayan to surrender to avail of the benefits under the Comprehensive Local Integration Program or CLIP. CLIP offers P7, 000 re-integration assistance, P15, 000 immediate assistance, P50, 000 livelihood, remuneration of surrendered firearm, and Philhealth membership.


Maguindanao town councilor survives assassination

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): Maguindanao town councilor survives assassination

A village chair sitting as ex-officio member of Datu Abdullah Sangki town in Maguindanao survived an assassin's bullet Monday, police said.

Senior Supt. Agustin Tello, Maguindanao town police chief, identified the victim as Councilor Edris Dading Sangki, 45, chairperson of Barangay Kaya-Kaya.

Initial police investigation showed Sangki, president of Association of Barangay Chairpersons (ABC), was in his home when two men riding in tandem on a motorbike arrived and opened fire on him at about 4 p.m.

Sangki sustained a gunshot wound on his side and is now out of danger.

Police could not say what motivated the suspects in carrying out the attempted murder. They remained at- large and unidentified.

Tello said manhunt operation continues.


KFRG leader dies, 2 captured in Zambo Sibugay clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): KFRG leader dies, 2 captured in Zambo Sibugay clash

Government forces have killed an alleged kidnap-for-ransom-group (KFRG) leader with ties with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and captured two others following a clash early Tuesday in Zamboanga Sibugay.

Chief Supt. Billy Beltran, Police Regional Office-9 (PRO-9) director said the clash occurred around 3 a.m. Tuesday in Sitio Tarlah, Barangay Tampalan, Alicia, Zamboanga Sibugay.

Beltran identified the slain KFRG leader as Imam Yasin who has a standing warrant of arrest for murder while those arrested were Aujie Moh Abdul Karim and Mura Mohammad.

Beltran also said PO2 Larry Falitnang of SAF’s 84th Special Action Company was wounded and rushed to hospital.

Beltran said the clash ensued when Yasin resisted the joint government operatives during a law enforcement operation through the service of warrant of arrest against the KFRG leader.

He added the law enforcement team recovered an M14 rifle, mobile phones and subversive documents of high intelligence value.


Minor NPA rebel surrenders in Davao Oriental

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): Minor NPA rebel surrenders in Davao Oriental

A minor who served as a regular combatant of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) operating in the province of Davao Oriental has surrendered to the Army under the 10th Infantry (Agila) Division.

Captain Rhyan Batchar, 10th ID chief information officer, told reporters on Tuesday that the minor, identified only as alias Dongkoy, 17 years of age, yielded to the elements of 67th Infantry Battalion in Davao Oriental last February 17.

He was a member of guerrilla front 25 of the NPA operating in the boundary areas of Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley provinces.

"Dongkoy" is now being processed for turnover to proper authorities particularly the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Batchar added.

He said under the law, minors like "Dongkoy" who had undergone traumatic experiences while with the lawless group must be handled by capable persons in the DSWD.

Investigations are also being conducted to trace back alias Dongkoy’s roots – his family members and place of origin, Batchar added.

In a separate statement issued to the media on Tuesday, 10th ID commander Major General Rafael Valencia said the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the NPA, recruit minors for their armed struggle.

"The communists must spare the children from directly participating in the armed conflict,“ Valencia pointed out.

He added that such irresponsible act of the CPP-NPA should be strongly condemned by the Filipino people.

Batchar also told reporters of the surrender on Monday afternoon of three regular combatants guerrilla front 71 of the NPA in Davao Occidental and nine members of the NPA Milisyang Bayan (MB) to the elements of 73rd Infantry Battalion in Barangay Datal Anggas, Alabel town in Sarangani Sarangani province.

He refused to reveal the true identities of the regular NPA rebels and militias for security considerations and pending investigations and processes.

“The three NPA regulars and nine militias voluntarily surrendered to 73rd IB troopers. Among the reasons of their surrender were hardships, fear and disillusionment to their leaders and the communist movement,” he emphasized.

Since February 1 this year, a total of 39 NPA regulars have already returned to the fold of the law while 19 high powered firearms were recovered from the NPAs, Batchar said.

Five of the recovered firearms were brought along by NPA regulars who voluntarily surrendered to the Army, he added.


Provincial gov't monitoring armed conflict in Misamis Oriental

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): Provincial gov't monitoring armed conflict in Misamis Oriental

The provincial government of Misamis Oriental is closely monitoring the ongoing armed skirmishes in the bordering towns of the province, provincial Governor Yevgeny Vincente Emano said Tuesday.

Government troopers and the communist New People's Army (NPA) have been locked in a running gunbattle in the hinterlands of Sugbongcogon in Misamis Oriental since Monday that already killed a government trooper.

Lt. Janelle Diaz, spokesperson of the Army’s 58th Infantry Battalion (IB) based in Claveria, Misamis Oriental, identified the lone fatality as Private Oshin Rosala of the 58IB.

Backed by artillery fire, Diaz said that additional elements from the 58IB were dispatched Tuesday to the border of Sugbongcogon and Medina, all coastal towns, east of Misamis Oriental, to retrieve the remains of Rosala in the encounter site.

She said that the encounter took place in the outskirt of Kinaulayanan, a hinterland village, about 18 kilometers south of Sugbongcogon.

According to Diaz, the military has overrun the mobile camp of the NPA rebels in the outskirts of Kinaulayan, near the border of Medina, were the running gunbattle took place starting Monday.

“The government troopers recovered medicines, canned goods, boots, water containers and other personal belongings during an assault on the rebel’s makeshift camp," she said.

Diaz said that the Army’s 58IB launched a combat operation in the borders of the Misamis Oriental and the province of Bukidnon in pursuit of the armed NPA rebels who conducted a “road block” in the highway of Medina last week.

She said that as of Tuesday, the military command has not yet received information of any casualty since Tuesday morning.

Town Mayor Mildred Lagbas of Sugbongcogon said the fighting was “very far” from the Kinaulayanan, but the loud explosion of cannons from the artillery and the staccato of gun fires could be heard by the villagers.

“I ordered the suspension of classes in Kinaulayanan in deference to the young school children who might be affected by the traumatic experience,” Lagbas said.

Lagbas said that she has also advised villagers to evacuate promptly once the gunbattle gets near them.

Gov. Emano said that he was worried about the effects of the armed conflict in the borders of the hinterlands of the towns of Sugbongcogon, Medina, and Salay, all in the eastern seaboard of Misamis Oriental, but expressed optimism that the conflict would not escalate.

“I am hoping that the armed conflict would remain manageable in order that mass evacuation and dislocation of the farmers and village residents in the affected areas would not take place,” Emano said.

He said that the provincial government was on top of the situation considering that the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (PDRRMO) could be mobilized should a mass evacuation take place.

Emano lamented that unwary residents and villagers always suffer the consequences of an armed conflict between the government troopers and the NPA rebels.

He said that in a “war” between the government and NPA, the losers would be the innocent civilians whose livelihood and peaceful life are affected.

Emano said that he personally supports the resumption of the stalled peace talk between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in order that the country could attain lasting peace.

“Development and progress could only be attained in an atmosphere of peace,” Emano said.


Soldier dies, militiaman unscathed in Zamboanga del Norte town ambush

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): Soldier dies, militiaman unscathed in Zamboanga del Norte town ambush

Troops are tracking down the gunmen behind the ambush-slay of a soldier early Tuesday in the municipality of Sirawai, Zamboanga del Norte.

A militiaman accompanying the soldier emerged unscathed from the incident.

Chief Insp. Jimmy Abrasaldo, Sirawai police chief, identified the fatality as TSgt. Zaldy Caling-Caling, 42, of the Army’s 13th Special Force Company.

Unscathed was Dandan Lacsayao, a member of the militia force.

Abrasaldo disclosed the incident occurred around 7 a.m. Tuesday in Sitio Lote, Barangay Saint Mary, Sirawai, Zamboanga del Norte.

Abrasaldo said Caling-Caling was driving a motorcycle with Lacsayao when four unidentified gunmen repeatedly shot them.

He noted that Caling-Caling and Lacsayo were traveling to the town proper of Sirawai coming from Narra Detachment in Barangay San Vicente at the time of the incident.

Following the incident, policemen in coordination with the military were deployed to scour possible hiding places of the ambushers.

He said investigation is underway to identify the four gunmen.


DOE condemns NPA attack on Bukidnon hydropower plant

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): DOE condemns NPA attack on Bukidnon hydropower plant

The Department of Energy (DOE) has strongly condemned the attack launched by the New People's Army (NPA) on the 10.6-megawatt Pulanai hydroelectric power plant project in Barangay Lumbayao, Valencia City in Bukidnon province last Saturday.

"This attack is totally unwarranted, considering that it is not a military installation but a development project that seeks to contribute to uplifting the socioeconomic conditions of the people," Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said in a news release issued Tuesday.

"This attack will not only stall the hydro project’s construction timeline, it will also set back efforts to improve the quality of life of the people of Bukidnon."

He said that in response to the attack, the department has formed an inter-agency task force that would secure energy facilities and ensure the completion of the project. The task force consists of the DOE, the national police, the armed forces, National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP), National Transmission Corp. (TransCo), National Electrification Administration (NEA), and the National Power Corp. (NPC) with the assistance of the DOE’s regional office in Mindanao.

The energy chief further noted that while the National Democratic Front has been urging the Duterte administration to resume their peace talks, “NPA attacks on a development project such as this do not inspire confidence that they are sincere in returning to the negotiating table”.

The plant broke ground last Dec. 9 with no less than President Rodrigo Duterte gracing the event. According to reports, the power plant project was attacked by 20 NPA rebels last February 25.

The hydropower project is expected to be commissioned on the first half of 2019.


Military units concentrating in 2 Sulu towns in a bid to recover Kantner's body

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): Military units concentrating in 2 Sulu towns in a bid to recover Kantner's body

Military units are now concentrating in Indanan-Parang, Sulu in a bid to recover the remains of German national Juergen Kantner who was beheaded by Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) terrorists Sunday night.

This was disclosed by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo in Tuesday's briefing.

Searches are being conducted in these locations as terrorists were spotted there.

Arevalo did not give other details for operational and security reasons.

Despite Kantner's beheading, operations will continue until the military has successfully rescued the estimated 32 hostages still in ASG hands, the AFP official added.

"There will be no let up in our operations until we have rescued all the remaining kidnap victims. AFP units will continue to search for the remains of the Mr. Kantner to be handed to his bereaved family and to afford him decent burial he deserves," Arevalo said.

Kantner was kidnapped by the ASG bandits while his yacht "Rockall" was cruising off Sulu waters last November.

His companion, 56-year-old Sabine Mertz, was shot and killed by the bandits and allegedly raped.


AFP, PNP ink deal on anti-narcotics campaign

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): AFP, PNP ink deal on anti-narcotics campaign

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on Tuesday signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) detailing the agencies’ tasks in the anti-narcotics effort.

The MOA signing, which was held at the General Headquarters Conference Room is a vital step in clarifying the military’s role in the government’s anti-illegal drugs campaign.

“With this agreement, we can now push through with our new and bigger role in ending the illegal drugs scourge,” AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said in press briefing.

In the MOA, the AFP will act as a force provider while PDEA will assume as force employer.

In line with this, Arevalo said the military would expand the Joint Counterintelligence Task Force (JCTF) NOAH, an ad hoc unit created and mandated by the AFP to conduct drugs-related counterintelligence operations .

NOAH will assist law enforcement agencies in the identification, investigation, and neutralization of persons in the use, sale, manufacture, and distribution of illegal drugs.

Regional task groups under the AFP Unified Commands will also be established to coordinate direct action, intelligence, legal support, and community relations to PDEAs regional offices nationwide.

“The AFP will only be involved in high-impact operations and arrest of high-value targets. Our forces and assets provided for each operation will not conduct ‘Tokhang’,” Arevalo added, referring to the street fight against small-time drug dealers, couriers, and users.

PDEA will be the overall lead in all operations, however, the AFP will exert the main effort in conflict-affected areas, particularly where conditions for insurgency, secessionism, and terrorism persist.

PDEA and NOAH will establish an Intelligence Fusion Center in apprehending big-time drug lords and suppression of supply sources and controlled precursors and essential chemicals pursuant to Sec 84 (m) of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

“We will also extend legal support in all stages of prosecution to ensure the successful dispensation of justice,” Arevalo said.

He added the AFP would also assist PDEA in counterintelligence build-up and investigation of personalities in government and influential groups linked to illegal drugs.

Also, both PDEA and AFP will conduct training exchanges in intelligence and counterintelligence, drug enforcement, and preventive education and community involvement in their respective training institutions.

The AFP will also open its medical and emergency services for PDEA’s agents involved in legitimate anti-drugs operations.

“The AFP remains focused on our mandate to address internal and external threats to the country. This MOA will help us draw the line in response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s order for the AFP to help in the war on drugs,” AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Eduardo Año said.


65 rebels surrender as all-out-war vs insurgents enters 4th week

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): 65 rebels surrender as all-out-war vs insurgents enters 4th week

Around 65 New People's Army (NPA) rebels have voluntarily surrendered to authorities as the government all-out offensive against the insurgents enters its fourth week.

"As of this morning (February 28), 65 members of the NPA have already surrendered to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), most of which are citing hardships, family reasons and hope for a better life outside the organization. Most of these surrenderers already expressed that they have been disillusioned over how the NPA has relegated into banditry," said AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo in a briefing Tuesday.

The all-out-war against the NPAs started last Feb. 4 shortly after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the suspension of the peace talks following a series of unprovoked attacks by the insurgents against military and civilians.

Some 13 NPA rebels, including two minors surrendered to the AFP in separate occasions in Davao Oriental and Davao Occidental.

Arevalo said these recent surrenders show the rampant recruitment of minors by the NPA. This clearly violates existing conventions on human rights and international humanitarian law.

This also manifest the hardships that these former NPA had to go through trying to evade the hands of the law.

"We welcome them back in the mainstream society and assist in their successful reintegration as productive members of their communities," the AFP official stressed.

As this develops, Arevalo scored the NPAs for their continued attacks against civilian targets providing employment opportunities to poor Filipinos in the countryside.

"We have received reports that lawless NPA rebels attacked a site for a new hydroelectric power plant and a pineapple plantation in separate incidents on Saturday (February 25)," he added.

According to witnesses, the rebels fired several warning shots and laid some improvised explosive devices inside the compound of Pulanai Hydroelectric Powerplant in Valencia City, Bukidnon.

Also, another NPA unit burned down two trucks and one trailer owned by the Davao Agri-Venture Corporation, a pineapple plantation in Quezon town, also in Bukidnon.

"The AFP condemns these new NPA attacks on private businesses that provide livelihood and promote development for our people and their community. The NPA's violent nature and greed hampered economic growth and retarded the development potentials of our communities where our people use to belong to," Arevalo said.

By attacking powerless businesses and individuals, the NPA has shown their diminishing capability and complete lack of interest in truly addressing the root causes of poverty, he added.

Ongoing operations against the rebels, numbering 43 overall, has so far killed 16 rebels, along with four wounded and 17 arrested.

Likewise, military units were able to recover 22 high-powered and low-powered firearms from the NPA rebels while 15 -- including IEDs -- were voluntarily surrendered.

On the government’s side, the AFP has recorded a total of 38 casualties, of which, eight were killed-in-action while 30 were wounded-in-action.


PA remains committed to women empowerment

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): PA remains committed to women empowerment

The Philippine Army (PA) said it is committed to empowering its female personnel as the country celebrates Women's Month this March.

"We push forward in our continued advocacy to further create the platforms where our women soldiers are empowered to achieve their fullest potential and continue to be a valuable asset of the organization," said PA vice commander Major Gen. Robert Arevalo in a statement.

With the theme "WE Make Change Work for Women," this year's celebration emphasizes the significance of women's participation in bringing about positive change in the Army and stresses the importance of women empowerment.

Among the highlights of the Army's month-long celebration are the Gender, Peace and Security Seminar, and the Forum on Women Empowerment.

The PA will also open a Gender and Development Photo Exhibit at the Philippine Army Museum. It will include inspirational stories of women in the Army, both of the soldiers and civilian employees.

The Philippines has been observing the month of March as the National Women’s Month for 27 years starting 1990.


Pres. Duterte presents freed 8-year-old ASG kidnap victim to media

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): Pres. Duterte presents freed 8-year-old ASG kidnap victim to media

President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday presented before the media an 8-year-old boy kidnapped by the terror group Abu Sayyaf in Zamboanga Sibugay last year.

The President presented Rexon Romoc in Malacañang, a day after the boy was released from Jolo, Sulu where he was held captive for almost seven months.

Duterte thanked Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza, former Sulu governor Sakur Tan, his son and incumbent governor Totoh Tan as well as other well-meaning elements of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

"I’d like to thank Secretary Dureza, Governor Sakur, the son who is also the Governor for a humanitarian job. Iyon namang mga Ulama who adopted the boy and, of course, the armed men there, thank you this time for treating a human being just like a human being," Duterte said.

Rexon was kidnapped on August 5 last year, along with his parents Elmer and Nora, in Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay.

His mother and father were released in August 22 and November 15, 2016, respectively after paying ransom.  Dureza said that Nora was released after paying some small amount to their captors.

“Upon being released, she then sold everything they owned including their ‘sari-sari’ store and borrowed money from friends and relatives to pay for the release of Elmer and Rexon. The father was released but the captors did not release the boy and continued to keep him hostage. Until we recovered him yesterday,” he said.

Dureza said he was instructed by the President to work for the boy’s release without letup.

In the meantime, Duterte said there is still a lot of work to be done to rescue the remaining hostages still in Abu Sayyaf hands and assured that the government would exert all efforts to secure their release.

“For the rest of the --- ‘yung mga hostages doon, medyo they still have a lot of work to do. It’s all money and convincing. We have Nur (Misuari) on our side, maybe that’s why Secretary Dureza was a bit successful this time,” he said.

“But I hope this would continue and there’s no other way to do it except there’s a military operation going on. And I would like to assure everybody that for as long as there is the violence being perpetrated, the Republic of the Philippines will continue with its military operations,” Duterte said.

Meanwhile, the parents of Rexon expressed their gratitude to President Duterte and all those involved in the release of their son.

"Unang-una, nagpapasalamat ako sa Panginoong Maykapal saka kay President. Maraming salamat po, sir," an emotional Nora said.

Rexon’s father also expressed his gratitude who said it was because of the officials that they got their child back.

"Dahil sa kanila, nakuha, naibalik yung bata namin sa amin. Salamat po sa lahat," Elmer said.

Rexon also thanked the officials.