Saturday, March 4, 2017

Mindanao sultans, royal clans to help gov't in anti-terror, extremism campaign

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 5): Mindanao sultans, royal clans to help gov't in anti-terror, extremism campaign

President Rodrigo Duterte's ongoing campaign against violent extremism and terrorism got a much needed boost as descendants of sultans and royal clans in Mindanao have expressed their support to the government's campaign against the two security menaces.

This was the product of the first-ever Mindanao Sultanate Summit on Peace and Security, hosted by the Department of National Defense and Department of Interior and Local Government, last March 2 to 4.

Around 500 participants attended the summit, including the Sultanate of Magindanao, and Sultans, Datus and Bais from the Zamboanga Peninsula, Davao Region, Southern Mindanao, Iranun, Biwang, Bagoinged, Lanao, Buayan and Kabuntalan, DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement Sunday.

The declaration was signed in the presence of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, National Security Adviser (NSA) Hermogenes Esperon, and government security forces led by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Eduardo Año.

Affirming their support, assistance and cooperation to deny the entry as well as prevent the growth of violent extremism and terrorism, the group stated “the struggle against violent extremism and terrorism should not solely be borne by the government but should involve the whole of nation, including the Sultanate and traditional institutions and leadership in Mindanaw.”

The three-day summit featured presentations from key government agencies such as DND-AFP, DILG, NSA, National Anti-Poverty Commission, and the Philippine National Police.

They tackled how the government plans to bring its services to the people of Mindanao. The participants, in turn, were able to discuss issues, concerns, and suggestions that could help the government in its campaign against violence extremism and terrorism.

Lorenzana said he will submit a report to the President on the results of the three-day summit.

He stressed the need to engage the Sultanate and the Sultans, Datus and Bais in the implementation of efforts to prevent the entry and stop the growth of violent extremism and terrorism in the region.

"Kailangan ng gobyerno ang tulong ng lahat. We look forward to more engagements. Umpisa lang ito. We will make this as a start of our constant engagement," the DND chief added.

4 more ASG bandits killed, weapons seized in another Sulu clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 5): 4 more ASG bandits killed, weapons seized in another Sulu clash

Another four Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits were killed while seven high-powered firearms were seized as troops from the 64th Marine Company clashed with the brigands in Sulu Sunday early morning.
Government security forces were conducting focused military operations in Barangay Lumipad, Talipao, Maimbung in response to reports that the bandits were gathering in the area.

In the ensuing encounter, four of the ASG were killed, forcing the reminder to scamper for cover, Joint Task Force Sulu commander Col. Cirilito Sobejana said.

"After scouring the site of encounter, marines found four dead bodies of the ASG members and recovered seven high powered firearms (which includes two M-16s and two M-203s)," he added.

With Sunday's encounter, the number of ASG bandits killed by government forces within the last 72 hours has climbed to 14.

Last Friday, Joint Task Force Sulu battled an estimated 120 of the bandits, reportedly led by Radullan Sahiron, at Barangay Igasan, Patikul town around 9 a.m.

In the two-hour engagement, 10 ASG bandits were killed and undetermined number wounded.

As this develops, Western Mindanao Command (WMC) head Major Gen. Carlito Galvez lauded 64th Marine Company for their successes against the bandit group and the civilians who gave them the timely information.

"Our troops are more than motivated to go after these bandits who know nothing but to victimize innocent civilians for their own personal gain," he added.

WATCH: On board USS Carl Vinson: Show of force in the South China Sea?

From Rappler (Mar 4): WATCH: On board USS Carl Vinson: Show of force in the South China Sea?

Rappler's Camille Elemia tours the naval vessel USS Carl Vinson

MANILA, Philippines – The naval vessel USS Carl Vinson makes its way to Philippine seas. Will its presence serve as a show of force in the South China Sea against Chinese vessels? Camille Elemia reports.

Army denies holding Karapatan team on rights mission in Rizal

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 4): Army denies holding Karapatan team on rights mission in Rizal

The military denied allegatons that a team from the militant rights group Karapatan, which was said to have gone missing since Friday, was under its custody.

The Karapatan on Saturday dispatched another team to Rizal province, several hours after losing contact with a group of 75 that was allegedly being held by the Philippine Army. Karapatan secretary general Christina Palabay said their last contact with the first group was around 4 p.m. Friday.

She said a text coming from Gloria Rodriguez, Karapatan’s coordinator in Rizal, said they were traveling on foot in Barangay Calawis, Antipolo City, when they were “held” by members of the Army’s 80th Infantry Batallion.

“The report was not true. No one went up that area,” said Captain Xy-zon Meneses, public affairs chief of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division in Rizal.

According to Palabay, the first team left for Rizal province on Friday noon to go to a community to investigate reports that two Dumagat tribe members died in an encounter between the soldiers and communist rebels on Thursday.

Meneses confirmed the encounter, but said no one from either side of the forces, died.

Palabay said in a phone interview Saturday that the area was not accessible to vehicles so that they had to walk for around four hours, adding that phone signal was usually weak in that area. Rodriguez, however, was still able to send them a text message, she said.

“It’s been several hours already (since the last contact) it really is becoming worrisome,” Palabay said.

Army chief visits Stormtroopers

From Samar News (Jan 20): Army chief visits Stormtroopers

Army chief visit to the Stormtroopers

January 20, 2016

CAMP LUKBAN, Catbalogan City – The Army’s highest ranking officer together with his staff has officially visited the home of the 8th Infantry (Stormtroopers) Division, Philippine Army on January 18, 2017.

A full military honor was accorded to Lieut. Gen. Glorioso V. Miranda AFP, Commanding General of the Philippine Army upon his arrival at the Openiano Field and was warmly welcomed by Brig. Gen. Raul M. Farnacio AFP, Commander, 8ID, together with the officers, enlisted personnel and civilian employees of this Command.

This was his first visit to 8ID which boosted the morale of the troops to pursue development support to foster the foundation for inclusive and human development in Eastern Visayas.

“The strength of the Philippine Army rests on each and every one of us. My function as your Commanding General, or the function of your Division Commander, your Assistant Division Commander or your Battalion Commander is no more important than the function of an individual soldier out there in the squad. Every component of the organization has a vital role in accomplishing the mission. Strength is being defined the way we work together, the way we synchronize our effort, the way we harmonize our skills. Let’s help together to win the peace and prosperity in our country.” Lieut. Gen. Miranda added.

Troopers take over 2 NPA camps in Kalinga

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 4): Troopers take over 2 NPA camps in Kalinga

AFP reaches out to Cagayan guerrillas

Philippine Army (PA) has discovered and taken over two abandoned camps of the New People’s Army (NPA) in the hinterlands of Balbalan, Kalinga and pushed efforts to secure peace in Cagayan province by reaching out to hostile guerrillas.

Lieutenant Colonel Gulliver Señires, the commander of the army’s 50th Infantry Battalion (50th IB), said his operating troops found the first NPA camp in the outskirts of Barangay Ababa-an, Balbalan town, Kalinga last February 14; while the other camp was discovered last February 23 in Sitio Guin-ang, Barangay Dao-angan of the same town.

Señires said the NPA rebels had just left the first camp when the operating troops arrived in the area while the second camp is where the military intelligence believes the rebels celebrated their anniversary last December.

He said the NPA rebels abandoned these camps even before the arrival of military troops, following complaints of growing discontent among residents from whom the guerrillas have been collecting food stuffs.

He said that combat operations against the NPA rebels in Kalinga are continuing to ensure the safety and security of the residents in the province.

Meanwhile, the local government of Sto. Niño in Cagayan and the army’s 17th IB expressed optimism the insurgency problem will soon find a peaceful solution in the province despite recent skirmishes between guerrillas and soldiers.

At present, guerrillas are still hiding in the forested areas of Sto. Niño so Mayor Vine Pagurayan has called on them to surrender with the promise of helping them start a new and normal life among society.

Pagurayan made the call to the rebels as he solicited the cooperation of the 17th IB through Lieutenant Colonel Rembert R. Baylosis and the Regional Public Safety Battalion (RPSB) in Region 2, through its commander Senior Superintendent Antonio P. Marallag Jr. in the recent “Pulong-Pulong.”

State forces overrun NPA camp, recover high-powered firearms

From GMA News (Mar 5): State forces overrun NPA camp, recover high-powered firearms

Government soldiers recovered high-powered firearms and improvised explosive devices in a communist rebel camp they overran on Saturday, days after military operations were conducted in a town in Surigao del Norte.

Citing military information, GMA News stringer Natz Corbeta said that the firearms, explosives, and subversive documents were recovered from an abandoned New People's Army camp in Barangay Tinago in Malimono town.

The Military materiel the soldiers from the 30th Infantry Battalion recovered include Armalite and AK-47 assault riffles, improvised explosive devices, assorted medicines and medical supplies, subversive documents, and an NPA flag.

A junior military officer was wounded in the operations against the communist insurgents and at least four new NPA recruits were killed in skirmishes that lasted for days, military sources were quoted as saying.

Col. Rico Amaro, commanding officer of the 30th IB, told reporters that the rebels may have been maintaining the camp in the area for a long time, terrorizing the residents there and extorting "revolutionary taxes" from the people.

Muslim mothers can steer kids away from extremism, says Lorenzana

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 5): Muslim mothers can steer kids away from extremism, says Lorenzana

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. (File photo by LYN RILLON/Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Muslim mothers have vital roles to play in the government’s campaign against extremism and other crimes, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

Speaking at the end of the three-day 1st Mindanao Sultanate Summit here on Saturday, Lorenzana said mothers, who usually spend more time with their children, could guide them away from wrongdoings, including adopting the extreme views of those who were twisting the Islamic laws.

“Don’t let our country plunge into the situation that Syria is in now because of extremists,” he said. “Muslims are killing each other there.”

In a manifesto signed by representatives of Moro royal houses from various areas of Mindanao, traditional Muslim leaders said they were ready “to support, assist and cooperate in all levels of initiatives to deny entry to and prevent the growth” of terrorism and extremism.

Sultan Abdulaziz Salem Mastura Kudarat V, the 25th sultan of Maguindanao, said traditional Moro leaders such as datus and the princesses still wield influence over their communities.

He said they believed they could help push the government’s campaign against terrorism and extremism as “the royalties and noble houses of the Sultanate of Maguindanao… are found and have descendants everywhere in Mindanao.”

(They) retain their influence among the Moros and indigenous peoples through their role as the bearers and keepers of tradition, culture and religion,” he said.

During its heyday, the sultanate of Maguindanao ruled Mindanao Island, earning the respect of other royal houses such as the sultanate of Sulu and even the sultanate of Banjarmasin on Borneo.

Its territory included among others the undivided Cotabato province, parts of the Lanao provinces, the Zamboanga Peninsula, and parts of the Davao provinces.

‘Duterte’ couple abducted in Zambo del Norte

From the Philippine Star (Mar 25): ‘Duterte’ couple abducted in Zambo del Norte

A couple surnamed Duterte were abducted by unidentified gunmen in the remote coastal village of Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte on Friday, officials said.

Regional police spokesman Supt. Rogelio Alabata identified the couple as Jose Duterte and his wife Jessica.

Officials said Jose, a coconut farmer, is not related to President Duterte.

Seven gunmen wearing bonnets over their heads and clad in police uniforms dragged the couple to a waiting pumpboat and sped off towards unknown direction.

Siocon police commander Chief Insp. Joseph Reales Maulad said policemen joined the military in tracking down the gunmen and to rescue the couple.

Police investigator PO2 Siegfried de la Cruz said the Duterte couple were not from an affluent family and were just surviving tilling their own land with coconuts.

De la Cruz said they are looking into the possibility that the couple were kidnapped to force them to sell their land.

“The brains of the abduction might be from the same area and hired outsiders just to force the victims into selling their properties,” De la Cruz said.

The government however believes the Abu Sayyaf was behind snatch.

“They did it again in Zamboanga Sibugay last night (Friday),” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

Lorenzana though admitted he has yet to receive the full report about the latest kidnapping incident.

Karapatan searches for probe mission ‘held’ by Army in Rizal

From InterAksyon (Mar 4): Karapatan searches for probe mission ‘held’ by Army in Rizal

Human rights group Karapatan said it had fielded Saturday a team to check on a 75-member quick reaction mission it had lost contact with since it was reportedly held by troops of the Army’s 8th Infantry Battalion in a remote village of Antipolo, Rizal Friday afternoon.

“Confirmed na hinold sila ng army (It’s confirmed that they were held by the army),” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said of the mission led by Gloria Rodriguez and Georgelyn Rafael Millizo of the group’s Rizal and Southern Tagalog offices, respectively.

She told that the mission was on its way to verify reports that two Dumagat tribesmen may have been killed in the course of military operations in Barangay Calawis.

On Thursday, the 2nd Infantry Division based in Tanay, Rizal said its troops had clashed with New People’s Amy guerrillas in Rodriguez town after intelligence reports indicated the rebels supposedly intended to launch an operation in Calawis.

Although news reports quoting the Army’s account of the clash cited an “undetermined number” of rebel casualties, Palabay said residents of the area reported “mga Dumagat daw ‘yung dalawang pinatay at hindi NPA. Kaya ito ang iimbestigahan sana ng quick reaction mission (those killed were Dumagat not NPA. This is what the quick reaction mission was supposed to investigate).”

“Kahit mahina ang signal sa lugar (Even if the signal was weak), they were able to send a message at around 4-5 p.m. na hinold nga sila. Lakad ang ginawa nila mula sa sentro ng (that they had been held. They walked from the center of) Barangay Calawis, then 4 hours to target site,” Palabay said.

The Karapatan officer said they decided to deploy the new team when they still could not contact the mission by 8:49 a.m. Saturday.

China 2017 defense spending to rise 'around 7%' - official

From InterAksyon (Mar 4): China 2017 defense spending to rise 'around 7%' - official

(UPDATE - 12:01 P.M.) China will raise defense spending by "around seven percent" this year as it guards against "outside meddling" in its disputed territorial claims in Asian waters, a top official said Saturday.

"We call for a peaceful settlement through dialogue and consultation (of the disputes). At the same time we need the ability to safeguard our sovereignty and interests and rights," said Fu Ying, spokeswoman for the National People's Congress, the Communist-controlled parliament.

"In particular, we need to guard against outside meddling in the disputes."

Fu did not specify what "meddling" she was referring to, but Beijing's claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea have stirred alarm in the region and prompted criticism from Washington.

The announcement came just days after US President Donald Trump outlined plans to beef up American military forces by raising expenditures by around 10 percent.

China's planned spending increase for 2017 holds steady from last year, when the government said it would grow by 6.5-7.0 percent.

The 2016 figure marked the first time since 2010 that spending growth did not rise into double figures.

China nonetheless continues a decades-long build up and modernization of its once-backward armed forces as it seeks military clout commensurate with its economic might.

In recent years Beijing has launched a campaign to rapidly expand tiny South China Sea reefs and islets into artificial islands capable of hosting military facilities, raising concerns throughout the region.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan have contested Beijing's claims, and the United States has repeatedly called on China to uphold freedom of navigation, sending ships and aircraft to pass close to the new islands.

North Korea to dominate US Secretary of State’s Asia visit - media

From InterAksyon (Mar 4): North Korea to dominate US Secretary of State’s Asia visit - media

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits troops. (Reuters file)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to visit Japan, China and South Korea later this month to discuss Pyongyang's nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs, local media reported on Saturday.

Tillerson has so far kept a low profile and it will be his first visit to the region since he became President Donald Trump's top diplomat last month.

The former oil executive is expected to visit Japan on March 17 and 18 on the first leg of his Asian tour and hold talks with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida as well as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Nikkei business daily said.

Abe has spent more time with Trump than any foreign leader, and while ties had initially been strained by Trump's rejection of a trans-Pacific trade deal and his readiness to question defense commitments, the US president has since pledged full support to Tokyo.

During the Beijing leg of the Asia trip, Tillerson plans to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and possibly also with President Xi Jinping, Kyodo News said, quoting unnamed diplomatic sources.

The two major powers are expected to arrange a meeting between Xi and Trump in the United States as early as April, they said.

Tillerson first met with counterpart Yi at a G20 meeting in Germany last month, and urged Beijing to help rein in North Korea.

Their talks, the highest level Sino-US encounter since Trump was elected, had appeared unlikely after the US leader infuriated Beijing by calling into question Washington's long-standing "One China" policy.

Trump however later reaffirmed the position in a conciliatory phone call to Xi.

Several of Trump's cabinet, including Tillerson, have also warned Beijing against throwing its weight about in the South China Sea, insisting the US would intervene if necessary to preserve international rights of navigation.

However, China shares US concerns about Pyongyang's nuclear weapons -- though it prefers negotiations to new sanctions, which it fears could destabilize North Korea.

In Seoul, Tillerson plans to hold talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se at which North Korea's weapons development as well as the February murder of the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in Malaysia are likely to be discussed, Kyodo said.

On Monday, senior US, South Korean and Japanese officials met in Washington to discuss how better to enforce international sanctions against the North.

The isolated regime has continued to thumb its nose at the world with a series of missile launches and two nuclear tests in 2016 alone.

Lorenzana visits USS Carl Vinson in S. China Sea

From InterAksyon (Mar 4): Lorenzana visits USS Carl Vinson in S. China Sea

F18 fighter jet on the deck of USS Carl Vinson during Freedom of Navigation Operation Patrol in South China Sea, March 3, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Department of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana on Saturday visited the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson patrolling the South China Sea, hailing the "strong relationship" with Washington despite President Rodrigo Duterte's pivot away from Manila's traditional ally.

The US Navy said the USS Carl Vinson had been engaging in "routine operations in the South China Sea" since last month to assert freedom of navigation in the strategic waterway claimed by Beijing, Manila and a host of other Southeast Asian nations.
Secretary Lorenzana said he and other top officials in Duterte's administration had a "very interesting and informative" visit to the aircraft carrier.

With him on the visit were US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, among others.

"We have a strong relationship with the US on account of our mutual defense treaty," Lorenzana added, referring to the cornerstone 1951 agreement.

Duterte has thrown the Philippines' 70-year-old alliance with the US into question, threatening a "separation" from Washington last year and calling for the withdrawal of American troops from his country.

After angrily rejecting US criticism of his deadly war on drugs, the firebrand president has shifted Philippine foreign policy more towards China and Russia.

Duterte has made overtures to Beijing despite a long-running territorial dispute over the South China Sea.

Lorenzana said the Philippines had "nothing to do" with America's naval patrols through Chinese-claimed waters but said he was "impressed" by the aircraft carrier and its some 70 aircraft.

"The warship has more combat planes than the Philippine Air Force," he told AFP.

Under previous governments, Manila tried to improve defense ties with its former colonial ruler Washington to boost one of Asia's weakest armed forces.

Duterte has said he plans to source weapons from Beijing and Moscow instead.

MNLF speedboat, naharang sa Basilan (MNLF speedboat, blocked in Basilan)

From the Mindanao Examiner (Mar 3): MNLF speedboat, naharang sa Basilan  (MNLF speedboat, blocked in Basilan)

Naharang kaninang umaga ng navy patrol boat sa karagatan ng Basilan province ang isang speedboat na puno ng mga miyembro ng Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

Umabot sa 34 ang pasahero ng speedboat na umano’y patungo sa bayan ng Jolo sa Sulu province, ngunit hindi naman agad mabatid kung may nakuhang armas sa mga ito. Agad rin silang pinigil at dinala ng mga sundalo sa Lamitan City na kung saan ay biniberipika ng militar ang kanilang mga pagkakakilanlan.

Nabatid na kabilang sa mga pasahero ay isang babae at karamihan sa kanila ay nasa edad 16 hanggang 40. Nakilala ang kanilang lider na si Hakim Janus, 33. Naharang ang kanilang speedboat sa kasagsagan ng operasyon nng militar laban sa Abu Sayyaf sa Basilan sa Muslim autonomous region.

Walang pahayag ang MNLF sa pagkakaharang sa naturang grupo di-kalayuan sa bayan ng Ungkaya Pukan. Mahigpit ang seguridad ng militar sa Basilan dahil sa patuloy na opensiba ng pamahalaang Duterte kontra Abu Sayyaf.

Military casualties in anti-Sayyaf ops mounting in Sulu

From the Mindanao Examiner (Mar 3): Military casualties in anti-Sayyaf ops mounting in Sulu

Abu Sayyaf rebels, whose group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, clashed Friday with military forces that left over a dozen army soldiers wounded in the southern Filipino province of Sulu, officials said.

Officials said as many as 14 infantry soldiers were evacuated to hospital in the capital town of Jolo following the intense fighting that erupted in the village of Igasan in Patikul town. It was not immediately known if there were enemy casualties, but soldiers battled the group of Abu Sayyaf leader Radulan Sahiron.

Two other sub-leaders, Almuher Yadah and Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, also reinforced Sahiron’s group, swelling the numbers of rebels fighting the soldiers to about 120. The Abu Sayyaf, armed with automatic weapons, grenade launchers and recoilless rifles, engaged the soldiers in fierce battle and only stopped after military aircrafts pounded the rebels’ positions in the village.

On Wednesday, the military said 5 rebels were killed and at least 11 soldiers wounded in clashes in neighboring town of Indanan. Army Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, a spokeswoman for the Western Mindanao Command, said the fighting broke out in the remote mountain village of Bud Taran where troops – searching for other kidnapped victims – caught up with a band of Abu Sayyaf rebels and engaged them in running gun battle for 10 minutes.

She said security forces were pursuing the Abu Sayyaf in the town where the 70-year old German sailor Jurgen Kantner was beheaded on February 26 after his family failed to pay P30 million ransom to the Abu Sayyaf.

Kantner was kidnapped while sailing in a yacht with his wife Sabine Merz, 56, when Abu Sayyaf gunmen intercepted them just several nautical miles from the southern province of Tawi-Tawi in the Muslim autonomous region. The woman was killed and naked when found by soldiers in the boat. A shotgun was also recovered near her body.

Major General Carlito Galvez, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, ordered troops to intensify their operations against the Abu Sayyaf and to rescue over 2 dozen Asian sailors kidnapped by rebels off Sabah in Malaysia and Tawi-Tawi and Basilan provinces, all in the restive Muslim autonomous region to where Sulu also belongs. Galvez vowed to crush the Abu Sayyaf in 6 months.

Duterte couple abducted in Zamboanga

From the Mindanao Examiner (Mar 4): Duterte couple abducted in Zamboanga

Gunmen abducted a Filipino couple in the southern province of Zamboanga del Norte and escaped on a speedboat for Basilan, one of 5 provinces under the Muslim autonomous region, police and military said Saturday.

Authorities said the victims – Jose Duterte and his wife Jessica – were taken Friday night by 7 armed men in the coastal village of Santa Maria in Siocon town.

It was not immediately known whether the victims are related to President Rodrigo Duterte or not.

No individual or group claimed responsibility for the latest abduction, but Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels are known to operate in the province and had been previously tagged in the spate of ransom kidnappings in the Zamboanga Peninsula.

Army troops were dispatched to search and rescue the couple.

Gunmen seize couple in Zambo Norte; pursuit operation underway

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 4): Gunmen seize couple in Zambo Norte; pursuit operation underway

Government troops are tracking down the whereabouts of a farmer-couple abducted by gunmen in the nearby province of Zamboanga del Norte.

Sr. Supt. Edwin Buenaventura Wagan, Zamboanga del Norte police director, said Saturday that joint police and Army special forces were immediately sent to locate and rescue the victims, identified as Jose Duterte, 62, and his wife, Jessica, 52, of Barangay Santa Maria, Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte.

Wagan said they were seized from their residence by seven gunmen at about 7:45 p.m. Friday.

He said the victims were having conversation when suddenly the gunmen, clad in bonnet masks and police uniforms, arrived and seized them.

He said the victims were forced to board a waiting speedboat that sped off to the high seas.

Wagan has ordered police forces in towns near Zamboanga del Norte to help locate the whereabouts and to rescue the couple.

He said no one has so far claimed responsibility for the incident.

110 professionals, athletes join TRADOC training program

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 4): 110 professionals, athletes join TRADOC training program

Only the best and the brightest will do for the Capas-based Training and Doctrine Command.

This was after 110 special enlistees, consisting of highly skilled professionals and athletes, formally submitted themselves for military training last March 2, TRADOC spokesperson Capt. Alberto Caber said in a message to the Philippine News Agency (PNA) Saturday.

Enlistment ceremonies took place at the TRADOC Grandstand in Camp O' Donnell in Capas, Tarlac.

Caber said the special enlistees will undergo six months of rigorous training before they are accepted into Army rolls.

"The six-month training will equip the students with the needed education and skills that an individual needs in serving the country as a soldier. After graduation, they will join the Philippine Army’s Special Services. They will continue their passion as athletes and skilled professionals," he added.

Pres. Duterte visits soldiers in Cagayan de Oro

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 4): Pres. Duterte visits soldiers in Cagayan de Oro

President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday attended the wake of soldiers who were killed in action in an encounter with New People's Army (NPA) rebels in Misamis Oriental province.

He was greeted warmly upon his arrival at the Camp Brig. Gen. Edilberto Evangelista Chapel, where the remains of the fallen soldiers lie in state. The fallen soldiers were awarded the Bronze Spearhead Device Medal.

The President also extended financial, medical and educational assistance to the bereaved families.

Cpl. Marzon Morales and Pvt. Oshin Rosala were killed in action in clashes with the NPA at Barangay Kaulayanan, Sugbongcogon, Misamis Oriental last February 27-28.

The firefight reportedly ensued after the 58th Infantry Battalion responded to local residents' complaints of NPA troops demanding food support in the area.

There were reportedly about 30 armed rebels from Guerilla Front 4B, North Central Mindanao Regional Committee who engaged the soldiers.

President Duterte then went to the Camp Brig. Gen. Edilberto Evangelista Station Hospital to visit the wounded soldiers, namely Pfc. Marquin Variacion, Pfc. Vincent Niño Lopez, Pvt. Regie Joy Duyan, and Pvt. Ramon Balibagon Jr.

Each was presented the Wounded Personnel Medal. Financial assistance, medical and educational support were also extended to them.

He likewise visited Sgt. Joshua Delawan, Pfc. Jeneses Andam, and Kenneth de Guzman, who are also confined at the Camp Brig. Gen. Edilberto Evangelista Station Hospital.

AFP beefs up civilian ties to fully observe human rights, other laws

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 5): AFP beefs up civilian ties to fully observe human rights, other laws

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is strenghtening its ties with civilians to ensure that all of its troops are observing human rights, international humanitarian law and rule of law in the conduct of all its operations.

This was made apparent when the AFP and the "Bantay Bayanihan" network reaffirmed their commitment to continue their "constructive and critical engagements" in pursuing security sector reforms (SSR).
“In a gathering with representatives of various civil society organizations (CSO), the AFP and 'Bantay Bayanihan' led the gesture in cognizance of the changes in our strategy to win the peace,” AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said in a statement Sunday.

The partnership with the civilian organization will also serve serve as a check and balance on ongoing military operations against the New People's Army (NPA) rebels and Abu Sayyaf bandits.

“Given the way both terror groups have embedded itself in civilian communities, a CSO body to watch over our engagements is always welcome in helping us avoid collateral damage and rights violations,” Arevalo added.

"Bantay Bayanihan" is a CSO-led organization that was formally organized in November 2011 as an oversight body to monitor the implementation of AFP’s Internal Peace and Security Plan Bayanihan.

It has been serving as a space for dialogue between the AFP and various peace and security stakeholders nationwide where issues on human rights, international humanitarian law, rule of law, transparency and accountability, civil-military operations, peace and conflict dynamics, and SSR are freely discussed.

Since then, the organization has grown as a network of more than 150 CSOs from 16 conflict-affected areas and seeks to apply the ‘Bayanihan Spirit’ of constructive and critical engagements for the Development Support and Security Plan "Kapayapaan".

Currently, the group has chapters in NCR, Tarlac, Pampanga, Negros Oriental and Occidental, Samar, Leyte, Misamis Oriental, Lanao Del Norte, Lanao Del Sur, Davao City, Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, and the Maguindanao-Cotabato areas.

In pursuit of lasting peace, PRRD open to peace negotiations with CPP-NPA-NDF

From the Philippine Information Agency (Mar 4): In pursuit of lasting peace, PRRD open to peace negotiations with CPP-NPA-NDF

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is once again open to the resumption of the peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF.

The President said this in an interview at Camp Edilberto Evangelista Chapel when he visited the wake of two soldiers who were killed in action in an encounter with NPA rebels on February 27 and 28 at Misamis Oriental.

Duterte said that in pursuit of peace, he is willing to talk once more with the NPAs. "I'm open to talk to the rebels, just not the killers. I'm ready to talk and I'm ready to stop this war. I would prefer for us to not have war, but we need to talk from the heart," he said.

The President also said that communication and good intention are vital steps towards peace.

"I'm ready as long as we communicate well. I'm ready to resume the ceasefire again, but this time I want it to be sincere. Back then, there was a ceasefire but my soldiers were killed. I'm ready to resume the ceasefire again as long as it is working towards peace," said Duterte

When asked, President Duterte said that his plans for peace negotiations with the NPAs would include three requests from the rebel group, including the release of hostages, and the halt to revolutionary taxes as well as asking for favors.

"They have to release all policemen, army, everyone from the government. They should release them all. Second, they should stop asking for revolutionary tax. Third, they should stop asking for things. They're burning a lot of things now and we'll never meet each other half way if that's the case."

President Duterte said he feels very deeply about the turmoil. "It pains me to see Filipinos fighting against fellow Filipinos. I just want peace."

He also said that no one wins in a war. "For me, no one will win. If we Filipinos fight against fellow Filipinos, nobody wins. The nation, the Philippines loses. (PND)

DND chief seeks traditional Muslim leaders' help in fight vs extremism

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 4): DND chief seeks traditional Muslim leaders' help in fight vs extremism

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has sought the help of Muslim Mindanaw traditional leaders in combating extremism in Mindanao, saying that a military solution is not enough to quash it.

It is high time government and traditional leaders sit down and talk about the “real issues” that confront Mindanao, Lorenzana said during the March 2 meeting of the First Mindanaw Sultanate Summit on Peace and Security, held at the Royal Mandaya Hotel in Davao City.

Participating in the activity were members and representatives of the different royal houses and sultanates. The event ends Saturday.

The defense chief noted that among the issues that need to be tackled immediately is the prevalence of extremism that leads to underdevelopment and poverty.

He called on the assembly to use their influence to help the government address these problems as it is the children who suffer most in the fighting.

The cycle of violence also makes it easier for extremists to recruit additional fighters and members, he said, adding that to combat this, the government is bringing in economic development in the affected regions.

Lorenzana also recognized that there has been little dialogue between the national government and traditional Mindanaw leaders in the past, especially on the issue of extremism in the region.

“We want to get your inputs. Papakinggan namin kayo, kasi mukhang hindi kayo napapakinggan noon. (We will listen to you, since it appears that no one was listening to you in the past.) Now, we will have this dialogue. We will mesh our ideas together to improve our area,” he added.

China to maintain peaceful settlement of South China Sea maritime dispute

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 4): China to maintain peaceful settlement of South China Sea maritime dispute

China will always resort to dialogues to peacefully resolve territorial disputes, particularly in the South China Sea, a spokesperson for the annual session of the 12th National People’s Congress said on Saturday.

”We call for peaceful settlement of the territorial disputes and maritime interest. We believe that the differences can be resolved by dialogue,” Fu Ying, spokesperson for the 5th Session of the 12th NPC which will open on Sunday, said in a press conference.

Fu, meanwhile, announced that China would increase its defense budget by seven percent in 2017 from last year’s 954.3 billion yuan (roughly USD 146 billion).

The military budget of China, the world’s second largest economy, is 1.3 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) which grew 6.7 percent year-on-year to 74.41 trillion yuan, or USD10.83 trillion in 2016.

”We must be capable of safeguarding our sovereignty and interests. We should be prepared for intervention from outside forces," Fu said.

She made the announcement on China’s defense budget increase few days after US President Donald Trump said he would propose a USD54-billion hike on US military budget.

Fu, however, allayed fears that China will be a threat to security in the South China Sea which is being partly claimed by the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and Indonesia.

”China will not cause harm to any country. If other countries insist that China is a threat to navigation is misleading. We uphold international law. China is a not a threat,” Fu stressed.

The United States has recently expressed concerns over the freedom of navigation following reports that China has set up military bases in the reclaimed islands in the South China Sea.

In July last year, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines on its arbitration case filed against China’s historical nine-dash line claim that covers huge part of the disputed territory.

The case was filed during the time of former President Benigno Aquino III and the arbitration judgment came out a month after he stepped down from in June last year. China refused to accept the verdict.

Under new President Rodrigo Dutere, the Philippines has revitalized its relations with China after Duterte decided to temporarily shelve the ruling to allow direct talks with Chinese leaders led by President Xi Jinping.

The renewed relations had in fact resulted in USD24 billion investment pledges and funding brought by President Duterte from his four-day visit in China in October last year.

President Duterte’s trip has also prompted China to reopen Scarborough Shoal to the Filipino fishermen.

Fu said China would continue to open its door to the world and offer its perspective and solutions as what President Xi emphasized in his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last month.

”China must work harder to communicate with the world and inform them what is happening in China,” she said.

PHL wants to enhance bilateral talks with China, says DFA think-tank

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 4): PHL wants to enhance bilateral talks with China, says DFA think-tank

The think- tank of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Philippines and China are concentrated in enhancing bilateral talks to promote trade, investment and security.

This was cleared by Edgar Badajos, director for ASEAN Political Security of DFA during the of Seminar on ASEAN sponsored by the Presidential Communications Operations Officeat DFA Friday.

“The Philippines is more interested enhancing bilateral talks with China and not the issue of findings of Arbitral Tribunal,” he said. “We need to strengthen first our relations with China and we will touch the issue in a proper forum.”

He explained that “we are not abandoning of our claims based on arbitral tribunal ruling” but this is not the right time to talk on this issue.

Badajos pointed out that we need to look for an avenue that will accelerate bilateral talks and not insinuate something that will trigger disputes.

While Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. emerged strong with his remark that China should demilitarize in the disputed South China Sea, a senior official of a Washington-based think tank group said it’s likely impossible for Beijing to dismantle its installed weapon systems in the area.

Even experts on US-ASEAN Relations :Charting the next 40 Years,” CSIS Southeast Asia program senior adviser Ernest Bower said “China is not going to walk that back just because they are asked to do it by a group of ASEAN foreign ministers.”

In a press conference Thursday’, Bower said during the closing reception of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) international conference at the Manila Golf and Country Club in Makati City said, he did not believe the dismantling of military weapons system in the South China Sea would happen.

He said free navigation on international waters of disputed islands was what they were after.

Yasay earlier said some foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had expressed “grave concerns” over China’s militarization in the region.

Bower said Yasay’s response was correct, but it did not follow that China would readily comply.“I think it’s the right answer but I don’t know, it doesn’t seem very likely,” he noted.

Remains of ASG German captive Kantner recovered in Sulu

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 4): Remains of ASG German captive Kantner recovered in Sulu

Joint Task Force Sulu units on Saturday have recovered the remains of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) German hostage, Juergen Kantner, who was beheaded by the terrorist group last Feb. 26.

The body was discovered 5: 45 p.m. at the Sitio Talibang, Barangay Buanza, Indanan town, Joint Task Force Sulu commander Col. Cirilito Sobejana said in a message to the PNA.

He added that the body was discovered by troops conducting search-and-retrieval operations.

"SOCO (scene-of-the-crime operatives) Sulu was requested to conduct site preservation for evidence and post mortem procedure. The cadaver shall be kept at KHTB (Kutang Heneral Teodulfo Bautista) Hospital Morgue while completing the documentary requirements prior to transport," Sobejana disclosed.

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.

The ASG earlier released a video showing Kantner begging for his government to pay his Php 30 million ransom before 3 p.m. Feb. 26 or else he would be executed.

AFP readying purchase of missiles vs external threats

From the Philippine Star (Mar 5): AFP readying purchase of missiles vs external threats

Army chief Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda bared the plan to reporters Wednesday when asked if the Army is upgrading its external defense capabilities despite its focus on dealing with local threats. File photo

While keeping its focus on internal security, the military is looking forward to better external fighting capabilities with its multibillion-peso Shore-Based Missile System (SBMS) acquisition project.

Army chief Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda bared the plan to reporters Wednesday when asked if the Army is upgrading its external defense capabilities despite its focus on dealing with local threats.

“It’s in the planning stage,” Miranda stressed.

The P6.5 billion SBMS acquisition project was shelved during the previous administration and the budget for it realigned and used for the acquisition of force protection equipment to increase the survivability of soldiers deployed in conflict zones.

Miranda said that SBMS project is still being pursued but this can wait, he added, as the Army is still building up its internal fighting capabilities.

“There’s a plan (for SBMS) project but we have to address first the needs of our soldiers in the field for them to be highly effective in addressing internal security threats,” Miranda said.

Aside from the Abu Sayyaf, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the ISIS-inspired Maute terror group, the Army is also dealing with longest-running communist insurgency in the entire region.

Miranda said SBMS project would come under Phase 2 of the Modernization Program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“Now we have brand new rifles, tanks and medical kits and equipment but we need to still beef up the soldiers’ survivability in combat,” Miranda said.

In line with this, the Army is also recruiting close to 14,000 soldiers this year to fill vacant positions in the service.

Col. Benjamin Hao, Army spokesman, said these new recruits would soon be assigned to the infantry, artillery and to the newly formed Army engineering brigade.

“We will be needing 349 officers and more than 13,000 soldiers this year for the special quota as approved by the President,” Hao said.

Philippines: Beheaded German hostage's body recovered

From the Anadolu Agency (Mar 4): Philippines: Beheaded German hostage's body recovered

German hostage was beheaded by Daesh-linked Abu Sayyaf terrorist group a week ago

Philippines: Beheaded German hostage's body recovered

The body of an elderly German hostage who was beheaded by a Daesh-linked Abu Sayyaf terrorist group a week ago, has been found by soldiers in the southern province of Sulu.

Col. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu, said the corpse of 71-year-old Jurgen Gustav Kantner, was discovered in the town of Indanan on Saturday.

"Troops were conducting combat, search and retrieval operations in the area when they discovered Kantner's body," Sobejana said in a text message.

No details on whether the body was dug up or simply dumped were given.

Sobejana said Kantner's body was taken to Kuta Heneral Teodulfo Bautista Hospital's morgue in the town of Jolo for documentation and will temporarily be kept there prior to turnover to German authorities.

Kantner was kidnapped from his yacht in waters off the southern Tawi-Tawi last year.

The Philippines government confirmed his execution a day after the Feb. 26 deadline by his Abu Sayyaf captors.

MILF: LBO issues Message of Support to the new BTC

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Mar 2): LBO issues Message of Support to the new BTC

The League of Bangsamoro Organizations (LBO) issued a message of support to the new Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) launched on February 24 at the Waterfront Insular Hotel, Davao City.

The LBO message of support reads as follows:

The League of Bangsamoro Organizations (LBO), a consortium of Bangsamoro NGOs, POs and other CSOs based in mainland Mindanao and the Island provinces – all committed to peace, congratulates the GPH and the MILF on the occasion of the momentous launching of the new BTC last February 24, 2017 in Davao City.

Likewise and in particular, LBO expresses its support to all the 21 Commissioners and hereby wishes fortuity upon them all, not only in their eventual assumption of office but also as they meet and deal with challenges head on in the fulfilment of their official tasks. Without a doubt, this great event is another landmark occasion in the annals of the GPH and MILF peace process as it marks not only the day when members shall formally assume and start performing office works as Commissioners but more importantly, it is the day

when they were chosen to form a fellowship of peace whose primary aim is to help craft a national law which would address and somehow solve the age-old Mindanao conflict that has claimed at least 120, 000 lives since 1970s.

The League fervently prays for health and provision as well as circumspection and wisdom upon the members where Allahu taala’s Light and Guidance shall dwell upon, in their exercise of prudence and discretion as they eventually craft a new CAB-Compliant Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), it being the New Enabling Law in the establishment of the Bangsamoro Government, either ahead of or apart from the GPH’s push for federalism.

Moreover, the LBO lauds the MNLF when it honorably responded to the call of its brethren MILF for unity and convergence, and thereby agreed to occupy a seat in the BTC. Indeed, blessed is this day as the Bangsamoro leadership is once again accorded honorably with the opportunity to sit together as one people pushing for a common political stand. In this particular occasion, the LBO with all humility, calls upon the honorable BTC commissioners to make an exhaustive and productive exploit of this rare opportunity; and, with due respect to all, the LBO prayerfully appeal upon them to discard specific regional interests, leave tribal divides behind, set aside exclusive group agenda and work together instead for the common good of the Bangsamoro.

The LBO affirms once again its belief upon peaceful negotiation as the most civilized and humane way to solve the age-old Mindanao problem. Particularly, LBO strongly believes that the win-win solution to address the legitimate clamour of the Bangsamoro for right to self-determination is (through) a mutually negotiated political settlement.

On this account, the LBO reiterates its unrelenting support to the on-going peace process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and Moro Islamic

Liberation Front (MILF) since 1997. Couched upon both parties’ continuous commitment to peace, which culminated in the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) in 2014, the LBO congratulates once again both the GPH and the MILF on the occasion of the timely constitution of the new composition of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).

Likewise, the League hereby expresses its gratitude over President Rodrigo R.

Duterte for his Excellency’s signing of the executive order which created the expanded BTC in a bid to make the GPH – MILF peace process in Mindanao inclusive even more.

Finally, the Bangsamoro is honored and thereby feels indebted to his Excellency in his forthright recognition of the necessity to correct the historical injustices committed against the Moro people both as the foremost condition and solution to the age-old Mindanao conflict.

During the launching, President Rodrigo Duterte, Keynote Speaker urged the BTC to navigate the hindrances and obstruction, to look for ways towards peace.

He said that it may be difficult and going to be a long journey but you will see a product acceptable to all.

On the other hand, MILF Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim considered the 2nd launching as the ‘best second chance’.

“We feel more confident in achieving a lasting solution today to the Moro Question than at any other time in our struggle, because we have a president who understands the history and the root cause of the Moro Question”, Al Haj Murad said.

MILF: ABCD holds General Assembly

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Mar 4): ABCD holds General Assembly

DATU PAGLAS, MAGUINDANAO --- The Association of Bangsamoro Women for Community and Development (ABCD) held General Assembly with the theme “Advocacy on Islam, a Religion of Peace” last February 27, 2017.

“Islam emphasizes the vital role of women in developing our communities. Woman is the key to man’s success”, said Ustadza Halima Mabang, ABCD President.

“This Association is organized to help our leaders propagate Islam in our communities”, Mabang emphasized.

ABCD is purely women’s organization based in Datu Paglas, Maguindanao, that trains Bangsamoro women particularly in livelihood program.

Esmael A. Abdula, Executive Director of Kalilintad Peacebuilding Institute (KPI), said“ The launching of new the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) last February 24, 2017 in Davao City was a symbol of new hope. The BTC is composed of 21 members that include 11 members from the MILF and 10 from the GPH, indigenous people, traditional leaders and the MNLF faction of Muslimen Sema.

The task of the new BTC is to draft a new Bangsamoro Basic Law. The draft Bangsamoro Law crafted by the previous BTC headed by MILF Peace Implementing Panel Chairman Mohagher Iqbal failed to pass by the 16th Congress. 

“The only way to solve the conflict in Mindanao is to correct the ‘historical injustices’ committed on the Bangsamoro People”, Abdula quoted President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement.  

Political leaders in attendance expressed their support to the GPG-MILF Peace Process, like Datu Paglas Mayor Abubakar Paglas, Vice Mayor Mohammad “Thong” Paglas, ABC President Jimmy Dimapalao and municipal councilor Nardo Pompong.

Ustadz Khalifa Nando, Chairman of the MILF Shari’ah Supreme Court also graced the event.

MILF: EU Experts present proposed plan for “Improving Mindanao’s Good Governance Framework”

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Mar 4): EU Experts present proposed plan for “Improving Mindanao’s Good Governance Framework”  

For the second time, a team of European Union experts arrived at Administrative Camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao where they were warmly received by the MILF Chairman himself, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and Head of Central Committee Secretariat, Muhammad Ameen.

During Thursday’s visit (March 2, 2017), the group composed of Bernard Jolly from France, Pierre Van Roosbroeck from Belgium and Staff in the Philippines Lily Hidalgo and Muslima L. Benito presented to the MILF leadership a comprehensive proposed plan for “Improving Mindanao’s Good Governance Framework”.

Said presentation is a result of interviews with authorities/officers from several agencies, stakeholders and peace advocates in Cotabato, Davao and some from conflict affected areas.

The European Union is an economic and political union of 28 European countries, which started as purely economic grouping of European countries that evolved into an organization that span on policy areas from climate, environment and health to external relations and security, justice and migrations.

The program objectively designed and as described by the group, and with authorities of the peace process is perceived to start in 2018. EU experts solicited critique, comments from stakeholders and peace process officials. Counter proposals were also heard from the MILF side.

A brief view of the program presentation, included in the two components, Political and Institutional components were: Support to Peace Process, Support for a Bangsamoro Democratic and Administrative Governance Institutions, Environment and Natural Resources, to name a few.

The meeting ended fruitfully, as it is viewed to be of significance to the continuing peace efforts.