Thursday, March 9, 2017

Philippines Struggles to Reach New Power-Sharing Deal in Restive Muslim Region

From Voice of America (Mar 6): Philippines Struggles to Reach New Power-Sharing Deal in Restive Muslim Region

FILE - Government soldiers take cover during a firefight with Muslim rebels from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Zamboanga city in southern Philippines September 12, 2013.

FILE - Government soldiers take cover during a firefight with Muslim rebels from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Zamboanga city in southern Philippines September 12, 2013.

The killing of a German tourist in the Philippines is adding urgency to talks between the government of crime-fighting President Rodrigo Duterte and armed Muslim rebel groups with different agendas.

Duterte is trying to talk to the Muslim autonomy-seeking group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as well as a separate organization, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), to figure out how they might manage land near the Sulu Sea where Muslims have lived for centuries.

He proposes a federalist government system that could give Muslims a higher degree of power over lands in the archipelago’s southwest.

The killing of 70-year-old German tourist Jurgen Kantner last month at the hands of Abu Sayyaf, a small Muslim group that many Filipinos compare to bandits, raises the urgency for Duterte to draw up a peace and power-sharing plan.

“MILF is no problem. They’ve already committed to the roadmap as agreed upon,” said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Philippine advocacy group Institute for Political and Electoral Reform. “The problem of course are these other groups, particularly those such as Abu Sayyaf, that are already classified as violent, extremist groups."

Abu Sayyaf also beheaded two Canadian tourists last year and it regularly kidnaps tourists for ransom. Duterte apologized to Germany for his government’s failure to rescue Kantner, and his peace process adviser called for a “stop to this killing of the innocent and the helpless.”

“The pressure is on the government, having failed to protect the German tourist, so that would add I think pressure on the Duterte government entering the peace talks,” said Antonio Montalvan, a newspaper columnist in Cagayan de Oro, a port city near the Muslim region. “It would seem to erode, for example, his credibility in dealing with these terrorist groups.”

Duterte has doubled up efforts to reach peace and power-sharing deals, but his effort faces skepticism from the public, possible dissent in the Philippine congress and complexities within the Muslim rebel groups themselves.

Armed rebels on the southern island Mindanao and the Sulu Sea to its west have stirred up trouble since the 1960s, leaving an estimated 120,000 people dead. The Muslim rebel groups grew out of resentment toward the Catholic Philippine majority and its control over land.

Seventeen years of talks led to a peace deal in 2014 between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. But Philippine congress members declined to approve an autonomy-sharing deal called the Bangsamoro Basic Law, named after the region of Mindanao that the MILF would help run.

Enthusiasm in congress dropped particularly after a gun battle two years ago with the MILF left 44 special forces troops dead.

The peace process also left out the Muslim National Islamic Front, whose leader Nur Misuari is suspected of staging an attack on the Mindanao hub city Zamboanga, killing 140, in 2013. Both fronts support armed units that, like Abu Sayyaf, have used violence against civilians.
Duterte campaigned on peace deal

Hopes for a new peace effort surged when Duterte took office in June. The Mindanao native had made peace with a communist rebel group in Davao City while mayor there for 22 years. As president he vowed to pursue peace with the Muslim rebels.

Duterte called for starting talks early this year with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on drafting a new Bangsamoro Basic Law. The two sides have assigned details of the new law to a 21-member commission.

Duterte is expected to fuse any new agreement with his pursuit of federalism, which would give more rights to local governments throughout the developing Southeast Asian country of 102 million people and more than 7,100 islands.

It’s still unclear how federalism would work in a Muslim region, said Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, University of the Philippines political science professor and a peace negotiator under the past president.

“Will it be a symmetrical type of federal arrangement, meaning all states will be the same, or will it take into account the peculiarities of very special places like Bangsamoro?” Colonel-Ferrer asked. “It’s not the case of having an autonomous region in one part of the country. It’s about how to structure the political system and how to share power at the national level.”

The president, known as a tough crime fighter, also met with Misuari, announced peace talks and sought the Moro National Liberation Front’s help in rescuing Abu Sayyaf captives, Misuari’s group says on its website. The group offered that help, the website says.

Duterte signaled in November he might seek talks with Abu Sayyaf as well despite earlier pledges to wipe out the loose-knit 400-strong group militarily. Battles with Abu Sayyaf early in his term killed dozens.

Duterte’s new efforts are still likely to meet headwinds in the Philippine congress, as citizens in much of the country dispute giving land rights to the Muslim groups, analysts say.

Some of those opponents are in Mindanao, a largely impoverished island of 21 million people who resent the Muslim groups' violent rebellions. They may fear that an autonomy deal would threaten the rights of Christians in Mindanao, Montalvan said.

Mindanao’s multiple Muslim rebel groups and the volatility of those in talks with the government could also shatter any new deals, analysts warn. The Moro National Islamic Front says past Philippine presidents have hurt the process through “deceptive” negotiations. Duterte asked the group in January to avoid harboring terrorists.

“The MNLF leadership has expressed high expectations on the Duterte government to prove its worth as a consistent partner,” the official MNLF website says.

Alleged Maute financiers slain in raid on Lanao del Sur mayor’s home

From InterAksyon (Mar 9): Alleged Maute financiers slain in raid on Lanao del Sur mayor’s home

Police officers go over the weapons and other items seized in a raid on the home of a mayor in Lanao del Sur during which two alleged financiers of the Maute group were killed. (ARMM police photo)

Authorities raided the home of a town mayor in Lanao del Norte on Tuesday and, while they missed their target, killed two men they claimed were financiers of the Maute terror group and seized a cache of weapons and ammunition.

Senior Inspector Marcille Manzano, spokesperson of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao police, said the raiding team served eight search warrants issued by Region 12 Presiding Judge Alandrex Betoy for violations of the anti-drugs and firearms laws at the home of Mayor Gamboa Molok Abinal of Maguing town.

Although they did not get the mayor, Manzano said the team killed Cairodin and Farhana Pangao Anto, the alleged Maute financiers, and wounded Baulo Anto, who, however, managed to escape.

Arrested in the operation were Noraldine Macausog, Pundato Potawan and Al Rashid Dagdagan, who are suspected of being members of the terror group that authorities say has pledged loyalty to the Islamic State. The three are detained at the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group’s regional office at PC Hill, Cotabato City.

Aside from the guns and ammunition seized, the raiders also recovered eight sachets of suspected shabu and a bankbook to an account holding more than P29 million.

PA on standby; may declare red alert on March 29

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 10): PA on standby; may declare red alert on March 29

The 702nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army remains on blue alert with its soldiers on standby in their camps but may shift to red alert on March 29 when the terrorist New People's Army (NPA) will observe its founding anniversary and may commit atrocities.

This was bared by Capt. Jay- Ar Ramos, public information officer of the 702nd IB based at Camp Tito Abat in Manaoag in a talk during the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkasters (KBP) Forum in Dagupan City on Thursday, March 9.

At the same time, Ramos belied the alleged report that the NPAs were seen in some parts of eastern Pangasinan especially after the rebels torched two trucks of Philex Mines in Sitio Tupac, Ampucao,Itogon, Benguet on February 9, this year, while bringing ore from the mine site to Poro Point in San Fernando City, La Union.

"We checked the report and it turned out negative," said Ramos, adding that the people in the area mentioned could not also validate the report.

There was also no movement of rebels in the western part of Pangasinan near the Zambales border, Ramos reported.

The other recorded atrocity of the NPA in the area of operations of 702nd IB was the burning of two elf trucks of Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco in Sigay, Ilocos Sur in January this year.

"Our part is focused on anti- insurgency. If we received information from our men in the field or the barangays, we passed this on to the PNP for validation, Ramos explained

He said the Philippine Army continues to conduct its anti-insurgency operations to deter rebel atrocities amid the order of President Rodrigo Duterte lifting the ceasefire that was put in place between the government and the NPA in connection with the peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) in Oslo, Norway that was later on aborted.

He said the Philippine Army is open if there are rebels who will surrender but their anti-insurgency operations will continue until there is an order from higher headquarters to stop.

He also assured the Armed Forces of the Philippines will support the resumption of peace talks with the Reds.

He maintained that the NPAs are avoiding clash with the Philippine military in a bid to save their force, short of belittling the NPA's capability to wage a frontal shooting war with the government.

In their atrocities, they are actually conducting sabotaging operations to embarrass the government, Ramos said in Filipino, referring to the NPAs.

Asked if there are already extortion activities perpetrated by the NPA in Pangasinan, Ramos said they have not received any report of any private company paying alleged revolutionary taxes to the rebels in their areas of operation so far.

However, he asked these private companies to feel free to contact the Philippine Army should there be any attempt by the rebels to extort money from them.

He said the 702nd IB is continuously coordinating with the PNP and conducting joint checkpoints in strategic areas as well as monitoring and providing security to flagship projects, which include the wind farm in Ilocos Norte, the Sual Coal-fired Power Plant and the San Roque Multi-purpose Dam, both in Pangasinan.

When asked by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), soldiers of 702nd IB provide area security when they conduct anti-illegal drugs operations, Ramos said.

PH, Indonesia, Malaysia to patrol piracy-prone waters

From Rappler (Mar 9): PH, Indonesia, Malaysia to patrol piracy-prone waters

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana says he and his counterparts from Malaysia and Indonesia agree to patrols across a sea lane where commercial vessels could pass with protection from the 3 nations' navies   

ANTI-PIRACY PATROLS. Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana gestures during a press conference at the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) headquarters in Manila on March 9, 2017. Photo by Noel Celis/ AFP

ANTI-PIRACY PATROLS. Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana gestures during a press conference at the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) headquarters in Manila on March 9, 2017. Photo by Noel Celis/ AFP

The Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia will launch joint patrols in piracy-plagued waters, Manila's defense secretary said Thursday, March 9, after a wave of attacks that saw Islamic militants kidnapping and murdering foreigners.

The Abu Sayyaf, a kidnap-for-ransom network that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS) group, has been kidnapping sailors on fishing vessels and cargo barges, including an elderly German whom it beheaded last month after ransom demands were not met.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he and his counterparts from Malaysia and Indonesia had agreed to patrol a sea lane where commercial vessels could pass with protection from the three nations' navies.

"We are inaugurating some time in April or May a joint patrol of the three nations in that area," Lorenzana said in a news conference.

"(Vessels) cannot stray beyond that lane so that we can help protect them."

The waters between the three nations have become increasingly dangerous in recent years, with maritime officials warning of a "Somalia-type" situation if the attacks are not addressed.

In February, the Abu Sayyaf murdered Jurgen Kantner, 70, five months after his yacht was found drifting off the southern Philippines with the body of his female companion, Sabine Merz, who had been shot.

The Abu Sayyaf are holding 31 foreign and local hostages including 6 Vietnamese seamen attacked on their cargo ship off the southern Philippines last month, according to Lorenzana.

Lorenzana said he told the Vietnamese envoy to Manila last week to arm his nation's crewmen passing through the waters or coordinate with Philippine authorities to avoid being kidnapped.

He added President Rodrigo Duterte was "very interested" in ending the kidnapping problem.

Duterte had asked China to help patrol the waters, citing Beijing's dispatch of a naval convoy to the Gulf of Aden in 2009 to protect Chinese ships from Somali pirates.

Lorenzana said equipment to help fight the Abu Sayyaf like fast boats, drones and radars would be acquired as part of a military modernisation programme.

The Abu Sayyaf, established with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, have been kidnapping foreigners and locals for decades and holding them for ransom on its remote island strongholds in the southern Philippines.

Lorenzana, who identified the Abu Sayyaf and other extremist groups as the Philippines' top security threat, said the kidnappings were "embarrassing to the whole world."

Duterte order to disregard collateral damage ‘encourages war crimes’ - rights groups

From InterAksyon (Mar 10): Duterte order to disregard collateral damage ‘encourages war crimes’ - rights groups

A Philippine Air Force OV-10 Bronco

By ordering state forces to disregard collateral damage during counterinsurgency operations, President Rodrigo Duterte is encouraging human rights violations and war crimes, human rights organizations said Friday.

Visiting the wake of policemen slain in a suspected New People’s Army ambush in Davao del Sur, Duterte ordered government forces to “go ahead, flatten the hills,” saying “anything goes for now. If there’s collateral damage, pasensiya (too bad).”

“Duterte’s counterinsurgency rhetoric is frighteningly reminiscent of his praise and encouragement for police killings of suspected drug users and drug dealers, which has instigated unlawful force and incited violence,” said Human Rights Watch, which has taken Duterte to task over the years, mainly for extrajudicial killings from when he was mayor of Davao City to the thousands of deaths in his ongoing war on drugs.

Karapatan, on the other hand, likened Duterte’s order to giving state forces a “license to kill and arrest civilians, including leaders and members of people’s organizations.”

HRW stressed that international humanitarian law “rejects the ‘anything goes’ approach to warfare and places specific restraints on all parties to an armed conflict to spare civilians and other non-combatants the horrors of war.”

“Armies must take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians,” it said. “Attacks against lawful targets cannot be indiscriminate or cause civilian loss greater than the expected military gain.”

Troops who obey Duterte’s order “without regard to civilian loss of life and property … would be committing war crimes,” it warned.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said they have documented 39 political killings since Duterte became president, 20 of these from January to March 2.

Among the latest killings were those of “farmers and anti-mining activists Ramon and Leonila Pesadilla in Compostela Valley by suspected members of the 66th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army on March 2; of farmers Ian and Rolendo Borres in Maayon, Capiz on February 24 by the 61st IBPA led by 1Lt. Joe Mark Bitbit; and that of coconut farmer and peasant leader Gilbert Bancat in San Andres, Quezon by elements of the Southern Luzon Command,” she said.

She also cited forced displacements in Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley and Sarangani provinces between July last year and February that were reportedly preceded by bombardments or the arrests of community members.

“Your armed forces have been bombing communities even at the onset of your administration. You cannot use the alleged incident in Bansalan, Davao del Sur, to justify these violations any further and act as if these state agents are all so innocent,” Palabay told Duterte.

Palabay also said they have documented the illegal arrest and detention of 43 persons between July and February, including four organizers of the peasant group Kalipunan ng Samahang Magsasaka sa Timog Katagalugan who were wounded during a clash between soldiers and communist rebels in San Andres town, Quezon on March 7 and taken to the Southern Luzon Command headquarters where they have allegedly been denied visits by their relatives, human rights advocates and church workers.

She identified the four as Christopher Redota, 26, Jennifer Yuzon, 22, Teteng Yuzon and Dana Marie Marcellana, the latter the daughter of the late Karapatan Southern Tagalog secretary general Eden Marcellana who was murdered with peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy in Mindoro in 2003 by what rights advocates believe were troops under the command of then Army general Jovito Palparan.

'USE ROCKETS' | Duterte decries Davao cops' slay, tells AFP, PNP to wage war vs NPA

From InterAksyon (Mar 9): 'USE ROCKETS' | Duterte decries Davao cops' slay, tells AFP, PNP to wage war vs NPA
Calling the New People's Army's alleged killing of four policemen in Davao "ideological cannibalism," President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday denounced the ambush and declared war against the communist rebels.

"Ideological cannibalism is what they are committing right now," Duterte said in the local language during an impromptu press conference, adding that the NPA was "devouring their own kind only in the name of revolution."

"You cannot do that malice," said the chief executive, referring to the incident on Wednesday wherein the policemen, who were investigators from the Bansalan Municipal Police Station, were ambushed in Brgy. Sibayan.

Duterte said he would ask the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to wage war against the communist rebels and use all available assets against the NPA.

He said they could even use rockets and if there would be collateral damage then so be it.

"I am encouraging you to call in the air assets, bomb them," the President told authorities.

Asked if he would be for peace talks or all out war, Duterte said, "Let them choose. I am ready for war, 50 years if maybe."

Duterte further told the communist rebels that they would never have a chance to be in power because the people don't want them in power.

"What you give, you will also receive," the President told the rebels.

Soldier killed, another wounded in Alegria firefight vs NPA

From InterAksyon (Mar 9): Soldier killed, another wounded in Alegria firefight vs NPA

A soldier was killed while another was wounded after firefights erupted between elements from the Army's 30th Infantry Battalion and suspected elements of the communist New People's Army (NPA) in the town of Alegria in Surigao del Norte, Wednesday evening, March 8, 2017.

A report from the 30th Infantry Brigade indicated that at around 8:00 in the evening, soldiers from Alpha Company were on their way to Barangay Budlingin to respond to intelligence report about NPA fighters harassing the indigenous people's (IP) community.

"Our troops encountered the NPA while on their way to the village to secure the area, after receiving reports of the NPA harassing the community. A 30-minute firefight erupted with the government forces pitted against about 15 rebels. There a soldier died, while another suffered gunshot wounds," said 2Lt Jonel Castillo, civil military officer of the 30th IB.

The soldier who was killed in action was 27 years old, and the wounded one was identified as Pfc Windyl Daayata, 26 years of age. They are both from the province of Bukidnon.

According to Castillo, NPA activity in the area is not new.

"This group is headed by Commander Ricky, and they have been going back to the area to conduct recruitment operations taking advantage of vulnerabilities of the IP community," said Castillo.

The NPA has yet to issue a statement regarding the incident.

Reds confirm agreement on backchannel talks but stress no ceasefire in place

From InterAksyon (Mar 10): Reds confirm agreement on backchannel talks but stress no ceasefire in place

NDF chief peace negotiator Fidel Agcaoili (file photo by Kodao Productions)

Communist rebels confirmed that there is an agreement with the government to hold backchannel talks despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s termination of formal peace negotiations last month.

At the same time, Fidel Agcaoili, chief peace negotiator of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, which represents the rebels, stressed that there has been no ceasefire between the New People’s Army and government forces after both sides terminated their respective unilateral declarations early last month.

“Both sides agreed to hold secret backchannel talks as early as the first week of February,” Agcaoili said. “For some reason, these have been delayed till now.”

He also pointed out that the backchannel efforts were not supposed to be made public, stressing that “in this regard, we have kept our end of the bargain not to reveal the plans or issue any statement that would upset these.”

Agcaoili said the aim of the secret talks is to get both sides to meet the April schedule for the fourth round of the stalled formal negotiations, when both sides hope to discuss, among other issues, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees, a pact supposed to protect members, consultants and security personnel of both parties’ negotiating teams, and two substantial agenda -- social and economic reforms and constitutional and political reforms.

It was President Rodrigo Duterte who early this week disclosed the backchannel efforts.

And on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, speaking at the National Defense College, said president adviser on the peace process Jesus Dureza had left for Europe to lead the government panel to the backchannel talks, according to a report by independent media outfit Kodao Productions.

Kodao also quoted Lorenzana as saying the government had allowed NDFP negotiator Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma and Vicene Ladlad, both rebel consultants, to leave the country as well.

On Thursday, following Wednesday’s ambush in Bansalan, Davao del Sur that left four policemen dead, an angry Duterte ordered the military and police to wage war against the communist rebels and to use aerial rocket strikes against them even if these cause “collateral damage” to non-combatants.

Reacting to this, Agcaoili said, “We still have to confirm if this was done by the NPA command in the area,” even as he pointed out that “there are peace spoilers around.”

He also stressed that “there is no ceasefire in place at the moment, and that AFP and PNP troops have been going into villages and violating people's rights in their combat and intelligence operations, including murderous Tokhang operations,” referring to the controversial government war on drugs.

The rebel negotiator also noted that their ranks have also suffered casualties since hostilities resumed last month, pointing to the four guerrillas slain in San Andres, Quezon province during a military raid on Tuesday, “as well as in other places.”

Agcaoili also said that leadership of the revolutionary movement had already approved on February 27 the release of government personnel captured and held as “prisoners of war” by the rebels and that “discussions have been going on since between third party peace facilitators and the (government) panel.”

In fact, he said, “the POWs should have been released as early as 2 March but arrangements on their safe and orderly release, as well as those of the third party peace facilitators, local government officials, ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) representatives and the custodial forces, have still to be worked out.”

Rebels urged to surrender, avail of P300,000 cash aid

From the Visayan Daily Star (Mar 9): Rebels urged to surrender, avail of P300,000 cash aid

Members of the New People's Army in Negros Oriental are encouraged to lay down their arms and surrender to authorities, and avail of a P300,000 cash assistance offered by Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr.

Lt. Col. Roderick Garcia, commander of the 79th “Masaligan” Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army based in Tanjay City, Negros Oriental, said yesterday that the offer of Marañon is not only limited to NPA members in Negros Occidental.

Both provinces belong to the Negros Island Region, and so, therefore, to attain lasting peace, all NPA members in the island are covered by Marañon's offer, Garcia said.

Marañon had earlier announced his offer to all active members of the NPA in NIR of a maximum of P300,000 per rebel, who will surrender to government with a high-powered firearm.

Those without a firearm will receive cash assistance of up to P100,000.

Garcia said Marañon's offer is on top of the P65,000 aid that the government, through its Comprehensive Livelihood Integration Program, is giving per rebel who will surrender to authorities.

The CLIP is being implemented through the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Department of Interior and Local Government.

Those who will surrender will undergo a process before being listed as a beneficiary to the program, as well as to the offer of Gov. Marañon, Garcia said.

He said there are about 50 rebels still reported in Negros Oriental, to date. They are mostly sighted in the first district of the province, particularly in Guihulngan City, Canlaon City, Tayasan and Ayungon.

However, many of them are mobile as they cross boundaries to the other side of the island, Garcia said.

He is hoping that the rebels will take the offer of Marañon while there are no peace talks at the local or national level.

Once a peace agreement is reached, the offer will no longer stand, Garcia said, because there will be certain arrangements all packaged as part of the agreement, such as livelihood, housing and others similar to those offered to the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade.

Following the failure of the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the NPA at the national level, officials in Negros Island have announced considering holding local peace talks.

NPA members wishing to surrender may send feelers to authorities, especially the Philippine Army, so they can be processed, Garcia said.

He assured them of their security and safety as they return to the folds of the law and be integrated into mainstream society.

WATCH | China ships in PH-owned Benham Rise, scouting for subs' parking sites - DND

From InterAksyon (Mar 9): WATCH | China ships in PH-owned Benham Rise, scouting for subs' parking sites - DND

Benham Rise seen relative to Luzon mainland in map from website of Fish Information and Services, or

China may be casting a covetous eye on Benham Rise, over which the Philippines has undisputed claim in the United Nations, with a possible agenda: scouting for sites to park its submarines, the Department of National Defense (DND) hinted Thursday. In fact, one Chinese survey ship figured in an accident.

If unchecked, said DND, this foray could become another source of conflict between the Asian neighbors, who had already tangled earlier in the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) where Manila complained against Beijing's "excessive" claims in the South China Sea with its nine-dash line claim.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana made the revelation on China's forays in the Benham Rise area at a threat assessment forum in Camp Aguinaldo on Thursday. According to him, Chinese ships have been spotted in the area located in Northeastern Luzon.

Lorenzana said satellite photos and incident reports provided the basis for his alert.

While the motivations for the reported Chinese survey have yet to be confirmed, Lorenzana said reports reaching him showed the Chinese could be scouting for a spot to place their submarines in.

In fact, he said, a Chinese ship figured in an accident in Benham Rise, prompting the survey team to send one of its men to a hospital in Surigao. “So we know they are there,” Lorenzana said.

Six-term member of the House of Representatives and former national security adviser Roilo Golez had earlier on, in January, warned about China's interest in Benham Rise: "I fear China has its lustful eyes on our East Sea.

"If we allow ourselves to be lulled by China's charm offensive, I am afraid their next creeping move may be toward our East Sea, it's lustful eyes on our 13 million hectare Benham Rise off Aurora province, awarded to us by the United Nations in 2012 as part of the Philippine continental shelf and territory.

"Before this award, our territory was only around 30 million hectares. Now, it is 43 million hectares taking Benham Rise into consideration."

Click and watch the video report here:

Army presents ma who begs for NPA to return her girl, 14

From the Mindanao Times (Mar 9): Army presents ma who begs for NPA to return her girl, 14

LEONILA Davis, 52, cries as she begs for the New People’s Army to return her 14-year-old daughter during the AFP-PNP media forum at Task Force Davao. BING GONZALES

A MOTHER is asking the New People’s Army (NPA) to return his 14-year-old daughter who was allegedly forcibly taken by the group to join the movement.

“I’m appealing to the New People’s Army to return my daughter because they know, and I already told them, not to take her away because she’s still studying,” said Leonila Davis, 52, farmer and resident of Mati in Davao Oriental, in visayan.

She appeared in yesterday’s AFP-PNP press conference held at Task Force Davao headquarters in Sta. Ana wharf.

“To all the leaders of the NPA, I’m begging them to give me back my daughter,” she added.

According to her, her daughter was supposed to graduate from grade 6 but was taken by the guerillas somewhere in the hinterlands of Davao Oriental back on Jan. 23. They allegedly told her that her daughter volunteered to join their group.

On that day, she thought that her daughter was in school. Instead, she was found in Davao City joining a protest rally.

“I only learned about it when I arrived in Banay-banay because my other child contacted me,” she narrated.

She returned five days later only to leave with the group on the same day. That’s the last time she talked to her.

“If I try to get back my daughter, she will supposedly commit suicide,” she added.

She asked the rebels what could compel her daughter to kill herself when they have not been remiss in their duties as parents. She also said that they did not physical abuse their daughter.

Davis said a 17-year-old girl who escaped from the rebels had news about what happened to her daughter, which had her worried further.

Apparently, her daughter sustained wounds on her foot at around 3 p.m. last Monday. That prevented her from running away.

The 17-year-old escapee also informed her that her girl wanted to go home and was always crying. The unit where her daughter was assigned is led by an amazon.

Meanwhile, Capt. Rhyan Batchar, spokesperson of 10th Infantry Division, confirmed that there was a 17-year-old girl, alias Jenny, who surrendered to the military.

During debriefing, they were informed that there’s another girl in her company. And this turned out to be the daughter of Leonila.

He also said that Jenny’s family became the subject of harassment from the rebel group. They left their home out of fear of their safety.

Chief Supt. Marcelo Morales, deputy regional director for administration, said if true, it’s clear kidnapping since it involved a minor. “I will instruct our investigation unit to conduct and file charges against those perpetrators,” Morales said.

Photo: Task Force Davao Ultimate K-9 Challenge

From the Mindanao Times (Mar 9): Photo: Task Force Davao Ultimate K-9 Challenge

A HANDLER raises his hand to confirm that his sniffing K9 already located the planted improvised explosive device during the Ultimate K9 Challenge hosted by Task Force Davao at their headquarters on Tuesday. The challenge aimed to test the ability of the police dogs to detect bombs in preparation for the Araw ng Dabaw celebration. BING GONZALES

Photo: Task Force Haribon simulation exercise

From the Mindanao Times (Mar 9): Photo:  Task Force Haribon simulation exercise

SECURITY forces under Joint Task Force Haribon showcase their capability to intercept terrorists during the simulation exercise held at Sta. Ana wharf on Wednesday, Mar. 8. BING GONZALES

Piñol steps into ‘enemy’ MILF territory to bring agri program

From MindaNews (Mar 9): Piñol steps into ‘enemy’ MILF territory to bring agri program

Piñol and Murad at Camp Darapanan. MindaNews photo by Ferdinandh Cabrera

CAMP DARAPANAN, Maguindanao – They used to be the worst of enemies, trading barbs on air, or maybe if opportunities allowed, even killed each other.

But former North Cotabato Gov. Emmanuel Piñol, branded as “anti-Muslim” for so long who is now President Duterte’s secretary of agriculture, stepped into the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s camp Wednesday not to continue disagreements with the MILF leadership but came to talk about how to improve farmers’ lives, especially among MILF families long neglected by the government.

It was Piñol who spearheaded the petition before the Supreme Court that nullified the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) crafted by the government and the MILF peace panels in 2008.

At one point, Piñol was branded by the MILF as “anti-Moro” because of his stance.

But on Wednesday, MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar, whom Piñol traded barbs with in the past, have shown gestures of reconciliation and sincere commitment to attain a lasting peace.

Clearly, they may have opposing opinion but Piñol and Jaafar used to work together in the ’70s at DXCM-AM Radio in Cotabato City.

Piñol’s visit to push for President Duterte’s agriculture program erased that impression that they were “mortal enemies.”

Murad and Piñol hugged each other twice as if they did not exchange harsh words in the past.

“It’s not easy to move forward without facing our past,” Piñol said in Filipino as he spoke before MILF leaders and former Moro combatants. “The bottom line is we are here to bring government agriculture program to your people,” he added.

Murad said the MILF leadership was surprised to learn that the Department of Agriculture was to hold the graduation rites for the 362 farmer beneficiaries who underwent a training on agriculture inside camp known as the MILF’s main headquarters.

“At first there was reluctance since many perceived Piñol to be anti-Muslim. But now, he is a friend of Muslims,” Murad said.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) have partnered with the DA to help former combatants help themselves by providing them training on agriculture and providing them agriculture machinery.

NPA rebels execute 3 men in Pagadian City

From the Mindanao Examiner (Mar 9): NPA rebels execute 3 men in Pagadian City

Suspected New People’s Army rebels executed men accused of murdering 4 people in Pagadian City in the southern Filipino province of Zamboanga del Sur, police said Thursday.

Police said the men – Alipio Andus, 39; Ariston Paroc, 46; and Julieto Candao, 28 – were killed in the village of Dampalan. Paroc’s wife, Merlin, who was with the group, had been spared by the attackers.

“Police investigators recovered forty 40 empty shells of caliber 5.56 mm (M16 automatic rifles) and a piece of yellow paper with a handwritten message accusing the victims of killing six people,” said Senior Superintendent Rogelio Alabata, a regional police spokesman.

The accusations cannot be independently confirmed, but the note said the trio was meted the death penalty after a kangaroo court found them guilty of allegedly murdering four people and land grabbing.

Just on Wednesday, communist rebels also killed four policemen in an ambush in the southern province of Davao del Sur. The daring attack occurred in the village of Sibayan in Bansalan town.

The team of policemen were heading to the village to respond to a shooting incident when rebels attacked them.

There was no immediate statement from President Rodrigo Duterte or to any members of the government panel who were holding backchannel talks with the rebels for the resumption of the peace negotiations.

Duterte suspended the peace talks last month after rebels launched a series of deadly attacks in the restive region following government’s failure to release some 400 political detainees – mostly NPA leaders and members arrested and captured in the past by authorities – a promise made by the President during election campaign last year.

The rebels have been fighting for many decades now for the establishment of a communist state in the country.

Defense chief Lorenzana 'losing sleep' over Abu Sayyaf

From CNN Philippines (Mar 9): Defense chief Lorenzana 'losing sleep' over Abu Sayyaf

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana

Terrorists, drug lords, communist insurgents, an intrusive neighbor and rumored destabilization plots — these occupy the mind of the country's defense chief.

But what's leaving him on edge are the bandits — members of the Abu Sayyaf group — down south.

"The problem in the Southern Philippines, piracy and kidnapping, is actually giving me, personally, a headache. Sometimes I could not sleep at night thinking about how to solve the problem there," said Delfin Lorenzana, Secretary of National Defense.

"Kidnapping has not abated. When the President was inaugurated on June 30, there were only 18 hostages being held by the Abu Sayyaf. Now, there are 31. So dumami pa [it has increased]," Lorenzana added. "It's very embarrassing to the whole world."

Just last week, Abu Sayyaf bandits beheaded a German hostage, Juergen Kantner.

Read: AFP confirms: Abu Sayyaf beheaded German victim

Speaking to reporters and alumni at the National Defense College of the Philippines, Lorenzana said he hopes to "solve the Abu Sayyaf problem" by June, adding he is willing to give the Armed Forces a two-month leeway.

Related: Military aims to defeat Abu Sayyaf by June
Secure sea lane

Lorenzana said the Department of National Defense (DND) is working with its counterparts from Indonesia and Malaysia to drive out pirates and kidnappers from the waters around Western Mindanao and Borneo Island — where the bandit group had been attacking and abducting victims.

Read: Duterte, Widodo agree to chase drug dealers, blast off pirates

The Armed Forces is planning to set up a permanent station on Jolo Island in hopes of driving bandits away for good. Lorenzana said a task force will be formed to guard the area using fast seacraft and drones.

In April or May, navies of the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia plan to begin joint patrols in the waters in and around Sibutu Passage. Their goal is to create a secure sea lane for civilian vessels.

Lorenzana admitted that beating the Abu Sayyaf may be a long shot "but we are doing a lot of things within our power," he added.
Chinese ships spotted
But bandits are not the only problem out at sea.

Lorenzana revealed that, from July to December 2016, marine patrols spotted Chinese survey ships in the areas of Recto Bank and Benham Rise.

Recto Bank lies 80 nautical miles northwest of Palawan. It lies within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, as affirmed by the arbitral ruling on Manila's maritime case against Beijing.

Read: PH wins maritime arbitration case vs. China

Benham Rise lies 135 nautical miles east of Aurora, near the Philippine Trench. The United Nations declared it part of Philippine territory in 2012.

Both Recto Bank and Benham Rise are thought to be rich in minerals, natural gas and oil — not to mention marine life.

Lorenzana said the Chinese may have been eyeing Benham Rise as a passage for their submarines.
'Keep protesting'

"The thing here is we should protest," Lorenzana said, referring to notes verbales, a way of diplomatically protesting another country's actions in one's territory.

Read: Philippines exercising diplomatic options over South China Sea issue: DFA

"Because, you know, what happens if we do not protest is we just lose by default what belong to us … They wear us down so that after one generation, Filipinos will get used to their presence and come to accept that they own those," he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Lorenzana said the government has so far sent Beijing at least a dozen notes verbales — but they ended up being ignored or the allegations they contain, denied.
Second wave

Lorenzana is counting on a "second horizon" in the Armed Forces' modernization program — another wave of weapon and asset acquisitions that he hopes will parallel the 'first horizon," which cost ₱94 billion.

Lorenzana is hoping for a new budget of around ₱100 billion.

He said if the Philippines is to ever get out of being bullied by larger countries, it needs to achieve a credible defense posture. That means enough planes, ships, tanks and guns to "bloody the nose" of any intruder.

He said of China, "We cannot drive them away; we do not have the armaments or the might to dislodge them from those areas. But we keep on protesting."

The DND is also busy fighting Communist insurgents and helping out the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Philippine National Police carry out the government's "war on drugs."

Lorenzana said he hopes peace talks between the reds and the government would resume soon, to end the bloodshed on both sides.

Read: Death toll in AFP-NPA clashes rises to 26 amid botched peace talks

As for the anti-drug campaign, he promised the military will not do the "knocking and pleading" with drug suspects and leave that to PDEA and the PNP.

Related: PNP relaunches 'less bloody' Oplan Tokhang

When asked if there is credence to rumors of a destabilization plot against the Duterte administration, whether from drug lords or other enemies of the government, Lorenzana said there are none.

Related: Andanar: Alleged $1000 media bribe part of plot to oust Duterte

"Destabilization? It always comes out in the papers and when I am asked, sabi ko, we do not have that information in the Armed Forces. There's zero, actually," he said. "Now, sometimes, there are violent reactions to criticism of the President. Criticism of the President is not destabilization."

Lorenzana added that public officials like himself must learn to live with criticism — and use it as a gauge of how well they are doing.

WESCOM condemns terroristic act of NPA in Palawan

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): WESCOM condemns terroristic act of NPA in Palawan

The Western Command (WESCOM) late Wednesday afternoon condemned the New People’s Army (NPA) in the torching of heavy equipment units belonging to a palm oil company in Bataraza town in southern Palawan.

In a statement it released through its spokesperson, Capt. Cherryl Tindog, said:

“WESCOM condemns in the strongest terms the arson incident in Barangay Culandanum, Bataraza, which is an abominable act of violence, loathe and greed of this terrorist group. Such act is tantamount to their insincerity to pursue lasting peace, and their irrevocable resolve to continue harassing and extorting from vulnerable targets.”
WESCOM further said “the terroristic act of the NPA is an economic sabotage that greatly affects the local populace, especially those who are working in the palm oil plantation.”

“They are putting residents, who are expecting a lot from the income they can make in working in the palm oil plantation, in misery,” the statement claimed.

In an interview with the Palawan media, who joined WESCOM on a late afternoon trip to Sitio Linao in the said barangay, Tindog said the fully-armed members of the communist-terrorist group probably torched the heavy equipment units for failure of the palm oil company to give in to their revolutionary extortion scheme.

Allegedly, they are owned by San Andres Palm Oil Co. (SAPOC), whose oil plantation is located in the craggy hills of Culandanum.

She said it might also be frustration because of WESCOM’s sincere campaign call for recruited Palaweños to the NPA to surrender, and return to government fold.

Based on joint police and WESCOM investigation, 19 fully-armed members of the communist-terrorist group were seen in the Culandanum sitio, where the heavy equipment units were stationed.

The torching happened around 1 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Bataraza is a first class municipality in the province of Palawan. It is located on the southernmost tip of Palawan Island, approximately 225 kilometers (140 mi) from Puerto Princesa City and about five to six hours by land.

Ormoc to host ‘Balikatan’ military exercise in April

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): Ormoc to host ‘Balikatan’ military exercise in April

The “Balikatan” (shoulder-to-shoulder) military exercise between the Philippines and the United States will push through in this city next month, Ormoc City Mayor Richard Gomez said.

Gomez said he is amenable to hosting the military exercise as it will help improve the peace and order situation in the city.

Initial talks with a group of American and Filipino soldiers were done in October and finalized in December last year.

Gomez said the Balikatan military exercise will have components such as a medical mission, book donation, and construction and repair of school buildings and health centers.

The military exercises are designed to serve as a venue for Philippine and US military forces to exchange combat expertise.

The plan to hold military exercises here came on the heels of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s statement last year asking US military forces to leave Mindanao in the wake of increased security threats as a result of the heightened offensive against the Abu Sayyaf.

Capt. Louis Kalmar, humanitarian and civic assistance planner of the Philippine-US Balikatan program, recently visited the city to discuss with the local government officials the holding of the military exercise.

US soldiers arrived for the “Balikatan” exercise in 2000. It was the first since the ratification of the Visiting Forces Agreement signed by the Philippines and the United States of America.

In 2014, the two countries signed a deal for the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and it was declared constitutional by the Supreme Court in 2015.

“Balikatan” 2017 in Ormoc City is the first in Eastern Visayas region.

Army, police undergo 5-day in-house combat life saving training in Aurora

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): Army, police undergo 5-day in-house combat life saving training in Aurora

To provide emergency life saving techniques and measures, selected soldiers and police are now undergoing in-house combat life saving training at the 56th Infantry “Tatag” Battalion, Philippine Army based in Barangay Calabuanan, in this town.

Lt. Col. Louie DS. Villanueva, Tatag Battalion Commander, said the training aims to teach police and military members how to treat injuries in the combat zone and even in their homes.

"During the combat missions, the availability of medical care may be limited but with the proper knowledge and training, lives can be saved," Villanueva said.

Through this training, he said "they can clearly and quickly identify and channel up all medical emergencies and quick life-saving skills that could help stabilize patients until they reach more advanced care."

"A properly trained combat lifesaver is capable of stabilizing many types of injuries and can slow the deterioration of a wounded personnel's condition until medical personnel arrive," he said.

Through the training program, the participants will learn how to use tourniquet, maintain airways, perform needle chest decompression, and utilize combat gauze appropriately.

Under the basic life support are trainings on respiratory arrest, causes, rescue breathing, ways to ventilate the lungs, technique of rescue breathing, table comparison, cardiac arrest, CPR techniques, bandaging in open phase, cravat phase, emergency rescue transfer and field training exercises.

"Through the training, the participants will help ensure every method being taught will be utilized to save the lives and bring the casualties back to their respective families," he added.

The five-day training will end on Friday.

DILG extends livelihood aid to 7 ex-rebels

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): DILG extends livelihood aid to 7 ex-rebels

Seven former rebels from Iloilo province received PHP65,000 each in financial aid under the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

DILG provincial director Teodora Sumagaysay said Thursday the assistance would enable the former rebels to start livelihood projects, now that they are back in mainstream society.

Of the total amount, PHP50,000 will go to their livelihood project and PHP15, 000 will serve as immediate assistance.

The former rebels received their respective checks Thursday morning from Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor Sr., Philippine Army 61st Infantry Battalion Commander Leo Peńa and Sumagaysay at the Iloilo Provincial Capitol.

Most of them were from the third district of Iloilo, specifically Janiuay. Four of them surrendered to the Philippine Army 61st Infantry Battalion, and the other three to the 82nd Infantry Battalion.

Sumagaysay mentioned that the former rebels have gained approval for their respective business plans before they were granted the assistance.

She said that they have different choices but most of their livelihood proposals were in agriculture.

Meanwhile, Peńa said the assistance is proof that the government is sincere in helping rebels who return to mainstream society.

He lauded the government program for the former rebels. most of whom are already living peacefully with their own homes and livelihood.

He assured that they are continuously holding dialogues with other rebels, especially those in Lambunao town, so they would surrender.

Last year, more than 20 former rebels received the same assistance from the DILG.

Meanwhile, the department has assured that the CLIP committee, composed of representatives of the Philippine Army, Philippine National Police and the provincial social welfare and development office, will monitor if the assistance is being utilized by the former rebels for its intended purpose.

The military and the police will continuously implement their advocacy campaigns to make sure that the former rebels do not return to the rebel movement, that they are protected, and that they are fully reintegrated into the society.

Cebu City cops warned of ambush when going to remote areas

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): Cebu City cops warned of ambush when going to remote areas

The Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) on Thursday warned its operatives to take precaution in responding to remote areas after the ambush staged by suspected New People's Army (NPA) rebels that killed four police officers in Bansalan, Davao Del Sur on Wednesday.

"All units are reminded to always exercise caution when executing duties and responsibilities," Superintendent Artemio Ricabo, CCPO deputy director for administration, said.

The local police were also directed to seek the assistance of village peacekeepers.

"In the event of calls for police assistance, use due diligence in confirming reported incidents through barangay officials, Barangay Intelligence Network and Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team," he said.

The safety reminders will become part of police weekly conferences and pre-deployment briefings.

Four police officers were killed in Bansalan, Davao del Sur on Wednesday in an attack blamed on suspected NPA rebels.

The slain police officers were members of the Bansalan Municipal Police Station and the Scene of the Crime Operations of Digos City.

They went to a remote area in Bansalan to respond to the killing of two civilians.

OPAPP turns over detention center for women, children to police station in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): OPAPP turns over detention center for women, children to police station in Maguindanao

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) turned over on Thursday a Women and Children Protection Center (WCPC) to the municipal police station here.

“The OPAPP took the initiative to fund the facility in support and response to the government’s peace and security concerns particularly in conflict situations,” OPAPP Usec. Diosita Andot, who led the opening of the center on Thursday, said.

The initiative to erect the one-storey 10 x 6 center, costing PHP300,000, came after the local police had a hard time figuring out where to detain a minor female suspect, who was collared in one of their anti-illegal drugs operation late last year.

“During that time, we brought the female suspect, who was also eight months pregnant, to the Shariff Aguak municipal police office, where there is a women and children center,” Chief Insp. Lendsy Sinsuat, former Datu Odin Sinsuat police chief, said.

Sinsuat said the incident prompted them to ask their superiors for the possible establishment of the facility, to which the OPAPP responded.

Chief Insp. Ali Bunga, current town police chief, vowed to operate the WCPC competently to safeguard women and children against any form of violence.

“We are lucky to have this WCPC as there are still many other police units in the ARMM that do not have this kind of facility,” Bunga said.

'Bato' hits NPA over ambush of Davao Sur cops

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): 'Bato' hits NPA over ambush of Davao Sur cops

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa slammed the communist New People’s Army (NPA) over Wednesday’s ambush that killed four policemen.

Dela Rosa said the attack was an attempt "to impress to the public that the NPA machinery and forces are still in place."

The PNP chief on Thursday visited the wake of police officers killed during the ambush in Bansalan town on Wednesday.

“They are showing that they are a force to reckon with,” Dela Rosa pointed out, adding that the rebels are also trying to counter government reports that their number is now dwindling due to the series of surrenders of their members.

He expressed grief over the death of the four police officers, among them a non-combatant member of the Scene of the Crime Operation (SOCO).

“They (NPAs) should answer why they did it,” Dela Rosa said.

Four police officers were killed and another one was wounded in the ambush staged by suspected NPA members in Barangay Sibayan, Bansalan, Davao del Sur.

Killed were PO1 Rholly Benelayo, PO1 Saro Mangotara and PO1 Joey Narvasa, who were all members of the Bansalan Municipal Police Station, and PO3 Jeden Mei Rabor, a member of SOCO.

Wounded during the ambush was PO2 Allen Arnado, also a member of the Bansalan police.

The police officers were on the way to Barangay Sibayan to investigate a reported murder incident when waylaid by the gunmen.

Dela Rosa, during the visit on Thursday, personally talked to the families of the slain police officers and gave them financial assistance.

President Duterte wages war vs NPA; tells AFP, PNP to use all gov't assets

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): President Duterte wages war vs NPA; tells AFP, PNP to use all gov't assets

President Rodrigo R. Duterte ordered on Thursday the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to wage a war and use all assets of the government against the New People’s Army (NPA).

“I asked the Armed Forces and the police to go ahead and wage a war against them. I will allow the police and the military this time to use all available assets,” the President told reporters during his visit to the wake of slain police officers in Bansalan, Davao del Sur on Thursday.

Duterte said they could even use rockets in their fight against the NPA rebels. He branded the latest NPA attack as "ideological cannibalism."

Duterte on Thursday afternoon visited the wake of the three police officers who were killed in an ambush perpetrated by about 20 suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Barangay Sibayan, Bansalan, Davao del Sur last Wednesday.

The ambush killed PO1 Saro Mangotara, PO1 Joey Narvaza and PO1 Rolly Benelayo, all from the Bansalan Municipal Police Station and Scene of the Crime Operation investigator PO3 Jayden May Rabor. PO3 Allen Arnado survived the attack.

Mangotara, a member of PNP Scout Class 107-2016 “Himagsik,” was immediately buried in accordance with Muslim traditions. He was a Maranao.

The police team left at around 6:30 a.m. on board a patrol car for Sibayan, which is about 12 kilometers from Bansalan town proper, to investigate a reported crime incident the night before.

The bodies of the slain cops bore multiple gunshot wounds.

“It’s a question of honor. Alam mo (You know) we fight a war and as the revolutionary ideology would put it, it’s a kind of ideological cannibalism because you devour your own kind. You kill your own brother and sisters in thy name in the altar of revolution,” the President said when asked if there was an overkill.

Duterte said the police officers who went to Sibayan to respond to the crime incident were not combatants. SOCO, he said, is a unit under the police, and the members are not even allowed to bring firearms.

“It was a well-laid trap,” the President said of the attack.

He was saddened that a woman, the SOCO investigator, was included.

The President emphasized it is always his wish to achieve a just and lasting peace even at the start of his presidency.

He noted he extended his hand to the Communist Party of the Philippines-NPA-National Democratic Front (NDF) yet “they terminated the ceasefire on February 1.”

The President responded and lifted the unilateral ceasefire and called off the peace negotiations after an attack on soldiers in February in Bukidnon.

Security tightened in Basilan after explosion; another bomb recovered

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): Security tightened in Basilan after explosion; another bomb recovered

Authorities strengthened security measures on Thursday in Basilan to possibly prevent another bomb explosion in the area.

Chief Insp. Allan Benasing, Lamitan City police chief, on Thursday ordered tighter security measures following the explosion of an improvised bomb and the safe recovery of another.

An electric post was destroyed when an improvised bomb exploded outside the Jose Rizal Elementary School at around 12:15 a.m. Thursday in Barangay Matatag, Lamitan City.No one was injured in the explosion.

Another improvised bomb was recovered outside the Alliance Church at around 7 a.m. Thursday in Barangay Malinis.

The place where the bomb was recovered is near the terminal for buses and vans plying the Lamitan City-Isabela City route and vice versa.

The main charge of the recovered cellular-phone triggered improvised bomb is an 81-mm mortar ammunition.

Benasing said they believed that the Abu Sayyaf bandits are behind the bomb explosion.

The official said they are looking at extortion as a possible motive.

One of PN's oldest ship to undergo dry-docking, related repairs

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): One of PN's oldest ship to undergo dry-docking, related repairs

One of the country's remaining World II vintage corvettes, the BRP Pangasinan (PS-31), will undergo dry-docking and other related repairs to ensure that she will remain mission-capable as the Philippine Navy (PN) awaits the arrival and delivery of its new ships.

Budget for the project is placed at PHP 36,127,000, the PN Bids and Awards Secretariat said in a bid bulletin posted at the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System.

Winning bidders must be able to deliver the services and parts within 90 days.

Pre-bid conference is scheduled for March 22, 9 a.m. at the Office of the PN Bids and Awards Committee Naval Station Jose Francisco, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.

BRP Pangasinan is one of the six Miguel Malvar-class corvettes in PN service. Originally, there were 11 but four of these were retired from service and one was grounded.

The former and her remaining sister ships were formerly the US Navy's Admirable-class minesweepers which was constructed and commissioned during the World War II.

They were transferred to the PN during the 1970s as part of the US Military Assistance Program.

Lorenzana to Navy: Drive away Chinese survey ships off Benham Rise

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): Lorenzana to Navy: Drive away Chinese survey ships off Benham Rise

Should another Chinese survey ship appeared off Benham Rise, which is near Aurora and Isabela, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has ordered the Philippine Navy (PN) to accost and drive away the vessel from the country's eastern seaboard.

He issued this statement during the first-ever "Kapihan sa Kampo" held at the Honor Hall of the National Defense College of the Philippines, Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City Thursday.

"Another thing, one of their survey ship is also plying the Benham Rise already, last year, I think it was monitored for about three months going there, so I have ordered the Navy that if they see this survey ship this year start to accost them and driving them away also from the eastern side of the Philippines," the DND chief stressed.

The 13-million-hectare Benham Rise is believed to be a fuel-rich area and awarded to the Philippines by the United Nations in 2012.

Previously, Chinese survey ships were also seen off Scarborough Shoal and Reed Bank surveying the sea bed for possible mineral deposits, he added.

The Chinese has gained total control of Scarborough Shoal (also known as Panatag) after a stand-off with the PN in April 2012.

DND mulls transfer of another infantry division to Sulu

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): DND mulls transfer of another infantry division to Sulu

In line with ongoing efforts to crush the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is looking at the possibility of transferring another infantry division to Jolo, Sulu.

He noted that the ASG bandits reoccupy an area taken over by the military when the latter leaves the said area.

Lorenzana said residents of the locality wants the military to set up permanent presence in Sulu as a counter-measure against the ASG threat.

Meanwhile, the DND chief said he met with his Malaysian and Indonesian counterparts to discuss measures to prevent kidnappings from the three nations' common maritime areas.

As of this posting, 31 hostages are still being held by the ASG, majority of them Malaysian and Indonesian seafarers.

The DND chief added that they have plans to create a task force that will be based in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi to be headed by a two-star general.

He added that they plan to deploy more fast crafts, ships, aircraft and drones to help patrol the area.

NPA ambush which killed 4 cops may affect peace talks -- Palace

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 9): NPA ambush which killed 4 cops may affect peace talks -- Palace

Malacañang on Thursday said the deaths of four policemen in an ambush allegedly staged by suspected New People's Army (NPA) in Davao del Sur might affect efforts to revive peace negotiations with the communists.

At a Palace press briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the deadly incident would provide some sort of distraction in reviving the stalled peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-NPA-National Democratic Front (or CNN according to the Palace official).

“So how it would affect? It will provide some sort of influence but, however, there’s a bigger thing which is the pursuit of peace,” he said.

"I cannot qualify, but quality-wise, I am sure it will influence... It will influence the talks. I suppose the conversation would be that there should be a firmer action coming from the CNN on the people on the ground," Abella said.

The Palace official reiterated President Rodrigo Duterte's "compelling reasons" to revive peace talks with the communists.

“Well, the President has actually laid down some conditionalities. Well, basically, some things that he would like --- he would like the CNN to abide by, for example, that they should stop extortion and that there should be a bilateral ceasefire,” he said.

“In other words that they should also cease -- cease action. That they should, in fact, take it upon themselves to be responsible for their own people and also to release prisoners. I supposed the conversation would be -- that there should be firmer -- firmer action coming from the CNN side on the people on the ground,” Abella said.

Earlier, the Philippine National Police (PNP) condemned the latest hostility launched by the NPA on police crime scene investigators in Bansalan town, Davao del Sur.

A police team en route to investigate a murder incident were fired at in Barangay (village) Sibayan early Wednesday morning resulting in the deaths of four policemen and causing injuries to another.

Both the police and military tagged the Communist guerrillas behind the ambush.

The four slain PNP members were later identified as PO1 Rholly Benelayo, PO1 Joey Narvaza, PO1 Saro Mangotara and PO3 Jayden May Rabor.

President Duterte is set to visit the wake of the killed-in-police-operation (KIPOs) officers at the Bansalan Municipal Hall Lobby Thursday afternoon.