Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Lack of prosecutors hinders efforts to curb terrorism

From the Philippine Star (Mar 15): Lack of prosecutors hinders efforts to curb terrorism

In this image taken by an Iraqi Counterterrorism Service photographer on Sunday, June 19, 2016, soldiers pose with an Islamic State militant flag in Fallujah, Iraq after forces re-took the city center after two years of IS control. Thousands of civilians are fleeing Fallujah after the city was declared liberated from the Islamic State group, the United Nations said, while an Iraqi commander reported fierce clashes as elite counterterrorism forces pushed to clear out the remaining militants. Iraq Counterterrorism Service via AP

The police is bent on prosecuting misguided Islamic militants to the fullest extent of law but is saddled with lack of prosecutors and the reluctance of witnesses to cooperate.

Chief Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac, regional police director of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), said Thursday the issues are affecting their efforts to penalize violent fanatical extremists operating in five southern provinces under their jurisdiction.

He said there is lack of aggressive prosecutors and judges ready to litigate them for heinous offenses.

“Understandably some of them are worried of their safety. We have a strong culture of vendetta clan wars in the region and some prosecutors and judges are vulnerable to retaliations,” Sindac said.

Sindac said there are also indications that moneyed drug rings are providing fanatical blocs boasting of allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) with funds in exchange for safe havens in areas where they operate.

Sindac said among the options to address the constraint is the possible deployment of outsider special prosecutors in the autonomous region to handle cases involving terrorists or to litigate their cases in Metro Manila courts.

“Our personnel are upbeat in building cases against extremists implicated in violent attacks, extortion, kidnapping and other heinous activities but the problem is in the prosecution process. We do everything by the rules, we secure search or arrest warrants the proper way,” Sindac said.

Sindac said the prosecution of local terrorists rest in the hands of prosecutors and judges.

“Witnesses are also reluctant to come out and help pin them down for obvious reasons. We have credible witnesses to harmful activities of extremists but they refuse to cooperate for fear of reprisals,” he said.

The Department of Justice is not among the agencies the national government devolved to the ARMM regional government, operating through constitutional charter, the Republic Act 9054.

There have been recorded murders in the autonomous region of prosecutors and lawyers helping put in jail high-profile offenders in years past.

Sindac said it is also rational to detain terrorists and other suspects in high-profile crimes in facilities outside ARMM that are far from reach of their accomplices or relatives.

Before Sindac got to the helm of the ARMM regional police in late 2016, members of the Dawlah Islamiya, most known as the Maute terror group, raided the Lanao del Sur provincial jail in Marawi City and set free eight companions, two of them women, detained for possession of improvised explosive devices.

The provincial jail in nearby North Cotabato, located in Administrative Region 12, was attacked thrice in a period of nine years by gunmen who sprung from detention several cohorts facing kidnapping, bombing and drug trafficking charges.

The latest of the three attacks on the facility, located in Kidapawan City, the capital of North Cotabato, happened in early January and resulted in the escape of 158 inmates, among them wealthy drug lord Melvin Casangyao.

Among those who had escaped during the jail raid were ethnic Maguindanaons from ARMM’s nearby Maguindanao province, implicated in bombings and kidnappings in North Cotabato.

The ARMM provinces of Maguindanao and Sulu are also being pestered by jihadist groups, the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), respectively.

Like the Maute group, which first emerged in Butig town in Lanao del Sur, the Abu Sayyaf and the BIFF are also using the black ISIS flag as their revolutionary banners.

There are also smaller groups of Abu Sayyaf bandits in Basilan attacking civilian targets from time to time.

There are dozens of criminal cases against key members of local ISIS-styled groups pending in local courts.

Sindac said their provincial police offices in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, both in mainland Mindanao, and the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi have religiously been building airtight cases against terrorists in the autonomous region.

He said their efforts are being supported by the ARMM’s inter-agency regional peace and order council and the region’s local government department.

“We even had a recent ARMM-initiated dialogue, one that involved the police, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, the Department of Justice, the military and officials of ARMM where we talked about measures intended to resolve the prosecution concerns we are facing,” Sindac said.

He said the ARMM government also has limited capability in helping prosecute terrorists and drug traffickers.

LOOK: Army troopers conduct jungle operations training

From Update.Ph (Mar 15): LOOK: Army troopers conduct jungle operations training

The 33rd Infantry ‘Makabayan’ Battalion of the Philippine Army has undergone jungle operations training in Daguma Mountain Range in Sultan Kudarat.

“Layunin namin ang pagtaas sa antas ng kahusayan ng mga sundalo sa pakikidigma sa jungle environment,” 33IB Battalion Commander Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc said. Lieutenant Colonel Cabunoc is a former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Public Affairs Office chief.

Lieutenant Colonel Cabunoc photo

He added that the training also provides military presence against NPA bandits. “Magkakaroon din ng presensya ang Army sa magugubat na lugar upang hadlangan ang maiitim na balak ng mga bandidong NPA,” Cabunoc said.

The Makabayan Battalion is based in President Quirino, Sultan Kudarat. It is responsible for security in towns of Quirino, Isulan, Lambayong, Tacurong City in Sultan Kudarat province and the towns of Buluan, Datu Paglas, Mangudadatu, Paglat and SK Pendatun in Maguindanao.

NPA killed, assorted war materiel seized in Bicol clash

From Update.Ph (Mar 15): NPA killed, assorted war materiel seized in Bicol clash

A New People’s Army (NPA) rebel was killed and assorted war materiel were seized following a clash with Army troops in Capalonga town, Bicol Wednesday early morning.

The incident took place 5:30 a.m. at Sitio Public, Barangay Itok, of the said locality, said Southern Luzon Command spokesperson Major Virgilio Perez.
He said troops from the 9th Infantry Battalion were conducting security patrols in the area when they encountered five rebels, triggering a five-minute gun battle which left one NPA dead.

Also recovered were an M-16A4 automatic rifle, three magazines, assorted personnel belongings and the body of the slain rebel.

Russia trains PSG members on VIP Protection

From Update.Ph (Mar 15): Russia trains PSG members on VIP Protection

20 Presidential Security Group (PSG) members has undergone a VIP Protection Training Program with the Federal Protective Service in Moscow, Russia from February 27 to March 11, the Philippine Embassy in Moscow said. This comes as President Rodrigo Duterte prepares for his visit to Russia in May.

“This training in Russia is a historic first for the PSG and augurs very well for Philippines-Russia relations,” Philippine Ambassador to Russia Carlos D. Sorreta said.
“This is a manifestation of the growing trust and confidence between the two sides which in turn generates positive momentum for deeper cooperation in the field of security and other areas of mutual interest,” he added.

According to Philippine Embassy in Moscow, this capacity-building activity is one of the concrete results of the recent successful visit to the Philippines of Mr. Nikolay Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, last February 2017.

Secretary Patrushev met with President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, Secretary of National Defense Delfin N. Lorenza and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. in Davao, City to discuss a wide range of bilateral matters, including defense and security cooperation.

FA-50PHs to conduct ‘high speed, low pass’ for Davao City day

From Update.Ph (Mar 15): FA-50PHs to conduct ‘high speed, low pass’ for Davao City day

The Philippine Air Force will be participating in the celebrations for the 80th Araw ng Dabaw. On March 16, 1936, congressman Romualdo Quimpo from Davao filed Bill 609 (passed as Commonwealth Act 51), creating the City of Davao from the Town of Davao (Mayo) and Guianga District.

The Air Force will be sending its newly acquired FA-50PHs “Fighting Eagles” for the celebrations.

FA-50PHs will be conducting high speed, low pass during the Davao Civic Military Parade on March 16 between 9am to 12pm.
According to Air Force, FA-50PHs’ participation will “show the general public that these new air assets are vital in strengthening the country’s territorial borders.”
“It will also be a great avenue to train our pilots and allow them to be acquainted with the various aspects in flight missions such as the country’s different terrains, weather, and possible areas of interest,” the Air Force added.

The Air Force now has 6 Fighting Eagles, with 6 more scheduled for delivery this year.

No destabilization in Visayas – Aying

From the Visayan Daily Star (Mar 15): No destabilization in Visayas – Aying

There is no destabilization report in the Visayas against the government.

This was the response of Maj. Gen. Jon Aying, commanding general of the Army's 3 rd Infantry Division, to reports of attempts to destabilize the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Aying said they have not monitored such reports in the three Visayas regions.

The 3 rd Infantry Division supervises internal security operations in Western and Central Visayas, as well as the Negros Island Region.

“I don't think there is such destabilization. I don't believe in that”, Aying said in an interview with Negros-based reporters Monday night.

Aying said President Duterte may have been referring to the destabilization attempt at the national level.

Duterte claimed on Monday that some mining groups have partnered with the opposition and drug dealers in a campaign to oust him.

No one in the 3ID has an idea, or any bit of thinking of going against the government, Aying also stressed.

Duterte had said that, “If the police and military will allow it, it's their problem “.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV yesterday denied that he is behind the supposed coup and destabilization attempts against President Duterte, as alleged by Senator PanfiloLacson.

“I categorically deny that I have plans of a coup de etat or destabilization,” Trillanes, a former Navy junior officer who led several coup attempts during the Arroyo administration, said in a statement he issued.

Lacsonhad earlier accused Trillanes of having a hand in the destabilization efforts against Duterte, noting that he is one of the handlers of retired Davao City policeman Arturo Lascañas, who has linked Duterte to extrajudicial killings.

Army tapping Church in peace talks

From the Visayan Daily Star (Mar 15): Army tapping Church in peace talks

The help of Church leaders will be tapped by the Army's 3 rd Infantry Division in pursuing peace talks with leaders of the revolutionary movement in Negros Island Region, its commander, Maj.Gen. Jon Aying, said yesterday.

“I really would like to bringthem to the front, to talk with the grassroots, middle leaders and top leaders of the CPP-NPA in Negros island,” Aying, who supervises the internal security operations in Western and Central Visayas, as well as Negros Island Region,said.

Clarifying that he is not insinuating localized peace talks, Aying said he wants to bring everyone, including politicians, chief executives, legislators, religious sector, media and CPP-NPA, into a “peace forum”.

“We really have to come together and talk on all the issues and problems, whether social, economy or political. This can only be solved through peaceful talks”, Ayingsaid, as he welcomed the resumption of peace talks between the National Democratic Front, which represents the CPP-NPA in the negotiating panel, and the government.

This armed struggle can never resolve all these social issues and problems that we have, he added.

Aying, who spoke yesterday at the Church-Military-Police Advisory Group dialogue at San Juan de Nepomuceno Parish Church in Brgy. Sum-ag, Bacolod City, said that the problem in Negros is “ unique”, noting that the issues are of quite a higher degree, compared to Panay, Cebu and Bohol.

CMPAG, that has been existing for almost seven years, promotes peace and development in Negros.

He said the “peace forum” is a matter of bringing different sectors together. “ We really have to come together, and talk on all these things, beyond what the national level will be talking about”, Aying added.

“ We will set the current environment, especially where we want to go. All the sectors should have their views on what future should Negros be able to come up with,” he further said.

Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. also offered financial and livelihood assistance, as much as P300,000 each, for rebels, who will surrender high-powered firearms, in support to the campaign of the Philippine Army to convince NPA remnants to abandon the armed struggle.

Aying, who has been assigned in Negros for almost 10 years as commander of the 3 rd Scout Ranger Company in the late 1980s, 61 st Infantry Battalion, deputy and later as commander of the 303 rd Infantry Brigade, noted a marked improvement in peace and order in Negros Island
He rallied Negros island leaders to work on their declaration of the two provinces as, peaceful and ready for further development, bringing in all the sectors to be part and involved in the undertakings.

At the same time, Aying also noted that the quality of cadres, fighters of the NPA in three Visayas regions, have deteriorated much, compared to the 1970s to the 1990s.

The military estimates that there are still more than 400 active NPA members operating in Negros and Panay islands.

This is moving nowhere, Aying said, apparently referring to the armed struggle, which is now nearing 50 years.

That is why I am very supportive of the peace talks, because this is the time for them to bring out all their issues,so that the government itself will take strong and fast actions, on whatever social issues will be delivered by the two panels (NDF and government), he added.

While the peace talks failed in previous administrations, Aying said he is hopeful that it will end as a success, this time, as his trust in President Duterte to solve the problem is 100 percent.

“But since this is a two panel engagement I may say that it will be successful, with 70 to 80 percent,” he added.

This is the only opportunity for our brothers and sisters in the CPP-NPA to be part of history, of the generation that made this country free, and peaceful and progressive,Aying also said.

Japan plans to send largest warship to South China Sea, sources say – Reueters

From the Mindanao Examiner (Mar 15): Japan plans to send largest warship to South China Sea, sources say – Reueters

Japan plans to dispatch its largest warship on a three-month tour through the South China Sea beginning in May, three sources said, in its biggest show of naval force in the region since World War Two.

China claims almost all the disputed waters and its growing military presence has fueled concern in Japan and the West, with the United States holding regular air and naval patrols to ensure freedom of navigation.

The Izumo helicopter carrier, commissioned only two years ago, will make stops in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka before joining the Malabar joint naval exercise with Indian and U.S. naval vessels in the Indian Ocean in July.

It will return to Japan in August, the sources said.

“The aim is to test the capability of the Izumo by sending it out on an extended mission,” said one of the sources who have knowledge of the plan. “It will train with the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea,” he added, asking not to be identified because he is not authorized to talk to the media.

A spokesman for Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force declined to comment.

Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei also claim parts of the sea which has rich fishing grounds, oil and gas deposits and through which around $5 trillion of global sea-borne trade passes each year.

Japan does not have any claim to the waters, but has a separate maritime dispute with China in the East China Sea.

Japan wants to invite Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has pushed ties with China in recent months as he has criticized the old alliance with the United States, to visit the Izumo when it visits Subic Bay, about 100 km (62 miles) west of Manila, another of the sources said.
Asked during a news conference about his view on the warship visit, Duterte said, without elaborating, “I have invited all of them.”

He added: “It is international passage, the South China Sea is not our territory, but it is part of our entitlement.”

Japan’s flag-flying operation comes as the United States under President Donald Trump appears to be taking a tougher line with China. Washington has criticized China’s construction of man-made islands and a build-up of military facilities that it worries could be used to restrict free movement.

Beijing in January said it had “irrefutable” sovereignty over the disputed islands after the White House vowed to defend “international territories”.

The 249 meter-long (816.93 ft) Izumo is as large as Japan’s World War Two-era carriers and can operate up to nine helicopters. It resembles the amphibious assault carriers used by U.S. Marines, but lacks their well deck for launching landing craft and other vessels.

Japan in recent years, particularly under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has been stretching the limits of its post-war, pacifist constitution. It has designated the Izumo as a destroyer because the constitution forbids the acquisition of offensive weapons. The vessel, nonetheless, allows Japan to project military power well beyond its territory.

Based in Yokosuka, near to Tokyo, which is also home to the U.S. Seventh Fleet’s carrier, the Ronald Reagan, the Izumo’s primary mission is anti-submarine warfare.

Karapatan raps military for killing of Bayan Muna leader, children in Basilan

From InterAksyon (Mar 15): Karapatan raps military for killing of Bayan Muna leader, children in Basilan

 Government forces have been accused of killing aleader of Bayan Muna party-list in Basilan province, two children, one of them a year old, and another person and then passing off the March 8 incident as a clash with the Abu Sayyaf, to the extent of describing the victims as extremists.

In the case of Hadji Billamin Hassan, who aside from being former provincial coordinator and a member of Bayan Muna since 2001 was also a member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front “who advocated for peace and worked for the Bangsamoro Development Agency, human rights group Karapatan indicated he could have been executed.

Citing reports by Suara Bangsamoro, Karapatan said at around 4:30 a.m. on March 8, a composite police and military team “raided and fired at residents, without any warning, in Barangay Tum-os, Tabuan Lasa, Basilan, while reportedly in pursuit of Abu Sayyaf members.”

Three houses, including that of Hassan, 59, were targeted.

Two children, the one-year old, who was shot in the head and died immediately, and an 11-year old who was shot in the stomach and was taken to a hospital in Isabela City. Another man, Nuruddin Musaddul, who was shot while sleeping, was also killed.

“According to Suara Bangsamoro, Hadji Billamin Hassan was dragged toward the dock, hands tied behind his back,” Karapatan said. “In the afternoon, relatives found his dead body in the military detachment in Brgy. Tabuk, Isabela City; Hassan sustained three gunshot wounds.”

“The police and the military later claimed that four bandits were killed,” the group added.

The military earlier said it had killed four Abu Sayyaf gunmen in a clash in the village. But Karapatan cited Suara Bangsamoro’s account, said no fighting happened in the community.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay also dismissed Western Mindanao Command chief Major General Carlito Galvez Jr.’s apology for the deaths of the children as she blasted him for accusing Hassan of being a leader of the extremist group.

She said Hassan was being linked to the Abi Sayyaf “because of his role in exposing the collusion” she alleged existed between the extremists and the military in kidnap for ransom operations.

“His organization, Kapatot, which translates to ‘human rights’ in Yakan language, has partnered with human rights organizations such as Karapatan and Moro-Christian People’s Alliance in documenting rights abuses during the military crackdown in Basilan in 2001, when numerous Moro civilians were killed and illegally arrested,” Palabay said. “Hassan’s family, along with the relatives of other victims, lodged a complaint in the Commission on Human Rights on March 14, 2017.”

She said describing him as an extremist followed the practice by state security forces of “tagging … progressives or civilians as terrorists or communists … to justify the killing of civilians.”

CHR probes kid's death in Basilan clash

From ABS-CBN (Mar 15): CHR probes kid's death in Basilan clash

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has launched an investigation into the death of a child who was caught in a crossfire during a military operation against the Abu Sayyaf in Tabuan Lasa, Basilan last week.

A one-year-old girl was hit by a bullet in the head while she was sleeping inside her family’s house amid a military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf.

Aside from the one-year-old girl, a local human rights advocate identified as Billamin Hassan and his companion were also killed in a supposed law enforcement operation, in what human rights group branded as a case of “extrajudicial killing.”

CHR Western Mindanao director Frederick Ian Capin said the commission has received the official complaint of the family members of other two persons who were killed in the operation.

Capin said, the CHR may request for the exhumation of the child’s remains for a post-mortem investigation, with the aim of determining what type of bullet hit the victim’s head.

The investigation would also focus on the trajectory of the bullets and the position of the operating units involved in the law enforcement operation.

Capin said, the investigating team would also summon the soldiers and policemen who took part in the operation to give them the opportunity to explain and defend themselves from any allegations.

The investigation will also try to determine if the operating units violated the rules of engagement.


Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. said, another child was also wounded in the operation after being caught in the crossfire.

Galvez apologized to the family of the two children for the unfortunate incident.

He said, the military was running after a certain Moblin Kulin alias Mulawin, an alleged Abu Sayyaf member who had a standing arrest warrant for kidnapping and serious illegal detention.

Galvez said, the operating units successfully killed Kulin, although they failed to recover his remains.

He also tagged Hassan as a member of the bandit group, an allegation denied by Hassan's family.

Galvez said, he personally visited the wounded child in a hospital in Zamboanga City and promised the family that the military will shoulder all the medical expenses.

He also gave assurance to cooperate in the CHR’s investigation to determine if his troops committed any violations in the conduct of the operation.

Indonesia and the Islamic State Threat

From The Diplomat (Mar 15): Indonesia and the Islamic State Threat (By Arsla Jawaid)

How big a danger do returning fighters pose to Indonesia?

As Islamic State (ISIS) loses territory in its base, northern Iraq and eastern Syria, fresh concerns about returning foreign fighters have mounted in Southeast Asia. In December 2015, the Soufan Group estimated that some 900 Southeast Asian fighters, with a majority from Indonesia, had traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the fight. Official estimates from Southeast Asian intelligence agencies placed the number between 1,200-1,800. While it is difficult to estimate precisely how many fighters from the region are currently participating, the Straits Times reported most recently that some 392 Indonesians are believed to be fighting for ISIS in Syria. Malaysians have also been seen in ISIS videos, but they are believed to constitute a distinct second to Indonesian fighters.

However, not all Southeast Asian who have traveled to ISIS-controlled territory are fighters. It appears that some 45 percent of the numbers estimated are women and children who have accompanied the men fighting in the Levant. Estimates also include those who have gone to fight alongside other rebel groups, including Jabhat-al-Nusra.

Since July 2014, ISIS has used social media, propaganda, and recruitment videos released by its media wing, Al-Hayat Media Center, to persuade Indonesians, Filipinos, and Malaysians to travel and join the group. While ISIS does not pose a distinct threat in the Southeast Asian region currently, the sheer number of Indonesians and Malay-speaking foreign fighters has been enough to form its own fighting unit in Syria, known as Katibah Nusantara. Formalized in September 2014, through a series of bayat (pledge of allegiance), Katibah actively recruits in the region, provides a social platform for recruits looking to settle in and connect with other ISIS members, as well as tutorials for logistical and tactical training.

Public opinion polls conducted by the Pew Research Center reveal that support for ISIS is difficult to find in Indonesia; 79 percent hold an unfavorable view of the group compared to only 4 percent who view it favorably. Close to 50 Indonesians have since returned to their country, citing disillusionment with the extremist group. An additional 200 people, 60 percent of whom are women and children, have been deported from the Turkish border before reaching their destinations in Syria or Iraq.

Threat Assessment

Terrorist attacks are not new in Indonesia. Following the 9/11 attacks, terror threat alerts rose in many parts of the world. Jemaah Islamiya (JI), an al-Qaeda linked terrorist group, and its splinter organizations have carried out a range of bombings and attacks throughout the region. The most notable incidents in Indonesia include the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people (including scores of foreigners); the 2003 J.W Marriott hotel bombings in Jakarta that killed 12 people; a car bombing outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, claiming the lives of 10 Indonesians; further bombings in Bali in 2005 killing 26 people; and the 2009 bombings of the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Jakarta, killing at least nine people. The most recent attack occurred in January 2016, when multiple explosions near the Sarinah shopping mall and a UN information center rocked Jakarta, killing eight people and injuring many more. The attack was the first to be claimed by ISIS.

Currently there exists no formal ISIS presence in Southeast Asia and there is little to suggest a significant ISIS threat to the region. However, given the history and presence of militancy in the region, existing jihadi groups such as the Mujahideen Indonesia Timur (MIT) in Indonesia and the Abu Sayyaf Group in the Phillippines have pledged allegiance to ISIS, raising concerns regarding the formation of a formal ISIS affiliate.

In Indonesia, JI too had pledged allegiance to the group in July 2014 before rescinding it. While JI, a U.S and UN designated terrorist organization, may serve as a re-emerging threat due to its established support base, it theologically differs from ISIS on a multitude of fundamental issues.

The Issue of Returnees

As ISIS loses ground in consolidated territory there are growing fears that the group will lash out overseas, encouraging ISIS-inspired “lone wolf” attacks. There is also mounting concern that Indonesian fighters will return home equipped with the training and combat experience, harnessed further by staunch ideological beliefs.

The term “returnees” encompasses different categories: returning fighters as well as women and children who have accompanied fighters, minors, non-combatants, and more. Globally, the question of how to deal with returnees falls upon two central issues: (1) the problem of evidence, i.e. how to prove someone was involved in violence (when it is not explicitly known) and the permissibility of internet based evidence; (2) lack of capacity of states to conduct rehabilitation and reintegration. In the Indonesian case, most known returnees constitute those who have not managed to gain entry into Syria, and thus are lacking in training and experience. These “returnees” may then actually be classified as “deportees” and should not be included in the returnees count. The distinction is critical to make.

As Joseph Chinyong Liow, a fellow at Brookings Institution notes, in assessing the threat level efforts have been made to draw parallels between those who returned to the region following the Afghan jihad in the 1980s and those possibly returning after fighting in the Levant. This particular point requires greater understanding of the context of political and historical movements in Indonesia. Most fighters who participated in the Afghan War had traveled to gain combat experience to then return to Indonesia and overthrow the repressive regime of President Suharto. However, a post-Suharto Indonesia, which has seen successive governments fortify democracy, fails to provide an environment requiring the urgent utilization of such skills.

Finally, there is also a belief that those who are deeply embedded in the fighting in the Levant may instead choose to finish the fight in what they see as the “great end-times battle,” drawing deeper into their ideological training instead of returning home.

Counterterrorism Efforts in Indonesia

While much has been said about returning fighters and lone wolf attacks in Western Europe as well as in the Middle East, the phenomenon is somewhat different in Southeast Asia.

Improved counterterrorism measures across the region have greatly aided in keeping any major terrorist attack at bay. Growing divisions and rivalry between militant groups have also helped to prevent cohesive and coordinated attacks, while law enforcement capabilities have been honed further.

Detachment 88 (also known as the National Police Counterterrorism Squad) and the National Counterterrorism Agency have both arrested a number of ISIS sympathizers throughout the country. Late last year, National Police Chief Tito Karnavian announced that 170 alleged terrorist had been processed by the police in 2016, 33 of whom had been killed. Those killed included four terrorists behind the Sarinah bombings earlier in the year. While terrorists have by and large targeted law enforcement agencies, civilians have increasingly borne the brunt of attacks inspired by the ISIS bombings in Paris.

Given lax immigration policies and vague criminal legislation addressing returning fighters, Indonesia has been diligent in initiating a new range of targeted measures.

Legally, there has been a move to expand the powers of security forces, allowing them to detain suspects without trial for purposes of investigation, arrest individuals involved in military training overseas, and possibly revoke of citizenship (a direct response to the FTF threat and a step that is currently only practiced in Australia). However, there currently exists no formal program of reintegration and rehabilitation for returning fighters.

There are efforts to state a clear re-definition of terrorism that would expand beyond physical acts to include hate speech and symbols. Indonesia already has efforts in place to promote civic education, tolerance, and respect to counter the violent ideology of militancy. Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiya, the two largest Muslim mass movements, are both based out of Indonesia and have launched programs placing international and reputable Islamic scholars at the center of countering ISIS’s narrative and highlighting the gaps that exist in faulty propaganda. However, more robust efforts harnessed by greater regional coordination must be put into place.

Even though public support for ISIS is difficult to find and Indonesia has attracted significant donor funding for its reintegration and rehabilitation efforts, prison reform remains crucial and urgent. ISIS and pro-Jemaah Islamiya arrested ideologues openly recruit in prisons amongst gang members, petty criminals, and disgruntled youth looking for a form of employment, security, adventure, or acceptance into a community. As Liow observes, “corruption, incompetence, poor monitoring, and poor supervision of visits have all contributed to the ease with which radical ideas propounded by jihadi ideologues and recruiters are allowed proliferate among ‘gen pop,’” Poor prison management, over-crowding and lax vigilance allows not only for recruitment and radicalization within cells but also for potential coordination of terrorist activity conducted through social networks and the use of information technology, such as smartphones that inmates can readily access.

Indonesia’s de-radicalization program has also seen very limited success. Clerics and former jihadists have both been involved in countering jihadist propaganda and theological teachings but with little success. Countering ideological motivations will have a short shelf-life if they haven’t been the paramount drivers for young recruits in the first place.

Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis and Conflict, notes the urgent need for state authorities to monitor the dozens of convicted terrorists who are released every year to prevent further recruitment for pro-ISIS networks. Released jihadists, with few economic opportunities and limited skills, often return to their jihadi communities, where they are re-exposed to militant ideas.

Bilateral, regional, and international cooperation and intelligence sharing is critical to remaining vigilant. Not all incidents can be prevented but Indonesia’s approach has been a combination of tested methods and experimental measures. Utilizing INTERPOL’s database and secure communications network could also help enhance national and regional capacity.

While much has been written and argued in favor of countering the narratives and messaging of ISIS in Indonesia, care must be taken to not over-emphasize the approach. While important and legitimate to address these concerns given that the bulk of recruitment is conducted in the social media space, radicalization and recruitment in Indonesia is far more fluid and complicated. Unlike in Malaysia, where the theology of ISIS has been a paramount attraction for young minds, Indonesians are driven extensively by feelings of exclusion, kinship networks, group rivalries, or other financial and practical interests, making the Indonesian recruitment landscape that much more complex to break with any one programmatic approach. Any focus on counter-messaging must aim to target more than just the ideological pull of ISIS.

[Arsla Jawaid has worked as a journalist and editor in Pakistan. She has consulted for U.S.-based policy institutes on issues of youth radicalization, countering violent extremism, and foreign fighters. She holds an M.A from Columbia University.]

Indonesia nabs ‘recruiter’ for Philippine terror group

From Anadolu Agemcy (Mar 15): Indonesia nabs ‘recruiter’ for Philippine terror group

Police official says Indonesian suspected of recruiting citizens to join Daesh-linked Abu Sayyaf militant group

Indonesia nabs ‘recruiter’ for Philippine terror group

Indonesian police have arrested a suspected militant accused of recruiting citizens to join a Daesh-linked terror group in the Philippines’ troubled south.

A national police spokesman told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday that 36-year-old Mahbub, who like many Indonesians uses one name, was arrested Monday in East Java province after police tracked his activities over two months.

"He recruited people who want to go to the southern Philippines," Insp. Gen. Boy Rafli Amar said. "We are still investigating how many people have departed."

Indonesia-based terror networks have a history of close relations with the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines’ southern Mindanao island region.

In the early 2000s, some members of Jemaah Islamiyah, an affiliate of al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia, received military training at Abu Sayyaf camps.

Among them were two accused of involvement in the 2002 Bali bombings that left 202 people dead.

On Wednesday, Amar also said that Mahbub was connected to nine other suspected militants -- who police have said belong to a new terror group -- arrested last week for allegedly planning attacks on security forces.

"They are targeting the security forces. Therefore, we raise awareness," he underlined.

He said the radical group, which is based in Sulawesi island and has pledged allegiance to Daesh, considered police as enemies hampering their missions and capturing their fellow members.

Indonesia has been cracking down on militant groups since the 2002 Bali bombings.

The country has been on alert against extremist activities since 2015, further heightening security measures after a January 2016 attack left eight people -- including four Daesh-linked suspects -- dead in the capital.

CA confirms appointments of DepEd's Briones, 45 AFP officers

From InterAksyon (Mar 15): CA confirms appointments of DepEd's Briones, 45 AFP officers

Education Secretary Leonor Briones smiles at her confirmation hearing on Wednesday (March 15, 2017). ERNIE REYES, INTERAKSYON.COM

The Commission on Appointments (CA) headed by Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III on Wednesday confirmed the ad interim appointment of Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones and 45 officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

In the plenary deliberations, Pimentel approved the motions for the confirmation of Briones and 456 AFP officers since there was no objection from the members.

Senators Bam Aquino, chairman of the CA committee on education; and Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto sponsored and seconded respectively the confirmation of Briones.

Aquino said that based on Briones’ accomplishments alone, it is clear that she is qualified for the job.

“And based on my personal experience working with her over the past 8 months (as former chairman of the Senate committee on education) I can say that she truly is champion for education – one who can make our hopes and dreams for every Filipino student a reality,” Aquino said.

Meanwhile, Pimentel also approved the confirmation to higher rank of the following AFP officers:

1.     B/Gen. Arnold F. Fernandez

2.     Lt. Gen. Donato B. San Juan

3.     Major Gen. Ronald C. Villanueva

4.     B/Gen. Bonifacio B. Cebrian, Jr.,

5.     Major Gen. Noel S. Clement

6.     B/Gen. William A. Alunday

7.     B/Gen. Noel S. Buan

8.     B/Gen. Marion G. Lacurom

9.     B/Gen. Manuel Trece P. Robles

10. Army Colonel Yegor Rey P. Barroquillo, Jr.

11. Navy Colonel George J. Tagle (Reserve)

12. Major Gen. Raul M. Farnacio

13. Army Colonel Romeo N. Bautista III

14. Army Colonel Leonardo C. Dacumos

15. Air Force Colonel Francisco R. Godoy, Jr.

16. Air Force Colonel Jose Johnson T. Grayda Jr.

17. Air Force Colonel Joel A. Inacay

18. Army Colonel Noly P. Mapili

19. Army Colonel Dennis Francis V. Pastor

20. Army Colonel Leonardo I. Pena

21. Air Force Colonel Joel T. Rebullar (Reserve)

22. Colonel Edna S. Renejane (Medical Corps)

23. Air Force Colonel Celso G. Resurreccion

24. Army Colonel Eliglen F. Villaflor

25. B/Gen. Carlomagno L. Tabo

26. B/Gen. Erwin A. De Asis

27. Air Force Colonel Joseph P. Archog

28. Army Colonel Herbert M. Bautista (Reserve)

29. Navy Captain Richard M. David

30. Army Colonel Enriqueto R. Deocadez, Jr.

31. Air Force Colonel Federico B. Enriquez

32. Air Force Colonel Teodoro C. Epres (Reserve)

33. Air Force Colonel Edmond B. Gupit

34. Air Force Colonel Ulyses S. Marquez

35. Army Colonel Alexei CV. Musngi

36. Air Force Colonel Vicente A. Naldoza, Jr.

37. Air Force Colonel Lizander G. Oliveros (Reserve)

38. B/Gen. Nathaniel Y. Casem

39. B/Gen. Hilario B. Frigillana, Jr. (Reserve)

40. Air Force Colonel Amado V. Dela Paz

41. Army Colonel Arvin R. Lagamon

42. Army Colonel Edmundo G. Peralta

43. Army Colonel Ariel M. Reyes

44. B/Gen. Macairog S. Alberto

45. Army Colonel Rey B. Alemania

On the Communist Party of the Philippines’ support for fascistic President Duterte

From the World Socialist Website (Mar 15): On the Communist Party of the Philippines’ support for fascistic President Duterte

[Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)]

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration and the National Democratic Front (NDF), the legal wing of the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), issued an announcement on March 11 in Utrecht that they had reached an agreement and were resuming peace talks. The five-point agreement, they stated, was arrived at through “back-channel negotiations” following the collapse of previous negotiations and the lifting of the ceasefire in early February.

The peace talks failed as a result of deliberate violations of the ceasefire agreement by both the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the CPP’s armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA). Jorge Madlos, of the NPA National Operational Command, appears to be heading a faction which is opposed to the ceasefire and peace talks and is working to sabotage them.

On February 7, Duterte ordered the AFP to launch “all-out war” against the NPA. He repeated this cry on a number of occasions. On March 9, he called for the AFP to use newly-purchased jets and missiles to bombard regions allegedly held by the NPA. “If there is collateral damage,” he said, “Sorry.” Two days later the resumption of the peace talks was announced.

The rapid shifting, from talk of peace and coalition to all-out war and back to peace again, is a product of immense political volatility. The vulgar rhetoric and lurching political zig-zags of Duterte are less an expression of the psychology of this former mayor and death squad leader, and far more an expression of an insoluble social crisis and imminent danger of imperialist war.

Duterte’s moves to reorient Philippine economic and diplomatic ties away from Washington and in the direction of Beijing have deeply destabilized bourgeois politics in the former colony of US imperialism.

At the same time, there is evidence of mounting social opposition and hostility from the working class and oppressed masses. A survey in December revealed that eight out of ten Filipinos feared for their lives or the lives of a loved one as a result of Duterte’s murderous war on drugs. Over the past weekend, thousands of homeless families in Bulacan seized over 5,000 empty government homes and declared their intent to occupy them.

In this unstable situation, Duterte has sought to shore up his shaky hold on power by resting his administration on simultaneous support from the military and the CPP.

Under the auspices of his “war on drugs,” which has killed over 8,000 people in the past eight months, Duterte has prepared the apparatus of military rule. He does not control the military brass, however. The generals are loyal, above all, to Washington. As Duterte has moved closer to Beijing, their loyalty to him has wavered, and they have gotten in the habit of publicly gainsaying his statements.

Duterte has relied on the CPP and its front organizations, meanwhile, to contain class tensions and mobilize support behind his right-wing agenda. The CPP selected four members to serve in Duterte’s cabinet and led rallies in support of the president and his policies. It has used its role in suppressing opposition to the government to negotiate terms in the peace deal and positions within Duterte’s government. Just as Duterte does not fully control his military leadership, however, it is also clear that Joma Sison, head of the CPP, does not fully control the NPA.

This is an explosive situation.

The response of the CPP and its front organizations to the mounting opposition to the social crisis gripping Philippines society and to the Duterte administration, has been to issue an appeal for “unity and struggle.” Using the language of Stalinism, they called on the party and its front organizations to maintain unity with Duterte, while “struggling” with him at the same time. They are working as a loyal opposition, containing protests against Duterte, criticizing some of his policies, and calling for pressure to be brought to bear upon his government, but always concluding with support.

Thus, while in their demonstrations the CPP’s front organizations now denounce Duterte as a “fascist,” the Maoists remain within his cabinet. The CPP is still negotiating peace, and every rally and leaflet concludes with a call to pressure Duterte back to the interests of “the people.”

Eight months ago, the CPP enthusiastically endorsed Duterte’s presidency, including explicitly supporting his so-called war on drugs as a progressive measure on behalf of the poor.

This stark and grotesque political trajectory is not an aberration, but the necessary expression of the CPP’s Stalinist program. A survey of the history of the CPP reveals that this is the party’s standard pattern of behavior. In its half century of existence, the CPP has demonstrated that there is not a single section of the capitalist class or its representatives whom they will not endorse and, when it subsequently becomes politically necessary, decry.

The CPP and Stalinism

The CPP was founded on the program of Stalinism. The Stalinist bureaucracies in Moscow and Beijing, in betrayal of Marxism and the Russian Revolution, sought to secure their privileged status behind the program of “Socialism in One Country.” Stalinist parties around the globe, in the name of this program, subordinated the working class to the bourgeoisie, telling them that the revolutionary tasks were national and democratic in character, and not yet socialist. They claimed that a section of the bourgeoisie would thus play a revolutionary role and could serve as a political ally. In this way, they mobilized the working class behind their enemy, the capitalists, and in return secured choice positions and a modicum of support for the interests of Moscow or Beijing. The result for the working class has always been disastrous.

In the name of this program, Sison, head of Kabataang Makabayan, the youth wing of the Communist Party, endorsed Ferdinand Marcos for president in 1965, claiming that Marcos and his Nacionalista Party represented a progressive force in Philippine society. Sison continued this support for several years, personally meeting with Marcos in 1967 to discuss economic policy and writing a public letter to the president in November of that year offering him friendly advice, which he signed “Very Truly Yours, Jose Ma. Sison.”

In 1967, however, the Community Party split in two. Both retained their Stalinist program, but one was loyal to Moscow and the other, the CPP—which Sison founded in December 1968—to Beijing. Marcos moved to open ties with the Eastern European bloc, and Sison and the CPP broke with him. The CPP, in keeping with the perspective of Mao Zedong, established the New People’s Army to carry out a peasant war in the countryside. The NPA was, in its own founding documents, proclaimed to be a means of securing ties with a section of the bourgeoisie in a “broad national united front.”

Sison and the CPP gave their full support to Marcos’s leading rival, Benigno Aquino and the Liberal Party (LP). They actively campaigned for the LP in the 1971 election and repeatedly denounced Marcos as “a fascist.” In return, the LP funded the CPP and its front groups and gave token support for Beijing’s foreign policy interests, traveling repeatedly to China and occasionally bringing back copies of Mao’s Red Book for Sison and his cohort.

When Marcos declared martial law in September 1972, the Moscow-oriented party embraced his dictatorship and entered his cabinet, murdering the members of their own party who opposed this policy. The bourgeois opposition to Marcos quietly acquiesced and took up life in exile.

Sison and the CPP welcomed martial law. Sison hailed its declaration, writing that “the conditions of revolutionary struggle have been tremendously enhanced.” As their bourgeois allies disappeared, the CPP sought allies from among landlord class, whom they termed, “the enlightened gentry.” The struggle of the working class in the cities, which had reached explosive levels before the declaration, was silenced by the military dictatorship, and the CPP directed all remaining opposition to the countryside, effectively stabilizing Marcos’ rule.

In the lead-up to the Marcos dictatorship’s collapse in 1986, the CPP opposed his leading bourgeois rival, Corazon Aquino, as being no different from Marcos and pursued a boycott policy in the February election—a policy initially promoted by a small section of the bourgeoisie. On Marcos’s ouster, the CPP abruptly altered its line and declared enthusiastic support for the “progressive” Aquino administration, calling on workers and peasants to endorse her.

In 1987, the CPP front organizations led a march to the presidential palace of Malacañang, with placards appealing to “Cory our Hero” to grant land reform. Aquino had her troops open fire on the peasant rally, killing 13.

Only after this event did the CPP, by a split vote, break ties with Aquino and begin to denounce her as “a fascist.” On her death in 2009, Sison described Aquino as an “outstanding and inspiring figure in the anti-fascist alliance.” The CPP was at the time looking to form an alliance with her son.

Each subsequent election and political crisis has seen similar maneuvers and betrayals by the CPP. The party’s front organizations played a crucial role in the ouster of President Joseph Estrada by constitutional coup in 2001, and the installation of Vice-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo into office. They hailed her as progressive and sought an alliance with her administration. When, in a move to stabilize her rule, she sent troops to crack down on poor protesters on Mendiola, they supported her action as the suppression of “a rabble.” Within three years, as class tensions again mounted and the alliance soured, the CPP denounced her as “a fascist.”

Duterte and the CPP

No development has more clearly demonstrated the rotten character of the CPP’s Stalinist politics, however, than its relationship with Duterte. The party’s full-throated support for Duterte was directly responsible for his rise to political prominence over several decades as mayor of Davao City, where he openly functioned as the head of the city’s death squads.

When Duterte briefly withdrew from the presidential race in late 2015, the front organizations of the CPP formed an alliance with a rival candidate Grace Poe. They proclaimed her the progressive representative of the national bourgeoisie, but it was a half-hearted alliance at best. When Duterte re-entered the race, the CPP front group candidates were already running on Poe’s ticket and could not back out to join Duterte.

Last May, immediately after the election, Bayan, the CPP front umbrella group, issued a statement mildly criticizing Duterte’s economic agenda. Sison responded, publicly upbraiding Bayan’s leadership. “You don’t just attack capitalists,” he stated. “We can work with nationalist capitalists even as we talk to and persuade compradors … Our honeymoon is just beginning. We’re talking to him. He’s offered us positions.”

Less than a week after Duterte’s election, the CPP’s official paper, Ang Bayan declared that Duterte would carry out progressive policies that should be supported. From this point, the party’s enthusiastic endorsement of Duterte proceeded with extraordinary speed.

As the CPP entered this alliance, the fascistic character of Duterte was already crystal clear. During his campaign, he threatened to declare martial law, and stated that his law and order campaign would leave 100,000 bodies “floating in the bay.” He vowed that if workers went on strike he would kill them; he said murdered journalists “deserved to be killed.”

The CPP selected four members to serve in Duterte’s cabinet. They led rallies in support of his administration. In late June, Sison said a “coalition government” of the CPP with the Duterte administration was “in sight.” He declared the forces of the NPA could merge with the AFP, or serve as armed guards at factories. The class outlook of the CPP could not be clearer. Sison was declaring it would police the working class at factories on behalf of the state, if peace were declared.

The CPP wholeheartedly endorsed Duterte’s murderous drug war. On June 21, Ang Bayan wrote: “The people will completely support [puspusang susuportahan] the steps that Duterte will take to remove and punish the drug syndicates.” Duterte called upon the NPA to join his war on drugs, and on July 7 the NPA excitedly declared it was “pleased to hear the appeal of the Duterte regime to the revolutionary forces to assist in his campaign.”

Einstein Recedes, secretary general of the CPP’s youth front organization, Anakbayan, declared on June 26: “We believe that Duterte’s campaign against dangerous drugs and crime is a boon to the poor.” Bayan hosted a dinner for Duterte in July, in which he announced: “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself.” Bayan had the head of the Philippine National Police, Bato de la Rosa, the man directly responsible for carrying out this murderous campaign, speak at one of their rallies. Renato Reyes, head of Bayan, eagerly shook his hand afterward and posted the image on Facebook.

As the death toll mounted, and it became apparent that a campaign of mass murder had been launched, the CPP and its front groups continued to support Duterte. Bayan’s official statement in mid-July peddled the line being promoted by the Duterte administration, which pretended that the deaths were being carried out by drug dealers themselves, killing each other.

Social opposition is reaching a breaking point, however, and the CPP is scrambling to retain its influence among the masses. Vencer Crisostomo, chair of Anakbayan, told a rally this month: “Everyday it is becoming more clear that Duterte is a hangman, a fascist, and desires to become a dictator like his idol, Marcos.” He did not call for a break with the Duterte administration, however. Just as the CPP welcomed martial law in 1972, so he expressed a willingness to welcome it now, stating: “Marcos was dubbed the number 1 recruiter of the NPA. Duterte may as yet beat the record of Marcos.”

Sison and the CPP have played a politically criminal role in stabilizing and promoting the fascistic Duterte administration and in corralling opposition to it. This role is in keeping with the party’s entire history and expresses its political program and class orientation.

Philippine history has already demonstrated the immense danger that martial law poses to the working class. The CPP made its declaration possible in 1972, and welcomed it. The CPP is following the precisely the same orientation today.

The Filipino working class and oppressed masses must draw the lessons of this history. There is no way that they can defend their basic democratic rights on the basis of the Stalinist program of nationalism and class collaboration. Only on the basis of the struggle for socialism, in alliance with their class brothers and sisters around world, and independent of every section of the bourgeoisie, can the Filipino working class defend its interests and its very lives from the imminent danger of dictatorship.

Wounded cops in Abra clash get award

From ABS-CBN (Mar 15): Wounded cops in Abra clash get award

Chief Supt. Elmo Francisco Oco Sarona awarded the Medalya ng Sugatang Magiting to five policemen wounded in a clash with rebels on Monday. Cordillera PNP handout photo

Five police officers wounded in a firefight between the police and suspected New People's Army (NPA) rebels in Abra received the Medalya ng Sugatang Magiting on Tuesday.

Chief Supt. Elmo Francisco Oco Sarona, regional director of the Cordillera PNP, awarded the injured police officers at the Abra Provincial Hospital.

The five wounded policemen are PO2 Jessie P. Trinidad, PO1 Marion Dela Paz, PO1 Gerome Baldos, PO1 Kennon Sanggoy, and PO1 Von Harold Layao. They all belong to the Abra Provincial Public Safety Company.

"This is a living testament that ang kapulisan po ninyo ay tumupad sa mandate naming to serve and protect no matter what it costs, no matter what it takes", Sarona said.
(This is a living testament that the police perform its mandate to serve and protect no matter what it costs, no matter what it takes.)

After receiving the award, Baldos, who received severe injuries on his right leg, was airlifted to the Ilocos Training and Regional Medical Center in La Union to receive advanced medical attention.

Abra on red alert as NPA steps up attacks

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 14): Abra on red alert as NPA steps up attacks

La Trinidad, Benguet — New People’s Army (NPA) attacks have stepped up in some parts of Luzon since last weekend when government and communist party leaders announced a resumption of the peace talks in April, forcing the police in Abra to raise the red alert.

The Abra Police Provincial Office (PPO) was put on red alert a day after five police officers were wounded in an ambush by NPA rebels in Poblacion, Malibcong town. The Agustin Begnalen Command of the NPA has admitted to the attack.

Last Sunday, 30 guerrillas stormed the Malibcong Municipal Police Station (MPS) and ransacked its armory just hours after Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and National Democratic Front (NDF) peace negotiators meeting in Utrech, The Netherlands, announced that talks were back on track.

Tension in the province has been high with Abra Governor Joy Bernos condemning the NPA attacks in Malibcong. “I do not see valid reasons for our brothers in the left to act like this. I support a peaceful negotiation for the safety and welfare of the people of Abra,” Bernos said.

Down south of Luzon, the military’s Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM) said a gunbattle between elements of the army’s 31st Infantry Battalion (31st IB) and NPA rebels raged for 15 minutes before dawn Monday in Sitio Anahawan, Barangay Togawe, Gubat, Sorsogon.

The rebels withdrew, leaving behind baby armalite.

A few hours later, 30 NPA rebels engaged soldiers from the army’s 83rd Infantry Battalion (83rd IB) in Barangay Pinamihagan, Lagonoy, Camarines Sur. One rebel was killed in the gunbattle.

Duterte wants clear parameters on ceasefire, peace talks with Reds

From GMA News (Mar 14): Duterte wants clear parameters on ceasefire, peace talks with Reds

Malacañang on Tuesday said that President Rodrigo Duterte wanted clear parameters on the ceasefire and peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CCP-NPA-NDF).

“On the peace process, the President acknowledged the Joint Statement of the GPH and NDF peace panels on the intent to resume formal peace talks. To ensure that genuine peace talks are realized, the President asked both Panels to agree on clear parameters for ceasefire and the talks,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said on Tuesday.

He said that the spokesperson having clearer peace talks and ceasefire parameters would address the New People’s Army (NPA) attacks.

“I think that’s actually the reason why the President insisted that clear parameters be set so that they themselves are able to work within these parameters which is clear, because formerly there were no clear parameters,” he said.

Abella, however, could not determine how soon the President wants the parameters to be set.

“As far as I remember, there was no specific time, except that it was, he was quite insistent that clear parameters need to be established,” he said.

Abella reiterated that the communist leaders must have a grip on their people on the ground.

“Well, like I said, let's leave it to their responsibility to be able to deal with their men on the ground,” he said.

Despite the NPA attacks, Malacañang still pushes for the peace talks.

“Let us put it this way. Between the parties that are willing to resume talks, there seems to be… they are establishing mutual trust, okay. And those are the activities on the ground. Certainly very… they add stress and burden to the talks. However, as far as we can see, there is the intent to pursue the final and lasting peace which can be brought about by a written agreement," he said.

Sulu Sea as Southeast Asia’s Somalia

From the Asia Times (Mar 14): Sulu Sea as Southeast Asia’s Somalia

A surge in piracy and kidnapping-for-ransom attacks has made the southernmost Philippines one of the most dangerous maritime areas in the world

Members of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) anti-terrorist unit apprehend mock pirates who hijacked a vessel during a combined maritime law enforcement and anti-piracy exercise at a bay in Manila. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Members of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) anti-terrorist unit apprehend mock pirates who hijacked a vessel during a combined maritime law enforcement and anti-piracy exercise at a bay in Manila. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Unable to stem a rising trend of piracy and kidnappings, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is seeking foreign assistance before its Sulu Sea devolves into the region’s version of Somalia – where terror group-linked pirates threaten to disrupt a waterway through which billions of dollars worth of trade flows annually.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier called on China to help maintain freedom of navigation in the piracy-ridden area, a proposal that if implemented would give Chinese naval vessels cause to float deeper into the contested waters of the South China Sea.

His government appeared to change course on March 8 when AFP Chief of Staff Eduardo Ano proposed to hold joint patrols in the maritime area with Malaysia and Indonesia. The proposed patrols will be discussed at the upcoming Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean) Maritime Transport Group meeting to be held in Manila between April 4-6.

A rising trend of piracy and kidnapping-for-ransom attacks has made the Sulu Sea one of the world’s most dangerous maritime areas. Several of the hostages indicated in this June 2016 graphic have since been killed because ransoms were not paid.

The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), an al Qaeda-linked Islamic terror organization situated in the Philippines’ southernmost Sulu archipelago, is known to be responsible for the recent surge in piracy. The militant group has traditionally funded its fight against Manila through kidnapping-for-ransom rackets, but has recently ramped up piracy activities to net more victims and demand higher pay-offs.

The Associated Press estimated in February that the terror outfit had raised nearly $7.3 million in ransom payments this year. Analysts believe the group aims to leverage those funds into larger terror attacks, which in recent years have been confined mainly to the country’s remote southernmost area. A recent report by IHS Markit, a strategic intelligence consultancy, estimated the Sulu Sea was the most pirated area of the world, followed by Nigeria and India.

Upon taking office, Duterte vowed to annihilate Abu Sayyaf by deploying 10,000 highly trained soldiers to Basilan and Sulu. The terror group, estimated to consist of a few hundred foot soldiers in remote jungle redoubts, was thought to be on its last legs after a series of assassinations of its leaders by US-guided Philippine troops. However, the group has seen a resurgence of relevance as it has ventured into more maritime disruption.

Ano recently announced that the Philippine Navy has designated a safe sea-lane through the Sulu Sea, where the military conducts regular coastal monitoring. He has appealed to commercial vessels passing through the area to only use the designated safe channel. Ano proposed that Malaysia and Indonesia will also deploy naval assets adjacent to the sea-lane to expand the safe passage area.

That may or may not work. The Singapore-based Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) argued in a recent research report that the spate of piracy and kidnappings showed that the Sulu Sea was under de facto control of “bandits, criminals and extortionists”, with their hideouts situated in remote areas beyond state control.

Soldiers distribute pictures of a Isnilon Hapilon, a member of the extremist group Abu Sayyaf, who has a US government bounty of US$5 million for his capture. Photo: Reuters / Marconi B. Navales

Originally confined to attacks on small fishing trawlers, tugboats and yachts, Abu Sayyaf last year worryingly started to hit much larger cargo ships.

Despite recent collaborative meetings between the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, it is not clear the rising problem will be solved any time soon. The ocean between the southern Philippines and eastern Malaysia is vast and home to many small islands where suspected pirates can readily evade pursuing authorities. All three neighboring countries lack strong maritime policing capabilities.

Security analysts and regional officials have repeatedly warned the Sulu Sea region is at risk of becoming Southeast Asia’s version of Somalia, where terror-linked pirates attack merchant ships for profit while severely disrupting trade. Duterte’s appeal to China for help was acknowledgement of Beijing’s intervention in protecting its ships that passed by Somalia around the piracy-prone Gulf of Aden.

Abu Sayyaf has taken hostage and demanded ransom for dozens of Malaysians and Indonesians in recent years, according to local news reports. In recent weeks the terror group nabbed 11 Vietnamese sailors and demanded ransom for their release in two separate attacks near the volatile border island grouping of Tawi Tawi.

While the Philippines is making overtures to improve policing and security, there is still official denial the situation is spinning out of control. After Indonesian Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Panjaitan warned that the region was in danger of becoming a “new Somalia”, then Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay countered that the situation in the region was more stable than in Africa and that the government was “full in control.”

In reality, Abu Sayyaf has fought and survived against five successive Philippine governments since 1992 in a region Manila has arguably never really controlled. All five presidents over that period, including Duterte, announced that they would eliminate the militant group through tough security measures. But 25 years later Abu Sayyaf continues to sow fear and loathing through a campaign of terror and violence it has successfully extended from land to sea.

Army commander sorry for kids’ deaths in operations vs Abu Sayyaf

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 15): Army commander sorry for kids’ deaths in operations vs Abu Sayyaf

Army soldiers in action in Basilan (INQUIRER FILE PHOTO)

Army soldiers in action in Basilan (INQUIRER FILE PHOTO)
The military here said it was sorry for the deaths of two children during an operation against the Abu Sayyaf in Tabuan Lasa town in Basilan on March 8.

“I feel very bad until now. I am really very sorry over the two. They were caught in the crossfire,” Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., commander of Western Mindanao Command, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

The main target in the raid was Mubin Kulin alias Mulawin, a cousin of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and who was also responsible for several kidnapping.

Galvez said the information they got revealed that almost 100 Sulu-based Abu Sayyaf members were on Tapiantana Island in Tabuan Lasa.

As the government troops were to serve the warrant against Kulin, more than 30 bandits greeted them with bullets, Galvez said.

“That firefight allowed the escape of Kulin and his men,” he said.

It was only then that the troops learned about the deaths of two children.

“We did not expect children in that place,” Galvez said, adding that they would help the families of civilians caught in the crossfire.

Dr. Arlyn Jumao-as, executive director of the Save the Children from Armed Conflict in Basilan, identified the children as Nurmida Alha Abbi, 7 and Ashab Tawallah Abuhaip, 12.

Two other adults were killed — Hadji Billamin Hassan and Nuruddin Musaddul Muhlis.

Human rights group Suara Bangsamoro condemned the military operations, saying it considered the killing of Hassan as “a case of extra-judicial killing.”

“According to his wife, he was still alive when the raiding team took him aboard the Naval gun boat,” Suara Bangsamoro chair Amirah Lidasan said in a statement.

Lidasan said Hassan suffered two bullet wounds in the chest, a deep wound in his shoulder, and bruises on his face.

“During the raid, the military sprayed bullets on at least three adjoining houses, hitting residents who were sleeping, some saying the Fajr (morning) prayer,” Lidasan said.

Lidasan identified one of the slain children as Nurmaida Agpih, a one-year old baby who was hit in the head.

She also said another child, 11-year old Ashab Abuhayr, was wounded and has been brought to a hospital.

Hassan’s wife, Hadji Nur, also complained of the destruction and seizure of their properties.

Galvez said Hassan was the main suspect in the kidnapping of six Vietnamese on Sibago Island and reportedly kept the captives in Tapiantana before bringing them to Sulu.

Hassan was also identified as among those who led the burning of over 100 houses in Tapiantana five years ago. The arson led to a clan war between Hassan and the incumbent mayor Muctar Junaid. The conflict ended in a settlement led by Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Governor Mujiv Hataman.

Duterte wants ‘structures’ built on Benham Rise

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 15): Duterte wants ‘structures’ built on Benham Rise

President Duterte has ordered the Philippine Navy to put up “structures” to assert the country’s sovereignty over an underwater landmass 250 kilometers off the east coast of Luzon that a Chinese survey ship visited for six months last year, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

Manila has lodged a diplomatic protest with Beijing after the Chinese vessel was tracked moving back and forth over Benham Rise, which the United Nations declared in 2012 part of the Philippine continental shelf.

The 13-million-hectare Benham Rise, also known as Benham Plateau, is found off Isabela and Aurora provinces. The plateau is potentially rich in mineral and natural gas deposits.

China’s foreign ministry on Friday said the Chinese ship was engaged in “normal freedom of navigation and right of innocent passage,” and nothing more.

Although the United Nations ruled in favor of the Philippines, this did not mean Benham Rise is part of its territory, according to Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang.

Lorenzana said Mr. Duterte’s instruction was to increase naval patrols in that area and put up structures “that say this is ours.” He did not specify what structures would be erected. The shallowest point of Benham Rise is 35 to 50 meters.

“We are concerned, they have no business going there,” Lorenzana told reporters late on Sunday.

But presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said on Tuesday there was no directive for the country to put up a structure on Benham Rise to assert ownership of the area.

Abella said the territory belonged to the Philippines and the government would defend its rights over the area.=
“First and foremost, Benham Rise belongs to the Filipino people. The Philippine government is duty-bound to defend and protect the sovereign and territorial right over this region,” he said.

He said no other country could stay and build anything on the plateau.

“Other countries can exercise innocent passage and territorial navigation, but they are disallowed to stay and establish any structure in the area,” Abella said.

Sovereign rights

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) also said the Philippines had sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the undersea region.

“Benham Rise is part of our [370-kilometer] exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and extended continental shelf … so our claim is indisputable,” Assistant Secretary Charles Jose, DFA spokesperson, said on Tuesday.

“The Philippines has the sole and exclusive right to explore, exploit and manage natural resources on Benham Rise so I think it is our responsibility to protect this area,” Jose said.

On Monday, Beijing reiterated that Manila could not claim Benham Rise as its own property despite being recognized by the United Nations.

Citing international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Beijing said that a coastal state’s rights over the continental shelf “do not affect the legal status of the superadjacent waters or of the air space above those waters.”

The coastal state’s rights also do not affect foreign ships’ freedom of navigation in its EEZ and their innocent passage through the state’s territorial sea, it said.

Jose said the Philippines recognized the two principles. “Technically speaking, no country can claim ownership of a sea in the same manner that China cannot claim ownership of the South China Sea,” he said.

Placed on back burner

Beijing and Manila have a separate territorial feud in the South China Sea west of the Philippines, but tensions have eased considerably since Mr. Duterte took office in June and began reaching out to China.

He has placed the dispute on the back burner while seeking Chinese trade and economic aid.

Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said promoting national security must come first before enhancing economic diplomacy.

“The DFA will know how to work closely with our defense department, our treaty ally and partners to outline our options for consideration of our President. Under no circumstances would it be wise for us to trade away our national security,” said Del Rosario in a statement.

In a press conference on Monday, Mr. Duterte said he could understand that China was claiming Benham Rise and added that he did not want to “fight about ownership or sovereignty at this time because things are going great for my country.”
No incursion

The President also said there had been no Chinese incursion into Philippine territory because the two countries had a previous agreement.

“We were advised of it way ahead. But maybe we have every right also to ask, ‘What’s up? Why are you here? It’s like that. We do not want to pick a fight. Things are getting great our way, so why spoil it?” he said.

As for the military, Mr. Duterte said it should assert Philippine ownership in a friendly way.

“My orders to my military? You go there and tell them straight that, this is ours but I say it in friendship,” he said.

Lorenzana protested the presence of a Chinese survey ship on Benham Rise from June to December last year.

‘Submarine routes’

Though he accepted China’s explanation, Lorenzana said it was clear that the vessel was not passing through the area because it stopped multiple times, for sustained periods.

He said on Sunday that he was suspicious of China’s activities near Benham Rise and suggested they might be part of surveys to test water depths for submarine routes to the Pacific.

On Tuesday, he said the Philippine Navy would send a patrol ship to Benham Rise to survey its extent and study how to make full use of its vast resources, including yellow fin tuna.

“We will continue to study what will be the best way to develop that area for our needs,” said Lorenzana, who noted that Benham Rise was almost as big as northern and central Luzon,