Saturday, March 18, 2017

MNLF-IO: MNLF gathers for Bangsamoro Freedom Day

Posted to the Moro National Liberation Front International Office (Mar 18): MNLF celebrates 49th anniversary

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SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao: The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) is celebrating today (March 18) its 49th founding anniversary with a massive gathering of leaders and supporters in Sulu.
Ustadz Murshi Ibrahim, MNLF Central Committee secretary general, told The Manila Times that Founding Chairman Nurullaji Misuari has issued an official advisory to MNLF leaders, Bangsamoro Armed Forces (BAF) officers, commanders and regular members to join the celebration to be highlighted by a parade at the historic town of Jolo.
Ibrahim advised the participants to proceed to the Astana (Palace) on Mount Dragon for the final affairs of the 49th MNLF Anniversary that will commence at 3 p.m. where Misuari is expected to deliver his speech and will make an important announcement for the Bangsamoro people.
The MNLF adherents, supporters and sympathizers from all over Minsupala (Mindanao, Sulu, Palawan) are expected to actively participate in the celebration.

MNLF-IO: Photos: MNFL 49th Founding Anniversary Celebration!

Posted to the Moro National Liberation Front International Office Facebook page (Mar 18): Photos:
MNFL 49th Founding Anniversary Celebration!

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NDF/NDF-Mindanao:On the 49th year commemoration of the Jabidah Massacre

Propaganda statement posted to the National Democratic Front Website (Mar 18): On the 49th year commemoration of the Jabidah Massacre

 Press Statement
18 March 2017


The National Democratic Front of the Philippines – Mindanao (NDFP-Mindanao) is one with the struggling Moro people in commemorating the 49th anniversary of the Jabidah Massacre. The Jabidah Massacre incident was the slaughter on March 18, 1968 of 28 to 64 young Moro men recruited for an operation to invade Sabah, Operation Merdeka.

This was a manifestation of deep chauvinism and the utter lack of respect for the human rights of the Moro people. This unspeakable tragedy sparked the Bangsamoro’s armed resistance against national oppression and the struggle for their genuine right to self-determination.

It has been nearly five decades, and even if the Duterte regime promised that it will do what it can to attain ‘peace’ in Mindanao, militarization in numerous Moro communities, especially in Sulu, Basilan, Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat, continue unabated and are escalating. Under the pretext of the ‘war against terrorism’, the Moro masses are in fact the real victims of indiscriminate bombings and attacks in these Moro areas.

Similar to acts of atrocity committed by previous regimes, these resulted in the forced evacuation of thousands of Moro masses. The AFP, for their part, is quick to create a hype on media with regard to members of the Abu Sayyaf or other such terrorist groups whom they have killed, but are, in truth, just ordinary and innocent Moro masses. Even more distressing, these have also resulted in the erosion of livelihood of the Moro people, shoving them further onto the muck of impoverishment. Thus, even as 49 years have passed, the brutality felt by the victims of the Jabidah massacre lives on with the Moro people.

The Bangsamoro continues to be pitted against each other, and suffer in the throes of division. And the gap between Muslims and Christians, and that of the Moro and the majority peoples, widens even further, because of the unresolved problem of the Abu Sayyaf, which was created and coddled by the AFP. The reactionary government continues to suppress the legitimate armed resistance of the Moro people, such as the ones advanced by the MILF, BIFF, MNLF-Misuari and other such groups. The ‘peace talks’ have been used to deceive the Bangsamoro, leading them astray from the path of armed struggle and pushing them to capitulation.

However, the history of the Bangsamoro is rife with the determined struggle against foreign domination, injustice, oppression and the plunder of their ancestral lands. Since Sultan Kudarat’s fight against the Spanish colonizers, to Datu Ali’s rise against US imperialism, until the current struggle against the puppet and reactionary state, the struggle of the Bangsamoro continues to blaze.

In 1969, only a year after the Jabidah massacre, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), under the leadership of Chairman Nur Misuari and Vice Chairman Sheik Hashim Salamat, was founded. Despite Martial Law, it launched successful operations against the US-Marcos regime’s military forces.

Due to the armed resistance begun by the MNLF, Marcos was then forced to open up to the first ever peace negotiations with the Bangsamoro. In 1976, the US-Marcos regime and the MNLF signed the Tripoli Agreement. Marcos however betrayed the MNLF after he junked the agreement because it ran opposed to the provisions of the Philippine constitution.

After the MNLF, then came the MILF, and then the BIFF – all seeking to resolve the Moro problem through armed resistance and win for the Moro people their genuine right to self-determination.

Even with the successive regime changes that followed after Marcos, it is undeniable that oppression and exploitation worsened for the Moro people. After Marcos was ousted from power, the Aquino, Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo and Aquino III regimes all boasted to work towards granting autonomy to the Bangsamoro. But, in spite of consecutive peace (1996 Final Peace Agreement, MOA-AD, CAB, etc.) and ceasefire (1997 GRP-MILF Ceasefire Agreement) agreements, the brutal militarization of Moro areas never ceased. And, until present, with the full recognition of the Bangsamoro’s right to self-determination disregarded, genuine autonomy remains elusive.

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In another context, through the imposition of pro-imperialist policies under Duterte, the Moro people are further pushed to destitution. The Bangsamoro do not benefit at all from the thousands of hectares of arable land forcibly apportioned to imperialist mining concessions (e.g. P495-million nickel-mining project by Pax Libera Mining, Inc. in Languyan, Tawi-Tawi) and plantations for banana, oil palm, jathropa, rubber and pineapple (e.g. US-company UNIFRUITTI that owns 5,000 hectares of banana plantation in the towns of Buldon, Matanog, Talayan, Abubakar and Barira, all in the Maguindanao province). The ones that fully exploit Bangsamoro lands are foreign monopoly capitalists and their local cohorts, such as Danding Cojuangco, and by the Moro ruling classes, such as the Ampatuan and Mangudadatu clans.

The NDFP-Mindanao therefore calls upon the Moro people to remain steadfast in their unity and demand that the Duterte government fulfil its promise to genuinely better the lives of the Bangsamoro.

Despite of the continuing AFP and paramilitary attacks, the Bangsamoro must steel its resolve to further strengthen its armed resistance for its genuine right to self-determination and against the fascist and chauvinist reactionary state. Remember that only through armed revolution the basic problems of the Moro people are resolved.

The NDFP-Mindanao, together with its allied organization, the Moro Resistance and Liberation Organization (MRLO), is one with you in your continuing struggle for just and lasting peace and justice.#

Ka Joaquin Jacinto

NDF/NDF-SMR: Who are getting the worst end of GRP’s all-out war?

Propaganda statement posted to the National Democratic Front Website (Mar 17): Who are getting the worst end of GRP’s all-out war?  

NDFP – Southern Mindanao Region
Press Statement | March 17, 2017

Prisoners-of-War CAA Rene Doller and CAA Carl Mark Nucos

In a recent video released by the NPA Comval-Davao Gulf Sub-Regional Command, Prisoners-of-War CAA Rene Doller and CAA Carl Mark Nucos assert that the Filipino masses, especially the poor Lumad and peasants living in the countryside, are suffering greatly in the face of the AFP’s all-out war against the revolutionary movement.

POW Doller, who has been a member of the Civilians Auxiliary Force and Geographical Unit (CAFGU) for 19 years, exposed the truth about their troops’ combat and civic-military operations long denied by duplicitous mouthpieces in the AFP. “When we conduct operations, there are civilians that we talk to. They get scared because we encamp in communities, in barangay halls and in sitios,” Doller said.

Despite clear rules of engagements in the CARHRIHL and other international protocols, AFP troops bullheadedly utilize civilian communities as virtual garrisons in their counter-insurgency campaign.

He added how AFP troops wage psywar and harassment against the hapless civilians in a fascist attempt to coerce information out of them:

“There are also AFP soldiers who are unpleasant; they harass the civilians and interrogate them where the NPAs are. And those masses who are guileless, they look pitiful because they shudder out of fear. There are other soldiers who do not understand the masses, they just harass them.”

In the past month since the all-out war campaign against the revolutionary movement, and with Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s order to “drop bombs” and “flatten hills” in going after the NPA, AFP troops in the region have gone haywire in committing the most ferocious war crimes against the masses. On March 10, operating troops of the 46IB indiscriminately fired at commuting civilians in Brgy. Caboyoan, Mabini in Compostela Valley. The next day, following the NPA’s successful tactical offensive against said troops, the AFP launched massive aerial strike in the hinterlands of the barangay, destroying communities and farms while close to 500 families of Lumads and peasants evacuated with hardly any belongings with them. Several houses where also ransacked by the marauding troops.

On February 12, Brgy. Bullocan, Laak in Compostela Valley was bombarded by the 60IB with several 105mm Howitzer cannons, prompting more than 300 families to flee their communities. On February 22, residents of Brgy. Fatima, Paquibato district in Davao City were subjected to over an hour of the AFP’s aerial assault.

The AFP’s paramilitaries have also gone on a killing spree of civilians. Peasant leader Willerme Agorde was gunned down by the Bagani in his residence in Pres. Roxas on February 19 while Buyog Bacladan, a Lumad, was killed on February 21 in Magpet, North Cotabato. The Alamara also threatened on February 12 the delegates of a medical and mercy mission who were investigating the epidemic of cholera among the Lumad communities in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

In Mati City and Lupon, Davao Oriental, soldiers of the 28IB who were conducting so-called rescue operations for the POWs Doller and Nucos trained their guns on farmers Marcial Alameda, Jr. and Eduardo Mandabon. Mandabon was cruelly mauled for failing to provide information on the whereabouts of the NPA.

POW Nucos appealed to AFP troops who are operating in the countryside “to cease their operations because many civilians live in terror, especially when there are encounters close to their communities. Their livelihood are also direly affected.”

Oplan Kapayapaan, like its previous counterinsurgency iterations, not only employs fascist measures but also divisive tactics of pitting the poor against one another. As in the aggressive recruitment of paramilitaries like the Bagani and Alamara that creates schism among Lumads in the region, the AFP enlists CAFGUs as lowly-paid combatants and local assets against their fellow peasants in the countryside.

The two POWs also lamented the miserable situation of working as CAFGUs. POW Doller said that when he joined the service in 1998, they were only paid a meager P900 per month. “This year, 2017, we are getting P4,500.” He further rued, “If we figure into an accident or if we die in combat, our families will only be given P65,000. That’s all they get.”

POW Nucos appealed to his fellow CAFGUs to “leave the service since there are other means of living that we can pursue, and especially to the youth as there are other opportunities for work.” To their principal, POW Doller urged for the resumption of the peace negotiations between the GRP and the NDFP. He added, “I think we should also end the all-out war because it is disastrous to the people, especially those living in the countryside, the poor peasants, so that they may be able to find decent livelihood here. And also, sir, so that Prisoners of War like us may be released immediately.”

The NPA custodial unit of the two POWs is awaiting order for their safe release in consideration to appeals from their families and other well-meaning peace advocates. However, the unit reported that the 28IB is still conducting combat operations that imperil the safety of POWs Doller and Nucos and hinder their speedy release.

POWs Doller and Nucos were arrested in a mobile checkpoint mounted by Red fighters in Brgy. Don Mariano Marcos, Lupon in Davao Oriental last February 14.


Militant groups join “invaders” of NHA housing projects in Bulacan

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 18): Militant groups join “invaders” of NHA housing projects in Bulacan

Some 600 militants belonging to five partylist groups swooped down in one of the rows of occupied housing units of the National Housing Authority (NHA) at the NHA Village Heights 2 in Barangay Mapulang Lupa here where they staged a rally in a show of support to the cause of the urban poor on Saturday morning.

The militant groups composed of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Akbayan, Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Anak Pawis and Kabataan Partylist took turns in assailing the government housing programs and vowed to support members of the leftist group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay), who occupied since March 8 at least 6,000 “idle” housing units in different resettlement areas in this town.

Sarah Elago of the Kabataan partylist said that their group, together with the four others partylist organizations belonging to the Makabayan Block, had already filed a resolution in Congress aiming to investigate the idle housing projects of the government.

“The poor has the right to proper shelter and public funds intended for the poor should go to the poor,” she said.

She said, however, that their resolution would have to wait because Congress was now on break.

Elago said that it was high time to probe the incidents so that it would not have spill-over effects in other provinces where NHA housing units were located.

She added that NHA should speed up the processing of papers for the poor since many of them had no means to follow up the requirements.

She said that President Rodrigo Duterte himself did not want people lining up to follow up something in every government offices.

Rep. Antonio Tinio of ACT Partylist said that the police and military should not be allowed in the community and also diverted his speech in the offensive of the government against communist insurgents.

When asked what would they do if the NHA served the notice of eviction this coming Monday, Carlito Badioc, Secretary General of Kadamay, said that their group would not leave the occupied housing units and continue to fight for the right of the poor to have their own dwelling place.

He said that Kadamay was willing to provide the masterlist of the group who took over the NHA housing units but NHA officials did not let it happen that way.

What they want is for us to leave first the occupied housing units before they process it. And also, we want them to acknowledge our wishes --to pull out the police in the area, remove food blockade and provide electricity, water and other needs of the housing sites,"” Badioc said.

The NHA on the other hand, explained that the units that the KADAMAY has occupied has already been awarded to the PNP housing boards while the other units are already awarded to informal settlers whose houses have been demolished and to families who where removed from geological hazard zones.

The NHA also issued statements that they are following instructions of the President who ordered them to provide adequate living conditions for the people by providing them with water and electric supply.

Bilateral ceasefire deal to top agenda of resumption of peace talks -- Bello

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 19): Bilateral ceasefire deal to top agenda of resumption of peace talks -- Bello

Government chief peace negotiator Silvestre ‘Bebot’ Bello III is optimistic that a bilateral ceasefire agreement would be reached during the resumption of peace talks between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) on April 2-6 in Oslo, Norway.

In an interview at the the inauguration of SSS - Ilagan branch in Isabela on Friday, Bello said, “topping the agenda of the fourth round of talks is the forging of a ceasefire agreement where both parties would set parameters and mechanisms for an honest-to-goodness observance of the truce.”

Bello also said, once the bilateral ceasefire agreement would be forged, they will start discussion on socio economic issues to include geniune land reform, independent foreign policies, national industrialization, among others, to come up with a Comprehensive Agreeement on Socio Economic Reforms (CASER).

If there would be no major setbacks during the talks, Bello said CASER shall be forged by the end of June and final peace agreement will be possible by the end of August, this year.

This, he said, “is because the other agreement, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), which was forged during the Ramos administration, has already been adopted by both parties.”

Army recovers BIFF guns after brief clash in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 19): Army recovers BIFF guns after brief clash in Maguindanao

Soldiers serving as blocking force of military offensives against outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao clashed Saturday with the lawless elements in Rajah Buayan town, the Army said on Sunday.

Capt. Arvin John Encinas, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said the elements of the 40th Infantry Battalion clashed with fleeing elements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the village of Pidsandawan at about 3 a.m.

Outnumbered, the BIFF dispersed and fled toward the Liguasan marshland, leaving behind five firearms, Encinas said.

Firearms recovered were a Garand rifle, Carbine rifle, M-79 grenade launcher and two 12-gauge shot guns and bomb making devices.

Last week, the Army launched air and ground assaults in the villages of Tee and Andavit, Datu Salibo, Maguindanao after BIFF Commander Bungos and a Jemaah Islamiya senior leader were sighted.

Rajah Buayan town is adjacent to Datu Salibo within the vicinity of the 220,000 hectares Liguasan marsh.

Encinas said the focused military operations left at least 10 BIFF killed, including a suspected foreign terrorists whose identity is still being validated.

Encinas said information from villagers and troops on the ground said the BIFF immediately buried their fallen comrades a day after the offensives.

Brig. General Arnel Dela Vega, 6th ID chief, vowed to relentlessly pursue the bandits blamed for the series of roadside bombings against military personnel stationed in Maguindanao’s second district.

PN vessels mounting Oto Melara gun rise to six

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 18): PN vessels mounting Oto Melara gun rise to six

With the Philippine Navy (PN) now operating three Hamilton-class cutters in its fleet, the number of Filipino warships mounting the formidable 76mm Oto Melara automatic cannon in the Philippine Navy (PN) has climbed to six.

The third Hamilton cutter (now the Gregorio Del Pilar class frigate in PN service) was delivered and commissioned last December with her first and second sisters being activated on December 2011, and November 2013, respectively.

The other three ships carrying these armaments are the three Jacinto-class patrol vessels (formerly the Peacock-class of the United Kingdom acquired in Aug. 1, 1997).

Naval experts said the Oto Melara was one of the best weapon systems in service with the PN today.

The Oto Melara 76 mm gun of the above-mentioned vessels are all mounted in a turret forward of the bridge.

It has a range of up to 10 nautical miles (20 kilometers).

It is remotely controlled from within the combat information center by the gunnery officer and has no crew within the turret itself.

The gun in Philippine service can fire 80 rounds in 60 seconds from its ready magazine, and the ships can carry a total of 450 rounds.

The Oto Melara 76mm cannon is used by 53 naval forces worldwide.

The gun's high rate of fire makes it suitable for short-range anti-missile point defense.

Specialized ammunition is available for armor piercing, incendiary and directed fragmentation effects and there is also a new guided round that is supposed to be able to destroy maneuvering anti-ship missiles.

Another advantage of this weapon is that it is light and compact enough to be installed in warship weighing 750 gross tons or even less, the configuration of most naval vessels in the PN.

The 76 mm gun is a naval artillery piece built by the Italian defense conglomerate Otobreda.

It is based on the Oto Melara 76mm/L62 Allargato which is bigger and heavier.

Number of PAF Mach 1.5 capable aircraft to rise at 8

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 19): Number of PAF Mach 1.5 capable aircraft to rise at 8

At least two more South Korean-made FA-50PH "Fighting Eagle" jet fighters will be joining the Philippine Air Force (PAF) inventory on March 27.

FA-50PHs with tail numbers 007 and 008 will be delivered at Clark Airbase in Angeles City, Pampanga.

With the pending arrival of these aircraft, the number of Mach 1.5 capable jets in PAF inventory will climb to eight, Air Force spokesperson Col. Antonio Francisco said.

The first two FA-50PH units were delivered last Nov. 28, 2015 while the second batch was handed over last December 8.

While the third batch was turned over to the PAF last Feb. 22.

Francisco said they expect Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), the aircraft manufacturer, to deliver the remaining four FA-50PHs within the year.

The PAF's 12-plane order from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) is worth PHP18.9 billion.

The FA-50PHs has a top speed of Mach 1.5 or one and a half times the speed of sound and is capable of being fitted air-to-air missiles, including the AIM-9 "Sidewinder" air-to-air and heat-seeking missiles aside from light automatic cannons.

The FA-50PHs will act as the country's interim fighter until the Philippines get enough experience of operating fast jet assets and money to fund the acquisition of more capable fighter aircraft.

The FA-50PH design is largely derived from the F-16 "Fighting Falcon", and they have many similarities: use of a single engine, speed, size, cost, and the range of weapons.

KAI's previous engineering experience in license-producing the KF-16 was a starting point for the development of the FA-50PHs.

The aircraft can carry two pilots in tandem seating. The high-mounted canopy developed by Hankuk Fiber is applied with stretched acrylic, providing the pilots with good visibility, and has been tested to offer the canopy with ballistic protection against four-pound objects impacting at 400 knots.

The altitude limit is 14,600 meters (48,000 feet), and airframe is designed to last 8,000 hours of service.

There are seven internal fuel tanks with capacity of 2,655 liters (701 US gallons), five in the fuselage and two in the wings.

An additional 1,710 liters (452 US gallons) of fuel can be carried in the three external fuel tanks.

Trainer variants have a paint scheme of white and red, and aerobatic variants white, black, and yellow.

The FA-50PHs uses a single General Electric F404-102 turbofan engine license-produced by Samsung Techwin, upgraded with a full authority digital engine control system jointly developed by General Electric and KAI.

The engine consists of three-staged fans, seven axial stage arrangement, and an afterburner.

Its engine produces a maximum of 78.7 kN (17,700 lbf) of thrust with afterburner.

Female NPA killed in Agusan Del Norte clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 19): Female NPA killed in Agusan Del Norte clash

A female New People's Army (NPA) rebel was killed during a clash with 29th Infantry Battalion troopers in Kitcharao town, Agusan Del Norte Saturday afternoon.

Col. Benjamin Hao, Army spokesperson, said the encounter took place 3:45 p.m. at Barangay Hinimbagan, Kitcharao town.

Government troops were on security patrols when they encounter rebel forces under Guerilla Front 16, triggering a short fireght, which left the female dead and no losses to 29th Infantry Battalion troops.

Also recovered was an AK-47 automatic rifle. The other NPAs quickly retreated after seeing one of their number fall dead.

Hao said the slain rebel is still to be identified prompting soldiers to turned over the body to the Kitcharao Municipal Police Station for proper disposition. Pursuit operations are still ongoing.

47 BIFF men, allies neutralized in 3-day operations in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 19): 47 BIFF men, allies neutralized in 3-day operations in Maguindanao

An estimated 47 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and their allies were reported killed and wounded while five improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and numerous components were seized during a three-day operation in Datu Salibo, Maguindanao.

The offensive against the BIFF started March 13 and ended on the 16th, Western Mindanao Command spokesperson Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay said in a statement Sunday.

The series of military operations, which included artillery and air strikes, was conducted by troopers from Joint Task Force-Central (JTF-C).

JTF-C head Brig. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega said an initial 21 terrorists were killed and another 26 wounded in their operations.

No casualties were reported among pursuing government troops.

In the same vein, five IEDs (four pressure-type and one command detonated) and numerous IED components were recovered in Barangay Tee of the above-mentioned locality.

Dela Vega said the three-day offensive was designed to dislocate forces under Muhammad Ali Bin Abdulrahman alias Muawiyah, allegedly a foreign terrorist; Salahuddin Hassan, a bomber trained by the latter, and Esmael Abdulmalik alias Abu Toraype, the Dawlah Islamiyah Maguindanao founder and a BIFF brigade commander.

Validations are being made on the ground on the persistent reports that these terrorists were killed in the well-planned, well-coordinated, and well-executed massive air and ground operations.

These brigands were reportedly the allies of Marwan, the target of the SAF PNP operations in January 2015, and are responsible for the series of bombing incidents in Mindanao.

Their group is also conducting IED training among newly recruited members from different Provinces including those from the Maute Group, with test missions that target NGCP towers, public areas, and conveyances.

AFP ready to patrol, conduct mapping survey in Benham Rise

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 18): AFP ready to patrol, conduct mapping survey in Benham Rise

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said that they are just waiting for the government’s go signal to start patrolling Benham Rise


In an interview, Air Force Spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said that the AFP is very much ready to heed to any directive to be given by President Rodrigo Duterte with regard to the country’s claim on the area.

“We are just awaiting the green light from government for the AFP to start the patrol and mapping survey at Benham Rise,” Padilla said.

Padilla said the AFP is very much ready to guard and patrol Benham Rise which is part of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Padilla said the AFP also has the capability to conduct the mapping survey to further check the area’s rich mineral resources.

Padilla said the Philippine Navy will be the one to conduct the mapping survey while Philippine Air Force (PAF) has the capability to conduct aerial surveys.

“Our mandate based on our Constitution is very clear and that is we are obligated to protect our citizens all over the country. We are also mandated under the Constitution to guard our territory, territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Padilla said.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said that they are not discounting the possibility of conducting its own survey of Benham Rise to check on the resources of the area.

Lorenzana said as far as he is concerned, Benham Rise is rich with resources, especially of fish species which can benefit the country.

He added that the issue on Benham Rise was tackled during Monday night’s Cabinet Security Cluster Meeting presided by President Duterte.

Explain Panatag construction

From the Manila Times (Mar 19): Explain Panatag construction

MANILA has sought clarification from Beijing amid reports China was planning to build an environmental monitoring station on Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, a Malacañang official said on Saturday.

“We are seeking information from Chinese authorities to clarify the accuracy of the report,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a text message.

Hainan Daily newspaper, quoting Sansha Communist Party Secretary Xiao Jie, has reported that China would begin preparatory work this year to build environmental monitoring stations on a number of islands, including Panatag Shoal.

This comes as the Philippines seeks a diplomatic solution with China to resolve a dispute over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Manila is not insisting on its rights over the contested waters despite an international arbitration tribunal ruling favoring the Philippines.

China seized Panatag Shoal in 2012 after a standoff with the Philippine Navy. It then denied Filipino fishermen access to the disputed area, forcing the previous Aquino administration to take legal action against Beijing.

The United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated China’s claims to the West Philippine Sea in July 2016, ruling that the Philippines has sovereign rights over Panatag Shoal and other areas within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone. China refused to recognize the ruling.

Tensions eased when President Rodrigo Duterte visited China the same year, telling his counterparts that he was not yet ready to insist on the tribunal decision.

Recently, Chinese survey ships were monitored at the resource-rich Benham Rise, an area that is part of the Philippines’ extended continental shelf east of Luzon, for about three months.

The Chinese foreign ministry said the Philippines did not own Benham Rise but the Philippine government maintains that it “belongs to the Filipino people and the Philippines.”

On Friday, President Duterte met with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang in Davao City to unveil a new six-year development cooperation plan, but the two did not discuss the maritime dispute.

No monitoring

Also on Saturday, Malacañang denied that Chinese ships were in Benham Rise to monitor the alleged presence of US submarines in the country’s continental shelf.

Abella said the Philippine government does not allow Chinese vessels in Benham Rise to do such monitoring.

“We have not heard of such information,” Abella stressed as he reiterated Duterte’s previous statement that he does not want the Philippines to be caught in the conflict between the US and China.

“Be that as it may, the President will not allow that as he said in numerous occasions that he does not want the Philippines to be caught in the middle of a conflict between the United States and China,” the Palace official said.

Duterte had downplayed the presence of Chinese ships in Benham Rise, China sought permission to send its ships to the area.

The Palace official said the Philippines is duty-bound to protect its sovereign rights over the Benham Rise and can oversee and regulate the ships that pass through the area.

“Other countries can exercise innocent passage and territorial navigation. But they are disallowed to stay and establish any structure in the area… The Philippines has the responsibility to oversee and regulate the sailing ships of other countries that pass with the waters around Benham Rise,” Abella said.

3 die, 2 injured as army truck rams into motorbike, trike

From the Manila Times (Mar 18): 3 die, 2 injured as army truck rams into motorbike, trike

MAYANTOC, Tarlac: A family of three died while two others were injured after a Philippine Army truck hit the vehicles they were riding in barangay Rotrottooc here on Friday.

The fatalities were Edgar Callo, 39; his wife Elizabeth, 36 and son Cristan 11; while injured were an unidentified tricycle driver and his passenger Rezel Garma.

The army truck, driven by Sgt. Frederick Natividad, was on its way to base at Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) in Camp Aquino, Tarlac City when it accidentally hit the Callo family at the intersection of barangay (village) and provincial roads.

The truck came from a civilian military operation in the far-flung barangay of Labney in Mayantoc town.

Natividad forcibly stopped the truck but failed hitting the Callos on board their motorcycle. The truck then drifted and turned the opposite direction hitting the tricycle.

What’s Next for Philippine Military Modernization Under Duterte?

From The Diplomat (Mar 17): What’s Next for Philippine Military Modernization Under Duterte?

A closer look at what we might expect.

What’s Next for Philippine Military Modernization Under Duterte?
 Image Credit: U.S. Army Photo

For all the rhetoric about the Philippines facing off against China in the South China Sea, the reality is that the country remains one of Asia’s weakest militaries and is building from a very low base (See: “The Truth About Philippine Military Modernization and the China Threat”). Given that, one of the key lingering questions about the administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been how it might approach military modernization during his single six-year term which lasts until 2022.


Though the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) faces a range of internal and external challenges – including insurgencies, natural disasters, and unresolved territorial and sovereignty issues with neighboring states – it spends only around 1 percent of its GDP on defense, which is behind the Southeast Asian average of around over 2 percent of GDP.

The Armed Forces Modernization Act, initiated under Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino III in 2013, was an attempt to make up for the anemic (and at times astrategic) investment of the past. Under the plan, Philippine military modernization over the next decade or so was divided into three horizons and phases: the first till the end of 2017; the second from 2018 to 2023; and the third from 2024 to 2028.

With the second horizon set to begin in 2018, there were questions about whether we could see significant changes in the country’s priorities. This is especially the case given the Duterte administration’s perceived tendency to place relatively greater emphasis on internal rather than external threats as well as the president’s own remarks about money being wasted on expensive military hardware like fighter jets.

Continuity or Change?

Less than a year into Duterte’s term, we have seen a mix of general continuity as well as some specific changes. Even if Duterte does not fully appreciate the importance of military modernization, the Department of National Defense (DND) still does and has made this clear. As Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in an interview with the Australia Naval Institute last week, modernization is critical not only to tackle immediate threats but also to enhance the management of the defense bureaucracy as well as promote greater professionalism to make the Philippines a strategic regional player by 2028.

The budget numbers we have seen thus far also suggest that the commitment to military modernization remains intact. As I have noted before, in its first-ever defense budget, the Duterte administration devoted the same 25 billion pesos amount to military modernization as the Aquino administration did last time around. This included funding for key, big-ticket items already prioritized for external defense like fighter jets, frigates, and radars.
That said, this is not to say that we have seen no changes at all. Duterte’s defense budget included a robust funding boost for the Philippine Army as well as a separate 25 percent budget increase for the Philippine National Police (PNP). That was a clear sign that even as the administration continues on with longer-term military modernization efforts, it will still place a great emphasis on internal threats that it will need to urgently confront as well that are in line with the priorities Duterte set out during the presidential campaign. That is a shift from where things initially were during the Aquino administration, where defense officials had suggested that the second horizon would focus more on areas like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) and the maritime concerns like the South China Sea and not as much on internal security operations.

More specifically, though it is still early days, we have also seen intent to reprioritize some kinds of equipment over others in line with the administration’s threat assessment. In public remarks, Duterte has said that he wants the AFP to have more night-capable attack helicopters, fast boasts, as well as more body armor, rifles, and helmets to confront insurgents in the southern Philippines. Lorenzana has said that the DND is looking at the feasibility of including this as part of the existing list of equipment under the second horizon. He has also said that acquiring more modern systems is a priority, particularly in the Sulu Sea which has become a key focus for the Duterte administration.

To be fair, such revisions in defense lists are hardly unique to the Duterte administration, and it is still too early to determine if these revisions amount to a shift in strategic orientation. Seasoned observers will remember that similar changes were made under Aquino as well, at times with the same reasonable calculation that investing longer-term modernization needs to be balanced with acquiring the capabilities to confront shorter-term threats. The clearest example was the shelving of the planned Shore Based Missile System (SBMS) acquisition project in mid-2015 in favor of equipment for internal threats. Earlier this month, Army chief Lt. Gen Glorioso Miranda reiterated that the project would have to wait because the more urgent priority is addressing soldier survivability in combat to confront internal threats.

Lingering Questions
There are also some lingering uncertainties that will affect how Philippine military modernization plays out under the Duterte administration. There are more immediate ones, with the most obvious being the amount that Congress will actually end up allocating for the second horizon. Though the initial amount was 100 billion pesos, Lorenzana has said that he would be happy even if Congress just allocates the same 85 billion pesos that it did for the first horizon. If that ends up occurring, this would mean either a scaling down of certain planned purchases or shifting them out further into the third horizon.

Spending amounts and specific investments will also partly be contingent on how the Duterte administration manages its defense relationships, since these can serve as an additional means for the Philippines to strengthen its capabilities. Though most of the established ones with countries like Japan, Australia are quite stable, the key unknown is how things will end up with its treaty ally the United States with Donald Trump now in office. Some equipment may also be acquired with the help of new defense partners like China and Russia (See: “What’s the Deal with China-Philippines Military Ties”).

Then there are the more structural ones that will take longer to fully play out. For one, the threat environment a year or two from now could look quite different from how it does today, which could in turn lead to changes in the priorities for military modernization. More fundamentally, the robust defense spending we saw during the Aquino years was contingent upon strong economic growth, which in turn is driven by factors such as political stability and policy certainty. So far, these conditions have prevailed in spite of the controversy surrounding the administration thus far. Whether they endure throughout his term, however, is another matter.

With Duterte still just in the first year of his term, it may be too early to tell what is in store for Philippine defense modernization under Duterte. But how the second horizon ends up playing out will be closely scrutinized as a key indicator of what we might expect.

MILF ex-combatant spends more time with family

From the Manila Times (Mar 18):  MILF ex-combatant spends more time with family

CAMP DARAPANAN, Maguindanao: For more than forty years, Jacob Palao has lived as a freedom fighter with Muslim revolutionary groups struggling for self-determination in Southern Philippines.

He spent most of his life in the jungle before the current peace process between the government (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) began and gave him an opportunity to change his life.

Palao, 56, said he first joined the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)’s Zone 4 in Cotabato province at the age of 12. He then transferred to the MILF after the rebels separated from the mother unit sometime in 1980s.

 Palao is now among 145 profiled members of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) who turned over their firearms on June 16, 2015. The decommissioned combatants are the initial results of the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) which was signed on March 27, 2014.

“I really wanted to spend the rest of my time with my family so I could also witness my children complete their studies and dreams,” Palao said during the recent turnover of livelihood assistance to 127 former MILF combatants here at the rebel headquarters in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

He said three of his children are in school and his eldest son, a management scholar at a university abroad, is about to graduate.

“If not for the current peace process, my eldest son could have been one of the young field commanders of the MILF fighting the government,” he said as he thanked the government for assistance provided to them.

Palao and his fellow decommissioned combatants received last Wednesday 103 heads of carabao (water buffaloes), 83 cattle, 38 goats, seedlings and farming tools from the government through the Department of Agriculture.

Palao said he will treasure what the government and other peace stakeholders have done for them who have been locked up in the decades-long rebellion.

“I never expected in my entire life that this day would come when we will be carrying ploughs and carabaos to our farms together with our families instead of firearms,” he added in the vernacular.

The turnover of the agricultural assistance was spearheaded by members of the Task Force for Decommissioned Combatants and their Communities (TFDCC), an implementing body created on March 31, 2015 and mandated to undertake special socio-economic and development programs for the decommissioned women auxiliary forces of the MILF.

The event was attended by Government Implementing Panel Chair Irene Santiago, Agriculture Undersecretary Ranibai Dilangalen and officials from the TFDCC and the Muslim revolutionaries.

“Our approach to the decommissioned combatants is case to case basis, so we make sure that various situations and issues that concerns the decommissioned combatants are properly addressed to make sure that these aids have an impact on their lives,” TFDCC Chair and Assistant Secretary Rolando Asuncion said.

“We are learning a lot of things so we are preparing for an enhanced program for the second batch based on our experience from the first batch of decommissioned combatants,” he added.

Asuncion also announced that 18 remaining decommissioned combatants will received their shares in April.

Dilangalen pointed out that the recent programs and commitments made are manifestations of President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive that the Bangsamoro peace process should proceed and the enabling programs should be fast-tracked.

While Santiago explained that the program will not be like the usual distribution of livelihood assistance.

“We are looking at changes and these are not just giving and delivering. This is about making social change not only with the decommissioned combatants but also to their entire communities,” she said.

“What we are doing is to bring about this just peace that the Bangsamoro people have been struggling for. We really want to listen to them so that they own that change that is going to come,” she added saying that the process of normalization will be from transition to transformation not only of the combatants but also their communities.

Ain’t easy being an MILF fighter’s wife

From MindaNews (Mar 17): Ain’t easy being an MILF fighter’s wife

KABACAN, North Cotabato – Tambay Sambutuan and Baiyan Basayan arrived in the village of Cuyapon in this municipality to seek temporary shelter from the aerial and ground assault against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Camp Rajamuda during the Estrada administration’s “all-out war” in 2000.

Seventeen years later, their temporary stay had somehow become permanent. They did not have to evacuate again as they usually did before 2000, but they continue to hope that one day, they can return to Camp Rajamuda. The camp, straddling parts of Pikit in North Cotabato and Pagalungan in Maguindanao, was the MILF’s third largest back then.

Sambutuan and Basayan were among hundreds of residents who trooped to evacuation centers during the “all-out war.” They were mostly women tagging along their children as they ran for their lives, bringing almost nothing with them but a few belongings.

Their husbands could not be there to help them because as MILF fighters they were with their comrades exchanging fire with government soldiers.

Sambutuan, in recounting her ordeal during the evacuation, said that it was so difficult because there were no men around to assist the women. In her case, she had to attend to five small children.

Sambutuan, who originally hails from Barangay Bulod in Pagalungan, said they rode a motorized banca, navigating through the narrow waters of the tributaries in the periphery of Liguasan Marsh.

More than two hours later, they reached Cuyapon. Then they got to work.

“Only us women laboriously built the shanties using any raw materials available,” Sambutuan recalled.

Some of them used tarpaulins provided by the local government in building what were supposed to be their temporary shelters.

“It was a very tough situation,” she said.

Like Sambutuan, Basayan had to leave her home in Barangay Bulod when the war broke out, tagging along her two-year-old daughter, her only child at that time.

She said she could no longer recall where her husband was at the time they fled. “But I knew that he was out there in the battlefield with his comrades,” she said in the vernacular.

She said she could not even go to the town proper because they were being watched by government soldiers.

Worse, they were facing an uncertainty that they may never see their husbands again. Fortunately, they were united with their partners over a month later, when things had settled down.

The Sambutuans and the Basayans are among the families who are now living in this secluded community at the periphery of Liguasan Marsh.

Both their husbands have been MILF fighters for over 25 years. As in most cases, their husbands usually live with their families to help earn a living and watch out for the children during peace times, and leave their family behind when trouble erupts to join in the fighting.

Both of them admitted that evacuation had already become part of their lives even before the all-out war broke out in 2000, due to the sporadic clashes between government forces and MILF fighters.

They could no longer remember how many times they had evacuated when they were still young.

In previous wars, they would usually seek refuge in the town center of Pagalungan, only around five kilometers away, and only for a few days, and then return to their village when the fighting was over.

But during the all-out war in 2000, they sought refuge to this far place, in Cuyapon, which is about 30 kilometers away from their original homes.

The good thing about this place, they said, is that they never had to experience evacuation again.

Cuyapon was spared during the 2003 war in the Buliok Complex as the latter was situated far away. The last major fighting between government forces and the MILF rebels was in August 2008, when the signing of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain was aborted. Again, Cuyapon was far from where the action was.

The failed signing triggered MILF commander Umbra Kato to attack military outposts in Aleosan town. The fighting spilled over to the neighboring province of Maguindanao and displaced at least half a million people, including those affected by the war in the Lanao provinces.

In another part of town, Guinaria Alamansa, 55, recalled how difficult life was when they were staying in the remote parts of Barangay Pisan in Kabacan, where they were always on the run.

Being the wife of a ranking MILF combatant, Alamansa said that they had to go with her husband wherever he would be deployed.

“It’s very hard to be a wife of a revolutionary because the MILF fighters have no salary. We could only earn money when we can work on other people’s farms during the harvest season,” she said.

On October 15, 2012, the government and MILF signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. Two years later, both parties signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

In the evacuation area in Cuyapon, dozens of families of MILF combatants from Pagalungan have already settled for good.

Most of the men in this community are still active MILF fighters, who report to their unit for “duty” at least once a month depending on the situation.

While they are “off duty,” the men would help the women in gathering the nipa leaves, fishing in the marsh and collecting firewood.

Sambutuan says she now has “peace of mind” that her husband is always around.

“Our lives are better now, we can work and provide the needs of our children,” said Sambutuan, who weaves traditional sleeping mat for a living.

Basayan, meanwhile, paddles her wooden canoe to the marshy area once a week to collect nipa leaves, a favorite roofing material for huts.

Basayan is selling the nipa roofing for two pesos each in the town proper. During market day, she could earn between P100 and P200. “During the harvest season, we also work on the farms of some landlords here.”

Unlike in the past when Basayan had to feed her five kids all by herself, life is easier now that there is no more fighting. Her husband is also helping out in making a living. “He is helping me sell the nipa roofing in the town proper and he is catching fish in the marsh for food,” she said.

For Sambutuan, her children can now go to school uninterrupted. Two of them, in fact, already finished high school and are already working abroad.

In Pisan, meanwhile, contrary to their life in times of war, Alamansa now enjoys their newly built house near the barangay center. Her family, along with those of other MILF fighters, used to live in a shanty located in the rugged mountains of Kabacan. It was so far from the barangay center and could only be reached by foot.

“Life is different now that there is no fighting,” Alamansa said.

Now she owns a sari-sari store after they moved into this new community more than a year ago.

“We can now send our children to school. Two of them are in high school.” One of her daughters is already working abroad while another is a public school teacher in this municipality.

Military in hot pursuit of jihadists, tightens security

From the Manila Times (Mar 18): Military in hot pursuit of jihadists, tightens security

The military has tightened its security in Mindanao provinces following the series of clashes between troops and jihadist groups in the restive region, officials said on Saturday.

The military officials said at least 10 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), including a Filipino bomb expert and a foreign jihadist, were allegedly killed in the recent fighting that also left one soldier wounded in Datu Salibo, Maguindanao.

 “A local bomber and a foreign terrorist leader of Jemaah Islamiyah were among those who were killed during the operation, the identities of whom are still being validated on the ground. Troops also recovered five improvised explosives,” Army Captain Arvin Encinas, spokesman for the 6th Infantry Division headquarters, said

Encinas, quoting Brigadier General Arnel dela Vega, said the continued support and cooperation of the community complements the ability of the military in countering “radical extremist groups” in sowing fear and violence in the province.

“It will just be a matter of time that sustained conduct of focused military operation will eventually result to the total defeat of the BIFF and other terrorist groups and this would bring about the realization of a just and lasting peace in this part of the country,” Dela Vega said.

Last Thursday, security forces also arrested four members of the jihadist Maute group in Lanao del Sur province, according to Army Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, spokesperson for the Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City.

Petinglay identified those arrested as Pao Panganga, Alex Bagul, Alisata Maute and Saadra Madayan, who were all implicated by the military in the ambush-slay of Marawi City police chief Abner Santos in October 2015; and the spate of kidnappings and terrorism in the region.

Petinglay said soldiers also recovered automatic weapons and improvised explosives, including crystal meth from the hideout of the Maute members.

She said security has been tightened in both Lanao and Maguindanao – part of the Muslim autonomous region – as security forces continue to hunt down terrorists.

“Operations are continuing against these lawless elements. Security has been heightened in those areas following the successful military operations against the BIFF and Maute group,” Petinglay said.

There was no immediate statement from either the BIFF or Maute on the latest clashes. Both groups are allied and have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Commentary: Uighur militants could turn to Southeast Asia as destination of choice

Commentary by Peter Chalk posted to Channel News Asia (Mar 18): Commentary: Uighur militants could turn to Southeast Asia as destination of choice

Two Uighur suspects in the 2015 Erawan shrine bombing were arrested by police over August and September 2015. (Photo: AFP)

In December 2015, the elite Indonesian counter-terrorist unit Densus-88 raided a suspected Islamist safe-house in West Java where they arrested 11 militants who were allegedly planning attacks in several cities on the main islands of Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Among those detained was a 35-year-old Uighur identified simply as Alli. According to then chief of police Badrodin Haiti, he had entered the country with two accomplices via the island of Bantam after transiting through Thailand and Singapore and was being groomed as a suicide bomber by a cell of the Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT).

Alli has since been investigated for complicity in the 2015 Erawan Shrine bombing in Bangkok as well as his putative involvement with Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian national who is one of the key leaders of Khatibah Nusantara (KN), a special Malay-speaking umbrella unit with a 100-men set-up within Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL). Naim is also the alleged mastermind behind the January 2016 attacks in Jakarta that left eight dead and 24 injured.

The bombing of the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok in 2015 killed 20 people and left more than a hundred injured. (Photo: AFP)

The 2015 incident has raised fears that Southeast Asia, which for several years has acted as an important trans-shipment hub for illegal Uighur migration, may now also be metastasising into a new operational theatre for Islamist militants previously based in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region (XAR).

One particular worry is that extremists from this restive area of China’s northwest are moving to exploit refugee and migrant flows as a means of covertly joining up with local militants in the region, similar to the same manner the Islamic State has operated in France and Belgium.

At the forefront of these concerns is MIT, Indonesia’s most active and dangerous terrorist group, which just last year publicly pledged to accept 100 Uighurs into its ranks. While it is true that the group has suffered as a result of an intense crackdown on its activities as well the death of founder and leader Santoso, who was shot and killed by police and military forces during a gunfight in Poso in July 2016, it continues to routinely threaten domestic security and is still thought to have a functioning base in the jungles of central Sulawesi. According to national intelligence officials. MIT retains both a willingness and capacity to absorb foreign fighters.


Uighurs are known to constitute a component of this external network, with security authorities putting the number at around 14 by mid-2016. Although not especially large, these militants have symbolic import, as they are believed to have ideological and at least some nascent operational and personal ties with the Islamic State.

The possibility of this nexus taking on a more practical and concrete dimension could well increase if some of the estimated 3,000 to 4,500 experienced Chinese-Muslims who have volunteered to fight in Syria and Iraq start returning to Asia as a result of territorial setbacks that have increasingly beset the Islamic State in these two theatres.

In 2016, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi saw nearly a quarter (or 23 per cent) of his self-proclaimed “caliphate” recaptured. Western intelligence analysts have warned that, while welcomed, this reversal in fortune is liable to trigger an exodus of foreign combatants from Middle East, many of whom will likely seek other conflict zones in continuing their violent jihad.

Raqqa, Syria, remains the stronghold of the Islamic State and its de-facto capital. (Photo: Reuters)

Although Uighurs would doubtless aim on returning to XAR, for several reasons, Indonesia could be viewed as a viable alternative option. There are numerous ungoverned spaces scattered across the country, the archipelago’s borders are highly porous and there are several radical entities that have openly pledged an oath of allegiance to al Baghdadi.

Arguably most important, however, are the spreading ties that have developed between Uighurs and Indonesians in KN. Regional commentators believe this umbrella group is already being used as a principal vehicle for transporting Chinese militants back from the Middle East and linking them up with their Islamist brethren in MIT. Naim is thought to be the principal person facilitating these reverse flows, allegedly operating in conjunction with Amin Baco, a Malaysian who is suspected to be al Baghdadi’s key linkman in Southeast Asia.

If in fact KN is being leveraged to entrench an Islamic State-affiliated Uighur presence in this manner, it could have severe ramifications. Within Indonesia, these veterans could help to breathe new life into a weakened MIT and, drawing on the tactics used in Syria and Iraq, disrupt communal relations by spearheading attacks on Shi’a Muslims to incite sectarian hatred.

Regionally, they could work to rekindle Southeast Asian transnational Islamic extremism by conducting cross-border strikes in the same manner as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) has. Many would remember JI as the group responsible for the worst terrorist attacks to have ever been perpetrated in Southeast Asia, including the 2002 mass suicide bombings in Bali.


While much of the focus has been on Indonesia, there is some speculation that Uighurs may also be looking to establish a logistical presence in Southern Philippines. Concerns in this regard were first aroused in 2014 when five Chinese Muslims traveling on false Turkish passports were arrested in Manila. During their initial interrogation, the group claimed they were political refugees fleeing persecution in XAR.

Subsequent investigations, however, revealed that before arriving in the capital, they had first traveled to Basilan and Cotobato City in Mindanao where intelligence authorities believe they had attempted to make contact with members of the Abu Sayyaf group (ASG) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) – two active albeit disaggregated rebel organisations that have sworn allegiance to Islamic State.

Founded in the early 1990s with seed money from late Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines gained international notoriety for kidnapping dozens of foreign tourists for ransom in the early 2000s. (Photo: AFP)

Since then, there have been several social media postings from young members of the ASG expressing support and solidarity for the plight of Uighurs in Xinjiang. A visual recording of a chant in Mandarin entitled “Mujahid” that was released by the Al Hayat Media Center of the Islamic State in late 2015 has also apparently reached followers of the ASG and BIFF - as well as two smaller movements that have similarly pledged loyalty to al Baghdadi, Ansar Khilafah Philippines (AKP) and Khilafah Islamiyah (KIM). This affinity could be indicative of a nascent extremist ideological cross-pollination that combines the interests and sympathies of Muslim militants in the wider Mindanao Basin with those in China.

Although there is as yet no definitive evidence of such a development, there are at least two facets of southern Philippines that could conceivably make it attractive as a rear base for Uighur rebels operating in Sulawesi.

First, like Indonesia, porous borders, numerous ungoverned spaces, and the presence of active terrorist groups are all characteristic features of the region.

Second, the Rodrigo Duterte administration’s current pre-occupation with the war on drugs has greatly impeded the ability of the police and intelligence services to track the movement of foreigners entering or leaving the southern Philippines, as virtually all resources have now been diverted to the counter-narcotics mission.

The one major challenge confronting Uighurs seeking to independently penetrate Mindanao and integrate with the local population is their distinct ethnic features, which would be sure to stand out.

To be successful another entity would be needed to facilitate their entry and in the south’s current militant context one is of relevance: the ASG, and particularly the Basilan-based faction led by Isnilon Hapilon.

Apart from being far more outward-looking and religiously pious than Radullan Sahiron – the commander of the group’s Sulu-based branch – Hapilon was appointed Islamic State’s Southeast Asian emir in 2016, which has greatly elevated his stature as an Islamist “magnet” for attracting outside jihadists. As one former member of the ASG summed up: “If there is going to be a Uighur connection with the Philippines it will be (established) to access camps in Mindanao and it will be forged through the Basilan-based faction of Hapilon.”

Any Uighur presence in Mindanao would have direct relevance for militant activity in Indonesia as it could avail jihadists fighting in Sulawesi – local and foreign – with an important rear base for the triple purposes of refuge, training and arms procurement. And President Duterte’s prioritization of the war on drugs has significantly elevated this potential threat.

[Peter Chalk is an independent security consultant based in the United States. He is the Associate Editor of Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, one of the foremost journals in the international security field, and acts as a subject matter expert for several organizations that provide professional executive education to military and government officials around the world. He is also author of numerous publications and books on various aspects of low intensity conflict in the contemporary world.]

Learn from lessons of Jabidah massacre, Zambo youth tell Duterte

From Rappler (Mar 19): Learn from lessons of Jabidah massacre, Zambo youth tell Duterte

Young Mindanao activists urge President Rodrigo Duterte to stop extrajudicial killings

STOP STATE TERRORISM. On March 18, 2017, the 49th anniversary of the Jabidah massacre, Mindanao activists demand justice for the victims of alleged extrajudicial killings and military violence under the Duterte administration. Photo courtesy of Mark John Sanchez

STOP STATE TERRORISM. On March 18, 2017, the 49th anniversary of the Jabidah massacre, Mindanao activists demand justice for the victims of alleged extrajudicial killings and military violence under the Duterte administration. Photo courtesy of Mark John Sanchez

On March 18, 1968, about 49 years ago, at least 23 young Muslim trainees were shot to death on Corregidor Island in what has since been known as the Jabidah massacre. (READ: Jabidah and Merdeka: The inside story)

On Saturday, activist youth organizations commemorated the massacre that involved soldiers, tainting the reputation of the military under the Marcos administration and sparking Moro rebellion in Mindanao.

They called for justice for the victims of alleged extrajudicial killings and military violence in the country particularly in Mindanao. (READ: IN NUMBERS: The Philippines' 'war on drugs')

“We urge the government not to abuse their power, kailangan nating matuto sa aral ng (diktadurya). Nasaan ang pagbabago? Bakit maraming gutom?” Raymund Tulonghari, the city coordinator of Kabataan Partylist said. (We need to learn the lessons of the dictatorship. Where is the promised change? Why are so many people still hungry?)

He also asked millennials to come out of their comfort zones and call out social injustice.

A widow's cry for justice

Nurhidaya Hassan, 54, joined the rally, demanding justice for the death of her husband Hadji Billamin. According to her, military officers fired indiscriminately at their village in Tapiantana Island, Tabuan-Lasa, Basilan on March 8 at around 5am, killing her husband, a certain Nuruddin Muhlis, and two children.

A military officer has apologized for the deaths of the children, according to an Inquirer report.

The military operation was in pursuit of Mubin Kulin, a close relative of Isnilon Hapilon, the senior ideological leader of the Abu Sayyaf. (READ: Filipino millennial joins ISIS in Syria)

Hadj Billamin is a sheikh and a former board of director of the Bangasamoro Development Agency.

Suara Bangsamoro considered the violent incident as another case of extrajudicial killing under the Duterte administration.

Jabidah and Merdeka: The inside story (Published in 2013)

Posted to Rappler (Mar 18, 2013): Jabidah and Merdeka: The inside story

The officers who participated in the Jabidah massacre have not fully come clean. In the end, it may have left a legacy of lying and cover-up in the military.

(Editor's note: On March 18, 1968 – exactly 45 years ago today – at least 23 Muslim trainees were shot to death on Corregidor Island in what has since been known as the Jabidah massacre. Below is a summary of "In the name of honor?," the chapter on the Philippine government's clandestine operation to invade Sabah written by Marites Dañguilan Vitug and Glenda M. Gloria in their book "Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao," which was first published in 2000.)

As it was a special government operation, details of Oplan Merdeka were known only to a few people. But the general concept was explained to the officers who were involved in it. The Philippines was to train a special commando unit – named Jabidah – that would create havoc in Sabah. The situation would force the Philippine government to either take full control of the island or the residents would by themselves decide to secede from Malaysia. Many Filipinos from Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and parts of Mindanao had migrated to Sabah. Oplan Merdeka was banking on this large community to turn the tide in favor of secession.

About 17 men, mostly recruits from Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, entered Sabah as forest rangers, mailmen, police. The Filipino agents blended into Sabah's communities. Their main task was to use psychological warfare to indoctrinate and convince the large number of Filipinos residing in Sabah to secede from Malaysia and be part of the Philippines. Part of their job was to organize communities which would support secession and be their allies when the invasion took place. They also needed to reconnoiter the area and study possible landing points for airplanes and docking sites for boats.
The project did not exactly start from ground zero. Even before then Army Maj Eduardo Martelino sent his men to Sabah, Philippine armed forces intelligence was already eavesdropping on the island. In the early 1960s, there was concern over the possibility that a Pan-Islamic movement financed by Libya's Muammar Qadaffi would reach the southern Philippines.

Martelino himself went to Sabah 3 times on secret missions as head of the Jabidah forces, he would reveal in a newspaper interview on Aug 1, 1968. The landing points he used were Tambisan Point, Lahad Datu, and Semporna. Some of his men traveled on one of the 50 or more fast-moving fishing boats owned by big-time smuggler Lino Bocalan. They frequently travelled from Cavite to Sabah, where they loaded thousands of cases of "blue-seal" cigarettes. At that time, imported cigarettes were not allowed into the Philippines.

Bocalan, only 31 then, was already a millionaire. In his coastal home in Cavite in 1998, Bocalan admitted: "Marcos told me he needed help for Sabah. My duty was to finance the operation. I spent millions (of pesos)… I fed the Filipino trainees in Sabah, paid their salaries. I sent my brother and my people to Tawi-Tawi and Corregidor to give food and money (to the recruits.)."

Malaysia seemed an easy and vulnerable target at that time. The Federation was still new and fragile, having come into being only in 1963. Ferdinand Marcos cast his covetous eyes on a country that was still on its way to political cohesion.

On the ground, though, trade relations between Mindanao and Sabah picked up. Traders made regular clandestine visits and their business was classified as "smuggling." Feeling the need to reduce smuggling in that zone, the government looked for a special operations officer to map out an anti-smuggling campaign plan.

Thus, all 3 factors converged and became the context as well as backdrop for Oplan Merdeka: the fear of a Pan-Islamic movement creeping into Mindanao, a vulnerable Federation of Malaysia, and an anti-smuggling operation.

FAILED DREAMS. This is where a Jabidah recruit, Ernesto Sambas, continues to live in Simunul, Tawi-Tawi. Photo by Karlos Manlupig
Simunul training

The training of recruits from Sulu and Tawi-Tawi was done in Simunul, a picturesque island-town of Tawi-Tawi (Read: Jabidah recruits plotted Sabah standoff). From August to December 1967, Martelino, assisted by then Lt Eduardo Batalla, set up camp and trained close to 200 men – Tausugs and Sama (the dominant ethnic tribe in Tawi-Tawi) aged 18 to about 30. A number of them had had experience in smuggling and sailing the kumpit, a wooden boat commonly used in the area. What enticed the young men to Martelino's escapade was the promise of being part of an elite unit in the Armed Forces. It was not just an ordinary job. It gave them legitimate reason to carry guns – carbines and Thompson submachine guns. It gave them a sense of power.

Camp Sophia, named after Martelino's second wife, a young, naive, and pretty Muslim, was inside a coconut plantation, fenced by barbed wire. A hut housed a powerful transceiver and served as a radio room. Bunks were made of ipil-ipil and makeshift twigs. A watchtower stood tall in the perimeter, facing the sea. It was a world of their own making, with the trainees wearing distinct badges showing crossbones and a black skull with a drip of blood on the forehead. Their rings were engraved with skull and crossbones.

Today, no trace remains of a military camp in Simunul, not a single marker. What was once Camp Sophia now looks deserted, planted to palm and coconut trees with wild grass.

Bound for Corregidor

On Dec 30, 1967, anywhere from 135 (the late Sen Ninoy Aquino's count) to 180 (former Capt Cirilo Oropesa's count) recruits boarded a Philippine Navy vessel in Simunul bound for Corregidor, a tadpole-shaped island guarding the mouth of Manila Bay. For two days and one night, the troops sailed from the southernmost tip of the Philippines to Corregidor. They spent the New Year at sea and reached the island off Cavite on Jan 3, 1968.

Corregidor was the last bastion of Filipino-American resistance against invading Japanese forces. It was the site of many deaths and some describe its history as written in blood. Today, it is a tourist destination, with the ruins of battle well preserved.

However, Jabidah is never mentioned as part of Corregidor's storied past. The hospital turned military barracks and the airstrip where the killings took place are not included in the routine tour. But graffiti of trainees' and trainers' names, places ("all from Sulu," "Siasi market site," "Tapul, Sulu") and one memorable date – "Jan. 3/68," when they arrived in Corregidor – bear witness to Corregidor's connection to another island.

Before the recruits docked in Corregidor, the old Corregidor hospital was cordoned off and declared a restricted area. It was to be the military barracks. The trainees were to stay inside the bombed-out hospital on the topside of the island, the highest point on Corregidor, surrounded by trees and bushes.

Once on the island, the trainees were ordered to cut the trees surrounding the camp. They were taught to dig foxholes and use parachutes. They kept a rigid schedule, and were up at 5 o'clock in the morning for a two-hour jog followed by drills. Lectures took place in the afternoons.

Ernesto Sambas, a recruit from Tawi-Tawi, recalls seeing many other soldiers on Corregidor, but their batch from Simunul was confined to one area on the island. It appears that there was discrimination against the Tausug trainees. Sambas said he got his pay but those from Sulu did not. As a commissioned officer, Sambas also noticed the growing restlessness among other Muslim youths. The recruits were getting impatient because they couldn't send a single centavo back home. Their promised pay of P50 a month was never given. The officers were aware of the agitation among the recruits. They knew that it was just a matter of time before mutiny erupted.

As a precautionary measure, then Lt Rolando Abadilla and the rest took shifts guarding their own barracks at night. Sambas remembers that they sent at least 16 of the Muslims back to Sulu because they were always complaining.

By the fourth week of February 1968, some of the trainees started to get restless. Since their arrival in Corregidor, they had not been paid a single centavo. Their food was miserable. They slept on ipil wood and cots. Meanwhile, their officers pampered themselves in comfortable, air-conditioned rooms at the Bayview Hotel, across the Manila Bay, a short boat trip from Corregidor.

REMEMBRANCE. Graffiti that reminds tourists of the gruesome killings in 1968. Photo by Angela Casauay
Sent packing

The trainees decided to complain and secretly wrote a petition addressed to President Marcos, signed by about 62 trainees. Others placed their thumb marks. They wanted their pay plus an improvement in their living conditions. Martelino visited the trainees and assured them of their pay. He later met with the 4 leaders of the petitioning group. To this day, 3 of them remain unaccounted for.

After this, the trainees were given fiesta food: goat, beef, and Nescafe coffee with milk. Almost every night there was music and dancing. But with the good food and entertainment came the bad news: the rest of the signatories of the petition were disarmed. Effective March 1, 1968, all 58 of them were considered resigned.

Some 60 to 70 trainees, meanwhile, were transferred to Camp Capinpin in Rizal. On March 16, another batch was taken away from Corregidor. These 24 men boarded the same boat that had brought them to Corregidor in the New year. Then Sen Ninoy Aquino, who led a Senate probe on the issue, later met this batch in Jolo when he did his own sleuthing in March.

On March 18, another 12 recruits were told to prepare for home. At 2 am, they left camp. These men, till today, are unaccounted for. Soon after, on the same day, another batch of 12 was told that they were going to leave at 4 am. Why a dozen per batch? Because the plane, they were told, could carry only 12 passengers. Jibin Arula, the most famous of the Jabidah survivors, belonged to this second batch.

Arula's memory of this day remains vivid: "We went to the airport on a weapons carrier truck, accompanied by 13 (non-Muslim) trainees armed with M-16 and carbines. When we reached the airport, our escorts alighted ahead of us. Then Lt Eduardo Nepomuceno ordered us to get down from the truck and line up [Nepomuceno was later killed in Corregidor under mysterious circumstances]. As we put down our bags, I heard a series of shots. Like dominoes, my colleagues fell. I got scared. I ran and was shot at, in my left thigh. I didn't know that I was running towards a mountain….By 8 am, I was rescued by two fishermen on Caballo Island, near Cavite."

A presidential helicopter swooped down on Corregidor shortly after the killings. Officers and men belonging to the Army Special Forces leaped out of the aircraft and engaged in a clandestine cover-up mission to erase traces of the massacre.

When they landed, the teams of soldiers found burned bodies tied to trees, near the airstrip, on the island's bottom side. The order from Army chief Gen Romeo Espino was to clean up the place and clear it of all debris. From afternoon till sunset, they collected charred flesh and bones and wrapped them in dark colored ponchos. They could not keep track of how many bodies there were. They also picked up bullet shells lying on the airstrip. The trainees had been shot dead before they were tied and burned.

At the crack of dawn the next day, they loaded the ponchos in the helicopter and flew over Manila Bay. They tied heavy stones to the ponchos before dumping them all into the sea. The remains sank, weighed down by the stones. The soldiers made sure nothing floated to the surface.

Major players died
If Marcos and his men were to be believed, the killings on Corregidor never happened. The expose on Jabidah, they said, was part of a grand plot by the opposition to discredit the Marcos regime. They said Arula, a survivor of the massacre, was an agent planted by Malaysia after it had uncovered Jabidah's purpose.

The Armed Forces top brass never ordered a search for missing persons, living and dead. No real investigation took place, except for a few Senate and Congressional hearings which yielded inconclusive findings. The young and intensely energetic opposition Sen Ninoy Aquino Jr, using his deft journalistic skills, put some of the pieces of the Jabidah puzzle together, but the picture remained incomplete.

Eight officers and 16 enlisted men were court-martialed in 1968. All of them, however, were cleared in 1971. The major actors are by now all dead.

After Jabidah, Abadilla gained notoriety as head of the Military Intelligence Security Group that arrested and killed political activists. In 1996, communist guerrillas shot him dead while his car was held by traffic at a busy intersection along Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City.

Abadilla's immediate commander in Oplan Merdeka, Eduardo Battalla, had been killed much earlier, in 1989, when he bungled a hostage incident involving a bandit, Rizal Alih. Batalla, then a general, was the regional Constabulary commander in Western Mindanao. (Editor's note: We earlier said Battala was commander of the military's Southern Command then. We regret the error.)

Martelino, who executed Merdeka, was reported to have been imprisoned in Sabah in 1973. Martelino returned to Sabah after his acquittal, his daughter Pat Martelino Lon recalls. They believe he is dead, but a few of his former colleagues think he may still be languishing in a Malaysian prison.

Some senior military officers and men talked to us in 1997 and 1998 to fill in the gaps of this story. A number of them participated in the operation as leaders who gave orders or followers who implemented such orders. Others knew or were close to the people who were recruited to Jabidah.

For many soldiers involved in Operation Merdeka, there was nothing wrong with a plot to take back a territory they believe the Philippines owned. Looking back, they say that if not for the bungled training, the killings would not have ensued and Oplan Merdeka would have pushed through.

But the Jabidah massacre tainted the reputation of the military. Those who participated, either in actual training or in the clean-up operations, have not fully come clean. In the end, it may have left a legacy of lying and cover-up.