Thursday, March 30, 2017

Is this the most dangerous backwater in the world?

From BBC (Mar 30): Is this the most dangerous backwater in the world?

Armed Philippine Coast Guard personnel escort Vietnamese vessel MV Giang Hai, which was attacked by pirates, to Taganak anchorage area in Tawi-Tawi, southern Philippines, on 21 February 2017.

Vessels have had to be escorted by armed coast guard officials in the Philippines

Across the world there has been a decline in piracy and sea robbery, but one precarious expanse of ocean waters in South East Asia is bucking that trend, as maritime defence expert Swee Lean Collin Koh explains.

There was a time when news of pirates and kidnap-for-ransom dramas in the waters off Somalia dominated global news headlines.

In 2011, at the height of the crisis, a total of 237 incidents were reported in the area. Since then, however, piracy has decreased significantly off the Horn of Africa, despite a recent attack against a Comoros-flagged tanker and one reported incident in the third quarter of last year.

In Asia, there are reasons to be optimistic: reported piracy and sea robbery incidents, including cases of fuel-oil siphoning, have more than halved from 2015 to 2016, due to measures undertaken by both government agencies and shippers.

But there is one small stretch of ocean waters in South East Asia that could potentially be one of the riskiest regions in the maritime world.


Image copyright Wesmincom Image caption Abu Sayyaf militants have kidnapped and murdered sailors, including from this yacht found drifting in the Sulu Sea

Few people will have heard of it and it has barely hit the global headlines, compared to key waterways such as the Malacca Strait, but the Sulu-Celebes Sea, encompassing the waters around Indonesia, Malaysia's eastern Sabah state and the Philippines, has become an area of growing concern.

Since March 2016, a spate of kidnap-for-ransom incidents have been reported there and in the waters off eastern Sabah.

These attacks were attributed mainly to the Abu Sayyaf militant group operating out of the southern Philippines, although some appear to be criminal groups.

What is worrying is their evolving modus operandi. They initially targeted slow-moving, low-freeboard vessels such as tugboats (typically towing barges laden with coal bound from Indonesia to the southern Philippines) and fishing trawlers.

But they have since become more brazen, making attempts on larger ships in the area. Notably, a South Korean-flagged heavy-load carrier was attacked in southern Philippine waters in October 2016.

Image caption With thousands of islands and busy shipping lanes, the region offers rich pickings for pirates

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have held a series of high-level meetings and issued joint statements envisaging the creation of something called a Trilateral Co-operative Arrangement (TCA).

A four-point action plan was agreed between the three countries' foreign ministers back in May 2016, but progress has not been as swift as some might have expected, even though a model exists in the form of joint co-ordinated patrols in the Malacca Strait.

Jakarta initiated this proposal and has eagerly pushed for the TCA's implementation, given that many of the kidnap-for-ransom victims are Indonesians.

But frustration within the Indonesian government at the slow progress led to it imposing a moratorium on coal shipments to the Philippines, to be extended "until there is a guarantee for security from the Philippine government".

Image copyright AP Image caption Fishing boats like this one sinking in waters in the southern Philippines, are among the targets

The two countries later forged an agreement - based on a 1975 border pact - which allows Indonesian forces to conduct "hot pursuit" into Philippine territory.

Successive joint statements continued to agree to explore measures such as co-ordinated patrols and a safe vessel transit corridor through the Sulu-Celebes Sea.

The growing threat posed by the Islamic State hastened moves by the three countries including, notably, an agreement to establish command posts in Bongao in the Philippines, Tawau in Malaysia and Tarakan in Indonesia.

Stop-gap measures were put in place while the three nations worked with their domestic institutions on a deal. For example, Jakarta and Manila formalised co-ordinated patrols to take place twice a year.

Following a spate of attacks on East Malaysia-registered fishing boats crewed by Indonesians late last year, Jakarta sought assurances from the Sabah local authorities regarding the safety of roughly 6,000 Indonesian fishing crew working in Malaysian waters.

Image copyright AP Image caption Piracy is widely associated with Somalia (shown) but southeast Asia is also a hotbed of maritime crime

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte also chimed in, appearing to hint at his frustration about the slow progress in the TCA when he remarked "Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines [must] talk about this and once for all, come up with a solution".

"There's a need for us… to talk about this seriously and to put a stop to it because it has somehow paralysed the trade and commerce in that area," he added.

International shippers have shied away from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao because of the attacks, denying the Philippine region much-needed foreign investment.

In December, Malaysian security forces clashed for the first time with Filipino gunmen in waters off Semporna, killing three of them and capturing three others. This seems to have had an effect. Late that month, Kuala Lumpur revealed that it was in final talks with Jakarta and Manila on implementing the TCA.

But a spate of new attacks this year - on a Sabah-registered fishing vessel and a Vietnamese vessel - highlighted the urgent need to go beyond mere talks.

Manila has asked both China and the United States to contribute to maritime security in international waters in the area. And in March, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines finally agreed to begin patrolling the proposed transit corridor. Shippers could heave a sigh of relief, at last.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Countries in the region have long conducted counter-piracy exercises, without ending the problem

However, successfully carrying out this trilateral maritime security framework will require all three governments to sustain their commitments, including the need to put aside political concerns - such as the question of sovereignty between Kuala Lumpur and Manila over Sabah, since Mr Duterte has insisted that his administration "will stick to our claim".

If the TCA succeeds, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines would not only prove to the international community that the Sulu-Celebes Sea is not a "new Somalia", but also demonstrate their ability to put aside political and diplomatic concerns to pool their efforts to deal with a common threat.

[Swee Lean Collin Koh is a research fellow with the Maritime Security Programme at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, part of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, based in Singapore.]

Troops capture bandit leader, seize 36 high-powered firearms in Sulu

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): Troops capture bandit leader, seize 36 high-powered firearms in Sulu

Government troops have recovered 36 high-powered firearms and captured a top bandit during a law enforcement operation in an island town in Sulu, military officials announced Thursday.

A follower of the lawless group was killed while a civilian was wounded in the crossfire as firefight ensued when troops served a warrant of arrest for Saudi Hamja.

Col. Cirilito Sobejana, Joint Task Force Sulu commander, said that Hamja is the leader of the Hamja group based in Barangay Capual, Omar, Sulu.

Sobejana said they have yet to establish the identity of the slain follower of Hamja. No one among the troops were either killed or wounded during the firefight.

Sobejana said the firefight ensued as lawless group members opened fire while the troops were about to serve the warrant of arrest against Hamja at around 5:08 a.m. Wednesday in Barangay Capual, Omar, Sulu.

He said Hamja has a standing warrant of arrest for arson and attempted murder.

He said the troops have recovered 36 high-powered firearms consisting of following one caliber .50 machinegun, one 60-millimeter mortar, seven M-14 rifles, five Garand rifles, eight M-16A1 “Baby Armalite” rifles, four M653 rifles, four M-79 grenade launchers, one AK-47 rifle, one FAL rifle, three caliber .30 Carbine rifles and one caliber .22 rifle.

“Our troops on the ground continue to intensify the conduct of focused military operations in Sulu and adhere to the rules of engagement to contain lawless groups and preempt the conduct of atrocities in the province,” said Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., commander of the Western Mindanao Command.

Galvez said they will continue to support the efforts of the police against criminality and lawlessness in the province of Sulu.

“The entire Westmincom will be ready to move and react when needed,” Galvez added.

Soldier hurt as BIFF sets off roadside bomb in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): Soldier hurt as BIFF sets off roadside bomb in Maguindanao

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao – Suspected Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) set off Thursday morning an improvised bomb along a road in Maguindanao province that left one soldier slightly injured.

Capt. Arvin John Encinas, speaking for the 6th Infantry Division, said two military vehicles (KM 450) loaded with soldiers from the 38th Infantry Battalion were proceeding to Ampatuan town in Maguindanao at 7:45 a.m. when the improvised explosive device (IED) exploded along a highway in Datu Hofer town in Maguindanao.

A shrapnel hit the windshield of the Army vehicle, hitting its driver identified only as Sgt. Michael Mabazza, Encinas said.

Senior Superintendent Agustin Tello, Maguindanao police director, said Mabazza and his companions were on board a military vehicle passing by a stretch of the Cotabato-Isulan Highway in Barangay Labo-Labo in Datu Hofer, Maguindanao when a roadside bomb, apparently detonated from a distance using mobile phone, went off.

Police investigation showed the IED was similar to the ones used by the BIFF in its attack against government forces in Maguindanao.

Before today’s roadside bombing, an improvised bomb was also found Tuesday in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town in Maguindanao but safely detonated by Army bomb experts.

On Monday night, an IED exploded at 6 p.m. at the main gate of Talayan town hall and another IED planted under the Tamontaka Bridge was detonated by bomb experts.

The BIFF, through it spokesperson Abu Misry Mama, denied his group was involved in those incidents.

Davao City gov't to augment Army with 360 paramilitary troops

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): Davao City gov't to augment Army with 360 paramilitary troops

The city government here will augment the Philippine Army with 360 Specialized Cafgu Active Auxiliary (SCAA) to help secure remote areas from attacks by communists insurgents and other lawless elements.

Public Safety and Security Command Center Chief Benito de Leon said Wednesday the move is the city's response to the call of President Rodrigo Duterte to protect communities in the hinterlands from New People's Army (NPA) rebels.

De Leon said that three companies or 360 SCAA will be deployed for additional security in the city.

Just last week, the far-flung village of Suawan in Marilog District saw a series of attacks from NPA rebels. The armed clashes prompted hundreds of residents to leave their homes for fear of being caught in the crossfire.

"This is to answer the call of President Duterte to give priority to the insurgency here in the region. He required us to put a stop to it," de Leon said.

He said big establishments like those operating banana plantations can even hire SCAA in lieu of their security guard to put a stop on extortions and other threats to their companies.

De Leon, however, clarified that only those companies which are located in the outskirt areas are encouraged to form their own SCAA and not those in downtown area.

While the SCAA will be established by the city, their salary will be paid by the national government. According to him, the creation of SCAA will be covered by a soon-to-be issued Executive Order.

De Leon said the city has an existing SCAA under Task Force Davao.

They saw the need for additional SCAA to further enhance the security of the city and to ensure that the city center is safe from any insurgency.

"The military has requested that three companies be formed to help them protect the community in the remote areas of Davao City," he said.

He said the SCAA will also help the military and police in securing those areas that were already cleared by the security forces to ensure that the rebels will not return to these places.

De Leon said they will not let their guards down despite the low level of threat recorded by the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA).

"Despite the low threat level, our security elements have maintained a high threat level of security to maintain (peace and order) in the city," he said.

Cavite cops recover IED inside bus bound for Manila

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): Cavite cops recover IED inside bus bound for Manila

Cavite provincial Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team intercepted Thursday morning an improvised explosive device (IED) inside a DasmariƱas City bus bound for Manila while plying Aguinaldo Highway near the Salitran 4 Village here.

Police initial report said a passenger of Jasper Jean Bus identified as Ryan Denver Jose Lopez, a resident of Block 97 Lot 111 Talisay Sampaloc 3 Village, noticed a gray back pack that was left or abandoned under his seat during the trip.

While the bus was traversing Aguinaldo Highway near Salitran 1 Village, Lopez opened the back pack and found an IED-looking device with a cellphone attached inside.

This prompted him to alert the driver Pantilo Narabong Jr. and report the suspected explosive device to the police.

Salitran Standby Point Compac 2 police force led by Police Senior Inspector (PSI) Raymond Balbuena responded and immediately proceeded to the area to verify the incident.

By that time, the bus was traveling near Salitran 4 Village as the information was quickly transmitted to police authorities.

The responding provincial SWAT team boarded the bus and recovered the IED, a cellphone without a battery and sim card which were turned over to the provincial crime laboratory for examination.

Both the driver and the passenger were invited at the police station for interrogation while further investigation is ongoing.

2 Navy ships from Benham Rise dock at Poro Point

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): 2 Navy ships from Benham Rise dock at Poro Point

Two large Navy war ships docked at Poro Point pier Thursday after conducting patrols at Benham Rise for several days to check on the presence of Chinese vessels in the area.

The two are BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF-16), PN frigate, and BRP Sultan Kudarat (PS-22).

“We are here to fill-up our logistic requirements like fuel, food, and others, and are standing by for new directives from our main headquarters," said Commander Jeff Rene S. Nadugo, commanding officer of the BRP Ramon.

We are going back to Benham Rise," Nadugo assured.

He added they are taking their requirements from the Naval Forces of Nothern Luzon at Poro Point in San Fernando City.

He also said it is good and important that Philippine Navy vessels were there at Benham Rise on patrol for the foreigners "to know that the area is our territory".

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) earlier reported that the Navy’s sole oceanographic and hydrographic survey ship was conducting surveying and mapping on the 13-million hectare Benham Rise, a seismically active undersea region and extinct volcanic ridge located in the Philippine Sea approximately 250 kilometers or 160 miles east of the northern coastline of Dinapigue, Isabela.

Meanwhile, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz is open for public viewing on Saturday and Sunday.

Nasugo said that as part of the Navy's program is to showcase the new warship to the Filipino people.

PNP seizes various high-powered firearms, 1 suspect slain in Sulu

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): PNP seizes various high-powered firearms, 1 suspect slain in Sulu

The Philippine National Police (PNP) in Sulu province have successfully conducted an anti-drug operation against high value targets (HVTs) and the servicing of arrest warrant.

This was after a drug suspect was killed and various high-powered firearms were seized during the operation on Wednesday.

The slain suspect was identified as Ardin Akar Paling, 32; and his injured accomplice was identified as Nong Haliludin.

In the report of Chief Supt. Reuben Theodore Sindac, regional director of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Regional Police Office, the operation was conducted in the barangays of Capual and Lahing-Lahing, in Omar, Sulu.

The targets of the law enforcement operation are the suspects identified as Saudi Kahil Hamja, Adzmar Omar, Juli Sahirol and Ayub Mangcabong for the cases of murder, arson and illegal drug trade.

The suspect Paling fought it out with authorities using his AK47, hence, he was killed in the process.

Seized from the suspects were 3 sachets of shabu and several firearms, including 7 units of M16 rifles; 2 units of M2O3; five units of M14 rifles; 1 cal. 22; 3 carbine rifles; 1 M79; 1 AK47; 1 FAL-IN; 150 cal, HMG; and 1 60MM mortar.

In the follow-up operation in Sitio Buhangin Mahaba in the said barangays, the targets were caught surprised which prompted them to flee and left their firearms.

Recovered were 2 M14 rifles; 1 M1 garand rifle; 4 M16 rifles and 1 grenade launcher.

Human rights cases vs. cops going down since 2014 -- PNP

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): Human rights cases vs. cops going down since 2014 -- PNP

The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Thursday said that cases of human rights violations against policemen are going down since 2014.

This was announced by PNP Human Rights Affairs Office (HRAO) director Chief Supt. Dennis Siervo in a press conference in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

Siervo said that in 2014, there are 174 personnel who have human rights cases. In 2015, it went down to 131 and in ‎2016, there were 105 cases recorded.

”So there is a downward trend on personnel involved in human rights violations. Pababa (It's going down) despite yung half of the previous year, there was a change of administration,” Siervo said.

Likewise, the PNP HRAO chief disproved that the all-out war against illegal drugs will increase the cases of human rights violations.

”If you think the war on illegal drugs will escalate the number of human rights violations, the statistics show it did not,” Siervo said.

He noted that in 2016, the cases which were recorded are homicide, illegal arbitrary detention and arbitrary detention.

However, Siervo said that the PHAO does not prove such cases as they are only concerned about the awareness and prevention of the same.

”Our office (PHAO) does not have the mandate to investigate. We are only aware of the preventive side,” he said.

The PHAO chief stressed that the DIDM (Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management) and the IAS (Internal Affairs Office) are specifically mandated to conduct the internal investigation if human rights cases are filed against policemen.

”After internal investigation are conducted, we ask for these reports based on their findings, then we submit recommendations,” Siervo said.

All existing, new assets of AFP deployable for territorial patrols

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): All existing, new assets of AFP deployable for territorial patrols

All existing and newly-acquired assets of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) can be deployed to safeguard the country's vast maritime territories which includes the 13-million hectares Benham Rise which lies off the coastline of Aurora and Isabela.

This was stressed by AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla when asked on whether the newly-acquired equipment of the military, which includes the South Korean-made FA-50 "Fighting Eagle" jet fighters and Beechcraft King Air TC-90s leased from Japan, can be deployed to safeguard the above-mentioned territory.

"Patrolling off the high seas is part of the AFP mandate under the Constitution which states the military is the protector of the Filipino people and the country's sovereignty and integrity," he said in Filipino.

And patrolling coastal areas and territorial waters, including Philippine interests in its 200-nautical miles exclusive economic zone is part and parcel of that mandate, Padilla stressed.

"Any assets, whether sea or air, can be used to perform that said mandate," he added.

Last Wednesday, the country's seventh and eighth FA-50PH jet fighters arrived in Clark Air Base, Pampanga, raising the number of Mach 1.5 capable aircraft to eight while last March 27, the first two TC-90 aircraft, out of the five leased from Japan, arrived in Sangley Point, Cavite.

An additional four FA-50PHs are scheduled to be delivered within the year along with three more TC-90s, boosting the country's capability to detect intruders and defend Philippine territories against intruders.

Efforts to recover all ASG hostages to continue -- AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): Efforts to recover all ASG hostages to continue -- AFP

Military efforts to rescue all the remaining 26 foreign and local hostages of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) will continue until all these individuals are safely recovered and reunited with their families.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla made this pledge following the successful rescue of two Indonesians, three Malaysian seafarers and a Filipino tugboat captain from the clutches of the bandits in the past few days.

"Pursuit operations against the bandits will continue until all ASG captives are safely recovered," he said in Filipino.

With the recent successes, the number of kidnapped victims of the ASG went down to 26 from 32.

Padilla said there are some indications that some lawless groups are helping the ASG in their piracy attacks against barges and tugboats plying the waters near Basilan and Sulu.

Appropriate measures will be instituted to stop these attacks, he added.

AFP hoping armed rebels will heed CPP announcement of unilateral ceasefire

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): AFP hoping armed rebels will heed CPP announcement of unilateral ceasefire

With the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) poised to declare to a unilateral ceasefire before the end of the month, the military is hoping that all armed elements of the rebel group will comply with the truce to avoid needless bloodshed.

This was stressed by AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla who noted that the CPP seems to have some difficulty in getting the cooperation of all of its fighters as proven by the spate of unprovoked attacks last February which resulted in the death of six troopers and abduction of three others.

At the time of the said atrocities, both the AFP and CPP were both observing a unilateral ceasefire.

In justifying their attacks, the rebels claimed that they are merely defending themselves from the presence of military units in their territories, a claim which the AFP has strongly denied.

"Hopefully, (all armed elements of the CPP) will obey the announcement of their leadership but as we have witnessed last month, they seemed to have some difficulties in getting their orders followed by all of their members," Padilla said in Filipino.

He added this resistance is brought out by the fact that some rebel groups have expressed their desire to conduct peace talks with local government units and military units operating in their respective areas.

Padilla said the AFP is receptive to this idea as it is more responsive and effective in ending hostilities in local levels.

JICA, NEDA, DOE team up to boost energy supply in Mindanao’s conflict areas

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): JICA, NEDA, DOE team up to boost energy supply in Mindanao’s conflict areas

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) signed this week a 771 million yen (about PHP340 million) grant aid project to support the energy sector in Mindanao’s conflict-affected areas.

According to a news release issued Thursday, the project will be implemented by the National Electrification Administration (NEA) of the Department of Energy (DOE) and is part of JICA’s continuing support for peace and development in Mindanao.

The project will upgrade the power distribution equipment of the six electric cooperatives (ECs) operating in the area. Data from the ECs show an average of 26 percent in energy losses due to the aging equipment used for energy transmission that have been built in the '70s.

Meanwhile, according to government data, the 36 percent electrification rate in the area is also lower than the average rate of 74 percent in Mindanao.

“This project is part of our continuing commitment to support peace and development in Mindanao,” said JICA Chief Representative Susumu Ito. “By helping resolve the power supply issues in conflict-affected areas, we aim to help the Philippines create more economic activities in the region.”

Government poverty statistics data in 2015 showed that the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao remains mired in poverty with a 53.4 percent poverty rate, higher than the national average of 21.1 percent. Forty years of conflict have deprived this region of opportunities to access social services and quality investments and jobs.

The JICA grant aid will help reduce energy distribution losses to about 7 percent and assure reliable, resilient energy supply to nearly 44,000 households in the area.

“We will do what we can to support the people in Mindanao’s conflict-affected areas realize the dividends of peace in their lives and ensure a better future for the next generation,” added Ito.

JICA’s support for the energy infrastructure in Bangsamoro is also part of the agency’s development cooperation with the Philippines. The project was identified under the JICA-assisted Bangsamoro Development Plan 2 meant to jump-start economic activities in Mindanao’s conflict areas and draw up a medium- to long-term development plan (2016-2022) for the region’s inclusive and sustainable development.

TRADOC concludes 13-day CATEX maneuvers in Nueva Ecija

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): TRADOC concludes 13-day CATEX maneuvers in Nueva Ecija

In line with efforts to make Filipino soldiers more professional and at par with their ASEAN neighbors, the Capas-based Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) conducted a 13-day Combined Arms Training Exercise (CATEX) which formally ended Wednesday.

Capt. Alberto Caber, TRADOC spokesperson, said CATEX, which was held in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, aims to strenghten the fighting competencies of soldiers held at Fort Ramon Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija which ended on March 29, 2017.

Around 389 officers and 618 enlisted personnel from various TRADOC courses and 171 candidate soldiers from the 7th Infantry Division Training School participated in the 13-day exercise.

Caber said CATEX is part of a TRADOC initiative training soldiers to operate in a joint inter-agency, inter-governmental and multi-national environment.

The exercise includes military operation in urban terrain; battle drills and situational exercises; field training exercises; live fire exercises of 105mm howitzers and mortars; and command post exercise.

Other training events in CATEX include closed-air support, troop insertion and casualty evacuation exercises.

The CATEX is in compliance with the directive of higher headquarters geared to infuse in each and every participant realistic scenarios measuring their preparedness facing real life combat.

DFA: China may be granted permit to do research in Benham Rise if conditions set by PHL gov't. complied with

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 30): DFA: China may be granted permit to do research in Benham Rise if conditions set by PHL gov't. complied with

Should the Chinese government comply with the condition that a Filipino scientist should be on board to observe the study, the Philippine government may grant the request to make research activities in Benham Rise.

This was the assurance made by Foreign Affairs Acting Secretary Enrique Manalo in a chance interview Thursday.

"If they fulfill our requirements, may be they will be allowed," Manalo said.

He said this is the main reason why the Philippine government repeatedly denied China’s request because they refused to comply with the condition the government has set.

According to Manalo, Beijing has made a request to make research activities in Benham Rise which is believed to be very rich in natural resources.

Benham Rise is presumed to have hidden gems, thriving sea life and has galore of oil and gas reserves.

The chief envoy explained that despite denial of request made by the Philippine government, Chinese research vessels sneaked into the Benham Rise several times which forced President Rodrigo Duterte to send the navy vessel, BRP Alcaraz to guard the area.

He explained that any country who wished to study Benham Rise has to secure permission from the Philippine government based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

However, Manalo reiterate that China failed to comply with the condition that a Filipino scientist should be on board to observe the study and activities.

"That’s one requirement where perhaps China didn’t want it, so the permission was denied," he pointed out.

He said China still has pending requests to survey Benham Rise and they would only be granted should the country comply with requirements set by the Philippine government.

"There had been many, but certainly, I know a number have been denied and in fact two are still under consideration," he emphasized.

He noted that this condition applies not only to China but to all countries interested to make a research study.

Just recently, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Chinese survey ships, including research vessel were spotted in Benham Rise.

With this, Manalo said Manila sought immediate clarification from Beijing through a note verbale because "we weren’t really sure what it was doing."

"They (China) fully respect and recognize the sovereign rights of the Philippines in Benham Rise," Manalo claimed.

"This was confirmed two or three times. The implication is they will follow the rules laid out by UNCLOS, and that’s how we’re going to deal with this issue," he concluded.

AFP finds it ironic that rebels are talking about peace, yet planning to recruit more fighters

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 31): AFP finds it ironic that rebels are talking about peace, yet planning to recruit more fighters

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said that it finds it very ironic that the New People's Army (NPA) are talking about peace negotiations and yet are planning to recruit more fighters to boost their ranks.

The National Democratic Front (NDF) and the Government Republic Philippines negotiating panel are scheduled to start around round of negotiations in The Netherlands by April.

"It is very ironic that they are planning peace negotiations with the government and yet they are announcing that they are planning to boost the number of their armed components by recruiting more fighters," said AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla.

This could complicate the peace process as more fighters in the field could trigger more clashes with government troops.

Padilla said this pronouncement by NPA smacks of the apparent disconnect between their units in the ground and political leadership.

And despite this lack of coordination, the AFP spokesperson said they are willing to go the extra mile so that President Rodrigo Duterte's vision of a just and a lasting peace will be realized.

"But let us remember that each process of attaining that long, just and lasting peace is a slow process that demands a lot of meticulous steps, so we are very supportive of that, we are willing to go the extra mile and we're willing to do our part to make that successful," he added.

Last February, the government was forced to cancel the peace talks and the ceasefire after the NPAs conducted a series of unprovoked attacks against military units nationwide, killing six troopers and abducting three others, aside from destroying millions of pesos worth of property.

‘Political solution’ urged to end Bangsamoro struggle

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 30): ‘Political solution’ urged to end Bangsamoro struggle

The national government (GPH) must deliver a “political solution” to end the Bangsamoro armed struggle by fully implementing the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB) through the passage of an acceptable enabling law, said the new Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) chair Ghazali Jaafar.

“This is a political problem and it can only satisfy the Bangsamoro people pagna-deliver ang political solution,” Jaafar, who is also first vice chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said on Wednesday (March 29) at the a hotel in Davao.

Ghazali Jaafar

He said that he appreciates the efforts of the government in trying to solve the issues through economic means to trigger development in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) but he added that what the Bangsamoro people seek are self-determination and their own Bangsamoro government.

“Yung tulong, maraming salamat. But believe me, ako hindi ko pa nakita ang nabigyan ng gobyerno ng tractor,” he said.

He said they do not wish to have the billion-peso bridge and road construction and agriculture projects in Mindanao, saying that their ancestors had survived on their own with their agricultural produce.

“Sapagka’t kung ma-implement ang BBL, may goberyno ang mga Muslim. I can assure you we can take care of ourselves,” he said.

The 21-member BTC will need to come out with a draft of the enabling law before the May 18 deadline agreed upon by both panels that will be declared as “urgent” by President Duterte expectedly in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24.

Jaafar urged the lawmakers to pass the enabling law for the full implementation of the CAB.

“What is important meron tayong batas because unless a BBL is passed into law by the Congress, we cannot implement the CAB and therefore, no solution to our (Bangsamoro) government. And therefore, status of the Bangsamoro remains as it is now,” he said.

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace implementing panel chair, said “the real issue is how to give self-governance to the Moro people within the context of Philippine sovereignty.”

He said that the 2014 CAB is more attuned to the experience of the Moro people as compared with the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between GPH and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chair Nur Misuari, as the former, Iqbal said, will pave the way for a “ministerial government” replacing the ARMM which he described as “unitary in character.”

He said that they are hoping Congress will pass into law the BTC’s proposed draft of the enabling law to implement CAB, which is a negotiated settlement between GPH and MILF to put an end to four decades of armed conflict.

“On top of that, we are confident under the leadership of our friend (President Duterte), we have to bring back peace in our homeland because we believe that there is still hope for a better tomorrow. Let’s unite and together we will make it in order to realize a better tomorrow,” he said.

“I would say that there is frustration in every man, but hope is also being rekindled in the face of still so many things waiting to be realized, waiting for implementation. Hope is one thing we cannot afford to lose,” he said.

NPA burns firms’ heavy equipment in NLuzon

From the Manila Times (Mar 29): NPA burns firms’ heavy equipment in NLuzon

The Fortunato Camus Command of the New People’s Army (NPA) operating in Cagayan Valley has admitted burning five construction equipment owned by two companies in Cagayan and Quirino provinces in Northern Luzon.

A statement released on Tuesday said the burning of the equipment was a “punishment,” for the construction firms’ refusal to abide by the laws of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), an umbrella group counting the NPA as a member.

NPA spokesman Victor Servidores said the two companies failed to pay their “revolutionary taxes.”

Police on Wednesday said suspected NPA members burned down the firms’ five heavy equipment last Sunday.

Chief Insp. Jhun Balisi, police chief here, said four armed men burned one Volvo backhoe owned by Ricardo Diaz Interior being used in an ongoing bridge construction at Ysmael village at about 11:30 a.m.

Balasi added that the suspected rebels told seven construction workers to leave before burning the heavy equipment.

One of the construction workers said the rebels even apologized for burning the equipment, explaining that the construction firm’s owner failed to “pay taxes.”

In the town of Alcala, Cagayan at least four road-building equipment of another construction firm were also set on fire by the suspected rebels at about 8 p.m.

Police said there were at least 15 gunmen who attacked a motor pool owned by Pulsar Construction in Barangay Baybayug and burned a BH22 backhoe, a CP-1 compactor, a mixer and an Isuzu Elf (ADK 138) truck.

The rebels also took away four units of handheld radios, two cellular phones, an audio-video recorder and other communication gadgets.

Lt. Col. Rembert Baylosis of the Philippine Army assigned to the province said Pulsar Construction is building a road connecting Alcala and Baggao towns.

Meanwhile, the military denounced the burning of a public school also allegedly by NPA rebels in the hinterland village of Concepcion in Valencia City, Bukidnon, last Sunday after school officials refused to give in to the rebel’s “extortion” activities.

“The teachers refused to give in to the demands of the NPA rebels, who resorted to terroristic activities,” Lt. Erwin Bugarin, spokesman for the Army’s 8th Infantry Battalion, said in a report.

The armed group reportedly burned the faculty room, one classroom and the school library.

Bugarin said it becomes evident “that the NPA exempts no one in their extortion activities, not even the schools which are essential in providing education to the pupils and students living in marginal communities.”

NPA detonates IED in Ilocos Sur

From Tempo (Mar 30): NPA detonates IED in Ilocos Sur

New People’s Army rebels operating in Santa Cruz, Ilocos Sur detonated an Improvised Explosive Device on the day they were celebrating their 48th founding anniversary.

Army 2nd Lt. Rey Gaezzel M. Anfone, Civil Military Operations Officer of the 81st Infantry Battalion, 7th Infantry Division, Philippine Army, said the incident took place on a road in Barangay Calaoan where a military vehicle was traversing at noon Tuesday.

While no one was killed or seriously injured, a teenager onboard his motorcycle trailing the military vehicle was nearly hit by the blast.

‘Fake news’: Bukidnon official says school burned due to short circuit

From the often pro-CPP online publication the Davao Today (Mar 30): ‘Fake news’: Bukidnon official says school burned due to short circuit

This photograph of a burnt school building in Concepcion National High School circulated on Facebook on March 29, 2017. (Photo grabbed from Facebook page of Katropa DWDD 1134KhZ am)
(Second update as of 3:35 pm) — The head of the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office of Valencia City, Bukidnon clarified that the school allegedly burned by the New People’s Army was actually gutted due to short circuit.
June Ray Valero, head of the CDRRMO told Davao Today that based on the initial investigation of the Bureau of Fire Protection, wires short circuited at the Concepcion National High School.

“Ang gi-rule gyud sa BFP short circuit kay naa may wire didto, daghang wire didto unya naay mga libro,” Valero said.

He said witnesses saw smoke coming from the side of the library where the appliances such as the television and cassette player were located.

The school building where the library and faculty room were totally burned with damage costs estimated at P160,000. Citing the BFP’s report, he said the fire started in the classroom just beside the school library.

The school, located in Barangay Concepcion, is 17-kilometers away from the fire station. The fire started on Sunday, March 26 at 4:35 pm and was declared a fire out at 7:03 pm.

Mary Jean Subayco, Junior high school English teacher, said contrary to reports that circulated on social media, there was no armed communist rebels went to their school and asked teachers for their share of fund. The fund is allegedly for the feeding program of the students.
But Subayco belied such claim because public secondary high schools does not have a feeding program.

“Unang-una ang Concepcion National High School wala siyay feeding fund kay wala namay mga malnourished gyud kaayo sa high school. Wala gyud extortion nga nahitabo sa eskwelahan (Concepcion National High School has no feeding fund since there are no more case of malnourished students in high school. No extortion happened),” she said.

She said in her three years of teaching, there was no instance that guerrilla fighters went to their school.

Valero added that he asked the Department of Education when the building was built since the structure is similar to the central elementary school built in 1960s.

He said DepEd informed him that the school was last repaired in 2005. The windows, he said, are still made of wood.

“There is really a chance that the wire will get brittle,” he said. Valero added that some of the materials were taken outside by residents to save it from the fire.

Valero said they have not yet talked with the Army officials who blamed the rebels for allegedly burning the school.
“The information I got from the arson investigator is that the Army probably connected the incident to the NPA because it was their anniversary yesterday. Usually during their anniversary, they really have actions. But so far, the BFP’s investigation found that the residents saw no armed men,” he said.

“Even the barangay captain could not conclude that the NPA was responsible for the burning,” he said.

Photographs of burnt school buildings made the rounds in social media on Wednesday, March 29, coinciding with the NPA’s 48th founding anniversary. The photos allegedly came from the army’s 8th Infantry Battalion operating in the province of Bukidnon.
In a statement sent by the Army’s 8th IB through e-mail, it said “the rebel group asked their share in the fund which was intended for the feeding program for their pupils.”

“The teachers refused to give in to their demands so the NPA resorted to such terroristic acts. Without considering the effects of their actions to the civilian populace especially the students of the said school, the armed group burned a faculty room, one classroom and one library in the process,” the Army said.

The NPA had said in its previous statements that it imposes what it called “revolutionary taxation” to big landlords and big business operating in their territories.

AFP rejects NPA request to stop operations in Bukidnon

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 30): AFP rejects NPA request to stop operations in Bukidnon
The military rejected the request of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) for a 10-day suspension of military operations in Bukidnon province to allow the safe release of a policeman who communist rebels have been holding captive for more than a month.

Capt. Joe Patrick Martinez, spokesperson of the 4th Infantry Division (ID) based here, said the military was happy over efforts to free Police Officer 2 Anthony Natividad of the Kalilangan town police, but Army officials could not suspend their ongoing operations against the New People’s Army (NPA).

“How can the government suspend its operations when NPA [rebels] continue their atrocities in the area?” Maj. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal, 4th ID commander, asked.

NDFP earlier relayed its request for the military to suspend operations in at least 74 villages in Bukidnon for the release of Natividad, who was taken in Talakag town on Feb. 9 while he was on his way to this city.

Cesar Renerio, spokesperson of the NDFP North-Central Mindanao Region, said the rebel group would release Natividad if the Army and the police ordered a stand down of forces in some villages in the Bukidnon towns of Talakag, Lantapan, Baungon, Pangantucan and Kalilangan; and in the cities of Malaybalay and Valencia.

Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and Catholic Archbishop Antonio Ledesma relayed the NDFP’s request to the military during a meeting with Col. Jesse Alvarez, 4th ID assistant division commander, on Monday.

Renerio said the NPA would declare a temporary ceasefire once its request for suspension of military operations would be granted.

But Madrigal rejected the request. He said government forces needed to keep their presence in local communities to prevent the NPA from entering these areas.

He said if the rebels were sincere in releasing Natividad, they could simply let him go and release him anywhere.

“They (NPA) don’t need to ask for any suspension [of military operations] when they can just leave their captive (Natividad) anywhere, anytime,” Madrigal said. “They just have to notify everyone, especially the media, where they will leave him so that authorities and his family can pick him up.”

Despite the military’s decision, Calang believed the NDFP would still make true its promise to free Natividad before or during the start of the fourth round of the formal talks between the government and the NDFP panels in The Netherlands next week.

NPA claims death of laborer in Himamaylan

Sun Star-Bacolod (Mar 30): NPA claims death of laborer in Himamaylan
THE New People’s Army (NPA) under the Leonardo Panaligan Command (LPC) Bagong Hukbong Bayan claimed the recent death of 48-year-old Arman Matutina in Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental.
More than a week after Matutina was gunned down at Barangay Buenavista Proper on March 20, the rebels released a press statement to the media on Wednesday, admitting the crime.
In a press statement dated March 24, JB Regalado, spokesperson of LPC-Central Negros, said they killed Matutina after they received reports that the victim threatened some farmers in the barangay.

Matutina and his partner wanted to own the land being negotiated by the farmers with the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), he said.
They talked to Matutina twice and told him to stop meddling, and even threatened him to stop sabotaging the farmers.
 Instead he made up stories and threatened the farmers at gunpoint, prompting the rebels to kill him, Regalado added.
Matutina was on his way to the gymnasium to accompany a friend in a public hearing regarding a conflict in the land, where he was working, when four unidentified men fired at him.
Recovered from the scene were a letter with a note: “Rebolusyonaryong Korte sang Pumuluyo from Larangan Gerilya Negros,” 10 fired cartridges, six slugs and a live cartridge of .45 caliber pistol, bag and wallet containing an undetermined amount of cash.

NPA attacks military posts in Samar, Northern Samar; no one hurt

From the Philippine Daily  Inquirer (Mar 30): NPA attacks military posts in Samar, Northern Samar; no one hurt

New People's Army.  FILE PHOTO
New People's Army (File Photo)

Communist rebels staged separate attacks on military detachments in Samar and Northern Samar provinces on Thursday morning.

No one was reported hurt based on the reports reaching the Police Regional Office-Eastern Visayas based in Palo town, Leyte.

The attacks came a day after the New People’s Army (NPA) celebrated its 48th founding anniversary on March 29.

The first attack by the communist insurgents occurred at 2:55 a.m. at the detachment of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) in Barangay 1-A, Motiong town, Samar.

About three hours later, NPA rebels swooped down another Cafgu detachment in Barangay Geparayan, Silvino Lobos town, Northern Samar around 5 a.m.

Soldiers were conducting hot pursuit operations as of this posting.

Insurgency remains a problem in the provinces of Samar and Northern Samar.

Filipino Communists Reaffirm ‘People’s War’ on US Imperialism

From TeleSur (Mar 29): Filipino Communists Reaffirm ‘People’s War’ on US Imperialism

Members of the New People
Members  of the New People's Army (Reuters)

The Communist Party of the Philippines released a statement Wednesday reaffirming its commitment to fighting U.S. imperialism in the Southeast Asian country.

Recapping its recently-held Second Congress, the CPP said it will continue to wage armed struggle against the imperialist country and its local supporters. Criticizing the Filipino government for bowing to the demands of the U.S., the militant group called for “people’s war towards complete victory.”

Since its 1968 founding, the CPP has fought to eradicate foreign domination in the Philippines and implement a socialist, worker-run economy.

“The Party program reaffirms the necessity of waging armed revolution in order to counter the armed violence employed by the U.S. imperialists and the local reactionary ruling classes and end the oppressive and exploitative semi-colonial and semifeudal system,” the CPP said.

The statement comes almost two months after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte shut down peace talks with the communist insurgents, ending 27 years of peace negotiations. Labeling the rebels “terrorists,” Duterte has promised a “long war” against the CPP and its armed wing, the New People's Army.

“Drawing lessons from the party’s rich history, the Second Congress presented a clearer picture of the strategy and tactics for taking advantage of the insoluble and worsening crisis of the world capitalist system, the strategic decline of U.S. imperialism and the chronic crisis of the domestic ruling system in order to advance the protracted people’s war towards complete victory.”

The CPP and the NPA began fighting the Filipino government in the late 1960s after right-wing Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos took power. A staunch anti-communist, Marcos was responsible for the deaths of thousands of human rights activists and, supported by the U.S., the former dictator pocketed billions of dollars for his own personal wealth.

Though the CPP and the NPA continued fighting the Filipino government after Marcos died in 1989, they agreed to reconciliation talks with succeeding governments. Those talks have since been rescinded.

Today, the armed communist militants are continuing to organize the country’s impoverished peasants against the status quo.

“The Second Congress presented an updated critique of the ... social system, giving particular attention to the post-Marcos succession of pseudo-democratic regimes, the worsening forms of oppression and exploitation of the broad masses of workers and peasants and the deteriorating socio-economic conditions of the Filipino people in almost four decades under the neoliberal regime,” the CPP said.

“The Party’s general program calls on all Filipino communists to ‘
be ready to sacrifice their lives if necessary in the struggle to bring about a new Philippines that is completely independent, democratic, united, just and prosperous.’”

US-PH war games contradict ‘independent’ foreign policy—Bayan

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 30): US-PH war games contradict ‘independent’ foreign policy—Bayan

Renato Reyes Jr.

Militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) has slammed the Duterte administration’s decision to push through with the Balikatan exercises between the Philippines and the United States this April despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s “independent” foreign policy that distanced from the Western superpower.

“The holding of Balikatan exercises contradicts Duterte’s earlier promise of pursuing an independent foreign policy. It contradicts his pronouncements that he wants to remove foreign troops from Philippine soil,” said Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes in a statement on Thursday.

This year’s joint military drills were expected to be toned down following President Duterte’s repeated orders to scale back defense agreements and bilateral drills with the US amid the administration of former President Barack Obama’s criticisms to his war on drugs.

Last year, Duterte even said that the 2016 war games with American military troops will be the last, as he expressed interest in boosting military ties with Russia. The U.S. is the only country with which the Philippines has an existing mutual defense treaty.

BACKSTORY: 2016 PH-US war games will be the last – Duterte

Bayan’s Reyes noted that the upcoming Balikatan “also comes right after the recently exposed shenanigans of US Navy officials in the Philippines engaged in a sex for secrets modus.”

He was referring to the wild sex party for US Navy officials and prostitutes provided by a Malaysian defense contractor known as “Fat Leonard” in exchange for classified information, which was held in the Manila Hotel during a 2007 port call to the Philippines by the USS Blue Ridge.

“It is clear the US troops have no regard for our domestic laws and will have no qualms engaging in shameful criminal acts. So why does the Duterte government still want them here?” Reyes added.

Philippines to verify Chinese military assets in Spratlys

From the Philippine Star (Mar 30): Philippines to verify Chinese military assets in Spratlys

This March 9 satellite image released by the CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative shows that all hangars for 24 combat aircraft and four larger planes have been completed on Subi (Zamora) Reef. AMTI/CSIS via DigitalGlobe

The Philippine government said it is yet to verify the completion of Chinese military assets in the Spratly (Kalayaan) Islands in the South China Sea, the country's top diplomat said Thursday.

This is despite Washington-based think tank CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative's (AMTI) recently released satellite images showing the nearly complete construction of infrastructures on Subi (Zamora), Mischief (Panganiban) and Fiery Cross (Kagitingan) Reefs.

READ: China can now deploy military assets to South China Sea

Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said that the AMTI is basically suggesting that the facilities could accommodate military assets when it took the photos.

"We take it very seriously but I think when they say that this would accommodate this and that... We will have to verify with China," Manalo said in an interview with ANC's "Headstart."

The think tank reported that the facilities in the three air bases would allow Beijing to deploy military assets including combat aircraft and mobile missile launchers to the Spratly Islands any time.

The hangars on the "Big Three" islands can accommodate 24 combat aircraft and four larger planes that can be used for transport or refueling, according to the report.

China's facility on Woody Island of the Paracel Islands would allow military aircraft to operate nearly the entire South China Sea.

Manalo, however, said that the Philippines would have to ask China first on their intention of building the facilities.

"These could also be used for civilian uses and or military. We're not yet sure so we have to really see what happens," Manalo said.

The Foreign Affairs secretary said that the Philippines would have to look at this issue in the context of the country's approach to the South China Sea issue.

"The Philippines is fully committed to seeking a peaceful resolution of the disputes in the South China Sea," the secretary said.

Manalo reiterated that President Rodrigo Duterte made it clear that he would set aside the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the issue.

On July 12, 2016, the arbitral tribunal issued its award on Manila's complaint against Beijing's nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea. The United Nations-backed tribunal ruled that China violated its commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea when it constructed artificial islands in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The country's top diplomat, however, said that Duterte will raise the arbitral tribunal's ruling with China "at the appropriate time."

"I can't divulge exactly how we'd say it but we would be pointing out that these construction are taking place on islands within our EEZ," Manalo said.

Five reasons we should worry about extremism in Mindanao

From the Philippine Star (Mar 29): Five reasons we should worry about extremism in Mindanao

An Australian think tank said that the likelihood of an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) caliphate in Mindanao is low after Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop expressed concern over this possibility over the weekend. The think tank said extremism is the more serious issue facing the governments in the region. AP/Aaron Favila
An Australian think tank on Wednesday said that the likelihood of a so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria “caliphate” emerging in Mindanao is low, and the greater danger coming out of the troubled Philippine south is the threat of pro-ISIS extremists.

Sidney Jones of the Lowy Institute for International Policy said in an article that even if the threat of a caliphate in Mindanao is low, the governments in Southeast Asia should rightfully focus their attention on the southern Philippine island because extremist groups could use it as base from which to plan attacks on Manila and other cities or train fighters who will carry out these activities.

“Even if the likelihood of a 'caliphate' emerging on Australia's doorstep is low, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is right to focus attention on the southern Philippines,” Jones said.

She added: “The more likely danger is that pro-Islamic State extremists with deadly skills may use bases there to plan hits in Mindanao and Manila, or train operatives to carry out attacks elsewhere in the region. It is unlikely that hundreds of foreign fighters will flee there as Islamic State is pushed back, but even a dozen could cause serious damage.”

Over the weekend, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop expressed Canberra’s concern that ISIS might establish a caliphate in Mindanao as the group, which is also referred to as IS for Islamic State, is already being pushed out of the Middle East.

Jones said that fighters from Indonesia and Malaysia and even from countries farther away have been working with extremists in mainland Mindanao and Basilan since 2014. She added that several of these groups formed an alliance in early 2016 with the blessing of ISIS and swore loyalty to Isnilon Hapilon, the Basilan-based leader of Abu Sayyaf.

Their plans to establish a Southeast Asian province (wilayat) of ISIS based in Basilan never materialized however for still unknown reasons.

“Southeast Asian IS leaders in Syria have been urging their followers at home to join the jihad in the Philippines, and local leaders have been recruiting as well,” she said.

Although their number is small, they are still dangerous because, according to Jones, they are educated men with good funding networks.

Here are five reasons the Philippines and the region should be concerned about these extremists:

The alliance of pro-IS groups in the Philippines has crossed clan and ethnic lines which before have hampered unity. This has brought together Hapilon’s Yakan from Basilan, Maute brothers’ Maranao fighters from Lanao De Sur, Central Mindanao’s Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Zamboanga’s Abu Sayyaf Urban Terrorist Group and Rajah Sulaiman Movement members from Luzon and Visayas who have converted to Islam. These groups have carried out attacks in the past, such as the Davao night market bombing last September.

This alliance has a steady supply of money apparently arranged in part through Mahmud Ahmad (also known as Abu Handzalah), a Malaysian professor who joined Hapilon in September 2014. This money has kept Hapilon’s group from kidnapping-for-ransom activities, which are the work of other factions of the Abu Sayyaf not linked to IS. If this supply of money is stanched, Hapilon’s group could return to their former methods.

Malaysian and Indonesian supporters are trying to recruit people to join ISIS. The Philippine government’s intensified campaign against the Abu Sayyaf has killed many fighters and injured Hapilon himself. Three men and a woman who were reportedly trying to recruit Bangladeshi workers and ethnic Rohingya were arrested by Malaysian police in Sabah . This connection with Bangladeshi extremists is the last thing governments in the region needs.

The alliance could provide ISIS fighters from the region and even the Middle East safe haven owing to the extremely porous borders among Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Australian ISIS supporter Musa Cerantonio was deported by the Philippines in 2014. Terrorists from Indonesia have a history of fleeing to Mindanao, and several Bali bombers ended up on the island. In recent weeks, the Singaporean Mohammad Ali bin Abdulrahman has been the target of air strikes in Maguindanao.

The problem is spreading from Mindanao to other countries in the region. Indonesian police have recently arrested a pro-ISIS group in Banten whose leader has made several trips to Mindanao to buy guns from Hapilon’s group.

Jones however said that it was unlikely that a flood of returnees would fly back to the region because many of them left with no intention of returning or have already married locally.

She said that the Australian government should continue its assistance program to Mindanao to increase the capacity for governance of local governments on the island and remove areas where these extremists could operate.

The peace process is also integral in weeding out the extremist threat as well as enhanced cooperation and training among Australian, Indonesian, Malaysian and Philippine police.

“The biggest mistakes the Australian government could make would be prioritizing counter-terrorism over all else or assuming that [Philippine President Rodrigo] Duterte's military operations will end the problem,” she said.

Soldier hurt as BIFF sets off roadside bomb in Maguindanao

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 30): Soldier hurt as BIFF sets off roadside bomb in Maguindanao

A soldier was injured when suspected Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) set off a roadside improvised bomb in Datu Hofer town, Maguindanao, Thursday morning.

Capt. Arvin John Encinas, speaking for the 6th Infantry Division, said two military vehicles loaded with soldiers from the 38th Infantry Battalion were proceeding to the Ampatuan town in Maguindanao at 7:45 a.m. when the improvised explosive device exploded along a highway in Datu Hofer town in Maguindanao.

A shrapnel hit the windshield of the Army vehicle, hitting its driver, Sgt. Michael Mabazza, Encinas said.

Senior Superintendent Agustin Tello, Maguindanao police director, said Mabazza and his companions were on board a military vehicle passing by a stretch of the Cotabato-Isulan Highway in Barangay Labo-Labo in Datu Hofer when a roadside bomb, apparently detonated from a distance using a mobile phone, went off.

Police investigation showed that the IED was similar to the ones used by the BIFF in its attack against government forces in Maguindanao.

Before Thursday’s roadside bombing, an improvised bomb was also found Tuesday in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town in Maguindanao but safely detonated by Army bomb experts.

On Monday night, an IED exploded at 6 p.m. at the main gate of the Talayan town hall and another IED planted under the Tamontaka Bridge was detonated by bomb experts.

The BIFF, through it spokesperson Abu Misry Mama, denied his group was involved.

Datu Hoffer, Maguindanao (Wikipedia maps)
Datu Hoffer, Maguindanao (Wikipedia

Philippines: Displacement Dashboard, Mindanao, Issue no. 35: February 2017

Posted to Relief Web (Mar 13): Philippines: Displacement Dashboard, Mindanao, Issue no. 35: February 2017

Go to the following URL below for a full copy of the report:

In February 2017, an estimated 18,700 persons were displaced in Mindanao. Of these, 7,695 persons were displaced due to armed conflict between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) in the following municipalities: Laak (Compostela Valley province); Asuncion (Davao del Norte); Manay (Davao Oriental); Bansalan (Davao del Sur); Arakan (North Cotabato); and Alabel (Sarangani).

In addition, some 2,000 persons fled their homes due to a firefight between two local armed groups in Sultan sa Barongis municipality, Maguindanao province.

To date, all of these IDPs have returned to their habitual residences.

However, an estimated 9,005 persons who were forcibly displaced due to clashes between the AFP and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in the island provinces of Basilan and Sulu, also during the month of February, remain displaced as of this report.

Meanwhile, in Butig municipality in the province of Lanao del Sur, approximately 3,493 families who evacuated due to clashes in 2016 between the AFP and the Maute Group have returned to their places of origin, while more than 637 families are still displaced.

  • 38,444 presently displaced due to conflict and violence
  • 76,379 presently displaced due to natural disaster

PH Air Force receives 2 more fighter jets from South Korea

From ABS-CBN (Mar 29): PH Air Force receives 2 more fighter jets from South Korea

Two more FA-50 jets arrived in the Philippines from South Korea. Photos courtesy of Defense Press Corps.

The Philippine Air Force on Wednesday received another pair of FA-50 lead-in fighter trainer jets from South Korea, bringing the total of FA-50 jets to 8.

The jets with tail numbers 007 and 008 arrived in Clark Air Base, acquired to bolster Philippines' territorial defense. The first pair was delivered in 2013, at the height of the Philippines' maritime dispute with China.

Philippines has so far purchased 12 FA-50s, the next two pairs expected to arrive in the next few months.

The jets are the most sophisticated aircraft in the Philippine Air Force, with their arrival ushering the Philippines' return to the supersonic age.

They were often showcased in events of the Armed Forces through high-speed passes overhead that was meant to impress the crowds.

Two more FA-50 jets arrived in the Philippines from South Korea. Photos courtesy of Defense Press Corps.

However, they were removed from the spotlight during the start of the Duterte administration, after Duterte said he found the jets to be a waste of money, and only good for parades.

They were not flown even during the Air Force's own anniversary in 2016, where it was President Duterte's first time as guest of honor.

The FA-50s, however, soon found its use under the Duterte government, which has chosen to reshift the nation's focus from territorial defense back to insurgency and internal security.

The FA-50s have recently joined other air assets in conducting airstrikes against terror groups like the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu, and the Maute Group in Lanao del Sur.

In recent weeks, the Air Force has announced a return of the high-speed passes. The FA-50s flew over the Visayas and Mindanao.

DND chief: Govt faces 3 top security issues

From the Manila Times (Mar 29): DND chief: Govt faces 3 top security issues

COMMUNIST insurgency, dispute in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and terrorism in southern Mindanao are among the top security challenges the country is facing, according to Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

Speaking before the general membership meeting of the Consular Corps of the Philippines (CCP) at the Makati Shangri-La hotel on Wednesday, Lorenzana said the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has been working hard to deal with these problems.
The CCP is a fellowship of career-professional and honorary consuls of foreign countries in the Philippines whose objective is to foster greater understanding, friendship, corporate social responsibility and cooperation among their counterparts in the Philippines.

It is a member of the World Federation of Consuls.

According to Lorenzana, he was often asked why the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing the New People’s Army (NPA) are still in existence when most of the rabid communists in the world such as China and Vietnam have already changed and are more capitalistic now than many capitalist countries.

“We do not know the answer but they continue to do a lot of damage to the countryside, to the economy, to the peace and order by their extortion, which they call revolutionary taxation but we call it simple extortion,” he said.

The DND chief branded the CPP-NPA “communist terrorists.”

“I call them terrorists because what is the difference [between them and]the Abu Sayyaf [Group]? They both intimidate people to get money. They keep burning equipment of companies, of firms that do not give money that they are asking for [and]they are also into kidnapping of local officials, barangay [village]officials, soldiers and policemen,” he said.

Depsite these atrocities, Lorenzana added, the government has been trying to find a solution to the communist insurgency, citing the resumption of peace talks with the communist leaders in Oslo, Norway, “in a couple of days.”

On a unilateral ceasefire recently offered by the CPP, President Duterte said he wants a “bilateral” truce instead, according to the Defense secretary.

On the dispute in the South China Sea, Lorenzana recalled that on July 12, 2016 when a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on a memorial filed before it by Manila was announced, he being a former military man told a meeting of the Duterte Cabinet to send the Philippine Navy to the contested waters to drive away the Chinese from there.

He said his idea was rejected by the President, who cautioned them against being “arrogant” with the victory against Beijing before the arbitral court.

On the issue of terrorism, Lorenzana said what he fears is that terrorists could bring the mayhem to Manila and other heavily populated areas in the country.

“If there is one subject matter that keeps me awake at night, it is this one [terrorism],” he added.

Nevertheless, he reiterated the military’s aim to crush the Abu Sayyaf and Maute terrorist groups in six months to one year to stop their kidnappings and terroristic activities in Mindanao.

Both groups are linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or ISIS.