Sunday, April 16, 2017

MILF: KPI, DPMC hold Persuasive Public Speaking Training

Posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front website: KPI, DPMC hold Persuasive Public Speaking Training

The Kalinlintad Peacebuilding Inc. (KPI) in partnership with Datu Ibrahim Paglas Memoril College  (DPMC)  conducted a “Persuasive Public Speaking Training” on April 11-12, 2017 at DPMC Hall attended by 30 participant from Bangsamoro Muslim communties and   religious  leaders.

Some women members of prominent Toasmasters International  who  served as resources persons were Baby I. Dalgan, Acrema M. Balayanan and Noraida A. Datumanong.

They unselflessly shared their knowledge and skills  to the participants.

Nasser Polindao and Mohaliden M. Bayanan  acted as facilatators.

Professor Esmael A. Abdula, Executive Director of KPI and BLMI Steering Committee member, said  that the training on Persuasive Public Speaking  is vital for Bangsamoro Community and Muslim Religious Leaders to inform,educate  and communicate important issues  to their constiuent s  that may lead to just , dignified peace and development in Moro homeland .

Zukarno P. Hadjinor, Associate Dean of DPMC said  that  this  institution (DPMC)  welcomes such kind of activity and  is willing to help to capacitate Bangsamoro Leaders.

Hadjinor told  the participants that Abdula is among the founding organizers of  DPMC.  Back in 2003, the organizers along with Abdula really worked hard to establish  this Institurion that any program, and or activities initiated and led by him is very much welcome.

NPA claims responsibility for killing of Palawan disaster risk reduction head

From GMA News (Apr 17): NPA claims responsibility for killing of Palawan disaster risk reduction head

The New People's Army claimed responsibility for the killing of Palawan disaster risk reduction management office chief Gilbert Baaco, RGMA's Junfred Calamba reported on Monday.


GMA News@gmanews

Inako ng mga rebeldeng NPA ang pagpatay sa PDRRMC officer sa Palawan. | via Junfred Calamba, RGMA Palawan
7:53 PM - 16 Apr 2017

'Balikatan' 2017 to focus more on HADR, counter-terrorism

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 17): 'Balikatan' 2017 to focus more on HADR, counter-terrorism

This year's "Balikatan" exercises with American forces will focus mostly on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) and counter-terrorists operations.

This was confirmed by Philippine "Balikatan" public affairs officer Major Frank Sayson in an interview Sunday.

The annual maneuvers will take place on the second week of May, he added.

No exercises with live-fire applications will be conducted in this year's activities.

Activities will be clustered in the National Capital Region, Nothern Luzon and Central Command operational areas.
"Exercises will focus on inter-operability of both forces in HADR exercises," Sayson said in Filipino.

He added this is line with President Rodrigo Duterte's instruction to focus more on the HADR aspects on the annual military training with the Americans.

Aside from the latter, Filipino and American troops will also participate in counter-terrorism exercises which is also aligned to the Chief Executive's order to crack down on Abu Sayyaf bandits and lawless elements.

Sayson declined to give the exact number of participating American and Filipino troops as the activities are still being fine-tuned and adjusted.

Thousands join activities marking 75th anniversary of Bataan Death March

From the Business Mirror (Apr 16): Thousands join activities marking 75th anniversary of Bataan Death March

CAPAS, Tarlac—At least 3,000 participants joined the three-day event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Bataan Death March, from kilometer zero in Mariveles, Bataan, to the national shrine here.

Dr. Mina T. Gabor, president of Automobile Association of the Philippines (AAP) Travel, said war veterans, their families and friends; sociocivic groups; government employees; military personnel such as the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine Army, and Philippine Coast Guard; AAP members, volunteers, and others joined the march to immortalize the sacrifice of the freedom fighters.

Now collectively known as the Mariveles-San Fernando-Capas Freedom Trail, it is the biggest Death March commemorative activity, which seeks to promote freedom, world peace and international goodwill. The former tourism secretary said the march is the country’s national auto club’s way of promoting domestic tourism through motoring by visiting historic spots to help Filipinos learn from the lessons of the past.

Michael Quitorio, the assistant operations manager of the AAP, said the 160-kilometer running and biking events were both started from kilometer zero in Mariveles, Bataan, to the Capas National Shrine in this municipality, while the 10 kilometer-marching event started from the Death March Memorial Shrine to the Capas National Shrine.

The lightning of torch took place during the “freedom run,” the first event of the memorial, on April 9, the first day of the Mariveles-San Fernando-Capas Freedom Trail 2017 program; “Padyak para sa Kagitingan”, also known as the “freedom ride,” started on the second day of the activity, both were the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO)-sanctioned events; and the final event, “freedom march,” took place on April 11, the third and last day of the activity. The passing of torch was led on Tuesday by former President Fidel V. Ramos, who attended the event as the guest of honor and speaker. He was joined by retired Lt. Gen. Ernesto Carolina, the administrator of PVAO; Capas Mayor Reynaldo Catacutan; and Cong. Leopoldo Bataoil of the Second District of Pangasinan, the chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs and Welfare.

Also present during the three-day activity were Tarlac Gov. Susan Yap-Sulit; Miguel Angelo Villa-Real, vice president for Corporate communications and Marketing Services Department of the Philippine Veterans Bank; Col. Ralph Liebhaber, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States ambassador to the Philippine Veteran Events; Mariveles Mayor Ace Jello Concepcion; and Brig. Gen. Restituto Aguilar, the chief of the Veterans Memorial and Historical Division of PVAO.

Villa-Real said the torch came all the way from kilometer zero in Mariveles, Bataan, and was brought by runners, 160 kilometers, through Pilar, Germosa, San Fernando City, the old train station, and finally, Capas. He said he is a grandson of a World War II-veteran, Capt. Andres Clemente, who became a Department of Education undersecretary, who was a teacher by profession, but was called into the war in 1941. He said the names of two of his great-grand uncles, whose names were confirmed written in the Wall of Heroes Memorial.

Sports a way out of poverty for MILF children

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Apr 17): Sports a way out of poverty for MILF children
MILF vice chairman Ghazali Jaafar receives a jacket of the Philippine national team from PSC chair Butch Ramirez. Standing beside Ramirez is PSC chief of staff Ronnel Abrenica.

MILF vice chairman Ghazali Jaafar receives a jacket of the Philippine national team from PSC chair Butch Ramirez. Standing beside Ramirez is PSC chief of staff Ronnel Abrenica.
Never doubt that a sports hero can be found even in the hinterlands of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Apart from helping maintain peace in Mindanao through sports, the Philippine Sports Commission is motivated to discover talents among the children of the MILF in its turf in Cotabato.

PSC chair Butch Ramirez discussed the possibility along with the grassroots development program for the Muslim youth in a meeting Saturday with MILF vice chair Ghazali Jaafar at Camp Darapanan, Cotabato City.

“With the government’s Mindanao Sports for Peace program, we will put up structures for the MILF children,” said Ramirez. “We will bring coaches and sports scientists there through the aid of the Chinese embassy.”
According to PSC chief of staff Ronnel Abrenica, Jaafar will discuss the details of the proposed program with the MILF central committee and ask permission.

“Their training must be in accordance to their way of life and to liberate the Moro children from poverty through sports,” said Ramirez, adding that the MILF youth will participate in the Batang Pinoy Games and the Philippine National Games.

Abrenica said a sports office would be established in the camp to run and sustain the program, with combat sports high on the priority list.

Opnion: Terrorist meets an expected end

Posted to the One Man's Meat column in The Star (Apr 15): Terrorist meets an expected end (By Philip Golingai)

The death of Abu Rami, the Abu Sayyaf leader, came as no surprise to those who knew him and the life he led.

“IT’S him,” Baker Atyani, a Jordanian hostage held for 18 months by the Abu Sayyaf in Jolo island, southern Philippines, WhatsApp-ed me from Dubai.

I had sent him the photograph of a dead Abu Rami, the spokesman of the Abu Sayyaf group. I wanted Baker to confirm whether the man in the photograph was really the notorious Abu Rami, who had been involved in abducting hostages from the east coast of Sabah.
Baker, the last journalist to interview Osama bin Laden before 9/11, was kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf on Jolo island on June 12, 2012. He should know Abu Rami well. The 20-something gunman was the only person in the community of 200 holding him captive in Jolo who spoke English.

“How do you feel, knowing that Abu Rami is dead?” I said.

“I really have no feelings. It is just that he has really met his natural end. The road he took led him to this end,” he said.

However, Baker said the death of Abu Rami doesn’t really mean the Abu Sayyaf threat in Mindanao will lessen.

In fact, he said, it will be a long time before the problem can be settled. “And dealing with militants is one side of solving the issue,” he said. “The other side is to deal with the corrupt elements within the local government and law enforcement agencies in the Philippines, mainly in Mindanao, who in one way or another are behind the Abu Sayyaf.”


In October last year, I met Baker in Kuala Lumpur, as the former hostage was in town to shoot a video documentary, Undercover Asia: Kidnapped. Abu Sayyaf, on his return to the Philippines.

It was Baker’s article, “Rare glimpses into the lives of Abu Sayyaf captors”, published in Al Arabiya on Oct 20, 2014, that gave me an insight into Abu Rami.

“Among my kidnappers, he was the first person to speak to me and was also the translator between me and their leader (Kasman) Sawadjan,” he wrote.

It was Abu Rami’s idea, according to Baker, that he should be filmed with a knife held to his neck. Baker strongly resisted Abu Rami’s photo opportunity idea, pushing the knife away with his hand, which left a deep cut on his finger and damaged the tendon.

Abu Rami, narrated Baker, “didn’t even feel ashamed to send text messages using my mobile phone to all of my contacts, including my then seven-year-old son.”

The gunman threatened to behead Baker if the ransom was not paid.

“Whenever Abu Rami expected the ransom to come he would call me ‘brother’ and when he felt there was no ransom he termed me Khawarij (a person astray from Islam). When I asked him if he knew what the word meant, he stuttered with no answer,” he wrote.

Baker said Abu Rami was the most civilised among his Abu Sayyaf captors. The gunman once asked Baker if the Americans were Shiites. He also asked if London was in the United States.

The Jordanian journalist met me in Kuala Lumpur to interview me on Abu Rami, whom I had spoken to several times via telephone. He also wanted to surprise the gunman, who was in Jolo, with a phone call. Unfortunately, the gunman had switched off all three of his phones.

Through someone in Jolo, I was put in contact with Abu Rami on Sept 20, 2016. For the next few weeks, I was almost in daily communication with him. He would call me and say, “Call me back.”

I always wondered why an Abu Sayyaf sub commander, who made millions from ransom money, would get me to call him back. My journalist friend in Zamboanga City also said the Abu Sayyaf gunman was in the habit of asking her to top up his prepaid account.

The media-savvy gunman wanted me to write a story on the five Malaysian hostages (from Tawau, who were all related by blood or marriage) abducted by kidnap-for-ransom gunmen from Lahad Datu waters off the east coast of Sabah on July 18, 2016.

There was no negotiation for the five Malaysians and it was as if they were left to rot on Jolo island, so Abu Rami had to do something.

Later, he arranged for me to speak to 33-year-old Mohd Ridzuan Ismail. The hostage told me that the Abu Sayyaf was demanding 100 million pesos (RM8.5mil) for their release.

Abu Rami also arranged to have the Malaysians photographed in the standard Abu Sayyaf hostage pose – on their knees with masked gunmen pointing the muzzles of their guns at their heads.

“Call me back, call me back,” he said on a morning I was sending Apsara, my nine-year-old daughter, to Sunday school in Subang Jaya.

I obliged. “Open a Facebook account and I will send you the pix of the hostages,” he said.

I opened an account with the name “Abu Philip” and gave him the password. He then uploaded several photographs.

On Monday, Abu Rami and several Abu Sayyaf gunmen were killed by Philippines security forces on Bohol island, far away from their Jolo island home base.

Two days later, I visited Mohd Ridzuan in his house in Tawau. I always wondered what went through the hostage’s mind while I was talking to him.

“I was afraid. There was someone behind me pointing a gun at my back.

And in front of me was someone making sure I followed the script that they wanted me to follow,” the sailor told me.

“They wanted me to talk about the ransom. I wanted to tell the Malaysian special forces to rescue us,” he said.

“But I couldn’t say ‘rescue me’ or give a hint as some of the Abu Sayyaf gunmen can speak Malay.”

On Wednesday, I posted on my real Facebook account The Star front page story on the death of Abu Rami, the rising leader of the Abu Sayyaf (which means bearer of the sword). I wrote: “You live by the sword. You die by the sword.”

Military continues hunt for Abu Sayyaf in Bohol

ABS-CBN (Apr 16): Military continues hunt for Abu Sayyaf in Bohol

BOHOL - Authorities are still hunting down suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Bohol, days after the bloody encounter with the bandit group which led to the deaths of ten people, including three soldiers and one policeman.

The Philippine Army has distributed flyers with the photo of Joselito Melloria, alias Abu Alih, who is said to have guided the ASG in Inabanga, Bohol.

The military is hoping residents will help them locate the remaining members of the terrorist group after the bloody clash last Tuesday.

Besides Melloria, government troops are looking for eight other alleged members of the ASG.

A military source said that government troops continue to scour the mountain barangays of Inabanga to hunt down the ASG fighters. 

Several residents have come forward telling authorities that there have been unknown people knocking on their doors asking for food.

The military source also said that Melloria is one of the most wanted men in Sulu and that the government is considering offering a P100,000 reward for his capture.

Residents have returned to their homes but return to evacuation centers at night. Police are also securing the area.

Additional reinforcements are expected to arrive tomorrow from Police Regional Office 7, which will be positioned in Bohol for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit Meetings.

Despite the incident involving the ASG, many Asian business and trade officials are still expected to attend the ASEAN and Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement meetings in Bohol from April 18 to 22.

ISIS-linked groups said to have led foiled Philippines plot

Posted to the Northwestern Arkansas Democrat Gazette (Apr 16): 3 ISIS-linked groups said to have led foiled Philippines plot (By AP reporter Jim Gomez)


This undated photo provided by the Armed Forces of the Philippines on April 12, 2017, shows people stand by boats which the military said were used by Abu Sayyaf militants to enter the Ibananga River in Bohol province, central Philippines, as government troopers continue clearing operations. Credit: 3rd ID, Armed Forces of the Philippines via AP, File
A foiled attack on a central Philippine resort island last week was a kidnapping and bombing mission by at least three extremist groups affiliated with the Islamic State, security officials said Saturday.

INTERACTIVE: Islamic State timeline and map

The Philippine military initially said government forces, backed by airstrikes, had detected and thwarted a kidnapping plot by Abu Sayyaf militants in the island province of Bohol, a popular tourist destination far from the militants' southern jungle bases.

Three soldiers, a policeman, two villagers and at least four militants, including key Abu Sayyaf commander and spokesman Moammar Askali, were killed in the daylong siege Tuesday in Bohol's Inabanga town.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said military and police forces in Bohol thwarted "major terrorist activities" by the militants, who were aiming to divert the military's focus from intense offensives on the militants' jungle encampments in southern Sulu province and outlying islands.

"The persons who died in the area, some of whom have been identified to be known terrorists, are still the subject of a continuing investigation to ascertain their participation," Padilla said, adding that the result of the investigation would be made public in the near future.

Interviews with three security officials, along with documents and pictures, indicated that three extremist groups that have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State deployed their leading bombers and fighters, some of whom wore Islamic State-style black flag patches, for the Bohol assault.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose details of the ongoing investigation of the foiled attack.

While considered a key commander and emerging leader of Abu Sayyaf, Askali had also led a hard-line Abu Sayyaf faction called the Marakat Ansar Battalion, which is among 10 small groups that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State about three years ago and formed an Islamic State-inspired alliance in the southern Philippines. Askali had been implicated in the beheadings of two Canadian hostages last year and a German tourist in February in Sulu's jungles, the officials said.

Other Abu Sayyaf commanders have refused to align themselves with the Middle East-based extremist group, according to the officials.

Aside from Askali, another key Sulu-based militant killed in Bohol was Edimar Isnain, who had worked with Malaysian and Indonesian militants in assembling bombs and leading bomb-making training for recruits of Abu Sayyaf and another violent group called Dawla Islamiya Ranao, also known as the Maute group, based in southern Lanao del Sur province.

Troops recovered four assault-style rifles, rifle grenades and bomb-making materials, including detonating cords, blasting caps and electronic bomb parts, a military report said.

The Associated Press obtained military pictures of Isnain's body, which was dug up by troops in Inabanga, and the other dead, including an elderly village couple. It's not clear whether the two Inabanga villagers were killed in the crossfire or gunned down by the cornered Abu Sayyaf militants at the height of the fighting.

Officials said the militants, who traveled from Sulu more than 300 miles by motor boat to the south of Bohol, were guided to Inabanga's interior hinterlands by Joselito Melloria, a convert to Islam. Military officials believed he may have been designated to lead another Islamic State-linked extremist band called Ansar Khilafa Philippines had the Bohol attack been successful, the officials said. Ansar Khilafa Philippines' leader, Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, was killed by Philippine counterterrorism forces in southern Sarangani province in January.

Melloria, who uses the alias Abu Alih and allowed the militants to stay at his Inabanga home, was wounded in the Bohol fighting and escaped with several other militants, the three officials said.

It remained unclear what the targets of the militants were, but Bohol draws foreign and local tourists for its beach resorts, waterfalls, caves and wildlife. Bohol island lies about 397 miles southeast of Manila and is about an hour by boat from Cebu province, a trade and tourism center. Bohol is to host a meeting this week of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the regional bloc the Philippines is leading this year.

Militants from the three Islamic State-linked groups first collaborated by bombing a night market in southern Davao city, President Rodrigo Duterte's hometown, in a 2016 attack that killed 15 people and prompted Duterte to declare a state of lawless violence. The Bohol attack was the farthest-reaching and most daring plot so far by the allied militants. Duterte has threatened to place the south under martial law if terrorism threats spiral out of control.

Duterte Is Under Pressure to End the Philippines-China Honeymoon

From the National Interest Online (Apr 13): Duterte Is Under Pressure to End the Philippines-China Honeymoon (By Richard Javad Heydarian)

Duterte has been publicly fawning over China—to the dismay of the Philippines’ patriotic public.

U.S. and Philippine Marines during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training Philippines 2012. Flickr/Naval Surface Forces

U.S. and Philippine Marines during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training Philippines 2012. Flickr/Naval Surface Forces

Since his ascent to presidency, Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly threatened to upend Philippine foreign policy. In stark contrast to his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, he has as frequently lavished China with praise as he has lambasted America with verve and venom.

Highly popular at home, and notorious the world over, Duterte has often been portrayed as an oriental despot with an unshakable grip on the Philippine state. Yet, his ability to unilaterally reshape the country’s external relations has been grossly exaggerated by both domestic and international observers.

As I have been arguing for months, there is a limit to how far the Filipino leader can downgrade his country’s alliance with America and, accordingly, upgrade strategic relations with China. This is mainly because of the profound influence of the Philippine security establishment—namely, the cabal of conventional-minded generals, diplomats, politicians and opinion makers—which is as deeply entwined with Washington as it is suspicious of Beijing.

While the charismatic Duterte has managed to convince a growing proportion of the Philippine society that America is not a reliable partner, he has fallen short of convincing his generals, the political class and the broader population that China is a trustworthy neighbor.

Amid growing Chinese maritime assertiveness within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zones, both in the South China Sea and the Pacific, the Filipino president, just as I predicted, has come under unprecedented pressure to adopt a tougher stance against Beijing. The Philippines’ honeymoon with China is far from over, but a full restoration of bilateral ties looks increasingly unlikely.

Shifting Gears

“We tried to be friends with everybody but we have to maintain our jurisdiction now, at least the areas under our control [in South China Sea],” declared Rodrigo Duterte during a recent visit to a military camp in the western province Palawan, which is close to the dispute Spratly chain of islands.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and top defense officials are deeply worried about China’s sprawling network of airstrips and military bases nearby. By all indications, it is just a matter of time before China deploys fighter jets and advanced weaponries to its artificially created islands.

“What’s ours now, at least let’s get them and make a strong point there that it is ours,” Duterte continued to the obvious delight of his pumped up soldiers, who have been awaiting the green light to step up the Philippines’ eroding strategic footprint in the Spratly chain of islands for years.

He then instructed the AFP to fully occupy Philippine-claimed land features, step up patrols in the country’s traditional fisheries grounds and refurbish facilities on Thitu Island, which has been fully occupied by the Southeast Asian country over the past four decades.

Manila claims nine land features in the Spratly Islands, mostly reefs and low-tide elevations with the exception of Thitu, an island-sized rock that has hosted an airstrip since 1977. Filipino strongman Ferdinand Marcos (1965–86) was the first regional leader to establish a modern, 1,300-meter-long runway on disputed land features in the area.

Of course, Duterte didn’t shy away from bravado. He even promised to personally plant the Philippine flag on Thitu Island, which hosts a significant civilian population with its own mayor, during the country’s Independence Day in June. This was reminiscent of Duterte’s infamous bluster during his presidential campaign, when he suggested riding a jet ski to disputed land features in the South China Sea and planting the Philippine flag on them.

Domestic Backlash

Caught off guard by Duterte’s remarks, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China immediately shot back, calling upon Manila to “continue to properly manage maritime disputes with China and safeguard together the sound and stable situation of China-Philippines relations.” Duterte’s highly patriotic remarks, implicitly directed at China, stood in stark contrast to his nonstop praise for the Asian juggernaut for supposedly “loving [the Philippines] and helping [the country] survive the rigors of this life.”

Throughout the first quarter of this year, China has been on a proactive charm offensive towards the Philippines, dispatching Commerce Minister Zhong Shan and Vice Premier Wang Yang, who have offered multibillion-dollar investment deals to Duterte, including investments in his home island of Mindanao. Worried about China’s intentions, the Philippine defense establishment quickly mobilized.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana openly accused China of engaging in suspicious activities in the Behnam Rise, part of Philippine continental shelf in the Philippine Sea, in late 2016. In particular, Lorenzana suggested that China may have conducted oceanographic research to canvass seabed resources and assess the prospects of stationing submarines in the area. Days later, top defense and foreign ministry officials flatly rejected Duterte’s (false) claim that the Chinese had his permission to conduct marine scientific research in the area.

Shortly after, the Filipino leader was once again in the hot seat when he nonchalantly suggested that the Philippines can’t do anything if China chooses to build facilities on the Scarborough Shoal. The remarks provoked nationwide criticism, with leading legislators and magistrates openly calling upon the president to refrain from such defeatist statements. Defense officials made it clear that any Chinese reclamation activity on the contested shoal, which is just above one hundred nautical miles away from Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Base, as “unacceptable” and “very, very disturbing.”

Meanwhile, experts warned the president that he could face impeachment if he didn’t assert Philippine maritime claims in the Behnam Rise and Scarborough Shoal, while an opposition legislator went so far as formally filing an impeachment complaint against Duterte. The message was clear: Duterte can’t unilaterally shape Philippine foreign policy, particularly towards China. The Filipino president’s latest remarks vis-à-vis the Spratlys was likely a calculated attempt to refurbish his patriotic credentials, mollify the security establishment, signal his resolve to Beijing and keep critics at bay.

[Richard Javad Heydarian is an Assistant Professor in international affairs and political science at De La Salle University, and previously served as a policy advisor at the Philippine House of Representatives. As a specialist on Asian geopolitics and economic affairs, he has written for or interviewed by Al Jazeera, Asia Times, BBC, Bloomberg, Foreign Affairs, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Diplomat, The Financial Times, and USA TODAY, among other leading international publications. He is the author of How Capitalism Failed the Arab World: The Economic Roots and Precarious Future of the Middle East Uprisings (Zed, London), and the forthcoming book Asia’s New Battlefield: US, China, and the Struggle for Western Pacific (Zed, 2015). You can follow him on Twitter: @Richeydarian.]

LOOK: Soldiers break bread with Abu Sayyaf who surrendered

From ABS-CBN (Apr 13): LOOK: Soldiers break bread with Abu Sayyaf who surrendered

Soldiers on Maundy Thursday shared a meal with 11 alleged Abu Sayyaf members who surrendered to government forces in Tawi-Tawi earlier this week.

The Western Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces hosted a breakfast that consisted of rice, eggs, fish, and vegetables for the Abu Sayyaf men.

Though seated together in one dining table, the former adversaries did not exchange pleasantries, and just concentrated on their meals.

3 soldiers, MILF fighter hurt in Maguindanao clash

From ABS-CBN (Apr 13): 3 soldiers, MILF fighter hurt in Maguindanao clash

DATU SAUDI AMPATUAN, Maguindanao - Three soldiers and a Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighter were wounded following an encounter between the military and rebel forces here, authorities said.

The fighting erupted after troops tried to serve a search warrant on the town's mayor, Anida Dimaukom, MILF commander Wahid Tundok and 10 others who were allegedly making weapons in the area.

A spokesman for the MILF's Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, Von Al Haq, denied the charge. He accused the troops of not coordinating the operation, violating their ceasefire.

Photos courtesy : 6th infantry division
The military, however, said there was no need to coordinate the service of the warrant since the area was controlled by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, which is not party to the ceasefire or long-running peace negotiations.

Dimaukom has yet to comment on the allegations.

Several gun parts were seized in the Wednesday raid.

Mindanao no place for a caliphate

Posted to the East Asia Forum (Apr 12): Mindanao no place for a caliphate (By Joseph Franco)

The impending fall of Mosul and Raqqa have stoked concerns over the future of Islamic State (IS) fighters. As the coalition dragnet falls upon the so-called caliphate, it is expected that jihadists will try to escape, either returning to their home countries or coalescing into other conflict regions. Southeast Asia has recently been cast as the potential site for a replacement caliphate. Mindanao’s decades-long struggle with Islamist extremism has made it a constant trope for analysts seeking to portray the southern Philippines as the next epicentre for international terrorism.

Observers have pushed the narrative that an imminent IS province in Mindanao may ultimately lead to the establishment of a new Southeast Asia-based caliphate. This perspective neglects the distinct socio-economic realities in the southern Philippines. While it is true that jihadist camps were established in central Mindanao, they were intended as training camps for a small foreign cadre. No jihadist camp in Mindanao, whether occupied by foreign or Filipino militants, was permanently occupied beyond the need for tactical expediencies.

Armed conflict in Mindanao is a volatile mix of clan networks, political rivalries and the utilitarian use of religious narratives rooted in the history of the region. Collusion between local officials, tribal leaders and clan-centred private armies in organised criminal activities can be traced back to the Spanish colonial period, even before the foundation of the modern Philippine state.

Rather than providing a semblance of governance as seen in Raqqa, Filipino militants such as the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) subsist through criminal acts such as extortion and kidnapping for ransom. Since the death of founder Abdurajak Abubakar Janajalani, the ASG has lost its ideological moorings and instead regressed into the western Mindanao ransom industry. Reliance on criminal acts is symptomatic of the lack of ideological commitment by ASG members and the largely financial motivations that drive membership.

Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the ASG Basilan faction, tried to gain the attention of the IS leadership by pledging allegiance to IS ‘caliph’ (spiritual leader) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014. The move was likely motivated by Hapilon’s desire to increase his influence vis-à-vis the ASG Sulu faction, which was always flush from successful ransom activities. In response the IS leadership, through its Dabiq publication, mentioned that it had accepted the pledge from Hapilon but had ‘delayed the announcement of their respective [wilayah]’.

The reluctance of the IS leadership to declare a wilayah (province) is probably due to the present inability of Hapilon’s faction to exercise de facto governance. But even if Hapilon could somehow control wide swathes of Mindanao, changes in the strategic priorities of IS may make it moot. There is speculation that IS may already have abandoned its wilayah-based expansion model. Instead of being declared an emir, Hapilon was referred to as a ‘wali’ or governor of an IS ‘division’, with the Philippines being considered part of ‘the land of jihad’ and not as the ‘land of the caliphate’.

Manila is presently trying to jumpstart the stalled Mindanao peace process by reconvening the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC). The BTC is tasked with drafting the basic law that will establish a new autonomous Bangsamoro government in Mindanao. It is hoped that meaningful political autonomy in Mindanao will insulate Filipino Muslims from extremist recruitment and diminish the attraction of IS propaganda.

The complexity of conflict in Mindanao is recognised by the overarching military strategy being pursued by the Duterte administration. The Armed Forces of the Philippines Development Support and Security Plan prescribes the use of intelligence-driven combat operations against terrorist groups like the ASG. Recent operations demonstrated growing military capability to conduct kinetic operations against the ASG.

But at the strategic level, Duterte’s perspective becomes ambiguous. The administration has oscillated from a hard-line to a soft approach and back. Duterte himself has referred to the ASG as desperate men driven by poverty to barbarity, men he literally intends to eat raw with vinegar and salt. These conflicting messages may harm efforts to construct a narrative against extremist groups as well as undertake development activities to address the roots of conflict. The sympathetic Duterte perspective where the ASG are seen as driven to desperation could legitimise the group’s extortion and kidnapping activities.

Beyond domestic audiences, Duterte’s colourful language may complicate multilateral counterterrorism cooperation especially with Western allies such as the United States. Duterte had no qualms using colonial atrocities in Mindanao from the early 1900s to underpin his anti-US opinions. It is difficult to imagine the redeployment of a US military advisory unit to Mindanao in such a political climate.

Closer to home, Duterte’s close affinity to China could also alienate ASEAN members who are critical to securing the Sulu and Sulawesi Seas. The tri-border area shared by the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia are prime target areas for ASG ransom activities targeting foreigners. The immediate solution was to strengthen regional cooperation. Joint maritime patrols to secure the Sulawesi and Sulu Seas were reinvigorated after the 3rd Trilateral Defence Minister’s Meeting in August 2016 in response to a series of kidnappings that victimised Indonesian and Malaysian citizens.

The idea of an IS caliphate is unlikely to perish with the retaking of Mosul and Raqqa. But the physical manifestation of the IS vision requires a confluence of history and socio-economic realities. It is irresponsible to assume that an illicit institution could be transplanted from the plains of the Levant to the jungles of Mindanao.

[Joseph Franco is a Research Fellow with the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS), a constituent unit of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.]

Army denies accusations of having abusive members

From the Sun Star-Davao: Army denies accusations of having abusive members 
THE Army's 10th Infantry Division belied allegations by a militant organization attributing the deaths of several people in Davao Region to their soldiers.
Captain Alexandre Cabales, acting chief of the 10th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office, said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), particularly the 10th Infantry Division, do not condone any misbehavior and abuses of its members.
He said the division urged the organizations, like Karapatan, to file complaints against suspects of those killings—soldiers or not—before the appropriate government investigating or judicial bodies so justice will be served.
"If the suspects are members of the division, we will welcome, cooperate and support the investigations and judicial process. We will be grateful to those who will help us purge our ranks of misfits and abusive members," Cabales said.
Cabales also urged the organizations to go beyond their usual communist propaganda lines and seek justice for those victims through the rule of law and not through press releases and statements.
"The police likewise called upon the community or anyone who has information to help them in their investigations. The allegations against our soldiers are therefore unfounded without any basis," he added.
Cabales said based on their initial investigations and research of police reports, the deaths of the couple Ramon and Leonila Pesadilla in Compostela, the couple Arlene and Arman Alcominar, Cora Lina in Laak, Pedro Pandagay in Mabini, Danilo Nadal and Edwin Catog in Pantukan, and Elias Pureza in San Isidro in Davao del Norte are still under investigation and that there is still no suspect.

Palace counters Karapatan's claims of political executions

From the Sun Star-Manila (Apr 12): Palace counters Karapatan's claims of political executions

MALACAÑANG on Wednesday denied that there have been political executions under the watch of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella belied the accusation of rights advocacy group Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Right that there are 47 alleged killings of peasants, indigenous peoples and workers considered as human rights defenders under the Duterte administration.
Abella said the latest allegation negates the President’s "long-standing principle" to address problems through a peaceful approach.
“It is not the policy of the Duterte administration to violate citizens’ human rights,” Abella said in a statement.
Abella’s statement came on the heels of Karapatan’s plea to United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary of arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard to “consider, investigate, make recommendations and take any appropriate actions” on the supposed political executions in the Philippines.
In a letter by Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay addressed to Callamard, a total of 47 cases of political killings have reportedly been documented by the rights advocacy group from July 2016 to March 31, 2017, in line with the government’s continuing counter-insurgency program.
“These killings are all in the context of the counter-insurgency programs implemented from one regime to another that supposedly seek to end the armed rebellion of revolutionary movements in the Philippines,” Palabay said in a letter sent to Callamard on Tuesday.
“These counter-insurgency programs have victimized thousands of Filipinos, including struggling communities, tagged as ‘enemies of the state,’” she added.
Kadamay pinned hope that Callamard could convince Duterte to “completely junk counterinsurgency programs; issue strong warnings to and prosecute EJK (extrajudicial killing) perpetrators; and continue to pursue efforts at attaining just and lasting peace with the NDFP (National Democratic Front) and the Moro liberation movements.”
Abella questioned the latest move by Karapatan, citing that the country’s justice system and domestic institutions “are more than adequate to judge the matter.”
He said Duterte welcomes international probers to “sovereign and democratic” Philippines but certain conditions must be met before they could be able to “come in and interfere with is domestic affairs.”
“Despite the initial setbacks, the [government] and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines continue to pursue peace and seek solutions to the root problems of the age-old armed conflict,” the presidential spokesperson said.

Philippines: Rebel Priest Wants US Military Drills Cancelled

From the Eurasia Review (Apr 12): Philippines: Rebel Priest Wants US Military Drills Cancelled

A rebel priest in the central Philippines called on the government to cancel a joint military exercise between American and Filipino troops scheduled later this month in the province of Leyte.

“The cancellation of the military exercise will put into action [President Rodrigo] Duterte’s talk about independence from the [United States],” said Father Santiago Salas, a non de guerre of a Catholic priest who serves as spokesman of the communist National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

He said by stopping the military exercise, Duterte will be showing “a patriotic gesture to the ongoing peace process.”

The Philippine government and the communist rebels have recently concluded a fourth round of peace negotiations that aim to end almost five decades of armed conflict in the country.

“It is important for the president to turn his talk about independence from the U.S. into action,” said Father Salas.

“The continuing indirect control by the U.S. over the Philippines has held back progress and divided Filipinos,” he added.

American soldiers are expected to arrive this month in Eastern Visayas for war games that will end in May.

While the exercise is designed to improve combat expertise of troops, it also includes medical missions, book donations, and construction and repair of school buildings.

Father Salas, however, belittled the “social activities” as “cheap palliatives” to sugar-coat U.S. intervention in the country.

Water Wars: The “Tremendous” and Underwhelming Trump-Xi Summit

From Lawfare (Apr 14): Water Wars: The “Tremendous” and Underwhelming Trump-Xi Summit (By Sarah Grant)

Trump and Xi Strike a Cordial Tone, but Produce No Substantive Agreements

U.S. and Chinese delegations at Mar-a-Lago (Photo: Reuters)

Last Friday, as Congress and the international community reacted to U.S. airstrikes in Syria, President Donald Trump completed his first meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. President Trump declared that his administration has made “tremendous progress” in the U.S.’s “outstanding” relationship with China. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson followed up on the President’s comments during a press briefing with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to summarize the meetings with the Chinese delegation. According to Tillerson, President Trump emphasized to his counterpart the importance of “adherence to international norms in the East and South China Seas.” Tillerson also noted that U.S. and Chinese officials held “candid discussions on regional and maritime security.”

Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua characterized President Xi’s visit as a success and provided more details of the summit. According to Xinhua, Chinese officials reiterated “China’s positions on the South China Sea.” Moving forward, the two sides agreed to establish four parallel consultation mechanisms to replace the Obama-era Strategic and Economic Dialogue: the diplomatic and security dialogue, the comprehensive economic dialogue, the law enforcement and cybersecurity dialogue, and the social and people-to-people dialogue. Xinhua also reported that Trump accepted Xi’s invitation for a state visit to China later this year.

Among experts who study the region, there was wide disagreement on whether the summit was a success. Some interpreted the lack of a joint press conference or joint statement as strong indications of a confrontational atmosphere behind the scenes, while others heralded the meeting as successful simply because it avoided political gaffes. Most commentators saw enough cordiality between the two sides for cautious optimism. The sole point of consensus among these analysts was that the meeting between Trump and Xi produced few substantive outcomes. Trump and his team notably did not repeat any key phrases affirming a “new model of great power relations” between the U.S. and China.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s diplomatic overtures to the Asia Pacific will continue next week. The White House announced that Vice President Mike Pence will be in the region from April 15th to April 25th, visiting South Korea, Japan, Australia and the Philippines.

In Other News…


Manila seems to have backed down from President Rodrigo Duterte’s claim last week that Philippine soldiers would occupy islands and reefs in the Spratly Islands. Shortly after Duterte’s remarks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying expressed a hope that the Philippines would “continue to properly manage maritime disputes with China.” She stated that Beijing is committed to defending “its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea, and safeguarding peace and stability there.”

Philippine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana then explained that the policy would only involve strengthening and upgrading facilities on the nine features in the South China Sea that the Philippines already occupies. Lorenzana said that the upgrades would include improvements to airstrips and ports. He added that the military would also focus on building living accommodations, such as sewage and electricity systems, for use by Philippine fishermen.

Over the next few days, Duterte sought to further allay Chinese concerns. “I’d like to address myself to the Chinese government,” he said, and promised that no “offensive weapons, not even one gun” would be placed on the reefs and islands. However, he claimed that, although the Philippines would not do so, “the United States will be stockpiling their weapons there.” On Wednesday, he added that, in response to a Chinese request, he would not visit the Spratly Islands to personally raise the Philippine flag, in spite of his previous plan to do so. When asked about Duterte’s decision not to raise the Philippine flag, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said that Beijing was “glad that the Philippines choose to work with China to properly manage differences.”
On Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a government plan to maintain control of 148 uninhabited islands that Japan claims as part of its territory. “As a maritime country, we must take long-term, systematic measures to protect, maintain and expand peace, security and our maritime interests,” Abe said. “The situation surrounding our seas is increasing in severity.” The government will acquire land on the islands for port facilities and administrative buildings. In addition, a further 273 uninhabited islands were registered as national property, clarifying Japan’s claims to them. A maritime task force will develop the plan, and will seek Cabinet approval next spring.

Japan’s navy plans to conduct joint drills with the U.S. Navy’s Carl Vinson carrier strike group, which is headed to waters off of the Korean Peninsula in response to recent North Korean missile tests. On Thursday, Tokyo released data indicating that Japan scrambled fighter jets against foreign aircraft a record number of times in the past year. Jets were scrambled 1,168 times, up from 873 in 2016. Of the 1,168 instances, 851 were in response to Chinese aircraft.


Responding to questions at a press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying stated that China has never used the term “artificial islands” in reference to the South China Sea. Rather, she said, China has engaged in construction projects on islands that “have been there since always” in order to “improve the working and living conditions of people stationed there.” In addition, China has deployed “necessary national defense facilities…for the aim of safeguarding China’s own territory.”

According to China’s State Oceanic Administration, four Chinese coast guard ships sailed into waters near the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, marking the ninth time this year that the Chinese coast guard has patrolled near the disputed islands. Meanwhile, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative reports that a Chinese J-11 fighter plane was visible on a satellite photograph taken of Woody Island in the Paracel island chain on March 29.


Responding to the planned Philippine construction in the Spratly Islands, Vietnam’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Le Thi Thu Hang, stated that Vietnamese sovereignty extended to the Spratly and Paracel Islands. She said that, without Vietnamese permission, any action by other countries on the islands would be illegal.


Singapore deployed six Boeing F-15s to Guam, along with about 100 personnel, to participate in fighter training exercises with the United States. U.S. Air Force Capt. Candice Dillette stated that fourteen American F-15Cs would take part in the exercise, which will be aimed at “enhancing our interoperability to ensure regional security and stability.”

Analysis, Commentary, and Additional Information
On Monday, two reports providing exclusive insight into China’s South China Sea strategy were released. First, Dr. Andrew Erickson’s released Part 2 of a three-part series on the development of a maritime militia based in Hainan Province. The southernmost province of China, Hainan is tasked with administering all of Beijing’s maritime claims in the South China Sea. The second report came from Reuters, which became the first foreign media outlet to access Scarborough Shoal since China seized it in 2012. According to the exclusive report, the Chinese maritime authorities have eased their previous restrictions on Philippine fishing boats’ access to Scarborough Shoal. Reuters notes that the improved access represents a greater degree of compliance with last year’s arbitration ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidating China’s claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, Gregory Poling of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative contemplates whether the U.S. and its allies have already lost in the South China Sea. Although he concludes that it is not too late, he explains that on the current pace China will establish de factor control over the waters, airspace and resources of the South China Sea.
Finally, President Duterte’s claims that he would deploy Philippine forces to the Spratly Islands have been received with skepticism from analysts such as Bonnie Glasser of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Lyle Morris of RAND Corporation. In fact, Richard Heydarian explains in the Nikkei Asian Review that the conflicting statements of Duterte and his generals represent an internal battle over how to handle maritime disputes with China.

[Water Wars is our weekly roundup of the latest news, analysis, and opinions related to ongoing tensions in the South and East China Seas. Please email Sarah Grant with breaking news, relevant documents, or corrections.]

AFP troops overrun NPA camp in Agusan del Sur hinterland

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 15): AFP troops overrun NPA camp in Agusan del Sur hinterland

Combat troops of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) overran an NPA encampment in hinterland Mahagsay area, San Luis, Agusan del Sur on Maundy Thursday (April 13).

Capt. Jasper T. Gacayan, Civil Military Operations (CMO) Officer of the Army’s 401st Infantry (Unity) Brigade on Saturday (April 15) said the seized NPA encampment has an estimated 2-hectare area with 70 bunkers and outposts, make-shift huts and kitchen and guerrilla listening posts.

“The NPA camp was captured when our field combat maneuvering troops of the Army’s 26th Infantry battalion made a surprise attack on Maundy Thursday that lasted for almost 30minutes,” Capt. Gacayan said, in an exclusive interview with The Manila Bulletin.

He said that the camp belonged to guerilla-Front Committee 88 of the CPP-NPA North-Central Mindanao Regional Committee.

The camp can accommodate 70 to 80 persons, he said.

Aside from the two dead NPAs during the fierce gunbattle, an estimated 10 other rebels were believed wounded as bloodstains were seen by the operating troops inside the camp and the escape route of withdrawing rebels. Villagers said they saw the fleeing rebels dragging their wounded comrades-in-arms, Capt. Gacayan added.

Operating 26th IB troops under Lt. Col. Rommel Pagayon also seized several war materials inside the camp including CZ 550 Caliber 30 Sniper Rifle with a scope, 10 backpacks containing personal belongings, 34 sacks of rice, canned goods and assorted documents with high intelligence value, the 401st CMO Officer added.

During the operation, Col. Cristobal N. Zaragoza, commanding officer of the 401st Brigade requested air support from the Tactical Operations group of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) Strike Wing to beef up the ground force of the 26thIB.

The seized camp is about 40 kilometers away from the town proper of San Luis in Agusan del Sur province.

“The recovery of the encampment was due to the villagers’ request following the alleged forced revolutionary taxation imposed by the NPAs,” Capt. Gacayan said.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin G. Madrigal, commanding general of the Army’s Northeastern and Northern Mindanao 4th Infantry (Diamond) Division (4th ID) congratulated the 26th IB troopers and thanked them for the sacrifices made on a Holy Week just to protect the communities from NPA threats and extortions. He reminded the troopers to continue to pressure the terrorists but he emphasized that the troops should welcome those who want to go back to the folds of the law and live normal lives.

Operation against NPA’s stepped up in Agusan del Sur

From the Manila Bulletin (Apr 16): Operation against NPA’s stepped up in Agusan del Sur

A wide pursuit operation against the fleeing New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), was stepped up on Sunday in the hinterland area of Mahagsay, 40 kilometers from San Luis town in Agusan del Sur province.


The operation of the 26th Infantry Battalion (26th IB), which is being closely monitored and supervised by the command group of 401st Infantry (Unity) Brigade (401st IB) based in New Leyte, Prosperidad town of that same province, is currently being supported by the Tactical Operations Group (TOG) of the Philippine Air Force (PAF) Strike Wing.

The 26th IB has been pursuing the main body of Guerrilla-Front Committee 88 of the North-Central Mindanao Regional Committee, which abandoned their camp during gun battle on Maundy Thursday in Mahagsay area, said 401st Brigade Civil Military Operations Officer Capt. Jasper T. Gacayan.

The 401st CMO Officer said that the fleeing rebels had dragged along with them their wounded comrades-in-arms as they fled towards the border of Agusan and Bukidnon.

“We want to bring their wounded to the hospital for medical treatment,” he said.

The command is also open for the other rebels who wanted to return to the folds of the law and avail of the government’s peace and development program, Capt. Gacayan said.

“The Maundy Thursday gun battle with communist insurgents led to the capture of the estimated two hectares NPA encampment in Mahagsay area,” he said.

No one on the government side was hurt during that gun battle, he said.

The CMO officer said that Col. Cristobal N. Zaragoza, commanding officer of the 401st Brigade deployed more combat maneuvering troops in San Luis town to beef up the forces of 26th IB Commander Lt. Col. Rommel Pagayon who continuously pursued without let up the fleeing rebels.

MNLF/Murshi Ibrahim: Photos --Special Meeting of MNLF Founding Chairman, Prof. Nur P. Misuari, and over 50 members of the Blaan Tribe's delegation from South Cotabato

From the Facebook page of Ustadz Murshi Ibrahim, Secretrary General of the Moro National Liberation Front (Apr 15): Special Meeting of MNLF Founding Chairman, Prof. Nur P. Misuari, and over 50 members of the Blaan Tribe's delegation from South Cotabato

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These pictures were taken during Special Meeting of MNLF Founding Chairman, Prof. Nur P. Misuari, and over 50 members of the Blaan Tribe's delegation from South Cotabato this afternoon, April 15, 2017. H.E. briefed them on the significance of Federalism as espoused by President Duterte whom he considered as " Handog ng langit sa lahat ng mga Filipino at Bangsamoro". He is a great leader with firm political will".

MNLF/Murshi Ibrahim: Photo - Courtesy Visit with H.E. Prof. Dr. Nur P. Misuari, MNLF Founding Chairman, Central Committee

From the Facebook page of Ustadz Murshi Ibrahim, Secretrary General of the Moro National Liberation Front (Apr 14): Courtesy Visit with H.E. Prof. Dr. Nur P. Misuari, MNLF Founding Chairman, Central Committee

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This photo was taken during our courtesy visit to H.E. Prof. Dr. Nur P. Misuari, MNLF Founding Chairman, Central Committee, who advised us to firmly uphold MNLF Doctrine and Ideology on PEACE ADVOCACY and EGALITARIANISM.

MILF: Editorial -- Good To Hear Again!

Editorial posted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front Website (Apr 16): Editorial: Good To Hear Again!

In a speech during the Philippine-Qatar Business Forum, held in Doha, Qatar on April 15, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte reiterated again his promise to address the historical injustice committed against the Bangsamoro people, and, without saying, to set up a genuine self-governing Bangsamoro political entity, something higher and better than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

According to Catholic Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, this injustice covers three areas: injustice to Moro identity, injustice to Moro political sovereignty, and injustice to Moro integral development. This squarely contrasted government’s view that the roots of the problem are poverty, ignorance, disease, and injustice in that order.

It is really good to hear this promise again and again from the president. It gives us more strength and energy to fast-track the GPH-MILF peace process and the drafting of a new Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) but compliant to the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB).

He said: “There are a lot of Muslims in my Cabinet. We are trying to work out something now. And I hope that Lord would be most gracious for us, the Most Merciful One would grant us peace. And we hope to succeed in our peace talks. We are ready to reconfigure the land. We are ready to concede what was lost from them. And the only thing that I ask from the Moro people is that we did not know that you were all victims of imperialism.”

However, he admitted that it would take some time to come with ways on how to correct this historical injustice, which we fully agree. We have no illusion about this. In fact, this is more sentimental and emotional than the political and socio-economic tracks.

This is the reason that in the CAB there is a need to undertake a normalization process which included especially transitional justice and reconciliation programs, which is about healing the past. Without this healing, resolving the Bangsamoro Question would not be complete and lasting. Chances that the ways of conflict would recur again and again.

During the same forum, President Duterte invited Qatari businessmen to invest in the Philippines. He assured them that the Philippines is big enough to accommodate any kind of vegetation. In our little way, the MILF can extend many ways of helping. And we are ready to cooperate!

Again, we lauded the President for this effort. But our only wish that this full-fledged investment should come after the resolution of the Bangsamoro Question and the main target would be Moro areas which are left behind as a result of the more than four decades of conflict in Mindanao. The Moros have to be helped but not to the extent of spoiling them. The MILF does not want to develop that dole-out mentality; we need to stand on ourselves as soon as possible. We fully subscribe to the Quranic injunction: “Allah helps those who help themselves.”