Saturday, May 13, 2017

LOOK: Armed Forces heightens security in Palawan

From Update Philippines (May 13): LOOK: Armed Forces heightens security in Palawan

WESCOM photo

The Western Command (WESCOM) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines have stepped up presence with other government force in Sabang Wharf, and nearby places particularly those the tourists go to. Tours to Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan remains fully booked, according to WESCOM.

This is amid travel advisory issued by number of foreign governments due to threat of abduction by local terrorist group.

WESCOM photo

WESCOM said security forces also conducted seaborne patrol up to Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR). A long line of guests were seen waiting for their turn.


WESCOM photo

LOOK: Japan coast guard aircraft conduct exercise in Philippines

From Update Philippines (May 14): LOOK: Japan coast guard aircraft conduct exercise in Philippines

PCG photo

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Japan Coast Guard (JCG) and Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia-Information Sharing Center (ReCAAP-ISC) have conducted a communications and surveillance exercise on May 13.

JCG’s airborne plane Falcon 900 (JA 8571) with PCG, JCG, ReCAAP-ISC onboard serves as observers.

“Falcon 900 together with PCG’s deployed patrol vessels, BRP Romblon (SARV-3503) and BRP Malapascua (MRRV 4403) and PCG manned-Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) 3007 of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) were deployed for the said simulation of a cargo vessel under piracy attack between Jolo Island and Tawi-Tawi upon receipt of piracy incident from ReCAAP-ISC,” PCG said.

“The exercise helped us build good working relationship and interoperability between the PCG, JCG and ReCAAP which is based in Singapore. We have had lots of piracy exercises with the Japan Coast Guard. However, it is mostly in the conduct of anti-piracy exercise,” Commander of Maritime Security and Law Enforcement Commodore Leopoldo V. Laroya.

“We utilize a plane from the JCG for the conduct of communications exercise in order to present the capability to respond and share information quickly about piracy,” he added.

PCG photo

PCG photo

First PH-China talks on sea row seek ‘bridge of understanding’

From Rappler (May 13): First PH-China talks on sea row seek ‘bridge of understanding’

The inaugural bilateral talks on the divisive South China Sea dispute will take place on the week of May 15 in southwestern China

BRIDGING THE GAP. Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta Romana looks forward to participating in the first bilateral talks between Philippines and China on the South China Sea dispute under the Duterte administration. Screenshot from Rappler FB Live

BRIDGING THE GAP. Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta Romana looks forward to participating in the first bilateral talks between Philippines and China on the South China Sea dispute under the Duterte administration. Screenshot from Rappler FB Live

The first bilateral talks between the Philippines and China on the maritime dispute under the Duterte administration will take place on the week of May 15 in southwestern China, said Philippine Ambassador to China Jose "Chito" Sta Romana.

The talks, the first after several years, will be the start of a long journey, as Beijing and Manila seek to “manage” the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) dispute, a conflict that froze relations between the two countries during the previous Philippine administration.

“The first session will be the first step in a long journey…That is the first step to resolve what seems to be an unbridgeable gap,” said Sta Romana on Saturday, May 13, during a media interview in Beijing.

The first meeting will take place on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) event with China in southwestern China.

He, as well as Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua, are expected to participate. Other participants will include Philippine and Chinese foreign minister officials at the deputy minister and undersecretary levels.

'Exchange of views'

The half-day meeting seeks to establish a platform on which to build future sessions, which Sta Romana expects to take place twice a year.

“The first session will really cover the terms of reference, the basics, try to draw out an agenda,” he told reporters.

Given the years of conflict and tense relations, it is necessary to first have an exchange of views before the more substantial and divisive aspects of the dispute can be tackled.

“We have to clarify what is our position on the issue, and for the Chinese to clarify their position on a certain issue is at least a first step in trying to understand where the difference lies,” said Duterte’s appointed ambassador.

“It will be an exchange of views. At least, you are able to communicate, not through a megaphone but in a room where the two sides will meet, not open to the media but at least where they can speak directly to each other and try to understand,” he said.

Separate tracks

The inaugural bilateral meeting on the dispute will take place a week after the Belt and Road Forum on International Cooperation organized by China and to be attended by Duterte and 28 other country leaders.

Duterte’s attendance at the forum is seen by analysts as an affirmation of the Philippines’ desire to pursue economic cooperation with China despite the maritime dispute. (READ: Duterte in Belt and Road Forum affirms PH back in China's embrace)

Sta Romana explained that this strategy of separating economic cooperation and the dispute is a way for the Philippines to reap more benefits from its ties with China, an emerging world power.

“If you put the disputes in the front and center, the result is the relations will be frozen because the disputes cannot be solved overnight…The basic approach of the Duterte administration is to use it in separate tracks, open an area where there are no disputes, promoting economics, trade, commerce, cultural exchange,” he said.

For Sta Romana, separating the Philippines’ pursuit of its claim of the West Philippine Sea is not the same as abandoning the claim.

“Putting it in a separate track is not to abandon it, but it’s compartmentalizing,” he explained.

Abu Sayyaf temporary camp in Basilan captured

From Rappler (May 13): Abu Sayyaf temporary camp in Basilan captured

Colonel Juvymax Uy of the Joint Task Force Basilan says it is only a matter of time before the Abu Sayyaf group succumbs as government forces continue to be on the offensive

CAPTURED. A military battalion captures an encampment of Abu Sayyaf. Sourced photo

CAPTURED. A military battalion captures an encampment of Abu Sayyaf. Sourced photo

SUMISIP, Basilan – The Joint Task Force Basilan under Colonel Juvymax R. Uy consisting of the 4th Special Forces Battalion and 3rd Scout Ranger Regiment scored anew after engaging the scampering Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) Thursday, May 11.

Armed with intelligence reports from ASG surrenderers, the local populace, and local government units, the brigade was able to track down the ASG's temporary encampment.

Just before dawn, operating troops under the 4th Special Forces Battalion managed to close in on the enemy's temporary camp in Bgy Pamatsaken, Sumisip municipality, which is believed to be harboring ASG sub-leader Furuji Indama.

“Equipped with night fighting capabilities, our troops were able to inch within a hundred meters of the enemy under the cover of darkness,” Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Bacala Jr, commanding officer of the 4th Special Forces Battalion, said.

Evading several improvised explosive devices (IEDs) laid out by the bandits, the Special Forces troops managed to seize completely the encampment before 10 in the morning last Thursday.

Sourced photo by Richard Falcatan
Seizure of the site yielded 12 makeshift tents capable of accommodating at least 30 to 40 Abu Sayyaf bandits across 150 meters. Blood stains were found in the vicinity, with intel reports estimating no less than 20 ASG fatalities from the combined airstrikes and indirect fires.

The troops also recovered food stuff and explosive components for about 30 IEDs. Three live IEDs were also recovered by Special Forces demolition specialists. One IED, however, was detonated, inflicting minor injuries on two troopers. None were reported to be in critical condition.

Successive firefight followed as the Rangers from the 3rd Scout Ranger Battalion caught up with the fleeing bandits some 300 meters from the seized encampment.

“Our troops were able to cordon the enemy due to the accurate and timely indirect fires and close air support delivered by our artillery and the Philippine air force,” Uy said.

“Also, the information being volunteered by the populace and LGUs provided critical details to validate the intelligence we have on hand,” he added.

Naval Task Group Basilan also conducted maritime interdiction operations to prevent the bandits from escaping by sea.

Shock and awe

The bandits also got a taste of the air force’s F/A 50 after the jet fighters delivered their deadly payload, inflicting immediate fatalities on the ASG.

“The ASGs were so shocked they left most of their personal belongings and unfinished meal at their encampment,” a team leader from the Special Forces who cleared the site said.

The airstrikes were immediately followed with artillery and mortar fires, inflicting additional damage on the bandits.

Resources dwindling, members getting desperate

Unlike previous engagements, the ASGs have now resorted to evading government forces as their resources run low.

“We no longer experience the prolonged firefights with the ASGs. This suggests that they have run out of ammunition and other supplies necessary to engage government forces," Uy explained. "More than just resources, they no longer have the mass base they once enjoyed."

Debriefing from ASG surrenderers revealed that most of their members “have lost the will to fight due to the intensified military operations and no longer believe in the promises of a better life with the terrorist group,” Uy said.
“It will only take a matter of time before the ASG succumbs and their dream of establishing a folly caliphate will finally come to an end," Uy continued. "With the string of victories we are attaining, it will not take long before the ASG's threats are downgraded to no more than that of an ordinary criminal.”

Duterte says he freed 14 convicted communists

From Rappler (May 13): Duterte says he freed 14 convicted communists

'I am a president for peace. I cannot be a wartime president,' President Rodrigo Duterte says, stressing the need for peace talks with the Left

PEACE TALKS. President Rodrigo Duterte stresses the need for peace talks with communist rebels during his meeting with the Filipino community in Hong Kong on May 13, 2017. Screenshot from Malacañang video

PEACE TALKS. President Rodrigo Duterte stresses the need for peace talks with communist rebels during his meeting with the Filipino community in Hong Kong on May 13, 2017. Screenshot from Malacañang video

President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday, May 13, said he has released 14 convicted communists from the national penitentiary, the New Bilibid Prison, as a way of showing openness toward the Left.

"I just released about 14 prisoners from Bilibid, 'yung mga komunista na convicted na (the communists who have been convicted)," Duterte said in a speech before the Filipino community in Hong Kong.

Duterte explained: "I am a president for peace. I cannot be a wartime president. I cannot afford to fight with anybody, especially to wage war against my own people."

Duterte said it is better to talk even if there can be some "irritation" or "exchange of words" along the way.

The President talked about this as he introduced to overseas Filipino workers in Hong Kong the so-called Leftists in his government. The ones he introduced in Hong Kong were Liza Maza, lead convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Commission and Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano.

Duterte's remarks come as peace talks between the government and communist rivals have seen a revival under his administration.
The communist insurgency in the Philippines began in 1968 and is one of the longest running in the world. It has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives, according to the military.
Peace talks have been conducted on and off for 30 years.
Duterte, a self-described socialist, has made a peace deal with the rebels a top priority. The negotiators agreed that the next round of peace talks would be held between May 27 and June 1, although a venue has yet to be agreed upon.

WATCH | Exclusive: ‘Abu Sayyaf’ clan turns away from the outlaw life

From InterAksyon (May 12): WATCH | Exclusive: ‘Abu Sayyaf’ clan turns away from the outlaw life

 ASG clan Tawi Tawi

An entire clan of Abu Sayyaf supporters in Tawi Tawi surrenders, returns to the fold of the law.

Life is slowly reverting to “normal” for a family that counts followers of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) among its members, including the head of the family and a few of the clan’s offspring.

Berrong Sariol is the head of the clan. He is considered by the military as a sub-leader of the ASG.

He has sons and grandsons who have likewise joined ASG.

According to information from the military, Berrong’s clan assisted the ASG in raids to pluck kidnap victims in the high seas, and that they have venture toward Malaysian territory to snare potential kidnap victims, which explains why they have apparently piled up quite a record in that country.

But, Berrong maintains, there is no truth to the military’s narrative. He insists that the most they have to do with the Abu Sayyaf is to allow elements of the bandit group to occasionally spend the night at his house.

This is because one of Berrong’s cousins is ASG sub-leader Udon Hassan, under high-ranking ASG leader Radulan Sahiron.“Yung ginagawa lang namin, alaagan sila, dahil wala naman silang ibang lugar na pupuntahan, pinapatuloy namin sila sa bahay namin. Yun lang, kamag anak ko kasi si Udon Hassan, kaya kinukupkop namin (What we do is just to take care of their needs, give them shelter, because they have nowhere to go).”

But, Berrong insists, his family never joined any raids to capture kidnap victims.

“Kasama kami kapag nag paplano sila na pagdukot ng mga biktima, tapos pinapakinggan namin ang paligid, kung ano nangyayari … sa dadaanan nila sinasabi namin sa kanila para di sila mahuli … pagkain, binibigyan din namin sila (Sometimes we are into the planning of abductions, then we keep them informed about the situation along the routes that they take, to avoid being caught … We provide food for them).”

In return for their hospitality, the ASG would give them cash assistance, PhP50,000 one time.

Still, Berrong’s family, ultimately decided to turn their backs on the shadowy life, to surrender and make a new life under the fold of the law.

“Inisip ko yung pamilya ko, kaya kami sumuko. Gusto ko rin mapaaral yung mga anak at apo ko. Hindi kami makalabas. Palagi na lang kaming nasa bundok. Ang hirap din ng buhay (I think of my family, that’s why we yielded. I also want my sons and their sons’ sons to get an education. We cannot get out of the mountains. Life is hard).”

This turnabout has brought joy to the 18-year old grandson of Berrong, Arhan, who sees this as the opportunity to pursue his dream to be a soldier: “Even my brothers want to become soldiers. Now we can study, and I can help my siblings get an education.”

After Berrong’s clan surrendered to authorities, his cousin Udon Hassan followed suit, and it seems that even Radulan Sahiron is reportedly considering the possibility of surrendering, after seeing that his followers are doing well after giving themselves up.

Click and watch the exclusive video report below:

[Video Report: Sumukong pamilya na dating miyembro ng ASG, balik na sa normal ang buhay]

Cordillera rebels, Pangasinan cops share dilemma – extortionists posing as NPA

From InterAksyon (May 13): Cordillera rebels, Pangasinan cops share dilemma – extortionists posing as NPA

Strange but true. The New People’s Army and the Pangasinan police are facing a common problem — extortionists posing as communist rebels.
The NPA’s Leonardo Pacsi Command in the Mountain Province warned against poseurs it said introduce themselves as representatives of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines/Cordillera People’s Democratic Front.

It was the second warning from a rebel unit in the region following that issued last month by the Antonio Licawen Front Operations Command, which operates in Benguet, Abra, Mountai Province and Ilocos Sur.

Leonardo Pacsi command spokesman Magno Udyaw said some of the extortionists, who the rebels suspect include state agents, would drop the name of or pretend to be CPDF spokesman Simon “Ka Filiw” Naogsan.

He warned another extortionist who goes by the name “Commander Soriano” of the “Red Arrow Command”: “Do not wait until you are apprehended and proper revolutionary justice is served against your self-seeking criminal acts.”

Pangasinan police director Senior Superintendent Ronald Oliver Lee, for his part, said the NPA could not be extorting from people in a province that has long been insurgency-free. “These are not actually NPA rebels but just plain extortionists using the name of the NPA,” he told reporters.

In fact, Lee said, in one case they investigated the source of a text message demanding a payoff was traced to Mindanao.

Typically, he said, the extortionists either used courier services to collect the money from their victims or give them an address to wire the funds through remittance companies.

Udyaw, for his part, said the rebels source their funds from “revolutionary taxes” levied on big businesses operating within guerrilla zones and from direct contributions from supporters. These funds, in turn, are used for the services and programs they make available to communities they operate in.

The rebel and the police officer aired similar calls for the public not to fall for the extortionists’ ploy but to report this immediately so action could be taken.

PH envoy: Mechanism for South China Sea bilateral consultation to get going after mid-May

From InterAksyon (May 14): PH envoy: Mechanism for South China Sea bilateral consultation to get going after mid-May

REUTERS South China Sea infograph

Reuters infograph depicts the contested territories between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea.

Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana told journalists at the weekend that the bilateral consultative mechanism for addressing the issues in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea territorial dispute will be discussed next week, or after mid-May.

The disclosure by Ambassador Sta. Romana came as President Rodrigo Duterte arrived in Beijing Saturday evening to attend the People’s Republic of China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) summit.

The first of the serial consultative meetings will be taking place at the sidelines of the ASEAN-China Summit to be held in Southwest China, to be graced by the foreign affairs officials of both sides.

According to Sta. Romana, the initial session will tackle the terms of reference, as well as lay down the agenda of the meetings, to firm up the process to be followed for succeeding meetings.

The consultative meetings are to be held, prospectively, twice a year.

This development fulfills one of the 13 agreements between the Philippines and China that were forged when President Duterte visited China late last year.

Ambassador Sta. Romana said the maritime talks will not affect Duterte’s attendance in the OBOR summit from Sunday to Monday.

The Philippine tact is to separate the South China Sea dispute from other issues, such as trade and commerce, in order not to unduly affect the economic roadmap of the country and to keep relations between the Philippines and China from losing steam.

Incoming Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano shuns from using so-called megaphone diplomacy in this situation: “This is precisely the mechanism where you don’t use megaphone diplomacy.

“You talk to each other directly. You come up with issues and, sometimes, to understand the other side’s position, even though you don’t agree with each other, is the first step to build the bridge of understanding.”

“If you put the dispute in front,” Sta Romana pointed out, “on the center of bilateral relations, then you’d have to resolve that first before you can have trade, before cultural links. The result is the relation will be frozen, because it can’t be resolved overnight.

“To put it on a separate track is not to abandon or give up, but rather to prevent it from getting compartmentalized, so as not to affect the other aspects where there are no disputes.”

NDFP demands release of consultant, Aglipayan bishop nabbed in Ozamiz

From InterAksyon (May 13): NDFP demands release of consultant, Aglipayan bishop nabbed in Ozamiz

A sign demanding the release of IFI Bishop Carlo Morales at a vigil in Ozamiz City. (contributed photo)

(UPDATE – 12:26 p.m.) The National Democratic Front of the Philippines is demanding the immediate release of one of its peace consultants and a bishop of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente who were arrested in Ozamiz City this week.

Fidel Agcaoili, chairman of the NDFP peace negotiating panel, confirmed to InterAksyon that Rommel Salinas, who authorities described as the “most wanted” New People’s Army commander in Western Mindanao, “is a duly accredited person under the JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees). He is the Holder of Document of Identification No. ND978453 under the name of Hermie Abella.”

The JASIG grants protection from surveillance, arrest and prosecution to the members, consultants, staff and security personnel of both parties’ negotiating panels for the duration of the talks.

Salinas was with Bishop Carlo Morales, the cleric’s wife Maria Teofilina, and their driver Isadome Dalid when they were stopped and apprehended at a checkpoint in Barangay Gango Thursday evening. The military claimed a hand grenade was seized from Salinas.

Bishop Morales (contributed photo)

Morales’ wife and driver have since been released but the bishop and Salinas remain detained and will likely be charged with illegal possession of explosives.

“We strongly condemn (Salinas’) arrest as well as those of his companions,” Agcaoili said. “It is obvious from the narration of events that Salinas had been conducting consultations with various sectors, including the religious, when he was arrested.”

Accounts from the IFI, which is also known as the Aglipayan church, quoting Morales said Salinas did, indeed, “presented his ID as an NDFP consultant and JASIG holder” and informed the soldiers and police who stopped them that “the purpose of his travel is to campaign for the fith round of the formal talks between (the government) and NDFP.”

Agcaoili said the next round of negotiations is scheduled for May 27 to June 1.

He said Salinas’ arrest and the continued detention of other NDFP consultants and JASIG holders would not affect the holding of the fifth round but stressed that they would continue to press government on their release under the terms of the security agreement.

Members of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente keep vigil at the police headquarters in Ozamiz City where Bishop Morales and Salninas are detained. (contributed photo)

Members of the IFI have been keeping vigil at the Ozamiz police station, where Salinas and Morales are detained.

The IFI has condemned the bishop’s arrest, and the National Council of Churches of the Philippines has called the incident an “act of harassment to God’s workers who earnestly work for peace and justice in our land.”

The NCCP said Morales’ wife “is a public school teacher of good standing, a Vacation Church School writer of NCCP and an active member of the Teatro Ekyumenikal, a cultural-liturgical ministry of the NCCP.”

In a separate statement, the NDFP peace panel slammed “a series of incidents involving a number of its consultants” that it called “flagrant violations” of the JASIG.

Among the incidents Agcaoili cited in the statement was the tailing of his fellow NDFP peace panel member Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma, a political consultant, in Manila Tuesday night after meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacanang and visiting protesting farmers from Mindanao camping out at Mendiola. After vainly trying to shake the two men on a motorcycle who followed them, the Tiamzons decided to return to the protest camp where they found help evading their pursuers.

It was the third time the Tiamzons reported being the subject of JASIG violations. In March, they were also tailed on arrival from backchannel talks in The Netherlands while in January, suspected military agents questioned the driver of a rental car they had used on returning to the country from the third round of talks.

“Other NDFP consultants who have also complained of surveillance include Ruben Saluta, Concha Araneta, Tirso Alcantara, Ernesto Lorenzo and Kennedy Bangibang,” Agcaoili said as he urged the government to “look seriously into these incidents and take whatever measures are necessary, saying that they may have severe repercussions on the ongoing peace negotiations.”

The NDFP peace panel chair also expressed “grave concern” over reported military “shoot-to-kill” orders against Northern Mindanao NDFP consultant Pedro Codaste and supposed plans to abduct another Mindanao-based consultant, Porferio Tuna.

EastMinCom: Terror groups may divert ops to East Mindanao

From the Mindanao Times (May 13): EastMinCom: Terror groups may divert ops to East Mindanao

THE ARMY’S Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) raised the alert level on Thursday following the travel advisory of the United States to its citizens to avoid Palawan because of the possibility of kidnappings.

Major Ezra Balagtey, EastMinCom spokesperson, said while the travel advisory is specific to Palawan, the Command raised the alert level in its area because of the possibility that terrorist groups may shift or divert operations to Eastern Mindanao.
“The EastMinCom in coordination with the Philippine National Police, Local Government Units and other law enforcement agencies are taking the necessary measures to secure the maritime, coastal and land areas against a terrorist attack,” Balagtey said.

The EastMinCom enjoins the public to be vigilant but calm and to immediately report to law enforcement units any suspicious-looking individual or activity in their vicinity.

Early Thursday morning, the Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao conducted drills and simulation exercises to test and evaluate their capability in responding to terrorism.

Philippine troops clash with NPA rebels, recover IEDs

From the Mindanao Examiner (May 13): Philippine troops clash with NPA rebels, recover IEDs

Government troops clashed with communist rebels on Saturday in the southern Filipino province of Sultan Kudarat, but there were no reports of casualties on both sides.

The fighting erupted in the hinterland village of Hinalaan in Kalamansig town after villagers reportedly tipped off the military on the presence of New People’s Army rebels in the area.

The Western Mindanao Command confirmed the clashes and said troops recovered an M16 automatic rifle and four improvised explosives left behind by rebels. It said the fighting lasted about 20 minutes.

The gun battle broke out barely 2 days after security forces captured four people, including a communist rebel leader Rommel Salinas, and Bishop Carlo Morales, of the Philippine Independent Church, and his wife Teofina, and their driver Sadome Dalid at military checkpoint in Ozamiz City in Misamis Occidental province.

Salinas is wanted by authorities for a string of murder cases and other high-profile crimes in western Mindanao. A grenade was also recovered by security forces from Salinas’ possession. The group was in a van when security forces flagged down the vehicle following intelligence report that it was transporting a senior rebel leader.

All four did not resist arrest and are being investigated separately by the police. It was not immediately known why Morales and his wife were with the NPA leader or if they were protecting Salinas.

Human rights group Barug Katungod Mindanao accused the military and police of planting the grenade and fabricated charges against Morales and Salinas, who is allegedly a consultant of the National Democratic Front negotiating peace with Manila.

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

DND to build naval base in Casiguran, Aurora

From the Philippine News Agency (May 14): DND to build naval base in Casiguran, Aurora

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said plans are afoot to construct a naval base in Casiguran town, Aurora as part of the government's efforts to secure the resource-rich Benham Rise.

He added that he will soon visit and inspect the site of the proposed naval base.

This is to determine what needs to be done as there is already an existing airstrip in the location.

Lorenzana added that it is very likely that only piers are needed to be set up for the ships that will be assigned there.

In March, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the military to put up something at Benham Rise to show that the undersea feature belongs to the Philippines.

This was after after Chinese survey ships were spotted off Benham Rise, reportedly looking for an area where submarines can be deployed.

Navy frigates are now patrolling Benham Rise on orders of the Armed Forces' Northern Luzon Command.

At present, there are no active naval bases on Luzon's eastern seaboard but there are only detachments, according to the Navy.

The only active naval base facing the east is the Camilo Osias Naval Operating Base in Barangay San Vicente, Sta. Ana, Cagayan, on mainland Luzon's northernmost tip.

Military now hunting abductors of Bayugan City mine operator

From the Philippine News Agency (May 14): Military now hunting abductors of Bayugan City mine operator

Troopers from the 401st Infantry Battalion are now tracking down the New People's Army (NPA) rebels who abducted a small-time mine operator in Bayugan City, Agusan Del Sur on Saturday.

Capt. Jasper T. Gacayan, 401st Infantry Brigade public affairs office chief, identified the victim as Carzon Caesar C. Lademora, a resident of San Francisco town, of the above-mentioned province.

The incident took place shortly after the NPAs ransacked the victim's mining tunnerl in Sitio Anuling, he added.

"Sources revealed that the NPAs are demanding ransom money from the family in exchange of the victim who is suffering from hypertension. Businessmen in San Franz and nearby towns are now worried of the effects of the NPA kidnapping to their booming economy brought by the prevailing peace and order situation in the town until the said kidnapping," Gacayan said.

AFP to host ASEAN top military officials meeting in Manila

From the Philippine News Agency (May 14): AFP to host ASEAN top military officials meeting in Manila

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will host a series of high-levels meetings of top military officers from member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) starting Monday.

AFP public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo on Sunday confirmed that the top military officials of the regional bloc are set to attend the ASEAN Chiefs of Defense Forces Informal Meeting (ACDFIM) from Wednesday to Friday.

“The heads of delegation will be joined by senior operations and intelligence officers who will be attending the Military Operations and Military Intelligence Informal Meetings,” he added.

“The ACDFIM, and operations and intelligence meetings are annual events intended to provide an opportunity to discuss and assess in a very strategic, comprehensive, positive and productive manner all prominent issues and concerns of mutual interests,” Arevalo pointed out.

Arevalo said the gathering seeks to “encourage common perspectives and understanding for promoting and fostering strong relationships and security cooperation in the region”.

Also included in the meeting’s agenda are high-level discussions on common concerns that were raised in the ASEAN Summit and Defense Ministers’ meetings.

Military Operations and Military Intelligence Informal Meetings are complementary to the ACDFIM as these are geared towards capacity building and strengthening cooperation among ASEAN militaries in addressing common security challenges.

Issues which are expected to be discussed in the meetings include maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, counter-terrorism, infectious disease management, and peacekeeping.

The hosting and leadership of these meetings is in line with the Philippines’ ASEAN chairmanship this year.

AFP chief-ofstaff Gen. Eduardo Año will lead the AFP’s delegation to the meetings.

“The meetings will bolster the ASEAN militaries’ collective experience and resolve to combat modern global security challenges; and ensure that we are on the same page in our approaches to threats such as piracy and terrorism,” Año said in a statement.

“Our hosting of these events is also timely in our hopes to cement our position in the ASEAN as a global partner and fully capable military which is responsive to local and regional issues through consistent cooperation and innovation,” the AFP chief added.

MILF, MNLF leaders: no to “diluted version” of draft Bangsamoro law

From MindaNews (May 13): MILF, MNLF leaders: no to “diluted version” of draft Bangsamoro law

Leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ended their two-day meeting of the Bangsamoro Coordination Forum (BCF) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, by taking a “strong stand against any attempt to come up with a diluted version” of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) “during the congressional review.”

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which hosted the meeting, said in a press release posted on its website that during the meeting on May 7 and 8, the participants exchanged views about the work of the Bangsamoro Transition Council (BTC) which is crafting a draft basic law for the Bangsamoro and “took a strong stand against any attempt to come up with a diluted version of the draft bill during the congressional review.”

Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation invited leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) factions and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for a meeting of the Bangsamoro Coordination Forun. Photo shows the OIC SecGen with the MILF delegation led by chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim (left) and the MNLF delegation led by chair Yusoph Jikiri (right) on May 7, 2017. Nur Misuari, MNLF founding chair and chair of another faction, was a no-show and did not also send a representative. Photo courtesy of the OIC
A previous attempt to pass the BBL under the Aquino administration failed. The MILF said the House and Senate substitute bills watered down the draft law and that these versions would render the future Bangsamoro less autonomous than the present ARMM.

Congress adjourned without passing the BBL, the law that would have translated provisions of the political agreement into law to pave the way for the creation of the Bangsamoro, a new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The Jeddah meeting was attended by representatives from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) under chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under chair Yusoph Jikiri.

MNLF founding chair Nur Misuari, head of another faction, was a no-show and did not also send a representative as he did in previous BCF meetings. Randolph Parcasio, chair of the MNLF-Misuari’s Peace Implementing Panel told MindaNews Misuari could not attend due to a “legal impediment.”

Parcasio had represented Misuari in most of the BCF meetings.

Expansion of BCF

The leaders also discussed the expansion of the BCF to include other stakeholders, among them the Bangsamoro civil society organizations. Qualifications for membership were also discussed.

The OIC press release also noted that BCF members welcomed what they said was the “promise of President Duterte … to lift the arrest warrant against chairman Misuari and to restore his freedom.”

Misuari’s six-month liberty lapsed on April 27 but a motion to extend it has been filed with the court.

The court gave Misuari temporary liberty in October last year “to allow him to attend peace talk sessions with the government.”

Judge Ma. Rowena Modesto-San Pedro of the Pasig Regional Trial Court in Pasig City in an order dated October 27, 2017 granted the “motion to suspend proceedings and enforcement of warrants of arrest against Misuari” for a period of six months from October 27 or until April 27, “unless sooner lifted by the court.”

Warrants of arrest had earlier been issued against Misuari and 59 others for rebellion and violation of Republic Act 9851 or the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide and other Crimes against Humanity following the September 2013 stand-off in Zamboanga City between his followers and government troops that left 137 persons dead, 251 injured and 118,889 of the city’s 807,000 population displaced, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council’s October 2, 2013 report.

The Department of Justice, the City of Zamboanga and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process made no objections to Misuari’s October 2016 motion to the court.

San Pedro said the Court “acknowledges that the matter of peace talks is exclusively within the realm of the Executive Department,” and that as manifested by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), it is a “top priority of the current administration.”

Misuari signed the December 23, 1976 Tripoli Agreement under the Marcos administration and the September 2, 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) under the Ramos administration.

Misuari was elected governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) a week after signing the peace agreement. Backed up by the administration party, Misuari ran unopposed.

Misuari’s faction did not agree to be part of the expanded BTC. Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza in November created a separate peace implementing panel for the MNLF-Misuari faction.

“Narrow the gap”

At the just concluded BCF meeting, Ambassador Sayed El-Masry, OIC Special Envoy for Peace Process in Southern Philippines and Chair of the BCF, declared that the OIC “has always maintained that Chairman Misuari is indispensable for the peace process” and they “were assured by the Philippines Authority that they will work to remove any impediment on his participation in the peace process.”

He expressed hope that Misuari will be able to attend the next formal session of the BCF in Abidjan on the margins of the Foreign Ministers’ conference on July 10 to 12.

The BCF was set up on May 18, 2010 when Prof. Ekemelddin Ihsanoglu, then OIC Secretary-General, initiated the talks between Misuari and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in Dushanbe, Republic of Tajikistan, where both leaders agreed that unity is indispensable to the success of the Bangsamoro struggle and that there are no basic differences between their Fronts as both are seeking to achieve peace, justice and a fair solution to the problems of the Bangsamoro people.

At the 43rd Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on 18-19 October last year, the OIC expressed its “support and expectation” for the passage of the BBL under the Duterte administration.

It also called upon Misuari and Murad and other leaders of the Moro people to “close ranks and narrow the gap between them for the purpose of finding common grounds to preserve the gains of the previous agreements in order to incorporate these gains in the enabling law and utilizing the Bangsamoro Coordination Forum as the main venue for that purpose.”

President Rodrigo Duterte on April 10 told a press conference at the airport here prior to his departure for the Middle East that he would call on Moro revolutionary leaders to come up with a consensus on how to move forward in the legislation aspect of the implementation panels.

The President said he will certify as urgent only one draft Bangsamoro law.

IFI bishop arrested with communist leader in Ozamiz

From MindaNews (May 12): IFI bishop arrested with communist leader in Ozamiz

Bishop Morales (center) surrounded by fellow IFI bishops. Photo from Bishop Morales’s Facebook page

Police arrested an alleged top ranking communist leader in western Mindanao along with a bishop of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), his wife and their driver in Ozamiz City Friday night.

The IFI is also known as the Philippine Independent Church or the Aglipayan Church.

PNP Northern Mindanao spokesperson Superintendent Lemuel Gonda said a joint police and army team arrested the four at a checkpoint in Barangay Gango.

He identified them as Rommel Salinas, the alleged secretary general of the Communist Party of the Philippines in Western Mindanao; Bishop Carlo Morales; his wife Maria Teofila Losaria Morales; and their driver Isadome Dalid, who was driving their maroon-colored Starex van.

Bishop Morales heads the IFI diocese in Ozamiz City.

Gonda said they found and confiscated from the four suspects a hand grenade, six Nokia mobile phones, battery packs, a map of Misamis Occidental, and P80,700 in cash.

He said the four suspects were brought and detained at the Ozamiz City police office.

Bishop Morales on handcuffs. Photo from IFI-Ozamiz’s Facebook page

The arrest of Bishop Morales ignited a furor among the IFI clergy who immediately summoned members to go to the Ozamiz City police station.

“Those of you who can travel, go now to the Ozamiz police station,” said Bishop Antonio Ablon of the IFI’s Pagadian City diocese.

The IFI posted a photo of a handcuffed Bishop Morales in its Facebook page and said the four were not allowed to make any phone calls for help.

Ablon said Bishop Morales identified himself to the police but despite that, the police still accorded him with poor treatment.

He said Bishop Morales and his three other companions were detained inside a temporary jailhouse along with common criminals.

The IFI issued a strong statement condemning the arrest of Bishop Morales and demanded for his immediate release.

“We find no reason that the good IFI Bishop of Ozamiz will be illegally arrested, handcuffed and illegally detained in jail. He had properly introduced himself as a bishop but was still accorded with maltreatments,” the IFI statement said.

Troops seize Abu Sayyaf encampant in Basilan province

From the Mindanao Examiner (May 13): Troops seize Abu Sayyaf encampant in Basilan province

Government troops seized an Abu Sayyaf encampment on a remote hilltop in Sumisip town in the troubled province of Basilan where security forces continue to pursue the notorious militant group tied to the Islamic State, officials said Saturday.

Officials said soldiers also recovered homemade bomb components left behind by militants under Puruji Indama after engaging them in a firefight. Military aircrafts, officials said, provided close air support while ground troops pounded the area with artillery fire.

Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, a spokeswoman for the Western Mindanao Command, quoting reports from army commanders in Basilan, said as many as 20 militants were killed in the clashes since May 11, but the military could not provide proofs of the claims except for information allegedly provided by civilians and former militants who surrendered to them.

Petinglay, reading from the army reports, said troops discovered about a dozen makeshift tents at the encampment that could accommodate at least 40 militants.

Basilan, one of 5 provinces under the Muslim autonomous region, is a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf which has been fighting for the establishment of a caliphate in the country.

ARMM seeks help of Islamic scholars v. terrorism

From the Mindanao Examiner (May 13): ARMM seeks help of Islamic scholars v. terrorism

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) have convened around 300 Ulama (Islamic scholars) from across the country for a three-day (12-14 May) summit that aims to explore the role of Muslim scholars and religious leaders in the fight against terrorism.

ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman said terrorists use inappropriate interpretations of Islamic principles to strengthen their cause and encourage the commission of vicious acts. “We urge our Ulama that if we are on the right position, we should move to show what is right, and let’s condemn what is wrong,” he said.

The Philippines ranked 12th among the countries heavily affected by terrorism in the 2016 Global Terrorism Index of the Institute for Economics and Peace, and the presence of the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Maute group, the country’s leading terrorist groups, in at least two of its provinces brings the ARMM at the forefront of the fight against terrorism in the country.

The three-day “Ulama Summit Against Terrorism” is an initial step of the ARMM government to enlist the support of Islamic scholars to combat terrorism. The national government considers terrorism as an urgent and critical national security threat.

Hataman said Muslim scholars can contribute to the advocacy against terrorism by educating people about the true teachings of Islam most especially on the principles of justice, compassion, peace and harmony.

Sheikh Abdulrahman “Abu Hurayra” Udasan, mufti of the Darul-Ifta Bangsamoro, said that “there should be a distinction between the normative teaching on Islam that is based on the glorious Qur’an and the cultural practices of the Muslims which may or may not be consistent with the normative teaching of Islam.”

He emphasized that Islam means peace “and this can automatically counter terrorism and extremism, because peace in Islam is a key of association not isolation; it is a key of accommodation not marginalization.”

Aside from the Ulama, the summit is also being attended by local and regional government officials, military and police officials, representatives from civil society organizations and the media.

Tagalog news: Walang presensya ng Abu Sayyaf sa Palawan, ayon sa WESCOM

From the Philippine Information Agency (May 13): Tagalog news: Walang presensya ng Abu Sayyaf sa Palawan, ayon sa WESCOM

Tiniyak ng Western Command (WESCOM) na wala pang nakakapasok na miyembro ng bandidong Abu Sayyaf sa lalawigan ng Palawan at lungsod ng Puerto Princesa.

Sa ginanap na press conference kasabay ng inter-agency meeting na pinangunahan ng WESCOM kasunod ng ipinalabas na travel advisory ng embahada ng Estados Unidos noong Mayo 9, binigyang diin ni Lt. General Raul del Rosario, commander ng WESCOM na base sa kanilang pagbabantay na ginagawa, negatibo ang lalawigan sa presensya ng ASG.

“Base sa intelligence report, walang presence ng ASG sa Palawan”, pahayag ni del Rosario.

Sa ipinalabas na abiso ng embahada ng Amerika, nagbabala ito sa kanilang mamamayan na nasa Palawan na mag-ingat sapagkat may banta ng terorismo sa lugar, kung saan partikular na binanggit ang Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR).

Magugunitang nagdeklara ng heightened alert status ang WESCOM kasunod ng nangyaring engkuwentro sa pagitan ng tropa ng gobyerno at grupong Abu Sayyaf sa Bohol, pero mas lalo pang hinigpitan ngayon ng pinag-samang lakas ng iba’t ibang ahensya ng pamahalaan ang seguridad sa lalawigan dahil sa ipinalabas na babala.

Naniniwala ang pamahalaan sa ulat na posibleng makapasok ang ASG sa lalawigan, pero tiwala rin ang WESCOM na sapat ang kanilang maigting na pagababantay at pagpapatrolya sa mga posibleng daanan upang hindi magtagumpay ang bandidong grupo.

Dagdag pa ni WESCOM Commander del Rosario, may babala man o wala ang ibang bansa, nananatiling nakataas ang kanilang alerto dahil kinakailangan nilang protektahan ang mamamayan ng Palawan at ang industriya ng turismo dito na siyang pinagmumulan ng pag-angat ng ekonomiya ng lalawigan.

Siniguro rin ng mga awtoridad na hindi na mauulit ang insidente ng pangingidnap noon ng ASG sa Dos Palmas Resort ilang taon na ang nakalilipas.

Pangasinan police director says no NPA extortion in his area

From the Philippine News Agency (May 13): Pangasinan police director says no NPA extortion in his area

A Pangasinan police official has disclosed that extortionists -- and not the New People’s Army (NPA) -- could be behind the threatening text messages received by some people and businesses in the province, which he insisted has long been insurgency-free.

Provincial police director, Senior Supt. Ronald Oliver Lee, said the unknown senders of these text messages could be claiming that they are NPA rebels demanding revolutionary taxes, but are no more than plain extortionists.

Lee said they have investigated most of the text messages referred by the recipients to them and they have found out that these were the works of extortionists out to make some fast money from their intended victims.

"These are not actually NPA rebels but just plain extortionists using the name of the NPA," said Lee in a talk to newsmen.

He cited that in one case they investigated, they traced the sender of the text message to Mindanao, too far away from Pangasinan where the recipient lives.

Lee thus called on the public not to panic and not to give in to the demands of the extortionists.

Instead, report the matter to the police so the culprits could be identified and arrested, he said, noting that the senders of these text messages would send couriers to collect the money from the victims or send a particular address where the money could be wired through a local remittance company.

Giving in to their demands would only lead to more demands, he said, stressing that this has to stop.

ARMM dev't key to fight vs terrorism, says military official

From the Philippine News Agency (May 13): ARMM dev't key to fight vs terrorism, says military official

A ranking military official has recognized the important roles Muslim religious leaders play in preventing the spread of Islamic extremism and terrorism in Mindanao.

Western Mindanao Command chief, Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez, told Muslim clerics attending the "Ulama Summit Against Terrorism" that developing communities is one of the effective ways to contain extremism espoused by militants who use Islam as the basis for recruiting poor residents of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The three-day summit, which began Friday and will end Sunday, was organized by ARMM Regional Gov. Mujiv Hataman and ARMM Darul Ifta (House of Opinions).

“We are together employing different approaches towards that goal and one of the solutions we also saw fit is the continuing implementation by the ARMM government of infrastructure projects in areas where there are fanatical extremist groups,” Galvez said.

He said socioeconomic developments, such as roads, seaports, and other facilities, improve poor communities and provide them sources of livelihood.

With improved communities, people will lose interest in extremism, he pointed out.

At the start of the summit, members of Muslim religious leaders and preachers expressed support for Malacañang's anti-terrorism drive.

Three major extremist groups are found in the ARMM's Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces. These are the Abu Sayyaf Group, Maute Terrorist Group, and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), all of whom have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Hataman said the summit seeks the support of Muslim preachers from ARMM provinces and other regions in Mindanao in preventing the entry of jihadists and extremists in their communities.

These extremists use Islam as a jumping board in recruiting young Moros to join them and promote violence, he said.

Hataman has repeatedly said that Islam means peace and it does not, and will not, promote violence against any human being.

Present during the opening program on Friday were some 300 Moro clerics, youth organizations, police and military officials, as well as provincial and regional elected officials.

Security was tight inside and outside the 10-hectare ARMM compound with six platoons of soldiers and a company of police securing the delegates.

A summit on terrorism held in Talayan town in Maguindanao last month, apparently angered the extremists, who allegedly set off a roadside bomb at the summit's venue a day after the gathering of Muslim clerics.

Security officials have assured the ongoing event would be safe.

Military welcomes Muslim clerics’ action against terrorism

From the Philippine News Agency (May 13): Military welcomes Muslim clerics’ action against terrorism

A top military official here welcomed the move of the Muslim clerics, particularly in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), for taking an active role in the fight against terrorism.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Jr., commander of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said there is a need for all the stakeholders to contain the spread of religious extremism and radicalism here in Mindanao.

“Security is a shared responsibility that needs sustainment of partnership between the different stakeholders, security sectors, the local government units, the academe, and religious sectors, and other stakeholders to defeat the threat of terrorism in Southern Philippines,” Galvez said.

Galvez was one of the resource persons in the three-day Ulama Summit, which started on Friday in Cotabato City.

Around 300 Ulama and Ustads from all over the country attended the event which was conceptualize after Daesh groups were monitored recruiting in the different areas of Mindanao especially among the youth.

“There is a need to unite all our efforts to win the war against Islamic extremism and terrorism in our region. We must condemn all terror actions of international and local terrorist groups,” Galvez said.

Alih Aiyub, secretary general of the Ulama Council of the Philippines, in a text message to the Philippines News Agency, said the Ulama should actively spread the correct teachings of Islam.

“When these terrorists are brave enough to do evil, we the Ulama are even braver to do good to prevent and counter corruption and terrorism in the land. This is our sacred duty as religious leaders,” Aiyub said, referring to the threat of terrorist groups against Ulama.

A radical group which calls itself as "Dawla Islamiya" issued a threat prior to the start of the summit, threatening Ulama who would attend the event.

“To those who have Ulama relatives, warn your parents, brothers and children not to attend the summit because if something happens to them along the way or in the end, don't tell us you were not warned,” the statement said.

Dawla Islamiya, roughly translates to “Islamic state,” is believed to have pledged allegiance to ISIS.

The group claimed that ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman has been using the Ulama for his personal agenda, and that the summit would result to Ulama branding members of the radical group as terrorists.

In a separate statement, Hataman noted that terrorism and security-related problems in the region had been hampering economic growth, and the support of religious leaders were pivotal to community-based initiatives towards sustainable development and against terrorism in the region.

He said that the economies of ARMM could only post less than one percent growth last year while that of the neighboring areas posted four to six percent growth. “This is because security threats pose limits in the region's economic expansion,” he added.

The Ulama Summit aims to chart a policy and action plan to overcome the issues of extremism and radicalism, Aiyub said.

The summit was initiated by the Office of the Regional Governor and the Regional Darul Ifta of the ARMM.