Friday, June 30, 2017

AFP calls for active involvement of youth leaders to stop the threat of terrorism

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jun 30): AFP calls for active involvement of youth leaders to stop the threat of terrorism

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) asks for the help of the youth leaders to monitor acts of terrorism in their respective areas and report them to proper authorities.

Captain Nonito Basigal of the army said they need the help of the youth during the first ever regional youth summit held at the Samar State University Gym recently.

Basigal said that that if only one out of three, in every 300 population of the youth leaders recruited as members of the military forces, will be a big help in attaining peace and order in the country.

In the message of Major General Raul Farnacio of the 8th Infantry Division, Philippine Army, he urged the youth to take advantage of technology.

"Your generation revolves in the world of technology. You are active in social media which is nowadays the fastest means of communication unlike before in my generation; we were only dependent on books found in libraries or newspapers. You are very fortunate to have these advancements that could help promote change in this region", Farnacio said.

“Your presence tonight is a good indication that you really wanted to pursue change and development. I challenge each and every one of you to use your skills and talents for the development of our country. There will be days that fear will overcome your aspirations. Let us reject this, instead be hopeful and strong. Trust yourself that you can contribute to our fellowmen and our country. Be a hero today! ” Farnacio added.

Over 1,200 youths from the provinces of Northern Samar, Eastern Samar and Samar have participated this activity that aims to promote the spirit of volunteerism and to prepare them to become dedicated public servants for the future generation.

SoCot cops dismiss impending Maute attack in Polomolok

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30): SoCot cops dismiss impending Maute attack in Polomolok

Police authorities here Friday dismissed reports circulating in the social media about an impending attack by Maute terrorist groups in this town.

Senior Supt. Franklin Alvero, provincial police director, said the reports were not true and must be dismissed outright.

However, Alvero said the police remained on top of the peace and order situation in South Cotabato’s 10 municipalities and one city.

Earlier, Chief Insp. Geovanni Ladeo, Polomolok town police chief, appealed to netizens to refrain from posting information on Facebook that create unnecessary panic among its people.

The social media was abuzz with information that the Maute and the Abu Sayyaf will attack in Polomolok and Gen. Santos City and it will happen on June 30 with the terrorists using vehicle bombs to strike in malls and populated areas.

”There is no truth to reports circulating in social networking sites about the presence of Maute or terrorist groups in Polomolok,” Ladeo said.

Alvero also said that no imminent threat supposedly from Maute or its allies in the province.

”What is creating the problem are irresponsible social networking players who post information that goes viral and send panic to the people,” he said in radio interview.

”No threat from Abu Sayyaf or Maute in Polomolok or in the province,” he said.

WESCOM takes control of NPA training camp in Southern Palawan

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30): WESCOM takes control of NPA training camp in Southern Palawan

Military peacekeepers here scored big time against the New People’s Army (NPA) when they snatched control of a 12-hectare hinterland area the communist terrorists are using as refuge and drill camp, an Army official told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) on Friday.

The Joint Task Group South (JTGS) of the AFP's Western Command (WESCOM) composed of the 18th Special Forces Company (SFC) of the Philippine Army (PA), and Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit or CAFGU Active Auxiliary (CAA), and the Marine Battalion Landing Team-4 (MBLT4) was responsible for the accomplishment.

Lieutenant Colonel Danilo Facundo, commander of the JTGS, said they were able to take control of the enemy's hideout and training campsite in the isolated precipitous expanse of Sitio Kulban, Barangay Samariñana, Brooke’s Point before noontime on June 27.

The WESCOM considers the take over as its biggest feat in President Rodrigo Duterte’s “all-out war” against the leftist movement, and in Palawan’s exertion to keep its residents safe and secure from any threat.

"This enemy training camp of the Bienvenido Vallever Command (BVC) served as breeding ground to sow terror in Palawan. We have unmasked their feeling of invincibility because the AFP has the capability to locate enemy camps and neutralize them anywhere, even in mountainous areas," Facundo told PNA on Friday morning.

In more or less two decades, Facundo said this is the first time again that an enemy camp was captured by government forces in the province.

He described the site as having six thatched-roof huts and a firing range that strongly suggests it is where the NPA is preparing and training its recruits to be future combatants.

One of the huts is being used as main shelter and is guarded by two teams called Squad Ulo (Head) and Squad Buntot (Tail).

Entrance to the whole area, on the other hand, is reportedly secured by forward outposts.

Voluminous subversive documents with high military value, as well as war training materials were collected from the site by government troops.

"We even recovered guns made out of thick tree stems that we think they are using to train their recruits," he said.

The JTGS commander further described the campsite as having a flat area in the middle that is being used in their formation; more border outposts; multipurpose hall for meetings; and a firing range with backstops that have bullet marks.

No NPA member was present in the area, he said, apparently because they got word of the sustained focused military operation (FMO) being carried out by WESCOM.

Facundo said the existence of the training camp in Brooke's Point "may be brought out to the peace panel as it may have a violation to the ongoing peace process."

The capture of the Samariñana enemy training site, he said, was the result of the Community Support Program (CSP) of the military.

The CSP helps the local government in bringing basic medical and dental support to residents, as well as other government services.

In February this year, President Duterte declared an “all-out war” against the NPA after the peace talks with communist rebels were stalled.

94 Abu Sayyaf bandits killed in 6 months

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30): 94 Abu Sayyaf bandits killed in 6 months

The Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) reported they have killed 94 members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) while 164 have surrendered and apprehended as the deadline imposed by President Rodrigo Duterte to crush the ASG within six-month period lapsed on Friday.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., commander of Westmincom, said the troops will continue to run after the ASG within their area of operations, which included the entire western part of Mindanao and Central Mindanao.

“Rest assured that with all these operational feats, we we will not rest on our laurels and will, instead, continue to work hard and integrate the efforts of our soldiers and our stakeholders in sustaining the internal security in Mindanao and bringing about the defeat of the Abu Sayyaf [Group],” Galvez said.

The military all-out campaign launched by the line units of Westmincom since January this year resulted to the deaths of 94 hard-core ASG members, apprehension of 66 others, surrender of 98, and recovery of 148 firearms.

On Thursday, June 29, two more ASG members surrendered to the Joint Task Force Basilan headed by Col. Juvymax Uy.

Serham Hasim Akkalun and Hapid Madjakin surrendered to the 13th Special Forces Company of the Army’s 4th Special Forces Battalion in Barangay Guinanta, Albarka, Basilan.

“We welcome those who return to the fold of the law and accord them the opportunity to live normal lives, far from what they have been facing before as combatants who engaged the government forces and who fight for extremism to thrive in Mindanao,” Galvez said.

“On the tactical level, the combat operations of our troops are currently being intensified to pressure the Abu Sayyaf bandits to yield to the government forces. With the surrender of the bandits and the seizure of their strongholds, we are confident that our offensives on the ground are effective,” Uy said.

Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Jr., Joint Task Force Sulu commander, said they have significantly decreased the capability of the Sulu-based ASG to launch kidnappings and attacks.

“There will be no let up in our operations against the ASG,” he said.

Brig. Gen. Custodio Parcon, Joint Task Force Tawi-Tawi commander, said the trilateral maritime patrol (TMP) boosted their defense and thwart ASG from hijacking commercial ships in the area.

TMP initiative of the Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines (IndoMalPhil) was launched in Tarakan Island, Indonesia.

Parcon oversees the operations of the Maritime Command Center in Bongao, Tawi-Tawi under the Joint Task Force IndoMalPhil.

The establishment of the maritime command centers is part of the agreement of the three nations. The other two centers are in Tarakan, Indonesia, and Tawau, Malaysia.

Land dispute triggers armed conflict in NorCot

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30): Land dispute triggers armed conflict in NorCot

The military here said Friday that the skirmishes in the villages here and in nearby Aleosan, North Cotabato was triggered by land dispute involving Moro armed groups.

Capt. Arvin John Encinas, speaking for the 6th Infantry Division, the long standing land dispute flared up the other day when Abdulrashid Ali of the 105th base command of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) harassed a group of Moro para-military forces stationed in Barangay Bualan, Pikit, North Cotabato.

”It was not an organizational fight, the conflict was more of personal, triggered by land conflict,” Encinas said.

Soldiers have been deployed as peacekeeping force and did not engage the group of Ali, also Commander RP, in a firefight in deference to the on-going peace process between Manila and the MILF.

Encinas said Army units in Pikit and Aleosan are now guarding the conflict-stricken village to prevent a repeat of the incident.

Soldiers under the 602nd Infantry Brigade are now securing the communities in the borders of North Cotabato and Maguindanao to prevent attacks by outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) like what the group did in Malagakit, Pigcawayan, North Cotabato.

W. Visayas created AFP-PNP joint task force for peace

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30): W. Visayas created AFP-PNP joint task force for peace

A joint task force was created by the Armed forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) for peace and security in Western Visayas following the recent incident in Maasin, Iloilo and as preparation amid terrorism threats.

This was announced by 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) commander Major General Jon Aying, in a media interview on Friday.

Aying stressed the four major areas of concern of the task force would be focused on insurgency, terrorism, illegal drugs and disasters.

“This will be the peace and security resiliency infrastructure that we are building from the regional level going down to the different provinces that will then cascade to the cities and municipalities down to the barangays, purok or sitios,” Aying said,

"The local government units together with the law enforcers will create these structures, come up with all those coordination, collaboration and integration of assets and capabilities so that we will be resilient and will be able to address all our peace and security concern like the continuing insurgency and terrorism and the now more centered problem which is the Mindanao-based -the ISIS-inspired violence extremism and terrorism and of course that will include how we address illegal drugs as well as work around problems on human-induced or natural disaster," he added.

Aying explained this mechanism would connect communities to their sitio leaders and other barangay officials, would go up to the region.

"We are trying to integrate all the military and PNP forces and other law enforces and how can we serve at the policy level and at the operational level the planning and coming up with resiliency projects from that level and how it will be implemented at the ground wherein the LGUs, community and law enforces will really unite," Aying said.

Acknowledging the vital role of the barangays, Aying said that the barangay captains and the barangay council would take the lead at the barangay level and would also form their own "barangay peace and security units" headed by the village chiefs, to be composed of the heads of families or the able-bodied.

Aying stressed the joint task force would have its task groups for communication from regional level going down to barangay and sitios.

He added that the civil society organizations and non-government organizations like Boracay Action Group which is a civilian organization, would also be enjoined in the joint task force.

In a presentation of Aying during the meeting of the Legue of the Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) in Iloilo province on Friday, Aying said the provinces of Iloilo and Capiz in Western Visayas remained to have problems with insurgency brought by the New People's Army (NPA).

Specifically, he said that around 150 fully armed rebels were present in Iloilo, Capiz and parts of Antique.

Aying also noted 13 NPA-initiated violent incidents that happened in Panay from April until this month of June. Among of its biggest incident is the raid of the Maasin town police station last June 18 staged by the rebels.

But despite this, Aying assured to bring closure to the communist insurgency-terrorism brought by the NPA, to insulate the province-region from Mindanao-based violent extremism and terrorism, have more illegal drug-free communities and to reduce the vulnerabilities of the populace to insurgency, terrorism and illegal drugs.

The 3rd Infantry Division is covering 10 provinces in the Visayas with a total population of 14.6 million. Aying said that six of these provinces were already declared as "Peaceful and ready for Further Development" (PRFD).

Seized ‘ammo’ in CDO intended for Marawi

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30): Seized ‘ammo’ in CDO intended for Marawi

It is very likely that the thousands of high-powered ammunitions confiscated by authorities here recently could be for use of the local terrorist group in Marawi City, a police official said.

Investigators are not ruling out the possibility that the 8,000 rounds of live bullets are intended for the Maute Group whose members are fighting the government forces in Marawi.

The conflict has already displaced thousands of residents while hundreds of civilians, soldiers and insurgents were killed, and has turned Lanao del Sur’s capital city into a warzone.

Contained in eight boxes were 6,000 cartridges of 5.56mm for M16 assault rifle and 2,000 pieces of .30 caliber bullets.

The ammunition cache, which arrived here from Manila a few weeks prior to the Marawi siege, were found by the police in a warehouse of cargo forwarding company in Barangay Camaman-an, this city, based on the information given to them.

If they are brought to Marawi, it’s possible that these could be for use by the armed extremists, said Chief Inspector Ariel Philip Pontillas, chief of the city police’s intelligence unit, on Friday.

In reports, the Maute Group had already planned the attack on Marawi weeks before the conflict broke out last May 23.

It’s also probable, Pontillas said, that the seized ammunition were brought by a gunrunning syndicate since no individual could purchase such number of bullets.

He noted that the carton containing the munitions bore no markings indicating that it’s for law enforcement use. Pontillas said the ammunition was declared as electrical wires in the transaction details but no consignee has yet to claim the cargo.

He said the officials of the cargo forwarding company have already coordinated with authorities regarding the ammunition as they were also concerned of the items that were stored inside their facilities.

Ops to continue till last Maute terrorist is neutralized: AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30): Ops to continue till last Maute terrorist is neutralized: AFP

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has vowed to continue combat operations in Marawi City until all Maute Group terrorists are either captured or killed.

"The intensity of the government offensive has not waned. We have kept up the tempo and this is supposed to be as it is until we get to the last armed element," AFP spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, said Thursday.

As fighting to rid the city of the remaining lawless elements reached its sixth week, the AFP has deployed all its available assets, including its brand-new FA-50 jet fighters, AW-109 attack helicopters, assorted armored fighting vehicles and artillery pieces.

An estimated 299 Maute Group terrorists have so far been reported killed, along with 70 soldiers and police officers and 27 civilians.

The AFP has placed the remaining lawless elements at 100 to 120.

Clashes in Marawi City began when government security forces attempted to arrest Abu Sayyaf Group leader Isnilon Hapilon, the ISIS "Emir" in Southeast Asia, last May 23.

(Update) Police verifies terror attack info, increases security

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30): (Update) Police verifies terror attack info, increases security

The Philippine National Police (PNP) has intensified security measures, as authorities are validating “raw” information claiming that the Maute Group and BIFF will conduct terror attacks in key cities and municipalities nationwide on June 30.

It is a raw info that the PNP is verifying and validating. We take action even if the info is still raw and ‘tsismis’ (rumor),” PNP spokesperson, Senior Supt. Dionardo Carlos said Friday.

Carlos was referring to information that came supposedly from the municipal police station in Polomolok, South Cotabato.

Last June 19, Polomolok Police officer-in-charge, Chief Insp. Geovanni Ladeo, in a letter, called for an emergency meeting with provincial police director, Senior Supt. Franklin Alvero, to address the information they have received that “joint ISIS Maute and BIFF group(s) will launch a major terroristic attack to all key cities and municipalities nationwide on June 30, 2017”.

“Their targets are all vital installation, such as gasoline stations, shopping malls, parks, public market and other places of convergence,” he wrote. “LPG delivery trucks will be hijacked and will be used as vehicle bombs.”

Ladeo said anything related to criminality and insurgency should never be taken for granted.

Soccsksargen (Region 12) Police spokesperson, Supt. Romeo Galgo, meanwhile, said they are also confirming the report.

He however said they have already stepped up their security measures for any eventuality.

Neutralized Maute Group terrorists now at 303 - AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30): Neutralized Maute Group terrorists now at 303 - AFP

Government forces in Marawi City has so far neutralized 303 Maute Group terrorists as the campaign against the lawless elements is now on sixth week.

Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson, said these figures are as of 6 p.m. of June 29.

And based on the same, the bandits killed 44 civilians and 82 government troopers.

Government troops seized 382 weapons and rescued 1,713 civilians from Maute captivity.

As this develops, Padilla reiterated that the government policy not to negotiate with terrorists remains.

"Hence, any demands made inside Marawi hold no basis. Let us continue to remind the public that the gravity of the offense of all these terrorists and their supporters is immense and they must all be held accountable for all their actions," the military official added.

Conflict in Marawi City started when government security forces attempted to arrest Abu Sayyaf Group leader Isnilon Hapilon, the ISIS "Emir" in Southeast Asia, last May 23.

Padilla also urged all Mindanao residents and the rest of the country to be wary and on the lookout for planned attacks of the New People's Army (NPA) rebels on people-oriented programs and infrastructure projects.

"We also appeal to everyone to share information with authorities on suspicious persons and activities in their communities," he added.

Army to provide free showing of 'Pacman' bout Sunday

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30): Army to provide free showing of 'Pacman' bout Sunday

Troops assigned at Army headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City will get a chance to watch Filipino boxing icon, Sen. Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao, go head-to-head with Australian challenger Jeff Horn Sunday.

Free viewing will take place at the Army Gym and Army Officers' Club, said Lt. Col. Ray Tiongson, Philippine Army spokesperson, on Friday.

Pacquiao will be battling Horn at the Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, Australia on July 2.

"We expect him (Pacquiao) to be victorious in his fight, We are solid for the boxing champ. He dedicated his fight for our heroes fighting the Maute–ISIS terrorists in Marawi, it boosts our soldiers morale. Win or lose, we will support Manny," the Army official said.

Pacquiao is a reservist with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He first entered in the Army reserve force as a sergeant in April 27, 2006.

China seeks anew peaceful solution to South China Sea disputes

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 30): China seeks anew peaceful solution to South China Sea disputes

China has reiterated its hope on having a peaceful solution to the territorial disputes in the strategic South China Sea (SCS)/West Philippine Sea (WPS), as China and the Philippines continue to strengthen bilateral relations.

“We have to stick to the principle of peaceful solution because it is not in China’s interest, it is not in the Philippine interest to settle this issue by other means. So we have to put the differences in the SCS in a proper context,” Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua told reporters during a reception commemorating the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China.

Zhao underscored the need to handle the territorial dispute in a peaceful manner in order for the two countries to maximize the benefits of their bilateral relations.

The ambassador pointed out that China and the Philippines had already established a bilateral channel between the two ministries of foreign affairs (MFA) to discuss SCS-related issues.

“That channel has already been opened and we would hope there will be friendly and candid exchange of views through that bilateral channel with regard issues on SCS,” he said.

Apart from such bilateral channel, China and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) nations, which include the Philippines, tested an MFA hotline to tackle emergencies in the SCS and it was successful.

China and ASEAN also applied the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) to disputed waters.

ASEAN members and China already completed the framework on the code of conduct for managing the dispute in SCS last May in Guiyang, Guizhou Province in Southwest China.

They expected to submit the completed COC framework to the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN and China during their meeting in Manila in August for their consideration.

Aside from the Philippines and China, other countries that have made competing claims over parts or all of the SCS/WPS include Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.

US soldiers in northern Cebu for a humanitarian mission

From the Cebu Daily News (Jun 28): US soldiers in northern Cebu for a humanitarian mission

USAF Staff Sergeant Kelley Cofford, a therapist, attends to a patient during the US Air Force–led humanitarian project “Pacific Angel 2017” held at the Libertad Elementary School in Bogo City on June 28, 2017.  CDN PHOTO/LITO TECSON

Filipino and American soldiers came together, not for a war exercise this time but to fix a public school’s ceiling and to attend to the medical needs of a variety of patients — from a simple cough to eye-related health concerns, in two areas in northern Cebu.

The project involved about 140 soldiers from the armed forces of the Philippines and the United States of America, who joined hands for a US-initiated project dubbed as “Pacific Angel 2017” held in Bogo City and the town of San Remigio.

The activity, which has benefited at least 5,000 patients and a public school and at least 15 households with fixer-uppers, enabled soldiers with engineering and medical backgrounds from both armed forces to exchange knowledge and expertise.

Pacific Angel 2017 or PACANGEL is a joint and combined multinational humanitarian assistance engagement which is directed by the US Pacific Command and executed by Pacific Air Force.

For their 10th anniversary, PACANGEL decided to focus their humanitarian assistance in Bogo City and in San Remigio town, which began last June 23 and will end on July 3.

US Air Force (USAF) Lt. Col. Edward Khim, PACANGEL 2017 Philippines USAF mission commander, said the activity will help both armed forces learn from each other’s best medical practices.

Khim said that the activity also serves as training for both armed forces by providing medical, dental, optometric and engineering assistance, and conducting subject matter expert exchanges while giving back to the community.

Aside from the medical mission, at least 40 engineers did house-to-house repairs within Bogo City. The soldiers fixed the electrical wiring and did plumbing services to more than a dozen houses.

US soldiers and their Filipino counterparts also repaired the ceilings, sidewalks and comfort rooms of the Libertad Elementary School in Barangay Garian, Bogo City.

The US armed forces also provided medicines for free to the patients they attended to.

Khim said their activity in northern Cebu was the first of the four humanitarian engagements of PACANGEL this year. The other places will be in India, Fiji and Nepal.

Lt. Col. Paula Hoang, USAF medical lead, said that as of yesterday, they have attended to about 5,000 patients since they started holding the medical mission last Monday.

“We have medicine specialist, physical therapist and a pediatrician, optometrist and pharmacist. We are working with a lot of partners,” Hoang said.

She said that aside from the US military, they also have soldiers who are doctors and engineers from Australia, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii and Japan, among others.

Col. Danilo Ibon, PACANGEL AFP mission commander, said that it was the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the US Embassy that chose the places for the humanitarian assistance.

He said that all expenses are paid by the US armed forces. The medicines and other construction materials were purchased by the US military locally.

Dr. John Cinco, a retired USAF personnel and a medical practitioner, said he was happy that the humanitarian project was conducted in his hometown, Bogo City.

Cinco, then in active service in the USAF, was one of the people behind the creation of PACANGEL ten years ago. He retired in 2011.

“I’m happy that on the tenth-year anniversary of PACANGEL, it is conducted in my hometown,” Cinco said

Planned GenSan bombings foiled

From the Manila Bulletin (Jun 29): Planned GenSan bombings foiled

Police have foiled the planned series of bombings in General Santos City following the arrest of a member of an extremist gang who was among those tasked to plot the improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Supt. Romeo Galgo, spokesman of the Northern Mindanao regional police, said an intense manhunt was already launched against the two companions of the arrested suspect, 20-year-old Abdulazis Mangambit Tungan.

General Santos City Map (Photo courtesy of Google Map | Manila Bulletin)
Tungan, a native of Maasim town of Sarangani, is reportedly a member of the Ansar Al-Khalifa Philippines, an extremist group which pledged allegiance with the ISIS (Islamic Stat of Iraq and Syria) along with the Maute Group.
“With his arrest, we were able to thwart their bombing plans, word of which we have been receiving in the past weeks,” said Gonda.

The intelligence reports said a terror group was planning bombing activities in General Santos City with the City Hall, churches and malls as targets. Police sources said the intent was to expand the militants’ activities beyond Marawi and to shake up Mindanao.

Police intelligence operatives then conducted background check on Ansar Al-Khalifa and found out about one of the very few surviving members of the group identified as Ramram Tungan.
It was recalled that the leader of the Ansar Al-Khalida, Mohammad Jaafar “Tokboy” Maguid, was killed in a police operation early this year.

Maguid, before his death, had been in constant meeting with the Maute brothers allegedly on how to help the ISIS establish a firm footing in Mindanao through a virtual caliphate.

Maguid’s death meant the reduction of the operational capability of the group.

Police then launched a massive search for Tungan who turned out to be included in the list of the persons that the Defense department wanted arrested in connection with the Marawi City attack.
“He was seen standing beside the church of a religious sect, suspiciously uneasy. He attempted to run when his arrest was announced but he was immediately cornered,” said Gonda, adding that the arrest occurred on Wednesday morning.

A hand grenade was seized from Tungan and that will be used in the filing of criminal charges against him. Local police investigators are grilling Tungan as to the whereabouts of his two companions.

The entire Mindanao is currently under the state of Martial Law after President Duterte’s declaration following the Marawi City attack on May 23. Efforts to purge Maute gunmen in Marawi City are on-going.

MILF insists on Bangsamoro law without charter change

From ABS-CBN (Jun 30): MILF insists on Bangsamoro law without charter change

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte chats with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim on the sidelines of the signing ceremony for the Executive Order reconstituting the Bangsamoro Transition Commission in Malacañan on November 7. King Rodriguez, Malacanang Photo

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) stood pat on its position that the new draft law carving a new territory for the Bangsamoro in Mindanao will not require changes in the constitution, its leader said.

The new draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), set to be submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte, contains no "recommendation for constitutional change," having been studied by lawyers already, said MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim.

"We see no need for constitutional change," he told ABS-CBN News, reiterating his group's stand when the BBL was first submitted to the previous Congress.

Legislators then wrangled over the constitutionality of the BBL, some of them claiming the proposed Bangsamoro region would in fact be a substate.

Murad said provisions that might be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court could be accommodated if the country shifts to a federal system, which would require charter change.

But he insisted the government should first create the new Bangsamoro territory, which could serve as a "template for federalism."

"It would difficult if federalism is established first because there would be another round of negotiation with the federal setup," he said.

The MILF, the largest Muslim rebel group in the country, spent 17 years negotiating for a political settement to the armed conflict before signing a peace accord with the government in 2014.

Murad said Duterte's efforts to fully implement the agreement helped some MILF members resist the lure of violent extremism.

Stakeholders anxious over fate of new BBL draft

From the Manila Bulletin (Jun 30): Stakeholders anxious over fate of new BBL draft

Advocates for lasting peace in Mindanao have expressed anxiety toward seeing the new Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) draft facing similar fate in the past administration that shelved it, citing alleged flip-flapping instances by the national hierarchy on the proposal.

Even the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), whose peace accord in 2014 with the state serves as major a basis of the new draft, indicated a passive stance on the setting of schedule alone of the proposal’s submission to the Office of the President (OP).

An editorial of the, MILF’s official website, “Submission of BBL postponed again” noted postponements of the draft submission to OP on June 1, June 14, 15, 16, 22, 24 and “then finally 28.”


Talking to reporters on June 20 after meeting Marawi evacuees sheltered in Iligan City, President Duterte said: “The BBL has been completed. And the MI (MILF) will give it to me. I will sign it during the Eid’l Fitr.”

He hosted an Eid’l Fitr dinner for Muslim officials at Malacañang on June 27. But no signing happened. He just echoed his assurance that government rehabilitation efforts will make war-torn Marawi City “prosperous again.”

On June 28, Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza told ANC network the draft was supposed to be submitted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) to OP that day. But the President reportedly postponed it until Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez were available.

If you take it from there (postponement), parang ang gusto niyang gawin, pag natanggap nya, i-turn over na agad sa Kongreso [it seems that what he wants to do when he receives the draft, he would immediately turn it (draft) over to Congress],” Dureza told the ANC Early Edition.

Some stakeholders welcomed the decision, saying it would remove another layer of scrutiny, as was the case under former Aquino government when Palace lawyers spent months reviewing provisions of the first BBBL draft in 2014 only to be archived later following controversies spawned by the infamous Mamasapano clash on March 25, 2015.

Many elected officials in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) believe that terrorism threats as exemplified in the Marawi siege could be met squarely if the proposed Bangsamoro government jointly led by the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The MILF once vowed the Bangsamoro entity, when established, would have “no room for terrorism.”

MILF chair Murad Ebrahim, according to ANC, asserted that the new BBL draft is “inclusive” of MNLF concerns.

He was hopeful the new draft would not face many controversies like before. But the MILF official website cited the Marawi siege as another “unhappy” coincidence in the new BBL draft deliberation.

Still, Congress would be faced with the challenge of “converging” or harmonizing the implementation of the MILF 2014 accord and the 1996 MNLF agreement with the government.

Compounding the issue is MNLF founding Chair Nur Misuari’s nonrecognition of the BBL draft and his option, which the president has allowed, to have a separate proposal for the implementation of the 1996 peace accord.

In previous speeches, the President said he would have the BTC draft and Misuari group’s proposal harmonized as one measure for deliberation by Congress.

A Muslim lawyer, who helped the MILF technical working group craft the BBL, said the recent events in the Palace are tantamount to a repetition of the original BBL’s “death” in Congress.

“The President wants the MILF-led BTC version and the MNLF-Misuari faction fused, but his think tanks lack the sincerity to carry out such commitment,” the lawyer, who asked not to be named, told the Bulletin on Friday.

The Bulletin interviewed the lawyer by phone at a time the President was telling soldiers in the Maguindanao-based Army’s 6th Infantry Division that he was “ready to concede” to the BBL and “unconstitutional” infirmities concerning the MILF-proposed regional police and security forces.

Several professionals posted in Facebook their reactions, with majority expressing negative comments and a few asserting that the President should be given the benefit of the doubt.

The reactors expressed a common belief that the BBL would be “sailing roughly” as usual in a climate of anxiety.

Restriction order against ex-MILF man lapses

From the Straits Times (Jun 30): Restriction order against ex-MILF man lapses

The restriction order issued against a Singaporean who was a member of a militant group was allowed to lapse this month, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a statement yesterday.

The ministry said that while on a restriction order (RO), Abdul Majid "was cooperative and responsive to rehabilitation efforts".

"As such, he no longer requires RO supervision," it added.

Abdul Majid Kunji Mohamad, 66, had been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in June 2011. He was released in June 2013 and issued with a restriction order, which limits his activities.

The former businessman had undergone military training with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao in the southern Philippines, and aided the group in procuring funds and components for weapons.

Abdul Majid, who had been living in Malaysia since the mid-1990s, also went through training in weapons handling and the making of improvised explosive devices, the MHA had said in announcing his detention.

He was arrested in Malaysia under its ISA in May 2011 for channelling funds and giving logistical support to the MILF, and subsequently deported to Singapore.

Under Singapore's approach to managing persons detained for terror-related offences under the ISA, those who are assessed to have been sufficiently rehabilitated and to no longer pose a security threat are placed on an RO.

A person on such an order may not change his residence, employment or travel out of Singapore without official approval. He also cannot issue public statements or join organisations without approval.

He usually continues to undergo rehabilitation, such as counselling to steer him away from radical ideology and extremism.

MILF doubts Maute can establish Islamic State 'province'

From ABS-CBN (Jun 29): MILF doubts Maute can establish Islamic State 'province'

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) played down the Maute group's reported plan to establish a province in Mindanao under an ISIS caliphate, saying its days in Marawi were "numbered."

"We do not see any possibility at this point in time na mag-succeed yung pag create ng 'wilayah' (province) because there has been no caliphate established," MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim told ABS-CBN News.

Omar Maute and his brother Abdullah had been part of the MILF before they embraced violent extremism after studying in Jordan and Egypt.

After returning to the Philippines, the two asked to put up their own group under the MILF, Murad recalled.

"Sabi naman wala namang problema dahil MILF naman kayo. But then after they tried to form a group, nakita namin na iba yung kanilang mga polisiya, iba yung kanilang mga activities," he said. (But then, after they tried to form a group, we saw that their policy was different, their activities were different.)

The brothers are now leading a group of Islamist radicals wreaking havoc in Marawi.

Neary 400 people have been killed and thousands others evacuated in more a month of intense fighting with ISIS-inspired Maute terrorists.

"Kung hindi sila pumasok dyan, hindi magkakaganyan," Murad said. (That will not have happened if they did not enter the city.)

"Even without discussing the ideological aspect, just looking at it from the practical perspective, what good does ISIS bring? If we allow them here, what good will they bring? They will only destroy further."


Marawi had long been considered a "neutral" ground and had been spared destruction despite previous armed conflicts, the MILF leader noted.

The MILF has offered to broker talks between the government and the Maute group to help resolve the Marawi crisis.

The group earlier helped put up "peace corridors" for the rescue of civilians trapped in the gun battle.

Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza on Thursday thanked the MILF for its humanitarian assistance, but reiterated the government's position against negotiating with terrorists.

"The president has made a very clear declaration--no negotiations with terrorists, no quarters asked and no quarters given," he told ANC's Early Edition.

Philippines: Peace talks with Moro rebels continue despite extremism 'virus'

From the International Business Times (Jun 29): Philippines: Peace talks with Moro rebels continue despite extremism 'virus'

Philippine troops rescue Filipino ship captain abducted by militants

Philippines troops in action. Reuters

Filipino Peace Presidential Adviser Jesus Dureza said that the peace talks between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) shall continue despite the presence of "extremism" adopted by terrorist groups operating in Marawi.

Dureza said that extremism is like a "virus" that needs to be addressed openly and all stakeholders concerned have to deal with it openly.

 "There should be no ifs and buts and there should be no denials because if we compare that to the body, extremism is like a body infection," Dureza added.

Part of the agenda in the ongoing peace talks was to create the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law that will provide the MILF organization to govern their government in the Southern Philippines. Dureza said that the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) has submitted a more inclusive draft that will cover all the sectors in the proposed Bangsamoro region.

The presidential adviser noted that the challenge now is in the hands of the lawmakers because they will be in charge in reconciling provisions of the proposed BBL with the previous peace agreement that the government entered into with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), another revolutionary organization.

Furthermore, Dureza also lauded the efforts of the MILF for helping the government establish the "peace corridor" in Marawi's armed conflict to help facilitate humanitarian assistance services for fleeing civilians.

"The MILF risked their lives with their volunteers and proved that their sincere efforts can help the Philippine government, " Dureza added.

On the other hand, Dureza also said that he is hopeful that they can also resume their peace talks with the New People's Army (NPA), another rebel group. The Philippine government has earlier suspended their peace talks with the communist rebels when the latter has been attacking Philippine security forces in the countryside.

Philippine Officials Release Gruesome Photos of Marawi Destruction

From Benar News (Jun 29): Philippine Officials Release Gruesome Photos of Marawi Destruction


A photograph released by Filipino officials shows skeletal remains scattered in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, June 29, 2017.

Philippine authorities on Thursday released gruesome photographs taken from inside a southern city occupied by gunmen backed by the Islamic State (IS), providing what officials described as evidence that the extremists had embarked on a killing spree.

Members of a humanitarian mission who were allowed to rescue trapped residents took the photographs inside the conflict zone of Marawi city, where security forces are engaged in fierce firefights with IS-backed militants.

The photographs show an abandoned city in ruins with bombed-out homes and uncollected human skeletons littering the streets.

The pictures were released a day after the military recovered 17 decomposing bodies – apparently of civilians – who were trying to flee the fighting.

The photographs are a “confirmation of our fear each day” that civilians might have been killed by the gunmen, said Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesman for the local crisis management team.

“We were lost for words. We could not describe what we feel. This is really beyond evil,” Adiong told BenarNews. “We feel helpless, and at the same time angry at the destruction.”

He said the photographs provided crucial evidence that the Abu Sayyaf and Maute gunmen had killed civilians when they took over the city on May 23 with the help of foreign militants.

Continuing offensive

Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, Joint Task Force Marawi spokesman, said at least 1,711 civilians trapped inside the battle zone have been rescued by troops. Dozens more are believed being held captive, including Marawi’s top Catholic priest and his aides.

So far, 71 soldiers and 303 gunmen have been killed along with 44 civilians. This includes the 17 bodies recovered Wednesday.

The Marawi siege began when troops and police moved to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged IS leader in the southern island of Mindanao.

They were met by gunmen composed of militants from the Maute group, backed by an undetermined number of Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern fighters.

Herrera said the military was slowly advancing toward enemy positions in four villages in Marawi, which has been emptied by its 200,000 residents.

“The more we recover guns from them, take down their positions, the more we are gaining grounds and vantage positions. We are navigating close to them,” Herrera said, referring to the militant extremists.

Herrera said Abdullah Maute, one of the main extremist leaders, is believed to be inside Marawi leading his men in the fight. His brother, Omarkhayam, however is believed to have died along with a senior Malaysian IS militant identified as Mahmud Ahmad.

“He (Abdullah) is very visible in the area and he is the one leading the battle positions of the enemy,” Herrera said.

Fire and smoke rise over Marawi City after a series of airstrikes carried out by military fighter jets, June 29, 2017. [Richel V. Umel/BenarNews]
Fresh airstrikes
The military on Thursday launched fresh airstrikes, as fighting marked its 36th day and soldiers encountered resistance from the militants who were occupying at least four villages, officials said.

Local reporters said they could hear the exchange of gunfire coming from the war zone.

Retired Army Col. Pendatun Guro, a Marawi native who never deserted his home since the start of the conflict, said the government must drop more bombs on the extremists’ stronghold.

He said most houses in Marawi were built to withstand attacks, with more than 10 inches of solid cement walls and roof. Guro said a 500-pound bomb could not destroy the houses, but said continuing airstrikes would eventually weaken the structures.

“The houses where the enemies are hiding are all solid. Here in Marawi, clan war is common, so people build houses that can protect their families,” he said.

A military convoy passes by a highway while heading to reinforce troops fighting the militant extremists in Marawi City, June 29, 2017. [Richel V. Umel/BenarNews]

2 Abus surrender to military in Basilan

From the Philippine Star (Jun 30): 2 Abus surrender to military in Basilan

One of the Abu Sayyaf members who surrendered said that he escaped from provincial jail twice. photo

Two Abu Sayyaf members, one of them bolted twice from the jail, surrendered to the military forces in Basilan Thursday, according to security officials.

Col. Juvymax Uy, commander of the Joint Task Force Basilan, said Serham Hasim Akkalun and Hapid Madjakin, both Basilan-based Abu Sayyaf members, yielded about 4 p.m. to the elements of the 13th Special Forces Company in Barangay Guinanta, Albarka town.

The two Abu Sayyaf members also surrendered an M1 Garand rifle and a clip of live ammunition.

During the tactical debriefing, Akkalun said that he bolted from provincial jail twice during the jailbreak incidents on Dec. 13, 2009 and Jan. 27, 2015.

Madjakin, on the other hand, revealed that he is an Abu Sayyaf member under the late sub-leader Long Malat.
The surrender of Akkalun and Madjakin brought the number of Abu Sayyaf surrenderees to 98.

Sixty-six others, on the other hand, were apprehended by security forces since January this year following an all-out military campaign launched by the Joint Task Forces under the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom).

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Wesmincom chief, said the relentless campaign against the Abu Sayyaf also resulted to the deaths of 94 members of the Abu Sayyaf group and recovery of 148 firearms.

Galvez welcomed the surrender of the Abu Sayyaf members, who will be provided the opportunity to live normal lives again.

Galvez also said that they will continue their operations and integrate their efforts with different stakeholders to beef up security in Mindanao.

96 Abu Sayyaf rebels killed in first 6 months of 2017—military

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 30): 96 Abu Sayyaf rebels killed in first 6 months of 2017—military

In this May 6, 2017 file photo, Bohol policemen bury the remains suspected Abu Sayyaf member Abu Saad (full name Saad Samad Kiram) after he was killed on May 5, 2017 in an escape attempt. (CDN FILE PHOTO)

The military on Friday said soldiers had killed close to 100 Abu Sayyaf bandits during the first six months of the year alone.

Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, said the deaths were from clashes in Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and parts of Zamboanga peninsula.

She said during the first two quarters of the year, soldiers had killed 94 bandits and arrested 66 suspects. The number of those who yielded had reached 98.

Petinglay said the anti-Abu Sayyaf operation this year yielded a total of 148 assorted firearms.

Among those who recently yielded were Serham Hasim Akkalun and Hapid Madjakin, both Basilan-based Abu Sayyaf members, who turned over an M1 Garand rifle and a magazine with four rounds of live ammunition.

Lt. Gen. General Carlito Galvez Jr., the Westmincom commander, said soldiers had not been complacent and continued to pursue the Abu Sayyaf.

“(We) continue to work hard and integrate the efforts of our soldiers and our stakeholders in sustaining the internal security in Mindanao and bringing about the defeat of the Abu Sayyaf,” Galvez said.

Gunmakers for rebels nabbed in Maguindanao drug raid

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 30): Gunmakers for rebels nabbed in Maguindanao drug raid

Soldiers secure five suspected Islamic State sympathizers arrested in a drug raid in Pandag, Maguindanao province. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

PANDAG, MAGUINDANAO —Five suspected Islamic State sympathizers, who police said made guns for the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and their allies, were arrested in an antidrug raid in this town on Wednesday, an Army official said.

Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, commander of the Army’s 33rd Infantry Battalion, said police arrested Dante Karatuan, 34; Roy Datukali, 22; Jomar Jainal, 20; Gale Mangandaong, 20; and Jerry Talib, 39, in a house in Barangay Kayaga here for allegedly trading illegal drugs and supplying firearms to rebels.

The raid, led by Cabunoc and Senior Supt. Agustin Tello, Maguindanao police director, yielded not only “shabu” (methamphetamine hydrochloride) but also explosives, guns and equipment used in manufacturing firearms.

Government troops also recovered ingredients for the manufacture of improvised explosive devices, a laptop computer, gun parts, a fragmentation grenade, camera and P16,000 in cash.

Cabunoc said the suspects’ arrest came after a drug peddler, who police arrested on Tuesday, informed authorities about his supply source.

He said authorities were trying to determine whether the suspects also supplied guns to the Maute terror group, which government forces have been battling since May 23 when its members occupied sections of Marawi City in Lanao del Sur province.

Cabunoc said the gun-making equipment recovered during the raid were capable of fabricating replicas of Barrett sniper rifles that the BIFF and their allies had been using.

He said the suspects would be charged with violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act and with illegal possession of firearms.

Mindanao conflict pushing Duterte back into US orbit

From Nikkei Asia Review (Jun 30): Mindanao conflict pushing Duterte back into US orbit (By Richard Heydarian)

ISIS threat alters Philippine president's foreign policy calculus

Protesters shout slogans during a rally on June 23 near the presidential palace in Manila, Philippines, to mark the first month of the declaration by President Rodrigo Duterte of martial law in Mindanao. (AP)

As Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte enters his second year in office, he is confronting his greatest political challenge. For the past month, a legion of Islamic State-affiliated fighters, under the command of the Maute Group, have stubbornly held onto several barangays (neighborhoods) in Marawi, a provincial capital on the southern island of Mindanao and the country's largest Muslim-majority city.

The brazen assault on the city, which has forced more than 200,000 people to flee for safety and claimed the lives of close to 400 individuals, marks the first attempt by an IS regional affiliate to control a large urban territory. The ultimate goal is to establish a distant caliphate, or a so-called Daulah Islamiya Wilayatul Mashriq ("Islamic State province in the Orient").

The magnitude of the crisis has pushed the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia to step up intelligence-sharing and cyber counter-terrorism, and to conduct joint patrols along their porous maritime borders. Most crucially, the Duterte administration, which has consistently touted its commitment to an "independent" foreign policy away from traditional allies, was forced to seek American assistance in Marawi and affected areas.

Despite his best efforts, the Philippine president has once again found his country relying heavily on American military muscle to address domestic security challenges. This will inevitably place constraints on his attempts to build an enduring strategic partnership with China, which deeply opposes the growing American military footprint in Southeast Asia.

Intent on denying the extremists a single inch of territory, the Philippine military has resorted to large-scale air raids, which have resulted in friendly-fire incidents, raised the risks of civilian casualties, and caused large-scale destruction of the city's infrastructure. As the days have passed, Marawi has begun to resemble post-conflict Aleppo in Syria, and Mosul in Iraq, which have been similarly ravaged by clashes between security forces and extremist elements in recent years.

Boasting battle-tested foreign fighters among its ranks, including some from the Russian Caucasus and the Arab world, the Maute Group has used a lethal combination of improvised explosive devices, snipers, and an extensive network of underground tunnels to inflict heavy casualties on government troops.

As it struggled with full-blown urban warfare, the Philippine military sought help from the U.S., which immediately deployed a contingent of special forces to provide training and technical assistance for counter-terrorism operations in difficult urban settings. The Americans also sent drones for real-time intelligence gathering and donated a new cache of weapons, including machine guns and grenade launchers.

Despite the government's imminent military victory in Marawi, there is growing worry over potential terrorism contagion across Mindanao. The month-long siege has exposed the vulnerability of the Philippines security apparatus and created a new magnet for international jihadi groups.

More recently, up to 300 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, another regional IS affiliate, launched a daring assault in North Cotabato, where they took several families hostage and attacked a primary school.

Aside from the Maute Group and the BIFF, three other local jihadi groups have pledged allegiance to the IS -- the well-known Abu Sayyaf and the Khilafa Islamiyah Mindanao and Ansar Khalifa Philippines groups. Duterte has warned of the possibility of an all-out civil war.

"Here in Mindanao, there are more Christians and they have better guns. They are buying. The rich ones, they're stockpiling guns," Duterte exclaimed during an emotionally charged speech on June 20 in which he called for a revival of peace negotiations with moderate Islamist rebel groups. "We cannot allow [stockpiling] because if civilians also arm themselves, it will be a civil war," he said.

Shocks and realignments

Ironically, the Philippines' growing dependence on American security assistance follows high-profile visits by Duterte to Beijing and Moscow. Over the past year, Duterte has threatened to expel American soldiers stationed in Mindanao in pursuit of a foreign policy more aligned to China and Russia.

It was not all bluster. In exchange for improved diplomatic and economic relations with Beijing, Duterte canceled two sets of joint war games with the U.S. in the South China Sea -- the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training Exercise (Carat) and the U.S.-Philippine Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX).

He also downgraded and relocated (away from disputed waters) an annual Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercise with the U.S., while blocking requests for American expansion of the Bautista Airbase in Palawan, which lies close to the disputed Spratly chain of islands.

All these concessions were intended to appease Chinese concerns over the expanding American military footprint in the Philippines and close to the South China Sea. However, the Philippines has now begun doubling down on its joint military cooperation with the U.S., with particular focus on the IS threat.

As the crisis in Mindanao deepens, the U.S. will likely seek more military bases and operational freedom on Philippine soil in exchange for high-grade intelligence, equipment and training. This would limit Duterte's ability to improve strategic relations with Beijing, which expressly seeks to extricate the Philippines from the American strategic orbit. To dispel any criticism of his apparent turnabout, Duterte has implied that it was the Philippine military that sought U.S. assistance in Marawi.

Duterte went so far as to lament caustically, "This is really their sentiment; our soldiers are really pro-American, that I cannot deny." Though this may underline an element of civil-military tensions in the administration, it also suggests that the tough-talking president has reluctantly accepted the value of the U.S. military presence in the Philippines.

Unlike Beijing and Moscow, Washington enjoys extensive access to Philippine bases and a long history of fruitful interoperability with the Philippine military. The Pentagon also boasts hard-earned counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism experience, thanks to decades of operations in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Since 2002, a contingent of American special forces has been aiding the Philippine military against local jihadist groups.

The intimate and enduring Philippine-American military cooperation is governed by a range of security agreements, including a mutual defense treaty, a visiting forces agreement and an enhanced defense cooperation agreement, which were ratified by the Philippine Senate and are broadly supported by the broader population.

There are few signs that the Philippines will sign any comparable security agreements with China and Russia, which are deeply mistrusted by both the defense establishment and the Filipino people. Thus, Duterte cannot expect significant assistance from the two eastern powers, which have been the recipients of his strategic flirtation for the past year.

Weeks before the siege of Marawi, Duterte recognized the profound interdependence between the Philippine and American military establishments. In a speech commemorating the Philippine-U.S. alliance during World War II, he underscored their shared interest in continued cooperation against "the menace of terrorism, violent extremism and transnational crimes" to "defend the common good." The crisis in Mindanao is not only shaping Duterte's domestic political agenda, but will likely have a profound impact on his foreign and defense policy.

[Richard Heydarian is a Manila-based academic and columnist. He is the author of "Asia's New Battlefield: U.S., China and the Struggle for the Western Pacific," and the forthcoming book "Rise of Duterte."]

Southern Philippines Will Need More Than Troops To Fight Its Radical Islam Problems

From Forbes (Jun 29): Southern Philippines Will Need More Than Troops To Fight Its Radical Islam Problems (By Joseph Chinyong Liow)

 Smoke billows after aerial bombings by Philippine Air Force planes on Islamist militants'

As the seige of Marawi City by ISIS-linked militants from the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups nears its two-month mark, the unsettling events unfolding in the southern Philippines serve as a grim reminder of a militancy and terrorism problem that threatens the security and stability of much of Southeast Asia.

Notwithstanding the urgency of the present security situation, the reality is that while these militants carry the imprimatur of the ominous black standards of ISIS, they are in fact part of an architecture of rebellion and expressions of a long legacy of intractable conflict that has plagued the region for decades.

The Bangsamoro
While the Philippines is a predominantly Catholic society, a significant number of its citizens are followers of the Muslim faith residing in the southern islands of Mindanao, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, and the Sulu Archipelago. While many of these people hail from different ethnic backgrounds, they have come to be known collectively as Moro, or more recently, Bangsamoro. The Bangsamoro also share a history of difficult relations with central governing authorities that have ruled the Philippines, be it Spanish and American colonial administrations or the Philippine state.

Failed Spanish attempts to subdue the southern Philippines during their 350-year colonial rule are a source of pride in the collective memory of the Bangsamoro. The era of American colonialism, which began after the U.S. acquired the Philippines following the 1898 Spanish-American War, witnessed several further rebellions whose heroics have since entered into Bangsamoro legend.

Thousand of Marawi residents escaped the city in fear of ISIS-linked militants taking over the city. Some have taken shelter in the adjacent town of Baloi, as shown here on May 30, 2017. (Credit: Jes Aznar/Getty )

The independence of the Philippines in 1946 ushered in a period of further marginalization of local population and dispossession of ancestral lands, while weak local governance and corruption mired the Bangsamoro regions in poverty. By the 1970s, these deep-seated and longstanding grievances would find expression in the form of organized armed rebellion, mostly revolving around the Moro National Liberation Front or MNLF and later, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF.

Rising militant groups

Since the early 1990s, smaller factions have been breaking away from these traditional rebel organizations to form more militant entities. These include the Abu Sayyaf Group (comprising former MNLF fighters among others), the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (a breakaway from the MILF) and the Maute Group.

While they claim to broadly share the objective of liberation of Bangsamoro lands from the rule of “Catholic Philippines” and the creation of an entity governed by Islamic precepts as they understand it, the means pursued to attain these ends are decidedly more violent, intolerant, indiscriminate and uncompromising -- involving kidnappings, beheadings, bombings, the seizure of towns, and armed confrontations with the military and police in the jungles and mountainous regions of Mindanao and Sulu.

Now that these groups have sworn allegiance to Islamic State and claim to represent them across Southeast Asia, the problem of terrorism and militancy has grown more acute. This invariably turns attention to the Philippine government’s counter-terrorism capacity and efforts, which have unfortunately been underwhelming.

Failed counter-terrorism efforts

Despite considerable investment and effort since the turn of the century on the part not only of the Philippine government but also its U.S. ally via Operation Enduring Freedom-Philipines (2002-2015), there has not been any significant reduction in militancy or terrorist capabilities in the region. On the contrary, the point can plausibly be made that in the southern Philippines, terrorism has in fact gathered pace in recent years, certainly in terms of profile and visibility, if not in the actual number of attacks, thanks in no small part to the proliferation of social media. Already, several attacks have appeared on the Islamic State’s notorious social media and propaganda platforms.

Philippine troops on their way to the frontline in the outskirts of Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao on June 28, 2017. (Photo credit: TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)

Counter-terrorism efforts on the part of the Philippine government must assume greater urgency. These efforts must tackle issues of underdevelopment, lack of educational opportunities and poverty -- all of which have contributed to the creation of a pool of young recruits from which militant groups in the south tap.

Taking the threat seriously

From a security point of view, efforts must begin with an acknowledgement of the severity of the problem on the part of Philippine security officials and politicians. Prior to the Marawi siege, a not inconsequential segment of the Philippine security establishment still persisted in dismissing militant groups like the Abu Sayyaf Group as ragtag criminals and small-time bandits. Criminals and bandits they may be but they are hardly ragtag and small-time.

A faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group based in Basilan and under the presumptive leadership of Isnilon Hapilon, who has been recognized by local groups as leader of ISIS-Southeast Asia, are intensely ideological in their pursuit of violence. Another faction, based in Jolo and purportedly under the leadership of Radullah Sahiron, have developed a feared reputation as hardened criminals who kill without compunction.

In a sense, Marawi has proven the perfect storm by way of collaboration between Abu Sayyaf, Maute and foreign fighters mostly from Indonesia and Malaysia; it also laid bare the shortcomings of the Philippine security establishment and the urgent need for security sector reform by way of improved professionalism of the security services.
The weak link in Southeast Asia

Prior to Marawi, analysts and watchers (including myself) warned that the southern Philippines is the weak link in the counter-terrorism chain in Southeast Asia. Such is its vulnerability, the region is being talked about as a possible “wilayah” or province of the Islamic State. If anything, the Marawi siege has all but confirmed these observations.

Unless serious efforts--both nationally and in cooperation with regional and international partners--are taken by the Philippine government to strengthen the security, legislative, social, and economic tools at its disposal, the problems of militancy and terrorism in its southern islands are going to get worse before we catch any glimpse of a light at the end of the tunnel.

[Joseph Chinyong Liow is a professor of comparative and international politics and dean at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.]

Commentary: Restoring Security and Stability Beyond Marawi (By Rohan Gunaratna)

Posted to Benar News (Jun29): Commentary: Restoring Security and Stability Beyond Marawi (By Rohan Gunaratna)


A photo released by the Crisis Management Team shows destruction in the rebel-held Bangolo district in downtown Marawi city, June 29, 2017.

The emerging generation of Islamic State-centric (IS) threat groups seeks to capture, hold and control territory. Unlike al-Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) that operated discretely and staged intermittent attacks, IS seeks territorial conquest and governance.

The siege of Marawi on May 23 demonstrates that IS no longer is phenomenon limited to the Middle Eastern. IS threatens governments worldwide that fail to understand and respond to it.

Marawi also demonstrated that to fight IS, governments need innovative leaders instead of classic bureaucrats. Had the Philippines acknowledged the emergence of IS back in the second half of 2014, and during the active operations of IS-centric groups throughout 2015 and 2016, Marawi could have been prevented.

When it comes to IS, governments should respond immediately and decisively. As Marawi demonstrated, procrastination can be a lethal mistake.

Visionaries needed

National security decision-making depends on visionary leaders. In the case of the Philippines, the government leaders knew IS was on the rise and two dozen local groups had pledged allegiance.

Their own commanders who fought against the Islamic State Lanao (ISL) led by the Maute clan since 2015 reported it had taken root in the region. Since 2016, the Philippine intelligence community reported in detail about the creation of an East Asia Division led by Isnilon Hapilon, anointed by IS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

The reality is that few governments take preventive and pre-emptive measures. Most governments react, overreact or underreact. The Philippines was no exception.

When IS fighters laid siege to Marawi, President Rodrigo Duterte responded decisively by declaring martial law, responding steadfastly and calling for the city’s evacuation. In the face of adversity, Duterte, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces Chief Gen. Eduardo Año demonstrated leadership.

Despite the initial setback of not reading the threat accurately, they persisted and generated support nationally, regionally and internationally to contain, isolate and eliminate the local fighters.

A practical man with foresight, Lorenzana sought U.S. and Australian support, worked with Indonesia and Malaysia to strengthen border control and built cooperation with several other countries willing to help the Philippines. He convinced Duterte that U.S. military and intelligence support was paramount and in parallel with Chinese economic support.

As the siege could be coming to an end, the Philippines and its neighbors should understand that the militant occupation of Marawi is a setback for region’s security. The siege of a city in Asia brought IS hundreds of supporters and thousands of sympathizers in Southeast Asia.

The government inability to recover Marawi for more than a month drew the attention of the Muslim community. While IS initiated the suffering in Marawi, is the narrative changing? Military air strikes, civilian deaths, destruction of mosques and homes dominate the IS and pro-IS news portals.

Although no plans regarding Indonesia and Malaysia were recovered, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein and Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu were aware of the possibility. IS intentions to expand into Sabah and Brunei and take control of the oil fields were discussed by the ministers when the trilateral maritime patrols were launched in Tarakan, Indonesia on June 19.

Groups active
The Philippine military is likely to recapture Marawi next month, but that will not end the IS threat. Other Moro groups pledging allegiance to IS leadership remain active in Mindanao.

Considering its numbers, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) could stage a Marawi-style operation. In a possible show of support to IS, a few hundred BIFF fighters of BIFF attacked Barangay Malagakit, an agricultural Christian village in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato, during the Marawi siege.

On June 21, BIFF forces occupied a school, the Malagakit Barangay Hall, a local church and looted houses, as well as desecrated the San Jose Chapel, under the orders of Esmail Abubakar (alias Commander Bungos), a former leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The attack left eight dead, including six BIFF members, and 10 injured. Also killed were Abraham Cutay, a member of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), and Towan Dading Ismael, a farmer.

A letter to Duterte, written in Filipino, was recovered from the scene. “Duterte is asking help from everywhere. Why can’t he finish us? I am ISIS, be careful Duterte, you cannot hide. We will kill you,” it read, referring to IS by a different acronym.

Governments need to understand that even among groups not embracing the ideology, there are members influenced by IS. The support within ASG was one of the key reasons that Abu Sayyaf leader Radulan Sahiron did not fight his deputy Isnilon Hapilon, when he broke away and formed Islamic State Philippines.

Considering the long-term threat the Philippines is facing, it is essential to revive a task force similar to the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, which was created in 2002 to fight ASG, JI and other terrorists. The United States deployed 1,200 special forces and general purpose soldiers and intelligence personnel to Mindanao, from 2002 to 2015, to train and advise Philippine units.

As U.S. counter-terrorism is 10 to 20 years more advanced than similar Chinese programs, and a partnership to generate high-quality and high-grade intelligence, superior weapons and equipment, training and retraining is essential.

Today, the Philippine military and intelligence community is not large enough to meet the IS-centric challenge. Because IS localized to Marawi, the Philippine security forces were able to manage the threat because of a 15 to 1 troop to terrorist ratio.

Daily events kept the newly established support base intact and attracted foreign fighters. Additionally, online supporters and sympathizers are creating a permanent pool of IS activists. Online supporters are threatening government leaders, officials, scholars, academics and writers. Unfortunately governments have no effective counter-propaganda campaign.

Global implications

Marawi is a domestic conflict but with regional and global implications. As IS expands, it will gather operational and ideological momentum in different parts of the world. Insurgency, terrorism, extremism and exclusivism will characterize the new landscape.

With IS establishing and sustaining a nucleus in the Philippines, the essential first step for regional governments is to support Manila. Timely military and generous humanitarian assistance to the Philippines is essential for future peace and security of the region. Governments in the region can maintain its stability and security, but only if they can work together in a partnership.

[Rohan Gunaratna is professor of Security Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Nanyang Technology University and head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore.]