Wednesday, July 26, 2017

AFP junks rebel claims of 2 existing gov't in PH

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 26): AFP junks rebel claims of 2 existing gov't in PH

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) dismissed claims made by Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria Sison that two governments -- one reactionary and one revolutionary -- exist in the country right now.

“Mr. Sison asserts that there were two governments in the Philippines -- one being his so-called ‘revolutionary government’ led by the Communist Party of the Philippines. That’s untrue," said AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Edgardo Año in a statement Wednesday.

He stressed there is only government existing in the Philippines and that is the one being administered right now by President Rodrigo Duterte who was elected by 16.6 million Filipino voters in May 2016.

“What Mr. Sison might be referring to by ‘revolutionary government’ that he leads in the CPP is that which exacts ‘revolutionary tax’ -- a euphemism for extortion money," Año pointed out.

"By ‘growth’ Mr. Sison might be referring to the wealth they amassed out of extortion money. Even in dividing the gains, the leaders of this group they call ‘revolutionary forces’ get the lion’s share while the ordinary NPA collectors get only the morsels," the AFP chief stressed.

He also scored the rebels for just degenerating into a crime syndicate obsessed with squeezing money from private companies, businessmen, planters, and contractors with the threat of destroying properties and resources without regard to human lives should their demands not be met.

"They are mere bandits and terrorists posing as communists. Obviously, these communist terrorists failed, if not detached from reality, to see that the people favors the government of President Rodrigo Duterte with his so far highest net satisfaction rating of +66 percent per SWS Survey of 23-26 June 2017," the AFP chief disclosed.

“Instead of blaming the AFP for the collapse of the peace negotiations, Mr. Sison should manifest his leadership and control of the CPP-NPA-NDF and rally them into halting the extortion and the attacks on soldiers that are on peace and development endeavors and to show their group's sincerity to and trustworthiness for the peace talks,” he added.

Anti-Maute offensive still ongoing despite hostages

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 26): Anti-Maute offensive still ongoing despite hostages

Clearing operations in Marawi City are still ongoing despite the estimated 300 hostages being held by Maute Group terrorists.

This clarification was issued by Armed Forces of Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla when sought for a comment on alleged orders stopping military operations in a bid to spare the lives of the hostages.

"We would like to issue a clarification, what President Rodrigo Duterte's guidance was to go on with the clearing operation but with measures that will preserve the lives of the hostages," he said in Filipino.

As of this posting, Maute Group remnants are pocketed in a less than square-kilometer area in Marawi City.

Terrorists killed in the conflict, which started May 23, is now at 460, along with 111 government troops and 45 civilians executed.

These figures are as of 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Remaining Maute Group terrorists are placed at 80 to 100.

DFA: PH to conduct study to address Balanggiga bells issue

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 26): DFA: PH to conduct study to address Balanggiga bells issue

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano on Wednesday said the country will conduct a study to address the Balanggiga bells issue with a goal to return the artifacts to the country.

“Anything that the President says is a priority. Yesterday, I already asked for a study. Some congressmen are volunteering,” he told reporters.

Cayetano was optimistic that the United States (US) government would “work with us towards recovering these and be a good gesture and symbol.”

The US vowed to work with the Philippines to resolve the issue on Balangiga bells, as it recognized their significance for a number of people in the US and in the Philippines.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte, in his second State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA), asked the US to return bells taken by American soldiers as war booty more than a century ago.

During the Philippine-American war in 1901, Filipino freedom fighters from the village of Balangiga defended Samar island from American colonizers, resulting in death of 48 American officers and men, and 28 Filipinos.

25 PCG execs face dismissal, graft raps on PHP68-M unlawful procurement

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 26): 25 PCG execs face dismissal, graft raps on PHP68-M unlawful procurement

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has ordered the filing of multiple criminal charges against 25 officials of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) for their alleged involvement in the PHP68-million irregular disbursements and procurement of office, hardware, construction supplies, information technology equipment and cellular phone cards in 2014.

Ordered indicted before the Sandiganbayan for violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019, or the "Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act", are former Commandant Rodolfo Isorena (25 counts); Commodores William Melad and Aaron Reconquista;

Rear Admiral Cecil Chen; Cdrs. John Esplana (16 counts), William Arquero (two counts), Jude Thaddeus Besinga (two counts), Roben De Guzman (two counts), Enrico Efren Evangelista, Jr., Ferdinand Panganiban, Joselito Quintas, Ivan Roldan (two counts), Rommel Supangan, George Ursabia, Jr., Ferdinand Velasco, Wilfred Burgos and Allen Dalangin;

Capts. Joeven Fabul (25 counts), Angelito Gil (two counts), Angel Lobaton IV, Christopher Villacorte and Ramon Lopez; Lt. Mark Larsen Mariano, Ens. Mark Franklin Lim II and Accounting Head Rogelio Caguioa (25 counts).

Isorena, Esplana, Fabul, Caguioa, Arquero, Lopez and Quintas are also facing multiple counts of violation of Section 65 of RA No. 9184, or the "Government Procurement Reform Act".

In the 83-page consolidated resolution signed by the Ombudsman on July 24, 2017, the investigating panel found that fraud was evident from the canvassing to the delivery of the items.

Among the irregularities noted were the transactions pertaining to cellular cards in which Cdr Arquero was allowed a total budget of PHP 930,300, Capt. Lopez and Cdr. Quintas were allowed a total of PHP4,239,710 and Cdr. Supangan was allowed a total of PHP899,700.

The panel found that the respondents resorted to the nefarious practice of splitting the purchases into several transactions to avoid public bidding.

The same practice of splitting was also found to be present with respect to disbursement of the PHP4 million allotment for troops and organizational support and "Command and staff support."

The purchases of regular office supplies, cleaning materials, hardware and groceries were thus split into PHP1 million purchases from February to May 2014.

The Ombudsman found that the respondents have acted in their individual official capacities with manifest partiality, evident bad faith, and gross inexcusable negligence in using public funds to purchase cellcards, hardware, office, construction, and IT supplies such as moleskine journals, artline fabric markers, pilot ballpens, Epson styluses, colored printer ink, wireless optical mouses, energizers, paints, screwdrivers, wireless routers, among other things, without public bidding.

"The above deficiencies should have prevented the disbursements or, at the very least, inspired caution considering the amounts involved and the frequency in which they were being requested. Still, the SCAs were approved and a total of PHP68,041,832.00 in public funds released," the Ombudsman said.

"[A]s the disbursements under process involved SCAs, it became incumbent upon respondents – especially Vice Admiral Isorena as the Head of the Agency – to ensure that the funds disbursed were utilized in accordance with law," she added.

In the related administrative case, the Ombudsman also found the respondents liable for serious dishonesty, grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

The Ombudsman imposed on the respondents the penalty of dismissal from the service, including the accessory penalties of cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits and perpetual disqualification from holding public office.

In the event that the penalty can no longer be enforced against the respondents due to their separation in service, the penalty shall be converted to a Fine equivalent to the respondent’s one-year salary.

In December 2016, the Ombudsman issued a preventive suspension against the respondents pending the investigation of the case.

Section 3(e) of RA No. 3019 prohibits public officials from causing any undue injury to any party, including the government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.

On the other hand, Section 65 of RA No. 9184 provides that, without prejudice to the provisions of RA No. 3019, public officers who commit splitting of contracts which exceed procedural purchase limits shall suffer the penalty of imprisonment of not less than six years and one day but not more than 15 years.

Duterte's promise to strengthen AFP in 2 years lauded

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 27): Duterte's promise to strengthen AFP in 2 years lauded

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) lauded President Rodrigo Duterte's announcement that he will make the military strong and credible in two year's time.
This plan will allow the 125,000-strong AFP to carry out its mandate of protecting the country against external and internal security threats, military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said Thursday.

"We strongly appreciate this proposal by the President as strengthening of the AFP will allow it to perform much better and efficiently its mandate," he said in Filipino.

During a press conference after his second State-of-the-Nation-Address (SONA) Monday, the Chief Executive said he is pushing for the recruitment of 20,000 soldiers and 10,000 to 15,000 Special Action Force members for the Philippine National Police counter threats like insurgency and terrorism which are threatening to make foothold in the country.

As of this posting, the entire AFP, consisting of the Army, Navy and Air Force, has 125,000 officers and enlisted personnel.

Aside from additional troops, Duterte said he is planning to acquire all the needed weapons and equipment to further strengthen the AFP in its security role.

"Right at the very start of his tenure, the CinC assured the AFP that 'he has our back.' He has shown this many times and continues to do so this very day. He was on countless occasions genuinely shown his concern for our wounded and heroes and the families left behind," Padilla added.

Aside from additional troops and equipment, Duterte also vowed to provide for the families of troops wounded or killed in the line of battle.

Assistance are in the form of shelter, healthcare, education and employment.

"It is not surprising then to hear the CinC announce the additional benefits for our fallen heroes' widows and we are truly grateful. The AFP assures the Nation and the CinC of our continued dedication to serve and protect our country and our people," the AFP spokesperson stressed.

China backs joint energy development with Philippines in South China Sea, urges Asean to reject outside interference

From the Straits Times (Jul 25): China backs joint energy development with Philippines in South China Sea, urges Asean to reject outside interference

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi (left) shakes hands with Philippine Foreign Affairs secretary Alan Peter Cayetano after signing the guestbook in Manila on July 25, 2017.

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi (left) shakes hands with Philippine Foreign Affairs secretary Alan Peter Cayetano after signing the guestbook in Manila on July 25, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

China's foreign minister on Tuesday (July 25) said he supported the idea of joint energy ventures with the Philippines in the disputed South China Sea, warning that unilateral action could cause problems and damage both sides.

Wang Yi also urged Asean nations to unite and “say no” to outside forces seeking to interfere in the South China Sea dispute, in an apparent swipe at the United States ahead of a regional summit.

Wang made the statement in Manila where he hailed the “strong momentum” in improving ties with the Philippines, a longstanding American ally which has moved closer to China under President Rodrigo Duterte.

Wang’s visit came a week before he was set to return to Manila for a meeting of foreign ministers from the 10-member Asean and its partners, which include China and the United States. 

Wang said warming relations between Beijing and Manila had helped ensure stability in the South China Sea, where rival claims have long made it one of Asia’s potential military flashpoints.

“If there are still some non-regional forces or forces in the region that don’t want to see stability in the South China Sea and they still want to stir up trouble in the South China Sea, we need to stand together and say no to them together,” Wang told reporters. 

China claims nearly all of the strategically vital sea, even waters approaching the coasts of its neighbours. Asean members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, claim parts of the sea.

Beijing calls for halt to Vietnam drilling

China’s Foreign Ministry has urged a halt to oil drilling in a disputed part of the South China Sea, where Spanish oil company Repsol had been operating in cooperation with Vietnam.

Drilling began in mid-June in Vietnam’s Block 136/3, which is licenced to Vietnam’s state oil firm, Spain’s Repsol and Mubadala Development Co of the United Arab Emirates.

The block lies inside the U-shaped ‘nine-dash line’ that marks the vast area that China claims in the sea and overlaps what it says are its own oil concessions.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China had indisputable sovereignty over the Spratly Islands, which China calls the Nansha islands, and jurisdiction over the relevant waters and seabed.

“China urges the relevant party to cease the relevant unilateral infringing activities and with practical actions safeguard the hard-earned positive situation in the South China Sea,” Lu said at a regular briefing, when asked if China had pressured Vietnam or the Spanish company to stop drilling. He did not elaborate.

This week the BBC reported that Vietnam had halted drilling there after Chinese threats, but there was no independent confirmation and neither Vietnamese officials nor Repsol made any comment on the report.


While the United States is not a claimant and says it takes no sides in the disputes, it has criticised what it has termed Chinese “militarisation” of the sea. Washington has repeatedly sent warships close to Chinese-occupied islands in the sea in recent years, triggering angry responses from Beijing.

In the latest confrontation, Chinese fighter jets intercepted a US Navy surveillance plane over the East China Sea at the weekend, according to US officials.

Duterte, a self-described socialist, has loosened his nation’s 70-year-old alliance with the United States while looking to build stronger relations with China and Russia. Duterte has downplayed the Philippines’ dispute with China, declining to use a favourable ruling from a UN-backed tribunal last year on the issue to pressure Beijing.

He said on Monday said a partner had been found to develop oil fields and exploration and exploitation would restart this year.

Duterte did not identify the partner. The energy ministry on July 12 said drilling at the Reed Bank, suspended in 2014, might resume before year-end, and the government was preparing to offer new blocks to investors in bidding in December.

"In waters where there are overlapping maritime rights and interests, if one party goes for unilateral development, and the other party takes the same action, that might complicate the situation at sea," Wang, who was on a two-day visit to Manila, told a news conference.

"That might lead to tension, and as the end result, nobody would be able to develop resources."

The Philippines suspended energy activities while awaiting a ruling in a case by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague. When it ruled a year ago, the court invalidated China's claim to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, through which more than US$5 trillion of seaborne goods passes each year.

Beijing's harassment of a survey ship of an Anglo-Filipino consortium in the Reed Bank in 2011 and its control of Scarborough Shoal in 2012 were among the reasons Manila filed the arbitration case, which China refuses to recognise.

The tribunal clarified Philippine sovereign rights to access offshore oil and gas its 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), within which the Reed Bank is located.

The Philippines relies overwhelmingly on imports to fuel its fast-growing economy and needs to develop indigenous energy resources. Its main source of natural gas, the Malampaya field near the disputed waters, will be depleted within a decade.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the proposal to jointly develop resources in the disputed waters began in 1986, but the two countries "had not found wisdom to be able to push through to the next step".

Experts say setting up such an arrangement would be extremely complex and politically sensitive. Both countries claim the oil and gas reserves, and a deal on sharing could be seen as legitimising the other side's claim, or giving away sovereign territory.

Wang also said China and Asean countries were firming up a maritime code of conduct framework, showing the world they could handle differences.

Du30 a fake patriotic, his clamor for U.S. to return Balangiga bells ‘self-serving’ – CPP

From InterAksyon (Jul 26): Du30 a fake patriotic, his clamor for U.S. to return Balangiga bells ‘self-serving’ – CPP

Reuters file photo of President Rodrigo Duterte
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) called President Rodrigo Duterte a fake patriotic as his clamor for the U.S. to return the Balangiga bells allegedly was not about the chief executive’s love of country but his own interest.

“Duterte is raising the Filipino people’s clamor for the return of the Balangiga bells…only for self-serving purposes: First, this is meant as countermove against calls by some sectors in the U.S. to investigate violations of human rights in Duterte’s drug war,” the CPP said in a statement issued Wednesday, July 26.

“Secondly, he wants to use the Balangiga bells as a bargaining chip to push his insistence on the U.S. to provide him with brand new weapons, instead of the second-hand junk (that) the U.S. provides.”

[READ RELATED STORY: US embassy responds to Du30’s call, says it will help PH resolve issue on Balangiga bells]

The party, founded by Duterte’s former college professor and on-and-off friend Jose Maria Sison, claimed that the President’s alleged “pseudo-patriotism is meant to conceal his servility to the U.S.”

“He is, in fact, so dependent on the U.S. to feed his obsession to drop bombs on homes and schools. He is making so much noise about the history of U.S. abuses in the country but is silent about current U.S. military interventionism which serves his strongman rule and wars of death and destruction,” the CPP said.

“Duterte has become despicably mute in the face of US construction of several new military facilities inside AFP camps. He has no shame in upholding the anti-national US-RP Mutual Defense Treaty and all other unequal military treaties and in letting the US military remote-control the operations in Marawi City through its advisers and military contractors,” the party added.

The CPP also assailed some U.S. officials and called them “hypocritics” for invoking human rights in denouncing abuses in Duterte’s drug war.

“The US government is, in fact, equally culpable for all the abuses by the AFP which it has indoctrinated, armed, trained and used in waging its all-out war under Oplan Kapayapaan,” it said, referring to the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ campaign plan launched last January that serves as blueprint of military operations under the present administration.

Maute patriarch to be tried in Davao court

From the Sun Star-Davao (Jul 26): Maute patriarch to be tried in Davao court
THE Davao City Prosecution Office (CPO) confirmed that the case of the Maute father and three other companions will be conducted in a court in the city.
Cayamora Maute, 67, Norjannah Maute-Tingao, Benzar Ali Iman Tingao, and Kongan Balawag were earlier charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives in Davao City.
Davao City assistant prosecutor Rizalyn Gonzales-Pontanos said the office has not found any reason to file a motion to transfer venue of the trial for the four accused as they were already detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
"We do not see the risk such as the possible rescue of the four accused, especially the father, because their custody is already in Taguig City. So, when there is a hearing, they will only be transported here with security," Pontanos said.
Davao City Police Office (DCPO) spokesperson Police Senior Inspector Ma. Teresita Gaspan earlier said the trial of the four accused will be held here is a challenge in their security since the Maute father is considered as "high risk."
Cayamora and Nurjanna Maute reportedly have outstanding warrants of arrest for kidnapping, illegal detention, and illegal possession of explosives issued by the regional trial court in Lanao del Sur.
The four accused were onboard a black Toyota Grandia van when they were arrested on the routine check at 10 a.m. in Barangay Sirawan, Toril on June 6.
The court here has yet to schedule the arraignment of the accused for the case.

‘Maute Group member’ nabbed in Lanao Sur evacuation center

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jul 25): ‘Maute Group member’ nabbed in Lanao Sur evacuation center

Police have arrested an alleged member of the Maute terror group in an evacuation center in Saguiaran town in Lanao del Sur.

Chief Supt. Reuben Sindac, police director for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (PRO-ARMM), said Lala Arafat, 38, was arrested last Sunday after being positively identified by evacuees as followers of siblings Omar and Abdullah Maute.

“He did not resist arrest but denied he was a Maute member,” Sindac said in a statement.

The Maute brothers were founders of Dawlah Islamiya or the terror group – the Maute terror group which has pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Arafat, a resident of Barangay Osmeña, Marawi City, was collared by police while inside an evacuation center in Saguiaran. He was said to be posing as an internally displaced person, getting aid from government and other organizations. The term internally displaced person is used to describe a Filipino civilian citizen forced to evacuate from insurgency wars.

Sindac said the local police was alerted by evacuees who noticed Arafat mingling with them and kept on talking about the Maute group’s stance in the siege.

In his possession were 12 identification cards carrying different names. He was unarmed.

Troops clear Marawi conflict zone of bombs

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 25): Troops clear Marawi conflict zone of bombs

Troops are carefully advancing towards the positions of the Maute group members and Abu Sayyaf bandits while clearing this city’s conflict zone of improvised bombs.

Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, newly-designated Joint Task Force Marawi spokesperson, on Tuesday said the fleeing Islamic State for Iraq and Syria (ISIS) - inspired Maute group members and Abu Sayyaf bandits left several improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on their trail.

“Several IEDs were also recovered in the different areas within and outside the main battle area by our EOD (Explosive Ordnance Demolition) teams who are paneling the different sectors of the city,” Petinglay said.

She said that an IED was recovered and successfully detonated last Friday, July 21, in one of the houses being cleared by the troops.

She added that the explosive device was believed emplaced by the ISIS - inspired terror group to inflict casualties among the soldiers tracking them.

As of Tuesday, the troops have killed a total of 453 Maute group members and Abu Sayyaf bandits.

On the government side, 109 soldiers have been killed since the fighting started on May 23.

Petinglay said the emplacement of IEDs is among the reasons why the military authorities prevented the civilians to return home in the conflict zones.

“This is one reason why there is a need to clear every single house, since, if left undiscovered, the IED will certainly victimize residents returning to their homes,” she explained.

Petinglay said another reason is the presence of stragglers and the troops have yet to recover all the dead in the conflict zone.

Petinglay said the commanders on the ground led by Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., and Brig. Gen. Rolando Joselito Bautista “have not yet given a green light on the return of Marawi residents, not until clearing operations are done.”

The statement was issued following calls from civilians for the military to allow them to return home.

The fighting in this city started on May 23 after some 700 Maute group members and Abu Sayyaf bandits occupied the downtown area in an attempt to declare a caliphate.

Rival Moro clans clash anew in NoCot

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 25): Rival Moro clans clash anew in NoCot

Warring Moro clans in a remote village here started trading bullets anew and sent villagers fleeing, officials said Tuesday.

Supt. Bernard Tayong, Midsayap town police chief, said the warring armed groups include the group of Commander Rene Tukuran and Peng Lakiman, village chair of Barangay Lumupog.

Both are locked in long standing family feud, more known as “rido”, that already flared up in the past and claimed lives from both sides.

Tukuran was the village chair of Nabalawag who went into hiding with his armed followers after the government tagged him as big time illegal drug peddler.

He eluded police and military law enforcement operations last year.

Now, he is back in the village and started harassing the group of Chairperson Lakiman.

The feuding groups traded shots since Sunday at the border of Barangays Nabalawag and Lumupog in Midsayap.

Tukuran, also known “Commander Renz,” wanted to regain control of vast track of farming areas where he used to extort farmers during harvest season and harassing them when ignored.

Local officials said followers of Chairperson Lakiman peacefully prevented the group of Commander Renz from roaming around the village but were fired at instead, triggering exchange of sporadic shots.

Elements of the 34th Infantry Battalion and Midsayap police had been deployed in the village to prevent violence from igniting anew.

Meanwhile, law enforcement against Commander Renz, who has arrest warrants for illegal drugs and other crimes, continues, police said.

Ilonggo troops in Marawi City grateful to Duterte's unwavering support

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 25): Ilonggo troops in Marawi City grateful to Duterte's unwavering support

Troops of the Philippine Army's 82nd Infantry Battalion based in Miag-ao, Iloilo who were deployed in Marawi City are very much appreciative of the support they get from President Rodrigo Duterte.

On Monday, President Duterte in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA), reiterated his unwavering support to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) telling them to "never fear" and continue doing their duties because he is standing behind them, including the government and its agencies.

Lieutenant Colonel Vener Morga, commanding officer of the 82nd IB, in a phone interview on Tuesday said that the President also showed his support when he visited them in Marawi City on July 20.

"We are really lucky that we have a President like him who is with us in times of crisis," he stressed.

The 436-strong men and women of the 82nd IB were deployed to Marawi starting June 18. They were tasked to secure the evacuees and areas which have been cleared.

Morga, who is currently in Marawi, revealed that they were able to recover firearms from areas declared cleared of enemies.

To date, he said that they were able to recover 25 high- powered firearms to include machine guns, M-14 and M-16 rifles, among others.

Morga assured that his troops are safe. They occupy more than half of the areas cleared and not in the main battle site as he advised their families not to worry.

While none of them were injured since the deployment, troops are ordered to take extra precaution, especially when they roam the city using patrol cars to avoid ambush incidents, Morga said.

He added another challenge they will face is the real work once rehabilitation and reconstruction of damaged properties in Marawi City will begin.

While the Marawi crisis is now on its "final stage,” Morga expressed hope that the crisis in the main battle area will soon end.

Gifts, inspiring letters for soldiers fighting in Marawi

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 25): Gifts, inspiring letters for soldiers fighting in Marawi

Students from various schools here have taken the initiative to give bundles of gift to servicemen and women assigned in Marawi City, where government forces are engaged in the months-long fight against the ISIS-inspired terrorist Maute Group.

The students handed over a total of 3,000 “victory boxes” to the Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division (4ID) for distribution to soldiers assigned in Marawi, said Capt. Joe Patrick Martinez, 4ID spokesperson.

Each “victory box” contains various goods and comes with the giver’s personal letter, mostly inspiring messages to help boost the morale of soldiers, said Martinez.

A letter from John Gabriel Suralta, president of the federation of high school student governments in the city, exhorted the government troops to continue fighting for “a peaceful Philippines”.

Suralta writes: “As we give you these simple gifts that are specially sealed in boxes, on behalf of the elementary and high school students in Cagayan de Oro, we would like to say 'Thank You' from the bottom of our hearts for standing in front of the enemies so as to ensure that we are all safe and protected. May God bless you always!"

An elementary student, Errol Fynn Chester Castrodes, said his gift was a simple gesture of gratitude to the troops for the “freedom and liberty that I am enjoying today”.

Castrodes said his parents and teachers have taught him that “there are people we don’t know personally but we greatly owe them”.

Martinez said the “victory boxes” were turned over to the military at the 4ID headquarters in Camp Evangelista, Barangay Patag, this city, on July 21. He added that soldiers wounded in action who are recuperating at the 4ID station hospital also received care packages from the students.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal, 4ID commander, expressed gratitude for the “victory boxes”, saying it signified the people’s “trust and support to your soldiers as we continue to fight for the preservation of our territorial integrity and the safety and freedom of our people and communities”.

Madrigal said it was heartwarming that despite their young age, the students have appreciated and understood the armed forces’ efforts in “winning the peace in Mindanao”.

“It is even more touching that you were able to think of giving us these victory boxes out of your meager allowances and that together with these boxes are your letters of support and encouragement for our soldiers,” he told the students.

Madrigal said this gesture will serve as the soldiers’ “inspiration and motivation to do our job even better. We are truly overwhelmed and grateful. Your act of kindness is more than enough and surely means the world to us.”

Martinez said the “victory boxes”, received by the military on July 21, have been airlifted to Marawi City for distribution to the troops.

Army, cops step up security in GenSan

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 26): Army, cops step up security in GenSan

Army and police units here have stepped up security measures following the reported sightings of suspected New People's Army (NPA) rebels at a portion of the city's boundary areas.

Col. Adonis Bajao, commander of the Army-led Joint Task Force GenSan, said Wednesday they launched joint operations with the city police in an undisclosed location on Tuesday night to counter the movements of the rebels.
Citing intelligence reports, he said the rebels are reportedly planning to launch attacks on various "soft targets" in the city.

He specifically cited police and Army checkpoints, detachments and key government installations.

"We have confirmed their movements but they are still outside the city's boundary as of the moment," Bajao said in a press conference.

The city is considered as under the operational jurisdiction of the NPA's guerilla front 73, which is mainly based in South Cotabato province.

Other nearby units are the Front 71 in nearby Davao Occidental and Front 72 in Makilala, North Cotabato and Malungon, Sarangani areas.

Bajao said they earlier received threats of possible attacks by the NPA rebels after its leadership declared renewed offensives against government forces.

The NPA has launched major attacks in parts of the country, among them the ambush of a convoy of the Presidential Security Group in Arakan, North Cotabato and police personnel in Negros Oriental.

Owing to this, the official said they have strengthened the areas defense systems and to avert the planned attacks by the rebels.

He said they have also increased the number of deployed personnel in checkpoints at the city's four main entry and exit points along the national highways.

The checkpoints are augmented personnel from the city police, the city' civil security unit and barangay peacekeeping teams, he said.

Sr. Supt. Romeo Ruel Berango, acting city police director, assured that the city's security situation remains under control despite threats from the NPA rebels.

He said the "ongoing operation" at the city's boundary area is aimed to stop them entering the city proper.

Berango said the city's eight police stations are currently under heightened alert as they reportedly among the targets of the rebels.

He acknowledged that local police stations are considered vulnerable to NPA attacks as they were mainly established for operations against criminality.

"(But) we will do everything to protect and secure the city," he said.

135 AFP reservists called to active duty

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 26): 135 AFP reservists called to active duty

For the first time in recent memory, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has activated reserved soldiers in the wake of the ongoing crisis in Marawi City.

A total of 135 reservists have been mobilized into active status and will undergo basic training, including firearms and melee handling, said Capt. Joe Patrick Martinez, spokesperson of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division (4ID) headquartered in Camp Evangelista, this city.

Martinez said the new soldiers will be paid a salary commensurate to their rank, which ranges from private to major.

The newly minted soldiers will form the first company of what is now known as the 1005th Ready Reserve Battalion under the 10th Regional Community Defense Corps (RCDG).

The erstwhile reservists were previously Advanced Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) graduates who are now professionals in private practice, Martinez said.

They will initially have a six-month tour of duty that will last until December or the expiry of the extended martial law in Mindanao, the military official added.

For their first assignment, the soldiers will reinforce the battalion-strong Task Force Oro, which is in charge of the overall security of the city, including manning checkpoints and forming visible presence in public places, such as hotels, shopping malls, places of worship, and streets.

Martinez said the government may also extend the reservists’ tour to help in the rehabilitation efforts in Marawi City. After that, they may also be called to act as ROTC teachers, once the bill calling for mandatory ROTC in colleges is passed into law.

In his send-off message, Army Reserve Command head, Col. Bernie Langub, reminded the reservists never to abuse their uniforms and always act prim, like their regular counterparts.

“You will wear the same uniform that we wear, you will be issued the same weapons, you will be paid the same as we are. So be proud because it is an honor to serve our kababayans (compatriots),” he told the reservists during a ceremony held Tuesday.

Langub estimated that 4,550 colleges in the country will offer ROTC training, catering to 2.5 million students. Of these, 1.5 million will be under the Army Reserve Command. The rest will be under the Air Force Reserve Command and the Navy Reserve Command.

Aguirre backs OSG in bringing NDF peace consultants back to jail

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 25): Aguirre backs OSG in bringing NDF peace consultants back to jail
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Tuesday supported Solicitor General Jose Calida in seeking for the courts to cancel the bail bonds of the leaders and members of communist group National Democratic Front (NDF) and recommit them to their detention facilities.

Calida made the initiative after Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza declared the back-channel talks with the communists a failure due to recent attacks by the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

"I agree with the OSG. Their release was temporary and preconditioned on the peace talks. If the peace talks will no longer be pursued then they should go back to jail," Aguirre said.

Aguirre said the NDF leaders cannot invoke the 1995 Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantee (JASIG), which provided for their immunity from arrest, because it was already superceded by the SC ruling in August last year granting their bail.

Aguirre said the DOJ will leave to the OSG the filing of necessary motion in regional trial courts handling the cases of the NDF leaders.

Apart from the Tiamzon couple, the other NDF leaders granted bail were Tirso Alcantara, Ma. Concepcion Bocala, Pedro Codaste, Renante Gamara, Alan Jazmines, Ernesto Lorenzo, Ma. Loida Magpatoc, Alfredo Mapano, Ruben Saluta, Adelberto Silva, Ariel Arbitrario, Renato Baleros Sr., Kennedy Bangibang, Jaime Soledad, Rafael Baylosis, Alex Birondo, Winona Birondo and Porferio Tuna.

The DOJ chief, however, assured that the conditional pardon granted by President Duterte on 10 convicted communist leaders and members would remain.

"That pardon cannot be recalled because of the cancellation of peace talks," he noted.

Aguirre explained that the pardon granted on NDF peace consultant Emiterio Antalan and nine other political prisoners -Joel Ramada, Apolonio Barado, Jose Navarro, Generoso Rolida, Arnulfo Boates, Manolito Patricio, Barigueco Calara, Sonny Marbella and Ricardo Solangon - was hinged on other conditions.
The pardon grant released by the Office of the President last July 7 came with conditions, including reporting to their chief parole and probation officer at least once a month, allowing visits from the Philippine National Police Provincial Director of their area of residence, and no change in their residence during the period of parole without obtaining consent from authorities.

According to OSG Spokesperson Atty. Erik Dy, the Solicitor General already instructed the handling solicitors to ask the courts to cancel the bail bonds of the NDF consultants, order their arrests, and recommit them to their detention facilities.

“The conditional release granted them by the courts are for the sole purpose of the formal peace negotiations. The conditions are based on the Supreme Court Resolution dated 2 August 2016, and not based on JASIG.” Dy said, pertaining to an SC Resolution involving NDF leaders Ocampo, Echanis and Ladlad.

“The conditions provide that should the formal peace negotiations cease or fail, their bond shall be deemed automatically cancelled,” Dy added.

Last May, President Duterte suspended formal peace talks after both sides failed to resolve a dispute over the Communist Party of the Philippines' order for the NPA to step up attacks against the government.

Last February when President Duterte also cancelled the peace negotiations due to the killing of three unarmed soldiers in Bukidnon, Calida also said he would ask the Supreme Court and the regional trial courts, where the said NDF consultants are facing various charges, to issue recommitment orders to bring them back to detention.

He pointed out then that the resolution issued by the SC in August last year imposed conditions for the provisional liberty of the NDF consultants, which he explained were adopted by the concerned RTCs in allowing the release of the said personalities on bail for them to be able to participate in the peace talks.

But Dureza downplayed the recent cancellation of the back-channel talks, saying it is just a temporary hitch that could still be resolved by both parties.

“The situation on the ground necessary to provide the desired enabling environment for the conduct of peace negotiations are still present up to this time,” he said.

Eastern Samar lawmaker files resolution calling for return of Balangiga bells

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 25): Eastern Samar lawmaker files resolution calling for return of Balangiga bells

A lawmaker on Tuesday filed a resolution directing the Philippine government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), to recover the three bells of the Balangiga church, which were seized by the US soldiers during the Philippine-American war in 1901.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone file House Resolution No. 1142 after President Rodrigo Duterte made the same call during his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the Batasang Pambansa Complex in Quezon City.

Evardone said it is high time that the Balangiga bells be returned to the people of Eastern Samar to “erase the last vestiges of the Philippine-American War”, thus further strengthening the bilateral relations of the two countries.

"The people of Eastern Samar, to whom the Balangiga bells rightfully belongs, believe that these bells symbolize the heroism and commitment to freedom of our forefathers and ancestors who fiercely fought the abuses by the US forces at the time," Evardone said in his resolution.

Evardone said the previous Congresses have already passed resolutions calling for the return of the Balangiga bells, and yet the artifacts still “remain at the hands of the United States of America.”

“I say today give us back those Balangiga bells, they are ours, they belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage. Isauli naman ninyo, masakit yun sa amin. (Return those to us, it is painful for us),” the President said in his second SONA on Monday.

President Duterte noted those bells were “reminders of the gallantry and heroism” of a group of Filipino villagers who defended Samar island from American colonizers and “sacrificed their lives in the process.”

He recalled that the 1901 attack claimed the lives of 48 American officers and men, and 28 Filipinos. It also wounded 22 Filipinos.

US to work with PH to solve issue on Balangiga bells

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 25): US to work with PH to solve issue on Balangiga bells

The United States (US) has vowed to work with the Philippines to resolve the issue involving the Balangiga bells, which were seized by US troops from a town in Samar 116 years ago.

”We will continue to work with our Filipino partners to find a resolution,” the US Embassy in Manila said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

"We are aware that the Bells of Balangiga have deep significance for a number of people, both in the United States and in the Philippines,” it added.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte, in his second State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) delivered Monday at the Batasang Pambansa, called on the US to return to the Philippines the bells of the Balangiga church.

The President said those bells belonged to the Philippines and were part of its national heritage.

During the Philippine-American war in 1901, Filipino freedom fighters from the village of Balangiga defended Samar island from American colonizers, resulting in death of 48 American officers and men and 28 Filipinos.

The US troops looted three bells from the burned out Catholic town church, which they took back to the US as war booty.

Duterte warns Kadamay: Do it again and I will order state forces to shoot

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 26): Duterte warns Kadamay: Do it again and I will order state forces to shoot

President Rodrigo Duterte has warned the urban group Kadamay of deadly consequences should its members repeat the illegal occupation of housing projects in other parts of the country.

In a speech Tuesday at Malacañang, the President lashed out at the group that illegally took over housing units meant for cops and soldiers in Bulacan and branded them as “almost anarchists” who have no regard for the law.

“Ito ngayon, mga Kadamay, itong mga Left, you are almost anarchists. ‘Yung para sa inyo wala nang batas, basta’t na lang inaagaw ninyo -- as if walang gobyerno, walang nagko-control,” Duterte said during his speech at the turnover of financial assistance from the Go Negosyo Kapatid for Marwi to bereaved families of slain troopers in Marawi City.

Last March, Kadamay members took over some 5,000 housing units in Pandi, Bulacan to denounce the government’s alleged neglect of the country’s homeless.

The standoff was resolved after Duterte decided to just let the group occupy the houses to prevent the trouble from escalating.

“Ngayon itong mga Kadamay, alam ninyo ‘yan. Huwag ninyong ulitin ang ginawa ninyo. Nagwa-warning ako sa inyo. Kung ulitin ninyo ‘yan at pipilitin niyong papasok, ang order ko talaga, paalisin kayo sa pwersa. Either batutahin kayo o ‘pag lumaban kayo, ipababaril ko kayo,” Duterte said.

The President also warned that poverty is no excuse to sow anarchy and everyone should obey the law.

“Huwag kayong magpa-ano na kayo mahirap. Huwag ninyong gamitin ‘yang pagka-pobre ninyo to create chaos. Huwag ninyong gawain ‘yan simula ngayon kasi ako galit rin sa inyo,” he said.

“Kaya hindi ako magdadalawang-isip ‘pag nandiyan kayo, nagwawala kayo, nagnanakaw, mag-demonstrate, magsira, que se joda. Sabihin ko talaga, barilin mo para matuto tayong lahat magsunod ng batas,” Duterte said.

The President also made the same warning last Monday during his State of the Nation Address.

He revived the Kadamay occupation issue after terminating talks between the government and the National Democratic Front.

“Sumobra itong Left eh. Mag gawa ka ng bahay, nakawin. Ang sabi ko sa mga sundalo, do not force the issue, I will just build yours. Bigay mo na lang. And may project ngayon, gusto na naman nilang kuhanin,” he said.

“Do not commit that mistake. Here and I will tell you, including the Congress of the Republic of the Philippines: You do anarchy, I will order the soldiers and the police to shoot, even if I have to bury thousands of Filipinos,” the President said.

“Let us understand this, beginning today -- either we have laws in this country, or we do not. We enforce the laws against the miners and the rich, but I will also enforce laws against anarchy, disturbance and create trouble,” Duterte said.

DND chief wants Marawi tiff to be over in a month's time

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 26): DND chief wants Marawi tiff to be over in a month's time

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana expressed hope that the ongoing clearing operations in Marawi City, which was turned into a battleground by Maute Group remnants, will be completed within a month.

He made this statement during the Management Association of the Philippines' security briefing held at the Makati Shangri-la late Tuesday.

"We hope to finish it soon, the reason being our troops are already tired there, (and) we are having a lot (of) casualties," he added.

Fighting in Marawi City erupted after government troops made a botched attempt to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader and ISIS "emir" in Southeast Asia, Isnilon Hapilon, last May 23.

As of this posting, between 109 to 110 government troops were killed, along with 453 Maute Group terrorists neutralized and 45 civilians killed or executed.

In the more than two months battle, 900 troops were reported wounded.

Lorenzana said he wants government forces to conclusively defeat the lawless band so that rehabilitation of Marawi City can proceed full speed.

"We would like to start the rehabilitation of Marawi City so that's why we want also the conflict to end soon," he added.

The DND chief earlier said what happened in Marawi City was not a failure of intelligence but a failure to appreciate intelligence.

"There are a lot of talks coming around that there was failure of intelligence (when the Marawi City incident) blew up (in May 23) and I was asked by one of the media there (in Moscow) I said, it was a failure to appreciate intelligence because for a long time, for the longest time, we were reading in the website of ISIS in the Middle East that says that if you (militants) want to continue fighting here in the Middle East, you go to the Southern Philippines," he added.

And despite information coming from the President and friendly nations like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore claiming that ISIS sympathizers are infiltrating through the borders going into the Southern Philippines, Lorenzana said the military seemed to be in denial of this fact.
"And when I assumed the position of the Secretary of Defense, I was told there were no ISIS in the Philippines, so we (kept) that stand until (last) November when we had this operation in Butig against the Maute Group (which resulted in the recovery of evidence pertaining to the lawless elements allegiance to the international terror organization), so then we would change our stance and said they are there," he added.

He added that what happened in Marawi City is a lesson for the DND as it failed to appreciate the looming problem despite the fact that a lot of fighters, both local and foreign, along with firearms, were reported streaming in the locality.
"When this Marawi incident blew up in May 23, (initial reports claimed that) there were only about 200 to 250 fighters, it turned out there were more than 700 at the start of the conflict, that is why up to today fighting goes on, we still incur casualties almost everyday, just yesterday (Monday), we had two killed again of our soldiers and about more than dozen wounded, three days before we had nine killed and 45 wounded, that's how intense the fighting there in Marawi," the DND chief said.

Advances in Marawi City will have to be done slowly as for still unknown reasons, the Maranaos living there have built their homes very sturdy and tough with concrete which cannot be breached by cannon shells and grenade launchers.

"(Troops) have to breach these by hand, and even if they have 'maso' (sledge hammers) they cannot just get inside because the house doors are rigged with bombs, windows as well," Lorenzana pointed out.

In face of such resistance, soldiers need to plan their advance very carefully and slow to prevent unnecessary casualties, he added.

And with these methods, troops are able to clear 40 to 50 houses daily and so far there are still 600 homes that need to be clear before Marawi can be declared Maute Group free.