Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Bulatlat: Lakbayan 2017 | Groups say Moro discrimination, Islamophobia worsened by Duterte’s martial law

From the pro-CPP/NDF online propaganda publication Bulatlat (Sep 12): Lakbayan 2017 | Groups say Moro discrimination, Islamophobia worsened by Duterte’s martial law

Sandugo leaders burn a mock US flag before the discussion on Islamophobia at the Lakbayan camp on Sept. 10 (Photo by Kilab Multimedia)

Forced out of their homes in Marawi City, Filipino Muslims, specially the Meranaw (Maranao), are now subjected to a suffering worse than losing their properties: the discrimination and Islamophobia aggravated by the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.

Since the Marawi siege began, President Duterte, who claims to have Meranaw blood, has turned his ire on fellow Meranaws whom he claimed have allowed the extremists to stockpile arms in the city.

Sandugo, the national minorities alliance, in turn, denounced Duterte for having “stoked” Islamophobia and discrimination, as he toes the line of the US War on Terror, which raises the spectre of terrorism and spreads antagonism against Muslims who are portrayed as enemies. They said the President equates the Moro struggle for the right to self-determination to terrorism, and in the same stroke, uses this to justify US military presence in the country.

Islamophobia, the “fear of Islam,” has stirred prejudice and baseless anger against Muslims, specially with Christian chauvinism deeply ingrained among non-Muslim Filipinos. But such “fear” is transformed into attacks against Muslims, mostly from state security agents engaged in military operations.

Muslims, specially those from Marawi, are now generally suspected as “terrorists,” amid the government’s military offensive against the extremist group Dawlah Islamiya, led by brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute. Called “Maute group” by government, the name has now stuck to mean “Muslim terrorist.”

Cases of human rights violations, such as illegal arrests, torture and detention, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings were documented among Muslim residents and evacuees caught by soldiers amid in the conflict and suspected as “Maute.” Military checkpoints in Mindanao were also specially strict on Muslims.

“We condemn the Dawlah Islamiya in Marawi, but the US-Duterte regime is a bigger terrorist,” said Jerome Succor Aba, Sandugo spokesperson. On Sept. 10, the group held a forum on Islamophobia at sitio Sandugo, the Lakbayan camp at the Equine Stud Farm in the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City.

Aba said President Duterte not only continued the policies of the preceding administrations, but even outdid them, with the destruction of Marawi City due to government airstrikes and artillery bombardment. Ironically, Aba said Duterte claimed to be sympathetic to the Moro people’s struggle, but had ended up ordering the siege which turned the Islamic city of Marawi into a wasteland.


Other forms of discrimination against Muslims range from subjecting them to stricter security check, denying them employment or residence, name-calling, cyberbullying, or worse, subjecting them to questioning and attacks based on mere suspicion.

Islamophobia can take the form of an irrational anger at Muslims, and at Islamic symbols and places of worship, such as masjids.

Dr. Potre Dirampatan-Diampuan, of the United Religions Initiative (URI), cited the case of her daughter who evacuated to Cagayan de Oro, and was offered by her friend to stay in their subdivision. But the paranoid residents petitioned against them, and even asked the police and the National Bureau of Investigation to step in. Instead of warmly accommodating the displaced Meranaw family, Diampuan lamented that they were even subjected to interrogation and threats.

Diampuan, who is URI’s regional coordinator for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said Muslim women, who showcase their faith with the hijab, or headscarf, suffer discrimination more than men because they are easily identified as Muslims. There were cases that female Muslim students were barred entry to a school, unless they remove their hijab. Many were also subjected to cyberbullying, and to bullying in school.

She also cited how people in other places, such as in Iligan City, now appear wary of Meranaws from Marawi. She said they used to be all accommodating, specially to market patrons. But all these changed since the start of government siege in Marawi.

The facilitator of the Sandugo forum, Kamaruddin Bin Alawi Mohammad of the University of the Philippines, recalled that he was rejected when he was applying for a call center job. He said his application was “redflagged” only because his surname had “Bin” and that his record showed he once studied in Basilan.

Equating Islam with terrorism

“As long as the US War on Terror goes on, the attacks and portrayal of Muslims as terrorists will continue, specially under Duterte, with his fascist direction towards dictatorship,” said Amirah Lidasan of the Moro-Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA). She said that Muslims civilians bear the brunt of the “anti-terror operations.”

(Photo courtesy of Lito Ocampo)
Lidasan recalled how hundreds of Muslims were arrested in Basilan in the Sulu peninsula at the onset of the US War on Terror in 2001, following the 9-11 terror attacks in New York. Until before the Marawi siege, the military used to tag suspects as “Abu Sayyaf Group” or ASG. Now suspects are tagged as “Maute.”
This has since led to the entry of US troops and the joint military exercises or Balikatan with Philippine troops, supposedly to strengthen the fight against global terror. Massive military operations were repeatedly launched against the ASG in Sulu, as the Philippines was considered the “Second Front” in the anti-terror war.

Lidasan cited that a number of US military installation were put up in Mindanao, including one inside Camp Ranao in Marawi city, supposedly “to thwart terrorism;” but after more than a decade of joint exercises, and in spite the American military presence, the extremist group has taken a foothold in the city.

Although barred from joining combat operations, US troops have been sighted in various military offensives, including in the botched operation in Mamasapano where among the slain Special Action Force men was believed to be a Caucasian.

UP Manila professor Dr. Roland Simbulan said in many conflicts around the world, many extremist groups started out as “tools of the US,” and were created by the Central Intelligence Agency to weaken the regimes of independent leaders.

In the Philippines, Simbulan said the bandit ASG was created by the Philippine Constabulary intelligence officials to ruin the image of revolutionary Moro groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front. The ASG was meant to divide the revolutionary forces and inflict damage on their communities. Most of all, it was later used to justify the presence of US military troops in the country.

A common enemy

Aba said Muslims were the first to condemn extremist groups, such as the Dawlah Islamiya, because it is civilians who usually bear the brunt of government offensives. Councils of ulama Muslim scholars have condemned the Dawlah as “haram” or un-Islamic, and launched education campaigns against them.

He added that many communities in Mindanao are also fighting off extremism by keeping them out of their communities, specially in the areas where the New People’s Army is present.

Aba said Sandugo was formed to foster unity, particularly, between Moros and indigenous peoples. In effect, their cooperation serves to address Islamophobia and discrimination.

“We have a common enemy, a common issue and a common struggle,” Aba said during the forum.

Maute terrorists fire at ‘safe zones’ to counter airstrikes

From GMA News (Sep 13): Maute terrorists fire at ‘safe zones’ to counter airstrikes

The number of terrorist stray bullets hitting buildings in supposedly safe areas peaks every time the military conducts airstrikes on enemy enclaves in Marawi City.

Citing military sources, dzBB's Benjie Liwanag reporting from Marawi said Wednesday that holdover pro-ISIS Maute terrorists retaliate by firing randomly at areas in the city declared as safe zones during air raids.

Liwanag quoted Colonel Romeo Brawner, Joint Task Force Marawi deputy commander, as saying that remaining enemy forces become so desperate during airstrikes.

"Sinasabayan ng Maute ang airstrikes at ito ang dahilan kung bakit maraming mga ligaw na bala ang tumatama sa safe zones," Brawner was quoted as saying.

According to Brawner, two civilians have been killed by stray bullets from enemy fire, and that seven soldiers have been wounded, including the one who was inside Camp Ranao.

Meanwhile, Brawner also said that the issuance of permits to some residents to visit their homes has been suspended, following the wounding by a stray bullet of an employee of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Stray bullet hit the ARMM employee while inside the Mindanao State University (MSU)-Marawi campus, which is considered safe zone among other areas in the city.

Meanwhile, Brawner cautioned those who were able to secure "visit permits" to avoid wandering into open areas and advised them to seek cover inside buildings in designated safe zones.

In a separate report, Liwanag also said the ISIS-inspired group has started employing a new strategy to combat government troops.

According to the report, Maute members were covering themselves in dirt and hiding underneath pile of soil with only half of their faces exposed.

This strategy allowed the group to shoot at soldiers undetected.

Aside from hiding underneath the ground, the Maute group has also been using improvised explosive devices, the report said.

The Marawi siege has been going on months after government troops captured Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon in a raid in Marawi City. President Rodrigo Duterte had also declared Martial Law in Mindanao.

Philippines works to contain, finish extremists in Mindanao

From Nikkei Asian Review (Sep 14): Philippines works to contain, finish extremists in Mindanao

Neighbors on alert to keep Islamic State-linked militants from spilling out

A Philippine soldier stands guard in front of damaged buildings in Marawi on Sept. 4. © Reuters

MANILA/SINGAPORE -- As Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's forces fight to regain control over Marawi, where more than 850 people have died since extremist militants took the city in May, he also faces the challenge of preventing the violence from spilling into other regions in and outside the country.

Duterte pledged to continue fully supporting government troops in Marawi on Monday during his fourth trip to the southern city since the conflict began. He spent about an hour and a half thanking soldiers and police.

The Maute group, an extremist organization linked to the Islamic State group, occupied the Marawi city hall and other areas May 23. Duterte responded by placing the entire island of Mindanao under martial law, as well as deploying tens of thousands of soldiers and conducting air raids against the militants.

Government forces have intensified their offensive against the Maute since late August. An intense gunfight Tuesday lasted for about 30 minutes. Since May, 660 insurgents have been killed, as have 145 soldiers and 45 civilians.

About 40 militants are holding out across roughly 200,000 sq. meters with around 30 civilian hostages, the Philippine military said.

International effort
Duterte says the fighting is in its final stages. However, the president noted Sept. 1 that though he previously considered lifting martial law before the Dec. 31 end date, he now might extend it in order to wipe out IS-linked extremists at home and to prevent the violence from spreading.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, center, speaks after visiting wounded soldiers who fought against insurgents of the Maute group, who have taken over large parts of Marawi city, at a military camp in Cagayan De Oro, Philippines, on June 11. © Reuters 

Indonesian and Malaysian militants have joined the Maute group. Duterte wants to meet with Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to discuss further trilateral security cooperation beyond their joint maritime patrols.

Other countries have extended military assistance to the Philippines as well. The U.S. said Monday that it deployed the Gray Eagle surveillance drone to Mindanao, in addition to the other unmanned aircraft and two patrol planes it previously sent. Australia sent troops to the Philippines on Friday and said it would help train Philippine forces. China on Sept. 5 requested joint drills.

With Manila hosting the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit and related meetings in November, continued conflict in Mindanao could hurt the country's diplomatic profile as well as foreign investment.

Stemming the tide
Meanwhile, neighboring nations remain vigilant against extremists spilling across their borders from Marawi. Malaysian police detained 19 people in July and August, alleging terrorist activities. Eleven of them were foreigners, including members of IS and the Philippine-based Abu Sayyaf group. Some of them reportedly were planning attacks on the Southeast Asian Games and festivities for Malaysia's independence day.

Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs said Thursday that it made two terrorism-related arrests. A 34-year-old man was detained, accused of trying to join IS and another extremist group in the Philippines as well as influence friends to support such militants. A 23-year-old woman was alleged to have contacted several IS fighters. Both were Singaporean nationals.

Singapore previously has foiled terrorist plots against key business districts and resorts. Southeast Asian countries, knowing a successful strike in a major urban area likely will result in massive casualties, are maintaining close contact to try to prevent terrorist attacks.

But the recent flood of Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar has raised additional concerns. Neighboring countries have called on Myanmar to resolve the conflict as quickly as possible, as a protracted refugee crisis could create an opening for extremist groups to expand their influence in the region.

Tough resistance from Maute affiliate raises Islamic State’s profile in Philippines

From the Washington Times (Sep 13): Tough resistance from Maute affiliate raises Islamic State’s profile in Philippines

Islamic State claimed over the weekend that its Philippine affiliate, known as the Maute group, killed 50 troops as government forces launched a massive offensive to drive militants out of Marawi. (Associated Press/File)

Islamic State claimed over the weekend that its Philippine affiliate, known as the Maute group, killed 50 troops as government forces launched a massive offensive to drive militants out of Marawi. (Associated Press/File)

A Southeast Asian faction of the Islamic State is putting up an unexpectedly tough fight in the face of unrelenting military pressure from U.S.-backed counterterrorism forces in the Philippines, three months after the extremists stunned the region by seizing control of a major city in the southern part of the country.

Philippine military officials said this week that the five dozen or so militants still holding out in Marawi have begun putting out “feelers” on ending their resistance, but the terrorist group’s ability to hold out so long is reigniting concerns that the Islamic State will look to the Pacific to re-establish its self-proclaimed caliphate as it is pushed out of its strongholds in the Middle East.

Islamic State claimed over the weekend that its Philippine affiliate, known as the Maute group, killed 50 troops as government forces launched a massive offensive to drive militants out of Marawi. It was some of the heaviest fighting since the group took control of the city, 64 miles south of the provincial capital of Cagayan de Oro.
The enemy force is decreasing day by day and ending the crisis is only a matter of time, Brig. Gen. Rolando Bautista, commander of the troops in Marawi, told reporters this week.

Although the fighting may be winding down, the ferocity and duration of resistance put up by Islamic State forces trying to hold this city of 200,000 people have led analysts to consider that the terrorist group may be stronger than previously thought in the region.

Notwithstanding the Philippine military’s widely anticipated Pyrrhic victory over the ISIS-inspired militants, darker clouds [can] be seen on the horizon,” Mark Davis Madarang Pablo, an analyst at the Philippines-based Albert del Rosario Institute, wrote Wednesday in The Diplomat. The analyst noted that the government lists 20 active terrorist cells allied to the Islamist force leading the Marawi resistance.

AFP admits soldiers fighting in Marawi City are getting sick

From UNTV News & Rescue (Sep 14): AFP admits soldiers fighting in Marawi City are getting sick

Soldiers of Marawi City
Soldiers of Marawi City

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has admitted dozens of soldiers on the battle ground fighting the Maute terrorists in Marawi City are getting sick.

According to AFP Spokesperson BGen. Restituto Padilla, 78 soldiers have been withdrawn from the battle ground after contracting malaria, dengue, leptospirosis, and getting bitten by dogs.

“Due to their long exposure to various elements. Some soldiers are getting sick as well as some civilians,” said Padilla.

Despite this, Padilla said the public has nothing to worry about as the sick have been treated in military medical facilities near the battle ground.

Soldiers in serious condition were also airlifted to the nearest hospital in Cagayan de Oro.

“If the doctors’ recommendation is for the soldiers to evacuate immediately, we have helicopters to fetch them,” Padilla added.

Although the number of government troops on the ground has lowered, Padilla said it did not affect their advancement to the stronghold of the Maute group.

In fact, Padilla said military’s clearing operation on the buildings occupied by Maute has become faster.

The military official also noted that just recently, they were able to retake control of 23 buildings, and 18 more last Saturday from the terrorists.

“We are trying our best to finish the crisis in Marawi at the soonest possible time. We can do this. Like what we are saying, it’s difficult to impose a time frame because we are facing complications and we want to rescue all the hostages,” said Padilla.

AFP: Maute terrorists stage suicide bombings

From The Standard (Sep 14): AFP: Maute terrorists stage suicide bombings

Maute terrorists in Marawi City are now resorting to suicide bombings.

Joint Task Force Marawi Commander Brigadier General Rolando Bautista says, this comes, as the ISIS-inspired group try to keep their defensive positions amid continuous military operations in the main battle ground.

Marawi siege is now on its 114th day.

Bautista says, government forces launched what it calls the 'final push' last week aimed to return the city to its people.

He notes, it pains him when he hears in the communication lines that soldiers get injured or killed as they engage in close-range firefights with the terrorists.

He advises the troopers to be very careful as they enter buildings where Maute members are hiding.

MILF task force vows to crush terrorist faction

From the Manila Times (Sep 12): MILF task force vows to crush terrorist faction

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao: Task Force Ittihad of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has vowed to crush the so-called Third Force of the terrorist group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which has rejected calls to return to the fold of Islam.

The MILF task force has been running after this third faction of the BIFF since August 2 after its failed attempts to hoist the flag of the Islamic State (IS) or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in three towns in Maguindanao.

Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the implementing panel of the MILF, said their campaign against the bandit group is meant to prevent the spread of violent religious extremism in potential conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.

Iqbal noted that the religious extremism being espoused by the group, led by Esmael Abdulmalik, is a turnaround from Islamic principles on tolerance, fraternalism and respect for people regardless of religions and races.

Abdulmalik, also known as Abu Toraife, was the former right-hand man of slain Malaysian bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir, who trained him on fabrication of powerful improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Sheik Abu Huraira Udasan, the grand mufti of the central Mindanao Darul Iftah (House of Opinions), earlier declared “haram,” which means forbidden in Arabic, the activities of Abdulmalik’s group.

Hostilities between the MILF’s Task Force Ittihad and the group of Abdulmalik started last month when his men killed using an IED five of some 20 MILF guerrillas sent to convince him to renounce his links to his IS-inspired benefactors in the Middle East.

Iqbal said the Darul Iftah ruling obliges the MILF, which has an ongoing peace process with the Philippine government to help neutralize Abdulmalik and his followers, who are now hiding in swampy areas in Maguindanao’s adjoining Salibo, Datu Piang and Sharif Saidona towns.

Abdulmalik has reportedly been receiving money from his contacts in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Lebanon remitted to his group in small amounts to avoid suspicions through dozens of conduits who are overseas Filipino workers from central Mindanao.

The MILF already lost more than 10 members in hostilities with Abdulmalik’s group in the past five weeks.

Reports reaching the Maguindanao provincial police office and the headquarters of the Army’s 603rdBrigade and the 6th Infantry Division indicated that 27 followers of Abdulmalik have also been killed since the fighting began.

Iqbal is optimistic that the enactment into law of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, crafted jointly by the government and the MILF, is one concrete step toward preventing the spread of religious extremism in southern Philippines.

Army: NPA member arrested in Negros Occidental

From the Sun Star-Bacolod (Sep 12): Army: NPA member arrested in Negros Occidental

A SUSPECTED member of the New People’s Army (NPA) was arrested following the encounter between troopers of the Philippine National Police (PNP)-Special Action Force (SAF) and rebels in Candoni, Negros Occidental, over the weekend.
Captain Ruel Llanes, civil-military operations officer of the 303rd Infantry Brigade, said on Monday that Mercedita Flores Villaniba was collared by police at her house in Barangay Gatuslao.
Her arrest came after the police received information that the reinforcement of suspected rebels, who engaged in a firefight with the SAF dropped by at Villaniba’s house to have coffee.
On September 8, the SAF and the Philippine Army conducted internal security operations in the village after receiving information about armed men sightings.
The following day, while the operation was ongoing, armed men fired at government forces that injured a policeman.
Government forces recovered two long firearms, medicine kits, subversive documents, and personal belongings.

Guv notes decline of NPA activities in Apayao

From the Sun Star-Baguio (Sep 13): Guv notes decline of NPA activities in Apayao

THE continuing response of government addressing the local concerns of Apayao residents have brought down the cases of communist led activities by the New People’s Army (NPA) in the province.

Apayao Governor Elias Bulut Jr. explained the maintenance of its peace advocacy under the internal insurgency campaign to be the essential part on why the activities have gone down.

“We have and continue to address the concerns of the people particularly in the former stronghold of the NPA in the province, where the issue on livelihood assistance has been the foremost concern,” the governor said.

Bulut stressed the importance of having a concrete plan and good direction including the maintenance of peace and order to pursue the development of the province.

“To date, the Provincial Government is seeking to uplift first the life of their rice and corn farmers who are members of a cooperative to boost their capabilities before extending to other farm groups to be sure of the target beneficiaries,” Bulut explained.

 Bulut added that close to 200 individuals have been recruited into the army as part of its personal development and to empower their families by having one of its own to be its bread winner.

Aside from improving its road network which employs the people of Apayao, the tourism industry is slowly picking up.

The governor made an example of the Marag Valley which used to be abandoned during the height of the rebellion by the NPA against government. Marag Valley has now become a tourism destination.

With Apayao’s population pegged at 1.6 percent every year, the Provincial Government have gathered and consolidated its development program for the next 10 years gearing up for possible investments in the province, and prospects of employment for the people.

ISIS wants militants to avoid Syria and Iraq, instead focusing on the Philippines

From The Week (Sep 12): ISIS wants militants to avoid Syria and Iraq, instead focusing on the Philippines

The Islamic State, after losing ground in Syria and Iraq, is switching its attention to a different battleground: the Philippines.

ISIS's media arm has released a seven-minute video in English that uses militants already in the southern part of the Philippines to encourage would-be fighters to join them as they fight government troops near Marawi, a city of 200,000 people. Since May, Philippine soldiers have been trying to get ISIS-linked militants out of the city, and more than 60 troops have been killed and 200 wounded in clashes. In the video, a fighter calls on Muslims, specifically those in Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia, to come to the Philippines to help the fight in Marawi, joining militants from three ISIS-aligned groups: Maute, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and Abu Sayyaf, a onetime offshoot of al Qaeda.

Asia is ISIS's new focus, U.S. intelligence officials and private analysts told NBC News, partly because Muslim insurgents have been active in the Philippines' southern islands for decades now, and ISIS sees it as the best place for them to get support and launch attacks. "ISIS wants to be seen as global and the Philippines provides them with an opportunity," a U.S. official said. While intelligence officials were afraid that ISIS losses in the Middle East would translate to a rush of militants returning to their homelands, there has yet to be a mass exodus, officials told NBC News, and it's believed they will likely stay in Iraq and Syria and fight as insurgents.

US Deploys New Surveillance Drone to Philippines for Terror Fight

From The Diplomat (Sep 13): US Deploys New Surveillance Drone to Philippines for Terror Fight

Washington takes another step to boost Manila’s capabilities.

US Deploys New Surveillance Drone to Philippines for Terror Fight
DOD Photo

This week, the United States announced that it had begun deploying a more capable unmanned aircraft system in the Philippines to help its oldest Asian ally fight terrorism. The move marked yet another step in Washington’s ongoing effort to boost the capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as they confront the rising threat from the Islamic State made clear by the ongoing siege of Marawi City by militants that broke out in May.

As I have noted before, despite the occasional hype that has emerged about the U.S. surveillance activities since Duterte came to office, Washington in fact has had a longstanding presence in the Philippines, and part of that has involved assisting with surveillance capabilities that Manila does not have and badly needs (See: “What’s Behind the New US-Philippines Drone Hype Under Duterte?”).

That continues up to today. Officially, Philippine defense officials have publicly said there are a group of 107 U.S. soldiers conducting surveillance operations in Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi, using both aircraft as well as drones, even though their role is limited to just deploying those surveillance assets to areas the AFP is identified rather than authorizing strikes or directly engaging in combat operations.

The United States has also been stepping up its provision of surveillance assets to the Philippines as part of broader assistance for counterterrorism, from drones such as the Aerovironment RQ-11 Raven hand-launched UAVs for use of the Marine Special Operations Group to the new Cessna 208B “Caravan” ISR aircraft (See: “US Terror Aid to the Philippines Signals Enduring Defense Ties Under Duterte”). Philippine defense officials had also been indicating through the summer that more was already in the works in this respect.

On September 11, the U.S. Embassy in Manila said that to further support Philippine counterterrorism efforts in Mindanao, it would now deploy the Gray Eagle Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) there.

The symbolism of the move, which came during the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that had led to Southeast Asia’s role as the ‘second front’ in the George W. Bush administration’s so-called war on terror, was not missed on observers.

But the deployment is also significant substantively. Gray Eagle, which is manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, is a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAS, with an endurance of 25 hours of operations and a service ceiling of 29,000 feet. Its longer flight duration relative to other surveillance platforms being used in the region, as the embassy pointed out in a statement, would enable for a larger area of reconnaissance and surveillance.

As I have pointed out before, Philippine defense officials have been quite candid about their urgent and dire need for vastly better surveillance, particularly amid the Marawi crisis (See: “Battle for Marawi Exposes Philippines’ Military Intelligence Crisis”).

Lorenzana favors full CHR budget, says it makes AFP, PNP 'careful'

From Rappler (Sep 5): Lorenzana favors full CHR budget, says it makes AFP, PNP 'careful'

'Oo naman [I support]. For one, it makes the government especially the military and police... yung ingat sila sa ginagawa nila,' says Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on the Commission on Human Rights

Photo by Camille Elemia/Rappler
Photo by Camille Elemia/Rappler 

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday, September 14, opposed the House of Representatives' grant of a measly P1,000 budget for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for 2018.

Lorenzana said the CHR deserves a full funding as it is a constitutional body.

“I hope we will reconsider... unless i-abolish yan, you have to support (unless it is abolished, you have to support it). Kasi it’s a constitutional body. Nasa batas yan. Nasa Constitution pa yan e. Dahil nandyan yan, it's just right that there will also be funding,” Lorenzana told reporters after the Senate hearing on the proposed budget of the Department of National Defense.

This is a stark contrast to the pronouncements of President Rodrigo Duterte and his allies, who have pushed for the abolition of the agency. Lorenzana also earlier supported Duterte's call, saying the military and police already took oath to protect the 1987 Constitution, including the bill of rights.

Now, Lorenzana said the CHR should not be abolished, at least "not immediately" because it makes the military and the police cautious in their actions.

“No no, not immediately siguro (maybe),” Lorenzana said.

“Oo naman [I support]. For one, it makes the government especially the military and police, ano ba, 'yung ingat sila sa ginagawa nila because the rights of another person, liable sila sa human rights violation.” Lorenzana said. (Of course I support. For one, it makes the government especially the military and the police cautious in their actions because it involves the rights of another person, they will be liable for human rights violation.)

The military has been accused of violating human rights amid the declaration of martial law over Mindanao but has denied allegations.

CHR-AFP good ties?

Lorenzana said the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the CHR have long had good ties. In fact, the DND chief said he had a “very healthy” relationship with the constitutional office when he was a commander on the ground.

"When I was the commander, I had a very healthy relationship sa CHR sa region. Iniimbita ko yan pag may (I invite them during) lectures because people should be taught what is human rights. There's a human rights officer in every unit of the AFP down to the company battalion,” he said.,

“Kung titignan mo ang record namin, very few lang ang human rights violation sa military. Pero meron nagvviolate, nagkakaroon ng kaso,” he said. (If you look at our record, the military only has few human rights violations. But there are some who violate, there are now cases filed.)

The CHR, which has repeatedly slammed drug-related killings under the Duterte administration, has been the subject of criticism from the President and his allies. It was also the CHR, under now-detained Senator Leila de Lima in 2009, that first investigated Duterte's alleged involvement in the Davao Death Squad.

Duterte had blamed CHR Chairperson Jose Luis Martin Gascon for the measly budget, saying he overstepped his bounds in actively investigating human rights abuses especially in the ongoing drug war.

Possible surrender by Maute recruits could end war sooner

From Rappler (Sep 14): Possible surrender by Maute recruits could end war sooner

Intense fighting and heavy bombardment trigger surrender feelers from the enemies, according to the military


The Philippine military said the possible surrender by the recruits of the Maute Group in Marawi could lead to an earlier end to the war that has ravaged the city for over 3 months now.

This was how the siege in Zamboanga City in September 2013 ended, according to the military. (READ: Zamboanga Siege: Tales from the combat zone)

Brigadier General Rolando Bautista, the ground commander in Marawi, said troops are now in the "final push" in the battle area. Intense fighting and heavy bombardment have triggered surrender feelers from the enemies linked with international terrorist network Islamic State (ISIS). (READ: Troops penetrate Maute defensive position in Marawi)

The military launched its "final push" in Marawi last week, said Bautista.

"In military terms, this is the culmination point. We have reduced their maneuver space. That is our final push. We concentrate whatever personnel, whatever capability we have. Talagang tapusin namin sa isang area at i-push namin sila kung saan namin sila gusto ma-contain,ˆ (We will really finish this in an area and we will push them to where we want them contained)," he said. (READ: Marawi battle zone: Urban warfare challenges PH military)

He didn't give a timeline. "Inch by inch, the more we occupy space, the less the areas they control. We are just looking at [a possible] turning point. We can't say what the turning point will be," said Bautista.

He said they are looking at a possible scenario where the miilitary offensive will break the will of the remaining fighters and "they will decide to surrender or lay down their arms without even going to their final defensive stand."

Mixed signals on surrender
The military uses loudspeakers in the battle area to persuade the Maute fighters to surrender or let their families – the women and the children – out of the battle area. They are supposedly given instructions on what to do or where to go if they are inclined so they will not be shot.

Bautista said they received "mixed signals." There are "hard-core" fighters who want to die as martyrs and there are recruits who appear to already want to escape the war zone. (READ: Terror in Mindanao: The Mautes of Marawi)

"What we’re doing right now is those who want to surrender, we open the door for them. 'Yun ang intent namin. Kasi meron eh. May mga feelers na (That is our intent. Because there are cases. There are already feelers)," said Bautista without elaborating.

Among the commanders leading the operations in Marawi, Major General Danilo Pamonag was also the commander of elite units that led military operations during the Zamboanga siege.

"Kinukuwento ni (It was recalled by) General Pamonag. They did not expect mag-surrender kalaban (the enemies to surrender). 'Yun din hinihintay namin (It's what we are waiting for)," said Bautista.

Bautista reiterated the military's opposition to a proposal to let the Maute fighters escape the battle area in exchange for releasing the hostages. He said they will face possible imprisonment if they are identified to be members of the Maute-ISIS group. (READ: Gov't throws out last-minute negotiations with Mautes)

"Ang objective namin ay walang makalabas na any of the Maute members or any members of the Maute-ISIS group. The implication kapag isa makalabas o dalawa makalabas, makapag-recruit sila. The more na ma-strengthen capability nila. They learned what happened here," said Bautista.

(Our objective is to not let out any of the Maute members or any members of the Maute-ISIS group. The implication is, if one gets out or two get out, they will be able to recruit. Their capability will be strengthened. They learned what happened here.)

There are military officers who also believe that the overtures for negotiation could mean the leaders of the local terrorist groups are also tired of fighting.

Political prisoner, 74, dies in Kalinga hospital

From InterAksyon (Sep 13): Political prisoner, 74, dies in Kalinga hospital

Marcos Aggalao
Marcos Aggalao, the oldest political prisoner in the country, died Tuesday night, September 12, 2017, in the Intensive Care Unit of the Kalinga Provincial Hospital. He was 74.

Aggalao was a guerrilla of the New People’s Army in Kalinga who went by the nom de guerre “Ka Munro.” He retired in 2012 because of old age and returned to civilian life.

Already suffering hypertension and ulcers, Aggalao was arrested by troops of the Army’s 50th Infantry Battalion on September 11, 2016 in Balbalan town, even as unilateral ceasefires declared by the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines were in effect.

Charged with murder and frustrated murder charges were filed against him before a trial court in Kalinga and he was detained at the provincial jail.

On July 7 this year, he was rushed to the provincial hospital after suffering a stroke that paralyzed half his body.

Despite his condition, he was returned to jail.

In August, now also suffering from dementia Aggalao was again rushed to the hospital after suffering a third stroke.

Although relatives managed to raise bail money, he remained detained because of other charges filed against him before a court in Baguio City.

On August 29, the Kalinga ourt dismissed the charges against Aggalao before it.

The Cordillera Human Rights Alliance said Aggalao began to weaken and was having difficulty breathing Tuesday morning, prompting hospital staff to manually pump oxygen into him.

Aggalao is the second political prisoner to die in detention under President Rodrigo Duterte, according to the human rights group Karapatan.

In November 2016, peasant organizer Bernabe Ocasla, 66, who was detained at the Manila City Jail, died after a heart attack sent him into a coma.

Karapatan said there were 430 political prisoners as of August 31, 85 of them arrested under Duterte, who has called off peace talks with communist rebels.

China donates P65M for wounded Filipino soldiers

From Update Philippines (Sep 13): China donates P65M for wounded Filipino soldiers

President Rodrigo Duterte today witnessed the turnover of check worth PHP65 million donated by the Chinese government for soldiers who sustained injuries in the conflict in Marawi City.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua handed over the check to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) at Malacañang Palace.

President Duterte said the assistance provided would be of great help to the government as it pursues the final stages of its operations against the Maute terrorists in Mindanao.

He also expressed the Filipino people’s gratitude for China’s continuous assistance to the country during the ongoing rebellion in the Islamic city.

Duterte assured that the donations received by his administration would be put to good use.

PNP conducts nationwide SAF recruitment

From Update Philippines (Sep 13): PNP conducts nationwide SAF recruitment

The Philippine National Police (PNP) is conducting Special Action Force (SAF) recruitment drive in every Police Regional Office (PRO) nationwide. “No need to travel to SAF Headquarters. The Recruitment Process will be conducted at the PRO in your region,” PNP said in its official social networking page.

“I do not have the money yet but I am ordering the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) to start the training of about 5,000. And sa police 2,000, I want you SAF-trained,” President Rodrigo Duterte said during the 116th Police Service Anniversary celebration on Wednesday.

The President is aiming to recruit up to 15,000 cops and up to 40,000 soldiers. He said he wants them to be elite.

“The Philippine National Police has dedicated its recruitment to the Special Action Force to defend the country against future internal and external threats and to build a credible Police force,” PNP said.

“All Police Regional Offices were required to assist SAF in processing PO1 Applicants in their respective offices particularly in the acceptance of ONLINE APPLICATION, conduct of Physical Agility Test (PAT); Psychological and Psychiatric Examination(PPE); Physical, Medical and Dental Examination(PMDE); and Drug Test (DT),” PNP said.

“The Final Committee Deliberation(FCD) will be conducted by the SAF Screening Committee. Only male applicants will be accepted,” it added.

Qualifications are:

1. A citizen of the Philippines;
2. A person of good moral character;
3. Must have passed the psychiatric/psychological, drug and physical tests to be administered by the PNP;
4. Must possess a formal baccalaureate degree from a recognized learning institution;
5. Must be eligible;
– PNP Entrance (NAPOLCOM)
– RA No. 1080 (Bar and Board Examinations)
– PD No. 907 (CS eligibility to College Honor Graduates)
6. Must not have been dishonorably discharged from military employment or dismissed for cause from any civilian position in the government;
7. Must not have been convicted by final judgment of an offense or crime involving moral turpitude;
8. Must be at least one meter and sixty-two centimeters (1.62m) in height for male and one meter and fifty-seven centimeters (1.57m);
9. Must weight not more or less than five kilograms (5kg) from the standard weight Corresponding to his/her weight, age, and sex; and
10. Must not be less than twenty-one (21) nor more than thirty (30) years of age.

Suspected Abu Sayyaf member charged

From Malaya Business Insight (Sep 13): Suspected Abu Sayyaf member charged

A SUSPECTED member of the Abu Sayyaf group arrested by security forces in Sulu last week for transporting improvised explosive devices and bomb components was charged with rebellion and illegal possession of explosives before the Department of Justice late Monday.

Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Clarisa Kuong said Milham Saham underwent inquest proceeding on the complaints filed by the Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao Command.

Kuong said Saham was assisted by lawyers from the Public Attorneys’ Office during the inquest as he asked that he be given the chance to answer the accusations during preliminary investigation of the case.

An inquest is done when a suspect is apprehended without the benefit of a court-issued warrant.

Kuong set the start of the preliminary investigation on September 15, when Saham is also expected to submit a counter-affidavit.

The complaint identified Saham as a ASG member who was nabbed by soldiers from the Army’s 45th Infantry Battalion at a checkpoint in Barangay Buhanginan, Patikul town last September 7.

The checkpoint was set up by the Army after receiving intelligence reports on the reported movements of Abu Sayyaf members in the area.

Vizcaya villagers flee homes over NPA-AFP firefight

From the Philippine Information Agency (Sep 11): Vizcaya villagers flee homes over NPA-AFP firefight

At least 19 families and 9 other villagers have sought refuge in the municipality of Kasibu town following a recent firefight between New People's Army (NPA) rebels and government troopers.

The firefight which happened in the mountains of barangays Dine, Catarawan and Paquet left four soldiers killed and another wounded in the firefight.

Robert Corpuz, Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management officer, said they have augmented the resources of the Municipal Disaster Rsik Reduction Office in Kasibu town to assist the evacuees in terms of food and other needs.

He said the evacuees left the hotspot area for fear of being hit in the crossfire between government soldiers and the communist rebels.

"We are still on a standby mode to provide other needs of the evacuees which can also increase as a hot pursuit operations is now undertaken by the military,” Corpuz said.

The recent encounter between the NPA rebels and government troopers left Staff Sergeant Dexter John Tagacay of Tumauini, Isabela; Corporal Jayson Sabado of Lupao, Nueva Ecija, Corporal Rusty Galan and Private First Class Abraham Lindo — all from the 84th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army based in Dupax del Norte town of the 7th Infantry Division and wounded a certain Corporal Jerby Soriano.

No civilian, however, was hurt during the firefight in September 1 which lasted past noon.

Early reports from the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) here said NPA sightings have increased in the tri-boundaries of Nueva Vizcaya such as in Nueva Ecija, Aurora and Quirino provinces.

PPOC report said the NPA has long been using the government’s peace process to recruit and re-establish their stronghold in remote barangays.

Troops assault Maute lair, kill 5 terrorists

From Malaya Business Insight (Sep 13): Troops assault Maute lair, kill 5 terrorists

FIVE Maute Group members were killed yesterday by government forces in the dragging conflict in Marawi City.

Fighting broke out at around 1:19 a.m. after the Marines Special Operations Group soldiers assaulted a lair of the terrorist group, some 10 hours after President Duterte visited the main battle area.

The firefight lasted only about 30 minutes, said Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, civil military operations officer of the military’s Joint Task Force Marawi.

No one was reported killed or injured on the side of the government, he added.

The latest Maute fatalities are in addition to the 665 others killed since the fighting broke out on May 23. The conflict has also resulted in the death of 147 soldiers and policemen and 45 civilians.

The latest military fatalities are Capt. Rommel Sandoval, commander of the 11th Scout Ranger Company, and one his men, Pfc Sherwin Canapi. They died Sunday inside the 500-square meter main battle area.

A member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 2005, Sandoval is the highest ranking military officer to die in the Marawi conflict. He and Canapi died during a clearing operation in one of the buildings in the area.

Sandoval went to rescue a team leader who was left at the first floor of the building they were clearing, wounded and still being fired at by the Maute, said   Scout Ranger Books, a Facebook page that deals with Scout Ranger issues.

Brig. Gen. Rolando Bautista, JTF Marawi commander, said the troops’ fighting spirit was boosted by the “strong motivation and encouragement of the commander-in-chief.”

President Duterte visited the troops at the main battle area Monday.

“The President’s recent presence in the main battle area has left a mark in our troops in their strong desire to end the crisis in Marawi,” said Bautista who supervises the operations to resolve the conflict.

Three Mindanao bishops who are going to Rome this week expressed hope they could talk with Pope Francis.

“We may have an opportunity to have a private audience with the Holy Father so we can relay to him the situation of our people in Marawi, including the situation of the prelature,” said Marawi Bishop Edwin dela Peña over Church-run Radio Veritas, adding arrangements are being made for them to see the Pope.

Dela Peña, Cotabato Archbishop Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, and Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma will be in Rome from September 14 to 16 for an inter-faith dialogue organized by the lay group “Community SantEgidio,” and are set to meet with Filipinos in Italy.

There are about 108,000 Filipinos in Italy, mostly based in Rome.

“It is very important for us to hear the message of the Holy Father so that we can be given the strength to go on, and also the hope to strive to rebuild our Church, because it is really down right now,” said Dela Peña.