Monday, October 30, 2017

After Marawi battle, ISIS begins recruitment drive

From the International Business Times (Oct 30): After Marawi battle, ISIS begins recruitment drive

After arresting ISIS financier Rasdy Malawani in Quezon City, Philippine security forces are now hunting an online ISIS recruiter involved in regrouping new ISIS-inspired fighters to continue their armed struggle for a caliphate in the Southern Philippines.

When Philippine military officials announced that ISIS-inspired leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute were killed after a five-month battle with Philippine soldiers, it was surmised to be the end of ISIS but President Rodrigo Duterte told the people on a nationally televised coverage to prepare for possible retaliation from the local ISIS group.

Just a few days after Duterte made this announcement, Philippine intelligence officials said that the local ISIS franchisee in the Philippines has begun its recruitment drive.

Col Romeo Brawner of the Army's Joint Task Group in Marawi said that the local ISIS group has begun recruiting new fighters online by using the photos of the Marawi destruction. "There are new moves to recruit fresh fighters and it is being done through the social media," said Brawner.

Military intelligence community identified a certain "Abu Dar" who is now on the military's watchlist and is being pursued by military agents.

Last October 11, government agents also arrested 36-year-old Karen Aisha Hamidon who reported to recruit fighters to join the ISIS fight in Marawi. Hamidon was responsible for the recruitment of Indian nationals to fight for ISIS in Marawi.

Another government agency, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) noted that Hamidon had 296 messages seeking new recruits for the Marawi battle. The NBI will be using the phone messages as evidence against Hamidon for inciting rebellion.

Hamidon was reported to be the wife of Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, the leader of another ISIS-linked militant group known as Ansar Al Khilafa.

Hamidon will be facing charges that include 14 counts of inciting to rebellion. She will also be tried for her involvement in the recruitment of IS fighters.

Brawner said the online recruitment drive is still ongoing and they are targeting the youth.

Military authorities also announced that the arrest of the ISIS financier and recruiter is part of the government's security drive in preparation for the 31st ASEAN Summit which will be held in Manila this November 2017.

Though ISIS leaders Hapilon and Maute have already been killed, the government is facing another group of ISIS-inspired militant organizations in Mindanao. They are the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).Like the Maute-ISIS group, The BIFF is fighting for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in Maguindanao.

Duterte ordered the deployment of 10 new army battalions to go after the remaining ISIS groups in the Southern Philippines but Mindanao academicians believe that the solution to Mindanao's rising insurgency cannot be done by military alone but it should involve a holistic approach.

Dr. Adrian Semorlan, a Mindanao-based Sociology professor, said, the industries, the business and the academics can also play a huge role in addressing this social challenge.

Maute straggler killed in fresh firefight in Marawi

From GMA News Online (Oct 31): Maute straggler killed in fresh firefight in Marawi

A Maute straggler was killed in a firefight Tuesday morning with government troops at the main battle area in Marawi City.

Army Colonel Romeo Brawner, Joint Task Force Ranao deputy commander, confirmed the fatality in a text message to GMA News Onlline.

The firefight happened around 6 a.m.

No other details were available as of posting time.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines terminated its combat operations in the area last October 23 after President Rodrigo Duterte announced the liberation of Marawi on October 17.

Maute siege leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute were killed by the military in an operation on October 16.

Latest data showed that a total of 47 civilians, 165 soldiers and police officers, and 920 Maute members have been killed in the firefight in Marawi City since May 23.

Why Japan’s New Military Aircraft Gift to the Philippines Matters

From The Diplomat (Oct 31): Why Japan’s New Military Aircraft Gift to the Philippines Matters

The subtle change is not without significance for both sides and the wider region.

Last week, Japan disclosed that, following a change in Japanese law, it will now be donating five aircraft to the Philippines rather than leasing them as previously agreed. Though the move represents just one change in a broader relationship that has already been deepening in the defense realm, its significance for both sides and the wider region ought not to be underestimated.

As I have noted in previous pieces, though relations between Japan and the Philippines date back decades, ties in the defense domain were strengthening significantly under former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in part due to common concerns about China’s growing assertiveness in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Despite lingering concerns about Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s drift toward China, the commitments between Tokyo and Manila have continued and advances are still being made (See: “Japan-Philippines Defense Relations Under Duterte: Full Steam Ahead?”).

In March 2016, the two countries signed a landmark agreement on defense equipment and technology transfer, making the Philippines just the fourth country Japan has ever inked such a pact with and paving the way for more defense-related developments following Tokyo’s lifting of a self-imposed ban on weapons exports. In September 2016, Japan and the Philippines agreed to a deal where JMSDF would lease two aircraft to the Philippines for a year starting in March.

Parts of that bilateral deal are already ongoing. The Philippines received the first two TC-90 aircraft on March 27. And the training of Philippine naval pilots has been underway as well, with the first of three batches of training occurring from November 2016 to March 2017 and the second completed on October 20 at JMSDF Tokushima Air Base. But the Philippines was hoping for a switch from a leasing agreement to free of charge use of the aircraft. That became possible following a change in Japanese law during the last session of parliament, which significantly paved the way for the donating of secondhand defense equipment to developing countries.

On October 23, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera reportedly conveyed to Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana during their bilateral meeting at the sidelines of the 4th ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) that Tokyo had decided to officially donate five TC-90s to Manila: the two currently being leased and three upcoming ones.

Though this may seem like a small change, its significance should not be underestimated. As I have noted before, despite some improvements, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) still remains one of the region’s weakest militaries, and Manila continues to try to boost its capabilities with a limited budget (See: “Where is the Philippines Coast Guard in its Military Modernization?”). In that context, any help that partner countries like Japan can provide is welcome, especially if it is free or at low cost.

More specifically, the TC-90s, as I have noted before, can be deployed for a variety of purposes ranging from disaster response missions to maritime security operations. Manila does not have enough aircraft to conduct regular patrols in the South China Sea, and these planes could be fitted with basic surface and air radar for surveillance as Manila responds to China’s threat to Philippine claims there. With a range of about 1,900 kilometers, the TC-90s will roughly double the area that Philippine aircraft can now patrol.

In addition, this move is no doubt significant for Japan as well. Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan has been trying to boost its defense ties with individual Southeast Asian states and ASEAN as a whole (See: “Japan Reveals First ASEAN Defense Initiative With Vientiane Vision”). One of the more challenging areas for this is the transfer of defense equipment, since Japan is a newcomer to this, having just lifted decades-old restrictions.

The TC-90 deal is thus a breakthrough for Japan on this front. The agreement effectively marks the first instance in which excess defense equipment was transferred to another country completely free of charge, proving that Tokyo can in fact make some inroads in the region despite the difficulties of being a newcomer in the defense market, as has been evident in some other cases (See: “Australia-Japan Defense Ties are Deeper than a Sunken Submarine Bid”). It also further cements the Philippines’ role as one of the key countries that Japan can advance defense ties with within the broader Southeast Asian context despite the lingering uncertainties in the Duterte era.

School being run by NPAs ordered closed

From the Manila Bulletin (Oct 30): School being run by NPAs ordered closed

Banga, South Cotabato — Local authorities have ordered the closure of a local educational institution which is being run by New People’s Army in a remote village here.


Sr. Supt. Franklin Alvero, South Cotabato police director, said village officials of Barangay Lam-afus here sought the assistance of Department of Education (DepEd) officials, as well as police and military authorities, to close down the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. Academy (MISFIA) in the area after it was found that the school was operating without the required permit from the DepEd.

He said the barangay council, headed by Chair Erencio Simpal, had earlier passed a resolution which ordered the closure of the said school as it lacked the necessary permit from the DepEd.

MISFIA currently has 15 students who are from the T’boli and Manobo tribal groups from nearby Sultan Kudarat province.

Military and police authorities said the school, which offers curriculum for elementary pupils, reportedly serves as front of the NPA, the armed-wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

The military claimed the school, which is headed by Muhamed Makina Manslaw of Cotabato City, was teaching the school children to raise arms against the government.

South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Fuentes said village officials of Barangay Lam-afus were clothed with the authority to order the closure of the school since it was operating without a DepEd permit and was also catering to students not from South Cotabato.

Under the Radar: Security in the Sulu Sea is set to improve

From Global Risk Insights (Oct 29): Under the Radar: Security in the Sulu Sea is set to improve

The region of the Sulu Sea, just last year branded the ‘New Somalia’, is benefiting from a new trilateral security initiative. However, key challenges remain.

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines launched the INDOMALPHI Trilateral Cooperative Arrangement (TCA) this past summer.  The stated goal is to address “the security challenges associated with each country’s border waters”. The initiative is showing promise as a first step towards improving the security architecture in an area where terrorist activity has had major economic impact.

Cargo at risk
Border security is a serious problem in the Sulu Sea, which separates the Southern Philippine region of Mindanao from the island of Borneo.

Each year, 55 million tonnes of cargo and 18 million people transit these waters. But cooperation between surrounding countries’ governments, navies and maritime law enforcement organisations has been weak. Transnational organized crime has proliferated, along with smuggling operations and terrorist activity. Together these activities inflict extensive damage to the economy, tourism and civilian life.

 The island clusters surrounding the Sulu and Celebes Seas
The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) is a threat in the Sulu and Celebes Seas. Though small-scale and locally-oriented, the ASG is prolific, and targets fishing vessels for lucrative kidnap-for-ransom operations. In 2016, ASG coordinated a number of ship hijackings and kidnappings, taking hostage not only Indonesian and Malaysian fishermen, but also several westerners.

These attacks led Indonesia to temporarily ban coal exports to the Philippines, an $800 million industry, a decision that harmed both economies. This ban was pivotal to moving INDOMALPHI forward.

Seige of Marawi

Another tipping point was the siege of Marawi, a major city in Mindanao. Raging for over five months, this was the first coordinated and sustainable operation involving multiple IS-aligned regional groups – representing a new, asymmetric threat. The Philippine military just recently liberated the city, with most of Marawi completely destroyed.

The Marawi siege underscored how accessible the islands in this region are, an issue all three nations are attempting to address amid continuing emerging risks. For instance, the township of Sarangani, a backwater in the Celebes Sea, has been pinpointed as a critical security flashpoint.
Returning control?

On 16 October, Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana claimed the trilateral maritime patrol was going well: ‘We have not had incidents, piracy or kidnappings in the maritime areas of common concern’. There does seem to be evidence to support this assertion, namely the greater speed and accuracy of intra-regional information exchanges, which proved useful in apprehending militants attempting to escape from Marawi. Moreover, military officers recently shot dead the ASG leader and self-declared emir of Southeast Asia, Isnilon Hapilon.

INDOMALPHI builds on several positive security developments in the region in recent years. There was Indonesian President Jokowi’s revised global maritime vision, which adopted a more outward focus, with greater emphasis on interconnectivity and broader collective security.

Jakarta and Manila’s landmark 2014 maritime boundary agreement was also a key step forward, ending an age-old dispute over the Celebes Sea. Similar commitments are now required between Malaysia and the Philippines. These countries have had multiple disputes over Sabah (nominally a Malaysian state in the north of Borneo), notably the military standoff in Lahad Datu in 2013.

Broadening partnerships

There is scope to include other members and organisations in the initiative, in view of the broader regional security challenges. ASEAN has the potential to address border threats. Assistance could also be forthcoming from Australia, Japan, and the United States, given its support for Singapore in the Straits of Malacca. Indeed, Singapore is a particularly strong potential partner, given its staunch defense capabilities.

Singapore already has the required infrastructure and technologies in place from past joint initiatives with Indonesia and Malaysia. Established in April 2009, Singapore’s Information Fusion Centre (IFC) is an important hub for cooperation on maritime security threats.

The Maritime Command Centres in Tarakan (Indonesia), Tawau (Malaysia) and Bongao (Philippines) are not of equal calibre, since these centers possess less advanced radar network capabilities. Without the IFC, a better quality of infrastructure is necessary to facilitate real-time information sharing and the inter-operability of emergency protocols.
Tempered optimism

Ultimately, the goal is to increase land cooperation between all affected countries. This includes plans to strengthen border controls and immigration checks in and around the Sulu region, curbing covert militant movements.

Malaysia and Indonesia will construct five command posts at key points along the Sabah, Sarawak and Kalimantan borders. A newly-renovated border post on Balut Island, Sarangani, will function as an inter-agency monitoring station on the Celebes Sea.

Success will depend on whether each country trusts the collaborative process and periodically convenes with partners to discuss progress and targets. Over time, familiarity with operational routines and processes, such as cross-nation hand-offs and emergency protocols, should develop.

But the biggest risk to INDOMALPHI is that the initiative remains at the mercy of political transitions in each country. Only sustained efforts will decrease the multiple risks discussed.

Scout Rangers new mission Abu Sayyaf

From the Visayan Daily Star (Oct 30): Scout Rangers new mission Abu Sayyaf

Its Mission Accomplished for the 5th Scout Ranger (Crusaders) Battalion in Marawi, and the bandit Abu Sayaff Group in Sulu is next.

After its successful operations against ISIS-inspired Maute terrorist group in Marawi,the 5SRB, led by Negrense Lt. Col. Marlo Jomalesa, is heading for another fight?this time with the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group in Sulu.

The 5SRB was among the Philippine Army units pulled out from Marawi City, after its liberation from the Maute terrorist group.

After a month-long rest in Zamboanga, Jomalesa said yesterday that they are slated for deployment in Sulu.

In almost two months of deployment in Marawi City, the 5SRB had not incurred any casualty. The unit also participated in the rescue of kidnapped Filipino priest Fr. Teresito Soganub, and several other Maute terrorist group hostages, as well as in the liberation of Marawi, including the killing of two local terrorist leaders,Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute,

Another marked accomplishment of 15th Scout Ranger Company, that is under the supervision of 5SRB, was the heroism of Capt. Jeffrey Buada.

Buada,15th SRC commander, successfully managed to negotiate with the Maute for the release of 30 hungry and thirsty hostages. But before doing so, he removed his bullet proof vest, helmet and laid down his firearm.

The gunmen released the hostages, in exchange for food and water, after which the gunbattle resumed.

Aside from being the commander of the 5SRB, Jomalesa was also designated as officer-in-charge of the 63rd Infantry Battalion, following injuriesto its commander.

In the final days and assault in the last strong hold of the Maute, who occupied a mosque, a Roman Catholic church, and two big buildings, Jomalesa reported that 75 Maute members died.

Jomalesa said the Roman Catholic church, that the Maute desecrated on their first day of attack in Marawi, was also occupied by ISIS foreigners, who were also wiped out.

The military operations against Maute ended Oct. 23, five months after the terrorist group occupied Marawi City.

At about 4:15 p.m. of Oct.24, Jomalesa said “ Musang this is Crusader (referring to his battalion), last stronghold of ISIS/Maute cleared. Mission Accomplished”.

Asked for his assessment of their Marawi assignment, Jomalesa said all the high value target foreigners, who had joined the Maute group, died.

“The ISIS will be facing a hard time in operating in the Philippines, as we already learned from the hybrid warfare in Zamboanga and learned so many lessons in Marawi,” he added.

The 5SRB is now taking much-needed rest and recreation in Zamboanga, in preparation for another battle with a local terrorist group, andhave also called for prayers from Negrenses for their next mission.

Duterte-Trump talks to focus on North Korea

From Rappler (Oct 30): Duterte-Trump talks to focus on North Korea

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and US President Donald Trump will have a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in November

North Korea's nuclear program will be on top of the agenda when Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte meets with United States President Donald Trump in November.

"The main agenda would really be [North] Korea," Duterte told reporters in a pre-departure briefing at the Francisco Bangoy International Airport on Sunday, October 29.

The President left Sunday night for a two-day official visit to the Japanese capital from October 30 to 31. In Tokyo, Duterte will be meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Emperor Akihito.

Following his Japan trip, Duterte is set to meet Trump who will be in the Philippines for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Summits from November 12 to 13.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano earlier said the two leaders would explore bilateral agreements in the hope of boosting trade between their countries.

But on Sunday night, Duterte said their talks would focus on North Korea, which has defiantly conducted one missile test after another.

"We are worried... all of us. You know Murphy's law, if anything could go wrong, it could go wrong. So that has always been a problem for us," the Philippine President said.

Duterte earlier denounced the missile tests, calling North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un a "maniac." (READ: Will North Korea's missile threats affect Filipinos?)

Aside from North Korea, the Philippine President said they would also discuss terrorism and illegal drugs.

"All of these I expect to deal with him," Duterte said.

The story of a Marawi officer nominated for the highest combat award

From Rappler (Oct 30): The story of a Marawi officer nominated for the highest combat award

First Lieutenant Geraldo Alvarez saves 15 of his men from certain death. He is nominated to receive the Medal for Valor, the highest and most rare combat award.

It was almost midnight on the first day of the war, May 23. First Lieutenant Geraldo Alvarez of the 4th Mechanized Brigade left the military headquarters in Marawi City with 19 men and two armored vehicles to rescue a wounded officer and bring in reinforcement troops.

“Paglabas ko doon sa brigade, nakakahinala na lahat ng paligid (As soon as I left the brigade headquarters, there was something suspicious about the surroundings),” he told Rappler in an interview.

Little did they know they were on their way to face the biggest battle of their lives. It was a 5-day battle that earned Alvarez the nomination to receive the coveted Medal for Valor, the highest and most rare combat award.

(*This video is part of Rappler's 35-minute documentary on Marawi. Watch it here: DOCUMENTARY | Marawi: 153 days of war)

Mapandi Bridge

The now infamous Baloi Bridge – nicknamed “Mapandi Bridge” by locals – gave his team its first obstacle. Bullets came out flying as they approached one of 3 bridges on Agus River that separated the area controlled by local terrorist groups linked with international terrorist network Islamic State (ISIS) and the government troops.

The Maute fighters also parked a vehicle to block one end of the bridge. “Nagkataon naman na kayang-kaya naman banggain ng tangke ko. Binangga ko siya (It was okay. The armored vehicle was able to ram its way through.),” Alvarez said.

But greater danger waited for them past the bridge.

He would learn that armored vehicles can only do so much against the high-powered weapons of the enemy. The rude awakening came when a rocket-propelled grenade slammed into their vehicle.

His driver frantically maneuvered away from enemy reach, but the vehicle engine soon went dead. The Maute fighters leaped out and pursued them. “Nag-set sila ng parang killing zone (We found ourselves in their killing zone),” said Alvarez.

Alvarez knew they had to get out of the vehicle before the Maute fighters fired at them again. But it was easier said than done. He asked his troops in the other vehicle to dismount first so he could check the situation of the men with him after they were hit by RPG.

“Sabi ko, ‘Dismount kayo.’ ‘Sir, hindi kami makalabas agad kasi pinapaputukuan. So ginawa nila, ‘timing, timing.’ Hanggang naka-timing sila at naka-dismount (I said, ‘Dismount.’ They said, ‘Sir, we can’t dismount because they are firing at us.’ They waited for a perfect time they could dismount.),” said Alvarez.

Two men down

When the smoke from the explosion cleared, he saw how badly his men were hurt. They were all groaning in pain.

“Hinila ko si late Private [Junie Berth] Purlas. Sinandal ko siya pero humiwalay naman yung baiwang niya noon. Idinikit ko na lang (I pulled late Private Purlas up but his waist had been separated. I tried to put it back),” he said.

“Pagtingin ko sa isang paa, akala ko kaniya. Hindi pala. Yung isang tropa ko pa. Si Private [Roel] Cabonita Jr. Nakakita ako ng tali at pansamantalang itinali ko muna (I saw a leg and I thought it was also his. It wasn't. It belonged to Private Cabonita. I saw a rope and tied his leg into place),” he said.

The wounded men crawled and dropped themselves out of the vehicle if only so they could dismount. They applied first aid on each other while they repelled the fierce enemy attack.

Alvarez positioned men temporarily blinded by the explosion behind guns. “Si-night ko muna ang mga baril nila. Sabi ko, ‘Huwag niyo muna galawin. Kakalabitin niyo na lang. Gamitin niyo na lang sense of hearing niyo (I myself aimed their guns so they only needed to pull the triggers. I told them to use their sense of hearing),” he said.

Daylight came and they asked for rescue. But by then troops couldn't cross Baloi Bridge anymore.

Cabonita would later die from his wounds. “Sabi niya, ‘Sir, uhaw uhaw na ako.’ Kapag masyadong wounded, hindi masyado pinapainom. Dip dip lang ng kaunti. Pagbalik ko sa kaniya, parang inayos na lang niya sarili niya hanggang sa nalagutan na siya ng hininga (He told me he was very thirsty. If you're badly wounded like that, you are not supposed to drink. I just moistened his lips. When I got back, he had arranged himself before he took his last breath).”

Alvarez didn’t have enough men to secure the area for a chopper to land safely and rescue them. A Philippine Air Force pilot still tried but enemy snipers fired at him, forcing him to leave.

Alvarez and his men sought cover in houses nearby. They tried to restore the other vehicle, but to no avail.

Alvarez asked for help from the 49th Infantry Battalion, the unit they were supposed to reinforce. But the enemy had concentrated between their locations.

“Sabi ko, ‘Bok, baka ako naman pwede humingi ng tulong mo. Sabi sa akin, ‘Sir, sorry. Hindi kita malapitan kasi in between sa atin marami rin. Pero may nakuha kaming radio nila na naiwan. Lahat sila mag-consolidate sa location mo (I said, 'Mate, can we ask for your help? He told me, 'Sir, sorry. We couldn't get near you because there are enemies between our locations. We also recovered a radio from the enemy. They're planning to consolidate in your location),” he said.

Alvarez ordered his men to hold the line. They were on their own for days.

Heroism in Marawi

The gunner and the driver of the remaining armored vehicle worked non-stop to repel the enemies.

“Kami ang bumabagbag hanggang napagod na ang gunner ko. ‘Yung driver, jockeying palagi yan. Atras abante. Siya bumabagbag sa snipers. Banda hapon, pagod na talaga siya (We fired back at the enemy until my gunner was exhausted. The driver was constantly jockeying to avoid enemy fire),” said Alvarez.

Later in the afternoon on the 2nd day, the armored vehicle ran out of bullets. The driver volunteered to get the ammo left from the other vehicle disabled by RPG.

He was loading bullets when he was hit on the side by an enemy sniper. He mustered enough strength to get inside the vehicle.

“Nakapasok pa siya sa loob ng vehicle. Nakapag-jockeying pa. Sabi ko, ‘Hindi masayadong malala ang tama niya.’ Kaya lang napansin namin yung jockeying niya, yung atras-abante niya, iba na. Hindi na niya sinusunod ang kalsada. Ni-radyo na nalagutan na siya ng hininga (He was hit on the side while loading bullets into the gun. He was able to go inside the vehicle and drive. I thought his wounds were not so serious. But we would later see that his driving was off. They radioed us that he died),” Alvarez said.

The bullets he retrieved killed enemies that attempted to get near them.

The enemies upped their game, throwing molotov cocktails at the house they occupied to flush them out. Alvarez lost another man to enemy sniper.

The enemies asked them to surrender. “Huwag niyo na pahirapan sarili ninyo (You don’t’ have to suffer anymore) ,” the Mautes shouted.

But soldiers do not surrender. “Hindi naman kami susuko sa ganiyan. Return fire kami. Akala nila kaunti na lang kami (We don’t surrender just like that. We returned fire. They thought there were a few of us left.)”

Rescue arrives

The enemies were silenced when a chopper arrived and launched rockets towards enemy locations.

On the 4th day, May 26, two companies came to rescue them but had to withdraw when it suffered casualties.

It would take another day for them to get out of there. Instead of waiting to be fetched, they “shared the risk” and decided to meet at a nearby ricemill where choppers could safely land.

Firefight broke out as they headed for the ricemill.

“Doon kami nagkita-kita. Halos di nila ako makilala kasi parang uling na itsura ko (That's when we were rescued. They almost couldn't recognize me. I was as black as charcoal).”

The soldiers hugged each other. Alvarez brought home 15 of the 19 men he had with him on May 23.

“Feeling ko tinulungan kami ng Diyos kasi kahit na yung mga bala nasa tabi lang tumatama. Parang nilayo kami sa bala (I felt that God really helped us there. We were saved from the bullets),” he said.

It would take the military two months to regain control of Baloi Bridge and another 3 months to end the war.

The bloodiest day of the war also happened in the area, on June 9, when 13 marines were killed when molotov cocktails forced them out of their defensive positions.

Alvarez stayed in Marawi throughout the war, leading his men in rescuing soldiers and bringing in reinforcement troops and supplies.

3 NPA rebels surrender

From the Mindanao Times (Oct 30): 3 NPA rebels surrender

THREE New People’s Army (NPA) members who belonged to Guerrilla Front 72, brought along their firearms as they surrendered to troops of the 73rd Infantry Battalion in Barangay Tacub, Kiblawan, Davao Del Sur on Saturday morning.
Col. Roberto Ancan, 1002nd Infantry Brigade commander, identified them as Balusa D. Binuhay, 42; Toto Diamelang, 26; and Sonny D. Binuhay, 22, who brought two M16 rifles.
They claimed that life on the run is very difficult.

“We were always hiding when the army has an operation,” Balusa said, adding that they already lost trust in their leadership. He said they were deceived with promises of a better life if they joined the movement.

The returnees were presented to the LGU of Kiblawan for immediate assistance. They will be enrolled them to the CLIP (Comprehensive Local Integration Program).
“The brigade is always open to the NPAs who are willing to surrender and enjoy the peaceful life, the government has a program that will provide livelihood assistance to help them start (anew), ” Col. Roberto Ancan, 1002nd Infantry Brigade commander, said.

Marawi heroes honored in Fort Magsaysay

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 29): Marawi heroes honored in Fort Magsaysay

Maj. Gen. Felimon T. Santos, commander of the Philippine Army's 7th Infantry Division (7ID, PA) led the hero's welcome for 79 -strong 72nd Division Reconnaissance Company (DRC) who served as rear defenders during the Marawi battle in ceremonies here Friday night.

“In going there, their task is to defend the rear. Ibig sabihin, pinu-protektahan nila ang likod upang hindi ma-reinforce ang kalaban (it means, they have been protecting the rear so that the enemies cannot reinforce) which is very important,” Santos said, “especially in our military tactics.”

“They’ve played their role, they’ve played it well,” Santos stressed.

He said the company also conducted checkpoints to prevent Maute from moving from one place to another and cleared houses.

The company has even recovered 12 high powered-firearms, improvised explosive device, 16 radio communication equipment and based radio, one binocular, among others, during a clearing operation, he said.

Santos hailed that the troops, led by 1Lt. Beethoven Cabanlit, commanding officer, came home safe.

"Nandito sila nang buong-buo. walang kulang at wala ring sobra (They are here intact. No less, no more," the commanding general said.

Still, he expressed regret that the 7ID's Scout Ranger force had suffered a loss with the death of Private First Class Nesty Tecson and 69th Infantry Battalion had two wounded men.

Tecson, he said was killed by the enemy during the final assault.

Cabanlit, for his part, said they really had to fight the feeling of being away from their family and unfamiliarity with urban warfare.

“Natural sa amin yung nangungulilala but with the leadership of my fellow officers sinasabi ko sa kanila na palagi i-motivate yung mga tao natin (it is natural for us to yearn but with the leadership of my fellow officers, I have been telling them to always motivate our men),” he said.

With a green rosary on his right breast, Cabanlit said they had to pray before every operation.

"Itong rosary na ito symbolizes ang paniniwala sa Panginoon na kahit na anong hirap at suungin namin na panganib, pu-protektahan niya kami (This rosary symbolizes our faith in God that no matter how difficult or dangerous the situation is, He will protect us), ” he said.

Private First Class Harold Luis, who served as an automatic rifleman, thanked God for protection as well as his family and the government for support.

Another private first class named Manabat said that despite the tragedy he himself witnessed in Marawi, he would support the dream of his son, who came in fatigue uniform, to be a soldier in the future.

Santos said after debriefing, the soldiers would be given a month-long vacation.

He said while no one from the 72nd DRC was killed, they have witnessed and joined the rescue of wounded comrades. That sight, he said, was not easy for soldiers.

Student dead, 9 others hurt in DavSur ambush

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 30): Student dead, 9 others hurt in DavSur ambush

A 15-year-old student was killed while nine others were wounded when an undetermined number of armed men ambushed a barangay-owned truck loaded with passengers at Sitio Quarry in Barangay Kimlawais, Kiblawan, Davao del Sur on Sunday night.

In a report to the Davao del Sur Provincial Police Office (DSPPO), Superintendent Deozar Almasa, acting chief of Police of Kiblawan Municipal Police Station, said 40 students of Kimlawis National High School (KNHS) on board the Sadam Truck owned by Barangay Kimlawis were on their way to Kiblawan Gym to perform Maral de dalan, a street dancing event, for the three-day Damsu Festival.

While they were about 150 meters away from Barangay Kimlawis proper, unidentified armed men fired at Sadam Truck resulting in the death of 16-year-old Jimboy Linkanay, who was declared dead upon arrival at Gregorio Matas District Hospital in Davao del Sur.

Wounded in the attack were James Paul Sarno, 18 of (out patient); Mildred Linkanay, 15 (out patient); Jiv Cris Malalay, 17, (admitted at Davao Sur National Hospital Digos City); Jimboy Sumali, 25, (admitted Davao Sur National Hospital Digos City); Nibert Malanson (admitted at Southern Philippines Medical Center SPMC Davao City); Marlon Malanson, (SPMC); Mark Gil Tol, Sadam Truck Driver (SPMC); and, Aries Caluyan, 15 (SPMC).

Davao del Sur chief of police Sr. Superintendent Samuel Gadingan said all victims suffered gunshot wounds in different parts of their bodies.

Gadingan said the incident is still under investigation by the Kiblawan municipal police while a municipal search and rescue team has been deployed to barangay Ihan in Kimlawis to scour the area and track the armed men.

Hero's welcome for Scout Rangers assigned in Marawi

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 30): Hero's welcome for Scout Rangers assigned in Marawi

Roses were given to each of the soldiers who belong to three Scout Ranger Battalions in a hero’s welcome ceremony on Monday as they arrived from a five-month combat duty in Marawi City.

The roses were distributed to the troops in formation by the officers, female soldiers, and civilian employees of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) in a ceremony held at Camp Navarro here.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Westmincom chief, Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar and other top military officials joined them in the distribution of roses.

Afforded hero’s welcome were the troops from the Army’s 3rd, 4th, and 5th Scout Ranger Battalions who saw action in Marawi City against the combined Daesh-inspired Maute group and Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

Galvez said the troops will return to their respective operation-control units and will be given time to rest in preparation for fresh assignments.

Both Galvez and Salazar congratulated the troops for gallantry in action against the terrorists in Marawi City.

Galvez awarded command plaques to the three Scout Ranger Battalions for outstanding performance, courage, dedication and commitment during the conduct of relentless and close-quarter battle for almost five months.

He said the 3rd Scout Ranger (Excelsior) Battalion has cleared strategic buildings occupied by the terrorists in Marawi City.

They have neutralized 112 terrorists, including Maute group leader Omar Maute and Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon; recovered 113 assorted firearms; and, unexploded ordnance.

The “Excelsior” Battalion suffered 10 personnel killed in action and 184 wounded in action since they arrived on June 2 in Marawi City.

The 3rd Scout Ranger Battalion is under the operational-control of the Army’s 104th Infantry Brigade in Basilan province.

The 4th Scout Ranger (Masigasig) Battalion was behind the clearing of strategic building occupied by the terrorists including Bato Ali Mosque; neutralized 76 terrorists, including 43 sniper kills and three captured; rescue of 32 hostages; recovered 144 assorted firearms; and, 500 unexploded ordnance.

The “Masigasig” Battalion troops suffered 11 killed and 104 wounded in action since they were deployed on May 30 in Marawi City.

The battalion is under the operational control of the Army’s 501st Infantry Brigade in Sulu.

The 5th Scout Ranger (Crusader) Battalion was involved in the relentless and close-quarter battle against the terrorists; provided artillery support to other units; provided assistance to other unit’s snipers; and, have established a medical aid station in the main battle area in Marawi City.

The “Crusader” Battalion is a new unit of the Army’s Scout Ranger since it was activated on June 1, this year. The unit is based in San Miguel, Bulacan.

The ceremony was followed by a photo session and breakfast hosted by the Westmincom.

Indon warships in GenSan for goodwill visit

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 30): Indon warships in GenSan for goodwill visit

Two active warships of the Indonesian Navy arrived here on Sunday for a two-day goodwill and cooperation mission.

The two Sigma class corvettes docked at the Makar Wharf Sunday morning amid a rousing welcome facilitated by the city government, Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao and Philippine Navy reservists.

Lt. James Reyes, public affairs chief of the Naval Forces Eastern Mindanao, said the visit of the Indonesian warships is part of a continuing cooperation between the naval forces of Indonesia and the Philippines.

He said it was aimed to showcase the landing platform dock capability and other features of the Indonesian warships -- KRI Sultan Hasanuddin (366) and KRI Sultan Iskandar Muda (367).

As part of the visit, the two warships were opened for public viewing and tours from 9 a.m. to 12 noon Monday and Tuesday. The “open house” is free and open to the public.

On Monday, key officers of the 177-person Indonesian crew met with city officials led by Mayor Ronnel Rivera and Vice Mayor Shirlyn Banas-Nograles at the city hall here.

“We have also scheduled goodwill and traditional games between the Indonesian crew and local counterparts,” Reyes said.

He cited personnel from the Philippine Navy and reservists, Philippine National Police Maritime unit and the Army-led Joint Task Force-GenSan.

KRI Sultan Hasanuddin and KRI Iskandar Muda are the second and third ships of warship type and destroyer guarded controlled Sigma class of the Indonesian Navy.

The modern corvettes, which were built by Dutch shipyard Schelde, serves as patrol boats with surface anti-ship, anti-submarine and anti-aircraft capabilities.

KRI Sultan Hasanuddin was commissioned in 2007 and the KRI Iskandar Muda in 2009.

Berlian Napitupulu, consul general of the Indonesian Consulate in Davao City, said the visit shows Indonesia’s commitment to strengthen traditional ties between the two countries.

He specifically cited areas adjacent to Mindanao like the port cities of Bitung and Manado in North Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Aside from maritime security, he said efforts are underway to draw these areas together through trade and tourism exchanges.

“We’re working to promote trade and tourism in these areas. We’re discussing how to open tourism routes between Bitung, Manado and General Santos because these areas are really close,” he said.

AFP seeks help of tribal leaders in SoCot vs NPA recruitment

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 30): AFP seeks help of tribal leaders in SoCot vs NPA recruitment

The Armed Forces of the Philippines asked tribal leaders in South Cotabato province on Monday to help stop the recruitment activities of the New People's Army (NPA) rebels in their communities.

This, as the Army's 27th Infantry Battalion (IB) based in Tupi, South Cotabato reported that nine of every 10 rebels who had been captured in the area were indigenous peoples (IPs) or members of local tribal groups.

"Ninety percent of the captured NPA rebels are tribal people while the remaining 10 percent are either Ilonggo or Bisaya from Davao Del Sue and North Cotabato," said Capt. Marvin Gammad, 27IB civil-military operations head.

He said NPA recruiters look to the IPs as ideal cadres mainly because of their "physical strength, agility and mastery of the terrain."

The IPs are considered as potent mobilization forces due to their number in the countryside, he said.

"Their low level of literacy also makes them vulnerable to manipulation," the official said in a media forum.

Gammad said tribal communities have become nesting grounds of guerrilla units due to their remoteness and inaccessibility.

He said that through its system of "arouse, organize, mobilize," NPAs have been penetrating IP communities by disguising themselves as non-government organization or cooperative workers.

They entice the IPs to join and later indoctrinate them with NPA ideals that are premised on toppling the democratic government through destabilization, he said.

Gammad urged tribal leaders to help counter these activities by educate their people about the ill intentions of the NPA.

"We need to remind them that joining this guerrilla group will only bring poverty and death," he said.

Henry Malida, IP mandatory representative local legislative officer, expressed confidence that the province's tribal people are well-informed of the negative results of joining guerrilla groups.

He said they have been conducting regular information and education campaigns in IP communities in coordination with village and tribal leaders.

Bangsamoro Assembly postponed anew

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 30): Bangsamoro Assembly postponed anew

For the third time around, the long-awaited Bangsamoro Assembly scheduled on November 3-4 at the old provincial capitol compound in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, has been reset to a still unspecified date, the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) announced Sunday night.

Ghazali Jaafar, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) vice chair for political affairs and BTC chair, made the announcement in a statement, "due to reason beyond our control”.

It is the BTC that is working for the assembly. But in a radio interview Monday, Jaafar said the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) informed him of the deferral since President Rodrigo Duterte, the event’s guest of honor, is busy for the upcoming ASEAN Summit scheduled in Manila.

Jaafar said the PMS told him that Duterte would not be available until after Nov. 18. Duterte chairs the ASEAN Summit and is busy for the upcoming regional event.

“The BTC agreed to PMS request and we are informing our people about the postponement,” he said, adding, “Once the final date is available, we will immediately inform the public.”

The gathering will highlight discussions on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) with the Bangsamoro people that would replace and expand the old set up of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The BBL, composed of 21 members from the government and the Bangsamoro people, forms part of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that the government and MILF signed in 2014.

The asembly, expected to gather at least 500,000 people, was postponed twice in the past due to the unavailability of resource persons.

Police, Army hunt 2 men in killing of American trader

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 30): Police, Army hunt 2 men in killing of American trader

Police, backed by the Army, in North Cotabato have launched a massive manhunt against two men who robbed and killed an American trader in Pikit, North Cotabato on Sunday.

Supt. Bernard Tayong, speaking for the North Cotabato police office, said pursuit operations are still on going against the suspects behind the murder of American trader Jeff Michael Keith, 60, in Barangay Poblacion, Pikit, on Sunday afternoon.

Tayong said the Army’s 7th Infantry Battalion has been helping the Pikit police in hunting down the two suspects riding on motorbike after they shot dead Keith at around 2:50 p.m.

Keith was the second foreign trader killed in Pikit for the past week after a Pakistani merchant was also shot dead and robbed.

Police probers are zeroing in on robbery as the motive behind the killing as the suspects fled with the victim’s cash, checks and other valuables.

Keith was with his wife Melodina, 45, and two children on board an Isuzu elf delivery truck (NGI-639) going to Pikit from Cagayan de Oro City when the shooting occurred, according to Chief Inspector Romy Castañares, Pikit town police chief.

Castañares said the delivery truck, driven by Keith, stopped in front of Khagi Saimah store for business transaction when two men armed with cal. 45 pistols showed up and fired at the unwary American businessman.

As Keith fell, the suspects took his sling bag that contained about Php200, 000 cash, checks and other valuables and fled on a motorbike.

His wife and children who were unharmed rushed him to the hospital.

Responding cops recovered from the scene several empty shells from .45-caliber pistols.

On Tuesday last week, gunmen on motorbike also shot dead Pakistani trader Estesham Ulhaq, 40, in Barangay Dalengaoen, Pikit, North Cotabato and took his cash and valuables.

One of the suspects injured in a police chase that ensued was later arrested in a hospital in Cotabato City, Tayong said.

AFP issues alert anew vs ISIS movement

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 30): AFP issues alert anew vs ISIS movement

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has alerted all military units to monitor the presence of Islamic State for Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-inspired groups in their respective areas of jurisdiction.

This was disclosed on Monday by Lt. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, newly-installed AFP chief-of-staff, citing terror threat still exists in the country.

Guerrero was here for his first command visit after he assumed as the new and 49th AFP chief-of-staff on Thursday, October 26.

“Before the Marawi (fighting broke out), we have already monitored that they are moving around the country,” Guerrero disclosed.

“It is highly possible that they have been able to go around to other areas as well,” he added.

He said they are working with all concerned stake holders to prevent and counter violent extremism and to ensure ISIS ideology is not being spread to the other parts of the Philippines.

“Not for now. But we are not discounting the possibility,” he replied when as about terrorists’ threat to attack other areas in the country.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, said the religious leaders and local government units have joined forces to prevent the infiltration of terrorists in their respective locality.

“They don’t want to experience similar to what happened in Marawi City,” Galvez added.

Guerrero was given honors upon his arrival at Camp Basilio Navarro that houses the Westmincom headquarters in this city.

He met in a closed-door command conference with the unit commanders of Westmincom to be abreast of the prevailing situation in the region.

He relayed to the troops the programs of President Rodrigo Duterte for the AFP during the “talk to the men” activity that followed the conference.

Guerrero, who was accompanied by other AFP officials, later shared a boodle fight lunch with the officers, men and civilians employees of Westmincom.

Marine contingent honored for Marawi contributions

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 30): Marine contingent honored for Marawi contributions

The Philippine Navy (PN) on Monday honored the Fleet-Marine contingent's successful deployment in Marawi City in the liberation of the locality from the hands of the Maute Group terrorists.

Capt. Lued Lincuna, PN spokesperson, said the contingent consists of sailors, marines, aviators, and "Seals" who were deployed in the Naval Forces Western Mindanao area-of-operations during the height of the crisis.

These military personnel were transported from Iligan City to Manila by the BRP Tarlac (LD-601) shortly after the successful conclusion of the campaign which was highlighted by the elimination of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and Maute Group founder, Omar Maute, last October 23.

Fighting in Marawi City broke out after government troops tried to arrest Hapilon and his cohorts last May 23.

An estimated 920 terrorists were killed while 165 government troops were killed in the five-month battle.

Of the 165 troops killed, 35 are members of the Philippine Marine Corps.

The returning Fleet-Marine contingent was personally welcomed by PN flag-officer-in-command Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado at Pier 13, Manila South Harbor.

A heroes' welcome with the theme "Brazo Zulu, Home for Christmas" was given to the returning military personnel and witnessed by their families and loved ones.

PRRD calls on Congress to expedite BBL

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 30): PRRD calls on Congress to expedite BBL

President Rodrigo Duterte Sunday called on the House of Representatives to fast-track the approval of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that seeks to establish a Bangsamoro Government to replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

During a press conference prior to his departure for an official visit to Japan on Sunday night, President Duterte said he continues to be committed to the cause of the Moro people in creating a new government that will better embody their ideals.

“We continue to talk and I hope that Congress would expedite its approval,” the President said.

“I have committed to the main rebellion fronts, the MI[ILF] pati MN[LF], that we will work for a federal setup and maybe grant them the territories that they want and the kind of framework of governance that they expect with a reformation of all the things in the Philippines,” he added.

Duterte earlier said he will “father” the said draft law to make sure it will come into fruition during his term; this he reiterated again during the said press conference, with a warning that trouble might brew if the BBL will yet again be rejected.

“If we do not act on it expeditiously, I think that we are headed for a trouble,” the Chief Executive said. “We must continue to talk and I will urge Congress to fast-track it because they are getting impatient. And I told them of the wages of how to negotiate peace. Sabi ko, ‘Sandali lang but we will comply on our side what we have promised.’”

He added, “That is a commitment eh. Not even a promise but a commitment to the Moro people.”

Malacañang previously expressed its hope to see the draft law approved by the end of the year 2017.

Navy spends P500-M in ammo, fuel in Marawi fighting

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 30): Navy spends P500-M in ammo, fuel in Marawi fighting

The Philippine Navy (PN) has spent nearly half a billion pesos for ammunition and fuel during the five-month battle to remove the Maute Group terrorists in Marawi City.

This was emphasized by PN flag-officer-in-command Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado during the sidelights of the welcoming ceremonies for the returning Fleet-Marine contingent held in Pier 13, Manila South Harbor on Monday.

"Well, as far as the PN is concerned, just for the ammunition (and fuel) alone we nearly extended half a billion pesos and just imagine the number of trips this year undertook to bring all our AFP combat vehicles, artillery, ammunition and people from all over the different islands down to Iligan and the fuel for our helicopters," he said.

Also, Mercado said that he is more than satisfied with the PN's combat performance in the Marawi City campaign.

"Very, very satisfied if the President is satisfied with the performance of the AFP, I am more than satisfied with the performance of our sailors and marines," he added.

Mercado also pointed out that it was the Philippine Marines Corps who recaptured three important bridges -- Mapandi, Banggolo and Masiu -- in the Marawi City campaign.

The PN chief added that regaining control of these bridges allowed the government to deploy more troops and combat vehicles in the main battle area.

The returning contingent's size is estimated to be around 500 to 600 personnel and consists of marines, sailors, aviators and "Seals" deployed in Marawi City during the height of the battle.

These personnel were transported from Iligan City to Manila by the BRP Tarlac (LD-601), one of the two brand-new strategic sealift vessels of the PN.

After the ceremony honoring them, members of the Fleet-Marine contingent were transported via motorcade from Pier 13 to their headquarters in Marine Base Rudiardo Brown in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.

During the motorcade, the PN's AgustaWestland AW-109 combat utility helicopters dropped flowers on the procession to honor the victorious troops.

Around 920 Maute Group terrorists were killed in the five-month campaign that started last May 23 when government troops tried to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and his cohorts.

In the fierce fighting that followed, around 165 government troops were killed including 35 marines.

Navy needs more urban warfare training

From the Philippine News Agency (Oct 31): Navy needs more urban warfare training

An official of the Philippine Navy sees the need for Navy force units, especially those involved in ground assault missions, to get more training and exposure in urban warfare.

In an interview, Philippine Navy flag-officer-in-command Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado said subsequent debriefings after the liberation of Marawi City indicated there is a need for the force to train more on urban warfare.

"We have to improve our military operations in urban terrain. We need to improve that... I guess this is the first time we undertook combat in an urban terrain with reinforced and concrete buildings so those are the things that we need to look into, improve both our trainings, doctrines and all our equipment," Mercado said during the sidelights of the homecoming ceremonies for the returning Fleet-Marine contingent in Pier 13, Manila South Harbor on Monday.

Despite the lack of training in urban warfare, the Navy units, especially those from the Philippine Marine Corps, were instrumental in the eventual liberation of Marawi City from terrorists, Mercado added.

The Marines recaptured three important bridges in the city -- Mapandi, Banggolo, and Masiu. He said regaining control of these bridges allowed the government to deploy more troops and combat vehicles in the main battle area.

Around 920 Maute Group terrorists were killed in the five-month campaign that started last May 23 when government troops tried to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and his cohorts.

In the fierce fighting that followed, around 165 government troops were killed, including 35 Marine soldiers.