Sunday, November 5, 2017

NPA atrocities continue to hound banana industry

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 6): NPA atrocities continue to hound banana industry

The banana industry continues to face atrocities perpetrated by the armed New People’s Army (NPA) after it burned another equipment of a top banana producer.

An army report revealed a portable banana processor of the DOLE Philippines, Inc. was torched by alleged members of the NPA in Sitio Sta. Cruz, Barangay Casisang, Malaybalay City, Bukidnon on Friday.

Capt. Joe Patrick Martinez, the spokesperson of 4th Infantry Division, said Sunday, the DOLE packing plant was burned down by an undetermined number of NPA rebels belonging to Guerilla Front Committee 68, Northern Central Mindanao Regional Committee (NCRMC).

Martinez said the incident shows another gross violation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) which is the only document that was signed and agreed upon by both the Philippine government and National Democratic Front including the CPP and NPA in 1998 that clearly states that civilians and together with their properties should not be an object of attack.

Capt. Norman Tagros, the civil-military operations officer of 403rd Infantry Brigade, said there are around 50 workers affected. He said they are looking into extortion as the possible motive of the burning. Upon further investigation, the estimated damage cost has reached PHP700,000.

“What we are more concerned about also is the impact of such atrocities on the workers who are working and depending on DOLE for their daily income,” Tagros said. “We also learned just this morning that around 50 workers are directly affected by the incident. We hope they will not lose their job,” he added.

“As we continue to conduct investigation, we are urging the public and the local government and barangay (village) officials to perform their duties and cooperate with the authorities to maintain peace and security in the area,” the military officer said.

Earlier, the banana industry stakeholders voiced concern that the continued raids by lawless elements in banana plantations have further negatively impact on the industry’s sustainability as the country’s top export trade.

Ferdinand Marañon, president of PhilExport, said the industry is losing billions. One company alone last year lost billions when the NPA attacked its box plant in Davao City and the plastic plant in Panabo. The company, Lapanday Foods Corporation, has since then closed the two companies.

Marañon also cited the burning of about nine trucks in another banana plantation in Agusan del Sur. He said one truck already costs more than PHP1 million pesos while refrigerated container costs PHP2 to 5 million pesos.

“We are afraid that the investments of multinational companies will be pulled-out as it would be beyond their means to cope,” Marañon said, voicing concerns that if banana firms give in to demands of lawless groups, who force businesses to give revolutionary taxes, could cost them more money.

3 Ilonggo soldiers cited for role in Marawi liberation

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 6): 3 Ilonggo soldiers cited for role in Marawi liberation

Three Ilonggo soldiers on Monday received a Mayor’s Citation during the flag-raising ceremony for their “contribution to the liberation” of Marawi City.

Private Andrew Catequista, Corporal Mark R. Gevero and Staff Sergeant Rodel T. Pacaña “not only earned distinct credit for themselves and the Philippine Army but to the people of Iloilo City for being bonafide members of the city community,” according to the distinction signed by Mayor Jose Espinosa III.

The three are members of the 31st Division Reconnaissance Company of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry (Spearhead) Division (3ID). While their company was based in Murcia, Negros Occidental, they were deployed to Bohol to run against Abu Sayaff members prior their deployment to Marawi that lasted for five months.

They came home to Iloilo City on October 22.

Pacaña, 41, a father of two from Rizal Pala-Pala 2, city proper here, said he was thankful that they came home safe to their respective families. They were assigned to secure the rear end of their troops in the main battle area.

He was “proud” that he was part of the team that liberated Marawi City. He said that while there, they prayed hard that God will keep them safe as some of their comrades died while others got sick.

Gevero, 31, from Boulevard, Molo and assistant team leader, said that Marawi was his most difficult assignment as support team to the assault group.

“Time may pass but I am proud that there was an Ilonggo who was part of the Marawi history,” he said.

Catequista, 22, from Quezon, Arevalo and the youngest of the three, said that he had no idea that they will be assigned to Marawi. At first he was nervous because he didn’t know what awaits them in their Mindanao assignment. They were assigned within the Dansalan College area.

“I was happy that we came home alive,” he said.

Catequista’s aunt Diana Dumagat, 43, said that she is “proud’ of her nephew. She was the first person whom Catequista called upon knowing of his Marawi assignment.

In addition to the Mayor’s Citation, they also received PHP5,000 cash incentive each.

AFP vows to end NPA armed capability in Palawan

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 6): AFP vows to end NPA armed capability in Palawan

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) focused military operations in southern Palawan vowed to end the armed capability of the New People’s Army (NPA) before the end of the year.

Captain Wanel Ansa, environment unit and civil military officer of the Marine Battalion Landing Team-4 (MBLT-4), said the Joint Task Group South (JTGS) recovered a new set of war materiel on October 30 at Sitio Arib, Barangay Culasian, Rizal town in the southern part of the province.

“Napakalaking bagay ang pagka-diskubre dito sa mga NPA war materiel sa ating focused military operations. Dahil dito nabawasan ang kanilang firepower at napakalaking kawalan sa kanilang kapabilidad upang gumawa ng anumang karahasan o terroristic activities (Our continuous discovery of the NPA war materiel is very important to our focused military operations. This means we are diminuting their capability’s firepower to perpetuate violence and terroristic activities),” Ansa said.

Focused military operations have yielded 32 assorted firearms, one unit of fully assembled improvised explosive device (IED) or pipe bomb, 429 rounds of various ammunition, 16 pieces of magazine, 10 assorted IED components, innumerable subversive documents, and a total of 16 surrenderees.

To date, government troops have already had four encounters with the armed rebels in southern Palawan. The first discovery of war materiel was on June 27 when the military took over an NPA drill camp in Barangay Samariñana, Brooke’s Point. It was followed by the discovery of more materiel on July 21 following an encounter in Bataraza town.

“For the past decades, the arm struggle has not done anything good for our country. It has only induced poverty and miseries to the people. The best way to deal with the problem is for all sectors, all Filipinos to work together to end insurgency here in southern Palawan,” he added.

The best indication of this, he said, was the fact that the community was responsible in helping them find the hiding places of these war material that the NPA is using in sowing terror.

“Mismo ang taong bayan na nakikipagtulungan at kusang nagbibigay ng impormasyon upang matukoy ang mga kagamitang militar ng NPA (It is the people here who are working with us, and who are voluntarily offering information for us to find the NPA’s war supplies and tools),” Ansa said.

As a result, many have surrendered and are currently being processed to receive financial support from the national and local government’s social integration programs.

“The rebels’ armed capability has downgraded, and many of their members are now surrendering. We are sure that because of our FMO coupled with civil military operations, we have build up social pressure on them,” Ansa added.

All the war materiel recovered are currently being verified and under proper custody.

“Lahat ng mga nakuhang armas at dokumento ay idadaan sa masusing proseso at sa tamang pangangalaga (All the firearms, all the documents are being studied and are being taken care of properly),” he said.

Earlier, Western Command (WESCOM) commander Lt. General Galileo Gerard Kintanar Jr. said the focused military operations are balanced with civil military operations in their areas of operations.

"This only shows that the people are sick and tired of the crimes, atrocities and illegal activities of the communists terrorists in their area. And so, we also urge other communities to cooperate with us and report any information that would lead to the neutralization of personalities and capabilities of the enemies of peace," he said.

"Western Command shall continue to conduct focused military operations as well as civil military operations in Palawan in order to cripple and dismantle the communist terrorists in the Province to ensure that nothing and no one will stand in the way of progress and further development," Kintanar added.

President Rodrigo Duterte called on the NPA rebels to cease fighting the government, go back to the fold of the law, and rejoin mainstream society. The present administration has a pro-active program for their peaceful return that will enable them to rejoin their families and live normal lives.

Duterte to grace PMC 67th anniversary

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 5): Duterte to grace PMC 67th anniversary

President Rodrigo Duterte is set to honor the 35 slain and 367 wounded Marines who helped liberate Marawi City from the hands of the Daesh-inspired Maute group terrorists, when he graces the 67th founding anniversary of the Philippine Marine Corps (PMC) on Tuesday.

The event will be held at Jurado Hall, Marine Barracks Rudiardo Brown, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.

A total of 165 government troops were killed in the five-month battle that started May 23.

"With the sacrifice and heroism manifested by the members of the PMC during the Marawi Siege, its 67th Marine Birthday Celebration is more meaningful and significant to its every member. With its 35 lives lost and 367 wounded in action, the Marines will honor and remember their accounts of heroism through its traditional and solemn cake cutting ceremony," Said Capt. Rowena Dalmacio, Marine spokesperson.

This year's theme is, “Remembering Our Marine Heroes", she added.

Marine personnel and civilian partners will also be awarded for outstanding achievements and contributions.

Hunt for remaining Maute stragglers continues

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 5): Hunt for remaining Maute stragglers continues

The hunt for the remaining Maute Group stragglers in newly-liberated Marawi City continues, Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said Saturday.

"The physical clearing of structures and search for possible stragglers is still ongoing in certain areas in and around Marawi," he said.

Earlier, Indonesian ISIS member and Maute ally, Muhammad Ilham Syahputra, was arrested by police officers in Marawi City's Barangay Luksa Datu 7 a.m. of Nov. 1. He claimed that around 20 to 30 stragglers are still hiding in the ruins.

"Although we can never be 100-percent sure of the actual number of terrorists that are in Marawi, we will exert every effort to eliminate those whom we know about and are unaccounted for based on our information," the DND spokesperson said.

Earlier last week, three Maute Group stragglers, including Abu Talja, the alleged right-hand man of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, were killed in a firefight with government troops.

This raised to 923 the number of terrorists killed in Marawi City along with 165 soldiers and police officers.

Fighting was declared officially over last Oct. 23 exactly five months after the terrorist attack started on May 23.

On the progress of the rehabilitation of the war-torn city, Andolong said the lead agency is now the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council headed by Secretary Eduardo Del Rosario.

"The President has given the task of rehabilitating Marawi to Secretary Eduardo del Rosario of the HUDCC. As such, all the government agencies involved in Task Force Bangon Marawi, including the DND, will now be taking their guidance from him," he said.

As this develops, the DND spokesperson said the travel advisory issued on Friday by the Australian Embassy is a reiteration of an advisory they issued in May of this year.

"This should not be a cause for undue alarm since issuing regular travel advisories to citizens is commonly practiced by many countries, including Australia, especially in light of the spate of violent incidents that have been happening all over the world in recent times," he added.

"Nevertheless, we enjoin everyone to remain vigilant and report to the proper authorities any suspicious activities in your area. Let us all be mindful of our surroundings and work closely with government security forces to ensure that terrorism and violent extremism do not take root in our villages, towns, and cities," Andolong stressed.

Australia, in its latest travel advisory to the Philippines, said there is a high threat of terrorist attack in the Philippines.

"Exercise heightened caution at this time. Be alert to possible threats around locations that have low level of protective security and places known to be possible terrorist targets," it stated.

AFP eyes stronger border security vs transnational crimes

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 5): AFP eyes stronger border security vs transnational crimes

As part of efforts to combat transnational crimes, newly-appointed Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero is pushing for the enhancement of regional border security with other neighboring countries.

Col. Edgard Arevalo, AFP public affairs office chief, said Guerrero wants to increase "coordinated patrols" with the Filipino military's ASEAN counterparts.

This is contained in Guerrero's command guidance which plots the courses of action and orders for the line units and offices to follow to ensure that the AFP remains on track on its short- and long-term goals.

For the active border cooperation, the AFP chief hopes to enhance border security with Malaysia and Indonesia through the Trilateral Cooperation Arrangement inked in June 2017 aimed at stopping kidnapping, trafficking, and transit of terror personalities in the Sulu Sea.

“We will also increase the frequency of our coordinated patrols with our ASEAN counterparts in order to prevent the use of our common maritime borders for illegal activities,” Guerrero added.

Moreover, the AFP also banks on the national policy and defense agenda to develop a credible defense force with strengthened naval and air capabilities for more effective monitoring and control of sea lanes and air space.

“For this, we will reinforce our Maritime Domain awareness on our maritime areas of interest particularly our sea lanes of communications. We will also push through with our capability build-up in order to enhance our maritime operations capability,” Guerrero pointed out.

Improvements in the international security engagements including the activation of the International Military Affairs Center are also being sought.

Moreover, the AFP chief also wants to shift the training methodology for the military's peacekeeping units from “involving temporarily formed units to deploying existing units of the AFP.”

Police arrest wife of terrorist leader Omar Maute

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 5): Police arrest wife of terrorist leader Omar Maute

Police have arrested Minhati Madrais, the Indonesian wife of terrorist leader Omar Maute, authorities confirmed Sunday afternoon.

Iligan City Police director Senior Supt. Leony Roy Ga said Madrais, alias "Baby," was arrested at their house in Steele Markers Subdivison in Barangay Tubod, Iligan City.

She, along with their six children, are now in police custody.

Ga said they will be coordinating with the region's social welfare department to take care of the children.

Police were able to recover materials used to create improvised explosive devices, and an expired Indonesian passport.

Omar Maute was killed in a military operation in war-torn Marawi City last October 16.

He was killed along with Abu Sayyaf Group leader Isnilon Hapilon, supposed to be the 'emir' of global terror network ISIS in Southeast Asia.

Following the death of the two terrorist leaders, President Rodrigo Duterte declared Marawi City liberated from the clutches of ISIS-inspired groups.

South China Sea, Nokor, counter terror Trump’s top ASEAN agenda

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 5): South China Sea, Nokor, counter terror Trump’s top ASEAN agenda

United States President Donald Trump’s priorities in his upcoming Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) trip include the denuclearization of North Korea, meaningful code of conduct negotiations in the South China Sea, and counterterrorism efforts among others, said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Murphy.

In a recently held forum co-organized by The Stimson Center and the US Philippines Society, Murphy along with Philippine Embassy Chargé d’Affaires ad interim Minister Patrick Chuasoto discussed the US-Philippine priorities for the 2017 ASEAN and East-Asia Summits.

“The United States will continue to maintain a very strong presence in the Indo Pacific region, will continue to pursue policies that contribute to the peace, stability and prosperity both in the region and back home here in the United States,” Murphy said.

"The partnership with the Philippines is very broad and this alliance is one of our most enduring partnerships and relationships anywhere in the Indo Pacific region. It has been a cornerstone of stability for over 70 years," Murphy underscored on US-Philippine relations.

For his part, Chuasoto laid out the Philippines’ thematic priorities as Chair of ASEAN 2017, and discussed the ASEAN goals of building an inclusive ASEAN community, upholding peaceful co-existence among member states, adhering to the rule of law in the peaceful resolution of disputes, sustaining inclusive economic growth, enhancing resiliency in the face of natural disasters, and strengthening its institutions.

“Much of ASEAN’s success is attributed to the ASEAN Way of consultation, consensus and cooperation. ASEAN was founded on the basis of several fundamental principles, among them mutual respect, non-interference in the internal affairs of other members, and peaceful settlement of disputes,” Chuasoto emphasized.

The White House said that President Trump is set to hold a bilateral meeting with President Duterte on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit this November but experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said in-depth discussion between the two leaders on the South China Sea dispute might be unlikely.

"I’m not sure President Duterte wants to raise it with President Trump," said Amy Searight, senior adviser and director of CSIS Southeast Asia Program.

"I don’t think he (President Duterte) wants to have any South China Sea discussion with President Trump at all. And so I also don’t know whether President Trump is going to really forcefully raise that issue with the Philippines or not," she said in a press briefing at the CSIS last November 1.

According to Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan Chair at the CSIS, the South China Sea issue is "at something of an impasse."

"China built this three military -- major military airfields, and not much has happened since except further militarization of those airfields," he said. "And so the next - the next step or the next problem could be something like Beijing declaring an air defense identification zone, ADIZ, over the South China Sea, over its claimed Nine-Dash Line, the way it did in Northeast Asia; or something like beginning construction on Scarborough Shoals or in a new area," he added.

President Duterte after his trip to Tokyo, Japan said he's confident that China is now seeking peaceful resolution on the maritime row.

"China has put it on record that near the Pag-asa where we also have our bay there, the Scarborough islands, China has committed to us not to build anything there and I hope that they would honor that commitment to us," Duterte has said.

No decision yet on PH MCC aid eligibility

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 5): No decision yet on PH MCC aid eligibility

The country's slip on some areas in the Millennium Challenge Corporation's (MCC) scorecard for the fiscal year 2018 does not mean the Philippines is ineligible to receive grants, United States Embassy in Manila on Saturday night said.

"A decision has not been made regarding the Philippines' eligibility at this time. MCC's Board of Directors makes eligibility determination using a variety of supplemental information," Molly Koscina, press attache of the US Embassy said in an email.

"If a country fails the scorecard, MCC closely examines the reasons why," she said, adding this information is then provided to MCC's Board in making its eligibility determinations.

On November 2, MCC fiscal year 2018 scorecard noted that the country received a passing score on effective governance, implementation of freedom of information but lagged in controlling corruption and ensuring rule of law.

According to Koscina, MCC used the "Control of Corruption" indicator produced annually by the Worldwide Governance Indicators group at the World Bank.

She explained that the indicator is comprised of a range of different sub-sources from different indicator institutions that look at the aspect of corruption and that the Control of Corruption data released in September 2017 "covers the event of 2016."

"MCC is closely examining these sub-sources to understand what may have accounted for the failure," she said.

After its release, the Department of Finance expressed confidence that MCC will consider latest government efforts against corruption and its adherence to rule of law.

Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has pointed out that “the Philippines remains firmly committed to the rule of law and strictly adheres to due process."

"The President has also made clear that his platform of government will be based on zero tolerance for corruption in government," he said in a recent statement.

“In its first year in office, the Duterte Administration has actually been relentless in the campaign against corruption in government," Dominguez stressed.

As per Koscina, the MCC's Board meeting is scheduled this coming December.

PNP: No imminent threat for ASEAN Summit 2017

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 6): PNP: No imminent threat for ASEAN Summit 2017

The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Monday said there is no imminent threat for the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit 2017 which is scheduled next week.

Despite this, PNP Director General Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa, in a report by Radyo Pilipinas, said the entire police force is on full alert starting Nov. 8 to 15.

Under this status, PNP units are available 100 percent for immediate deployment should they be required immediately.

Dela Rosa added that the "Reserve Standby Security Force" at the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City is now activated to augment police personnel deployed for ASEAN security duties.

DND verifying reports on Amin Baco as new ISIS emir in SE Asia

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 6): DND verifying reports on Amin Baco as new ISIS emir in SE Asia

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday said that they are still verifying reports claiming that Malaysian terrorist Amin Baco is now the new ISIS emir in Southeast Asia.

He made this announcement at the sidelines of the DND's 78th founding anniversary ceremony at the AFP Theater in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
"We are still looking for Amin Baco. We heard the news that he could be the successor of Isnilon (Hapilon) as the Emir of those terrorists," Lorenzana said.

He also admitted that Baco is not as high profile or famous as his predecessor Hapilon as the former's name does not appear on intelligence reports or lists concerning active terrorists.

Since the Maute Group and its allies have splintered following the successful government offensive against them, the DND chief said that they are now pursuing Baco and the other remaining stragglers.

"Kalat-kalat na sila, hinahabol namin sila. Kung mahuhuli namin siya eh di maganda, (They are now scattered. We are chasing them. It will be good if we will catch him.)" Lorenzana said.

The DND chief said they still have no firm idea on how many Maute stragglers are still remaining in Marawi City, as these individuals, in ones or twos, just pop out of nowhere from hiding places in the war-torn locality.

Lorenzana added that Baco and the remaining terrorists are no longer a force to reckon with as they could no longer hold any ground and sustain a fight due to their splintered condition, lack of weapons and supplies.

"They could fire and hide. The problem now is only to pursue them," he added.

While searching for the stragglers is a hard task, the DND chief said that government has no recourse but to search for these terrorists one place at a time until all of them are neutralized and accounted for.

Around 923 Maute Group terrorists and their allies were killed in the five-month campaign against the terror group which started last May 23.

Some 165 soldiers and police officers were killed in the offensive which only ended on Oct. 23.

On Monday, Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa said that Baco is now the new ISIS Emir in Southeast Asia following the death of Hapilon in Marawi City last Oct. 17.

He also estimated that around 39 Maute Group stragglers are still hiding in Marawi City.