Wednesday, November 8, 2017

DND: No Chinese blockade off Kalayaan Island Group

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 8): DND: No Chinese blockade off Kalayaan Island Group

There are no Chinese ships blockading Sandy Cay and other sandbars owned by the Philippines in the Kalayaan Island Group.

This was stressed by Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana at the sidelines of the ASEAN Leadership Amid A New World Order at the Makati Shangri-La Wednesday.

"I think the word guarding is not the correct term eh, kasi yung mga nandun mga fishermen nila eh. Yung ating nagpupunta din dun, na malapit lang nag-dock, was also a fishing boat from Navotas na malaki. Na-nireklamo nila. Pero sabi namin, meron din naman din kayong barko diyan sa malapit. Na-naka-standby, uh, nagpi-fishing din yun, so fishing, so they are not actually guarding," he added. (I think the word guarding is not the correct term because fishermen were there. Our fishermen are also there. It was a big fishing boat from Navotas which docked somewhere nearby. They complained about it. But we said they also have ships nearby which are on standby. They are fishing, not actually guarding.)

This after he admitted the Philippines stopped construction of fishermen shelters in Sandy Cay, which is 2.5 nautical miles from Pag-asa Island after China protested the move claiming the activity involves the setting of facilities in a "new feature".

"The background is like this, there was an agreement between our Foreign Secretary saka sila, yung ano nila, that there will, status quo lang muna. walang occupation ng new feature. (There was an agreement between our Foreign Secretary and with them that everything will be in status quo for the meantime. There will be no occupation of a new feature.) So nung lumabas yung sandbar na yun inokupa natin, (So when the sandbar came out which we have occupied) they considered it new feature," the DND chief pointed out.

Lorenzana also admitted that the Philippines brought in troops to build the shelters which are only "nipa huts". He estimates that the sandbar only measures around 500 square meters.

The order to stop construction came from President Rodrigo Duterte last August, the DND chief added.

Lorenzana also disclosed that no Chinese ships arrived and told Filipino troops to stay away, adding that the matter was handled through diplomatic channels.

Vigilance, cooperation needed to curb terrorism: Lorenzana

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 8): Vigilance, cooperation needed to curb terrorism: Lorenzana

Despite the victory of government troops against the Maute Group terrorists in Marawi City, every Filipino must remain vigilant to prevent terror threats.

This was emphasized by Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana who said that containing terrorism is a shared responsibility of everyone.

"The Marawi Siege indeed serves as a reminder that guarding our nation from the perils of terrorism is a shared responsibility and that all of us must be vigilant," he added.

Also, the five-month battle against the Maute Group is a wake-up call that we must invest more on improving our capabilities and modernizing our equipment.

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

On the other hand, 165 soldiers and police officers were killed in the offensive which ended only on October 23.

AFP chief gets 4-star rank

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 9): AFP chief gets 4-star rank

Newly-appointed Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief-of-Staff Lt. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero was formally promoted to four-star rank Wednesday.

In the Philippine military, a four-star rank is equivalent to a full general, the highest position in the AFP.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and AFP Vice Chief-of-Staff Lt. Gen. Melchor Mison Jr. donned Guerrero's fourth star during a ceremony held at the new Philippine Air Force Hall of Flags, Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.

Guerrero, who was appointed AFP chief last Oct. 26, is a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1984.

Prior to his appointment as AFP chief, he led the Eastern Mindanao Command, Capiz-based 3rd Infantry Division, 701st Infantry Brigade, and Task Force Davao.

He also served as chief-of-staff of the Philippine Army.

Guerrero has also been awarded the Distinguished Service Star four times; the Order of Lakandula (Degree of Commander); the Philippine Legion of Honor (Degree of Officer); and the Honorary Airborne Wings from the Royal Thai Army.

Philippines, Seeking to Appease Beijing, Halts Construction in South China Sea

From the New York Times (Nov 8): Philippines, Seeking to Appease Beijing, Halts Construction in South China Sea

Members of a Philippine survey team in April, around Philippine-held Thitu island, in the Spratlys archipelago. On Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines ordered troops to scrap plans to build a fishermen’s shelter on a sandbar in the area in the disputed South China Sea. Credit Ted Aljibe/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has ordered military officials to stop construction work on a sandbar in a disputed area of the South China Sea after Beijing complained, the country’s defense chief said on Wednesday.

Mr. Duterte’s decision to halt work on the project, which was to include a shelter for Philippine fishermen, signals an effort to improve ties with China before a regional summit meeting in Vietnam this weekend.

China complained in August about the work on the sandbar at Sandy Cay, the Philippine defense secretary, Delfin Lorenzana, said. The sandbar is near Thitu Island, which Manila calls Pag-Asa island and claims as its own.

“They complained that we were occupying a new feature,” Mr. Lorenzana said, adding that the Philippine Defense Ministry had transported people there “to put structures for our fishermen.”

The resource-rich Spratly Islands are claimed in whole or in part by both nations, as well as by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. Beijing has been creating artificial islands in the South China Sea, expanding former reefs and outcrops into guarded permanent outposts, increasing tensions with Washington, which has sent warships through the area.

Mr. Lorenzana said that Beijing had invoked an agreement between the Chinese and Philippine foreign ministers to maintain the status quo in the area, and not to occupy any new land features, in an effort to reduce tensions in the area. He said that Mr. Duterte had been informed of the “standoff” and had decided to halt construction on the sandbar.

“I agree with the decision because it was indeed a new feature,” Mr. Lorenzana said.

China claims ownership of a vast majority of the South China Sea, asserting rights even to waters near the shores of other nations.

A third of global maritime traffic passes through the South China Sea, making the disputes a source of contention, with defense strategists and analysts warning that competing ownership claims could lead to armed conflict.

The Philippines has contested many of China’s claims, but since assuming office last year, Mr. Duterte has taken a more conciliatory stance. The president, who is the current chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, hopes to begin negotiations this year for a code of conduct that would govern actions in the region. Mr. Duterte will host Asean leaders in Manila next week.

But some Philippine lawmakers oppose what they see as Mr. Duterte’s acquiescence to China.

Representative Gary Alejano, a former marine captain who had warned of China’s increasing presence near Thitu, accused Mr. Duterte of buckling to Beijing, saying the Philippines could rightfully set up structures on the sandbar.

“There was no new occupation of the sandbars by the Philippines because these sandbars have been traditionally under effective control by Philippine troops,” he said.

Mr. Alejano noted that the sandbars in question, about 2.5 miles from Pag-Asa, were subject to regular patrols and visits by Philippine forces and fishermen.

“That is part of Duterte’s strategy of silence, inaction and subservience to China’s actions in the South China Sea,” he said.

Harry Roque, a spokesman for Mr. Duterte, said in an interview on Tuesday that the president had relied “on the principle of good faith” in dealing with China’s expansionist ambitions in the region, and he described relations between the two countries as “very warm.”

“I think we are witnessing a renaissance of sorts as far as China and Philippine relations are concerned, and this bodes well for peaceful resolution of the varying claims” in the South China Sea, Mr. Roque said.

He added that Mr. Duterte had opted to maintain “very close and cordial” relations with China, noting that his state visit to Beijing last year had resulted in pledges of Chinese investment in the Philippines.

But he warned that the government had also made “contingency plans” in case relations hit a sour note again.

“We will rely on peaceful means of settling disputes — recognizing that we also have the right to self-defense,” Mr. Roque said.

In a speech on Wednesday, Mr. Duterte highlighted his country’s warmer relations with Beijing.

“We are friends of China, we owe them a debt of gratitude,” he said, noting that the Chinese government had helped the Philippines by supplying arms to fight militants in Marawi, on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

More battalions needed to crush NPA

From the Mindanao Times (Nov 8): More battalions needed to crush NPA

THE PHILIPPINE Army said more battalions are needed to be deployed in Davao to eradicate the New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas operating in the region.

Maj. Gen. Noel Clement, the commander of the 10th Infantry Division (ID), told TIMES yesterday that at least three to five more battalions would be enough to combat the communist rebels.

The 10th ID has at least 12 battalions. These include the new battalion activated last September and the other battalion that returned to Davao after the Marawi crisis.

Clement said there are 11 NPA guerilla fronts operating in the region, considered by the military as one of the remaining strongholds of the communist group.

The NPA’s fronts 2, 25, 33, 34, 51, 53, 54, 55, 71, 72 and 73 are operating in the region.

The 10th ID is primarily tasked with protecting Davao Region (Region XI), and some towns in the neighboring regions.

Clement said the NPA rebels will always try to conduct atrocities.

He said the NPA is recruiting members for its liquidation units to go not only against government forces but also their former comrades who returned to the folds of the law.

However, Clement reiterated they always welcome the communist rebels to surrender.

“We don’t really want war. If they want to surrender then they can avail the services of the government,” he said.

In a separate interview, Capt. Jerry Lamosao, the 10th ID spokesperson, said around 300 NPA members already surrendered to various units of 10th ID in Davao region from January to October this year.

Lt. Gen. Rolando Joselito Bautista, the army’s commanding general, said President Rodrigo Duterte’s home region will be the national priority in the intensified operations against the communists as the region has a strong presence of the rebels.

Bautista said seasoned and veteran communist rebels are in Davao because they can easily get money from extorting business companies and plantations.

Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, the chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, has directed his subordinates to go against the communist groups.

President Duterte has repeatedly stated that the fight against the communist group will be his priority after the Marawi crisis.

ARMY: 17 Mindanao provinces free from NPA influence

From the Mindanao Times (Nov 8): ARMY: 17 Mindanao provinces free from NPA influence

AROUND 17 provinces under the operational area of the Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) were already declared as cleared from New People’s Army influence, a military official said yesterday.

The EastMinCom operates in Davao Region, Caraga, as well as parts of Northern Mindanao and North Cotabato.

Speaking in yesterday’s AFP-PNP press conference held at Task Force Davao headquarters, Maj. Ezra Balagtey, spokesperson of Eastern Mindanao Command, said it was during the time of Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, now the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff, as EastMinCom chief that they were able to craft a development program against insurgency.

“During his time we were able to craft the kapayapaan, the military’s current development support and security plan (DSSP) Kapayapaan and serves as upgraded version we came up an implementation plan,” Balagtey said. “That is his major accomplishment.”

Balagtey said only the Bukidnon and North Cotabato are the remaining provinces that will be subject to the declaration of peaceful and ready for further development. “This means there are remaining unsolved issues and underground organizations that are existing,” he added.

He said they have parameters to follow before declaring an area peaceful and ready for development.

“There are parameters, which include the NPA activities are already minimal,” he said.

On the other hand, Lt. Col. Esteyven Ducusin, battalion commander of the 71st IB which covers the Mawab, Maco in Compostela Valley, as well as part of Tagum and New Corella in Davao del Norte, said that they observed no NPA atrocities in their operational area for the past two months.
However, he said they remained on alert status to preempt any attack.

He also said two rebels already surrendered to them. “They had surrendered because they knew that there is good governance and the services they could avail from the government,” he said. “We will provide 50 slots for the NPAs who will surrender as long as they had their firearms.”

1FAB troopers recognized for their meritorious, heroic achievement

From the Philippine Information Agency (Nov 7): 1FAB troopers recognized for their meritorious, heroic achievement

ZAMBAONGA CITY (PIA) Col. Agane Adriatico pins the Military Merit Medal to Capt Holly John Godinez of the First Field Artillery Battalion, Philippine Army.

The 1s t Field Artillery (Beat ‘Em) Battalion, Army Artillery Regiment, Philippine Army lauded recently the officers and personnel of the unit for their meritorious and heroic achievement in the Marawi siege.

Two officers and eight enlisted personnel who had returned after a 5-month warfare against the Maute terror group in Marawi were awarded with military merit medals, including civilian stakeholders for their active support in the implementation of the Army Transformation Roadmap.

“It is but fitting and proper to recognize the sacrifices of our troops. They are our silent heroes who are ready to die for our freedom and for our country,” Colonel Agane C. Adriatico, Army Regiment commander said.

The good commander said the battalion’s mission and vision was achieved through their steadfast commitment to serve the people and the combined efforts of the cannoneers and stakeholders.

Adriatico highlighted the noteworthy accomplishments of the troops in the conduct of numerous successful fire missions in Marawi City and Sulu citing their sincere and unwavering support in maintaining security, peace and order in Mindanao.

He also underscored the significant role of artillery regiment units in ending insurgency, particularly in the Mindanao operations.

The troops were lauded by the Army Regiment and the 1s t Infantry (Tabak) Division, Philippine Army for killing their enemies, recovering high-powered firearms and several subversive documents from the local terrorist groups in Butig, Lanao del Sur.

“Your efforts will be rewarded as the higher headquarters recommended you who were involved in the battle, to be promoted to the next higher rank,” Adriatico announced.

As the 1FAB embarks into another challenging year as a unit, he reminded them on the popular quote from American business magnate Henry Ford, “Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is a success.”

Army-led drive vs loose guns nets 140 assorted firearms

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 8): Army-led drive vs loose guns nets 140 assorted firearms

The Army’s campaign against loose firearms has been gaining ground with more people with unlicensed guns from five Lanao del Sur towns voluntarily turned over their guns, an Army official said.

Capt. Arvin John Encinas, Army’s 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, told reporters that Lanao gun owners have been supporting the campaign to rid communities of loose guns.

The firearms were from residents of the coastal towns of Pikong, Malabang, Marogong, Balabagan and Kapatagan, all in Lanao del Sur. The towns are under the operational area of the 6ID.

The firearms, collected through the Ranao Ragat Inter-Agency Task Force, were turned over by residents at the Army’s 6th Infantry Battalion headquarters in Barangay Matling, Malabang, Lanao del Sur on Monday morning.

“We lauded the local residents for responding to our calls for their guns to be turned over to the military,” Encinas told reporters. “The idea is to avoid having these guns landed in the hands of law offenders.”

In the past, big clans kept their firearms to protect themselves from family enemies who are also armed.

Encinas said the government, military and local executives are working together to address clan wars, more known in the locality as “rido,” by bringing them together and work with the government.

Spearheaded by the Army’s 603rd Infantry Brigade, the comprehensive campaign against loose firearms has so far gathered 140 assorted high-powered guns.

This campaign has elated Major Gen. Arnel dela Vega, Army’s 6ID chief, who said the same program will be replicated in other local communities under the 6ID area of responsibility.

The 6ID, which is based in Maguindanao, has supervision over the provinces of Maguindanao, parts of Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato, and Lanao del Sur.

3 rebels killed in Capiz clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 8): 3 rebels killed in Capiz clash

Three members of the New People’s Army were killed in a clash with troops of the Philippine Army's 61st Infantry Battalion (61 IB) Tuesday afternoon at the mountain village of Puti-an, Cuartero, Capiz.

Lt. Col. Sisenando Magbalot, 61st IB commanding officer, said that a body of a rebel was recovered right after the encounter while two other corpses were recovered early morning of Wednesday when they continued their clearing operations.

The NPA members have yet to be identified, Magbalot said.

The slain NPA members are still wearing their battle gears when they were recovered, Magbalot said. The firefight with more than 20 NPA members lasted for about an hour.

Aside from the bodies, the soldiers also recovered two high-powered firearms and one AK-47 rifle. These firearms are already in the custody of operating troops.

Magbalot assured that none from Army troops was wounded or killed during the encounter.

Magbalot said that they sent small troops to Barangay Puti-an this week to verify residents' reports there are NPA members doing extortion activities in the area.

“There is an ongoing harvest in the area. They (NPA members) obtained sacks of rice from residents and sell them. There are even envelopes recovered with names on it,” Magbalot added.

To further secure the safety and security of the residents and protect them against further extortion activities of NPA members, Magbalot assured to constantly provide community support program to the communities.

He mentioned that the Capiz Public Safety Company is also active in inspecting the community.

Residents are urged to report to authorities if they are being harmed by armed groups or victimized by extortion activities.

Pres. Duterte assures soldiers: I'll always be there in times of need

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 8): Pres. Duterte assures soldiers: I'll always be there in times of need

President Rodrigo Duterte stressed anew that he would support the country’s uniformed personnel at all times.

The Chief Executive reiterated his commitment when he keynoted the 67th founding anniversary of the Philippine Marine Corps at its headquarters in Taguig City on Tuesday, November 7.

“I want to emphasize to soldiers that --- for as long as I’m there, I love my soldiers and I love my police. And you can be very sure that I am there when the moment needs me,” Duterte said.

He again vowed to modernize the Philippine military and police by providing them brand new equipment and firearms. He said he wants to leave the presidency with a strong armed forces and police force.

The President also announced the allocation of PHP500-million fund for housing projects, prosthetics and other medical needs, and livelihood assistance for wounded and disabled soldiers. He said he hopes soldiers who lost limbs in battle can stand again with the help of titanium prosthetics.

After the Philippine Marine Corps event, the President visited wounded soldiers recuperating at the Manila Naval Hospital inside Fort Bonifacio.

Among the soldiers were Sgt. Jayson Gigante, Ssg. Roderick Pervandos, Sgt. Benjie Trilles, Tsg. Hector Pizon, Tssgt. Rolly Magalona, Pvt. MC Riel Omilig, Pfc. Christopher Famulag, Pfc Bernard Ariglado, and Pfc. Jomar Abuan.

The President conferred on them the Order of Lapu-Lapu with rank of Kampilan. The soldiers also received financial assistance from President Duterte.

Drones or UAV operations restricted during 31st ASEAN Summit: CAAP

From the Philippine News Agency (Nov 8): Drones or UAV operations restricted during 31st ASEAN Summit: CAAP

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) reminded all Drones or Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle (UAV) operators and hobbyist that strict implementation of a “no-fly zone” will be implemented in areas where the 31st ASEAN Summit will be held from November 9 to 17, 2017 in Manila and Clark.

CAAP issued notice to airmen (NOTAM B4588/17) no drone operations from 09-17 November 2017, 40 nautical miles radius centered on Luneta Park and NOTAM (B4593/17), 40 nautical miles radius centered on Clark DVOR.

CAAP said that under the Memorandum Circular No. 21 series of 2014 (dated June, 2014) and its amendments in Memorandum Circular No. 35 (dated November 2014), it prohibits the flying of UAVs over populated areas, restricted areas such as airports and “no-fly zones” such as military training camps and Malacanang Palace.

The memorandum states that: no person may operate a UAV for hire or rewards unless in possession of a UAV Certificate of Authorization from CAAP that authorizes the person to operate the UAV.

Owners or operators are required to register their equipment with the CAAP, and secure a certification to operate from the agency.

Under the provisions of the Philippine Civil Aviation Regulations (PCAR), any operators found violating rules of the memorandum will be fined between PHP300,000 to PHP500,000 depending on the gravity of violations.

Family calls for thorough investigation on kin’s slay

From the Sun Star-Bacolod (Nov 8): Family calls for thorough investigation on kin’s slay
THE family of a slain resident of Barangay Bagong Silang in Salvador Benedicto, Negros Occidental, is calling for a thorough investigation of the incident.

Robert Selendrun, 21, who went fishing in the river at nearby Barangay Pinowayan with his brother and uncle, was reportedly killed in a shooting incident last month.

His mother Rosalie Dulman, 41, in a press conference at Negros Press Club in Bacolod City Tuesday, November 7, said they are calling on authorities to investigate the killing.

Dulman, who was accompanied by some of her neighbors, appealed for justice as she insisted that his son or their other family members are not members of a rebel group.

“Nagapanulo lang ang bata ko sang isda upod ang iya manghod kag tiyo sang hinali lang sila ginpaniro sang tatlo ka armado nga kalalakihan nga katapo sang RPA-ABB (My son was just catching fish with his brother and uncle when they were suddenly shot by three armed men who are members of RPA-ABB)," the mother said.

Military reports earlier showed that members of Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB) led by a certain Alejandro Traya conducted patrol at the vicinity of Barangay Pinowayan.

They then encountered about 20 men with high-powered firearms led by Glen Saldoa and Julito Tanoco along the Tangkongan river at the boundary of Barangays Pinowayan and Bagong Silang around 6:40 p.m.

A firefight ensued for about 15 minutes and a certain Godofredo Bayog- ang, along with 13 members of RPA-ABB reinforced Traya's group, it said.

Reports further said that there were four fatalities and one wounded on the part of the private armed group. However, no bodies were retrieved.

Colonel Eliezer Losañes, commander of 303rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army, had said they are verifying the reported four casualties in the encounter.

The police said they retrieved the body of Selendron from the encounter site near the river. However, they have yet to determine if the victim was a member of either group.

The Northern Negros Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (NNAHRA) claimed that there was no “legitimate encounter” between armed and rebel groups at the area.

It also dismissed allegations that Selendron is a member of the New People's Army (NPA).

Rey Alburo, secretary general of NNAHRA, who was also at the press conference, said “one of the three RPA members who shot the victim is a distant relative of the Selendrons thus, they can recognize the group."

Alburo also said that since the incident happened, the investigation has not progressed

Protests Held in Manila Ahead of Trump Upcoming Visit for ASEAN Summit

From the Latin American Herald Tribune (Nov 8): Protests Held in Manila Ahead of Trump Upcoming Visit for ASEAN Summit

More than a hundred people turned up in Manila on Tuesday to protest against the visit of US President Donald Trump – the first in a series of demonstrations planned ahead of his arrival to the Philippines.

Left-wing alliance Bayan organized the protests in front of the Malacañang presidential palace, where those gathered chanted slogans against Trump and carried placards with various messages scrawled across them, including “Trump is not welcome in PH (Philippines).”

The US president, who is currently in Seoul as part of his tour of East Asia, is scheduled to arrive in Manila on Sunday to participate in an ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit.

Protesters carried caricatures of Trump, burned a mock US flag and gathered around a painting on the ground depicting the president with a red cross covering his face, along with the words “Ban Trump in PH.!”

The organizers made several demands in a press note, including ending US military interventions, stopping military aid for the Philippine government and an official apology for alleged atrocities during the US rule of the Philippines (1898-1946).

Tuesday’s protest was the first in a series planned over the next few days against Trump’s upcoming visit to the country, including a gathering in front of the US embassy on Monday.

The banned Communist Party of the Philippines on Tuesday issued a statement urging Filipinos to rise up against Trump’s visit.

After Marawi, Islamic State Still Threatens Region: Philippine Presidential Spokesman

From BenarNews (Nov 7): After Marawi, Islamic State Still Threatens Region: Philippine Presidential Spokesman


Harry Roque, then a lawyer representing slain reporters, talks to a fellow attorney before the start of a trial, June 15, 2011.

The Philippines wrested Marawi city from Islamic State-linked militants after a hard-fought, five-month battle, but IS remains a threat that can be contained only through greater cross-border cooperation, the new presidential spokesman told BenarNews on Tuesday.

The Philippines initially played down the threat posed by the extremist group in the southern city and in a battle with government forces that left more than 1,000 people dead, according to Harry Roque, a human rights lawyer who recently became spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte.

“We were surprised,” that the fight to reclaim Marawi lasted as long as it did, Roque said in an interview.

“I think the president has said that he was surprised that they were able to engage troops in firefights for as long as they did and that they had as much ammunition stockpiled as they did,” he told BenarNews.

Pushing the last militants out from Marawi came with the realization that Southeast Asian countries, which include mostly Muslim Malaysia and Indonesia, needed to increase regional cooperation in face of the threat, Roque said. He warned that extremists were likely to strike in places with lax security.

Although the government declared the battle over on Oct. 23, saying that the main leaders on the IS side had been killed, dozens of enemy holdouts have engaged the military in skirmishes in recent days.

“We are finally in control of Marawi. However, the menace of modern-day terrorism will persist,” Roque said. “There has been a liberation of Marawi in the sense that we have retaken control, so, in that sense, we’ve won.”

But the menace of IS will persist not just in the region, but worldwide, he added.

“I do not know if it is accurate to say that it is spreading, but it’s still here in the Philippines, in Europe and in Asia. It’s all over,” Roque said, stressing that “stronger cooperation” among Southeast Asian governments was needed to counter the threat.

He said the battle also underscored how the United States was still an indispensable ally to the Philippines in the fight against terrorism.

“President Duterte looks forward to closer ties with the United States,” Roque said. “He has acknowledged the assistance of the U.S. government in the war in Marawi, even as he hasn’t changed his position that he has pivoted to Asia.”

Duterte was forced to accept military intelligence help from the United States – its long-time ally – when the battle began in late May.

He earlier threatened to expel American troops who regularly undertake training visits to the south after Washington had criticized his administration’s bloody war on illegal drugs.

Duterte has not criticized the U.S. lately and has sought to rekindle ties with Washington after President Donald Trump took office in January, Roque observed. Both presidents are expected to meet in Manila this month when the Philippines hosts Southeast Asian and other leaders for a summit.

Emphasis on rebuilding Marawi

The battle started in late May, when Abu Sayyaf Group militant leader Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged leader of IS in Southeast Asia, led hundreds of his men in attacking Marawi, a predominantly Muslim city of 200,000 people.

He was aided by brothers Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute, who deployed their own fighters to reinforce Hapilon. Several fighters from Southeast Asia and the Middle East also joined the battle, which was advertised in pro-IS social media sites as a fight for a new caliphate in the region.

After first playing down the threat, Duterte acknowledged the government had underestimated the militant threat in Marawi, the biggest security challenge to confront any Philippine government in recent history.

Since declaring the battle over, the government is looking to reconstruct Marawi into a modern city, a long-term endeavor that could take years.

“The emphasis now is on the rebuilding of homes, so they can go back and resume normal lives,” Roque said. “The president has promised to rebuild Marawi to make it one of the most prosperous cities not just in Mindanao, as the whole country.”

Silence as PH marines pay tribute to fallen men on 67th year

From Rappler (Nov 8): Silence as PH marines pay tribute to fallen men on 67th year

The Philippine Marine Corps also celebrates the living heroes who led its operations not only in Marawi but in other conflict areas in the country   

67TH. The Philippine Marine Corps celebrates its 67th year anniversary on November 7, 2017

67TH. The Philippine Marine Corps celebrates its 67th year anniversary on November 7, 2017

The crowd of Filipino Marines fell silent as the faces of fallen colleagues were shown in a video presentation honoring their heroism on Tuesday, November 7.

It's the 67th "birthday" of the Philippine Marines. The celebration that President Rodrigo Duterte attended came in the wake of the bloody siege in Marawi City where 35 of them were killed.

The late First Lieutenant John Frederick Savellano was among the faces that flashed on the screen. The young officer was one of the 13 Marines killed on June 9, 2017, in a battle to retake the Baloi Bridge that served as a critical supply route for the Maute fighters in Marawi.

It was the bloodiest day in the Marawi war, a tragedy that happened just a few days after Savellano's leadership was celebrated for clearing a building that Maute fighters occupied, and retrieving up to P79 million in cash.

"Let this 67th birthday be our way of celebrating our fallen warriors' legacy by taking a pause and reflecting on why and how the Philippine Marine Corps was born," said Philippine Marine Corps Commandant Major General Alvin Parreño in his speech. But the celebration was not only for the heroism of the fallen Marines in Marawi but also of those who fought in battles in other parts of the country.

Two Marines were recently killed in action in Palawan and another two in Sulu. "For sure, no story and no hero will be left forgotten," Parreño said.

Living heroes

The Philippine Marine Corps is a component of the Philippine Navy that provides ground combat elements working in tandem with the fleet.

It's a lean and mean fighting unit composed of 8,000 fighters who are deployed around the country to, among others, guard the country's maritime territory in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and various Philippine islands.

On Tuesday, the Marines also celebrated the living heroes.

Among the recipients of the Gold Cross medal is First Lieutenant Kim Adrian Martal for leading an operation in Marawi City, Staff Sergeant Ricky Villar for fighting Abu Sayyaf members in Sulu, and Sergeant Richard Anding for also fighting in Marawi City.

COMMANDANT. Philippine Marine Corps Commandant Major General Alvin Parreño leads the 67th birthday celebration of his unit.

The Honorary Marine Brigade Command Badge was also given to Lieutenant General Rolando Bautista and Major General Danilo Pamonag – Army generals who led the overall operations in Marawi.

The same badge was given to Rear Admiral Rene Medina of the Western Mindanao Command for assisting the Marines.

The birthday celebration ended with the fabled cake ceremony that Marines worldwide are known for. The cake was paraded in an elaborate ceremony led by Marine officers before the Commandant sliced the cake and took the first bite.

He reported that the cake was fit for consumption before the President Rodrigo Duterte himself was given the second slice.

It's a tradition followed by Marines all over the world.

67TH. The Philippine Marine Corps celebrates its 67th anniversary on November 7, 2017

Marawi shows PH 'woefully inadequate' vs terrorism – Lorenzana

From Rappler (Nov 8): Marawi shows PH 'woefully inadequate' vs terrorism – Lorenzana

Terrorism is among the top security concerns that ASEAN leaders are expected to discuss in regional meetings in Vietnam and the Philippines this week

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the war with heavily armed local armed groups in Marawi City had exposed the shortcomings of the Philippine military in fighting terrorism. (READ: MARAWI: 153 days and more)

"Marawi is an eye opener. Marawi showed us how woefully inadequate our capablity is for this kind of problem," Lorenzana said in the Asean Leadership Amid a New World Order forum held on Wednesday, November 8, in Makati City.

Terrorism is among the top security concerns that ASEAN leaders are expected to discuss in regional meetings in Vietnam and the Philippines this week.

Lorenzana said the Philippines had been in "denial mode" despite previous warnings against the spread of radical ideology in the region.

A faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group led by supposed Islamic State (ISIS) emir Isnilon Hapilon and young radicals led by the so-called Maute Brothers attacked Marawi in May in a bid to establish an Islamic caliphate in Southeast Asia.

The Philippine military received assistance from treaty allies US and Australia, which flew their P3 Orion surveillance planes to help locate the position of the enemies. (READ: Trump adviser hails global cooperation in Marawi)

Neighbors Malaysia and Indonesia also helped patrol shared borders to prevent the possiblity of ISIS sympathizers going to Marawi to join the war.

China and Russia – new allies of the Philippines – donated rifles.

The military declared the war over after 5 months, on October 23, after killing the leaders of the siege. Clashes continue on the ground, however, with stragglers that the military claims no longer pose a major threat.

The military has also started facilitating the return of Marawi residents to their homes.

Maute stragglers leaderless, directionless, says military

From ABS-CBN (Nov 7): Maute stragglers leaderless, directionless, says military

The military said Tuesday ISIS-inspired extremists that laid siege in the southern city of Marawi remain "leaderless" despite reports that Malaysian militant Amir Baco is the new emir of the group in Southeast Asia.

READ: 'Marwan student targeted in Mamasapano operation is new IS emir'

Maute fighters could not even form a sizable group to affect the security situation in the area and most of the remaining stragglers are fighting for survival, said Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla.

"We still subscribe to the belief that the group is now leaderless, directionless and most of the stragglers remaining in the area belonging to the group are merely fighting for survival," he told ANC's Dateline Philippines.

The military is now pursuing leads that one of the 11 fatalities in a confrontation on Sunday was Baco, said Padilla.

Baco, who was trained by fellow Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, is believed to have been chosen as the new emir in the region after Isnilon Hapilon was killed by state troops in Marawi.

READ: Hapilon's lair: Copies of Koran, boots, scarves

Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa made the revelation on Monday according to information shared by arrested Indonesian terrorist Mohammad Ilham Syahputra.

READ: Indonesian linked to Maute nabbed in Lanao del Sur

However, Padilla said information from Syahputra needs to be further validated because "he has been out of the main battle area for quite some time" and their information that there is no leader for the group is the most recent.

He added, any statement from terrorists should be carefully verified because it could mislead ongoing operations.

After cross-checking Syahputra's statement, Padilla said they believe that there are remaining stragglers in the buildings they have not yet cleared.

"We are making sure that all those buildings are properly cleared so that we leave no stone unturned for any remaining member of the group to escape from the area and create havoc in other area in the future," he said.

Philippines upgrades military features in disputed Spratly Islands

Posted to Malaysiskini (Nov 7): Philippines upgrades military features in disputed Spratly Islands

The Philippines has started upgrading military facilities on the biggest features it occupies in the disputed South China Sea, its defence secretary said on Tuesday, asserting Manila's claims in the strategic waterway.

Delfin Lorenzana (photo) said a contractor was building a beach ramp on Thitu Island, locally known as Pag-asa, the largest of nine features the Philippines holds in the Spratly Islands.

"While construction is ongoing, albeit intermittently, depending on good weather, we expect its completion by early 2018," Lorenzana said, adding the monsoon rains have been hampering the building of the beach ramp.

"No construction can proceed without a good beaching ramp."

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims on the waterway where more than US$3 trillion worth of sea-borne goods pass every year.

Recent satellite imagery has shown Chinese vessels gathering around Thitu, in what some experts say could be an attempt to deter the Philippines from cementing its claim. China's ambassador has played that down, insisting his country has no ill intent.
The two countries have long been at odds over the South China Sea, although ties have warmed substantially under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who says it is smarter to do business with China than pick a fight with its far superior military.

Lorenzana said the ramp was important to allow large naval ships to deliver construction materials to repair and upgrade the island's airfield, fix structures and build a new port for fishermen.
A small community lives on Thitu, ostensibly to prop up the country's claim, although conditions are basic compared to those enjoyed by Vietnamese and Chinese on other islands in the Spratly chain.

Defence department spokesman Arsenio Andolong said the government would spend more than 1.3 billion pesos (US$25.3 million) for the upgrades on Thitu.
The military has defended the work, saying almost of all South China Sea claimants have been doing the same.

China has built seven artificial islands, installing radar and anti-aircraft guns and missiles on several. Experts have predicted fighter jets will soon be deployed on those islands.

Densus 88 to meet Madrais in the Philippines

From Antara (Nov 6): Densus 88 to meet Madrais in the Philippines

The National Polices Densus 88 counterterrorism squad plans on meeting Minhati Madrais, the Indonesian wife of a terrorist leader in the Philippines, Omarkhayam Maute, in Marawi.

The plan was confirmed by Brigadier General Rikwanto, head of the public relations division of the Indonesian Police headquarter, here on Monday.

Based on information from the polices counterpart in Cagayan de Oro, Rikwanto said Madrais was arrested at 9:30 a.m. local time on Sunday.

In addition to Madrais, the joint team of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police from ICPO, MIB, ISG, CIDT-Lanso, 4th Mech, and 103rd SAC had arrested Madrais six children -- four women and two men -- from the 9017 Steele Makers Village, Tubod, Illigan City.
Rikwanto said Madrais, who is known to be a resident of Bekasi, West Java, was the wife of one of the leaders of Maute Group, Omarkhayam Maute, who had been killed during military operations in Marawi.

The police confiscated four "blasting caps", two units of detonating cord, and a time fuse as well as an expired passport bearing the name of Madrais.

"Right now, Madrais and her children are being questioned at a police station in Iligan City," Rikwanto said.

Madrais, born in Bekasi on June 9, 1971, was believed to have arrived with a passport numbered A 2093379 in Manila in 2015, and her visa had been extended for 30 days to be effective until January 30, 2017.

Islamic State lurks in Philippine shadows

From the Asia Times (Nov 7): Islamic State lurks in Philippine shadows (By Bong Sarmiento)

While one terror battle has ended in the besieged city of Marawi, another looms as the extremist group's many local affiliates come under new leadership

Philippine soldiers stand guard in front of a door spray painted with "I love ISIS" graffiti after government troops cleared the area from pro-Islamic State militant groups inside the war-torn Marawi city, southern Philippines October 19, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

Philippine soldiers stand guard in front of a door spray painted with "I love ISIS" graffiti after government troops cleared the area from pro-Islamic State militant groups inside the war-torn Marawi city, southern Philippines October 19, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

While one terror battle has ended, the next one looms in the shadows on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

Five months after the Islamic State-aligned Maute Group laid destructive siege to the southern city of Marawi, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced on October 23 the end of government operations to liberate the city from the militants.

“The Philippine security forces, aided by its government and massive support of the Filipino people, have nipped the budding terrorism infrastructure and defeated terrorism in the Philippines,” he said.

At the same time, Lorenzana acknowledged that the tactical triumph in Marawi will not eliminate Islamic State’s ideology in the Philippines, and called for stronger regional cooperation to fight the rising threat the terror group poses to Southeast Asia as fighters return home from the battlefields of Iraq and Syria.

The call comes ahead of this week’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Manila, where global leaders will be in attendance. Security forces have amped up their vigilance against a possible Islamic State-inspired retaliatory attack on the global meeting.

Some 60,000 police, soldiers and other law enforcement operatives have been deployed to secure heads of states, including US President Donald Trump, along with some 3,000 delegates who will hold crucial meetings on politics, security and economics.

A day before President Rodrigo Duterte announced the liberation of Marawi, troops killed Isnilon Hapilon, Islamic State’s designated emir in Southeast Asia and leader of the local Abu Sayyaf militant group, and Omar Maute, one of the two Maute brothers who led the months-long siege.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Eduardo Ano shows a picture of killed Islamic State emir Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, leader of the Maute-Islamic State group, in Marawi City, October 16, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Froilan Gallardo

Hapilon’s presumed deputy, Malaysian Mahmud Ahmad, and Omar’s militant brother, Abdullah Maute, are also believed to have been killed in the Marawi fighting.

Yet regional security analysts have warned Philippine security officials to remain on high alert in the aftermath of the siege, from which hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians are slowly starting to return from evacuation centers to their ruined lakeside city.

“The death of Hapilon and Omar Maute will definitely create a tactical setback for pro-Islamic State groups in Mindanao,” said Rommel Banlaoi, chairman of the Manila-based Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, a think tank. “But this will not mean the end of violence in the southern Philippines and beyond.”

Lorenzana told media that his forces are still looking for Malaysian militant Amin Baco, who he described as Islamic State’s likely new designated emir in the region.

Baco, linked with regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah, is known to be an expert bomb-maker who reportedly trained under Malaysian militant Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, who was killed in Maguindanao province in 2015 in a fierce firefight that left 44 Philippine police commandoes dead.

Reuters quoted an anonymous army colonel as saying Baco could be hiding in Maguindanao or the southern island of Jolo. While his links to Islamic State were until now not known to be particularly strong, the official said he was well-placed to serve the emir role due to his familiarity with local extremist groups.

Soldiers stand against pro-Islamic State graffiti in Marawi City, Philippines June 2, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

Analysts say attacks could also be organized by Puruji Indama, an Abu Sayyaf chieftain based in the island province of Basilan who formed the Abu Dujana Battalion of the Soldiers of the Caliphate in East Asia.

Banlaoi anticipates possible new attacks from Naim Mujahid’s Ansar Khilafa Philippines militant group which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State. Formed in 2014, the group is based in Sarangani province near General Santos City, a backdoor entry point to the Philippines from Indonesia’s Sulawesi and Kalimantan provinces where Islamic militancy has long thrived.

Mujahid has strong links with Mahmoud Ahmad, the Malaysian academic who helped to fund and fought alongside the Maute Group in Marawi. The military has claimed to have killed Mahmoud, who is believed to have been operating in Mindanao since 2014, but his death has still not been independently verified.

Banlaoi also points to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a militant group that broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for making peace with the government, as another dangerous pro-Islamic State group capable of stirring chaos in Mindanao.

The BIFF operates in Maguindanao province, scene of deadly clashes between MILF and government forces until a peace deal was forged in 2014. In the months that war raged in Marawi, MILF forces launched separate offensives against the BIFF to help the government fight the spread of Islamic State ideology in the region.

Cotabato City, the seat of government of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that is surrounded by Maguindanao province, has been placed on high alert since the Marawi crisis for possible spillover effects of the fighting.

A dozen or so young men previously brazenly paraded in the streets of Cotabato with a black Islamic State flag, raising the specter that a locality where a Philippine marine battalion is stationed could be the next flashpoint for a Marawi-style attack, particularly with the BIFF’s presence in nearby Maguindanao.

Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi has denied the parade of Islamic State’s flag happened in her locality, but jas noted that security measures have been heightened to secure her constituents from possible Islamist attacks.

The Marawi siege laid bare the Philippine military’s lacking urban warfare capabilities and brought to fore the international connections of local Islamic State-aligned groups with foreign fighters, mostly Indonesians and Malaysians, but also from Arab countries.

Amid fears of a next assault or spectacular attack on a symbolic target, the military has belittled the capabilities of the other Islamic State-aligned groups to do so. The Marawi siege took careful planning and huge financial support for firearms, ammunition and food supplies for the hundreds of fighters.

Of the more than 1,100 people killed in the Marawi siege, 920 were militants, 165 were government troops and 47 were civilians, the Philippine military said. But “the risks won’t end when the military declares victory (in Marawi),” said Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC).

“Indonesia and Malaysia will face new threats in the form of returning fighters from Mindanao, and the Philippines will have a host of smaller dispersed cells with the capacity for both violence and indoctrination,” she added.

It’s not clear if foreign nationals involved in the Marawi siege have fled the Philippines or are in hiding. This month Philippine forces captured Indonesian Mohamadin Ilham Syaputra, one of the last holdouts in Marawi, who has reportedly admitted a role in the 2016 bombing in Jakarta that killed eight people. Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack.

Philippine marines stand at attention during their send-off ceremony ending their combat duty against pro-Islamic State militant groups in Marawi City, October 21, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

In October 2016, IPAC released a study entitled “Pro-ISIS Groups in Mindanao and their links to Indonesia and Malaysia,” which warned of an impending attack in the island.

Support for Islamic State ideology “has facilitated cooperation across clan and ethnic lines, widened the extremist recruitment pool to include computer-savvy university students and new international communication and possibly funding channels,” the report said. “It means that more deadly violence in the Philippines involving alliances of pro-ISIS groups is a matter of when, not if.”

The study mentioned the slain Hapilon and Omar Maute – personalities who eventually figured prominently in the Marawi siege that erupted seven months after IPAC released its research. Philippine intelligence has since come under fire for not foreseeing and preventing Marawi’s occupation and subsequent destruction. Officials have said they will need at least US$1 billion for reconstruction and rehabilitation.

On October 4, Omar Maute’s Indonesian wife, Minhati Midrais, alias Baby, was arrested in Iligan City. Police claimed to have found bomb-making materials in her rented house. They say they have investigated her cell phone to ferret out militant connections and forestall future Islamic State inspired attacks.

New attacks, security analysts warn, could come from so-called “lone wolf” Muslim militants inspired by Islamic State propaganda, as has happened in several Western countries. Security officials say they are now carefully guarding Duterte’s hometown of Davao City, where a September 2016 bomb claimed by pro-Islamic State militants killed 15 and injured 70.