Tuesday, December 19, 2017

OPAPP's solidarity activity spreads love, hope, peace for Marawi IDPs

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 19): OPAPP's solidarity activity spreads love, hope, peace for Marawi IDPs

With joy and delight, displaced children of Marawi  performs ‘Chicken Dance’ during the solidarity activity organized by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP), in partnership with Duyog Marawi. (Photo by DGernale/PIA)

Dubbed as "Puso at Kapayapaan, Magbigayan at Magmahalan," a solidarity activity for the displaced residents of Marawi City was organized by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), in partnership with Duyog Marawi.

With the aim to spread love, hope and peace in this yuletide season, the activity was held in evacuation centers and homebased communities in Buruun School of Fisheries, in barangays Sta. Elena, Kiwalan and Upper Hinaplanon in Iligan City.

Speaking to the evacuees housed at Ma. Cristina and at Buruun School of Fisheries, Undersecretary Diosita Andot of OPAPP said that the activity was a tangible manifestation of the unity between Christians and Muslims.

“Huwag tayong mawalan ng pag asa. Magkaisa tayo, magtulungan at panatilihin natin ang kapayapaan kahit na nasa evacuation camps kayo ngayon,” said Andot.

[We should not lose hope. Let us all be united; help one another and preserve the peace even if you are in evacuation camps.]

Meanwhile, Philippine Information Agency (PIA) Director General Harold Clavite encouraged them to enjoy the activity and reminded the parents to guide their children.

"Okay lang matakot, basta sigurado tayo na sa ating puso ay mayroon tayong bukas," said Clavite.

[It is okay to be scared, as long as we are sure that in our hearts, there is tomorrow.]

Minda Acod of Ma. Cristina evacuation center conveyed her gratitude as the activity made the children and parents like her to be happy.

“Nagpapasalamat ako dahil nakita kong masayang-masaya ang mga bata pati kaming mga parents. Kahit papaano nawala sa isipan namin iyong mga nangyari sa Marawi," said Acod.

[I am very grateful that I have seen the children and the parents happy. Somehow, we were able to forget what happened in Marawi.]

Songs of peace, love and hope reverberated during the event as Christmas carols were sung for the displaced residents. With joy and delight, the children also performed ‘Baby Shark’ and ‘Chicken Dance’.

Symbolizing the season of giving, knapsacks containing school supplies, lunch kits and candies were distributed to the children.

Mercado relieved as Navy chief

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 19): Mercado relieved as Navy chief

Philippine Navy (PN) flag-officer-in-command Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado was formally relieved from his post effective Tuesday.

This was disclosed by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) acting spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo.

He added that the instruction to relieve Mercado, a member of Philippine Military Academy Class of 1983, came from higher authorities and it was implemented by AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero.

Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad, a member of PMA Class of 1986, was named acting PN chief.

Arevalo said that Mercado was assigned to the Office of the-Chief-of-Staff, AFP on Special Duties.
"The reason for this change-of-command will be explained in due time," he added.

As this develops, PN spokesperson Capt. Lued Lincuna said that the Navy as a professional organization always follow a lawful order from the chain of command.

"With the change of command ceremony this morning, the Philippine Navy extends its gratitude to Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph S. Mercado AFP, for his dedicated service rendered as the Flag-Officer-in-Command of the Philippine Navy," he added.

“On the reason of his relief, I am not privy with the decisions and/or other issues at hand hence I could not give you a definite answer. I defer your questions to higher authories. But rest assured the Philippine Navy has a lot of competent and qualified leaders to assume as Flag Officer in Command, Philippine Navy. Thus, today, we welcome and honor former Deputy Chief of Staff for Retirees and Reservists Affairs, J9, Rear Admiral Robert A. Empedrad AFP as the Acting FOIC, PN effective today December 19," Lincuna stressed.


Army reservists undergo search and rescue training

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 18): Army reservists undergo search and rescue training

At least 50 officers and enlisted personnel of the Philippine Army reservist responders have underwent mountain search and rescue training (MOSART) in this capital town of Aurora.
Major Husain  A. Esmael, director of 307th Community Defense Center of the Philippine Army, on Monday said the 12-day training that ended Sunday consisted of lectures and practical exercises which equipped the participants with the necessary knowledge in mountain search and rescue efforts and readiness in times of emergency. 
"They are now trained for searching, locating, stabilizing and extricating victims trapped in landslides using the safest and most appropriate procedures for the rescuers as well as the victims,” he said. 
Esmael said that it is their objective to develop local responders in the Philippine Army reservists to be well-equipped in  MOSART operations for emergency mobilization.
The training course consists of lessons on fundamentals of MOSART techniques in offensive rescue situation involving landslides; rescue strategies and techniques; developing/enhancing disaster preparedness and response capacity of local responders for flooding/landslide incident. 
The training also included the incident command system (ICS) and mobilization period; basic life support; demonstration on life saving techniques and different rescue operations. 
Esmael also cited the support of their partners from the 56th Infantry “Tatag” Battalion, Philippine Army, Baler Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, Bureau of Fire Protection,  among others.
Meanwhile, Baler Vice Mayor Pedro Ong said the program of the Philippine Army reservists such as this is one of the best ways for the government to effectively win the hearts of the people especially those living in vulnerable disaster areas. 
He cited the important role of Army reservists  who are regularly being deployed for disaster response operations in calamity-stricken areas.
"The Army reservists are our valuable and valued partners in strengthening the government’s effort in bringing the military closer to the people as well in projecting good image. With our continuing focus and determination to serve and secure the people, we will sustain our goal of strengthening the ready reserve program of the province as force multipliers for peace and development," he added.

AFP to deploy engineering units to help in ‘Urduja’-hit areas

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 19): AFP to deploy engineering units to help in ‘Urduja’-hit areas

The military will deploy its engineering units to assist in relief and rehabilitation efforts in areas hit by tropical depression ‘Urduja’.

Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana made this assurance in an interview Monday.

“We will assign yung ating engineering brigades na pumunta rito para tumulong. Rest assured our military (is) here, we have the military commanders here to assist you,” Lorenzana said.

The defense chief also said a Philippine Navy (PN) ship would arrive in Biliran to assist in relief operations in the province.

“There is a ship coming from Cebu travelling towards Naval (Biliran’s capital). Meron silang mga dala dalang relief goods galing sa DSWD,” Lorenzana noted.

Earlier, the PN said it is now preparing its strategic sealift vessels and landing craft heavies (LCHs) to help in the ongoing relief efforts for provinces devastated by tropical depression 'Urduja'.

These are the BRP Tarlac (LD-601) and BRP Davao Del Sur (LD-602), the two strategic sealift vessels acquired from Indonesian shipbuilder PT PAL (Persero) and five LCHs acquired from the Royal Australian Navy.

The above-mentioned ships are now preparing to sealift goods, equipment, and personnel to aid in relief operations.

Due to the damages sustained by the province, Biliran has been placed under a state of calamity.


PH-US partnership robust, says diplomat

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 19): PH-US partnership robust, says diplomat

Manila's engagement with Washington on political and security issues "are as robust" as the two parties' economic relationship, said Philippine Ambassador to US Jose Manuel Romualdez on Tuesday.

In a year-end report at the Philippine Embassy, Romualdez identified counterterrorism and counter-narcotics as the primary focus of the two states' bilateral cooperation for 2018, emphasizing that it is to the interest of both the Philippines and the United States to eliminate the threats posed by terrorism and the illegal drugs trade.

On campaign against illegal drugs, he said there had been a lot of information sharing and other types of cooperation between law enforcers of the US and the Philippines. 

On the liberation of Marawi City from Islamic State-affiliated terrorists, Romualdez said "close" and "timely assistance" of the US to the Philippine government have contributed significantly.

“It is said that security and economic development are two sides of the same coin. Our partnership with the US on political and security issues are just as robust as the economic relationship,” he said. 

Given "sustained economic growth and economic prosperity are underpinned by political stability," Romualdez also said that the Philippines is committed to work with its allies in addressing security threats and challenges in the region such as the South China Sea dispute and tensions in the Korean Peninsula. 

On the latter, he said the Philippines remains "gravely concerned" over the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's provocative actions "which only serve to raise tension in the region." 

"We support relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions imposed sanctions against North Korea," he said. 

On South China Sea, he said the Philippines is optimistic about the conclusion of the Code of Conduct and the long-term benefit it would have in the peace and stability in the area. 


Romualdez’s year-end briefing for US government officials, private sector representatives, and members of the Filipino community also focused on the positive reforms and trends in the Philippine economy, which has achieved greater than 6 percent growth for the past nine quarters. 

At the event, US-ASEAN Business Council President and CEO, Alex Feldman said "the impressive economic growth that the Philippines has experienced over the last year and the predictions that it will continue into 2018 are the types of economic fundamentals that have attracted over $3.3 billion in American foreign direct investment to the Philippines." 

He said this is seen to attract US companies to the Philippines in the months and years ahead. 

“Major initiatives to improve the business environment, such as the ‘Build, Build, Build’ infrastructure development program and efforts to ease restrictions on foreign ownership in key sectors, will only make the Philippines an even more attractive destination for American corporations," he said. 

Romualdez said infrastructure development was highlighted as a top priority for the Duterte administration.

“The Administration’s goal is to invest over US$170 billion in six years. By 2022, the government is expected to spend nearly US$38 billion, or 7.4% of GDP, on infrastructure alone,” the envoy stated.

“Our economic managers emphasize the multiplier and expansionary effects that investment in infrastructure and construction." 

"The goal of the administration is to continue stimulating investment in the modernization of urban areas in Manila, while incentivizing greater investment in the rural areas,” he added. 

On trade relations, Romualdez said US was the country's third largest trading partner and second biggest market for Philippine exports in 2016. 

In efforts to maintain and boost this, he mentioned that preliminary internal consultations have begun on a potential bilateral Free Trade Agreement between the Philippines and the United States.

Romualdez, appointed in July 2017, has recently assumed his role as envoy to the US after presenting his credentials to US President Donald Trump on November 29, 2017.


CBCP slams NPA attack on soldiers helping 'Urduja' victims

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 19): CBCP slams NPA attack on soldiers helping 'Urduja' victims

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) slammed the attack by New People's Army (NPA) against government forces who provided relief to calamity victims in Northern Samar.

“The ambush of soldiers while delivering relief goods is deplorable!” said Fr. Edu Gariguez, executive secretary of CBCP-National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (NASSA).

“In emergency humanitarian operation, the military should not be targeted for offensive attack by the NPA, particularly if they are bringing relief goods to flood victims,” he furthered.

With this, the Catholic priest renewed its call to end the armed conflict between the government and the NPA.

“We are advocating for peaceful and just resolution of armed conflict. Peace talks should proceed and ceasefire should be observed by both parties during Christmas and even beyond,” Gariguez added.

The military, however, earlier said it is not inclined to declare a holiday truce with the communist terrorists, adding that such attack validates the government's decision to scrap peace talks with the latter.

On Sunday, two soldiers were hurt after they were ambushed by NPA brigands while they were on their way to a relief operation in Catubig, Northern Samar which was hit by tropical depression 'Urduja'.


PH Marines, ADF conclude 1st urban terrain training

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 19): PH Marines, ADF conclude 1st urban terrain training

Philippine Marine Corps and Australian Defense Force personnel completed their first ever Mentor Training Team (MTT) Program for Military Operations in Urbanized Terrain (MOUT) during short ceremonies at Marine Base Gregorio Lim, Ternate, Cavite, Monday.

Capt. Maria Rowena B. Dalmacio, PMC spokesperson, said the MOUT training took place from December 4 to 18.

The participating 120 PMC elements came from the Marine Battalion Landing Team 10 which took part in the five-month battle to clear Marawi City of the invading Maute Group terrorists.

Around 60 ADF personnel participated in the two-week activity. Another training event is scheduled this coming February.

She added the program is a capability development assistance in the form of training and subject matter expert exchanges from the Australian Government through the Joint Task Group 629 of the ADF to the Armed Forces of the Philippines specifically to the PMC.

It is projected as a long-term commitment with multiple training iterations, she added.

"The training focused on various enabling concepts for MOUT specifically on command and control in the urban environment urban close combat, urban sniping and counter-sniping, joint fires and airspace deconfliction in an urban environment, urban breaching, hazard reduction and countering improvised explosive devices, combat trauma management in an urban environment and combat logistics and sustainment operations," Dalmacio stressed.

This also aids and supports the development of doctrinal references and training packages for MOUT, and promotes defense cooperation and security engagement between the two forces.

"Capability demonstrations on close combat target engagement; urban sniping and counter-sniping and urban breaching and clearing and search highlight the closing ceremony held yesterday December 18, 2017 which was graced by Her Excellency, Ambassador Amanda Gorey, Australian Ambassador to the Philippines," Dalmacio added.


Rogue Aquatic Drones – Analysis

From the Eurasia Review (Dec 19): Rogue Aquatic Drones – Analysis

An underwater unmanned vehicle (drone). Source: Sino Defence Forum

An underwater unmanned vehicle (drone). Source: Sino Defence Forum

Drones can facilitate terrorism and crime. As maritime technologies particularly aquatic drones progressively grow, it is a matter of time before new threats emerge.
By VS Suguna*
The application of drones for tactical purposes was the preserve of security agencies. As technology becomes increasingly commercialised for myriad purposes, malicious non-state actors such as terrorists and criminals could circumvent international trade regimes that restrict the transfer of potentially dual-use technologies including drones.

Terrorists have reportedly retrofitted aerial drones to conduct attacks and surveillance. The proliferation of aquatic drones may plausibly widen the terrorists’ capabilities and opportunities for attacks to coastal cities.

Drone Tech Proliferates

A report on “Jihadist Terrorism 16 Years After 9/11” by New America highlighted the use of armed (aerial) drones as a growing threat as exemplified by reports of ISIS building drones from scratch in Iraq. In Southeast Asia, the Maute Group reportedly deployed commercial off-the-shelf drones to gain a tactical advantage in urban warfare in Marawi city, Philippines.

While the misuse of aerial drones (UAVs) for urban terrorism is a current security concern, it would also be of strategic importance to monitor the developments of aquatic drones for surface and underwater operations. Although aquatic drones have not proliferated at the speed of aerial drones, the technology is increasingly being explored for security and commercial purposes. For example, the Australian start-up Abyss is developing aquatic drones with data-collection capabilities for industries. In Singapore, the Police is exploring the use of unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) for autonomous coastal patrols.
Over time, the aquatic drone technology would expectedly become more commercially viable and affordable. In highly digital societies (such as smart cities), rogue individuals with access to the Internet and commercially available hardware would be able to assemble aquatic drones with relative ease and speed.

Next Tide of Tech-Enabled Terror

In the foreseeable future, terrorists could deploy aquatic drones similar to how aerial drones are exploited for malicious purposes. This possibility would mark an emergent concern for vibrant coastal cities with busy waterways for two primary reasons.

Firstly, aquatic drones could shift the maritime terrorism landscape by reducing terrain challenges and enhancing terrorists’ capability to launch seaborne attacks. Such attacks could be aimed at strategic and soft targets such as civilian passenger vessels, port facilities, tourist and sea sports hubs, and large-scale public events by the sea. For example, the targeting of USS Cole in October 2000 at the port of Aden demonstrated the terrorist intent to hit strategic maritime targets. The 2005 Al Qaeda-inspired plot to attack Turkey-bound Israeli cruise vessels using explosive-laden small boats demonstrated the terrorist intent to hit soft maritime targets.

Secondly, past attacks underscored the importance of coastal cities in the terrorist playbook even if the incidents did not begin at sea. For example, the 2008 Mumbai attack demonstrated terrorists’ exploitation of the sea as a staging point to evade security forces on land. The attacks on Barcelona, Spain (August 2017) and Nice, France (July 2016), although land-based, pointed to the attractiveness of coastal cities as soft targets given the wider opportunity for attack due to vibrant tourism scene and a high number of vulnerable civilian targets.

Attack Outcomes

Essentially, the use of aquatic drones by terrorists to target coastal cities could lead to substantial human casualties as well as economic and environmental damages to the coast. Several scenarios are possible but some are perhaps more noteworthy.

First, aquatic drones could be retrofitted to function as remotely controlled or autonomous waterborne improvised explosive devices (WBIEDs). These drones could then be discreetly launched against civilians at sea (such as during sea sports events) or against important port and coastal facilities. Second, the aquatic drones could be deployed for hostile surveillance against critical infrastructure at sea such as marine transportation networks, military and law enforcement installations, and water desalination plants.

Third, aquatic drones could constitute unconventional threats to critical water resources located inland such as reservoirs and other water catchment areas. They could be deployed to disperse harmful chemical and biological agents thus contaminating water supplies, or to cause physical damage to dams. The impact of such threats could be fatal and will challenge the psychological and social resilience of the affected communities.

Prevention and Response

Strategies to prevent threats involving aquatic drones should factor in how the technology undergoes advancement and commercialisation. In this respect, it would be crucial for security agencies to plan and prepare for possible terrorist (and criminal) scenarios involving the use of not only aerial but also aquatic drones. This step requires the anticipation of plausible risks – known and new – that could emanate from the confluence of drone technology and maritime terrorism.

In addition, security agencies would have to assess the regulations necessary to ensure safe and responsible use, giving security agencies the powers to monitor and interdict potentially rogue aquatic drones. Certain considerations (e.g. operating range, weight and restriction zones) in existing efforts to regulate the ascending aerial drone economy may be useful for the regulation of aquatic drones too.

Strategies to respond to threats involving aquatic drones require both technical capabilities and coordination among the maritime agencies. While security agencies currently have surveillance and offensive tools – unmanned surface vehicles (USVs), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and coastal closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras – to guard against coastal intrusions, the tools should also include capabilities to detect and intercept small aquatic drones moving surreptitiously on the waters. Inter-agency procedures should be in place to facilitate collaborative investigations and coordinated response following aquatic drone-related incidents.

Overall, strategies for prevention and response to threats involving aquatic drones would require public-private cooperation in anticipating the challenges in regulating the technology’s proliferation and intelligence-sharing between security agencies and other maritime stakeholders.

[VS Suguna is an Associate Research Fellow and Faizal A. Rahman is a Research Fellow with the Homeland Defence Programme at the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS), a unit of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.]


Terrorism risks rising in Malaysia as Islamic State militants return

From Global Risk Insights (Dec 18): Terrorism risks rising in Malaysia as Islamic State militants return

Terrorism risks rising in Malaysia as Islamic State militants return

With the demise of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the fall of Marawi in the Philippines, how will Malaysia handle the prospect of returning fighters?

Malaysia’s Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed recently expressed concerns over the threat of returning militants from the Middle East and the Philippines. The fall of Marawi, following the deaths of the insurgency’s two most senior commanders, came days after the Syrian city of Raqqa was recaptured by a US-backed coalition of Arab and Kurdish fighters.

Several hundred Malaysians have travelled to the Islamic State since 2013. In a new development, around thirty joined forces with the pro-IS Maute group in Marawi earlier this year. This article examines Malaysia’s capacity to handle the return of some of its fighters. Although coordinated IS-led attacks remain unlikely, the government will take a tough stance in order to mitigate the threat of localised terror cells and ‘lone wolf’ violence.

Will Malaysia be targeted?

The almost simultaneous losses of Raqqa and Marawi, cities of similar size, will force IS to shift to more guerrilla-based tactics. Aside from significant loss of manpower, Raqqa’s loss will yield a mass of information about IS’ strategies and personnel. IS’ de facto capital, Raqqa had generated millions of dollars in oil revenues annually; consequently, funding for its Southeast Asian operatives will be drastically cut. There is always the possibility that wealthy Arab donors will re-inject ISIS with cash. According to one estimate, $40 million was raised this way over the past two years. If so, IS will be able to regroup, re-arm and re-strategise.

IS’ Malaysia operations suffered a heavy blow this year with the death of ‘Malaysia leader’ Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi, in Syria, at the hands of a drone strike. Wanndy was a commander of Khatibah Nusantara, the joint Indonesian-Malaysian wing of IS. He had threatened to ‘wreak havoc’ in Malaysia, despite frustrating his superiors for failing to do so. Bahrun Naim, the man behind the 2016 Jakarta attack, has allegedly taken Wanndy’s place, and will be looking to fulfil Wanndy’s failed mission objective. The time to attack is ripe, given Malaysia’s approaching elections, which will provide a useful government distraction.

After the death of Filipino Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the regional militant organisation Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and IS’ apparent ‘emir’ in Southeast Asia, several Malaysians had been rumoured to assume his title. They were Mohammad Amin Baco, Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee and Mahmud Ahmad. Baco and Raimee are skilled in bomb-making and experienced in combat, with Baco heading one of three IS Philippines divisions, Jund al-Tawhid. Meanwhile, Ahmad, a 38-year-old former Islamic Studies lecturer from Universiti Malaya, on Malaysia’s most-wanted list since 2014, adept at fundraising and well-connected, had acted as chief recruiter for the Marawi siege.

However, evidence suggests that chauvinist attitudes are likely to prevent these Malaysians from becoming regional leader. Instead, a Filipino is preferred for the post, with ASG cell leader Furuji Indama the most likely candidate. Indama led a bloody conflict with ASG last year in the Basilan jungle; the Philippines will likely continue to provide his primary battleground. Moreover, regional militant groups like the pro-IS Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have generally been less successful infiltrating Malaysia. Militants have poor military capability and lack of support among local people in Sabah

A new generation

Regardless of whether Malaysia is an official ‘target’, returning fighters will inspire a new wave of young and impressionable recruits and provide the foundation for a new network of terror cells. Successful returnees will be battle-hardened, with military training and deep knowledge of IS’ tactical operations.

While the known militant groups in Malaysia are now defunct, pro-IS sleeper cells remain a threat, particularly in Sabah (although past reports have been unsubstantiated). Counterterrorism units will face challenges in locating these cells. Verifying their existence is problematic given the growing problem of distinguishing between actual accounts and ‘fake news’ on social media.

Fighters who slip through the security net carry the latent threat of ‘lone wolf’ and suicide attacks. For security authorities, single figures are much harder to track, thus thwart. Admittedly, lone wolves are usually frustrated amateurs who have not been able to join up with their comrades in Iraq and Syria. But last year’s grenade attack in Kuala Lumpur, organised by Muhammad Wanndy, was also relatively minimal and poorly planned. Nevertheless, one successful attack in the capital or another tourist hotspot risks mass casualties.

Malaysia’s response

Malaysian security officials will not be complacent. Along with Indonesia and the Philippines, Malaysia is already making sustained efforts to increase border security in the porous Sulu region, Malaysia’s long-time Achilles heel. Other border areas need tightening, like the Sungai Golok which separates the southern Thailand province of Narathiwat from Kelantan, north Malaysia. In the past, this area has been exploited by pro-IS weapons-smuggling groups.

Generally, there is a strong likelihood that returning fighters will be caught and detained under relevant laws, as over 260 have been since 2013. The police’s special branch anti-terrorism unit closely tracks national terror suspects, and collaborates with other regional and global agencies. Safe in this knowledge, Malaysian fighters will not likely seek to return home in vast numbers. Most will stay on and continue to fight, or join other countries struggling with Islamic insurgencies like Myanmar or Thailand. Unlike Malaysia, many other places will also provide these fighters with refuge.

In July this year, thousands of undocumented migrant workers were arrested, in one of Malaysia’s biggest crackdowns in years. That month also witnessed ‘Operation Joker’, in which 400 terror suspects were arrested and their backgrounds checked against Special Branch’s Lookup database and Interpol’s Foreign Terrorist Fighter Database. More operations on this scale, across major towns and cities, are likely in the future. Despite Malaysia’s stringent enforcement of immigrant background checks, one key weak link is the use of sophisticated fake identity cards by terrorists.

Successful security efforts – so far

Although deemed excessive by opposition and human rights groups, thus far these efforts have prevented a major attack on Malaysian soil. Since April 2014, counterterrorism units have successfully disbanded the majority of Khatibah Nusantara’s Kuala Lumpur cell. Special Branch Counterterrorism Division Head, Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, is consequently wanted dead by IS central command; an important obstacle to a successful Malaysia attack.

Measures have been taken to starve the terrorists’ funding networks, through the closure of informal remittance channels, although risks from money laundering remain. More also needs to be done on social media, which continues to undermine central intelligence efforts. Although authorities have terminated a number of pro-IS websites, digital recruitment via Twitter and Whatsapp remains a large threat. Authorities the world over have faced resistance from Whatsapp in getting past its encrypted messaging service.

Despite IS’ limited success in Malaysia and the robust capabilities of national counterterrorism forces, the country remains vulnerable to an attack. Although it remains unlikely that IS will attack Malaysia in the near future, the threats from lone wolf attacks and digital recruitment will keep counterterrorism authorities busy. Overall, despite attracting criticism, Malaysia’s efforts have achieved their purpose. But the next 6-12 months will certainly test this theory.


Duterte asks MNLF, MILF not to wage war if BBL fails to hurdle Congress

From the Philippine Star (Dec 18): Duterte asks MNLF, MILF not to wage war if BBL fails to hurdle Congress

In this Sept. 4, 2017 photo, President Rodrigo Duterte meets with Moro Islamic Liberation Chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim during a meeting in MalacaƱan Palace. Also joining Murad are Bangsamoro Transition Commission Chair Ghazali Jaafar, and Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace implementing panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal. Rolando Mailo/Presidential Photo
President Rodrigo Duterte urged the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front not to declare war against the government in the event that the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law does not hurdle Congress.
Duterte said nobody wins if violence erupts between state forces and members of the MILF and the MNLF.
“To my brothers in MI, MN, let us continue talking because both of these entities are for peace. As to how wide the concession we will give is something which has to be discussed,” the president said during the birthday celebration of Sen. Manny Pacquiao in General Santos City last Sunday.
“But if it does not hurdle Congress, do not draw your guns right away. We still can talk and maybe explore other areas. But I assure you that during my term, it will be addressed,” he added.
The proposed BBL seeks to create a new Bangsamoro political entity with enhanced autonomy. Supporters of the measure believe it will put an end to the Bangsamoros’ struggle to govern themselves and bring lasting peace to troubled Mindanao.
The measure was bypassed during the previous administration partly because of the outrage over the Mamasapano clash, which claimed the lives of 44 police commandos and 17 MILF fighters in 2015.
Duterte has warned that failure to address the concerns of Bangsamoros could lead to more clashes and the fragmentation of the Philippines.  
Congress took a holiday break last week without passing the measure.
“Every government has the right to preserve its people and also to preserve only one Republic of the Philippines,” Duterte said.
“If a war erupts, we will all suffer, Moro and Christian and Lumad alike. Nobody wins, believe me. Despite the gun fires, nothing will happen. It will forever be an island of turmoil,” he added.
Duterte said a conflict would open the floodgates of the south to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, an extremist group that seeks to establish a worldwide caliphate. He said he would not allow such scenario to happen so he is ready to talk to the MNLF and MILF and give them concessions. 
“Let’s be frank. It will open the floodgates of the southern islands. ISIS will come in, a very corrupt without any redeeming factor at all, an ideology that only knows how to kill and destroy,” the Philippine leader said.
“If that happens, it will not end. Because you nurture hatred, it will continue to grow.”

Duterte likens NPA to ISIS: 'No ideology except to destroy and kill'

From Rappler (Dec 19): Duterte likens NPA to ISIS: 'No ideology except to destroy and kill'

Only two weeks have passed since the President declared the NPA as a terrorist group, and only almost a month since he halted peace talks with communists.

After declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) a terrorist group, President Rodrigo Duterte is now comparing them to one of the most infamous terrorist organizations in the world: Islamic State (ISIS).

"I am sick and tired of talking to you. Almost pareho kayo ng ISIS (You are almost the same as ISIS). It's an empty thing. There is no ideology except to destroy and kill," Duterte said on Monday, December 18 during his address to a roomful of cops, firemen, and jail officers.

Only two weeks have passed since the President declared the NPA as a terrorist group, and only almost a month since he halted peace talks with communists.

During his speech, Duterte repeatedly condemned the NPA for their deadly guerrilla-style operations which had claimed the lives of many uniformed men and women.

"There is no point in talking to you. There’s not even a single factor of a revolutionary there. You go around asking money, robbing the poor tapos ‘yung mga asawa sa taga-bukid, hinihipo ninyo (then the wives in the countryside, you molest)," he said.

The President usually launches a tirade against the communists whenever he speaks after a recent report of an NPA attack. (READ: Joma to Duterte: Let's end war of words, war on the ground)

Aside from pointing out violence and armed struggle as a common thread, the President, however, failed to explain that both groups essentially want different things.

ISIS wants a global caliphate achieved through a global war, while the NPA seeks to overthrow the Philippine government for a systematic and cultural overhaul.

The Philippines itself is not a stranger to ISIS' ambitions. The country's main Islamic city, Marawi, just saw the end of a 5-month war started by homegrown terrorists linked to the international terrorist group.

According to the President, he even used to "share the same values" as the CPP, but he said he wonders what had happened. He did not mention which values had resonated with him before he soured on the rebels.


1 soldier dead, 2 others injured in Basilan ambush

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Dec 18): 1 soldier dead, 2 others injured in Basilan ambush

A SOLDIER was killed while two others were wounded in an ambush by the Abu Sayyaf bandits in Basilan province, the police said Monday, December 18.
The ambush took place around 6:20 a.m. in the village of Badja, Tipo-Tipo, Basilan province, according to the police.
They said the troops were checking the reported presence of an improvised explosive device (IED) when the Abu Sayyaf bandits ambushed them. The troops, despite in the disadvantage position, returned fire prompting the Abu Sayyaf bandits to flee towards the village of Kamamburingan, Ungkaya Pukan.
The police did not release the identities of the slain and wounded soldiers except to say they belong to the Army’s 74th Infantry Battalion.
A pursuit operation has been jointly launched by soldiers, policemen and Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team (BPAT) against the Abu Sayyaf bandits involved in the ambush.
The ambush occurred hours after an IED exploded near the port of Lamitan City, Basilan.
The police said no one was either killed or wounded in the explosion that happened around 11:30 p.m. Monday in the village of Kulay Bato, Lamitan City.
There was also no property damaged during the incident, believed to have been perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf bandits, the police added.


Soldier killed, 2 others wounded in Sayyaf clash

From the Mindanao Examiner (Dec 18): Soldier killed, 2 others wounded in Sayyaf clash

A government soldier was killed and two more wounded following fierce clashes Monday with suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen in the restive Basilan, one of 5 provinces in the Muslim autonomous region in southern Philippines.

The fighting broke out in the village called Badja in Tipo-Tipo town, a known stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf and the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front which has forged an interim peace deal with Manila in 2014.

The victims were members of the army’s 74th Infantry Battalion which has been deployed in the province to fight the jihadist group, blamed by authorities for the spate of terrorism and ransom kidnappings in the troubled region.

The clashes occurred just hours after an improvised explosive had been detonated in Kulaybato village in Lamitan City, but there were no reported casualties in the suspected Abu Sayyaf bombing.

The Western Mindanao Command and the Philippine Army did not release any information into the breakout of violence in Basilan, just several nautical miles south of Zamboanga City.


AFP taps ‘lumad’ soldiers vs NPA

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Dec 19): AFP taps ‘lumad’ soldiers vs NPA

Military says local fighters to protect IP communities, ancestral lands

Communist rebels, in this 2011 photo, gather somewhere in Southern Mindanao to pay their last respects to New People’s Army spokesperson Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal. —KARLOS MANLUPIG

At least 300 “lumad” (indigenous peoples, or IPs) soldiers would be sent to their communities in Southern Mindanao to guard their ancestral domain against communist insurgents, military officials said on Sunday.

The lumad recruits, organized into four Sundalo ng Mamamayan Armado Laban sa Terorismo at Kriminalidad (Soldiers of the People Armed Against Terrorism and Criminality, or SMART) companies, are set to be assigned near their home villages after graduating from an eight-week basic military training, according to Capt. Jerry Lamosao, public affairs chief of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division (ID).

“The potential of the IPs will be seen in a different perspective. They can maximize the skills and knowledge acquired during training in solving issues and problems in their communities,” Lamosao said.
Maj. Gen. Noel Clement, 10th ID commander, said the primary task of IP troops was to counter harassment and recruitment by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in lumad communities.

“Those in the ancestral domains are very prone to agitation and recruitment because of their innocence about the real picture of the NPA’s intentions,” Clement said. “As such, there’s a need to educate and inform the IP communities about the propaganda, deception and motives of the communists in their ancestral domain.”

A recent study by the Davao City-based Army division revealed at least 80 percent of communist insurgent recruits in Southern Mindanao came from the tribes.

The study, which was based on the number of IP rebels who surrendered to authorities, revealed the extent of “NPA deception” in lumad communities, said Col. Erwin Bernard Neri, commander of the Army’s 1001st Infantry Brigade in Compostela Valley province.

The soldiers would be sent to their hometowns within the 10th ID’s area of operation in Davao and Caraga regions, as well as in some parts of Cotabato and Sarangani provinces.

Led by an IP officer, each company is expected to handle multirole operations, meaning it should be effective in civil-military operations as well as in battle, military officials said.

The NPA and several left-wing organizations have hit the military’s move to recruit an all-lumad unit, calling it “a blatant exploitation of lumad communities.”

The Supreme Tribal Council for Peace and Development, an anticommunist lumad group in Davao, hailed SMART’s creation and rewarded Clement with the title Datu Balunto (rainbow) “for bringing hopes of peace and security” in lumad communities.


NPA vows to intensify attacks

From the Manila Bulletin (Dec 19): NPA vows to intensify attacks

The New People’s Army (NPA) on Tuesday said it would intensify attacks against the government following the declaration of the group as a terrorist by the Philippine Government and the recent extension of martial law to the end of 2018.

Rigoberto Sanchez, NPA spokesperson of the Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Command, criticized the Duterte administration for its war on drugs and alleged human rights abuses.

According to Sanchez, President Duterte’s administration has led to the killing of activists and the displacement of thousands in Southern Mindanao alone.

“Duterte has already exemplified his deep proclivity to rights abuse with the killing of nearly 15,000 mostly poor drug suspects nationwide; and in Southern Mindanao, the killing of 57 activists and members of legal democratic organizations, the aerial bombings affecting 7,600 individuals in military operations, displacing 13,800 farmers and lumads (indigenous people),” Sanchez said.

This developed as the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Western Mindanao Command (AFP-WestMinCom) reported that seven NPAs surrendered to its forces in the past week.

According to AFP-WestMinCom Spokesperson Army Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, three members of the Platoon Samsung, Guerilla Front 73, Far South Mindanao Region, under a certain Billy, yielded Sunday to the troops of the First Mechanized Infantry Battalion under Lt. Col. Lauro Oliveros.

Petinglay identified those who surrendered as Teddy Ayunan, Telada Maguil, and Sandino Julan. They turned in a Garand rifle, a caliber-.357 Smith and Wesson, and an M16 rifle when they surrendered in Barangay Kamasi, Ampatuan, Maguindanao at 7 am last December 17.

Last Thursday, four other members of the Guerilla Front 73, also surrendered to Oliveros and turned over an anti-tank Improvised Explosive Device (IED) weighing 30 kilograms, an Elisco M16 rifle, a Colt M16 rifle, and a homemade UZI Sub-Machine Gun.

Those who surrendered were Ariel Biluwal, Oting Ginta, Michael Malik, and Jane Gantangan.

“This brings to 110 the total number of NPA terrorists who have surrendered to the AFP-WestMinCom troops,” Joint Task Force Central Commander Maj Gen Arnel Dela Vega said.

Of this number, 83 were members of the Guerilla Front 73, Dela Vega said.

.According to Sanchez, the extension of martial law and Duterte’s policies were “feeding the coffers of investors in the guise of Mindanao infrastructure projects.”

“The extended martial law in Mindanao is not simply a diabolical deed to strengthen Duterte’s militarist rule; it is meant to insulate the glaring cronyism and bureaucrat capitalism intensified by Duterte’s own family that is gaining wealth with the planned pricey infrastructure projects in the island,” Sanchez said.

These include the construction of Samal Island – Davao City Connector Bridge, the Agusan River Basin and Tagum – Libuganon River Basin, the P218-billion Mindanao Railway System and the Central Mindanao Airport, he said.


Tribal leader killed by suspected NPA member

From the Sun Star-Davao (Dec 18): Tribal leader killed by suspected NPA member

A TRIBAL leader was killed on December 17 by suspected members of the New People's Army (NPA) after he refused to give in to the extortion demand of the terrorist group and help them in buying their supplies.
Philippine Army's 60th Infantry Battalion (IB) Civil Military Operation (CMO) officer Second Lieutenant Amadeuz Celestial identified the victim as Datu Benandao Maogan, 50, and a tribal leader at Sitio Luno-luno, Barangay Gupitan, Kapalong.
"Amidst President Duterte's warnings against the New People's Army (NPA) who continuously conduct atrocities against civilians and government forces, another tribal leader was murdered by the local terrorist group in Kapalong town," he said.
Based on witnesses' account, around 15 NPA terrorists believed to be members of Guerilla Front 34 under a certain Maximo Catarata, alias Makatindog, "blocked" Maogan near his home and shot him to death.
The attack was allegedly led by a certain "Tata," Catarata's son.
The local police are currently investigating the incident to determine the identity of the suspects.
He said the local government unit vowed to extend assistance to the bereaved family.
"Kapalong Municipal Mayor Maria Theresa Timbol, has committed to assist the family of Datu Maogan through the Municipal Tribal Affairs Office," he said.


Sundalo patay sa Sayyaf

From Abante Tonight (Dec 19): Sundalo patay sa Sayyaf

Isang sundalo ang patay at 2 ang ­sugatan matapos na makipagsagupaan kahapon sa mga hinihinalang Abu Sayyaf sa bayan ng Tipo-Tipo sa magulong lalawigan ng Basilan sa Muslim autonomous region.
Nabatid na ­pawang mga miyembro ng 74th Infantry Battalion ang mga biktima. Sumiklab ang sagupaan sa Barangay Badja. Walang balita kung may sugatan o nasawi sa panig ng Sayyaf.

Ngunit isang bomba rin ang pinasabog ng Abu Sayyaf sa Barangay Kulaybato sa Lamitan City kamakalawa ng gabi. Walang inulat na sugatan sa pagsabog na naganap bago maghating-gabi.

Tikom naman ang mga bibig ng opisyal ng Western Mindanao Command at Philippine Army ukol sa nasabing sagupaan.