Monday, December 31, 2018

[OPINION] Proposed review of PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty: Opening a Pandora's box

From Rappler (Dec 31): [OPINION] Proposed review of PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty: Opening a Pandora's box

A veritable Pandora’s box of nasty surprises would be opened once the Philippines pushes for renegotiations. Is that what the majority of Filipinos want?

Several days ago, Delfin Lorenzana, the Secretary of National Defense, issued intriguing statements pertaining to a purported Philippine government desire to review the Philippine-United States Mutual Defense Treaty. In the words of Lorenzana:
“Nasabi ko lang 'yan kasi tinanong ako eh if it’s time to review. Sabi ko siguro, because that was done in 1951… There was this raging Cold War. May Cold War noon eh. Do we still have a Cold War today? Is it still relevant to our security? Baka hindi na.
(I only said that because I was asked if it’s time to review. I said perhaps, because that was done in 1951… There was this raging Cold War. There was a Cold War then. Do we still have a Cold War today? Is it still relevant to our security? Maybe not anymore.)
Not content with uttering that, he even followed it up with a reality-defying statement that completely disregarded China’s territorial claims in our EEZ, the West Philippine Sea and the Kalayaan Island Group:
“We have to look at it dispassionately without considering past ties, future ties.... 'Di natin sinasabi to strengthen para tulungan tayo kung may gulo. Sino ba kalaban natin? Are we hoping someone will attack us here in the Philippines? I don’t think so. Wala tayong kalaban siguro na sasakupin tayo eh.”
(We have to look at it dispassionately without considering past ties, future ties.... We’re not saying we’ll strengthen it so that they will help us if there is a fight. Who are we fighting? Are we hoping someone will attack us here in the Philippines? I don’t think so. I don’t think we have an enemy that would take over our country.)
In an effort to strike a balance with those previous questionable declarations, Lorenzana then stated that the Philippines has been benefitting from the MDT, the Visiting Forces Agreement, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. The objective of the review is to determine if the Philippines should maintain, strengthen or scrap the treaty.
Assessing Filipino grievances
The Treaty Obligations of the US under the MDT are as follows:
ARTICLE IV. Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.
Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations, Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.
ARTICLE V. For the purpose of Article IV, an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the Island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean, its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.
On the Philippine side, the grievances against the MDT would be on the wording of the triggers for US involvement in hostilities in this side of the world. The debate is focused on what “Pacific” refers to. Does it mean the Pacific Ocean or the Pacific area of operations which encompasses everything west of the US West Coast up to the Indian Ocean?
If it is based on actual physical operations then one sees American involvement in operational areas way west of the Pacific Ocean such as in the South China Sea, and historically in Korea and Vietnam. In fact, the Philippines is not even in the Pacific Ocean and is situated in between the Philippine Sea and the South China Sea. Yet there had been American forces based in the country as part of the forward deployed forces of the U.S. Pacific Command then. Nowadays, the US Pacific Command has been renamed the US Indo-Pacific Command which reveals the recognition of an even larger area of responsibility as compared to before.
However, it appears that the Philippines is adamant about wanting a more specific geographical area that should include its territories in the West Philippine Sea. That would be a problem as since the 1970s, the US has maintained a position of not taking sides in the territorial disputes. Its approach to the disputes is that of pushing for freedom of navigation instead. Post-World War 2, the US has frequently used deadly force to allow freedom of navigation in areas from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Sidra and in anti-piracy operations. Hence, the US position on freedom of navigation should not be taken as an empty threat.
Another Filipino grievance is the lack of an instant retaliatory clause in the treaty and the existing requirement to go through constitutional processes. The Philippine side wants the US side to be more decisive and interprets the constitutional process as the American side needing to consult with their Congress before any action is taken. The fact that executive decisions alone can be done to deploy US forces in conflict situations is not deemed acceptable by the Philippines. An example of executive decision is ironically the case of President George H.W. Bush’s order for US fighter jets to undertake persuasion flights against RAM rebels in 1989.
However, for the Philippine side to fully enjoy that privilege of automatic response from the United States, there would then be the need for American forces based in Philippine territory. Since the Philippines kicked out the bases in 1991, it then, by its very action, ensured that there will be no automatic reaction as tripwire American forces were removed from the country. In fact, the Chinese noticed that and in a few years began to move aggressively in the South China Sea against the Philippines. It may be said that the Philippine decision to remove the US bases in 1991 was the primary enabler for Chinese strategic moves into the South China Sea.
Fund complaints
Ever since the time of the bases, the issue of financial aid has been a constant irritant between Manila and Washington. For the Filipinos, they routinely claim that it is too small compared to other countries like Israel, Pakistan, Egypt. There is a disregard from the Philippine side of the peculiarities of Israel’s security situation or even that of Egypt and others. In fact it is illogical to say the least, for Filipino defense officials and diplomats to publicly maintain that there is no external threat to the Philippines and then complain to the Americans that not enough financial assistance is given to the Philippine military.
Complaints on materiel turnovers
Another constant complaint of Filipino officials is the issue of US materiel and weapons donations as being that of hand me downs and cast offs. To hear that from left-wing anti-American elements in the Philippines is expected, but to hear that from senior military and defense officials is downright laughable, if not irresponsible. It is irresponsible because these defense sector personalities had been involved or are aware of the joint defense assessments between the Philippines and the United States during the previous decade to establish a sense of logic and purpose in the capability buildup of the AFP.
Actually, some Filipino complaints border on the bizarre as in the case of one retired naval officer who does the talk circuit. In a press conference, he railed against the Americans, saying that their living quarters were better than that of the Filipinos during a particular exercise in an attempt to portray the US in an unfavorable light. What he did not mention was that the Americans themselves had built their own accommodations within the area using US taxpayer’s money and would most likely turn it over to the AFP upon completion of the exercise.
Due mainly to the moral bankruptcy of the Philippine elite, the country is mired in protracted insurgencies. Since the Philippine government cannot even get its act together to keep the country in one piece, it becomes necessary for the United States to also tailor fit its military assistance to the internal operational requirements of the Philippine defense sector.
At the same time, the US has to take into consideration the absorptive capacity of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in weapons systems. Given the insufficient and lopsided budgetary outlay for Philippine defense wherein approximately 80% of the funds goes to salaries and pensions, leaving a measly 20% for other requirements, the capacity of the AFP to maintain equipment, especially state-of-the-art ones, becomes suspect. Not unless it is also the desire of the Philippine side for the United States to bankroll the AFP as the Americans did during the height of the Cold War.
It then appears that the Philippines lives in the memory of the Cold War as it cannot seem to get out of its dependence on lavish freebies from the United States. As such, even the Philippine defense budget still retains its characteristic of American dependence wherein the US provided almost everything while salaries, pensions, and limited upkeep and maintenance were shouldered by the Philippine government. When the bases were removed and the American largesse was substantially lost, the Philippines, due to constitutional restrictions and fiscal limitations, failed to readjust the defense budget to meet the needs of external and internal defense. Unsurprisingly, by the late 1990s, the Philippines then fell back on seeking financial and materiel assistance from the US.
American perceptions
When considering a proposal to renegotiate or re-examine the Mutual Defense Treaty, it is important for the Filipino side to assess also how the Americans may view the Philippines as a treaty partner and ally. That is important because it will determine how far the Philippines can get in its discussions with the US especially with the mercurial Donald Trump at the helm in Washington DC.
US perceptions on the Philippines as a treaty ally are split. There is an emerging sentiment that the Filipinos are not worth the trouble and it might be a good idea to even scrap the MDT. This is countered by others who still view the Philippines as a piece of valuable real estate given its strategic location and hence, it would be advisable to continue the relationship regardless of Filipino behavior. These divergent perspectives are a product of how the Philippines has conducted itself as an ally in the past 30 years.
From the American perspective, the Philippine side has committed several actions that undermined the alliance. The first of course was the Senate rejection of the extension of the Military Bases Agreement in 1991. This put the Philippines in the doghouse when it came to military assistance. The second was the sudden pullout of the Philippine contingent in Iraq and the cozying up to China during the Arroyo administration. Third are the current antics of the Duterte administration and the enabling by the Philippine government of both Chinese and Russian presence in the Philippines and the region. Also the Duterte administration has displayed erratic and disruptive behavior regarding the alliance and Philippine participation in multilateral and bilateral military exercises sponsored by the US.
Hence the image of a stonewalling and an undependable Philippines from the American perspective should not come as a surprise. That perception may be hammered down on the Filipino delegation by their American counterparts. The Philippine side must be very clear, rational, and logical as to what it wants. Again, one must take into consideration the mercurial nature of Trump who is quick to tweet his foreign policy direction of the day. An unflattering description of the Philippines from an American perspective is that it appears to be getting out of its obligations as a mutual defense partner of the United States while at the same time trying to drag the US into its own security problems, from international to even domestic.
The elephant in the room
In the midst of all these noises from the Duterte administration on re-evaluating the MDT, it is important to take into consideration what Beijing thinks about this. Secretary Lorenzana should be aware that by now, the Chinese have a very good understanding of the inner workings of the Duterte administration.
The Duterte administration is as divided as the Philippines itself and many within have overtly displayed a pro-China sentiment from the President way down to some Cabinet secretaries and their underlings. That is the same as well in both the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives. Beijing would be foolish not to tap into this ready pool of sympathizers to disrupt the renegotiation of the MDT.
A veritable Pandora’s box of nasty surprises would be opened once the Philippines pushes for renegotiations. The objective of Beijing is to at least force a deadlock in Philippine and US negotiations that would spill over to a suspension of bilateral military activities. If such a thing happens, is that what the Philippine government wants? Is that what the hard-pressed and overextended Philippine military wants? Is that what the majority of Filipinos want?
To quote the “late” Han Solo, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

[Jose Antonio Custodio is a security and defense consultant. He specializes in military history and has post-graduate studies in history from the University of the Philippines. He occasionally teaches history and political science in several universities in Metro Manila.]

Trillanes and the Magdalo: All grown up 15 years after Oakwood

From Rappler (Dec 31): Trillanes and the Magdalo: All grown up 15 years after Oakwood

President Duterte's most popular nemesis in 2018 – opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV – comes from a political party that has learned its lessons in and outside the barracks

President Rodrigo Duterte’s biggest political thorn in 2018 comes from a band of soldiers that once attempted to bring down a government by seizing a posh hotel.

Fifteen years after they mounted the botched Oakwood mutiny in July 2003, members of the Magdalo have metamorphosed from young and angry rebel military officers to mature and refined leaders who, for the most part, have played smart politics.

Not all of their allies agree with the combative style of Senator Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV, the de facto Magdalo team captain, but they concede that Trillanes is effective and he carries the torch in these dark days.

The senator not only survived a one-of-a-kind presidential order voiding his amnesty, he also won his case against that order in court.

Compared to the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), the rebel military officers of the 1980s, the Magdalo successfully transformed into a viable political organization with a nationwide grassroots base called Samahang Magdalo, comprised mostly of civilian volunteers.

“We had a naive view of the world when Oakwood happened. When we won in the 2007 elections, we believe it was God’s hand that pushed us in that direction,” Trillanes said in an interview.

Trillanes, 47, said his election to the Senate 11 years ago “forced us to level up individually and as a group.” (READ: What a coup!)

Learning new skills
While in jail under the Arroyo years, they all made a conscious effort to keep on learning – enrolling in masters’ degree programs, learning foreign languages, and becoming entrepreneurs.

The Magdalo leaders still looked after their men who had been released before them, making sure that they had livelihood after they were dismissed from the military.

One time at a swanky hotel in Ortigas, one of them came up to Trillanes. Looking dapper in his suit, he was at that time a ranking security official at the hotel. He thanked the senator and the rest of the leaders for looking for jobs for them.

After their release in 2010, most of the Magdalo continued to study – at the Asian Institute of Management, in Harvard, in China. They also began traveling abroad to learn, either individually or as a group.

“By going back to school, we learned tools for analysis. By traveling, we widened our world view. We use [all these] when we deliberate and discuss issues and political developments,” said Trillanes.

Spreading the gospel about the importance of having a good education, the group started the Magdalo scholarship program in 2011 with the help of benefactors. To date, there are now 210 Magdalo scholars who are degree holders.

Second Senate seat?

The learning and brotherhood were evident one afternoon at the Magdalo’s longtime headquarters in Quezon City. Trillanes presented the results of their privately commissioned survey to some Magdalo executive committee members.

Like the rest of the opposition senatorial candidates, the numbers weren’t looking good for Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, Trillanes’ mistah (classmate) in the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).

Alejano is hoping to fill up the Senate seat to be vacated by Trillanes as he wraps up his two 6-year terms and therefore, ineligible to run again. (WATCH: Gary Alejano on taking the fight to the Senate)

Trillanes emphasized that there’s still enough time to get Alejano in the Magic 12 but it meant each one buckling down to work right away.

They also discussed their resources and the need to raise funds – lots of it. A fundraising dinner was out of the question because none of them would be able to sell a P10,000-dinner plate. They agreed that they could stage a concert and hold movie block screenings.

Told that many think the Magdalo group has money, Trillanes smiled and smoothened his suit. “May dating kasi ang porma namin (We exude that air because we dress well)," he said.

Humor is another trait the Magdalos share. It might be unimaginable to see these battle-scarred rebels laughing, but levity has carried them through all the challenges they faced together.

“When we’re together, we keep it light. We have serious moments but often we take things in stride. We’ve shown stability under pressure,” Trillanes said.

At the meeting were execom members Alejano, Eugene Gonzales, Cash Cabochan, Don Santiago, Elmer Cruz, Boyet Orongan, and Jayveeh Macarubbo.

Gonzales, Cabochan, and Santiago– all former Navy officers – are mistahs of Alejano and Trillanes. Cruz, Orongan, and Macarubbo are their underclassmen in the PMA.

“Our life in the PMA was structured and we picked up from that. We’re used to having a structure,” Gonzales said.

Their military training remains evident in how they run their offices, from their headquarters to the Senate to the House of Representatives to the Samahang Magdalo chapters. Everyone has an assigned task and responsibility. It’s an operation that is results-driven, much like in the battlefield.

Working for the Magdalos feels somewhat like a boot camp but most of their staff members have been with them for over a decade. Despite their heavy workload, especially when Trillanes or Alejano unleashes an exposé against Duterte and his administration, they soldier on with the rest of the Magdalos because to them, this is their contribution for the country’s good.

Seniority rules
The Magdalos still follow seniority in the group but they adopt a more democratic and collegial system compared to the military. “During deliberations, every member of the executive committee has the same voice regardless of their PMA class,” Trillanes said.

They also nominate and vote for those they want to field in the elections.

“We treat each other as brothers. We are compassionate towards one another. We also remind each other kung meron man naliligaw ng landas (if anyone has gone astray),” Cabochan said.

There are times when they get annoyed with each other. Gonzales said the group has had “minor disagreements” through the years but they managed to iron these out, adding they respect the decision of members who had decided to sever their ties from group.

The Magdalo blood is thicker than water for most of them.

When Trillanes was forced to stay at the Senate after Duterte revoked his amnesty, Magdalo execom members took turns staying with him in his office. They had protocols and contingency plans in case Trillanes was arrested. Their wives – the ever-present pillars of strength – also came in full force for Trillanes, wife Arlene, and their children.

It was a collective decision for Magdalo to expose Duterte’s alleged ill-gotten wealth during the 2016 campaign, despite knowing the then Davao mayor could make life hell for all of them.

“We knew our worlds would turn upside down if we decide to confront a known vindictive politician such as Duterte. The exposé was a product of a series of consultations in the group. Do we sit on it or do we do the right thing and hope that the people will see through the lies and propaganda of Duterte?” Trillanes said.

Breaking ranks
The Magdalos themselves took a hit after Trillanes bared Duterte’s alleged bank accounts. Nearly half of the 650,000 members of the Samahang Magdalo left the group because they supported Duterte.

Trillanes lost his vice presidential bid in 2016, and the Magdalo partylist was only able to get one seat in the House of Representatives.

Despite this, though, the group, through Trillanes and Alejano, continued calling out Duterte.

Santiago, the Samahang Magdalo head, said a lot of those who left are now coming back. “They realized they’ve been had by Duterte,” he said. The turning point for most of them was when Duterte admitted lying about the alleged Singapore bank accounts of Trillanes.

Samahang Magdalo, now on its 10th year, is about being responsible citizens and helping one's community.

Among their activities are bloodletting, tree planting, medical missions, cleanup drives, and joining relief operations.

Samahang Magdalo members also come in full force in political gatherings, such as anti-administration rallies.

“We told ourselves that we wouldn’t be joining rallies but as we became more involved in politics, we realized that there is a need to take to the streets. So little by little, the group became involved in such efforts,” Santiago said. Not only does the Magdalo provide the warm bodies, the group is also in charge of security at these events.

It was certainly a far cry from the time when the Magdalos were dismissed as “failed military adventurists,” when very few people wanted to be associated with them.

And they intend to be those warm bodies, and more.

Campaigning for 2019
Last October, more than a hundred Samahang Magdalo members, wearing white shirts and carrying red balloons, streamers, and banners were at the launch of the opposition coalition’s senatorial candidates to show support for Alejano.

They cheered for the former Marine officer in unison like a pep squad. The Magdalos have come a long way, too, in election campaigns.

Asked if the 2019 midterm elections would be their biggest challenge yet, both Gonzales and Cabochan said no. It was still the 2007 senatorial bid of Trillanes because they were all under detention, including the candidate himself.

This time, the Magdalo can campaign in full force. “Although the problem now is the administration dominates the state mechanisms, we can now actually go around,” Gonzales said.

While Trillanes exposes Duterte’s alleged corrupt activities, Alejano has taken up the South China Sea dispute and China’s creeping invasion – issues that trigger Filipinos– as his advocacies.

Together, Trillanes and Alejano constantly remind the people that the killings of drug suspects continue and they hope the International Criminal Court (ICC) would hold Duterte liable for state-sponsored killings.

The Magdalo partylist nominees for the 2019 midterm elections are Cabochan, Gonzales, Cruz, Ian Badecao, and Macarubbo. They are unknown in the political circle, much more to the public.

Many were surprised that Trillanes was not a party-list nominee, considering that switching congressional seats is a norm among politicians from one family.

But Cabochan, one of the unlikely politicians in the group, said all of them recognize that they have to step up when the time comes. Gonzales added, “This helps in the continuity and succession in the group.”

Besides, Santiago said, “he’s already Trillanes.”

“He can continue working as our execom chairman and be influential even without being an elected official,” Santiago said.

Trillanes is being floated as a possible presidential contender in 2022, but the senator himself said the Magdalos “can’t afford to look that far ahead.”

“Our focus is the 2019 midterm elections, to make Gary and the Magdalo partylist win,” Trillanes said.

They’ve learned that military adventurism does not work, and they would rather be known as “reformists” than “revolutionaries.”

The National Security situation in 2018, and outlook for 2019

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 31): The National Security situation in 2018, and outlook for 2019

The Philippines was stable and secure in 2018.

The National Security Council and the security sector succeeded in adequately managing national security in the face of numerous issues and concerns that continue to challenge the security of the nation.

The National Security Strategy (NSS) that was issued by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in May was instrumental in integrating the country’s major security policies, defining responsibilities, and coordinating the actions of all concerned agencies, to effectively address security threats, issues, and concerns both within and outside the country.

We recall that in 2018, the security sector was preoccupied with the following:

In the external environment, the West Philippine Sea issue remained to be contentious due to overlapping territorial claims and maritime domain concerns among the various claimants. The great powers contest had actually shifted focus towards the contested waters of the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea, and in Asia in general

Amidst this renewed global interest on Asia, the Duterte Administration adopted a “middle ground” position signifying that the Philippines is a friend to all and an enemy to none. With this mindset, the Philippines had embarked on an independent foreign policy that forges new partnerships with China and Russia, while maintaining ties with traditional partners such as the United States.

In securing the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea, we continue the use of diplomatic engagements with China and other claimant states without compromising Philippine national interest. The Bilateral Consultative Mechanism with China was established while the ASEAN-centered negotiations for the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea was formalized.

The Philippines also pursued the development of its deterrence capabilities for a credible defense posture, particularly through the increased funding allocation by Congress. The improvement of facilities in the Philippine-occupied features in the West Philippine Sea were also undertaken.

Trans-boundary issues such as terrorism, drug-trafficking, piracy, smuggling, and human trafficking are being addressed through the strong collaborative mechanisms within the ASEAN framework. The Philippines remains an active member-state that recognizes the ASEAN way in undertaking concerted actions against security threats and challenges in the region.

In the Philippines, illegal drugs have become a national security threat. The campaign against illegal drugs has become a primary mission and the campaign will even be more intensified to eradicate the menace.

The terrorist threat posed by local communist terrorist groups and other extremist groups continue to threaten the lives, properties, and freedoms of the Filipino people. They hamper the country’s potential economic gains and progress.

The threat from ISIS-affiliated groups remains despite their resounding defeat in Marawi, which is now undergoing reconstruction and rehabilitation.

Elsewhere, in areas where there are local terrorist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf, Maute and the BIFF, the operations will be relentless. More security forces will be deployed, as necessary.

Only a few weeks ago, President Duterte issued Executive Order 70 (EO 70) providing for a Whole-of-Nation approach in defeating the Local Communist Terrorist Groups. A National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) was created to synchronize the utilization of the government’s instrumentalities of power with the capabilities of private sector stakeholders to finally end the 50-year long deceit, lies and atrocities committed by the communist terrorists against the people.

The President himself is leading the way By taking the role of National Task Force Commander, he is demonstrating resolve to fulfill his vow to provide a better future for the Filipino people.

The “Whole-of-Nation Approach” gives importance to inclusive and sustainable framework towards attaining peace. In this light, the government remained persistent in implementing the Enhanced Comprehensive Localized Integration Program (E-CLIP), wherein rebel returnees have found alternatives to a life of crime and violence.

On the Mindanao situation, the recent Congressional approval to extend Martial Law demonstrates government’s commitment at maintaining peace and order and eliminating extremist influence in the region. The extended implementation of Martial Law will be vital in ensuring the success of the upcoming plebiscite of the Bangsamoro Organic Law in January 2019.

Prospects are bright for an even more stable and secure nation in 2019. With the NSS and the “Whole-of-Nation Approach” in place, the security sector will become more robust in addressing future security challenges. We are optimistic that as we are able to provide continuing stability, more developmental prospects, small and big – such as our Build, Build, Build projects -- will see fruition. All these will translate to improved economic standing and better living conditions of most Filipinos.

We, in the security sector, stand with the President, and remain committed to secure our territory, ensure sovereignty, and implement law and order - all for the well-being of the Filipino and for our future generations.

Press Statement by:
National Security Adviser and
Director General, National Security Council

ASG bandits release son of mayor in Zamboanga del Norte

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 31): ASG bandits release son of mayor in Zamboanga del Norte

The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits have released the son of a town mayor they kidnapped over a year ago in the province of Zamboanga del Norte, the police said.

The Sulu Provincial Police Office said that Jed Quimbo, 28, the son of Mayor Eddie Quimbo of Labason, Zamboanga del Norte, was released around 4 p.m. Sunday in Barangay Anuling, Patikul, Sulu.

The police said Quimbo, a businessman, was handed over to his brother, Justin, and former Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan.

The ASG bandits held Quimbo captive for one year, three months and 24 days.

The police said Quimbo was taken to the Kuta Heneral Teodulfo Bautista Station Hospital for medical check-up and for debriefing later.

The ASG bandits seized Quimbo in front of his store at the public market on Sept. 6, 2017 in Barangay Poblacion, Labason, Zamboanga del Norte.

Quimbo was forced to board a van, which was found abandoned in Sitio Ulingan, Usokan, Labason.

The police said Quimbo will be transported to the headquarters of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom).

NPA hit squad leader captured in Agusan Norte

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 31): NPA hit squad leader captured in Agusan Norte

Authorities captured a New People's Army (NPA) leader allegedly involved in several high-profile killings in Agusan provinces, an Army official said Sunday.

Lt. Roel Maglalang, civil-military operations officer of the Army's 23rd Infantry Brigade, identified the NPA leader as Joaquin Madrinian, who was captured by a team of military and police personnel in the Agusan del Norte town of Carmen on Sunday.

Authorities confiscated a .45-caliber handgun, ammunition, a hand grenade, and several documents from the NPA leader during his arrest in Barangay Tagcatong, Carmen, around 4:30 a.m.

Maglalang described
Madrinian, also known as "Commander Alto", as the leader of a Special Partisan Unit (SPARU) of the NPA, long known as the rebel group's urban assassination squad.

Maglalang said Madrinian has five standing warrants of arrest for multiple murder and other crimes connected to his activities with the NPA and is listed as the most wanted NPA "terrorist" and criminal in Agusan del Norte.

Authorities pointed to Madrinian as the prime suspect in the murder of Mayor Dario Otaza of Loreto, Agusan del Sur in 2015.

Otaza, himself a former NPA member, was killed along with his son Daryl three years ago. The NPA admitted to the killing days later.

Maglalang said Madrinian was also involved in the killings of several Indigenous Peoples leaders in Caraga, and in the ambush of Agusan del Norte Gov. Angel Amante-Matba in 2016.

Lt. Col. Francisco Molina, Jr., 23IB commander, said the NPA leader was captured with the help of civilians who provided information about Madrinian's location.

"Criminal like Alto has no place in the community of peace-loving Caraganons," Molina said.

2 killed, 28 hurt in Cotabato City mall blast

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 31): 2 killed, 28 hurt in Cotabato City mall blast

BLAST SITE. The site of Monday’s (Dec. 31) blast in front of the South Seas Mall in Cotabato City. (Photo courtesy of Mike Suan – RMN Cotabato)
COTABATO CITY [UPDATE]-- A powerful blast that ripped into the facade of a mall here killed two persons and wounded scores of others around 2 p.m. Monday (December 31), police said.

The bomb, believed to be from an improvised explosive device (IED), went off in front of the South Seas Mall along the busy Don Rufino Alonzo Avenue, where people are in a shopping rush on New Year's eve.

Two of the victims, Jonathan Tasic Torrebiano and Meriam Kali Ulama, were declared dead on arrival at the Cotabato Regional and Medical Center (CRMC).

Supt. Romeo Galgo Jr., deputy police director, said the blast at the mall's baggage counter area was powerful enough to injure even the roadside vendors and motorists passing along the street.

Chief Insp. Ruel Zafra said a second bomb found at the baggage counter on the second floor was disarmed by military bomb disposal experts.

Galgo said bomb experts were convinced that the IED was similar to those set off in other areas of Maguindanao in the past.

“We have possible suspects but we are still investigating; we are reviewing the CCTV of South Seas Mall,” Galgo said.

The blast came while the mall entrance was busy during the shopping rush. Vendors of firecrackers, hornpipes (tororot), toys and fruits were conducting business just outside the mall when the blast occurred.

Galgo identified some of the injured individuals as Aida Dalandas, Bai Sandra Ayunan, Karen Diazon, Muhamidin Kahar, Nasrin Anding, Rayan Madali, Samanudin Rumomba, Aida Mukabo, Prisha Mae Amestoso, Muhalidin Maninto, and Abdul Manan. They are being treated at the Cotabato Regional and Medical Center here.

Also rushed to other hospitals were Sedik Kutin, Hamida Sulaiman, Joey Api, Aida Balandag, Manisa Torres, Ayanan Biruar, Tarhata Biruar, Noryn Biruar, Norhamin Nakan, Denise Torres, Sarah Jane Esmael, Ronel Maskuban, Alnait Mukado, Mariam Cali, Naida Sampurna, Mylove Natano, and Ibrahim Marsuban.

Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi condemned the bombing and called on residents to stand up against terrorism.

“This is not just another terroristic act but an act against humanity. I cannot fathom how such evil exists in this time of merrymaking of our fellow Cotabateños,” Sayadi said.

“No matter how you threaten us, the people of Cotabato are resilient and we are stronger than how you think we are,” she added.

A lockdown was immediately implemented in the entire city, with soldiers and policemen preventing the entry and exit of all kinds of vehicles, except those of the military and the police. It was not clear when the lockdown will be lifted.

The city entrance from the northern and southern portions of the city remained closed as of 4:30 p.m. The lockdown started at 2 p.m.

2 Reds die in Agusan-Bukidnon border clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 31): 2 Reds die in Agusan-Bukidnon border clash

Two communist rebels died following an encounter with government troops along the boundary of Agusan del Sur and Bukidnon provinces on Monday (Dec. 31), a military official said.

Lt. Col. Ronald Illana, commander of the Army's 8th Infantry Battalion (8IB), said the firefight erupted after the troops belonging to the 8IB and the 43rd Division Reconnaissance Company "sneaked" into the New People's Army (NPA) hideout in Barangay Binicalan, San Luis town, Agusan del Sur.

The soldiers recovered two M14 rifles at the encounter site, where an undetermined number of rebels are believed to have been wounded based on the trail of blood left by the insurgents.

"As of press time, the troopers of 8th Infantry Battalion with the 43rd Division Reconnaissance Company are pursuing the terrorists who scampered after their hideout was overrun by the troops. The terrorists left their dead cohorts behind," a statement released by the 4th Infantry Division (4ID) said.

Illana said the identities of the dead rebels -- both males -- have yet to be known as of posting time.

Maj. Gen. Ronald Villanueva, 4ID commander and concurrent acting commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command, reiterated the call for the remaining NPA members to surrender or face "the might of massive military operations."

"Our forces on the ground are unleashing their combat skills. To the remaining NPA terrorists, who still want to challenge our government, show us what you've got. For those wanting to take the path to real peace, come to us and we will help you," Villanueva said.

A day before the firefight, 4ID said the same band of NPA rebels also figured in a clash with 8IB personnel in the outskirts of this city. The five-minute firefight with around 15 rebels resulted in the recovery of several ammunitions.

On Dec. 29, the 8IB said its troops captured an alleged member NPA identified as Michael Abalang Tinampay, 27.

Tinampay, a resident of Claveria town in Misamis Oriental, was arrested in Barangay Hagpa, Impasug-ong town, Bukidnon.  He yielded several types of ammunition and explosives, cellular phones and an unlicensed motorcycle.

Lt. Ken Cabbigat, 8IB civil-military operations officer, said the Agusan del Sur-Bukidnon boundary has long been a flashpoint for NPA activities.

Cabbigat said the NPA has been using the mountainous area to mark the annual anniversary of its main organizational arm, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

This year, however, the military official said the CPP-NPA failed to hold its anniversary activity following intensified military operations within the border. The CPP-NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

Army eyes BIFF in New Year's Eve mall bombing

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 1): Army eyes BIFF in New Year's Eve mall bombing

BOMB SEARCH. Army and police bomb disposal experts inspect the South Seas Mall baggage counter at the second floor where an improvised explosive device was also found and deactivated. (Photo by 6th ID)

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao – Military authorities believed the Islamic State-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) had a hand in the bombing of a mall in Cotabato City on New Year's Eve that killed two shoppers and injured dozens of others.

Among those injured in Monday's bombing, which came at about 2 p.m., were 10 minors, according to Major General Cirilito Sobejana, the commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (ID).

He said initial investigation led to the IS-linked BIFF in Maguindanao that recently shifted to attacking non-combatants from harassing military personnel, starting with the Isulan twin bombings last September.

“We are not discounting the possibility that the Daesh-inspired group was responsible in the bombing,” Sobejana said.

Senior Supt. Rolly Octavio, city police director, said police are reviewing the closed circuit TV (CCTV) camera footage taken at South Seas Mall to help identify the perpetrators.

“Our authorities have the information about the suspects, as to the motive, that is being determined,” Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi said in a news conference some two hours after the blast.

Two were declared dead on arrival in two separate hospitals. They were identified as Jonathan Torribiano of Upi, Maguindanao and Mariam Kali, 31 of Barangay Poblacion 2, Cotabato City.

Octavio said bomb experts recovered about one kilo of cut nails, a plastic container with traces of black powder and broken parts of a mobile phone at the blast site.

In a follow-up operation inside the mall, another improvised explosive device with chemical component was found on the second-floor baggage counter left by a still unidentified man.

“A CCTV captured the man’s facial features”, Octavio said.

AFP welcomes New Year with resolve, hopes of peace

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 31): AFP welcomes New Year with resolve, hopes of peace

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is welcoming 2019 by showing its resolve to serve and protect the Filipino nation and with hopes that enduring peace and development would finally come to the country, AFP chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal said Monday.

"Truly, 2018 has been a successful year for the Armed Forces as we fulfill our tasks within the national thrust towards just and lasting peace and development for the Philippines. As this year closes, the AFP will continue its resolve in serving the Filipino nation in achieving its mission of protecting the people and securing the state," Madrigal said in his New Year's message forwarded to reporters he added.

Madrigal also expressed hopes that 2019 will finally realize the long cherished dream of peace and progress in all parts of the country.

"The AFP welcomes the year 2019 with great hopes of enduring peace and development for our nation. We have gone a long way treading the path of peace and we are optimistic that the New Year will bring us closer to our common aspirations as the AFP continues to reap more successes in the performance of its mandate to protect the people and secure the state," he added.

And as the country celebrates the New Year, the AFP chief said he expects all soldiers, airmen, sailors, marines and civilian personnel to be reinvigorated and more eager to continue the significant gains that we have achieved in the past year.

"The AFP has made significant contribution to our country's peace effort in 2018 as it facilitated the end of conflict with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Moreover, our continuous focused military operations led to the countless surrender of communist rebels and supporters, the clearing of guerilla fronts, as well as the arrest of top NPA leaders and personalities. We hope that for their New Year's resolution, more and more NPA members will heed the call to lay down their arms and join the mainstream society in its nation-building efforts," Madrigal added.

AFP not discounting 'other groups' in Cotabato City blast

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 1): AFP not discounting 'other groups' in Cotabato City blast

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is not discounting the possibility that there are other "interest groups" that perpetrated the deadly blast in Cotabato City, which left two persons dead and 26 others wounded on New Year's Eve.

"While we all know that the terrorist BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) and its breakaway group Daulah Islamiyah are the ones with the wicked desire to sow terror and inflict harm to innocent civilians, we don't discount the possibility of other interest groups aligned with the same evil intentions to be involved," AFP chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal said in message sent to reporters Monday.

The AFP strongly condemns the criminals behind the explosion that caused harm and put in danger the lives of innocent civilians and disrupted the Cotabato residents preparation to greet the New Year, he added.

Initial information from the 6th Infantry Division revealed that an unidentified individual allegedly dropped a wrapped box along Magallanes St. in front of the South Seas mall entrance, which exploded at around 1:59 p.m.

Explosive ordnance disposal teams and forensics operatives are now in the area to process the scene and identify what kind of explosive was used.

"The AFP on its part is continuously collaborating with the PNP (Philippine National Police) who are leading the investigation as we are also cooperating with the local government of Cotabato City in the overall security of the city," Madrigal added.

"Meanwhile, we urge all peace-loving citizens in Cotabato City to be very vigilant and report to the authorities any suspicious individuals or packages to avert a similar incident from happening. The people's cooperation will add strength to government forces designated to facilitate the security of our communities," he added.

AFP chief expects 2018 gains to boost military

From the Philippine Star (Jan 1): AFP chief expects 2018 gains to boost military

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Lt. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr. expressed optimism yesterday that the country’s military, building on the gains of 2018, will do more in 2019 as protectors of the people and the state.

He said the AFP’s accomplishments would also improve hopes for an enduring peace and development for the country.

“We have gone a long way treading the path of peace and we are optimistic that the New Year will bring us closer to our common aspirations as the AFP continues to reap more successes in the performance of its mandate to protect the people and secure the state,” he said in his New Year message yesterday.

“As we welcome the New Year, we expect all our soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines and civilian human resources to be reinvigorated and more eager to continue the significant gains that we have achieved in the past year,’ he said.

Madrigal noted that the AFP has made significant contribution to our country’s peace effort in 2018 as it facilitated the end of conflict with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“Moreover, our continuous focused military operations led to the countless surrender of communist rebels and supporters, the clearing of guerrilla fronts, as well as the arrest of top New People’s Army (NPA) leaders and personalities,” he said.

“We hope that for their New Year’s resolution, more and more NPA members will heed the call to lay down their arms and join mainstream society in its nation-building efforts,” he added.

Madrigal claimed that 2018 has truly been a successful year for the AFP as “we fulfill our tasks within the national thrust towards just and lasting peace and development for the Philippines.”

“As this year closes, the AFP will continue its resolve in serving the Filipino nation in achieving its mission of protecting the people and securing the state,” he said.

CPP-NPA failed due to lack of credibility: nat’l artist

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 31): CPP-NPA failed due to lack of credibility: nat’l artist

The Communist Party of the Philippines - New People's Army (CPP-NPA) has failed to attract the masses with its ideology due to its lack of credibility and blindness of reality, National Artist F. Sionil Jose said.

In an opinion column published by Jose in the Philippine Star and in his online blog, he said this lack of touch on reality "doomed" the communist party.

"Wide social divide, as evidenced by widespread poverty, is in itself the "objective reality" that every revolutionary must understand. From the very beginning, however, the Communist Party and the NPA were blind to this and to the other objective realities in this country. This willful blindness doomed the Party," he said.

Jose noted the "supreme irony" of the CPP-NPA collecting revolutionary taxes from businessmen.

"By exchanging the revolutionary tax for protection, the NPA has emasculated the very foundation of the revolution itself and has joined the ranks of the very enemy it wants to destroy," he said.

Jose said the CPP-NPA should have worked with the Philippine Army instead of treating them as their enemy.

"What they ignored is that the Army, including its officer corps, is composed primarily of the very poor. It is also a patriotic institution, its heroism tested in Tirad Pass, in World War II. It is also the Army, and only the Army, that can hold the country together. The Party should have worked to win the Army to their side," he said.

Jose, who was awarded as National Artist for Literature in 2001, blamed CPP founder Jose Maria Sison for numerous deaths and huge amount of money wasted due to the CPP-NPA's armed fighting for 50 years.

He called Sison
"a brilliant ideologue, a narcissist, and a second-rate poet".

"The Party (CPP-NPA) must eventually be led by selfless leaders like Ho Chi Minh, who are willing to live poorly as their own people," he said.

Sison has been in exile in The Netherlands since 1987 after peace talks with then-President Corazon Aquino’s government failed.

Aside from being a National Artist, Jose has been known for his writings on national sovereignty and social justice since the late 60s.

He has also been a publisher, lecturer on cultural issues, and the founder of the Philippine chapter of the international organization PEN.

The US State Department and the European Union have both tagged the CPP-NPA as terrorist bodies.

Army launches New Year's Eve attack, captures NPA camp in Bukidnon

From Rappler (Dec 31): Army launches New Year's Eve attack, captures NPA camp in Bukidnon
Two rebels were also killed in the New Year's Eve attack by the Philippine Army
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Soldiers from the Philippine Army's 8th Infantry Battalion and 43rd Division Reconnaissance Company of the 4th Infantry Division captured a New People's Army camp in a mountainous area between Bukidnon and Agusan del Sur provinces before noon Monday, December 31.

A running gunbattle was still ongoing said a report by the 4th ID, but the government troops have successfully taken over the NPA encampment.

403rd Infantry Brigade commander Army Colonel Edgardo de Leon said
two NPA cadres were killed in the New Year's Eve assault.

De Leon said the rebels belonged to the
NPA's sub-regional committee 2 of North Central Mindanao Regional Committee.

"As of now, the 8th IB and the 43rd DRC are pursuing the NPA rebels who fled after their hideout was overrun," De Leon added.

De Leon said two M14 assault rifles belonging to slain NPA rebels were recovered by the soldiers.

Long-live to our Filipino Soldiers! Our sacrifices of not being with our families this Yuletide holidays in order to effectively protect our people and our land was worth worth it," Col Edgardo De Leon said.

4th Infantry Division Commander and also the Acting Commander of Eastern Mindanao Command, Major General Ronald Villanueva renewed his call for the rebels to surrender.

In the past years, the government and the insurgents declared separate unilateral ceasefires in observance of the Christmas season. This year, however, the government did not reciprocate the NPA's unilateral ceasefire as President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the AFP to crush the NPA. The communist insurgency in the country is said to be Asia's longest Maoist rebellion.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Military: CPP’s 50th year anniversary celebration failed to stir public interest

From GMA News (Dec 27): Military: CPP’s 50th year anniversary celebration failed to stir public interest

The 50th founding anniversary celebration of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which has the distinction of being the longest communist insurgency in Asia, has failed to generate interest and support from the public, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said Thursday.

Military public affairs chief Colonel Noel Detoyato was referring to the CPP anniversary which fell on December 26.

In marking their anniversary, the communists vowed to resist President Rodrigo Duterte's "policy" of fascist terror and tyranny. The New People's Army particularly cited its members' solid grasp of the requisites of widespread and intensive character of guerrilla warfare on top of building and deployment of its horizontal and vertical formations, forming guerrilla theaters composed of two to three guerrilla fronts, employing some elements of regular mobile warfare, mobilizing the masses for armed struggle, waging agrarian revolution and other mass campaigns in the countryside, among others.

The NPA is the armed wing of the CPP.

“They were not able to sustain big assemblies and organize masses They (communists) were forced to make it as a small gathering. Their braggadoccio type of holding their annual anniversary events were effectively reduced to internal affair,” Detoyato said.

“Their failure to generate big national and international attention shows that the overwhelming majority of the Filipino people don't care about the CPP or their founding anniversary,” he added.

Local news organizations reported about the CPP's 50th founding anniversary, while London-based tabloid Daily Mail, which has a circulation of 1.2 million copies on a daily basis, also ran a piece on the occasion of the communist movement's founding anniversary.

The Daily Mail is also the paper with the third largest circulation in London.

Still, Detoyato is convinced that the communists do not have the support of the public.

“The government and the Armed Forces were able to consolidate public opinion and public support to the democratic and duly constituted authorities of the government. The vast majority of the population in the countryside and in urban areas do not believe in the validity of the armed struggle as espoused by the CPP-NPA-NDF, much much less in the legitimacy of the communist alternative,” he said.

“Failure ang 50th year anniversary [celebrations] ng CPP,” he added.

In its 50th anniversary statement, the CPP said that the military is nowhere near defeating the communist rebels for good, saying that the deadline for eradicating the communist rebels has been constantly moving.

The Communist Party of the Philippines at 50

From Rappler (Dec 27): LOOK: The Communist Party of the Philippines at 50

Communists in Quezon Province hold an intimate celebration

PREPS. Party cadres prepare the backdrop for the golden anniversary press conference. All photos by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

PREPS. Party cadres prepare the backdrop for the golden anniversary press conference. All photos by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

QUEZON, Philippines – It was supposed to be a grand celebration complete with all the bells and whistles, but after President Rodrigo Duterte’s tirades against them last week and without the traditional Christmas ceasefire, they opted for a simple gathering.

About a hundred members of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People's Army gathered on a muddy clearing in the lower Sierra Madre mountains after Christmas Day to celebrate the 50th year founding of the CPP.

The celebration was the usual parade, press conference and cultural presentation. However, absent were supporters and family members who usually joined them for the occasion. Officials cited threats of military operations as the reason why they have decided not to make the celebration public.

The whole afternoon was an intimate gathering of cadres of the Melito Glor Command. A time to display their newly printed commemorative chinos and Mao caps, sing new revolutionary songs as anthem of the anniversary and to reaffirm their commitment to the Party.

MUDDY TRAIL. Fighters of the NPA's Melito Glor Command march from their bases to celebrate the Party's founding.

GOLDEN YEAR. The CPP's commemorative logo.

'CONCEALER'. A rebel gets a face paint to hide his identity from the media.

WAITING. NPA fighters rest before the start of the celebration.

FINAL TOUCHES. An artist applies ink on the NPA flag.

FEAST. A cadre prepares meals of fish and vegetables for the participants.

ATTENTION. NPA fighters form for the parade.

SALUTE. Communists rebels sing the Internationale to start the festivities.

PRESS CONFERENCE. Southern Tagalog NPA spokesperson Diego Padilla (right) raises his fist after announcing the Party's statement.

COMMUNITY SINGING. NPA rebels introduce two new revolutionary anthem for the anniversary during a cultural presentation.

AT EASE. Rebels gamely pose for the camera to show their commemorative caps and chinos.

STILL RELEVANT. Despite government claims that their numbers are dwindling the CPP maintained that they are stronger than ever.

Experts: Security in Philippine South Rides on Autonomy Vote

From BenarNews (Dec 28): Experts: Security in Philippine South Rides on Autonomy Vote

Residents of Marawi city in southern Philippines raise fists of approval during a campaign rally in favor of the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law on regional autonomy, Dec. 22, 2018.

Residents of Marawi city in southern Philippines raise fists of approval during a campaign rally in favor of the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law on regional autonomy, Dec. 22, 2018.  Froilan Gallardo/BenarNews                    

A failure to ratify a Muslim autonomy law in the southern Philippines early next year could ignite fresh violence in the troubled region, with Islamic State-linked militants potentially exploiting the situation to boost their waning ranks, analysts warn.

On Jan. 21 some two million voters are expected to vote on ratifying the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). President Rodrigo Duterte signed off on it in July, four years after the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ended a separatist rebellion, which began two decades earlier and left tens of thousands of people dead and parts of the south in deep poverty.

If the law fails to bring development – as promised by MILF leaders-turned-politicians – it could drive many southerners back into the arms of militant groups, said Ramon Beleno III, head of the political science and history department at Ateneo De Davao University in Davao City.
“There are challenges ahead like how it will be implemented. There is opposition from other sectors. And if it they are not addressed, that situation will lead to another armed group,” he told BenarNews.

The law gives people in the south control over many local government functions, including taxation and education, and will allow Muslim Filipinos to incorporate Islamic law into their justice system.

The upcoming plebiscite is expected take place in the predominantly Muslim provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur. It will also include six towns in Lanao del Norte and the cities of Cotabato and Isabela in Basilan.

However, with a few weeks left before the vote, large segments of the Muslim population have not been educated about the concept of autonomy and the implications of BOL, according to Beleno.

“Many people do not understand it. There must be massive explanation on the ground about the consequences if they accept it or not. There were many promises under the new set-up, but if they are not met, we will have a problem,” he said.

Under the set-up MILF would gradually disarm, with its members integrating into the Philippine armed forces.
But the absence of the former fighters from the frontlines could lead to a power vacuum, which more hardline groups inspired by Islamic State (IS) militants could fill, MILF chief Murad Ebrahim has warned.

Murad Ebrahim (right), chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, talks to supporters while campaigning for the Bangsamoro Organic Law on regional autonomy, in the battle-ravaged southern Philippine city of Marawi, Dec. 22, 2018. [Froilan Gallardo/BenarNews]

BOL: ‘A political experiment’

Already, militant groups are testing the resolve of the army and police.

In late July 2018, a car bomb set off by militants at a checkpoint in southern Basilan island killed 10 people. Meanwhile, dozens of militants who escaped from southern Marawi city last year after a five-month battle with government forces are busy with frenzied recruitment efforts, the military has said.

“The BOL will require the MILF to stop fighting the Philippine through a military struggle and this will be a big contribution to peace in Mindanao,” Rommel Banlaoi, and expert at the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, told Benar.

“However, there are still threats to peace emanating from the military activities of other groups,” he said.

Apart from holdover militant veterans of the Marawi battle, the military should be wary of extremist groups, including the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Abu Sayyaf, and watch out for a possible revival of the Ansar al-Khilafah Philippines (AKP), Banlaoi said.

Among other things to consider, MILF’s many fighters would be left to relearn military discipline under the strict guidelines of their former battlefield foes, he said. The government has estimated MILF’s strength at 10,000 fighters, but the former rebel group has claimed that its forces are three times as big.

Banlaoi said he recently visited MILF areas in the south, and he had reason to believe that “there can be more than a million armed people who can fight on behalf of the MILF.”

“Thus, BOL will require the MILF leadership to tell all their armed followers in their mass base not to use their arms to fight the central government,” he stressed, while acknowledging that the process of decommissioning MILF’s entire arsenal could be difficult.

The Bangsamoro Organic Law is not a “panacea” for multifaceted problems of conflicts in the south that have been aggravated by the presence of IS, Banlaoi argued. Rather, it is a “political experiment that we all hope will work,” he said.

Also, he said, the law could not be expected to “automatically stop the influx of foreign fighters” to the south, and could “even attract some foreign fighters to come to the south to oppose what they perceive as cooptation with the infidels.”

In such a case, he warned, MILF and the new Bangsamoro government must not lose time formulating ways to prevent more foreign fighters from infiltrating local territory.

“Otherwise, foreign terrorist fighters working in tandem with local fighters can undermine the peace aspired by all,” Banlaoi stressed.


The south’s Muslim population is not entirely united behind BOL. Some local groups have expressed their opposition to the autonomy law.

In October, Sulu provincial Gov. Abdusakur Tan II questioned its legality in a petition before the Supreme Court, arguing that the law was unconstitutional.

And Cynthia Giani, the mayor of Cotabato city, has been actively campaigning against her city’s inclusion in the expanded autonomous region.

“Whatever comes out of the plebiscite, we really have to respect it but I believe that no matter how hard you campaign to residents of Cotabato City, they have a mind of their own. What the people feel is different from what Manila people perceive,” Giani said.

MILF leaders, at the same time, have warned of trouble brewing should the measure be defeated in next month’s vote, particularly in Basilan, the bailiwick of the Abu Sayyaf Group, and in Cotabato, an administrative capital of the Muslim government.

The Abu Sayyaf, or Bearers of the Sword, is the most brutal of militant groups operating in the southern Philippines. It has been engaged mostly in banditry, kidnapping and bombings.

One of its commanders, Isnilon Hapilon, became the head of the Philippine Islamic State faction. In May 2017, he led an attack and take-over of Marawi city, a major Muslim trading hub. The siege and ensuing five-month battle destroyed the city and left at least 1,200 people dead, mostly militants.

“There should be smooth acceptance from the people. Otherwise, it will spark another group to come out,” Beleno, the political scientist, said.

Deployment of soldiers, police in the hinterlands of Negros Occidental hit as killing spree continues

From the pro-Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) online publication the Davao Today (Dec 29): Deployment of soldiers, police in the hinterlands of Negros Occidental hit as killing spree continues

A group of sugarcane workers hit out the continued deployment of soldiers and police in the remote communities of Negros Occidental in what they feared as a systematic crackdown against activists in the province.

John Milton Lozande, speaking for the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), said the Army’s 302ndInfantry Brigade deployed 1, 000 police and military troops in the hinterlands of Guihulngan City, La Libertad, Mabinay, Santa Catalina, and other parts of Negros Oriental since the evening of December 27 up to the present.

Lozande said government troops have killed six people because “they fought it out with the brigade size security forces ala Tokhang style and arrested 16 persons.”

Among those killed was Jesus “Dondon” Isugan, son of Kaugmaon KMP peasant organizers Delia and Dominador Isugan. Others were habal-habal drivers Reneboy Fat and Jaime Revilla, who are community organizers and Demetrio Fat, who is a brother in law of a peasant organizer.

He added that authorities have also arrested peasant organizer Margie Baylosis, cousin of Joey Baylosis, also a peasant organizer who was arbitrarily arrested with five others in Mabinay.

“These atrocities come at a time after the Sagay Massacre, the killing of Atty. Benjamin Ramos the recent arrest of NFSW local leader Ricky Canete; the death threats against another peasant, worker and human rights and development workers, and military operations in Northern Negros,” Lozande said.

Lozande further alleged that government troops have 119 search warrants with them for loose firearms and illegal drugs.

“More than 80 of those warrants are in Guihulngan City and only 20 have been served so far. But reports from Karapatan Negros reveal that no warrants were shown to those who were arrested and firearms were planted to them and to those who were killed,” he noted.

He added: “The NFSW demands a halt to these military operations in Negros Oriental and an independent investigation of these atrocities and justice to those who were killed and arrested. If this would not be stopped, this could be replicated in other areas similarly situated like Samar, the Bicol region and especially in Mindanao where martial law was extended.”

CPP at 50: Reds celebrate victories; hopeful to accomplish more

From the pro-Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) online publication the Davao Today (Dec 29): CPP at 50: Reds celebrate victories; hopeful to accomplish more

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) is looking forward to accomplishing ever bigger achievements and revolutionary victories as it celebrated its 50thfounding anniversary on Wednesday.

“The Philippines has the exceedingly favorable conditions to wage a national democratic revolution as a solution to the chronic crisis,” the Party’s Central Committee said in a statement.

Despite the pronouncements of President Duterte that it would not reciprocate the CPP’s unilateral ceasefire and even ordered the military to crush the communist guerillas, communists across the country held a fiesta-like celebration in the hinterlands, marking the Party’s golden anniversary.

In cities, activists held meetings and small gatherings out of police and military intelligence agents’ radar.

The CPP also gave its highest recognition to the martyrs and to the founding Chairman Jose Maria Sison for bringing Marxism Leninism and Maoism ideology in the Philippine setting despite his incarceration and exile since 1987.

Counter-Insurgency Campaign

The CPP added that the AFP and Duterte have repeatedly boasted of crushing the NPA before 2018 ends but the communists said it was a big lie. This year, the Duterte administration said it would end the insurgency in the middle of 2019.

Duterte and the AFP are mounting a major strategic offensive in 2019 under the National Internal Security Plan of 2018, according to CPP.

It added that the said offensive is marked with the release of Executive Order No. 70 forming a “National Task Force to end local Communist Armed Conflict” involving all stakeholders in the government and civilians as weapons against the Communists.

Jose Maria Sison, chief political consultant of the NDFP said that EO 70 limits the GRP to the framework of military suppression and the use of fake surrenders and fake encounters misrepresented as localized peace talks.

“It is in line with the anti-peace Proclamations 360 and 374, Memorandum Order 32, the arrest of NDFP Peace Consultants and the deployment of Duterte death squads in both urban and rural areas against suspected revolutionaries.EO 70 will not result at the end of the revolutionary movement led by the CPP”, Sison added.

President Rodrigo Duterte in February 2017 called for the arrest of NDFP consultants and peace negotiators. He declared that the peace negotiators would be considered “fugitives” and branded the CPP-NPA as a terror group.

Among those arrested was Rafael Baylosis who was nabbed in Quezon City in February 2018 and Adelberto Silva in October later that year.

Vicente “Vic” Ladlad joined the growing list of National Democratic Front of the Philippines consultants arrested since the collapse of peace talks between the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army and the government in 2017.

The 68-year-old former activist was arrested along with Alberto and Virginia Villamor in Novaliches, Quezon City November 8 on charges of illegal possession of firearms.

National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultant and Philippine Peace Center Executive Director Rey Claro Casambre was arrested by the police in Bacoor, Cavite on December 7.

Casambre was arrested with his wife Patricia while they were onboard a Toyota Vios in Barangay Niyog 3, Molino Boulevard, according to a police report.

Police said Casambre was arrested for murder and two counts of attempted murder by virtue of a search warrant issued by Regional Trial Court 11th Judicial Region, Branch 32, in Lupon, Davao Oriental.

Peace Talks

Malacañang said the President would only be willing to resume peace talks if communist groups prove that they will not violate the terms of such.

“The President is always open to end bloodshed in this country. He doesn’t want any killing among Filipinos. But for as long as they violate the terms of peace talk, then the President will never allow it to happen,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.

The GRP-NDFP peace negotiations was terminated in November 23, 2017 with Proclamation 360 subsequently followed with Proclamation374 designating the CPP-NPA as “terrorist organizations.”

Sison said that Duterte never gets tired of repetitively terminating the GRP-NDFP Peace Negotiations despite the standing policy of the NDFP to be ready and willing to negotiate with the GRP.

With Duterte asking for a good reason for peace talks to continue and inviting NDFP officials in November to talk in Manila, the NDFP sees that the resumption of the peace negotiations runs counter to the to the scheme carried by the Duterte administration to carry out nationwide martial law and pushing for charter change to a bogus kind of federalism.

“Before he terminated the peace negotiations, the NDFP, and the GRP negotiating panels had made drafts of the CASER and CAPCR,” Sison said.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza has resigned from his post following President Duterte’s dismissal of his two subordinates for alleged corruption.

Dureza has accepted full responsibility for the corruption allegations in his office and sent a letter to the President “voluntarily tendering his resignation.”

He was replaced by appointed retiring Armed Forces chief Carlito Galvez Jr. to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).

Tactical Offensives

The CPP lauded the NPA with the successful tactical offensives in Agusan del Sur, Sorsogon, Compostela Valley, and Northern Mindanao. The NPA tactical offensives were resounding blows against the Duterte regime’s martial law rule in Mindanao and across the country.

On the other hand, the NPA said that the recent NPA offensives do not violate the CPP’s unilateral declaration of a temporary ceasefire which took effect on December 24 to 26 and December 31 to January 1 next year to celebrate the CPP’s 50th anniversary and join the people in their holiday traditions.

CPP: Skirmish in Monkayo is NPA’s response to military ops

From the pro-Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) online publication the Davao Today (Dec 29): CPP: Skirmish in Monkayo is NPA’s response to military ops

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said the communist rebel’s involvement in a clash with the military in Monkayo, Compostela Valley province was the New People’s Army (NPA) response to the offensive operation by government troopers despite the former’s yuletide holiday truce.

“The AFP took advantage of the NPA ceasefire by mounting a military offensive in their desperation to spoil the political and cultural assemblies of revolutionary forces in line with the CPP’s 50th-anniversary celebration.,” CPP said in a statement.

“Clearly alert and with the help of the masses, the NPA unit was able to counter ambush the AFP offensive and cause casualties on the enemy forces. The AFP brought the losses they suffered upon themselves,” it added.

Eleven soldiers were wounded on December 26 after 101 Division Recon Company and 25th Infantry Batallion conducting military operation had clashed with an undetermined number of communist guerillas at Sitio Tinago, Brgy. Mt. Diwata, Monkayo, Compostela Valley province.

In a statement, 10th Infantry Division said that NPAs were allegedly forcing people to join the 50th anniversary of CPP last Wednesday. It claimed that the NPA was also laying improvised explosive devices along the roads.

Brigadier General Jose Faustino, the 10th ID Commander, condemned the attack and commended its troops in “preventing the planned plenum and atrocities” of the communist group that day.

But CPP said: “Despite their offensives, the AFP, however, failed to detect hundreds of other secret assemblies mounted nationwide.”

The incident happened following President Rodrigo Duterte rejected the holiday ceasefire declared by the communist group.

Church leaders from Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) earlier called on the government to reciprocate the holiday ceasefire declared by the NPA as they appeal on Duterte to revert its order to its forces to “destroy” the CPP and all its alleged legal front organizations.

They called on Duterte anew to instead pursue peace through “principled dialogue” and “that the peace talks are still the most viable option to attain a just and enduring peace in the country.”

2018 Yearender: More extremists surrender to gov't

From the Philippine Star (Dec 29): 2018 Yearender: More extremists surrender to gov't
The police and military are expecting the surrender soon of more misguided Islamic extremists in southern provinces.
Hundreds of wanted radical Islamists surrendered in 2018, remorseful of abusing a religion that moderate peace-loving Muslims find perfect and incomparable.

In Basilan province alone, 187 members of the Abu Sayyaf, feared for its practice of beheading captives if ransom demands are not met, returned to the fold of law this year through the efforts of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the Western Mindanao Command and the Regional Police Office-ARMM.

More than a hundred Abu Sayyaf bandits in Basilan surrendered from between 2016 to 2017.

No fewer than 30 members of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Maguindanao also yielded in batches from between March to November 2018 after having been convinced by the provincial government and units of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division to reintegrate into the local communities.

The Abu Sayyaf and the BIFF, apparently trying to sabotage the now 22-year peace efforts of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, are both using the Islamic State flag as banner.

Among those who bolted this year from the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan, a component province of ARMM, is a 12-year-old Yakan child-warrior, Tarik, and his 14 year-old brother, whose parents were killed in hostilities with pursuing soldiers about five years ago.

They are now in the protective custody of the office Gov. Mujiv Hataman, the outgoing chief executive of the autonomous region, whose second elective term is to end on June 30 next year.

Lt. Gen. Arnel dela Vega of the Western Mindanao Command said Saturday the surrender of Basilan-based Abu Sayyaf terrorists and BIFF bandits in Maguindanao was a result of the extensive humanitarian programs of ARMM regional and provincial officials.

“Economy has been improving in areas where they once ran `shadow governments’ that compelled under duress poor villagers to support them. People there have means of livelihood now,” Dela Vega said.

Dela Vega cited as example how the once notorious Al-Barka municipality in Basilan, scene of deadly Abu Sayyaf-military clashes in recent years, bounced back from poverty and underdevelopment wrought by conflicts via ARMM’s infrastructure and socio-economic programs.

Galvez said units of WestMinCom in Basilan have just reported to him that the ARMM’s P1 billion “transcentral road” project cutting through hinterlands in the center of the island province where remnants of the Abu Sayyaf are holding out is now more than halfway.

“Road-building equipment and workers are now breaking through the mountains in the Sampinit Complex there that the transcentral road is to traverse, supposedly an impregnable bastion of the Abu Sayyaf. With this, we are sure that more will soon surrender,” Galvez said.

Records from the ARMM police indicated that the Abu Sayyaf tried to kill thrice in the past two years using home-made bombs Engineer Soler Undug, chief of the Basilan District Engineering Office, to disrupt the implementation of regional government road projects, connecting lairs of terrorists to municipal centers, that he was helping oversee.

Galvez said the WestMinCom appreciates the launching last April 2018 in Basilan of the ARMM’s Program Against Violent Extremism, or PAVE, focused on providing reforming Abu Sayyaf bandits psycho-social, livelihood and religious interventions needed to hasten their reintroduction into mainstream society.

“The WestMinCom supports the PAVE. It will help heal the conflict-affected communities in Basilan,” Galvez said.

A 25-year-old former Abu Sayyaf member, who asked to be identified only as Mansur, said he and eight relatives joined the group in 2005 after having been indoctrinated by clerics who circumvented teachings in the Qura’n to suit their vested interests.

“We have learned from preachers now providing us spiritual reorientation that the teachings of those who recruited us were wrong. They deliberately duped us into believing that hating and killing non-Muslims will lead us to paradise,” Mansur said in Yakan dialect.

Adam Sajili, now farming in Sumisip town in Basilan with the help of the ARMM agriculture department, said their recruiters also kept silent on Islamic teachings espousing religious tolerance in any preaching discourse.

“We were taught to ignore the Islamic teaching that says there is no compulsion in religion, something obviously intended to ensure tranquility among Muslims and non-Muslims,” he said in Filipino.

An ustadz (theologian) now benefitting from the PAVE said poverty and lack of access to schools in the past condoned the Abu Sayyaf’s control of the local communities in isolated areas in Basilan.

“Now there are mainstream schools in many barangays in Basilan, connected to villages via good roads,” said the ustadz, who lost two brothers, Jipanul and Sarratul, in an encounter with soldiers near Maluso town in Basilan in 2013.

Col. Gerry Besana, spokesman of WestMinCom, said Saturday in Lanao del Sur, also an ARMM component-province, dozens of remnants of the Maute terror group, which started as the Dawlah Islamiya, also turned themselves in to local authorities this year.

Combined Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists instigated the May 23 to October 16, 2017 conflict in Marawi City that left more than a thousand dead, among them soldiers and police personnel, dislocated some 300,000 innocent residents and left historic, centuries-old Meranao dwelling enclaves there in ruins.

The BIFF members in Maguindanao who surrendered this year, four of them bomb-makers trained by the slain Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, most known as Marwan, are now beneficiaries of livelihood and education support from the third-termer Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, who shall also step down from office on June 30, 2019.

Major Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of 6th ID, said credit for their surrender has to go to local officials, to Chief Superintendent Graciano Mijares of the ARMM police and to the Maguindanao Program for Education and Community Empowerment, or MagPEACE.

The Maguindanao provincial government’s vaunted MagPEACE, which provides college education to poor but deserving Muslim, Christian and Lumad beneficiaries, has produced more than 3,000 professionals in the past six years.

“Many of the MagPEACE professionals are from areas where there is BIFF presence. I’ve learned too that some of them are relatives of BIFF members. This is the kind of diplomatic community-building initiative that will help address the security woes in Moro-dominated areas,” Sobejana said.