Thursday, January 4, 2018

11 battalions back in Sulu to go after Abu Sayyaf leaders

From the Philippine Star (Jan 5): 11 battalions back in Sulu to go after Abu Sayyaf leaders

In this file photo, Marines unload assorted ammunition and artillery rounds from a military C-130 plane. Unson, file
The military has redeployed 11 battalions to Sulu to go after the Abu Sayyaf and its leaders, the military Western Mindanao Command said.
Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Western Mindanao Command chief, said troops aim to get ranking terrorist leaders by the end of the first quarter of 2018.
Among the targets are senior leaders Radullan Sahiron and Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, Galvez said.
Sahiron, an aging one-armed militant leader, was earlier said to have sent feelers to arrange a surrender but the military found that it was a tactic to slow down operations.
Galvez said the operation to crush the Abu Sayyaf was almost completed last year but units had to be deployed to Marawi against the Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists that laid siege to the capital of Lanao del Sur from May to October.
“We have impending operations there in Sulu and the target is all the high-value targets must be neutralized by the first quarter,” Galvez said.
Galvez said addressing the security problem in Sulu is very important to allow government development programs to go on full swing.
He said the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao regional government have been supportive of the development campaign and has funded P500 million in infrastructure projects.
Local government units and barangay leaders have already committed to leading the campaign to eradicate the Abu Sayyaf group, Galvez said.
He said local leaders had helped prompt the surrender of more than 140 Abu Sayyaf members since last year. Westmincom has also recorded 127 militants killed and 90 captured in the same period.

Terrorists recruiting child warriors from Sabah and Marawi (Part 2)

From the Manila Times (Jan 5): Terrorists recruiting child warriors from Sabah and Marawi (Part 2)


Second of four parts

MARAWI CITY: The battle against the Daesh-Maute terrorists may have been won by the government, but the war is far from over, Meranao and Muslim sources from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao as well as from Sabah told The Manila Times.

The systematic recruitment of the vulnerable youth and adult population is ongoing, sources claimed.

“Children from indigent families in Mindanao were sold by their own parents to at least one of the Daesh-linked imams from Marawi,” according to a military intelligence officer.

For many of the parents of the estimated 2,000 child soldiers in Marawi, it was very difficult to say no given the lack of economic opportunities and fear of offending powerful persons in the community.

A mother, still in mourning in Marawi City, recounted how she and her husband were approached twice by a local Daesh-linked imam or priest prior to the Marawi attack.

Almost two years ago, she and her husband were given P150,000 in exchange for their then 11-year-old son to become one of the Daesh-Maute child soldiers.

The house used for two years by Abu Sayyaf leader and Islamic State emir Isnilon Hapilon in Marawi City

At first, they were offered P50,000 in cold cash, and the imam assured them there were no strings attached to that amount, which was “just a generous gift.”

The imam told the mother and her husband that in case they needed more money to provide for their eight children, they should not hesitate getting in touch with him for more.

That day of desperation came, and the parents received the same Daesh-linked imam into their humble home, asked for his generous help, and received another P100,000.

This time, however, the imam said that if the parents accepted the final P100,000, he expected them to give him one of their sons.

They were given three months to spend quality time with their 11-year-old before the Daesh-linked imam came back for his new recruit.

The mother said the recent death of their son in the Marawi siege was haunting her and her family.

She told The Manila Times that by sharing the painful truth behind her son’s meaningless death, she wanted to help stop the active recruitment of child soldiers in Mindanao.

Stateless children

There is another steady stream of new recruits.

A source from Sabah, an advocate for stateless persons of Filipino descent, claimed there were more than 400,000 stateless children of Filipino descent, who have either undocumented or stateless parents working in the low-paying informal sector in Sabah.

This means that about 99 percent of these stateless children of Filipino descent are unable to attend public schools in Sabah, a Malaysian state to which the Philippines has historic claims.

Less than one percent of these stateless children can be absorbed by three alternative learning centers, only one of which is recognized by the Malaysian government.

Limits on their educational and employment opportunities, in addition to their susceptibility to poverty, malnutrition, and various diseases, make it extremely difficult for them to be fully self-determining people.

Retreat point used by the Maute terrorist group. PHOTOS BY DREI TOLEDO AND MIMI FABE

The fact that these stateless persons lack a nationality altogether―unlike migrants, internally displaced persons, and other types of non-citizens―makes their condition particularly harsh.

Some Sabah-born stateless Muslim children of Filipino descent return to the Philippines through the porous borders of Mindanao.

They easily become vulnerable recruits in Mindanao by the likes of Daesh-Maute and other extremist groups.

Undocumented and stateless persons are ideal terrorist recruits since they have no public records: no birth certificates, no passports, and no real identification cards.

A well-planned assault, but not on Marawi

Since the end of the Marawi siege, locals have become more willing to air different opinions and provide information they were hesitant to share in the beginning.

According to local Meranao and Muslim sources—Daesh sympathizers and opponents alike—Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute never intended to attack Marawi City.

After all, Marawi was already the “Islamic City,” the country’s center of Muslim worship, governance, culture and commerce.

According to one of the few Daesh-Maute leaders interviewed byThe Manila Times, the real plan was to establish an IS base in the predominantly Muslim city of Marawi; the ultimate goal was to first attack and take over Iligan City, Cagayan de Oro City and Davao City, home city of no less than President Rodrigo Duterte.

80% OF MARAWI INTACT Photos above show two homes cleared by the military in battle-zone areas. Below, structures outside the main battle area, still standing and not often shown by the media. Eighty percent of the Islamic City remains intact. PHOTOS BY DREI TOLEDO AND MIMI FABE

“More people need to ask why, in the first place, would ISIS-Maute fighters deliberately want to destroy Marawi City when it is already an Islamic City? Think about it,” the source said.

The original Daesh-Maute operational plan failed, however, since the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) successfully cordoned Hapilon and Maute within Marawi City before the end of May, before local Daesh commanders, fighters, and mercenaries could unleash a more catastrophic terrorist attack and damage outside the Islamic City.

What Aquino knew

Marawi residents knew about the presence of Daesh-Maute or ISIS Philippines in their city since 2015, and yet nearly everyone kept silent, according to sources.

An intelligence official corroborates this, saying that as early as 2013, during the administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, foreign government researchers provided Philippine government officials, political scientists, and national security experts critical information regarding the presence of Filipino jihadist leaders and about 100 Abu Sayyaf Group members in Syria.

Some Abu Sayyaf fighters were even deployed to Syria for training, along with their wives, all of whom were spotted and identified by the foreign researchers.

According to the same intelligence official, Philippine military officers during the previous administration consistently denied reports that at least 100 Filipino jihadists have joined Daesh and swore their oath of allegiance to ISIS.

The Daesh-Maute stockpiling of weapons, high-powered firearms, equipment, food, and medicine, all strategically stored in various locations in the “underground tunnel system” beneath Marawi City, began at least two years ago, the intelligence official said.

Marawi residents never expected that the Daesh-Maute “Islamic State (IS) territory expansion plan” would backfire two years later, and end up destroying several barangay (villages).

Only 20 percent of Marawi destroyed

Majority of local and international mainstream media ―using the power of framed images and videos― have conditioned many people to believe that after five months of war against Daesh-Maute terrorists, practically all of Marawi City had been destroyed.

The fact is, less than 20 percent of the entire land area of Marawi City was destroyed during five months of fighting.

During fieldwork in December, The Manila Times found that collateral damage in terms of land area had affected only 24 out of the 96 barangay in Marawi City.

This means that the Marawi siege destruction was contained by the AFP within less than a fifth of the entire city’s land area.

The rest of Marawi and beyond continues to be fertile ground for terrorist fund-raising and recruitment.

(Next: The anatomy of terrorist financing)

MONEY TRAIL OF THE MARAWI SIEGE//Surge in remittances preceded IS attack on Marawi City (Part 1)

From the Manila Times (Jan 4): MONEY TRAIL OF THE MARAWI SIEGE//Surge in remittances preceded IS attack on Marawi City (Part 1)


First of four parts

THE MAY 23 attack on Marawi City by terrorists linked to the Islamic State (IS) was preceded by a surge in local remittances to Northern Mindanao, host to major urban centers, a The Manila Times investigation has found.

Local remittances were crucial to funding the five-month siege led by the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups. Devoid of financing, the IS-linked terrorists in Marawi would not have sustained their deadly attacks, as foreign and local terrorists expected daily payments to continue fighting.

Compared with 2015 and 2016 data, daily local remittances to central bank-registered remittance centers in Northern Mindanao spiked in value and volume by 200 to 400 percent beginning February 2017, or three months before the attack on the country’s Islamic capital.

Private remittance centers mushroomed at an exponential rate in 2017 even in second-class municipalities like Jasaan, Misamis Oriental, which, for the longest time, used to have only two rural banks.

MARAWI LOOT Photo shows P300,000 in cash retrieved from the main battle area in Marawi City, turned over to the military.
Remittances from overseas workers, it should be noted, have remained constant, accounting for just 25 percent of the total in the past three years. Since February 2017, there were no new local industries within Mindanao that could logically explain the 200- to 400-percent spike in the volume and value of daily local remittances within the region.

Military sources also cited the presence of cash couriers inside the Marawi main battle area during the siege. Some dead terrorists were found to have carried cash ranging from P30,000 to P300,000.

Anonymous mobile payments

The Al Qaeda is known to have utilized the informal hawala or padala system to fund terrorist attacks all over the world. Local residents have confirmed receiving money through hawala, an unregistered remittance scheme.

Aside from hawala, The Manila Times found four other primary types of money-transfer systems in the region: (1) overseas wire transfers, (2) cash couriers, (3) remittance centers and (4) anonymous mobile payments.

There has been an increasing trend for locals to receive local remittances through anonymous mobile payments, due to the ubiquity of mobile devices. Most prepaid SIM cards can easily make mobile payment transactions with minimum identification requirements.

Experts say the vulnerability of the local money transfer system to terrorist financing requires a new counterterrorism finance strategy, including a financial intelligence unit that will be mandated by the government to work closely with counterterrorism experts and scholars to analyze communications and financial transactions between foreign and local terrorists.

P3,000 per fighter per day

A heavy volume of cash was needed to sustain the Marawi siege, as families demanded hefty payments in exchange for support, sources told The Manila Times.

Moreover, like their foreign counterparts in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Maute terrorists in Mindanao were focused on expanding their area of control, taking hold of natural resources and commercial centers, producing and distributing illegal drugs (i.e. crystal methamphetamine), and stockpiling weapons and ammunition.

Military sources and residents in outlying areas told The Manila Times each Maute-supporting family received P50,000.

Separately, individual local fighters recruited from these families received P30,000 upon joining the IS. Those who made it to the main battle area were paid an additional P70,000.

Each day thereafter, every surviving local fighter reportedly received P5,000.

According to former Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Eduardo Año, IS central wired $1.5 million via overseas bank accounts to Mindanao.

An ex-Maute supporter told The Manila Times that despite the death of local IS emir Isnilon Hapilon, there were still more than 2,000 child soldiers training in secluded areas around Marawi City, and that excluding terrorism funding allocated daily for adult fighters, at least $6 million have already been paid in cash to desperate Meranao and Muslim Filipino parents who were willing to permanently give up each child to an IS-linked imam in exchange for only $3,000, or P150,000.

The same source confirmed reports circulating within Marawi’s Ground Zero that, “Even two years prior to the Marawi siege, massive Daesh-Maute terrorist funding came from individuals from Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and certain American nationals, considered as friends and allies by Isnilon Hapilon and the Maute brothers.”

Daesh is an alternate name for IS preferred by some governments, because it is considered pejorative by IS members. It could mean either “to crush” or a “bigot” who wants to impose his beliefs on others.

“Daesh-Maute Philippines is heavily and regularly funded by ISIS Central and its secret allies,” according to one of the surviving local IS leaders.

Lost wealth

Contrary to initial reports, however, the P79 million worth of cash and checks seized by the Marine Battalion Landing Team-7 from a house in Mapandi village in June 2017 was not necessarily meant to finance terrorists.

The main battle area of Marawi, the center of commerce and trade in the city, had at least P100 million in cash and checks as part of their regular business transactions at any given time.

Culturally, Meranao and Muslim traders in Marawi do not use banks the way Christians and other non-Muslims in Mindanao do.

It was considered normal for Meranao and Muslim clans to keep vaults in their own homes and office buildings for safekeeping their gold, cash, jewelry and other valuables.

A woman who asked not to be named said her cousin owned the house in Mapandi that was used by Maute snipers during the first two weeks of the Marawi siege

Residents in the main battle area, mostly rich Meranao or Muslim merchant clans, are at a loss, not knowing how to reclaim their wealth.

(Next: The child warriors of Marawi and Sabah.)

Fiery Cross Reef transformed into Chinese airbase, says report

From the Philippine Star (Jan 4): Fiery Cross Reef transformed into Chinese airbase, says report

Aerial photos aired by China Central Television show the completed construction of facilities on Fiery Cross Reef, one of Beijing's artificial islands in the Spratly Islands. CCTV via Asia Times
Fiery Cross (Kagitingan) Reef, one of Beijing's artificial islands in the Spratly Islands, has been transformed into a fortified airbase complete with military installations.
A yearend feature aired by Chinese state broadcaster China Central Television showed an aerial shot of Fiery Cross Reef which has transformed into a big island.

Hong Kong-based news site Asia Times reported that the island now features a 3,125-meter runway for 6K strategic bombers to land.

The island also has a hospital and military facilities including early warning radars and close-proximity weapons systems. More than 200 soldiers are also stationed on Fiery Cross, according to the report.
Telecommunications provider China Mobile and China Unicom have base stations on the island to provide 4.5G communications.

One of China's "great wall of sand" in the South China Sea, Manila-claimed Fiery Cross Reef is now reportedly the third largest island in the contested waters.

In June 2015, Chinese online news agency Sina first released photos from the Fiery Cross Reef showing vegetable gardens, animals and female soldiers in a bid to assert dominance in the maritime area. The slideshow did not show photos of military structures and radar captured in satellite photos prior to the release of Beijing's projects in the artificial island.

Beijing first test-landed two civilian aircraft in January 2016. The first visitors of the reef were wives and children of garrison soldiers and officers there.

Since then, the island has become a logistics hub for China.

In April 2016, China's navy dispatched a military plane to Fiery Cross Reef to pick up injured construction workers.

The Department of Defense then said that China's efforts of landing a military aircraft on the island were provocative. This occurred before the Permanent Court of Arbitration issued a ruling on the Philippines' arbitration against China, which invalidated Beijing's nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea.

New military NCR chief to destabilizers: Don’t try

From Malaya Business Insight (Jan 4): New military NCR chief to destabilizers: Don’t try

AN Army general who once led the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu is the new commander of the Joint Task Force National Capital Region which is tasked to secure the seat of government from destabilization.

Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado assumed command of the JTF NCR in rites presided by AFP chief Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero yesterday at the unit’s headquarters inside Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

Arrojado, former deputy commander of the AFP’s Central Command based in Cebu City, succeeded Brig. Gen. Jesus Mananquil who was named commander of the 9th Infantry Division in Camarines Sur.

Asked for his thrust as JTF NCR commander, Arrojado said, “We will do our best. We are going to be effective in our mandate to secure the seat of government from destabilizers.”

Protecting the seat of government from coup plotters is the primary mandate of the JTF NCR, previously known as the National Capital Region Command. The unit is also helping the PNP in maintaining peace and order in the metropolis.

“Don’t try,” Arrojado told groups who may be planning to unseat the administration.

Government officials last year said the political opposition has plans to destabilize the Duterte administration. The military downplayed this, saying it has not gotten such reports.

Arrojado, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1984, led the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf as concurrent commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu and 501st Brigade.

In April 2016 or after two years of leading the fight against the terrorist group, Arrojado resigned from his post, saying it was “due to conflict of approach (with his superior officers) in addressing the ASG threats in Sulu.”

His resignation also came days after the Abu Sayyaf beheaded a Canadian hostage and a day before the military announced he was being relieved from the task group. Military officials said then Arrojado was relieved because he had been leading the brigade for two years. Based on military rules, no officer can resign from a major position.

Aside from protecting the seat of government, JTF NCR is also tasked to address terrorist threat in Metro Manila.

AFP chief Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero said Arrojado’s expertise in the fight against terrorism, specifically against the Abu Sayyaf, will be valuable in his new job.

2 NPAs killed in Leyte clash

From Malaya Business Insight (Jan 5): 2 NPAs killed in Leyte clash

TWO New People’s Army rebels died yesterday in a firefight with government forces in Baybay City in Leyte.

The firefight is the first to be reported since government’s unilateral New Year’s truce with the communist rebels ended last Tuesday.

Maj. Gen. Raul Farnacio, commander of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division, said troops from Army’s 78th Infantry Battalion were on security operation when they encountered about 20 NPA rebels in Barangay Hilapatan at around 10:45 a.m.

The two sides traded fire for an hour, after which the communists withdrew, leaving behind the bodies of their two slain comrades.

Farnacio said soldiers recovered at the encounter site an M16 rifle and an M653 rifle.

President Duterte declared a Christmas truce with the communists from December 23 to 26 and a New Year’s truce from December 30 to January 2. The communists also declared ceasefires covering the same dates.

On Tuesday hours before the truce ended, NPA groups attacked three Army detachments in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental.

Government militiaman Jerick Ciel, was wounded in the forehead in one of the attacks and is being treated at the Montevista Provincial Hospital in Compostela Valley.

Capt. Jerry Lamosao, spokesman of the Army’s 10th Infantry Division, said Ciel was injured in the attack on the Army detachment in Barangay Maparat, Compostela town.

He said the rebels first detonated an improvised bomb about 15 meters away from the detachment around 10:40 p.m. Tuesday. The explosion was followed by a brief firefight, which left an undetermined number of casualties on the NPA side.

Four hours earlier, another group of rebels attacked an Army detachment in Barangay Cabuyoan in Mabini town, also in Compostela Valley. Soldiers manning the detachment returned fire at the rebels who were positioned about 200 meters from the detachment.

No one was reported injured or killed in the 15-minute firefight.

In Davao Oriental, NPA rebels attacked an Army detachment in Barangay Marayag in Lupon town around 9:20 p.m. also on Tuesday.

Maj. Ezra Balagtey, spokesman of the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command, said the rebels, numbering around six men, fled after a three-minute fighting. He said no one was reported killed or injured.

Balagtey said the rebels violated their own truce on three other occasions in eastern Mindanao, including the failed abduction of militiaman Arbilito Catampao in Tarragona town Davao Oriental on December 25.

DBM: Congress okay of 100% base-pay hike of military, uniformed personnel awaits Presidential signature

From the Business Mirror (Jan 3): DBM: Congress okay of 100% base-pay hike of military, uniformed personnel awaits Presidential signature

Photograb of Philippine military from YouTube

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said the Congressional approval of a 100-percent pay hike for the military, police and other uniformed personnel was awaiting the signature of President Duterte before it would finally take effect.

The Congressional approval came as the DBM also announced the continued pace in infrastructure spending this year.

The DBM said the joint Congress resolution agreed in mid-December to increase the base pay of Military and Uniformed Personnel (MUP).

“The proposed joint resolution will double the base pay of a Police Officer [PO] I in the Philippine National Police or a Private in the Armed Forces of the Philippines and equivalent ranks in the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Bureau of Fire Protection, Philippine Public Safety College, Philippine Coast Guard, and the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority,” the DBM statement last week said.

It said a PO1 and those with equivalent rank would enjoy a-100 percent increase “resulting to a monthly base pay of P29,668.”

“Overall, the salary adjustments would result to a 58.7- percent average increase for all MUP ranks, effective January 1 this year,” it said.

The House Joint Resolution 18 and Senate Joint Resolution 11 “both allow for a second tranche of base-pay increase for the ranks of senior PO4 up to director general and equivalent ranks to be implemented beginning January 1, 2019. By fiscal year 2019, the average increase will be 72.18 percent for all ranks”

It said the increase in base pay would also mean a consequent increases in other allowances and bonuses “that are computed as a percentage of base pay, such as longevity pay [or foggy pay], mid-year bonus and year-end bonus.

“It would also effectively discontinue the grant of provisional and officers’ allowances, an interim measure pending the modification of the base-pay schedule,” it said.

The DBM said the net take-home pay would be much higher than the previous arrangement “since the longevity pay is tax-exempt, while the interim allowances [provisional and officers’ allowances] are subject to income tax. Tax-exempt collateral allowances [e.g., flying pay, sea duty pay, instructor’s duty pay, etc.] are expected to increase, as well.”

The DBM also said the uniformed personnel would also expect higher take-home pay with the implementation of the new tax law and the lowering of income-tax rates.

It said the government would fund the base-pay increase from the Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund, “and from any available allotment in the respective budgets of the agencies concerned.” The increase would mean an additional cost of P64.2 billion for 2018.

“The resolution will have the force and effect of a law upon the approval of the President. Such an approval is imminent as the Office of the President had earlier officially endorsed the resolution as urgent,” it said.

AFP operations vs. NPA resume

From the Visayan Daily Star (Jan 4): AFP operations vs. NPA resume

The military in Negros has resumed combat operations against the New People's Army, following the end of the holiday ceasefire unilaterally declared by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and communist rebels.

While they have not monitored any violation by the NPA in Negros. Col. Eliezer Losañes, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, yesterday said they have noticed movements of armed NPA during the yuletide truce.

The AFP de clared a ceasefire from 6 p.m. of Dec. 23 to 11:59 p.m. of Dec. 26, and from 6 p.m. of Dec. 30 until 11:59 p.m. of Jan. 2, and the CPP-NPA observed the truce on the same dates.

Brig. Gen. Dinoh Dolina, newly-designated commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, said he is targeting to defeat the NPA in Western and Central Visayas by the end of the year.

Dolina gave his marching order to all 3ID infantry units during his assumption of 3ID command Friday last week at Camp Macario Peralta in Jamindan, Capiz.

He replaced Maj. Gen. Jon Aying, who retired from the military service Dec. 31 last year.

“Failure is not an option in the performance of our essential tasks of command and control coordination, intelligence, CMO (Civil Military Operations), logistics, and administration.” Dolina said.

By doing this, Dolina said, he needs the cooperation of every 3ID personnel, with assistance communities, local government officials and other stakeholders in the peace and development campaign.

Military command resumes operations against NPA terrorists

From Update Philippines (Jan 4): Military command resumes operations against NPA terrorists 

 The Eastern Mindanao Command (EMC) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it has resumed its “proactive measures to protect communities from harassment of NPA terrorists”. This is after the Suspension of Military Operations (SOMO) expired at 11:59 pm on January 2, 2018.

EMC has noted several attacks made by NPA terrorists while the government is implementing SOMO.

EMC commander Lieutenant General Benjamin R. Madrigal Jr.said that these were committed by the NPAs while the EMC units on the ground have strictly followed the SOMO to give all Filipinos the time, including the NPAs to spend the holidays with their families without fear.

Lieutenant General Madrigal told his troops to “continue protecting vulnerable communities from armed threats and deception of the NPA as they intend to conduct more terroristic acts as pronounced during their anniversary.”

“Our efforts on assisting other line government agencies in facilitating the delivery of government services in the geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDA) must also continue and be pursued,” he added.

Mortar bomb explosion leaves 13 casualties in Zamboanga

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jan 4): Mortar bomb explosion leaves 13 casualties in Zamboanga

Police on Thursday said it is investigating a mortar bomb explosion that left over a dozen casualties inside a plywood factory in the southern Filipino province of Zamboanga del Norte.

It said the explosion occurred late Wednesday while workers were tinkering with the explosive they recovered in the town of Sirawai. Six people were confirmed dead from the powerful blast that also injured 7 others, all workers of the Sirawai Plywood Lumber Corporation.

“Melecio Arcenal, Chief Security Of Sirawai Plywood Lumber Corporation reported to Sirawai municipal police station that his men found a mortar and brought it to their bunkhouse, but it accidentally exploded,” said Chief Inspector Helen Galvez, a regional police spokesperson.

“Six persons died on the spot and seven persons were wounded. Personnel of Sirawai police station are still conducting a follow-up investigation on the incident,” she added.

It was unknown where the victims found the mortar or if it came from the military arsenal or not. Rebel groups active in the province also use mortar as one of their weapons. No other details were available by the police as investigation is going on.

Rizal’s death demonstrates bravery, deep sense of nationalism, says military official

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 4): Rizal’s death demonstrates bravery, deep sense of nationalism, says military official

The death of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal eloquently demonstrated bravery and a deep sense of nationalism.

Thus disclosed Brigadier General Cirilo Tomas P. Donato, Jr., Assistant Division Commander for Operations of the 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division, Philippine Army in his message during the commemoration of Dr. Jose Rizal’s 121st death anniversary at Rizal’s monument, City Hall complex here with this year’s theme “Rizal 2017: Mabuting kaisipan, susi sa Kaunlaran”.

Donato said Rizal’s death opened the eyes of the Filipinos. “His fervor and dedication inspired us to love our country,” he added.

With the theme, “Rizal 2017: Mabuting Kaisipan, Susi sa Kaunlaran,” the military official said giving honor and respect  to Rizal’s death serves as an inspiration to all Filipinos to serve our country faithfully.

He said that the 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division under the leadership of BGen. Roseller Murillo joined the entire nation in promoting and defending peace and security.

“As one of the leaders of the Philippine Army in Mindanao, I salute and acknowledge your contributions in making the province peaceful and orderly,” Donato quoted Murillo as saying.

Donato also encouraged the youth, whom he considered as the hope of our nation, not to be easily swayed by violent extremist groups.

“Huwag natin hahayaang muling umusbong ang karahasan at digmaan na siyang sumira sa ating pag-unlad. Lagi ninyong tatandaan na ang Pilipinas ay para sa ating mga Pilipino,” Donato urged.

Meanwhile, Supt. Rodney Raymond Louie Baluyo, deputy provincial director for administration of the Zamboanga del Sur Police Provincial Office said despite the challenges our country is facing today particularly on illegal drugs, corruption, criminality, and terrorism, the PNP and AFP proved that Dr. Rizal’s legacy on patriotism  lives on. “It was proven by some of our fallen comrades paying the ultimate price in Marawi City and other parts of the country where lawless elements threaten our freedom and democracy,” said Baluyo.

“As public servants, we can do our part in our little way by living a life of purpose, sharing our  knowledge to others through service,” he added.

“This would surely bring not only progress but at the same time, we build our legacy through them and probably bring out the hero in all of us,” Baluyo concluded.

2 rebels killed in Leyte clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 4): 2 rebels killed in Leyte clash

At least two members of the New People’s Army (NPA) were killed in a fresh clash between armed rebels and government troops in the upland Hilapnitan village in Baybay City on Thursday, few days after the end of holiday truce.

Initial reports reaching the Philippine National Police regional office in Palo, Leyte said that government troops encountered 18 NPA members around 10:45 a.m. on Thursday.

The soldiers from the 78th Infantry Battalion acted on a report from residents regarding the extortion activities of armed rebels in the upland community.

The hour-long gun battle has killed two rebels. The army also recovered two rifles from rebels. No one from the government side was killed in the clash.

Troops are still scouring the area to hunt other rebels involved in the reported extortion activity.

The upland areas in Baybay City is known to be one of the hotbeds of armed rebels in Leyte Island. Several encounters between the army and NPAs have been reported in the area over the past years. The city is about 107 kilometers southwest of Tacloban City.

New Joint Task Force-NCR head a counter-terrorism expert: AFP chief

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 4): New Joint Task Force-NCR head a counter-terrorism expert: AFP chief

Newly-appointed Joint Task Force-National Capital Region (JTF-NCR) commander Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado's expertise in counter-terrorism will greatly aid in securing Metro Manila against the threat.

“His record of service speaks of his capability, capacity and commitment. Your expertise and experience in counterterrorism will be of great value in our peace and security efforts here in NCR,” Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero said Wednesday.

Arrojado, a member of Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1984, gained his counter-terrorism expertise commanding the 501st Infantry Brigade and Joint Task Force Sulu, units tasked to go after the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) terrorist threat.

He also commanded the 601st Infantry Brigade in North Cotabato where it helped in containing the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Arrojado also served as deputy commander of the Cebu-based Central Command.

Guerrero said Arrojado's expertise on counter-terrorism is clearly shown ” having served in positions of major responsibility" against the ASG and BIFF.

Arrojado replaced Brig. Gen. Jesus Manangquil, a member of PMA Class of 1985, who is now the incoming commander of the Bicol-based 9th Infantry Division.

“We are confident that BGen Arrojado will sustain the momentum set by his predecessor,” the AFP chief said.

DFA welcomes Indonesia's offer to help fight extremism

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 4): DFA welcomes Indonesia's offer to help fight extremism

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Wednesday night welcomed the Indonesian government's offer to share its best practices in Islamic education as part of efforts to address and prevent extremism not just in the country but in the rest of Southeast Asia.

“Indonesia is one of the models for the kind of Islamic education that the Philippines and ASEAN can look into to counter the rise of extremism,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said.

In a statement, he welcomed the visit of Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi who has earlier met with President Rodrigo Duterte.

The DFA said Marsudi has announced the Indonesian government's full support to the country's efforts in defeating Islamic extremist groups in Mindanao.

“Our Indonesian friends do not want to see another Marawi happening and are offering to help us counter radicalization through education,” Cayetano said.

“We look forward to working not only with Indonesia but also with other like-minded Islamic countries in defeating the threat posed to all of us by extremist groups,” he added.

According to Cayetano, the Philippines has an existing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Indonesia on education and is in discussion with Jakarta on another MOU on Islamic education.

Jakarta’s offer was among the initiatives taken up during the tripartite meetings against extremism held last year in Manila between the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Meanwhile, DFA Acting Assistant Secretary Robert Ferrer said the agency would continue to engage and collaborate with Indonesia on the Islamic education initiative which shall be undertaken by the Department of Education.

Ranking military commanders get new stars

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 4): Ranking military commanders get new stars

Commanders of the Cebu-based Central Command (CENTCOM) and Lucena-headquartered Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM) formally donned their third star during short ceremonies Thursday.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief-of-Staff Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero spearheaded the ceremonies at the Hall of Flags, General Headquarters Building, Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Major Gen. Paul Atal, CENTCOM head, is now promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General. Also promoted to three-star rank is SOLCOM commander Major Gen. Danilo Pamonag, AFP spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo said in a statement.

Also promoted to Major Generals were Brig. Gen. Fernando Trinidad, the AFP Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, J2; Brig. Gen. Rene Glen Paje, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Civil-Military Operations, J7; and Brig. Gen. Jose Antonio Carlos Motril, Chief of the AFP Human Rights Office.

While Col. Joseph Villanueva, the Head of the Headquarters Academics Group, Philippine Military Academy, is promoted to the rank of Brigadier General.

The ad-interim appointment of named Generals was approved by the Commander-in-Chief, President Rodrigo Duterte last Dec. 18.

“The promotion to the next higher rank as General of these senior officers of the AFP is both a testimony and an inspiration that hard work and innumerable sacrifices, sterling competence, and leadership skills acquired through years of experience are rewarded,” Arevalo added.

“These Generals contributed immensely to the successful accomplishment of AFP’s mission in Marawi, at the Philippine Military Academy, at the General Headquarters, and in Northern Luzon,” he stressed.