Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Police arrest Abu Sayyaf member in Zamboanga (Photo)

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 17): Police arrest Abu Sayyaf member in Zamboanga

 Police arrested an alleged Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) member charged for eight counts of kidnapping at the historical Plaza Pershing in this city, an official said Wednesday.

Chief Supt. Billy Beltran, Police Regional Office-9 (PRO-9) director, identified the arrested suspect as Puyat Saiyadi, 45, who carries the aliases of Abubakar Diniri, Isikandar Saiyadi and Puyat Talib Saiyadi, of the island town of Patah, Sulu.

Beltran said Saiyadi was arrested by plainclothesmen and warrant servers of the Police Station 4 around 10 a.m. Wednesday at Plaza Pershing along I. Magno Street, downtown this city.

Beltran said Saiyadi had a standing warrant of arrest for eight counts of kidnapping with serious illegal detention issued by the court in Basilan with no recommended bail.

He said the arrested suspect was involved in the June 11, 2001 kidnapping of workers at the Golden Harvest Plantation in Barangay Tairan, Lantawan, Basilan province.

The ASG is responsible for terror attacks in the country, and has carried out bombings, kidnappings, extortion, and assassination.

E. Visayas Army honors wounded soldier

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 17): E. Visayas Army honors wounded soldier

The Philippine Army on Wednesday honored a soldier wounded in a recent gun battle with communist rebels in Northern Samar.

Commander of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division, Maj. Gen. Raul Farnacio, pinned the Wounded Personnel Medal on Cpl. Artemio Bendo Jr. at the Camp Lukban Station Hospital. Bendo and other soldiers of the 43rd Infantry Battalion were in Sumoroy village in Lope de Vega, Northern Samar on Jan. 14 for a humanitarian mission when they encountered a group of rebels.

“This award is a manifestation of the degree of sacrifice that a soldier has to pay in order for our fellow Filipinos to continue to live in peace. It is just fitting to commend personnel, such as Corporal Bendo, who risked his life in helping and protecting the less fortunate in the far-flung areas,” Farnacio said in a statement sent to media on Wednesday.

This is the second clash between soldiers and members of the New People’s Army (NPA) since the end of the holiday truce on January 2.

The first encounter was on Jan. 3 when two rebels were killed in upland Hilapnitan village in Baybay City.

“The successful encounters of our government troops are the result of our effort to defeat the communist terrorists in support of President Duterte’s campaign against rebels who continue to extort money from communities and private businesses and employ atrocities against civilians,” Farnacio added.

BBL to be passed before Senate adjourns in March: Zubiri

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 17): BBL to be passed before Senate adjourns in March: Zubiri

Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri on Tuesday said he expects the Senate to pass the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) before it adjourns session in March.

Zubiri, chair of the Senate subcommittee on the BBL, made this statement after he filed a new measure on the creation of a BBL version which is approved by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).

“Today, (Tuesday) I withdrew my original bill which is not the BTC version and filed today, Senate Bill No. 1646, a BTC-approved version so that they would come and wholeheartedly participate in the deliberations,” Zubiri told reporters in an interview.

“We’d like to assure the President (Rodrigo Duterte) and the Filipino people that we are prioritizing the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” he added. “Hopefully, this will set the tone for long and lasting peace in Mindanao.”

Zubiri said his committee will resume hearings on the BBL on January 23 (Tuesday). The first hearing on the BBL was held last December 20 while the Senate was already on Christmas break.

Succeeding hearings will be held in all parts of the Philippines including Cotabato City, Marawi City, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi (BaSulTa)

If hearing schedules go as planned, Zubiri said, then the committee report on the BBL will be ready by third week of February.

“I’d like to finish the discussions on second and third reading by second week of March -- before the break. My time line is we’re having hearings next week, we’re having out of town hearings that weekend, we have a break one week then on February 8 to 11 we’ll be back in the BaSulTa and come back to Manila,” Zubiri said.

“We’ll have the committee report ready by third week of February, right after Valentines. After which, I will bring the committee report to plenary and have at least three weeks to pass the measure,” he added.

To date, Zubiri said only two or three of his colleagues in the Senate are hesitant about their support for his measure.

“There’s only a few, maybe two or three that are a bit hesitant but the majority are fully supportive of the BBL,” Zubiri said refusing to name the senators -- both from majority and minority -- who were hesitant.

Zubiri, however, eventually named Senator Antonio Trillanes IV as the senator who questioned the possibility of the new Bangsamoro purchasing firearms and military equipment.

He assured him though that he could insert into the law that the new Bangsamoro entity cannot use their money to purchase weapons.

“Under the new BTC-version, their police will still be under the Philippine National Police and their armed forces will still be under the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” Zubiri said.

Zubiri said some senators still had the “old version” of the BBL in mind which had a lot of unconstitutional provisions.

He clarified that Trillanes did not “oppose” his measure but merely raised concerns.

He believes he could convince majority of his colleagues to support his measure.

The senator also said that he has also asked President Duterte to certify the BBL proposal as urgent.

SOLCOM disaster response units alerted for Mayon unrest

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 17): SOLCOM disaster response units alerted for Mayon unrest

The Lucena-based Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM) placed all its disaster response units (DRUs) on alert following the series of phreatic explosions and lava flow coming from the Mayon Volcano early this week.

This was disclosed by SOLCOM spokesperson Col. Teody T. Toribio said in a statement forwarded to reporters.

"Disaster response personnel and mobility assets of 9th Infantry Division, Tactical Operations Group 5 and Naval Forces, Southern Luzon are all prepositioned in Camp Simeon Ola, Legazpi City for the continuous deployment for pre-emptive evacuation of residents residing in the 6-8 kilometer Permanent Danger Zone," he added.

Toribio also said the designated operations and civil-military operations officers of the 901st Infantry Brigade under the Task Force Sagip were constantly coordinating with the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Councils (DRRMCs) for updates and response operations.

“While we maintain a close coordination with the Office of Civil Defense 5, (OCD 5) some of our disaster response teams are already in the area assisting the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) of Albay in the evacuation of residents in the remote affected barangays of Guinobatan and Camalig towns,” SOLCOM commander Lt. Gen. Danilo G. Pamonag said.

Design review of 2 frigates to undergo technical inspection: DND

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 17): Design review of 2 frigates to undergo technical inspection: DND

The so-called "Critical Design Review" (CDR) of the two frigates, on order from South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries, has been completed and will now be undergoing examination by the Philippine Navy's Technical Inspection and Acceptance Committee (TIAC) this week.

This was disclosed by Defense public affairs office chief Arsenio Andolong in an interview Monday.

"The CDR has been completed and by this week, it will be undergoing inspection by the Navy's TIAC," he added.

Andolong said it was the Navy and Hyundai who created the CDR.

Once approved, the CDR will serve as the "Bible" of the shipbuilder in constructing the ship and putting the systems desired by the customer or end-user.

The two frigates, along with their weapon systems and munition, have a contract of PHP18 billion.

Once delivered and commissioned in 2020, the frigates will be the first Filipino warships capable of neutralizing surface, subsurface and air threats with missile and other modern armaments.

Bong Go didn’t interfere in frigate project: DND sec

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 17): Bong Go didn’t interfere in frigate project: DND sec

Special Assistant to the President Christopher "Bong" Go did not, in any way, interfere with the Philippine Navy's (PN) PHP18-billion Frigate Acquisition Project (FAP), Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Wednesday.

“The President (Rodrigo Duterte) has already addressed the issue of the alleged “intervention” of SAP Bong Go and the SND (Secretary of National Defense) is confirming that no intervention or interference by Sec. Bong Go happened.,” Lorenzana said in a statement.

“The document that the SND alluded to have been given to him by Sec. Bong Go, was handed to him at the Palace so he assumed that it came from Sec. Bong Go. The document originated from Hanwha, one of the CMS proponents for the Frigate project,” he added.

The defense chief also noted that he forwarded the document to the flag officer in command (FOIC) for clarification, who in turn gave it to PN chief, Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad.

Empedrad was the chief of the Frigate Project Management Team at the time.

“Admiral Empedrad wrote a reply to the document stating the preferred CMS of the Phil Navy. There was no hint or guidance from the Palace or from Sec Bong Go to influence the conduct or direction of the project. There is a contract for the Frigate which was crafted mainly with the help of the Phil Navy, it will be implemented strictly as it is,” Lorenzana added.

Existing FAP contract

DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong, meanwhile, echoed Lorenzana’s remarks, noting that there was neither a hint nor guidance from the Palace or from Go to influence the implementation of the project.

"There is a contract for the FAP which was crafted mainly by the Philippine Navy and it will be implemented strictly to the letter," Andolong said.

The FAP is one of the key pieces of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Program at it seeks to provide the country with the capability to deal with air, surface and sub-surface threats.

It will be armed with a variety of missiles and guns capable of defeating such threats.

As this developed, Andolong said there is no good reason to cancel the FAP despite suggestions coming from some members of Congress.

Earlier, Magdalo partylist Rep. Gary Alejano claimed that the FAP project is bombarded with anomalies and that its design was altered from the original.

This includes the alleged preference for the Hanwha CMS, the lawmaker said.

"There is a proper process prescribed in RA 9184 (Government Procurement Reform Act) concerning the termination of a procurement project and there are specific conditions that must be present in order to invoke it, none of which are existing at the moment in this project," Andolong added.

The DND spokesperson added that the anomalies claimed by Alejano are mere allegations and innuendos which hardly constitute grounds for termination of the project.

Unfairly dragged

Go, for his part, said his name was unfairly dragged in this issue.

"I am not privy to the frigate transaction of the DND. I have never seen the controversial document (white paper) that is alleged to have come from me, much less, handed the same to SND Lorenzana. In fact, I will resign if it can be proven that I intervened,” Go said in a statement.

“It should be emphasized that the Frigate project was already a done deal in 2016 during the time of former President (Benigno) Aquino," he added.

Ex-Navy chief: Bong Go no hand in FAP

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 17): Ex-Navy chief: Bong Go no hand in FAP

Special Assistant to the President (SAP) Christopher ‘Bong’ Go never asked anything about the Philippine Navy's PHP18-billion Frigate Acquisition Project (FAP).

This, according to former Philippine Navy (PN) flag-officer-in-command, Vice Admiral Ronaldo Joseph Mercado, in an interview Wednesday.

"This morning, my attention was caught by the reports when I saw a piece of paper, a ‘post it’, with my name on it, about an instruction given to me by the Secretary of National Defense about the Frigate, and apparently because of that there were insinuations about Secretary Bong Go, and you know I just like to come out because, on my side when I was FOIC (flag officer in command), he never once, with so many times, we were together in many foreign navy ships, and there was never an instance, not once that he even asked me about the frigate, never, and kaya when I'm hearing the news, well on my side only, he never intervened much more talk to me about these things," he said.

It can be recalled that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana relieved Mercado from his post last Dec. 18, 2017, citing loss of trust and confidence on the integrity and leadership of the naval officer.

This stemmed from the alleged fixation of the former on one company to supply the combat management system (CMS) of the country's Frigate project, a contract won by South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries.

"Let me rephrase Secretary Bong Go never directly mentioned to me anything about the Frigate or indirectly from another person, I never heard any other person mention the name of Secretary Bong Go in relation to the frigates, walang ganun." Mercado said when asked on whether Lorenzana told or ordered him to do something about the FAP, upon the alleged orders of the SAP.

The FAP is one of the key pieces of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Program at it seeks to provide the country with the capability to deal with air, surface and sub-surface threats.

It will be armed with a variety of missiles and guns capable of defeating such threats.

PNP to arrest, hunt down Tiamzon couple: Palace

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 17): PNP to arrest, hunt down Tiamzon couple: Palace

MalacaƱang on Wednesday said the Philippine National Police (PNP) has the duty to serve the warrant of arrest on three rebel leaders, including the Tiamzon couple, after a local court granted the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) motion for the cancellation of their bail following the collapse of peace talks between the government and communist rebels.

In a January 11 decision, Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina of the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 32 granted the motion of the DOJ and issued a warrant of arrest for communist leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon and Adelberto Silva.

In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said the police “will have to serve warrant of arrest on them” and were duty-bound to conduct manhunt operations against the three communist leaders if they go in hiding or refuse to surrender.

“Police must hunt them down. That's what is expected of them,” Roque said.

The Tiamzons are facing murder charges over the killing of 15 civilians found in a mass grave in Leyte.

Benito Tiamzon is identified as the chairman of Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples' Army (CPP-NPA) while his wife Wilma is the secretary-general of the group.

They were granted bail in 2016 to allow them to participate in formal peace talks as consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

On Nov. 23, 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Proclamation 360 declaring the termination of peace talks with the communist rebels due to the NPA's continued violent attacks on government forces and civilians.

The President also labeled the CPP-NPA as terror organization.

In the RTC order, the court stated that the recommitment and cancellation of the respective bail bonds of the rebel leaders “are warranted under the facts at hand."

"Inarguably, the sole reason for their grant was to enable said accused to participate in the peace process," the order said.

4 Reds yield to Army

Posted to Tempo (Jan 17): 4 Reds yield to Army

Two armed New People’s Army (NPA) terrorists and two members of Milisya ng Bayan (MB) voluntarily surrendered last week to the Army’s 66th Infantry (Kabalikat) Battalion (66th IB) in New Bataan, Compostela Valley (ComVal) province, 66th IB commander Lt. Col. Palmer M. Parungao said.

In a statement sent to The Manila Bulletin late afternoon yesterday, the 66th IB commander said the two NPA terrorists also gave up their one caliber .45 pistol loaded with live ammunitions and one 38 mm pistol loaded with live bullets, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other bomb-making materials including blasting caps and electrical wires to the 66th IB.

Their identities were temporarily withheld for security reason, but Parungao said they (surrenderees) were regular fighters of guerilla-Front Committee 27, SRC2 of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-NPA Southern Mindanao Regional Committee (SMRC).

The two MB, who also belong to the same guerilla front committee, surrendered to “Alpha” Company of the 66th IB after also realizing the futility of what they are fighting for, Parungao also said.

On Jan. 9, combat maneuvering troops of the 66th IB seized several war materials from the NPA terrorists after their armed engagements in Sitio Spur Dos, Barangay Ngan, Compostela town, ComVal province.

“The unit’s sustained efforts prompted the said NPAs to surrender bringing along with them the war materials,” Parungao said.

“The 66th IB, continually runs after the NPA terrorists groups and we have been successfully reducing the manpower and equipage of our adversaries.

Negros remains Army’s top priority in anti-insurgency

From the Sun Star-Bacolod (Jan 17): Negros remains Army’s top priority in anti-insurgency

NEGROS remains the priority of the Philippine Army in its anti-insurgency campaign for 2018. Brigadier General Dinoh Dolina, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, said there is still a need to clear insurgency in Negros so that the people could feel real progress and development.

“Negros is full of resources and for the people to experience progress and stability we have to clear the area from insurgency,” said Dolina, who paid a courtesy call on Governor Alfredo MaraƱon Jr. at the Provincial Capitol in Bacolod City Tuesday.

He added that he has been coordinating with the local government units (LGUs) all over Central and Western Visayas as the newly-installed commander of the 3rd Infantry Division.

The army official also said the mass base support of the New People's Army remains strong in Negros Occidental.

“We have to sustain our gains. We have firmed up plans on how to go about the mass base of the rebels. We have known their plans and intentions and we have our plans to curb that plans,” he said.

Dolina said the Army understands the root cause why the mass base remains strong.

 “There are still unresolved issues in Negros that’s why we fully coordinate with the provincial government and other LGUs and other agencies that have the capacities to resolve the issues, ” he added.

Dolina said that within this month, an additional battalion from Mindanao will be deployed in the province to strengthen the campaign against insurgents.

On the alleged human rights violations issues against the Army, Dolina said it is already an old issue that has been hurled against them by the fronts of the communist group.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines have changed and we have done our best to raise our credibility. Through the years, transformation has been happening. We have to take care of the gains in our credibility because we are truly the soldiers of the people,” he added.

NPA claims daring assault in Duterte country

From the Manila Times (Jan 17): NPA claims daring assault in Duterte country

Communist insurgents staged a daring attack on President Rodrigo Duterte’s hometown in Davao City where they destroyed trucks owned by fruit companies.

Rubi del Mundo, a spokesman for the New People’s Army (NPA), said the weekend assault was a punitive action against the Japanese Sumitomo Fruits Corporation and Ayala-owned Highland Banana Corporation. Rebel forces torched three trucks and pushed them off a cliff in Calinan district.

“Workers and peasants in corporate plantations around Southern Mindanao are rejoicing Saturday’s punitive action,” he said, adding, the attack is part of its revolutionary movement’s policy to penalize big bourgeois comprador companies, which continue to exist with impunity by inflicting unimpeded environmental destruction and exploitation of peasants and workers.

Del Mundo branded the two companies as notorious and accused the Sumitomo Fruits Corporation and Highland Banana Corporation of exploiting workers’ welfare by dishing out barely liveable wages, subjecting them to inhuman working conditions, union busting and other repressive labor practices, particularly in their farms in Davao City where Duterte’s daughter, Sara, is also the mayor.

“Both companies push plantation workers to work almost 12 hours, sometimes 16 hours daily under different schemes meant to extract super-profit. Packing plant workers are also made to work the same length of hours without sufficient safety implements. SUMIFRU and Highland, likewise, continue to utilize toxic chemical fertilizers and pesticides in their boom truck sprayers. Workers report that they are routinely exposed to the harmful chemicals being sprayed by boom trucks,” he said.

Del Mundo said peasant families who initially expected to be alleviated from poverty by entering into agri-business venture agreements with SUMIFRU and Highland were faring no better under highly-exploitative arrangements that eventually cost them their lands. “With no control over production, they fall prey to the companies’ exclusive and manipulative management schemes that have buried them deep into indebtedness and have resulted in the seizure of their lands,” he said.

There was no immediate statement or reaction from neither the mayor nor the two companies on the accusations against them by the rebel group, which has been fighting for decades for a separate state in the country.

Court orders rearrest of communist couple

From the Manila Times (Jan 17): Court orders rearrest of communist couple

A LOCAL court has ordered the arrest anew of communist leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon after it granted a motion by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for their recommitment to detention following the failure of the peace talks between the government and the leftists.

In its January 11 ruling, which was released to media on Wednesday, Presiding Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina of Branch 32 of the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) said:

“In light of President Rodrigo [Rodrigo] Duterte’s express and categorical declaration, with the issuance of Proclamation 360, formally terminating the peace talks with the CPP/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front [NDF], which issuance said accused does not dispute, the Court finds no reason to further allow their temporary liberty,” the court said.

The Tiamzons were released from detention after posting a P100,000 bail on August 2017 when they were added to the list of consultants for the peace talks. They are charged with multiple counts of murder for the alleged deaths of civilians whose bodies were discovered in a mass grave in Leyte in 1986.

On January 10, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said: “We are monitoring them. We will wait for the order of the President. If he orders their arrest, then we are going to arrest them.”

The President called off peace talks in 2017 after the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) ordered its military arm, the New People’s Army (NPA), to intensify attacks on government troops.

Army soldiers, suspected NPA rebels clash in Lopez, Quezon

From GMA News (Jan 15): Army soldiers, suspected NPA rebels clash in Lopez, Quezon

Soldiers from the Philippine Army's 85th Infantry Battalion clashed with 20 suspected members of the New People's Army in Lopez, Quezon on Monday morning.

The gunfight lasted for 20 minutes in Barangay Jungo, according to Colonel Elias Escarcha, acting commander of the PA's 201st Infantry Brigade.

The suspected rebels were said to be led by a certain Ka Mando.

Members of the Philippine Army's 85th Infantry Battalion clashed with suspected New People's Army rebels in Lopez, Quezon on Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. Philippine Army 85th Infantry Battalion

No one was hurt on either side, but traces of blood were seen in the area where the suspected rebels were located before they withdrew.

Recovered from the site was an M-16 rifle.

Soldiers are conducting follow-up operations as of posting time.

Man with MILF ID held for shabu

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 17): Man with MILF ID held for shabu

A 24-year-old man, who carried an identification card reportedly issued by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), was arrested during a drug-buy bust operation in Barangay Banale here on Wednesday.

In a report, the police identified the suspect as Asmin Andam, a resident of Barangay Payong in Sultan Naga Dimaporo town, Lanao del Norte province.

An agent-poseur reportedly transacted with the suspect and allegedly managed to acquire a sachet of suspected shabu when they met near Aide Compound in Purok Arabic around 1 p.m.

Members of the Zamboanga del Sur Provincial Drug Enforcement Unit arrested the suspect as he was reportedly transacting with the agent-poseur.

When frisked, Andam yielded three more plastic sachets containing suspected shabu and the marked money, the police report said.

Also found in his possession was an ID card that showed he was a platoon leader of the MILF’s 105th Base Command under the Central Mindanao Front.

Andam told the Inquirer he was not selling illegal drugs although he had used it in the past.

He also said he had surrendered as a drug user a few months ago.

The police said charges for violation of section 5 and 11 of the Anti-Illegal Drugs Act were now being prepared against the suspect, who was detained at the holding facility of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (Pdea) here.

NPA video shows abducted police officer still alive

From the Manila Times (Jan 15): NPA video shows abducted police officer still alive

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao: The communist New Peoples’ Army (NPA) on Monday confirmed they have in their custody the police officer they abducted on December 28 and emailed a “proof of life” video to authorities and local journalists based in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato.

Rigoberto Sanchez, spokesman of the NPA Southern Mindanao Region, said Senior Inspector Menard Cui, deputy police chief of President Roxas municipality in North Cotabato and Magpet town resident, had been abducted and is being tried by the NPA kangaroo court “for his offenses against the masses.”

Sanchez said in a statement that Cui was abducted by “Red Fighters” of Mount Apo Sub-Regional Command Front 53 from a KTV bar at 8 p.m. on December 28 in Barangay Poblacion, President Roxas, North Cotabato.

The NPAs sent Cui’s video to prove he was still alive amid reports that he had been executed. However, as of this writing, The Manila Times is still trying to get a copy of the video to prove the veracity of the proof of life video.

In the video sent 15 days after his abduction, Cui was telling viewers that he is being treated well by his captors in the mountains of North Cotabato.

Sanchez also said that Cui was in good hands and they are treating him as a “prisoner of war.”
The video showed cui appealing to the 39th Infantry Battalion to suspend the military operations against the NPA while he was still in captivity.

Kidapawan Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo also appealed to the NPA to free Cui whose wife Florelie died on January 2 and will be buried on January 19. The relatives are hoping Cui would be able to attend his wife’s funeral in Magpet.

Bagaforo formed a team of religious leaders led by Fr. Pol Paracha, to facilitate Cui’s immediate release. It was Florelie whom the President Roxas police first informed about his abduction. Her health had deteriorated since then due to severe depression and she was rushed to the Kidapawan hospital where she died two days later.

 Felomina, Cui’s mother, said Florelie had been suffering from breast cancer.

Military hot on heels of NPA gun smugglers

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 15): Military hot on heels of NPA gun smugglers

Government troops have launched manhunt operations against New People’s Army (NPA) rebels who tried to smuggle assorted high-powered firearms through Magsaysay, Davao del Sur over the weekend.

Col. Roberto Ancan, 1002nd Infantry Brigade commander, said soldiers belonging to the 73rd Infantry Battalion intercepted at a checkpoint at least four NPA rebels riding two motorcycles in Barangay Tacul, Magsaysay, Davao del Sur.

He said the rebels engaged the soldiers in a 10-minute firefight before they withdrew and left behind assorted high-powered firearms consisting of six M-16 rifles, four AK-47 rifles, and an M-14 rifle, and an improvised explosive device (IED) and the two motorcycles.

Military authorities said the suspected NPA rebels tried to smuggle the firearms intended for NPA guerilla forces operating in Makilala, North Cotabato.

Ancan the military had set up a dragnet to intercept the firearms after it received information that the NPA will transport the firearms to beef up the firepower of its forces in North Cotabato.

Last year, the 1002nd Army Brigade commander, had stepped up its security operations against NPA rebels in the provinces of North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato and Davao del Sur which resulted in the surrender of some 130 NPA rebels and 160 firearms.

Displaced residents scared to return home after BIFF attacks

From the Philippine Star (Jan 17): Displaced residents scared to return home after BIFF attacks                          

Maguindanao relief workers distribute packed meals to displaced Teduray children.
MAGUINDANAO, Philippines — Indigenous Tedurays displaced by deadly attacks by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters are reluctant to return to their homes for fear of their safety.

More than a thousand Teduray families were forced to abandon their homes when BIFF gunmen attacked their villages around Mt. Firis in Maguindanao province last December, set houses on fire and laid improvised explosive devices along farm trails to prevent them from coming back.

Evacuees told members of the People’s Medical Team of the provincial government of Maguindanao Tuesday they are apprehensive that the BIFF gunmen that harassed them repeatedly last month would come back and again drive them away once they return to their tribal enclaves at Mt. Firis.

Mt. Firis is a sacred site for Tedurays. It is in the heart of their ancestral homeland surrounded by Maguindanao’s adjoining Datu Unsay, Shariff Aguak, South Upi and Datu Saudi towns.

Lynette Estandarte, chief budget officer in the office of Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, and personnel of the provincial government distributed on Tuesday five truckloads of relief supplies to the evacuees now in squalid evacuation sites far from reach of marauding BIFF forces.

Estandarte, who is helping manage the provincial medical and emergency response team, said dozens of evacuees afflicted with various ailments were also treated and provided with medicines.

“It’s the children and the elderly Tedurays we pity most,” Estandarte said.

The team also distributed food rations to more than 200 Teduray children, many of them now out of school, during Tuesday’s outreach missions at Mt. Firis.

Mangudadatu, chairman of the inter-agency provincial peace and order council, had earlier urged the joint ceasefire committee of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to help address the nagging security woes besetting the Teduray communities at Mt. Firis.

The BIFF boasts of allegiance to the Islamic State and is not covered by the 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between the government and the MILF.

The government and the MILF are bound by the interim security pact to help each other maintain law and order in potential conflict flashpoint areas in southern provinces.

“Mt. Firis rightfully belongs to our Teduray siblings. We must help one another ensure that they are safe there,” Mangudadatu said during a meeting of the provincial security council last January 10.

Teduray farmers told reporters Tuesday there is no truth to claims by the BIFF that its bloody attacks last month were in protest of the encroachment of Ilonggo, Ilocano and Cebuano settlers into strategic areas around Mt. Firis.

Moh Dandi Dayeh, a 45-year-old farmer, said there would have been non-Teduray evacuees in the evacuation sites if the BIFF’s assertion is true.

“Wala pong ni isa mang hindi Teduray sa mga bakwit. Puro kami mga Teduray. Gusto lang nila kaming palayasin para makapag-lagay sila ng kampo diyan sa aming lugar,” he said.

Military claims there are 48 foreign terrorists in Mindanao

From the Philippine Star (Jan 17): Military claims there are 48 foreign terrorists in Mindanao

The government has monitored 48 foreign terrorists operating and recruiting in Mindanao, the military told the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Maj. Gen. Fernando Trinidad, Armed Forces of the Philippines deputy chief of staff for Intelligence, said that there has been an "influx" of foreign terrorists, "in the guise of tourists and businessmen," in the southern Philippines.
At the resumption of oral arguments on the extension of martial law, Trinidad made a presentation to justify the AFP's request for a year-long extension of martial law in Mindanao.

Four petitions have been lodged before the SC claiming President Rodrigo Duterte's request for a year-long lacks factual basis.

The petitioners raised that, following military statements that they are fighting only "remnants" of the terrorist groups, military rule is not needed in Mindanao for another year.

READ: Duterte wants martial law extended one more year

He said that, last November, 15 terrorists from Indonesia and Malaysia entered Mindanao to augment the Maute terrorist group in Sarangani. In December 2017, another 16 Indonesians entered the country to train the members of the Abu Sayyaf groups in Basilan, and Maute Group in Lanao del Sur.
In January 2018, Trinidad said that it was reported that an Egyptian national also entered the country.

The new recruits, said Trinidad, are being trained in tactics and marksmanship, while those who displayed advanced skills are undergoing training in making IEDs and in urban operations.

He added that there are about 400 terrorists in Mindanao. Around the same numbers that mounted the Marawi siege in May 2017 although the government had initially estimated the number of terrorists in Marawi at 50-100 during the early days of the siege.

"Abu Sayyaf groups, in the presence of remnants, supporters, protectors and sympathizers of DAESH (another term for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS), pose a clear and present danger to national facilitation of rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction in Marawi, and hinder peace in Mindanao," Trinidad said.

He appealed to the SC to uphold the granting of the year-long extension in Mindanao so that the AFP "can hasten accomplishment" of the agency's mandate to secure Mindanao

The SC continues its oral arguments on four consolidated petitions challenging the constitutionality of Duterte's martial law extension in Mindanao on Wednesday.

Philippines checks if key Malaysian extremist survived siege

From ABC News (Jan 17): Philippines checks if key Malaysian extremist survived siege

Philippine troops are trying to validate intelligence information that a Malaysian militant leader survived the defeat of an Islamic State group-linked siege and is helping restart efforts to establish an extremist alliance, a military official said Wednesday.

Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said troops were trying to validate reports that Amin Baco was wounded during the siege of southern Marawi city but managed to escape to Sulu province, where he is hiding with Abu Sayyaf militants.

Rebel leader Yusop Jikiri of the Moro National Liberation Front, which has a peace treaty with the government, told The Associated Press that his group received information that Baco is being protected by Abu Sayyaf commander Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, the Malaysian militant's Filipino father-in-law, in the mountains off Sulu's Patikul town. Sawadjaan is a notorious kidnapper linked to several abductions of foreign tourists.

"We also got that information and we're validating it," Sobejana said. "Our efforts against this group have been relentless."

Abu Amri Taddik, the rebel intelligence chief of Jikiri's group, said Baco was involved in renewed efforts to establish an IS-linked alliance of several groups including the Abu Sayyaf.

A Sulu-based Abu Sayyaf commander, Yassir Igasan, is a key candidate to succeed Isnilon Hapilon, who led an emerging IS-affiliated alliance in Southeast Asia until he was killed when government troops crushed the five-month Marawi siege in October, Taddik said.

Military officials had said that Baco, who was hiding in the southern Philippines for years, was among the militants killed in Marawi although his body was not found.

A longtime rebel fighter who has served as Sulu governor and later as a congressman, Jikiri heads one of two major factions of his rebel group and had organized nearly 400 fighters to help the military combat kidnappings and terrorism.

"We'd like to clean the name of Sulu and the Tausugs," Jikiri said, referring to Sulu's dominant ethnic group. "I hope the Abu Sayyaf will stop kidnappings and all sort of criminalities to avoid any more bloodletting."

Sobejana welcomed the rebel move and said arrangements were being finalized to determine how the guerrillas could help troops.

"What is clear is they are already providing us with information," he said.

The United States and the Philippines have separately blacklisted the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization for its involvement in kidnappings for ransom, beheadings and bombings.