Sunday, January 21, 2018

Retired US Army soldier shot dead while jogging in Bohol

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 21): Retired US Army soldier shot dead while jogging in Bohol

The body of retired US Army soldier Lonnie Simon Weig lies on a path where he was shot while jogging on Sunday morning, Jan. 21, 2018. (Photo courtesy of the Baclayon Municipal Police Station)

BACLAYON, Bohol — Unknown assailants shot dead a retired American soldier while he was jogging in Baclayon town, Bohol early Sunday morning.

Lonnie Simon Weig, 63, had two gunshot wounds in the head and another in the abdomen, according to Senior Insp. Raymond Halasan, chief of Baclayon Municipal Police Station.

Weig was a retired United States Army soldier from South Dakota who opted to live in Purok 3 in Barangay Laya in Baclayon town. He had been living there for four years.

He was married to a Filipino wife, Rose, with whom he had three children.

Halasan said Weig went out for his morning jog past 5 a.m. on Sunday at Purok 7 in Barangay (Upper) Laya when shot.

Halasan said it was not clear if the perpetrators rode a motorcycle.

The crime scene, a rough road surrounded with trees, was at least 500 meters from the Weig’s house.

He was probably shot at close range since neighbors didn’t hear the gunshot, according to Halasan.

A neighbor, who asked not to be named, said that she heard motorcycles traversing in the place at dawn which was unusual on that time of the day.

The motive of the weekend killing was still unknown.

Police dispatch a tracker team to find the perpetrators.

Halasan said Weig was described by his neighbor as a good man.

The victim also had a good relationship with his family, he added.

AFP’s ‘war’ in Marawi not totally over

From the Business Mirror (Jan 21): AFP’s ‘war’ in Marawi not totally over

As the war against the Islamic State (IS), and its local affiliate, the Maute Group, in Marawi City winds down late last year, President Duterte declared that the soldiers would be the last ones to leave the battered city, and he meant it literally, even by coincidence.

When the Commander-in-Chief made his pronouncement, he was looking at it at the point of view of a still-raging war; that military personnel who were the first ones to set foot in the city to quell the terrorist-inspired rebellion would leave as soon as the operation is finished.

In Photo: In this June 9 file photo, evacuees stay at a crowded evacuation center on the outskirts of Marawi City.

Coincidentally, and just as Duterte had ordered, the soldiers were still in the city, three months after the military operations have ended, and were even faced with daunting tasks that all lead to the political, social, economic, security and physical rehabilitation of the city.

Currently, the soldiers are doing the triumvirate operations of clearing Marawi from unexploded bombs, helping in the resettlement of the displaced residents while, at the same time, working to counter the spread of violent extremism.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is part of the government agencies under Task Force Bangon Marawi.

1Clearing operations

The military reported that it has already cleared more than 30 percent of the city’s most war-affected areas from unexploded ordnance and homemade bombs, as the Joint Engineer Task Group (JETG) continues its rehabilitation efforts in the city.

Maj. Gen. Arnold Rafael Depakakibo, the military’s chief engineer, said the JETG would continue to undertake its main mission until it has completely cleared and rid Marawi of unexploded bombs and ordnance, as the rebuilding and return of the displaced residents hinge on it.

“As of December 15, 2017, a total of 2,853 assorted unexploded ordnance and 415 improvised explosive devices were recovered by the JETG. This was done through the support of Explosives and Ordnance Disposal Company and K-9 teams from the Philippine Army and Philippine Air Force,” Depakakibo said.

Immediately after Marawi was freed from the clutches of terrorists last year, the JETG cleared at least 20 kilometers of primary and secondary roads, three major bridges, a school and three places of worship.

This has resulted in the timely conduct of post-conflict needs assessment by the Department of Public Works and Highways.

“We also continue our limited construction support to government agencies involved in supporting the maintenance of evacuation centers,” Depakakibo added.

Aside from construction support, the JETG also assisted the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) in the construction of 500 temporary shelters for the evacuees in Barangay Sagonsongan, Marawi City, of which 250 units were awarded last December.

The other 250 units have also been occupied, according to Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., deputy commander of the Joint Task Force Ranao.

The HUDCC is eyeing to construct at least 1,700 temporary housing units in Sagonsongan.

More than 500 military engineers are currently deployed in Marawi City as part of the JETG. The task group is supporting the recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation operations being led by Task Force Bangon Marawi.

Aside from manpower, the military is using its construction vehicles and equipment to clear off rubbles and debris, as well as in the demolition of condemned buildings in the city.

Over the course of the conflict in Marawi, military engineers provided support to operating troops in the area, which include route reconnaissance and surveys; road- and site-clearing operations; wall breaching and timber-cutting operations; and construction of ramps and flat forms for mechanized assets.


While temporary shelters are being built, other residents who have been displaced by the war have also been returned to their homes.

Brawner said that, by next week, they will be resettling residents of four barangays to their old homes, following the return this week of residents to three barangays, also in the city.

Marawi City is composed of 96 barangays, 24 of which have been directly affected by the war.

According to Brawner, former residents of 27 barangays in Marawi have been returned to their homes.

He said the resettlement of the affected residents is just part and parcel of the complete rehabilitation of the war-torn city, as the government also has to look after the other needs of the affected residents, such as food, water, health and even livelihood sources.

Likewise, the government must bring back trade and commerce in the city in order to make it financially livable and sustain its economy.

3Fighting extremism

While all the activities geared toward the rebuilding of the city were being undertaken, a security problem, however, lies that threaten to stunt the rehabilitation of Marawi or even put it in a destructive cycle.

According to Brawner, the IS and the Maute Group are attempting to recruit members, still in the name of violent extremism, and this is what the military is now countering.

The recruitment by the local terrorist group and its master is targeted upon the orphans of the war, those who are currently housed in evacuation centers and even in other areas of Lanao del Sur, exposing their preference to members of vulnerable groups.

The groups also trained their sights on other relatives of the Maute Group.

In their recruitment, the terrorists, who were offering P70,000 as “enlistment” fee and a monthly pay of P15,000 up to P20,000, are picking on children.

“It’s P70,000 per child,” Brawner said.

Indonesia secures release of fishermen held by Abu Sayyaf

From the Straits Times (Jan 21): Indonesia secures release of fishermen held by Abu Sayyaf

(From left to right) Consul-General of the Republic of Indonesia in Davao, Mr Berlian Napitupulu, fishermen La Utu Raali and La Hadi La Adi and Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez, commander of the Philippine armed forces' Western Mindanao Command (Wes

(From left to right) Consul-General of the Republic of Indonesia in Davao, Mr Berlian Napitupulu, fishermen La Utu Raali and La Hadi La Adi and Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez, commander of the Philippine armed forces' Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom). The four men were speaking at the WestMinCom base in Zamboanga city following the release of Mr La Utu and Mr La Hadi by the Abu Sayyaf terrorists on Jan 19, 2018.PHOTO: KEMLU

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi had previously said that the Indonesian government will spare no effort in seeking the release of the two fishermen.

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi had previously said that the Indonesian government will spare no effort in seeking the release of the two fishermen.PHOTO: REUTERS

Two Indonesians kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf in waters off Sabah, East Malaysia, more than a year ago, have been released by the extremist group and are on their way home, said a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Jakarta on Saturday (Jan 20).

"Representatives of the Consulate-General of the Republic of Indonesia in Davao, and the Embassy of Indonesia in Manila, are coordinating with local authorities to process the return of the two Indonesian citizens," said the spokesman in a statement.

Fishermen La Utu Raali and La Hadi La Adi were captured by members of Abu Sayyaf militants on Nov 5, 2016, in the Sulu Sea, located to the north-east of Borneo island and south-west of the Philippines.

The ministry said both men - taken from different fishing boats then - were freed by their captors at about 7.30pm local time on Friday, and will be allowed to return to Indonesia once they obtain the relevant exit clearance from the Filipino immigration.

The Abu Sayyaf, like the Maute group that led the siege on Marawi city in southern Philippines last year, are based in the restive island of Mindanao, and have kidnapped dozens of tourists, fishermen and sailors for ransom from the Sulu Sea and the northern limit of the Celebes Sea.

Three days after the two fishermen were taken, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi visited Sandakan port in Sabah to meet their wives and hundreds of other Indonesian fishermen based there.

During the visit, Ms Retno said the Indonesian government will spare no effort in seeking the release of the two victims.

Related Story
Abu Sayyaf free two Indonesian fishermen

The release of the two Indonesian fishermen comes a few months after three Vietnamese sailors held for eight months by the Abu Sayyaf were rescued by soldiers in southern Philippines.

According to a report by Agence France Presse, the Vietnamese were found in the southernmost island group of Tawi-Tawi on Nov 10, along with the body of another Vietnamese seaman who had died in captivity from an illness.

"He was already dead when the troops found them," regional military commander Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez told AFP.

The Vietnamese sailors were among the crew of a cargo vessel captured in February last year in the seas off the southern Philippines.

The Abu Sayyaf was originally a loose network of militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.

It has since splintered into factions, with some continuing to engage in banditry and kidnappings.

One faction has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group, and joined the Maute group in the siege of Marawi that sparked a five-month battle with government forces.

The conflict in Marawi claimed over a thousand lives, according to some estimates.

Abu Sayyaf kidnappers are known to be brutal and have no qualms about beheading their captives if their ransom demands are not met.

German national Jurgen Kantner, 70, was beheaded last February after the kidnappers' demand for 30 million pesos (S$800,000) was not met. In 2016, the group also beheaded two Canadian hostages.

Abu Sayyaf man in 2001 beheadings falls

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 21): Abu Sayyaf man in 2001 beheadings falls

Army soldiers on their way to the coconut and rubber plantation of Golden Harvest on June 11, 2001, following the kidnapping of workers by Abu Sayyaf. —DENNIS SABANGAN

The Abu Sayyaf member tagged as the one who beheaded two Filipino workers in 2001 in a bloody gesture of mocking the then Arroyo administration has been arrested, the military said.

Abu Sayyaf had described the beheadings as an “Independence Day gift” to then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in retaliation for her refusal to call off military offensives against the terror group.

17 years in hiding

Faizal Attong Sariul, alias Ziad, was tagged by witnesses as the one who beheaded two of the 17 workers of Golden Harvest, a company that runs a coconut and rubber plantation in Lantawan, Basilan, who were kidnapped by the terror group on June 11, 2001. Sariul was just 17 years old then.

Senior Supt. Fergen Torred, head of the Western Mindanao police’s intelligence division, said Sariul, who is now 38 years old and had been in hiding for 17 years, was arrested in the village of Mercedes in this city by police serving a warrant.

Torred said witnesses pointed to Sariul as the Abu Sayyaf member who beheaded Golden Harvest workers Primitivo Falcasantos and Crisanto Suela on June 12, 2001, a day after they were kidnapped and just as the country celebrated Independence Day.

Heads in a box

The terrorists, in a gesture of mocking Arroyo, placed the workers’ severed heads in a carton box and left it on a roadside in Lantawan town, Basilan for all to see. When news of the gory display spread, Abu Sayyaf issued a statement declaring the heads to be their Independence Day gift to Arroyo.

Several weeks after the two workers were beheaded, Abu Sayyaf also beheaded one of its foreign hostages, American national Guillermo Sobero, to taunt Arroyo and scoff at military operations that had failed to pin the terrorists down.

Senate to invite Bong Go to probe into PH warships deal

From Rappler (Jan 21): Senate to invite Bong Go to probe into PH warships deal

'Siya ang central figure. Iimbitahin siya, inevitable 'yan,' says Senator Panfilo Lacson, vice chair of the Senate committee on national defense and security

PROBE. The Senate is set to invite Special Assistant to the President Bong Go to the upcoming Senate probe into the controversial P15.5-B frigates deal. Malacañang file photo

PROBE. The Senate is set to invite Special Assistant to the President Bong Go to the upcoming Senate probe into the controversial P15.5-B frigates deal. Malacañang file photo

President Rodrigo Duterte’s most trusted aide, Special Assistant to the President Bong Go, will be invited to the Senate investigation into the controversial P15.5-billion Philippine warships project.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, vice chairman of the Senate national defense and security committee, said Go is the “central figure” in the issue.

Aside from Go, the committee is also set to invite Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and former Philippine Navy Flag Officer in Command (FOIC) Vice Admiral Ronald Mercado, among others, to the hearing.

“Siya ang central figure. Iimbitahin siya, inevitable 'yan. Along with Secretary Lorenzana, FOIC Empedrad, dating FOIC Mercado, COS (Chief-of-Staff), maiimbitahan talaga 'yan. Mag-schedule ng hearing diyan. In-assure ni Senator [Gregorio] Honasan nang nagusap-usap kami [na] tatawag siya ng pagdinig," Lacson said in an interview on dzBB on Sunday, January 21.

(He is the central figure. It is inevitable that he will be invited, along with Secretary Lorenzana, FOIC Empedrad, former FOIC Mercado, the Chief-of-Staff, they will be invited. We will schedule a hearing. Senator Honasan assured us of that when we talked about it.)

Go earlier said he would attend the Senate probe if invited, as he insisted that the allegations are “false.”

Lacson said the hearing would most likely be held in February, as Honasan, committee chairman, requested time to study documents. He added that Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who called for the hearing, is set to return to the country next month.

“Pinag-usapan natin ito ni Senator Honasan, chairman ng defense committee at ako, vice chairman, kung magpapatawag kami ng pagdinig doon. Nakiusap si Trillanes, aalis siya at pagbalik February na, so February ma-schedule ang hearing. Pero pinagusapan namin magkakaroon definitely ng pagdinig kasi may resolution na referred sa committee chaired by Senator Honasan,” Lacson said.

It was the 6-member minority bloc that filed a resolution calling for an investigation into the Philippine Navy’s acquisition of two warships.

In their resolution, the Senate opposition said the committee should “determine whether or not such acquisition promotes the goals of the modernization program and complies with pertinent laws.”

Go, Duterte’s closest aide, is alleged to have intervened in the selection of the supplier for the Combat Management Systems (CMS), likened to a brain of a ship, of the two Navy frigates.

In January 2017, Go allegedly interceded on behalf of contractor Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) by sending a white paper to the Department of National Defense (DND) expressing preference for Hanwha Thales, a South Korean company and the HHI’s choice, as the supplier for the CMS. The Navy, on the other hand, wanted to get Tacticos Thales of the Netherlands because of its "proven technology."

Lorenzana then gave the white paper to then Navy chief Mercado, who insisted on the Navy’s position. (READ:
Ousted PH Navy chief wanted 'proven technology' for warships)

Barely a week after the white paper was sent to Mercado, Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, then with Go’s office, arranged a meeting with the Navy team in charge of the project, headed by then Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad, to discuss the selection of the CMS supplier. (READ:
[EXCLUSIVE] Undersecretary in Bong Go's office confirms letter on frigate deal)

In the end, the DND ruled that the Navy should get Hanwha Thales. Shortly after, Mercado was relieved from his post in mid-December 2017.

Go issued a blanket denial of the allegations, saying he never directly or indirectly intervened in the project. (READ: Malacañang claims no chance Bong Go intervened in frigate deal)

Malacañang also denounced the report, saying the bidding of the project happened under the Aquino administration.

The Palace, however, disregarded the fact that the alleged intervention happened during the impasse in the project’s implementation – which was already under the Duterte administration.

Photo: Blast Site

From MindaNews (Jan 19): Photo: Blast Site

An Army EOD team gather pieces of evidence after a twin explosion that took place early Friday morning (19 January 2018) in Barangay Semba, Datu Odin Sinsuat. The explosion is only a few meters away from the 6th Infantry Division’s training school. Authorities are still investigating if the bomb attack was meant to hit soldiers. MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH CABRERA

Army patrol clashes with alleged Maute gunmen in Lanao del Sur’s Masiu

From MindaNews (Jan 20): Army patrol clashes with alleged Maute gunmen in Lanao del Sur’s Masiu

An Army combat patrol engaged a group of armed men on board two bancas who were trying to sneak into the town of Masiu in Lanao del Sur on Saturday dawn.

Brig. Gen. Roseller Murillo, commander of the Army’s 1st Tabak Division, said the platoon of soldiers encountered more than ten Maute gunmen at the vicinity of Barangay Kalilangan, Masiu town at around 12:30 a.m. on Saturday. No one was reported killed or injured.

Murillo said that despite total darkness, the soldiers were able to sink the two bancas used by the gunmen in trying to sneak into Masiu town.

WARNING. A tarpaulin warning punishment for ferrying of fictitious registrants hangs outside the Masiu town hall during the registration of voters in July 2012. MindaNews file photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

He said the soldiers did not find any bodies from the two sunken bancas but recovered firearms and explosives.

The recovered items included an M-203 grenade launcher, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, anti-personnel rockets, a binocular, ISIS black flag and assorted drug paraphernalia.

The firefight came after the military went on full alert in Marawi City with tanks and soldiers guarding its streets.

Lanao del Sur Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong of the Regional Legislative Assembly of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said they received persistent reports that Daesh-inspired Maute gunmen and massing up again in the town of Piagapo in Lanao del Sur.

He said they relayed the information to the military for them to check.

Duterte welcomes surrender of NDF spokesperson and NPA medic wife

From MindaNews (Jan 21): Duterte welcomes surrender of NDF spokesperson and NPA medic wife

President Rodrigo Duterte may not remember this but the spokesperson of the National Democratic Front (NDF) Far South Mindanao Region who surrendered Monday and was presented to him on Saturday at the Matina Enclaves here shared the stage with him in Tulunan, North Cotabato on April 26, 2016, the last time the Davao City Mayor received from the New People’s Army (NPA) a soldier they held in captivity.

The NPA often turned over their captive soldiers or policemen to Duterte, mayor of Davao City for 22 years and long-time chair of the Regional Peace and Order Council. Duterte would then turn over the freed soldiers or police to their respective units. A day before receiving Pfc Edgardo Hilaga from the NDF regional spokesperson, he received five police captives from the NPA in Paquibato district in Davao City.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte welcomes Noel Legaspi alias Ka Efren Aksasato, spokesperson of the National Democratic Front’s Far South Mindanao Region, and his wife Wendy who surrendered on January 15 and were presented to the President at the Matina Enclaves in Davao City on January 20, 2018. ACE MORANDANTE/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza noted that when Noel Legaspi aka Efren Aksasato, 58, and his wife Wendy were presented to the President, Duterte told Legaspi “that he should communicate the efforts of the government now to his former comrades who are still there fighting for a ‘lost cause’ after being misled by the principles of Marxism and Maoism that are even abandoned by their proponents and sponsors in all parts of the world.”

Lt. Col. Benjamin Leander, commander of the 27th IB, had earlier said Wendy was chief medic of the NPA while her husband was NDF-FSMR spokesperson for the past 20 years and had been with the revolutionary movement for 26 years.

The FSMR covers the provinces of Davao del Sur, South Cotabato, Sarangani and parts of Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur.

Dureza said the President told Legaspi and his wife that word should be sent to the rebels to “respect the decisions of their comrades who abandoned their ranks after realizing the futility of their cause.” He quoted the President as telling the Legaspis: “If they harm you, they have nowhere to go when I hunt them down.”

He said the NDF spokesperson “was taken in Tulunan” through the efforts of South Cotabato Governor Daisy Fuentes.

“Their 17-year old son who dropped out of school due the kind of life they lived was so jubilant. The mother said she was aghast when she saw him so happy for the first time ever when he knew about the parents’ decision,” Dureza posted on his Facebook page.

He said the President “provided them a new house through a certificate of award,” a DILG-sponsored ‘e-clip’ for returnees with additional cash from the President’s own fund to start a new life and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) gave additional cash assistance and other benefits.

CLIP or the Comprehensive Local Integration Program is a livelihood assistance package for rebel returnees.

The Presidential News Desk reported that the Legaspis were also given food packs and smartphones.

Leander said the couple’s surrender came after months of negotiations with the help of Governor Fuentes.

Aksasato’s last statement e-mailed to media outlets was on December 22, 2017, titled “The imposition of martial law challenges the Mindanao peoples’ resistance.”

“The US-Duterte regime’s coercive re-extension of martial law in Mindanao is a dangerous machination. Duterte is inexcusably accountable for its atrocious and treacherous imposition. He has proven once more his subservience to his real bosses, the rapacious foreign monopoly capitalists,” Aksasato said.

“With martial law, state terrorism is becoming even clearer in the extermination of social activists and bombardments of civilian communities to satisfy Duterte’s greed for power and facilitate imperialist encroachment,” he said.

He said martial law challenges the Mindanao peoples’ resistance and “the people’s revolutionary armed struggle becomes more necessary in defending democracy and national sovereignty.”

Barely a month later, Aksasato was presented to President Duterte as Noel Legaspi, rebel returnee.

Sayyaf frees 2 kidnapped Indon fishermen

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jan 20): Sayyaf frees 2 kidnapped Indon fishermen

Indonesia said 2 of its citizens kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf militants off Sabah in Malaysia in November 2016 have been released from captivity in the southern Philippine province of Sulu.

The Indonesian Consulate-General in Davao City and the Indonesian Embassy in Manila have confirmed the safe release late Friday of La Hadi La Adi and La Utu Raali, who were both fishermen. The duo is expected to be flown to Jakarta to be reunited with their families.

No details were made available by Indonesia and the Philippine military also did not release any information on how the Abu Sayyaf freed the foreigners.

Security forces continue its operations against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu, including Basilan and Tawi-Tawi provinces, all in the Muslim autonomous region, after President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to wipe out the notorious militant group allied with the Islamic State. It is still holding several foreign and Filipino hostages in the troubled region.

But despite Manila’s relentless military campaign, safety concern remains over attacks on shipping to abduct seafarers in Southern Philippines, although there have been no reported incidents since April last year.

According to the Seatrade Maritime News citing a report by the anti-piracy body ReCAAP Information Sharing Center, said the situation in the Sulu - Celebes Sea area remains a cause for concern.

It said between March 2016 and April 2017 attacks on merchant ships in the southern Philippines resulted in the abductions of 59 seafarers from 13 vessels in the troubled, but mineral-rich region. While there have been no actual or attempted attacks in the area since April, Masafumi Kuroki, executive director of ReCAAP, said “the concern and threat is not yet eliminated.”

Kuroki said the three littoral states - the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia - had made efforts with coordinated patrols and Manila was making a lot of progress on the issue.

“But still I think that the perpetrators who conducted this abduction of crew, the Abu Sayyaf group are still there. They are not completely eliminated so there is still the potential that the Abu Sayyaf group make conduct other similar types of attacks against ships so I think more needs to be done by thePhilippines authorities and the regional states to make sure for the shipping industry this area in the Sulu Celebes sea particularly for ship passage is safe for navigation for merchant ships,” he explained.

The first four months of 2017 saw three actual abduction incidents from the Fishing Bianca, Giang Hai and Super Shuttle Tug 1, and four attempted attacks against the Ocean Kingdom, Donghae Star, Phu An 268 and the Dona Annabel. Some nine seafarers continue to be held hostage. The Filipino government has extended martial law in the province of Mindanao, which has seen fierce fighting with insurgents, until December 31, 2018, Seatrade Maritime News said.

It said ReCAAP continues to advise shipping to reroute from the area if possible. “Of course it is up to the shipping industry whether they reroute or not,” it said, quoting Kuroki, adding, ReCAAP also remains concerns about the hijacking of small tankers to steal oil cargoes, with such hijackings in the Asian region.

The Philippine military’s Western Mindanao Command with task forces in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi island-provinces, all in the Muslim autonomous region, publicly said that navy and the army, including the air force, have been guarding the seas in the area to ensure the safety of mariners.

Military tightens security in Lanao Sur after clash

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jan 21): Military tightens security in Lanao Sur after clash

The Philippine military tightened its security in the restive Muslim province of Lanao del Sur following a clash with militants that left 6 soldiers wounded in Masiu town.

The weekend fighting erupted after soldiers intercepted a group of gunmen that the military said were members of the Maute group that laid siege in Marawi City early this year.

The clash which erupted in Kalilangan village near Marawi last nearly an hour. There were no reports of enemy casualties, but the military said soldiers recovered ammunition and a fragmentation grenade, including an ISIS flag left by the militants.

It was unclear how the military managed to identify the gunmen as Maute fighters, although other militant groups such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and rouge members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are also actively operating in Lanao del Sur.

Armed civilians who are sympathizers of these militant groups and ISIS are also present in the province. Maute fighters had occupied Marawi in May in an effort to put up an Islamic caliphate in the province, but they were eventually defeated by security forces in deadly battle that lasted 5 months and left the city in ruins.

ARMM starts Maguindanao land titling to settle disputes

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 20): ARMM starts Maguindanao land titling to settle disputes

To address land conflicts that often result in clan wars in Maguindanao, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (DENR-ARMM) has begun surveying lands in preparation for the free distribution of land titles in conflict-affected towns of the province.

Forester Kahal Kedtag, DENR-ARMM Secretary, said the PHP42-million “free land titling and survey” project of the department was formally launched Thursday in Rajah Buayan, one of the 15 municipalities out of Maguindanao’s 36 towns that will benefit from the project.

“Land dispute hinders development,” Rajah Buayan Mayor Zamzamin Ampatuan said. “This project will provide bigger opportunities for our people.”

Ampatuan said the people were hoping for a fully secured land ownership, especially for his town, which relies on farming.

Kedtag said the massive distribution of land titles would also help combat poverty and stimulate progress and development in the province.

He said the project was under the region’s Humanitarian Development and Assistance Program (HDAP) aimed at demarcating properties of landowners in the region.

HDAP, a project of the regional government under the Hataman administration, is tasked to implement various government initiatives, specifically relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction, both horizontal (roads and bridges) and vertical (school buildings, houses, and health centers).

The project also covers livelihood programs that will promote peace and help the situation in calamity-affected communities, especially in 15 Maguindanao towns.

Kedtag said the distribution of free land titles was one of the priorities of Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman to help reduce conflicts in Maguindanao, many of which were fueled by land disputes.

The initiative has the full backing of local government executives and their respective constituents.

In 2016, the region granted a total of 1,800 hectares of land to residents of the conflict-torn “SPMS box”, which stands for Shariff Aguak, Pagatin, Mamasapano, and Salibo.

The SPMS box remains under the close watch of the military due to the presence of Islamic State-inspired Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. It is now being developed into productive areas.

Meanwhile, DENR-ARMM reported that it is also gearing up to distribute 4,500 hectares of land to pilot barangays in the 15 target municipalities.

“We want to give what is due to the people in the region,” Kedtag said.

Reds continue drive to retake Leyte’s upland areas: Army

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 20): Reds continue drive to retake Leyte’s upland areas: Army

Armed rebels in Samar provinces continue to strengthen their organization in Leyte Island in an effort to regain their former strongholds, the Philippine Army has confirmed.

Philippine Army 802nd Brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Francisco Mendoza, said Friday a captured member of the New People’s Army (NPA) from Northern Samar bared the plan.

“Rebels have only 40 members in Leyte province, but most of them are armed. The augmentation comes from Northern Samar,” Mendoza said in an interview.

On Jan. 4, two days after the end of the holiday truce, at least two NPA members were killed in the latest clash between rebels and government troops in the upland village of Hilapnitan in Baybay City.

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

The army also recovered two rifles from the rebels. No one from the government side was killed in the clash.

The most aggressive attempt was last August, which led to a five-day gun battle. The clashes led to the discovery of NPA camps and drove the rebels to go upland, farther from the settlements.

However, Mendoza clarified that the recent series of clashes in the province is not an indication of the strengthening force of the insurgents but is rather “a manifestation of their effort to regain their lost grounds in Leyte”.

“The rebel groups are having a hard time gathering support, convincing and recruiting residents in Leyte to join the movement,” he said, attributing this to the intensified implementation of the government’s infrastructure projects with livelihood programs and delivery of basic health services to far-flung villages in Leyte.

Mendoza added that the difficulty in recruiting new rebels is also an indication that the military and the Philippine National Police in Leyte are in full control of the peace and order situation.

“We intend to keep this until such time that we can declare Leyte as completely insurgency-free,” he added.

Brig. Gen. Mario Lacurom, commander of the Army’s 803rd Brigade, confirmed the move of rebels to send their men to Leyte as reinforcement.

About 150 armed rebels are operating in Northern Samar and the first legislative district of Samar province.

“We want to call the cooperation of everybody in our effort to secure peace and order because the military should not be at the forefront in the campaign but rather we should only be a support group. Insurgency cannot be solved through military operations, but by addressing the issues and concerns of people vulnerable to the influence of rebels,” Lacurom said.

2 Indonesians released in Sulu

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 20): 2 Indonesians released in Sulu

Two Indonesians were released late Friday by the Abu Sayyaf in the island province of Sulu, the military reported Saturday.

Released were La Utu Bin La Raali and La Hadi La Edi, both skippers of Malaysia-registered fishing boats.

The Abu Sayyaf bandits seized the victims on November 5, 2016 between Pegasus Reef and Kuala Kinabatangan near the municipality of Turtle Islands, Tawi-Tawi.

The military said the two Indonesians were taken to the residence of former Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan, Sr. by a concerned citizen around 7:30 p.m. Friday in Barangay Asturias, Jolo town.

fter providing them food and other personal needs, Tan notified Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Joint Task Force Sulu commander.

They were brought to the headquarters of Joint Task Force Sulu where they had undergone medical examination.

The Abu Sayyaf Group is still holding nine people captive that include three Indonesians, one Vietnamese, one Dutch and four Filipinos.

Government troops continue to scour the hinterlands of Sulu in a bid to locate and rescue the hostages.

3 die in North Cotabato shooting

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 20): 3 die in North Cotabato shooting

KIDAPAWAN CITY -- Police killed in an ensuing shootout two armed suspects who shot to death a tricycle driver for still unknown reason late Thursday evening along the national highway here.

Chief Inspector Ramil Hojilla, Kidapawan police chief, identified the fatalities as tricycle driver Noa Capulong, Algiver Saga and John Hermie Estopacia, both residents of Barangay Saguing, Makilala, North Cotabato.

Hojilla said the shooting started at around 11:30 p.m. in front of barbecue stalls along the national highway when Saga shot dead Capulong without any provocation.

As Saga was trying to escape with Estopacia on board a motorbike, he traded shots with responding police officers who were near the crime scene conducting routine patrol.

The shootout left Saga and his driver Estopacia both dead. Police are still determining the motive behind Capulong's murder and the group affiliation of the suspects.

Earlier reports said the suspects belonged to the communist New Peoples’ Army but police were still verifying the information. Capulong, according to police records, is facing charges for robbery. He survived an attempt on his life in 2015.

JCI treats Marawi soldiers to day of wellness

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 21): JCI treats Marawi soldiers to day of wellness


FORT RAMON MAGSAYSAY, Palayan City, Nueva Ecija -- A group of young people treated members of the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) here for a day of wellness on Saturday.

Initiated by the Junior Chamber International-Golden Grains Chapter (JCI-GG) in Cabanatuan City, the gesture was to thank the soldiers for their sacrifices in liberating Marawi after a five-month siege by Islamic extremists.

"They got so much stress in Marawi it is about time we pampered them as a way to thank them,” JCI-GG president Ervine Carla Abesamis said.

The wellness day for the soldiers began with a fun-filled Zumba session at the SOCOM Special Forces School here.

Abesamis said the soldiers who had joined the government security forces in the153-day Marawi crisis were also given free manicure and massage therapy by wellness professionals.

The activity was done in cooperation with the provincial government of Nueva Ecija, particularly the Provincial Manpower Training Center and the Office of the Governor.

A Dagupan City-based fraternity also joined the activity, which also featured the military band performing love and patriotic selections as they shared food in a boodle fight.

Goods, including sacks of rice, were likewise raffled off for the soldiers.

It was the first time the JCI Cabanatuan City ventured into this kind of service, according to Abesamis.

"It was touching to mingle with people whom you know dedicatedly fight for your safety, for the freedom of your beloved country," she said.

Capt. Regidor Duldulao, who led a team of over 70 soldiers, said such treatment from the JCI speeds up the wounded soldiers' recovery.

Duldulao, himself, was hit by shrapnel from a Maute-planted bomb. He said the gratefulness being expressed by some people affirms the soldiers' feeling that they did the right thing in Marawi.

"Thank you. This is a big help that boosts the morale of our soldiers because the troops have some bad experiences in Marawi. With this kind of activities, we are reminded that what we did was for the sake of our nation,” he said.

Active-duty troops to get free ride in LRT-2

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 20): Active-duty troops to get free ride in LRT-2

Starting Saturday, all troopers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will be able to ride the trains of the Light Rail Transit 2 (LRT-2) free of charge.

This is to honor the heroism and sacrifices made by soldiers in safeguarding the country against all forms of security threats, AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Emmanuel Garcia said.

Last Dec. 19, the AFP signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) for a partnership, giving due recognition to the sacrifices of men in uniform by offering them a free ride on LRT-2 trains.

Garcia said the MOA stipulates that all active military personnel, even in civilian attire, are entitled to ride the LRT-2 (Santolan-Recto), free of charge, upon showing their AFP identification cards as access pass.

The MOA was signed by then AFP Civil Relations Service head Maj. Gen. Ronnie Evangelista and LRTA administrator Reynaldo Berroya.

Garcia said the MOA was noted by AFP Chief-of-Staff Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero and approved by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

“We are very thankful to the LRT Authority for their show of support to our troops in performing their duties. This is a big help to our soldiers. This certainly boosts the morale of our troops and gives us more reason to perform better in our mandate of serving the people and protecting the state,” Guerrero said.

Aside from this partnership, both parties are looking forward to advance coordination to enable the AFP to provide ambulance and medical teams to assist the LRTA in emergency and crisis situations.

Pres. Duterte welcomes two NPA surrenderees

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 21): Pres. Duterte welcomes two NPA surrenderees

President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday vowed an inclusive government for all as he welcomed two New People’s Army (NPA) rebel returnees.

During the presentation of the NPA rebels at Matina Enclaves here, the chief executive pledged that NPA surrenderees would be welcomed and accepted.

President Duterte expressed his gratitude to the two former rebels for deciding to surrender to government.

At the same time, Duterte appealed to the former NPA members for their continued support to his administration.

For his part, the president assured the rebel returnees of government’s protection and assistance as they begin to immerse in the civilian way of life.

In previous statements, President Duterte had urged members of the NPA to surrender, vowing to provide them with houses and jobs.

He earlier declared that it is his obligation to protect the rebels who will surrender to the government.

Each of the former rebels was given a transitory housing unit, cash and financial assistance, food packs, and a smart phone.

Meanwhile, President Duterte reiterated his desire for peace, noting that the war between the government and the communists has went on for an extended period of time.

According to the President, the economy in Mindanao, as well as in the whole country, would improve once peace is achieved.

He recalled that in his years as the mayor of Davao City, his friendship with the communist rebels was forged by the shared experience of poverty.

The President referred to this as a common ground in understanding ideology and social issues.

Duterte however said that as a President, addressing the country’s national security is his top priority and sought for the communists’ understanding.

Ex-Navy chief clears Bong Go anew from Frigate project

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 21): Ex-Navy chief clears Bong Go anew from Frigate project

Former Philippine Navy (PN) flag-officer-in-command, Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado, cleared Special Assistant to the President Christopher "Bong" Go anew saying the latter never paid any special attention or interest in the Navy's PHP18-billion Frigate Acquisition Project (FAP).

"Ilang beses kami na magkasama ni Secretary Bong Go, ilang beses kaming mag kausap ah. In fact, pag nag-escort ako kay President (Rodrigo Roa Duterte) aboard foreign navy ships gaya nung sa China, Pakistan, Japan, ni isang beses 'di kami nag-usap tungkol sa Navy frigate project," Mercado said in an interview with Radyo Pilipinas on Saturday.

Mercado issued this clarification in wake of reports alleging that Go made an effort to intervene in the project.

"Hindi niya ako tinanong, hindi niya nga kinukumusta yung nangyayari dun. Ganun ho din si President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, hindi niya tinatanong, yun communications ko tungkol sa frigate lahat papunta lang sa GHQ (General Headquarters) and DND (Department of National Defense) So basta on my side kung may magtatanong, wala ho kaming diskusyon ni Secretary Bong Go tungkol dun sa frigate," the former Navy chief added.

Also, the issues concerning the FAP were very technical and complex and it would have taken him nearly a day to explain it, should the official ask him about it, Mercado added.

He also pointed out that all his statements are factual and not aimed at defending or clearing Go and Duterte.

"Basta yung statement ko lang, Sir, eh factual and never na kinausap nila ako tungkol sa frigate. Basta on my side, sa tagal ko naging FOIC, sa tagal naming nagkikita never na tinanong ako or even na kinamusta kung ano ang nangyayari sa frigate, in fact on Navy Day last year dun namin ginanap sa Davao where I invited the President kasama si Secretary Bong Go sa Navy ship namin na bago, BRP Davao Del Sur. Doon din habang andun eh wala naman tinanong sila tungkol sa frigate or even the other Navy project. So as far as I am concerned, people will ask me, they never intervened as far as sa akin on any of the modernization project of the PN, di lang yung frigate, maski nga yung ibang project namin. Di sila nagtatanong," Mercado stressed.

Earlier, the DND cleared Go of any interference in the FAP following reports claiming that the latter intervened with the project.

"The President has already addressed the issue of the alleged 'intervention' of the SAP Christopher “Bong” Go in the PN Frigate Acquisition Project," DND Spokesperson Arsenio Andolong, quoting Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, in a statement.

"The Secretary of National Defense (Delfin Lorenzana) is confirming that no intervention or interference by Secretary Bong Go happened. The document that the SND alluded to have been given to him by Secretary Bong Go was handed to him at the Palace, so he assumed that it came from Secretary Go, the Special Assistant to the President and Chief of the Presidential Management Staff (PMS). It should be noted that one of the tasks of the PMS includes the official routing and endorsement of documents to government agencies concerned, for appropriate action," he added.

Andolong said the subject document originated from Hanwha, one of the proponents for the combat management system (CMS) who was post-qualified by the Philippine Navy for the FAP.

"The SND forwarded it to then Flag-Officer-In-Command of the Philippine Navy (then Vice Admiral Ronald Joseph Mercado) for appropriate action, who, in turn, gave it to then Commodore (now Rear Admiral) Robert Empedrad, the Chairperson of the Frigate Project Management Team at the time. Admiral Empedrad wrote a reply to the document stating the preferred CMS of the Philippine Navy, subject to the terms and conditions of the contract," he added.

The DND spokesperson said there was neither 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 pointed out.

PH not aware of any US naval activities in South China Sea

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 21): PH not aware of any US naval activities in South China Sea

The Philippines is not aware of any US naval activities in the South China Sea.

This was bared by Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana when sought for a comment after China cried foul after the guided missile destroyer USS Hopper came within 12 miles of Huangyan Island, also known as Scarborough Shoal, on Wednesday night.

The territory is being claimed by China and the Philippines.

China claimed that they ordered the ship to withdraw after determining its identity.

"Wala naman tayong say sa anumang gagawin ng Amerikano sa South China Sea. They do not inform us beforehand of their activities there," Lorenzana said.

Also, the DND chief said that the passage of the US warhip was not a cause of concern.

"No, for as long as they are on innocent passage. international law allows innocent passage even in territorial waters," he said.