Sunday, February 4, 2018

AFP sees NPA threat being degraded

From the Philippine Star (Feb 5): AFP sees NPA threat being degraded

“Should the trend continue, the AFP is confident that it could hit its target,” AFP spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo said yesterday. Noel Celis/AFP
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is optimistic that the country’s insurgency problem will be resolved soon, citing the diminishing strength – if not the imminent defeat – of the New People’s Army (NPA).

The AFP issued the statement following the surrender of 326 NPA guerrillas last month.

“Should the trend continue, the AFP is confident that it could hit its target,” AFP spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo said yesterday.

He said the higher number of surrenders in January alone indicated what to expect in the coming months, although the military is careful not to claim that victory is at hand when it comes to neutralizing the NPA.

While many are turning themselves in, Arevalo said the AFP is doing its best to prevent the communist group from recruiting new members.

“We’re going to deny them the opportunity to recruit. Not only will our combat and focused military operations continue, but also our programs to inform the would-be recruits of what awaits them through the help of their local government and communities if they change their ways,” he said.

The unprecedented number of NPA surrenderees can be attributed to President Duterte’s call for the rebels to lay down their arms, AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Emmanuel Garcia said.

He said among those who recently surrendered to the military was 35-year-old Gemma Quiroga of Davao Oriental, who turned herself in to the Army’s 28th Infantry Battalion on Jan. 28.

Quiroga served as a doctor for the rebels and chairperson of Anakpawis, a known leftist organization in Mati City.

Garcia said the AFP is hoping that the influx of surrenderees would encourage other rebels to also lay down their arms, abandon extremist violence and go for peace.

The AFP commended its various units on the ground for effectively using military pressure against the NPA and for the humane treatment of those who surrender.

ASG extortion activities worsen in Basilan

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 4): ASG extortion activities worsen in Basilan

The Department of Public Works and Highways in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (DPWH-ARMM) has expressed fears about the possible delay in the implementation and completion of vital infrastructure projects scheduled this year in Basilan province due to the persistent threat posed by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) on its officials and workers.

DPWH-ARMM Basilan District Engineer Soler I Undug yesterday said renegade ASG leaders are threatening them with harm should they continue to refuse to extend them protection money.

Undug said that if these series of threats will continue, the implementation and completion of vital government projects in the province might be delayed.

According to Undug the protection money that these ASG was asking for ranged from P200,000 or more, in areas where government projects were being implemented.

“We, in the government service, are not authorized to deal with them, more so, to give protection money to rebels like the Abu Sayyaf Group where government project we are implementing,” Undug said.

“We don’t deny that our fear is there, especially during our travel to the construction site as we might be ambushed by these ASG rebels anytime, while we are heading to the construction site in the province aboard government service trucks and vehicles,” he said.

According to reports, ASG leaders Jaid Mawalil and Nur Hassan were among those who have been trying to extort money from the DPWH officials in the province.

Mawalil is operating in the towns of Tuburan, Moh Ajul, Akbar while Hassan is operating in the towns of Tipo-Tipo, Tuburan and Lamitan City area, all in the province of Basilan.

As this developed, local residents have asked police and military authorities to conduct operations against the group in their suspected lairs in the province.

They urged the Joint Task Force Basilan, headed by Col Juvimax Uy, to conduct surgical operations in known ASG lairs in the province in order to free the people from possible ASG harassment.

As martial law implementor in the province, they said Uy should show that the military is on top of the situation and can illuminate them (ASG) anytime without fear, they said.

A government official in the province said, they couldn’t feel the implementation of martial law in the province as they can still see people moving around in public with their firearms in their waists.

Sayyaf bombs engineer’s house to demand P200,000

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 5): Sayyaf bombs engineer’s house to demand P200,000

A day after killing two men in an ambush, Abu Sayyaf members bombed the house of the district engineer of Basilan province in what officials said was a bid to extort money.

Supt. Restituto Pangusban, Isabela City police chief, said no one was hurt in the explosion outside the house of Soler Undug, Basilan district engineer, at 9 p.m. on Thursday.

It was the third time it was targeted by the terrorists.  Undug said Abu Sayyaf was demanding protection money of up to P200,000 a month to spare government road projects in Basilan from attacks.

3 Abu Sayyaf bandits surrender to military in Basilan

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 4): 3 Abu Sayyaf bandits surrender to military in Basilan

The island province of Basilan (in red shading) in Mindanao (Image from Google Maps)

Three Abu Sayyaf bandits – one of them among the most wanted gunmen in Basilan – have surrendered to the military in Basilan.

On Sunday, Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, chief of the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) identified them as Garama Sulayman, 21; Omar Jaljalis, 18; and Marhaban Pael, 24.

The bandits turned over two M16-A1 rifles, a 5.56-millimeter Carbine rifle, and ammunition.

Based on military data, Sulayman is the No. 9 most wanted Abu Sayyaf bandit in Basilan under Subleader Radzmil Jannatul.

Jaljalis used to be with the group of Furuji Indama. No description was given for Pael.

Galvez said the three bandits first sought the help of Sumisip Mayor Boy Hataman, who in turn contacted the military on Saturday.

The there are now under custody of the military in Basilan.

According to Galvez, 170 bandits have surrendered to the military since 2017 – 75 from Basilan, 60 from Sulu, 33 from Tawi-Tawi, and two from Zamboanga City.

“Surrenderees in the Basulta [Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi] areas continue to snowball as the Western Mindanao Command, through the different Joint Task Forces, sustains its security operations, particularly isolating the reformables from the hard core ASG members, through community-based dialogue, community support programs, and diplomatic mentoring,” Galvez said.

3 notorious Abu Sayyaf surrender in Basilan

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Feb 4): 3 notorious Abu Sayyaf surrender in Basilan
THREE notorious members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) have surrendered to the military authorities in the province of Basilan, officials announced on Sunday, February 4.
Brigadier General Juvymax Uy, Army’s 104th Infantry Brigade commander, identified them as Garama Sulayman, 21; Omar Jaljalis, 18; and, Marhaban Pael, 34.
Uy said they surrendered around 7 p.m., Saturday, February 3, and turned over two M-16 “Baby Armalite” rifles and a Carbine rifle with ammunition.
Uy said Mayor Gulam Hataman of Sumisip municipality has facilitated the surrender of the three bandits. They were taken to the headquarters of the 104th Infantry Brigade for custodial debriefing, medical checkup, and proper disposition.
Uy said the surrenderees informed them they decided to surrender due to difficulties in life and maltreatment from their leaders.
“We gladly welcome our surrenderees and those other members who wish to lay down their arms and end the armed conflicts in BASULTA (Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi) areas. There can be no better solution but to work in harmony to end terrorism,” Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez Jr., Western Mindanao Command chief, said.
The surrender of the three have brought to 170 the total number of Abu Sayyaf bandits who surrendered to the government authorities since last year. Of the total, 75 have surrendered in Basilan; 60 in Sulu; 33 in Tawi-Tawi; and, two in Zamboanga City.

Lumad communities flee homes anew in Surigao

From the often pro-Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) online publication the Davao Today (Feb 4): Lumad communities flee homes anew in Surigao

Twelve Lumad communities composed of 161 families or 758 individuals decided to evacuate on Monday, January 29 due to series of threats, harassment and intimidation allegedly by military troops. (Photo courtesy of Higala: Friends of the Lumad in Caraga)

Twelve indigenous peoples’ communities fled their homes in Surigao del Sur due to the heavy military presence in the area, a Lumad group reported.

Sarry Campos, spokesperson of MAPASU or the Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod, a local IP group, told Davao Today in a phone interview that at least 161 families composed of 758 individuals are currently seeking refuge in Km. 9 Barangay Diatagon, Lianga town, while unaccounted number of individuals are currently staying with their relatives.
The Lumad communities decided to evacuate on Monday, January 29 due to series of threats, harassment and intimidation allegedly by military troops.

“How can we go to our farmlands if the military troops are present around the community? Lumad farmers were interrogated and were asked to present their identification cards,” Campos said.

He added, “clearly they are harassing civilians. If they failed to provide IDs, soldiers will take photos and threaten them that if something will happen to military troops, the state forces will go after the civilians.”

A civilian was also forced by the soldiers to surrender “even he vehemently denied he was an NPA member.”

Also affected were 706 students and 51 faculty staff of Alternative Lumad school Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural Development (ALCADEV) and Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPS).
Classes were suspended at the school but the faculty continued lessons inside the evacuation center.

Campos said that the “intensified military operations in the countryside especially in Lumad communities clearly shows that the military is not going after the NPAs but communities and organizations that struggle to defend their ancestral lands from mining and foreign corporations.”
Kahugpungan sa mga Lumadnong Organisasyon (KASALO) – Caraga said in a statement that eight battalions of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) under two brigades were deployed in the region “resulting in widespread human rights violations.”

“All these are being implemented to eliminate opposition against the continuing operation of 23 large scale nickel, chromite and gold mines and the entry of 15 coal mining operations, expansion of banana and oil palm plantations and other destructive projects within our ancestral lands,” it added.

On Thursday, Duterte told the Lumad delegates of the indigenous peoples leaders summit in Davao that he wants ancestral domain in Mindanao to be opened for investors.

“I’ll do the search of investors myself,” he said.

Duterte said this would help for the development of Lumad communities and assured leaders that they will be given chance to decide.

“Kung muingon mo dili mag-mina, dili (ta) mag-mina. Kung mag hugaw-hugaw sa inyong lugar, barahon nako (If you don’t want mining, then we won’t do it. If they’ll mess around your area, I’ll block them),” Duterte added.

But for Campos, the entry of big companies does not mean real development for Lumad communities.

“For decades, we have witnessed other areas where mining operates but there was no real progress as these operations only destroyed the natural environment and people’s livelihood,” Campos said.

Campos urged the Duterte administration to pull-out military troops from civilian communities.

“He [Duterte] should respect our right to self-determination and ancestral lands. We can develop our own communities through our indigenous practices in agriculture and free education,” he added.

China squeezing out Manila in sea dispute – expert

From the Manila Times (Feb 4): China squeezing out Manila in sea dispute – expert

First of two parts

 Beijing is only holding off its plans to build over the disputed Scarborough Shoal in order to squeeze out everything from the Duterte administration and move to the “next step,” according to a maritime expert.

Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative and Southeast Asia program fellow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, made the statement on Friday as he pointed out that China has been building structures over disputed waters in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).

Poling backed a statement made by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana last year that he was expecting China to eventually build “something” over Scarborough Shoal.

“It’s a matter of when, not if, and it’s a matter of what they built. So maybe, they don’t build another giant island [which]was easy to start in late 2013 when nobody was watching,” he said in an interview at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

“I promise that everybody won’t be publishing photos of Chinese [dredgers]tomorrow if [it]started today, so maybe, it’s a small facility,” Poling added.

His statements came days after the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) patrolled Scarborough Shoal where it monitored more Chinese vessels including fishing and Coast Guard ships surrounding the territory.

For him, there was also a “political decision” that China feels that it is winning the dispute with other claimants to the waters 124 nautical miles off Masinloc, Zambales.

“If China feels right now that it is winning, why provoke crisis with the Duterte administration? You know, day by day the Chinese are allowed to strengthen their military control over the South China Sea and the Philippines does nothing in response,” Poling explained.

‘Next phase’

He said Manila might be “forced” to take action once Beijing spoiled its authority over the territorial waters.

“If they overplay their hand at Scarborough Shoal, Malacañang might be forced to respond and I think they will hold off to build in Scarborough Shoal until they [China] feel like they have extracted as much as they can from the Duterte government,” Poling added.

“Then, they will move on to the next phase,” he said.

The maritime expert visited the Philippines as part of the US State Department-sponsored multi-country speaker program that includes two days in the country.

Another point Poling raised is that the claimant nations must take the first necessary steps to come up with a “clear-eyed” policy recognizing the worthiness of pursuing the Code of Conduct (CoC) drafted during last year’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit, which was hosted by the Philippines.

In August 2017, China and Southeast Asian foreign ministers adopted a negotiating framework for a Code of Conduct in the disputed South China Sea that was hailed by the Asean foreign affairs leaders.

President Rodrigo Duterte mentioned during the Asean Leaders’ Summit last year that China “graciously agreed” to bind itself to the drafted agreement by the foreign ministers.

But for Poling, it was obvious that China was not willing to bind itself to the code, citing the establishment of several man-made islands in the disputed waters.

“The evidence of the last 18 months or so does not support the idea that China is willing to negotiate the binding of the Code of Conduct that brought all parties,” he said.

“This is not to say that the [CoC] talks are a waste of time, that we should not be reaching out to China automatically, simply, we should be doing this with open eyes and recognize that the Chinese built thousands of square meters of military facilities over the course of 2017,” Poling added.

‘Coercive tactic’

While Asean countries, particularly the claimants to the South China Sea territories were discussing the code, China had already built bunkers, missile shelters and radar facilities that can be described as a “coercive tactic,” according to him.

“If you haven’t put the footage in there yet, it’s like waving around an empty gun and it’s inherently threatening at the same time,” he said.

Structures on the man-made islands in South China Sea sum up China’s approach as “military in nature,” Poling added.

He said over the “rainy days,” China will be basing its fighter jets on a runway built over the waters.

“You’re going to see more signals of intelligence and things like that. You’re gonna keep on seeing the increase in number of Chinese coast guards and maritime naval ships making calls to these,” according to Poling.

“Little by little, the Chinese plan seems to establish [a]de facto control, maybe without provoking an immediate sharp clash but by sheer force of number that eventually is going to be there such as coast guards and navy ships,” he added.

Poling said every claimant nations should be “realistic” with their expectations from the Asean Summit in Manila that China would bind itself to the Code of Conduct drafted earlier last year.

“Asean is not a mutual security alliance. It’s not equipped to handle something like this [because]Asean is about confidence-building and socializing China into habits of cooperation,” he explained.

“There is a whole lot of options between surrender and war that are not being tried and the idea that in theory, a future war would be winnable but nobody wants to go to war [over]the South China Sea. But does that [not]mean that we cannot talk about other stuff in the middle?” Poling added.

(To be continued)

General linked to plunder named Army camp commander

From the Manila Times (Feb 4): General linked to plunder named Army camp commander

AN Army general, who was charged with plunder before the Sandiganbayan, was named the new camp commander of Fort Bonifacio, home of the 75,000-strong Philippine Army.

Brig. Gen. Roy Devesa, former brigade commander of the Army’s 503rd Infantry Brigade, replaced Col. Kiram-Azcar Grajo, who served as head in acting capacity after Brig. Gen. Rodel Mauro Alarcon retired in January 24, 2017.

The Office of the Ombudsman exonerated in 2013 Devesa, who was accused of allegedly misusing P2.3 billion in military funds.

Also charged with Devesa were former Armed Forces chiefs Diomedio Villanueva, Roy Cimatu and Efren Abu, who all served under the administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; two resident auditors and several military officers.

Devesa had a rank of full colonel in 2012 when the charges were filed against him.

It was retired Col. George Rebusa, a former budget officer of the Armed Forces of the Philippines who revealed the corruption issues within the military organization.

It was Maj. Gen. Robert Arevalo who presided the change of command ceremony between Devesa and Grajo.

Arevalo himself was charged with plunder but was also cleared by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales.

Devesa is a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) “Sandiwa” Class of 1985, whose members include Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., former AFP spokesman and now AFP deputy chief of staff for plans; Vice Admiral Narciso Vingson Jr., AFP deputy chief of staff; Lt. Gen. Rolando Joselito Bautista, commanding general of the Philippine Army; Lt. Gen. Galileo Garard Kintanar Jr., commanding general of the Philippine Air Force, among others.

NFA employees must fill up new forms on ‘affiliation’ with AFP. Forced conscription of civilian state workers?

From InterAksyon (Feb 4): NFA employees must fill up new forms on ‘affiliation’ with AFP. Forced conscription of civilian state workers?

The cover letter from NFA personnel instructing employees to fill up the new forms.

The human rights group Karapatan is questioning why the National Food Authority is “affiliating” itself with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and requiring its personnel to fill up forms in relation to this.

The rights group raised the alarm following reports from the public sector union Confederation for Unity, Recognition, and Advancement of Government Employees, or COURAGE, about a January 18 memorandum — HRMD-MSBD-REC-2K18-A-0062 — issued by lawyer Anna Karina Coronel, manager III of the NFA’s human resource management department, asking officials and employees to fill up a lengthy “Personal History Statement” on such information as one’s personal background, work history, location of residence, countries visited, and even credit reputation, and to submit these by January 31.

Aside from this information, the form also requires five character references, the names of three neighbors, and asks if one is “willing to undergo periodic lie detector test.”

The forms are also downloadable ( from theAFP website.

A similar downloadable form, this time from the Philippine Coast Guard (, is called an “applicant’s personal history statement form.”

There is also a separate “security declaration” supposed to be “read and signed by all military personnel, civilian employees, foreign students and research contract personnel,” that binds them to confidentiality regarding any classified information during and after their tenure in the AFP.

COURAGE president Ferdinand Gaite said this is the first time NFA personnel have been required to fill up such forms.

 Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said the form “is, in essence, conscription to military service, either as part of the military’s reserve force or its auxiliary. This takes militarization of the civilian bureaucracy to a whole new level.”

“We do not know what Duterte and his cohorts in the military and Cabinet are up to, but this suspicious move merits proper investigation,” Palabay said. “If this is forced conscription of government employees, imposed and especially without due consent, the people behind this memo should be held accountable.”

She also worried that “this could be happening in other agencies as well,” adding that “the effect of such a scheme is chilling, especially for a government that is already threatening a crackdown on legitimate organizations and its citizens.”

“Turning entire agencies and government institutions into intelligence networks would have an inevitable, adverse effect to people’s freedom of assembly and their right to organize,” she said. “There is a need to map out where else this is happening, as well as to investigate the motive behind this.”

“In the context of continued political persecution, killings, illegal arrests and harassment among the ranks of activists, members of progressive organizations, human rights defenders and civilians, such a memorandum raises many red flags,” she added.

Ex-CSC chief is new Army Reserve commander

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 4): Ex-CSC chief is new Army Reserve commander

Former Civil Service Commission (CSC) chief in this province, Major Eleanor Marco Prado, is now the new battalion commander of the Army's 307th Community Defense Center, the Aurora Ready Reserve Infantry Battalion (ARRIBn).

Prado officially assumed her new post Saturday afternoon in a change-of-command ceremony presided by Col. Danilo Cariǹo, group commander of the 3rd Regional Community Defense Group (3RCDG), Army Reserve Command based at the Northern Luzon Command in Tarlac .

“This is my dream, to be a soldier. As I assumed the duties and responsibilities as battalion commander of Army’s 307th ARRIBn, I considered it as a blessing. For the trust entrusted with me, a million thanks,” she said.

Prado vowed to continue the plans started by his predecessor, Lt. Col. Jessie Pimentel, and pledged to do her "best efforts."

“I will not promise but I will do my best, if not to surpass my predecessor at least get even with his accomplishment and to meet what is expected from me as a battalion commander. To the members of the Army’s 307th Community Defense Center and Aurora ARRIBn. Let us work together as a team,” she added.

Pimentel, for his part, said he would still work hand-in-hand with the command to intensify recruitment of reservists and to ensure that activities programmed for the province would be carried out.

“I am still inside the organization as the chief of our Standby Reserve Battalion,” Pimentel said.

2 PAF AW-109 attack choppers up for maintenance

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 4): 2 PAF AW-109 attack choppers up for maintenance

Two of the Philippine Air Force's (PAF) brand-new AgustaWestland AW-109 attack helicopters, which were used extensively in the five-month battle to retake Marawi City from the clutches of the Maute terrorists, will be undergoing a periodic maintenance.

Budget for the acquisition of spares and services was placed at PHP23,398,000, the bid bulletin posted at the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System said.

Scheduled for maintenance are PAF AW-109 attack helicopters with tail numbers 815 and 823.

Submission and opening of bids is slated for Feb. 14, 9 a.m. at the PAF Procurement Center Conference Room, Villamor Air Base, Pasay City.

"All particulars relative to Eligibility Statement and Screening, Bid Security, Performance Security, Pre-Bidding Conference/s, Evaluation of Bids, Post-Qualification and Award of Contract shall be governed by the pertinent provisions of RA 9184 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR)," PAF Bids and Awards Committee chair Brig. Gen. Erickson R. Gloria said.

The first two PAF attack AW-109s were commissioned last Aug. 17, 2015 while the remaining six were formally accepted for PAF service on Dec. 5 of that year.

The Philippines signed an eight-unit attack AW-109E order with AgustaWestland in 2013 for PHP3. 44 billion.

AFP confident of neutralizing NPA as surrenders continue

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 4): AFP confident of neutralizing NPA as surrenders continue
With January's record number of surrendering New People's Army (NPA) members at 326, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) expressed confidence it would be able to meet the target of neutralizing the communist rebels soon.

"Ayaw nating sabihin na imminent but we're confident that we will be able to hit our target kung ang ating titingnan ay itong trend na ito, kasi ganyan na karaming (surrenders) January lang, magandang indicator to say the least," AFP spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo said Sunday.

Earlier, the AFP vowed to reduce NPA's strength nationwide by half, if not totally by this year.

"Mahirap tayong magsalita ng conclusive lalo't lalo na January pa lang naman ngayon, that's why very carefully sinasabi natin if this trend is going to continue we are confident that we will be able to hit our target," Arevalo said.

From Jan. 1 to 29, military records revealed that 310 NPAs surrendered from various parts of the country while the remaining 16 voluntarily gave themselves up from Jan. 30 to 31.

"The unprecedented number of surrenders is attributed to the call of President and AFP Commander-in-Chief Rodrigo Duterte on the rebels, as well as the hardship and sense of betrayal experienced by the returnees in staying with the NPA," AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Emmanuel Garcia said.

One of the notable surrenderees is Gemma Quiroga, 35, of Davao Oriental who surrendered to the 28th Infantry Battalion last Jan. 27.

Garcia said the former was a squad medic of the NPAs operating in Davao Oriental and was also designated as ANAKPAWIS chair, a known leftist organization, in Mati City.

"The AFP leadership congratulates its various units on the ground for the effective use of military pressure against the NPAs, as well as in their humane treatment of the former rebels," he added.

Garcia is hoping the recent surrenders will encourage other rebels to lay down their arms, abandon violent extremism and embrace the peaceful path towards.

Tribal leader, son killed by suspected NPA rebels

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 4): Tribal leader, son killed by suspected NPA rebels

A tribal leader of the Langilang-Manobo tribe and his son were shot dead by armed men inside their home in Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod, Davao del Norte on Sunday dawn.

The victims, Datu Banadjao Mampaundag and his son, Jhonard Mampaundag, were attacked around 4 a.m. inside their home by the armed men posing as soldiers but were believed members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

AFP Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) spokesperson Maj. Ezra Balagtey said the attackers were Tagalog-speaking members of the NPA who entered the house of the Mampaundags and murdered the two tribal leaders.

Balagtey said a medical team from Talaingod was sent to give assistance but they stopped when the team heard an explosion.

The remains of Banadjao and Jhonard are still in Sitio Igang waiting to be retrieved.

The NPA members were believed to be in an ambush position and could possibly attack army troops who would respond to the incident.

The incident happened a day after Banadjao came home from the two-day "Panagtagbo Alang sa Kalinaw ug Kalambuan," an Indigenous Peoples Leaders’ Summit held in Davao City at the Green Height convention Center on January 31 and February 1.

Banadjao was one of the participants of the gathering at the EastMinCom headquarters in Panacan, Davao City where President Rodrigo Duterte called on tribal leaders from four regions in Mindanao to "dissociate from the NPA."

“Distansya mo as NPA. Ayaw mo pakig away (You distance yourselves from the NPA. Do not fight them,” he had told them.

The two-day IP Leaders Summit was aimed at providing the "lumads" with an avenue to air their concerns to the national government.

Two of the issues included security and lack of economic opportunities.

Banadjao was also one of those who signed a manifesto calling for a push on their struggle and fight for self-determination based on their customary laws, cultures and traditions passed by their ancestors that are deeply rooted in their communities.

In the manifesto, they vowed not to fail Duterte in his peace and development program spelled-out in the administration’s 10-point socioeconomic agenda.

Kidnap victim and son of Labason Mayor brought to Sulu by captors - Beltran

From Zamboanga Today Online (Feb 4): Kidnap victim and son of Labason Mayor brought to Sulu by captors - Beltran

Police authorities here disclosed yesterday that kidnap victim Jed Quimbo, a businessman and son of Labason Mayor Eddie Quimbo might have already been brought to Sulu by his kidnappers and was already turned over to the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) operating in the province.

Police Regional Office 9 regional director Chief Supt. Billy Beltran said that they have indications that Quimbo is now in the custody of the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu.

“Based from monitoring and intelligence information in the area we have indications that Quimbo and his captors were able to slip out of Zamboanga Del Norte and are now in Sulu,” Beltran revealed.

However, Beltran said they cannot prevent the Quimbo family from negotiating with the kidnappers, although the police and the military still maintain the government’s no-ransom policy.

As this developed, the PRO 9 chief said the police and the military are coordinating with each other and are exerting efforts for the rescue of the victim including others who are still in the custody of the bandit group.

Beltran added that the kidnap victim is alive based from the proof of life the family recently received directly from the kidnappers.

It will be recalled, Quimbo, 30, was forcibly taken by six heavily armed men while he tendering his grocery store in Labason, Zamboanga del Norte last September 6, 2017.

During the abduction, the employees and laborers in the grocery store failed to help Quimbo as all of them were held at gunpoint.

Responding police immediately launched hot pursuit operation but failed to catch up with the fleeing kidnappers. However, authorities recovered the van used by the captors which was abandoned along the coastal area of Barangay Osukan, just some three kilometers away from the town proper.

“We are doing everything to help rescue of the victim from his captors,” Beltran said.

Another NPA leader yields in Davao

From the Sun Star-Davao (Feb 4): Another NPA leader yields in Davao
ANOTHER top officer of the communist group surrendered to the military on February 1 in Sta Cruz, Davao Del Sur.

The surrenderer was identified as Alvie Marie Salvaleon Cominador alias Ara, the Secretary of Guerrilla Front (GF) 51 of Southern Mindanao Regional Command (SMRC).

She surrendered together with staff Sub-Regional Command (SRC) 3 named Shane Rosete Cacdac alias Neo. They surrendered to joint elements of 39IB and 73IB in Sta Cruz, Davao Del Sur last Thursday.

In an initial interview with the troops, Cominador revealed that she embraced the communist ideology since 1999 when she joined Kabataang Makabayan. Three years in the organization, she became a full time member of the New People’s Army (NPA) and rose in the hierarchy and became the Front Secretary of GF 51.

She has been in the communist movement for 16 years. According to her, she is already tired hiding from the government troopers who have launched an all-out war against the NPA.

They were pressured by this relentless offensive operation in the hinterland and at the same time, she already missed her children. This prompted her to decide to return to the folds of the law in order to live a normal and peaceful life.

“Gimingaw na ko sa akong pamilya labi na sa akoang mga anak, dili gyud ko makadalidali ug uli para makabisita sa ilaha kay tungod naa ko sa kalihukan, ug gi-kapoy na jud ko sigeg tagotago kay ang mga tropa nag sigeg operate [I miss my family specially my children, I can’t make myself available to them in times when they need me the most, because I am in the (CPP-NPA-NDF) movement. And I’m tired of hiding in the jungle and evading the intensive military operation],” she said.

It can be recalled that last January 15, 2018, Deputy Secretary of Far South Mindanao Region of CPP NPA, Noel MiniotoLegazpi, alias Efren, together with his wife JeanalynDefensorBendalian, alias Wendy, the medical staff of FSMR, surrendered to the troops of 27IB in South Cotabato.

Since then, notable number of NPA terrorists surrendered to the units under 1002nd brigade.

“With our intensive security operations and continuous collaborations with our stakeholders, we can array our efforts in attaining lasting peace,” 39IB commander Lieutenant Colonel Rhojun Rosales said.

 The former rebels will be presented to the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Davao Del Sur for immediate assistance and enrollment to the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP) of the government for rebel returnees where they will receive financial and livelihood assistance.

The national government reiterated its call for the red fighters to lay down their arms and return to the mainstream society to enjoy the programs of the government.

"We are calling the attention of the remaining NPA terrorist of GF 51 and other Communist NPA Terrorist who are still hiding, to grab this opportunity to return to the folds of law together with your firearms. You deserve to have a peaceful life with your family. Most of your high ranking officials and members are already enjoying the support program of the government,” Colonel Roberto Ancan 1002nd Brigade Commander said.

Joma to NPA: Launch more attacks to force peace talks

From Rappler (Feb 4): Joma to NPA: Launch more attacks to force peace talks

At the same time, Sison urges his allies and the government to continue to honor the immunity for communist and government peace negotiators

PEACE TALKS. Filipino communist leader Jose Maria Sison answers journalists' questions during the opening ceremony of the formal peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front in Rome. File photo by Tiziania Fabi/AFP

PEACE TALKS. Filipino communist leader Jose Maria Sison answers journalists' questions during the opening ceremony of the formal peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front in Rome. File photo by Tiziania Fabi/AFP

National Democratic Front (NDF) chief political consultant Jose Maria "Joma" Sison advised the New People's Army (NPA) to continue with carrying out attacks to compel the government to resume peace talks.

"What the NPA can do in order to compel or persuade the GRP to resume the peace negotiations is to carry out successfully the announced plan of the CPP to intensify tactical offensives against armed units of the AFP, PNP and auxiliary forces and to punish notorious human rights violators, local tyrants, land grabbers, drug lords and other notorious criminals," Sison said in a statement on Sunday, February 4.

The call of the Communist Party of the Philippines founder follows the arrest of prominent NDF consultant Rafael Baylosis, who was detained Wednesday, January 31, for illegal possession of firearms.

His arrest was slammed by leftists as "harassment" and a violation of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), which grants “free and unhindered passage” for persons involved in the peace talks.

With the peace talks trashed and communists labeled terrorists by President Rodrigo Duterte, Malacañang said that the JASIG had become impotent.

'Respect JASIG'

Sison emphasized in his statement that the NPA forces are robust enough to damage government forces. Sison said they can "eliminate" 510 government troops or some 5 companies every month nationwide.

"That translates to the elimination of some 60 companies or 20 basic battalions every year. The NPA has the advantage of having a just cause and enjoying the support of the people and being able to launch ambushes and raids by surprise," he added.

But despite heightened attacks, Sison urged his allies to continue to "respect the JASIG" and not to conduct assaults against the government's own consultants.

Sison said he expected the same from the government. (READ: The end of the affair? Duterte's romance with the Reds)

"The GRP side, especially Duterte, should cease and desist from arresting NDFP negotiating personnel and from violating the JASIG. It is good to keep open the possibility of resuming the peace negotiations rather than violate the JASIG and undermine confidence in the peace process in a long-lasting way," he added.

Army sends Ecija battalion to Mindanao

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 1): Army sends Ecija battalion to Mindanao

This photo taken on April 4, 2017 shows Philippine soldiers marching during the army’s 120th anniversary ceremony at Fort Bonifacio camp in Manila. / AFP FILE PHOTO / TED ALJIBE

The Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Division (ID) is set to deploy its 56th Infantry Battalion (IB) to Mindanao on Feb. 4 to augment troops tasked to seek out terror groups.

Major General Felimon Santos Jr., 7th ID commander, on Thursday confirmed the send-off schedule from its base in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province.

According to the 7th ID, the 56th IB recovered 10 camps of the New People’s Army in Aurora and Nueva. It was reportedly active in assisting the Department of Environment and Natural Resources stop illegal logging in the Sierra Madre mountain ranges. Its previous base of operations was in Bulacan province.
Also on Feb. 4, Santos is welcoming back the 69th IB, which had been assigned in Jolo, Sulu for 18 months following seven years of stints in several Mindanao areas.

The 69th IB “played an important role in a joint security operation, monitoring terror plans and actions that limited and hampered the [Abu Sayyaf Group’s] maneuver space within their [area of responsibility] and cut the group’s support from the local populace,” the 7th ID said. The 69th IB used to operate in Pampanga.

The struggle for Marawi has only just begun

From the East Asia Forum (Feb 2): The struggle for Marawi has only just begun (Author: Steven Rood, Australian National University and Social Weather Stations)

The battle of Marawi formally ended in October 2017. The leaders of the violent extremist takeover are confirmed dead, half of the city’s residents have returned and Mindanao State University re-opened its Marawi campus in August. After taking five months to quell the uprising, the Armed Forces of the Philippines have admitted that they lack skills in urban combat and are already receiving training assistance provided by Australia and Singapore. There are reasons to be gravely concerned about the battle’s aftermath.

Urban rehabilitation is going to be long and contentious. The main battleground was a crowded, built-up area filled with sturdy concrete structures. Formerly well-off residents have lost everything, since they evacuated under the assumption that they would be back in a few days instead of five months. The extremists used urban warfare tactics (such as tunnelling through walls between houses to avoid exposure) and the Philippine military responded by bombing and shelling as they fought house to house. As engineers render the area safe, they are recovering considerable amounts of unexploded ordnance and large numbers of improvised explosive devices.

Aside from the danger of explosion, other factors complicate residents’ returning to the city. Properties often did not have formal titles (a common occurrence in the Philippines), which makes reoccupation of residential lots uncertain. A former presidential decree proclaiming that much of Marawi is a military reservation further complicates land ownership: when the military says it won’t take more land than it needs, residents are hardly assured. The government has announced plans for a four-lane highway through the city, for promenades along Lake Lanao and the Agus River and for other modern urban infrastructure projects, all of which are likely to further displace residents. Residents have lost everything, are not able to return and have a very murky future — a situation that could easily lead to discontent.

Another source of concern is the ability of violent extremist recruiters to fish in these troubled waters. The Marawi incident clearly rose above the long-running threat levels posed by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in central Mindanao and by the Abu Sayyaf in the Sulu archipelago. This was partly due to support from the core leadership of the so-called Islamic State (IS) both in terms of financing and in terms of convincing disparate groups to work together — in particular by getting Isnilon Hapilon, IS’s designated emir in the region, to move from his jungle lair to the Lanao area where the Maute brothers led another group. Even after these leaders’ demise in combat, recruitment continues. Any assessment of the threat of violent extremism in the Philippines needs to appreciate the local realities in which it might be rooted.

Progress on legislating peace agreements reached with the mainstream Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front has slowed. This has occurred in spite of the optimism and trust that greeted the election of Rodrigo Duterte as the first president from Mindanao. Throughout his first 18 months in office, Duterte has been systematically unclear about the relation between the Bangsamoro Basic Law — which was written to establish a more autonomous regional entity in Muslim-majority areas of Mindanao — and his proposed constitutional amendments that turn the entire country from a unitary into a federal state.

The Philippine Congress is treating the Bangsamoro Basic Law not as an implementation of agreements reached by the executive branch in negotiations but as a piece of legislation subject to the independent judgement of the Congress. While this may seem reasonable to an elected government official, in the eyes of the Moro Fronts the delays once more raise the possibility of the non-implementation of formally signed agreements — an event that has occurred repeatedly over the past 40 years.

At the rhetorical level, such a failure would play into the recruitment pitch of the violent extremists, who argue that non-Muslims will always deceive Muslims and that the peace process is a deception. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front would seem to be traitors who have turned their backs on true jihad.

At a practical level, cooperation by the Fronts with the Philippine military in action against militants is ongoing. The continuation of this arrangement depends on the Fronts’ ability to project their ‘Bangsamoro’ narrative against the claim by militants that a caliphate is the answer to the grievances of Muslims.

The Philippines must do more to inform and involve local communities in the rehabilitation of Marawi city in order to reduce uncertainty. The Congress needs to implement agreements already reached with the respective Fronts to demonstrate their ability to deliver results to the region. The government additionally must increase the resilience of affected local communities, their leaders and families to reduce the effects of recruitment by extremists. If they do not, the past year may well only be phase one in the Battle of Marawi.

[Steven Rood is Visiting Fellow at the Department of Political and Social Change at the Australian National University and a Fellow and Board Member of Social Weather Stations in the Philippines.]

Philippines: Muslim rebels seek autonomous region as antidote to violent extremism

From the Asian Correspondent (Feb 2): Philippines: Muslim rebels seek autonomous region as antidote to violent extremism


MILF members brandish their weapons in this file photo at their stronghold in Maguindanao province, Philippines. Source: Bong S. Sarmiento

THE largest Moro rebel group in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao has called on legislators to approve the law creating a new Bangsamoro region to prevent violent Islamic extremism from rearing its ugly head again.

Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chairperson of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), appealed to Congress to approve the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which would create a new autonomous area in the Mindanao region, as four senators visited the guerillas’ main camp in Maguindanao province last week as part of the public consultation for the proposed measure.

“We’re hoping the BBL will be passed this time around, otherwise we will be facing a difficult path,” Ebrahim said, noting that failed peace agreements in the past led to escalation of violence or the rise of Islamic extremist groups.

SEE ALSO: Death of Islamic State militants not the end of terrorism in the Philippines

He was reportedly referring to the Memorandum on Ancestral Domain in 2008 that the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional, triggering a war led by disgruntled MILF commanders in Central Mindanao region.

The disgruntled MILF leaders eventually formed what is now known as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a group that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Over 600,000 civilians were uprooted from their homes by the 2008 war, the world’s largest displacement at the time.

In May last year, Islamic State-inspired militants belonging to the Maute Group attacked Marawi City in a bid to establish a caliphate there, displacing more than 350,000 civilians.

Government forces defeated the Maute Group after five months of fierce fighting that left the city in shambles and some 1,100 killed, mostly Islamic militants.

File photo shows Muslim children waving green flaglets in support of the peace process between the government and the MILF. Source: Bong S. Sarmiento

The failure of the government to deliver the goods of the peace agreement with the MILF were among the factors the Maute Group reportedly exploited to lure recruits.

In pushing for the enactment of the BBL, Ebrahim said the bill “has the support of majority of Muslims in the proposed new Bangsamoro region,” which would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Juan Miguel Zubiri, a senator from Mindanao who chairs the Senate subcommittee on BBL, said they are hoping to approve the measure before Congress goes on break by the end of March.

President Rodrigo Duterte warned recently that war will erupt in Mindanao with the non-passage of the BBL, which he said seeks to address the historical injustices committed against the Moro people.

Duterte’s peace adviser, Jesus Dureza, said the chief executive is keen “on going even to the extent of issuing an executive order to create a new Bangsamoro region if Congress fails to approve the proposed measure.”

SEE ALSO: Philippine Moro rebels have ousted child soldiers – UN

In a statement, Dureza said that Duterte and MILF leaders recently met in Davao City where the President reassured the rebels he will push for the early passage of the BBL ahead of the shift to federalism.

“Stressing that he can use the inherent powers of the presidency, he is ready to carve out through an executive order the area for the Bangsamoro for their self rule,” Dureza said.

Dureza said that the passage of the BBL was among Duterte’s promises during the presidential campaign.

“We call on Filipinos to all help and contribute to the realization of this long-awaited aspiration of the Bangsamoro,” Dureza said.

The war waged by the MILF against the government for four decades, ending with the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in 2014, has killed more than 120,000 individuals from all sides.

After Marawi: Military’s Regional Role In Counter-Terrorism? – Analysis

From the Eurasia Review (Feb 2): After Marawi: Military’s Regional Role In Counter-Terrorism? – Analysis (By Tan See Seng)

 Philippine and U.S. soldiers walk back to the helicopter landing zone after completing Operation Handa Koa during this year’s Balikatan exercise in Jamindan, Philippines, April 14, 2016. The U.S. soldiers were assigned to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jerome D. Johnson

Philippine and U.S. soldiers walk back to the helicopter landing zone after completing Operation Handa Koa during Balikatan exercise in Jamindan, Philippines. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jerome D. Johnson.

In the wake of the Marawi conflict in 2017, counter-terrorism efforts in ASEAN are likely to involve the active participation of the armed forces of ASEAN countries and their external partners.

However, this could lead to a militarised ASEAN region – an outcome that ASEAN countries should guard against even as they protect their peoples from the threat of terrorism.

There is growing consensus among terrorism analysts that the Battle of Marawi in Mindanao, Philippines, which lasted from May to October 2017, constitutes a watershed moment in the evolution of the terrorist threat in the ASEAN region. Reportedly, the militant groups driving that conflict, such as the Maute Group and the Abu Sayyaf, had in mind to turn Mindanao into a Wilayat (or province) of ISIS. This is not a particularly novel goal in itself since the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) has long aspired to establish an Islamic caliphate in Southeast Asia.

What surprised analysts most about the Marawi conflict was the evident readiness of the militants to take the fight to the Philippine military by engaging in a drawn out urban war and employing tactics – including transforming densely packed buildings in the city into improvised tunnels – that initially confounded the government troops.
Marawi Game Changer

Needless to say, the emergence of ISIS in Southeast Asia – with the attacks in Jakarta in January 2016 widely seen as the first conducted in its name – is but the latest addition to a complex story of terrorism in the ASEAN region. Some analysts have cautioned against undue exaggeration of the ISIS threat because they see the greater, long-term threat arising from a rejuvenated JI, which has a larger network and is better funded than the pro-ISIS groups in the region.

Against this backdrop, what is most sobering about the Marawi episode is the prospect that it could inspire and embolden other groups, if they have the requisite men and material, to emulate or even outdo Marawi in scale, style and substance in other ASEAN cities and urban areas. Such a likelihood would also warrant the involvement of the armed forces of the ASEAN countries, whose force capabilities match or exceed that of the Marawi insurgents.

Historically, ASEAN countries have not handled terrorism in the same way. For example, Malaysia and Thailand have relied on more coercive, militaristic responses, whereas Indonesia and Singapore have mostly adopted a non-militaristic, law enforcement approach to tackling the problem.

That said, the prospect of a growing militarisation of counter-terrorism efforts cannot be ruled out: for instance, dissatisfied with the ineffective response of the Indonesian police to terrorist attacks, the Indonesian military established a new anti-terror unit known as the Joint Special Operations Command (Koopssusgab) in June 2015.

Countering Terrorism: Growing Military Role?
Much as Marawi could alter the way terrorism in Southeast Asia would henceforth be conducted, the manner in which ASEAN countries respond to the terrorist threat could also change in a number of ways.

Firstly, ASEAN countries and their defence establishments are likely to deepen their collaboration in counter-terrorism not only among themselves but with their external partners. They will do so through conducting joint exercises, sharing information and enhancing their force capabilities within existing frameworks such as the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (or ADMM+). In this respect, joint counter-terrorism exercises such as the one that took place in Singapore in May 2016 involving 40 special forces teams from all 18 ADMM+ countries could well increase.

Secondly, the Marawi conflict memorably led to separate offers of military assistance from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to their imperilled ASEAN neighbour. This implies that ASEAN countries are likely to seek new ways to collaborate against terrorism.

But it should be said that Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore – the so-called “core countries” of ASEAN – have had a long history of security cooperation among themselves, including the Malacca Strait Sea Patrols and the “Eyes in the Sky” initiative.

More recently, Indonesia and Malaysia established the Trilateral Maritime Patrol with the Philippines in June 2017 to guard the Sulu-Sulawesi seas, long a hub for transnational organised crime and militancy. Going forward, the ASEAN defence establishments are likely to leverage on these existing forms of cooperation in their quest for new and innovative approaches in response to the growing scale and complexity of the terrorist threat in their region.
ASEAN’s Challenge: Balancing Security and Liberty?

Needless to say, the prospect of a growing regional role for ASEAN’s militaries raises questions over how national governments are to avoid overstepping regional sensibilities and civil liberties even as they work to protect their citizens from terrorism and violence. The likelihood of militarisation is especially poignant for countries with a complicated military past, such as Indonesia.

For instance, the Indonesian military’s establishment of its counter-terror unit Koopssusgab immediately reignited fears, unjustified or otherwise, over potential interference by the military once again in the country’s civilian affairs.

On the other hand, the possibility that ASEAN countries may soon find soldiers from other nations, including external powers, operating on their home soil cannot be ruled out.

How affected countries and societies in need of external assistance are able to host foreign troops and facilitate counterinsurgency operations without jeopardising their sovereignty is likely to emerge as a key concern as ASEAN countries and militaries cooperate to tackle the common challenge of terrorism in their neck of the woods.

[Tan See Seng is Professor of International Relations at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He is also Deputy Director and Head of Research of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (IDSS), at RSIS and currently a visiting scholar at the EU Centre in Singapore.]