Monday, February 5, 2018

2 NPA rebels yield in South Cotabato

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5): 2 NPA rebels yield in South Cotabato

Two members of a New People’s Army (NPA) unit operating in the hinterlands of South Cotabato province surrendered over the weekend to police authorities in T'boli town.

Sr. Supt. Nelstor Salcedo. South Cotabato police director, said Monday the rebels yielded voluntarily at around 8 a.m. Saturday in Sitio Tabudtod, Barangay New Dumangas in Tboli following a series of negotiations.

He identified the returnees as Nitong and Jing Garcito, who were reportedly former members of the NPA’s Front 73.

The two gave up their caliber .45 handguns and an improvised explosive designed as a landmine, he said.

“We initially received information about their plans to surrender so we reached out to their families and eventually established communication with them,” Salcedo said.

The police official said the negotiations took several days until they were able to convince the rebels to yield along with their firearms.

During their talks, he said they explained the government’s assistance programs for rebel returnees, especially the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP).

Through the program, Salcedo assured that the returnees will be provided with livelihood assistance and receive additional cash benefits for the surrendered firearms.

CLIP reintegrates former rebels into the social mainstream and uplifts their socio-economic conditions to enable them to become active partners in the local development.

The program also seeks to contribute towards the achievement of the goal of permanent peaceful closure of all armed conflicts with non-state armed groups.

Salcedo said they will also assist the returnees in facing the charges of arson and kidnapping with serious illegal detention previously filed against them.

He said these cases were due to the series of attacks staged by NPA rebels under the Front 73 in Tboli town in the past several years.

“We explained to them that it’s better for them to face these charges instead of hiding as they will continue to be targeted because of them,” he said.

Salcedo assured the security of the two returnees, who are currently under the custody of the Tboli municipal police station, in coordination with the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion.

2 Army battalions returning to Samar this year

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5): 2 Army battalions returning to Samar this year

The two battalions of the Philippine Army’s 8th Infantry Division will be returning to the Samar Island this year, Samar Governor Sharee Ann Tan-de los Santos confirmed on Monday.

Tan, the chairperson of the Regional Peace and Order Council, said based on her discussions with President Rodrigo Duterte and top officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, they promised to send the 34th Infantry Battalion (IB) and 46th IB back to Samar Island within this year to help secure Samar areas from the threats of the New People’s Army (NPA).

The 34th IB and 46th IB have been deployed in Marawi City after the ISIS-inspired Maute group attacked the city in May 2017.

Before their deployment, the 34th IB camp was based in Catubig, Northern Samar. In 2015, the troop was deployed in Maguindanao to help fight against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

The 46th IB was stationed in Basey, Samar prior to their deployment in Central Mindanao. Their mission was to improve peace and order situation threatened by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

“The commitment was to return the two battalions within this year. They said that they are only waiting for the situation in Marawi to get better,” Tan added.

This is good news for the region, according to the governor because this is a big help in addressing the insurgency problem in Eastern Visayas.

“Insurgency problem in the region is still manageable with the help of the different local chief executives, but we need to have enough troops to maintain our peace and order situation so that the government can fully implement the infrastructure programs intended to conflict-stricken areas,” Tan said.

Aside from the 34th and 46th IB, two other battalions from Eastern Visayas are still in Mindanao -- the 63rd IB and the 19th IB.

Last October 2017, the Army’s 82nd Reconnaissance Company returned to Eastern Visayas after five months of fighting with the Maute group in Marawi City.

NDF consultant in Visayas still hiding in Panay

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5): NDF consultant in Visayas still hiding in Panay


Members of the Philippine Army’s 301st Infantry Brigade (IB) based in Dingle, Iloilo is still conducting search operations to arrest Maria Concepcion “Concha” Araneta-Bocala, peace consultant for Visayas of the National Democratic Front (NDF), who is currently out on bail.

In an interview Sunday afternoon, 301st IB commanding officer Brig. Gen. Pio Diñoso said Bocala is still hiding in Panay Island.

“Kasi dito yung kanyang comfort zone. Dito yung maraming tumulong sa kanya kung saan man siya gusto magtago (Because this is where her comfort zone is. It is here where she got help wherever she wanted to hide,” he said.

Diñoso said that each and every soldier of the 301st IB and other army units based here are searching for Bocala.

He said that some 8,000 policemen and 2,000 soldiers are looking for the NDF consultant thus he is confident of her arrest anytime soon.

Diñoso appealed for the cooperation of the public to help in providing information to Bocala’s whereabouts.

After terminating the peace talks with the communists last year, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte ordered for the arrest of NDF consultants.

Bocala was temporarily released from prison August last year to join the resumption of talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Communist Party of the Philippines in Oslo, Norway.

Bocala is also the spokesperson of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) regional committee in Panay Island.

She was temporarily released from prison after she posted PHP400,000-bail for her four criminal charges -- illegal possession of explosives and ammunition, murder and two rebellion charges.

Bocala was arrested in August 2015 in Molo, Iloilo City by joint forces of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group 6.

NegOcc to set up anti-terror operation centers

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5): NegOcc to set up anti-terror operation centers

BACOLOD CITY -- The provincial government of Negros Occidental will set up operation centers for its anti-terrorism body "Task Force Buglas" in two identified sites in this city.

Provincial Planning and Development Officer Ma. Lina Sanogal, task force action officer, said Monday the initiative is part of the province’s preparations to combat terror threats.

“We are very are much into the preparations. We have to be ready for any eventuality considering the threats,” she added.

Sanogal said the operation hubs will be established at the existing building of the Provincial Disaster Management Program Division within at the Panaad Park and Stadium and at the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office headquarters in Camp Alfredo Montelibano Sr.

“We hope to operationalize our centers for Task Force Buglas. We will procure equipment,” she said, adding that personnel from law enforcement agencies will help man the operations centers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Sanogal also said that during task force meeting on Monday, they approved projects, including a security application for real-time response.

The budget has been sourced from the Capitol’s disaster and peace and order funds.

Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. formed Task Force Buglas in June last year to counter terror threat down to the barangays.

Task Force Buglas includes task groups for anti-criminality spearheaded by the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office; internal security, Philippine Army; and coast watch, Philippine National Police Maritime Group.

The Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office is in-charge of humanitarian assistance and disaster response; Provincial Environmental Management Office, environmental protection; and Public Information Office from the Governor’s office, communications.

Marañon had urged local chief executives and barangay officials to work together to make the province peaceful, livable, and ready for further development.

“We must be vigilant and prepared. We should guard every locality,” the governor added.

Hunger, abuses push ASG members to surrender

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5): Hunger, abuses push ASG members to surrender

Difficulties in life and maltreatment are some of the reasons why members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) decided to surrender to the military authorities in Basilan province.

Brig. Gen. Juvymax Uy, Army’s 104th Infantry Brigade commander, on Monday said these were the revelations of the three notorious ASG members who surrendered to his command in Basilan.

Uy identified them as the following: Garama Sulayman, 21; Omar Jaljalis, 18; and, Marhaban Pael, 34, who surrendered on Saturday his battalion commanders.

Uy said Sulayman alias Abu Tarik is number nine in the list of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as among the notorious ASG member in Basilan.

Sulayman is a follower of ASG sub-leader Radzmil Jannatul.

Jaljalis alias Oman was among the followers of ASG Basilan-based leader Furudji Indama.

Uy said they turned over two M-16 “Baby Armalite” rifles and a carbine rifle with ammunition.

They said they decided to surrender due to hardship and hunger they experienced with the ASG. Besides, they also experienced manhandling and worst some of them were killed,” he said.

He said the surrenderees “are now happy that they finally have the chance to live a new life with with loved ones.”

They were brought to the headquarters of the Joint Task Force Basilan for custodial debriefing, medical checkup, and proper disposition.

“The surrenderees in the Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi (BaSulTa) areas continue to snowball as the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), 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,” Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Westmincom chief said.

The surrender of the three have brought to a total of 170 ASG members who surrendered to the government authorities.

Of the total, 75 have surrendered in Basilan; 60 in Sulu; 33 in Tawi-Tawi; and, two in Zamboanga City.

Abu Sayyaf attacks won't hamper dev't projects in ARMM

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6): Abu Sayyaf attacks won't hamper dev't projects in ARMM


Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has vowed to continue the implementation of infrastructure projects amid attacks by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) against workers undertaking the program.

Hataman issued the statement after the members of the ASG killed two workers and injured two others in an ambush last week at Barangay Baas, Lamitan City in the province of Basilan.
The victims were employees of the Department of Public Works and Highways in ARMM (DPWH-ARMM) which is undertaking road construction projects in the province.

“We remain firm in our determination to continue building the infrastructure our people need. Yes, we grieve, but these attacks will not deter the ARMM regional government from continuing efforts to provide the infrastructure and vital services our people need,” Hataman said in an interview here.

He noted that the Abu Sayyaf bandits persisted in attacking since 2012 the ARMM government’s ongoing construction of transcentral roads in Basilan.

He said the bandits are against the projects “because these roads provide the law enforcement and military personnel and their vehicles easier access to the Abu Sayyaf lairs on the island.”

He said the transcentral roads they are building are vital to connecting communities in the region and facilitating growth and development that will offer the people better opportunities for prosperity and peace.

“The DPWH-ARMM builds roads so that development can reach the most isolated and poorest communities--even if our district engineer has been attacked twice with hand grenades, even as the department has been subjected to numerous threats, and attempts at extortion,” he added.

An improvised bomb exploded on Thursday, February 1, at the residence of Engineer Soler Undug while another explosive was safely detonated after it was recovered at the residence of Engineer Bong Lasatan in Isabela City, Basilan.

Undug is the Basilan provincial engineer of the DPWH-ARMM while Lasatan is the assistant engineer of the provincial engineering office.

“Even as we mourn the deaths of the two workers, we condemn the attack on them and the assaults on the personnel of the ARMM who have been working to ensure that government services are delivered well so a lasting peace may become a reality here (in Basilan),” Hataman said.

Woman hurt in N. Cotabato grenade attack

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6): Woman hurt in N. Cotabato grenade attack

ALEOSAN, North Cotabato -- Police here have launched a massive manhunt against two men who tossed a hand grenade and injured a woman in the ensuing blast along the national highway on Sunday night.

“We are pursuing a lead, hopefully it will result to the identification, arrest and prosecution of the suspects,” Sr. Insp. Edwin Abantes, Aleosan town police chief, said Monday.

He identified the victim as Arlene Tamanal, a resident of Barangay Pagangan here.

Tamanal was walking toward a roadside variety store when the suspects, on board a motorbike, zipped by and lobbed a grenade towards her.

The victim sustained injuries on her hands and is getting medical attention at the Aleosan District Hospital.

Abantes said investigators are looking at land conflict as a possible motive of the attack based on the initial statement of the victim .

US reiterates ‘deep’ commitment, interest in SEA region

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6): US reiterates ‘deep’ commitment, interest in SEA region

With its continued counterterrorism partnership and military aid to Southeast Asian nations, the United States government reiterates its deep interest and commitment to the region, a senior State Department official said Monday.

In a teleconference with reporters (9:30 a.m. Philippine time), Ambassador Tina Kaidanow, principal deputy assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, said they are in fact pushing forward for more engagements with the states.

The envoy was initially asked what strategic policy Washington has in mind for the Southeast Asian region.

In the strategic waterway, America had been consistent in upholding its right to conduct freedom of navigation and overflight.

But in terms of bilateral cooperation with states, it is engaged in training local soldiers and providing military donations to help the area inch closer on the eradication of global terror networks.

In the Philippines alone, the US recently delivered ammunitions and weapons to enhance the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ counterterrorism capabilities.

Since the Marawi conflict broke out up to its recovery stage at present, Washington has also provided military and humanitarian assistance to the government.

Kaidanow said there is "a deep, deep, deep commitment on the part of the US government. We are working (on) it all the time."

Kaidanow held the briefing to discuss US participation in the 2018 Singapore International Airshow, which will run from February 6 to 11.

The airshow is a biennial event and is the largest defense exhibition and biennial international tradeshow in the Asia-Pacific region.

Roque insists bidding for warships completed during Aquino’s term

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6): Roque insists bidding for warships completed during Aquino’s term

The PHP16-billion Navy frigate deal was completed during the term of former President Benigno Aquino III, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque insisted Monday.

Roque made this remark after Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano urged Roque over the weekend to “familiarize” himself with the time line of the project before clearing the current administration.

Alejano earlier disagreed with Roque who said that the deal was completed during the previous administration noting that the warship contract was finalized between September 26 to 30, 2016 and signed on October 24, 2016 in President Rodrigo Duterte’s term.

In a Palace briefing, Roque explained that all the current administration had to do was hand out a Notice of Award to the winning bidder.

“Kailan ba kinondak ang post-qualification? Panahon ni Presidente Aquino, ‘di ba? Ang ginawa lang ng administrasyon na ito, Agosto, iyong Notice of Award. Pero everything in the bidding, natapos na iyan during the administration of President Aquino (“When was post-qualification conducted? During the term of President Aquino, right? What this administration did in August, is the Notice of Award. But everything in the bidding was completed during the administration of President Aquino.”),” Roque said.

Roque said the reason why the Duterte administration pushed through with the Notice of Award was because it was difficult to invoke the ground that procurement was not necessary.

“Paano naman natin masasabing hindi kailangan ang procurement, may problema nga tayo sa West Philippine Sea (How can we say that we don’t need procurement when we have a problem in the West Philippine Sea)?” Roque said, asking Alejano not to teach him the law.

“My suggestion to Congressman Alejano, he’s my friend, but please don’t teach me the law,” he added.

PNP to recruit 2K add'l SAF men

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6): PNP to recruit 2K add'l SAF men

The Philippine National Police (PNP) is planning to recruit an additional 2,000 Special Action Force (SAF) members for their operations against communist rebels and other lawless elements.

This was stressed by PNP Director General Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa in a Radyo Pilipinas report Tuesday.

Recruitment of these additional SAF members are also in line with President Rodrigo Duterte's order to strengthen the elite police unit which specializes in urban or city fighting.

Dela Rosa said the additional 2,000 SAF members was equivalent to five military battalions and could be utilized in countering rebel and communist threats.

Also, the PNP chief said the SAF had proven its fighting ability during the five-month campaign to liberate Marawi City from the Maute Group terrorists last year.

Dela Rosa leads rites deploying new SAF team to NBP

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 6): Dela Rosa leads rites deploying new SAF team to NBP

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa on Tuesday formally led the ceremony where the Special Action Force battalion, tasked to secure the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) and its high-profile drug inmates, was formally relieved by another SAF unit Tuesday.

In a Radyo Pilipinas report, Dela Rosa assured the public that members of the relieving SAF battalion had no previous duty on the NBP in Muntinlupa.

This was done to prevent familiarization with the high-profile inmates there, he added.

Dela Rosa said the relieving SAF team was headed by Chief Inspector Christopher Mendoza who had gained much experience in the five-month battle to liberate Marawi City from the Maute Group terrorists.

A SAF battalion is usually relieved from NBP duty every four months. But in this case, SAF head Director Noli Taliño said the previous contingent needed to be replaced as it had been on NBP duty for the last six months.

More NPAs surrendering every day – AFP

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 5): More NPAs surrendering every day – AFP

Camp Bancasi, Butuan City – A top leader of the New People’s Army (NPA) and 11 supporters of the insurgent group surrendered to the military last Saturday, according to 71st Infantry Battalion (71stIB) Civil Military Operations (CMO) officer First Lieut. Jhocell D. Asis.

Asis said the vice commander of the Sandatahang Yunit Pangpropaganda of Guerilla Front Committee 27 (FC 27) of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) Southern Mindanao Regional Committee (SMRC) voluntarily surrendered to 71st IB commander Lt. Col. Esteveyn E. Ducusin in Purok 8, Barangay Nueva Visayas, Mawab, Compostela Valley (ComVal) province on Saturday.

He was accompanied by eight of his men and 11 members of the FC 27 Solid Mass Organization (SMO).

The identities of those who surrendered were withheld for their safety.

The surrenderers are currently under debriefing in preparation for their active participation in the peace and development program currently implemented by the 71st IB and local government units in ComVal province, added the 71st CMO officer.

Last week, eight other NPA regulars belonging to guerilla-Front Committee 2, SRC 2 of the CPP-NPA-SMRC also voluntarily surrendered to the same unit in Mawab, ComVal province.

The surrenderers turned in anti-government documents, including reading materials entitled “100 Taon Rebolusyong Oktubre,” assorted live bullets and cellphones with high intelligence value.

“The significant number of NPAs, who are surrendering almost every day, is a manifestation that some NPA terrorists are already tired and because of this we continue our focused military operation to hunt down remaining communist terrorists who continue their violent acts against our constituents,” Ducusin said, in a statement sent to The Manila Bulletin on Sunday.

Philippine President Takes Wrong Steps after Marawi Triumph

From BenarNews (Feb 5): Philippine President Takes Wrong Steps after Marawi Triumph (By Zachary Abuza)


Bombs and artillery did not spare this mosque in Lumbac Madaya, a village in Marawi city, Oct. 26, 2017. Froilan Gallardo/BenarNews 
Four months have passed since the guns fell silent and the siege of the southern Philippine city of Marawi by pro-Islamic State (IS) militants ended. But popular disenchantment with President Rodrigo Duterte’s government could turn into more active support for extremists in the south because of a string of missteps by him.

The five-month battle in Marawi led to the deaths of more than 1,100 people, mostly militants, and displaced over 200,000 civilians.

The siege was an enormous setback for the Philippine government and its security forces. Not only were militants able to procure, stockpile and infiltrate more than 500 fighters and weapons into the city, the military’s random shelling also left much of the city in ruins.

Although many of the militants’ leaders, including the Maute brothers and Abu Sayyaf’s Isnilon Hapilon, were killed, several senior leaders apparently escaped and have begun recruiting anew.

Using funds looted from banks during the siege, the militants are reportedly actively recruiting, paying families large sums for their sons.

One local press account cited a family that was paid 15,000 pesos (about U.S. $300), more than the average annual income in the region, for their 11-year-old son.

The tide of public opinion toward the government was already low. Angry at the mishandling of the war, the five months it took to defeat the militants, the extension of martial law and the squalor of life in temporary shelters, the displaced residents were anxious to return what little was left of their homes.

The government has done a very poor job at managing expectations. The recent announcement that reconstruction would take up to four years infuriated locals.

This alone would be a challenge for any government. But the Duterte government has made a number of errors in the past three months, which compounded the situation.

In the aftermath of Marawi, President Duterte pledged to make the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) a legislative priority.

Indeed, in January the Senate held an inspection tour and meetings with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), where lawmakers assured them passage of the BBL.

The Senate does seem to understand the urgency of the bill, as MILF continues to lose disaffected members to more radical groups. But the real problem is in the House of Representatives, whose members are more parochial, and where empathy for the Moros appear weaker. And a critical issue is whether Congress will pass the BBL that the Bangsamoro Transition Committee submitted or continue to water down key provisions of the bill.

Stoking the fire

An added problem is that Duterte remains focused on his primary legislative goal, a constitutional amendment to create a federal system. Although he promised MILF that the BBL would come first, the president is aware that he only has so much political capital.

Duterte seemed to undermine his own pledge in mid-December, when he publicly questioned the constitutionality of the BBL.

“I do not think that it will hurdle constitutional – binabasa ko paulit-ulit (I keep reading it repeatedly) – the constitutional barriers. … MILF wants territory. If you do that, it does not fit in the rule of [the] Constitution, you have to amend the Constitution,” he said.

More recently, he has made the case that federalism has to come first to ensure the constitutionality of the BBL, but that argument could be spurious. The BBL – either the 2014 version or the current watered down iteration – has never been challenged in court.

But Duterte’s move has angered the MILF. And many MILF revival organizations can point to it as evidence of the Philippine government’s continued duplicity in its commitment to Moro autonomy.

Duterte’s push for federalism threw an unexpected wrench into the works. Duterte ally Aquilino Pimentel Jr., a former president of the Philippine Senate, publicly asserted that any devolved federal system should include the Malaysian state of Sabah as the “13th Federal State.”

This is something that the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), in particular Duterte ally Nur Misuari, will seize upon.

While it does not seem a major issue, the MNLF, dominated by ethnic Tausugs in the Sulu archipelago, claims Sabah. MILF, which receives key support from Malaysia, does not. This is yet another wedge in issues between the rival organizations, when a common position on the peace process is more important than ever.

Furthermore, the claim to Sabah, which Duterte himself has made, was quickly rebuffed by the Malaysian government, arguing that the matter was resolved in the 1963 referendum, and was therefore a moot point.

More to the point, Malaysia warned that the Philippines risked undermining the close cooperation in regional security should it revive its dormant claim. Malaysia sponsors the peace process with the MILF, leads the peace monitoring mission, and is a key partner in the maritime trilateral policing agreement with the Philippines and Indonesia.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has further raised hackles by stating its intention to build a military base in the middle of Marawi to “deter” another attack by militants. Yet, Marawi is already part of the existing Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). (Passage of the BBL would supplant the ARMM with the Bangsamoro).

While the military is allowed to have bases within the ARMM or Bangsamoro, it certainly violates the spirit of the agreement. The Moro are supposed to be responsible for their own security. And one of their core grievances is that they already feel like they are under Philippine occupation.

Beyond bad optics, construction of a military base will divert resources, funding and manpower away from urban reconstruction, which should be the government’s top priority.

Facing other security issues

Finally, there has been a spate of violence across Mindanao, Basilan and Sulu that serves to remind just how many security challenges the government faces.

In early January, security forces were ambushed by militants from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which broke away from the MILF in 2008. The two-day battle left one soldier dead. BIFF members launched several attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), including a botched one in December that left 16 civilians wounded.

On Jan. 19, the Philippine military engaged the regrouped Maute forces in their first battles since Marawi; leaving 8 soldiers wounded.

In a number of small operations, the Mautes have shown that they have quickly reconstituted.

And in the past week, the Abu Sayyaf have killed four civilians. Despite the military's claims of more defections, the Abu Sayyaf has shown proof that it is able to attack at will.

The reality is there remains too much ungoverned space in the southern Philippines. And a small but steady stream of foreign militants continues to exploit that, helping the alphabet soup of local militant groups to regroup and forge tactical alliances.

[Zachary Abuza is a professor at the National War College in Washington and the author of “Forging Peace in Southeast Asia: Insurgencies, Peace Processes, and Reconciliation.” The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of the U.S. Department of Defense, the National War College or BenarNews.]

Philippines' Battle for Marawi shows how South-East Asia can unite to fight terrorism

From the Sydney Morning Herald (Feb 6): Philippines' Battle for Marawi shows how South-East Asia can unite to fight terrorism (By John Blaxland)

The battle for Marawi, on the Philippines island of Mindanao, raged for months in the second half of last year as the Philippines' military and police struggled against an insurgency aligned with the so-called Islamic State group, or Daesh.

Recognising the potential regional ramifications if the conflict were to spread, neighbours aided the Philippines. Malaysia and Indonesia, for instance, looked on with deep concern, seeking to coordinate and de-conflict their efforts. They had earlier signed a maritime cooperation agreement in July 2016 covering the Sulu Sea – an area that sits in the legal and administrative twilight zone between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. They attentively looked on, as did Brunei, as the battle raged.

An armed Philippine coast guard unit leave the liberated Marawi late last year. Photo: Bullit Marquez

Australia and Singapore offered to help, as did the United States. Australia made available upon request some maritime patrol aircraft.

The battle for Marawi appears to be over – for now. But there is genuine concern that the flames of violent Islamist jihadism could erupt again – not just in Mindanao but across the archipelagic space that is maritime South-East Asia. Mindful of the potential for a recurrence, a joint taskforce was sent afterwards to help the Philippine security forces as part of a broader counter-terrorism program. Beyond such bilateral engagement, however, the collaborative efforts over Marawi point to the need to develop extra, sub-regional institutional mechanisms to preserve that level of collaboration and take it even further.

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With such concerns in mind, Indonesia's Defence Minister, Ryamizard Ryacudu, along with his counterparts from Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Philippines and Thailand, recently agreed to form the six-party "our eyes" intelligence-sharing network. In announcing its creation, Ryacudu noted that Japan, Australia and the US were viewed as countries that would be looked to for support. This is unsurprising given the advanced intelligence and military capabilities these three countries possess.

In particular, though, there are indications that the Philippine authorities were impressed with the low-key and non-bellicose approach the Australian Defence Force took to helping the Philippines' armed forces. As a result, Australia has emerged as arguably the most significant training partners for the Philippines' military. The Australian joint taskforce's job is to cooperate with Philippine security forces, exchange information and share insights on improving each other's counter-terrorism capability.

As it happens, while Australia has shared lessons from its experience with maritime, air and land-based security operations in the Middle East, Australia has, in turn learned from the Philippines and derived a greater understanding of how urban terrorism tactics are morphing when applied in South-East Asia.
Australia's Defence Minister, Marise Payne, capitalised on these developments to convene in Perth last week a sub-regional defence ministers meeting. It included officials from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

A P3 Orion US surveillance plane flying over Marawi. Australian Orions also helped the Philippine government. Photo: Aaron Favila

The meeting exchanged lessons from recent counter-terrorism operations in the Philippines, shared information on regional threats as seen from an Indonesian perspective, and sought to enhance maritime counter-terrorism activities.

For some time now, Payne has advocated for contributing states to share more information on regional terrorist threats. Her initiative seems aimed at bolstering archipelagic maritime border security by working collaboratively with the respective navies and coast guards to choke off terrorists' inter-island freedom of movement.

Australia has always had an interest in working in and with the region to bolster security and stability, particularly with the states of South-East Asia and, where possible, with the Association of South-East Asian Nations itself. But "unity in diversity" has been more of an aspirational motto than a statement of fact within ASEAN. Still, that doesn't preclude the emergence of a sub-regional grouping like this.

Along with Australia, six contributing South-East Asian nations make up this sub-regional group – the original five that formed ASEAN at the height of the Cold War in 1967, plus Brunei. For Australia, it makes sense to work closely with these six. After all, they are geographically close to Australia, with many institutional links dating back generations. And it is in the shared space that the challenges of terrorism and maritime security have been most salient.

[John Blaxland is a professor of international security and intelligence studies at the Australian National University's Coral Bell school of Asia Pacific affairs. Twitter: @JohnBlaxland1]

NPA leader held by Caraga joint police-military group

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 4): NPA leader held by Caraga joint police-military group

Another leader of the New People’s Army (NPA) who is said to be a wanted murder suspect has been arrested by joint police and military officers in the Caraga region over the weekend, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said.


In a statement late Saturday, the PNP-Caraga (Police Regional Office-13) identified the apprehended suspect as Leonida Padilla Guao, 64, of Purok 6, Brgy. Babag, Butuan City.

According to police, Guao was identified as the head of the Finance and Regional Education Bureau of the Northeastern Mindanao Regional Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP/NPA).

Police said Guao was arrested around 2:50 p.m. Friday in Purok 3B, Brgy. Bading, Butuan City, after elements of the Regional Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit-13 (13th RCIDU), and Regional Intelligence Division, backed by elements of the 402nd Brigade of the Philippine Army, served an arrest warrant against her.

Police said they confiscated from Guao a caliber .45 pistol with magazine, a holster, six rounds of live ammunition, five blasting caps and a roll of detonating cord.

Guao’s capture has been the latest among a series of arrests made by authorities against the NPA since President Duterte officially terminated the peace talks between the national government and the leftist groups late last year.

Last January 31, police arrested National Democratic Front leader consultant Rafael Baylosis and alleged NPA recruit Guillermo Roque in Quezon City.

Two days later, police and military served a warrant of arrest against CPP secretary Dorango Salinas after attending a hearing in Ozamis City, Misamis Occidental.

Another communist rebel, Leonida Guao, who is said to be the finance officer of the Mindanao-based NPA in Butuan City, was apprehended by authorities also last week.

With the souring relationship between the leftist groups and the government, Anakpawis party-list representative Ariel Casilao warned of the possibility that the NPAs will also “arrest” government officials if the police and military continue to imprison them.

Activists earlier said that the arrest of communist rebels, especially Baylosis, violated the ‘existing’ Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) which granted temporary freedom on imprisoned rebel leaders when they were chosen to participate in the peace talks.

The PNP are also hot on trail against CPP-NPA leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon.

General says unlicensed guns down to 4,100 in Sulu

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 5): General says unlicensed guns down to 4,100 in Sulu

The military shows rifles and bullets surrendered by a mayor and his village chiefs in Sulu province. —PHOTO FROM NAVAL FORCES WESTERN MINDANAO

A military commander said relentless operations by government forces led to a sharp decline in the number of unlicensed guns in the province of Sulu, a known lair of the terror group, Abu Sayyaf.

Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Sulu military chief, said the number of unlicensed guns believed to be still in circulation was down to just 4,100 or 10 guns per village in the province with 410 villages in 19 towns.

In 2002, former Sulu military chief Col. Romeo Tolentino estimated the number of illegal firearms at 33,000.

Sobejana said raids and surrender of guns helped reduce the number of unlicensed guns.

 The latest surrender of guns was made by Anton Burahan, mayor of Pata town, and his village chiefs.

Philippines vows to crush ‘weakened’ Abu Sayyaf terror group

From the Asian Correspondent (Feb 5): Philippines vows to crush ‘weakened’ Abu Sayyaf terror group


Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez Jr, Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, said they are “winning the war” against the Abu Sayyaf. Source: Twitter/@TheUrbanNewz

Military operations will continue against the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group in the southern Philippines to defeat the Islamic State-inspired militants, officials said Monday, claiming the enemy’s strength has been weakened with over 350 members neutralised since last year.

Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez Jr, Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, said they are “winning the war” against the Abu Sayyaf not only because of the intensified military offensives but also due to the support of local government officials and the residents.

“We have made great strides in accomplishing our mission to significantly defeat the capability of the Abu Sayyaf Group in Sulu, Basilan, and Tawi-Tawi provinces,” he said. “We were able to strategically control the Sulu and Tawi-Tawi waters and prevented the series of high-profile kidnappings in the tri-boundary of the waters of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.”

SEE ALSO: Philippines: Abu Sayyaf militants behead kidnapped soldier – army

The Abu Sayyaf group gained international notoriety after abducting 21 people, including Western tourists, at a posh resort in Sipadan, Malaysia in 2000.

In 2016, it was blamed for the spate of kidnappings of Malaysian and Indonesian sailors at the porous sea border that prompted the three neighbouring countries to intensify maritime security cooperation.

The United States has long classified the Mindanao-based Abu Sayyaf Group as a foreign terrorist organisation.

Last May 23, Abu Sayyaf chieftain Isnilon Hapilon, the designated emir of Islamic State in Southeast Asia, and the Maute brothers attacked Marawi City in a bid to establish a “wilayat” or Islamic province there.

SEE ALSO: Philippines: Martial law extended in Mindanao for another year

The five-month war displaced more than 350,000 civilians and killed some 1,100 individuals, mostly Islamic militants including Hapilon and the Maute brothers.

Due to the Marawi siege, President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire island of Mindanao under martial law. Congress granted Duterte’s request to extend military rule in Mindanao until the end of 2018, whose constitutionality has been challenged by critics before the Supreme Court.

In asking for the extension, the strongman cited the security threats posed by the Abu Sayyaf and other terrorist groups.

Abu Sayyaf militants pose in the Philippines. Source: YouTube
Galvez said that from Jan 1, 2017 to date, at least 150 Abu Sayyaf members have surrendered as state forces employed constant military pressure against the Islamic militants in the island-provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

Westmincom data also showed that 128 Abu Sayyaf members were killed while 80 others were arrested during different operations in the entire 2017. Government troops also recovered and seized at least 223 firearms from the Abu Sayyaf bandits last year.

Duterte had earlier gave the military a June 2017 deadline to finish off the Abu Sayyaf, but the war that erupted in Marawi “hampered” it as troops were deployed there, Galvez said.

SEE ALSO: Philippines: Army to receive urban combat training after war in Marawi

Students from Mindanao State University (MSU) paint a mural symbolizing a call for peace after the end of assault against pro-Islamic State militant groups in Marawi, on a wall along a main highway of Pantar, Lanao Del Norte, southern Philippines, October 28, 2017. Source: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

Galvez urged the estimated 300 remaining Abu Sayyaf members to return to the fold of the law and become productive members of society with the help of the government.

“The government, in coordination with the Ulama (Islamic scholars), has prepared rehabilitation programs to those who have surrendered to ensure that they do not go back to their (wrong) beliefs,” the official said in a statement.

Mujiv Hataman, governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), said the regional government has poured funds to develop infrastructure, including farm-to-market roads, and livelihood projects in areas with Abu Sayyaf presence to encourage the militants to give up their firearms.

Hataman said the ARMM regional government last year launched a psycho-social and livelihood intervention for Abu Sayyaf surrenderers to help them start fresh lives.

“We hope these initiatives will encourage other Abu Sayyaf members to lead mainstream lives,” the governor said.

Double murder | Army tags NPAs in death of tribal leader, son

From the Mindanao Times (Feb 4): Double murder | Army tags NPAs in death of tribal leader, son

A tribal leader and his son were killed inside their house in Talaingod, Davao del Norte Sunday dawn.

Unidentified armed men who posed as soldiers killed Datu Banadjao Mampaundag and son Jhonard around 4 a.m. Sunday in Sitio Igang, Barangay Palma Gil,

Mampaundag was one of the tribal leaders who signed a manifesto of support to the government’s peace effort in the recently concluded Indigenous People Leaders’ Summit at Camp Felix Apolinario, the headquarters of the Philippine Army’s Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom), in Panacan last week.

Major Ezra Balagtey, EastMinCom spokesperson, said a group of rebels arrived in Sitio Igang.

The commander was speaking in Tagalog as he gave command to his subordinates as if they were government soldiers.

But the armed men suddenly shot at Mampaundag’s house, hitting the victims.

Medical personnel of the Talaingod municipal government tried to rush to the area with an ambulance. But they were forced to cancel when they heard a loud explosion.

Capt. Jodel Balanban, the newly appointed civil-military operations (CMO) officer of the 60th Infantry Battalion, said the improvised explosive device (IED) that exploded was just near the Talaingod highway.

As of this writing, the cadavers of the victims are still in Sitio Igang waiting to be retrieved.

NPAs are still in the area preparing an ambush and possible IED attacks on responding troops, officials said.

Balanban said they are identifying the perpetrators.

The military said the murder could be an offshoot of the IP leaders commitment to stay away from the communist insurgents.

Datu Mampaundag was one of the almost 1,000 IP leaders who attended the peace summit supporting the government last Feb. 1 to 2 in Panacan.

President Rodrigo Duterte attended the summit.

4 NPA members surrender

From the Mindanao Times (Feb 4): 4 NPA members surrender

Four members and supporters of the New People’s Army surrendered to soldiers and local officials of Mati City, Davao Oriental on Feb. 1.

Capt. Jerry Lamosao, the spokesperson of 10th Infantry Division, identified one of the rebels as alias Nina, 46, who surrendered to the 701st Infantry Brigade around 1:30 p.m. through the help of barangay Kagawad Francis Pormares of Sainz.

The surrenderee was reportedly a member of the group for three years.

“(Nina) revealed that she was frequently contracted by Alias Baytol to purchase goods for the NPA,” the report said.

At around 3 p.m. of the same date, Compostela Valley Gov. Jayvee Tyron Uy facilitated the surrender (without firearm) of another NPA member and two supporters to Lt. Col. Oscar B Balignasay Jr., commander of the 25th IB in Camp Kalaw, Poblacion Monkayo.

One of them was a political guide of the NPA, and two more members of mass-based organizations.

Uy welcomed the surrender of the communist rebels and supporters and promised that the government is more than ready to help them get back their lives. He said the local government plays a crucial role in the delivery of basic social services, peace and order, and information dissemination.

“Moreover, LGUs also have a fine grasp on the dynamics of peace and conflict in their respective localities,” he said. “This knowledge coupled with the AFP’s resources surely spells half of our pursuit to bring an end to armed conflicts in our province.”

Maj. Gen. Noel S Clement, commander of the 10th ID, lauded the governor’s effort in protecting the communities from the influence of the NPA.

“The Regional Peace and Order Council is truly an effective instrument in bringing down the CPP-NPA terrorists’ capability in terms of manpower and firearms,” Clement said.

WestMinCom awards scout rangers for gallantry in Marawi City fighting

From Rappler (Feb 5): WestMinCom awards scout rangers for gallantry in Marawi City fighting

The 5th Scout Ranger Battalion troops are awarded Gold Cross Medals during their send-off

AWARDING. Members of the 5th Scout Ranger Battalion are given Gold Cross Medals at a ceremony on February 5, 2018. Photo by Richard Falcatan/Rappler

AWARDING. Members of the 5th Scout Ranger Battalion are given Gold Cross Medals at a ceremony on February 5, 2018. Photo by Richard Falcatan/Rappler

Scout rangers from Marawi City were awarded Gold Cross Medals during a send-off on Monday, February 5, held at Western Mindanao Command headquarters in Camp Navarro, Calarian during the morning flag-raising ceremony.

Gold Cross Medals were awarded to 1st Lieutenant Jay-Arr Quiapo, Sergeant Gerry Gaspar Padayogdog, Sergeant Antonino Basa, Corporal Lisan Aspacio, and Corporal Rodrigo Novilla of the 5th Scout Ranger Battalion (5SRBn) for their gallantry during the series of armed engagements with Maute fighters in Marawi City.

The 5SRBn troops will be deployed to the province of Sulu to defeat members of the Abu Sayyaf Group in the province.

FLAG-RAISING. Soldiers stand at attention during the flag raising ceremony at Western Mindanao Command on February 5, 2018. Photo by Richard Falcatan/Rappler

The unit was just recently activated and was first deployed in Marawi City during the height of the battle. Its battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Marlo Jomalesa, led the unit during series of unit trainings at Camp Malagutay, Zamboanga while awaiting its deployment.

Addressing the rangers, Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez Jr said, “I am sure that you will do well in defeating the threats in Sulu as you did a great job in leading the fight to liberate Marawi City from the claws of the terrorists.”

“I am confident that you will be able to deliver the soonest," Galvez added.

Photos show China's massive construction, runway on PH reef

From Rappler (Feb 5): Photos show China's massive construction, runway on PH reef

China ignores a ruling of the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration that declared Mischief Reef a part of the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone

2016 PHOTO. Structures seen on a satellite image of Mischief Reef on November 15, 2016, released December 13, 2016. Image courtesy of CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe

2016 PHOTO. Structures seen on a satellite image of Mischief Reef on November 15, 2016, released December 13, 2016. Image courtesy of CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe

China continued massive construction on Panganiban (Mischief) Reef off the coast of Palawan to build facilities and a runway despite a 2016 international court ruling that categorically declared the maritime feature as part of the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Close-up aerial photos obtained by the Philippine Daily Inquirer show a concrete runway, two radomes for radar equipment, two hangars, and a control tower on the reclaimed reef in the Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea, one of 7 maritime features that China reclaimed in recent years.

Military ships and cargo vessels used to transport construction materials also littered waters inside and outside the reef. The photos were taken between June and December 2017.
ICYMI: Take a look at China’s man-made islands in the South China Sea from an air patrol perspective. | @FMangosingINQ

Read more:— Inquirer (@inquirerdotnet) February 5, 2018

The United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Haque ruled in July 2016 that the reef was inside the 200-nautical-mile EEZ of the Philippines. It said China's actions were clear violations of the country's sovereignty. (READ: HIGHLIGHTS OF THE RULING: China violated PH sovereign rights)

The ruling came out during the first month of President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang. He shifted government policy in the disputed waters to set aside the international court ruling in favor of warmer relations with China.

The Duterte administration boasted about how Filipino fishermen have been able to return to their traditional fishing grounds in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off the coast of Zambales. Investments from China also poured in.

Still, there were reports of harassment against Filipino fishermen in Panatag and not too many of them have supposedly been encouraged to return.

Mischief Reef is strategically located militarily. A former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had warned that China's occupation could make it difficult for the country to access certain areas inside its EEZ.

MISCHIEF REEF IN 2015. The Philippine military first warned against the reclamation of Mischief Reef back in 2015.

In 2015, when reclamation was just starting on Mischief Reef, former AFP chief retired General Gregoria Catapang Jr called on China to stop its activities. (READ: China reclamation may cut PH access to West PH Sea)

"Our biggest problem now is Mischief (Panganiban) Reef. It threatens all our areas including the Ayungin Shoal," Catapang said then, presenting a map that showed the proximity of Mischief Reef to areas that the Philippines occupies.

Mischief Reef is only 23 nautical miles away from Ayungin Shoal, where the Philippines grounded a World War II warship that now serves as a naval post for Philippine Marines guarding the Philippine territory.

The international court ruling also declared Ayungin Shoal to be inside the Philippine EEZ. In a standoff in 2014, China attempted to block a Philippine ship that sought to bring troops and supplies to Ayungin Shoal. Reporters from local and international media organizations were among the passengers of the Philippine ship.

2016 PHOTO. Structures seen In a satellite image of Mischief Reef on November 15, 2016, released December 13, 2016. Image courtesy of CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative/DigitalGlobe

The Philippine Daily Inquirer also published close-up photos showing China's massive construction on two other Philippine-claimed reefs that host runways – Zamora (Subi) Reef and Kagitingan (Fiery Cross Reef).

Zamora Reef is located less than 20 nautical miles from the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, where about a hundred Filipino civilians reside.

The US-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative tagged these reefs as China's "Big Three".

Meanwhile, the Philippines continues to suffer delays in repairing its only runway in the West Philippine Sea amid protests from China. (READ: PH gears again to fix runway in West PH Sea island after delays)

Malacañang on China buildup on PH reef: What do you want us to do?

From Rappler (Feb 5): Malacañang on China buildup on PH reef: What do you want us to do?

(UPDATED) Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque again downplays continued militarization by China of artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea

DUTERTE AND CHINA. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is given a tour inside the Chinese Navy vessel Chang Chun where he was able to see the armaments, the deck, the bridge navigation system, and operations room command and control system. Malacañang file photo

DUTERTE AND CHINA. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is given a tour inside the Chinese Navy vessel Chang Chun where he was able to see the armaments, the deck, the bridge navigation system, and operations room command and control system. Malacañang file photo

(UPDATED) – Malacañang, on Monday, February 5, portrayed itself as helpless in the face of China's continued construction on Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef), a reef that belongs to the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

"If the Aquino administration was not able to do anything about these artificial islands, what do they want us to do?" asked Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque during a Palace news briefing.

He was asked what the Philippine government intends to do about the new structures built by China on the reef located in the Spratlys which the Permanent Court of Arbitration, through a landmark ruling, affirmed belongs to the Philippines.

Photos show the reclaimed reef now has a concrete runway, two radomes for radar equipment, two hangars, and a control tower.

Roque said the reclamation of the reefs in the Spratlys began during the administration of Benigno Aquino III and that the government had already known then of China's plan to build military structures on them.

"I think whether or not we like it, they intended to use them as military bases. So, what do you want us to say? All that we could do is to extract a promise from China not to reclaim any new artificial islands," said President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman.

Asked if the Philippines intends to file a diplomatic protest against China, Roque was evasive.

"In the first place, it did not happen overnight. I think the previous administration must have filed also a protest, when it became apparent that they were going to be used as military bases," he said.

Roque insisted that the only red flag for Malacañang is if China creates more artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea.

This despite Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana saying a month ago that even just military buildup on existing artificial islands is a violation of China's promise.

"I know for a fact that the Chinese government said some time ago that they are not going to militarize those reclaimed islands," said Lorenzana last January 8.

"If it is true and we can prove that they have been putting soldiers and weapons, then it will be a violation of what they said," he added.

Asked to explain the discrepancy between his remarks and that of the defense chief, Roque said he can only speak for Duterte and not for other Cabinet members.

Options outside of war

This is the second time Roque has downplayed new Chinese construction in the West Philippine Sea. In early January, he also said the transformation of Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross Reef) into a Chinese air base was not a violation of China's "good faith commitment."

During the Monday briefing, Roque wondered out loud what else the Duterte administration could do in the face of China's continued construction on reclaimed reefs. He even asked reporters present for suggestions since declaring war against China is "impossible."

Supreme Court (SC) Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio had previously outlined 5 steps the Duterte administration could take to deter China's activities in the West Philippine Sea without going to war.

One of these steps is to file a diplomatic protest. Another is to send the Philippine Navy to patrol features in the EEZ.

Carpio also said the Philippines could ask for the assistance of the United States, possibly in the form of joint naval patrols. He also advised the government to avoid any act or statement that expressly or impliedly waives Philippine sovereignty to any Philippine territory in the West Philippine Sea. (READ: Why Justice Carpio wants China to read his e-book)

Asked about Carpio's criticism of the Duterte administration's decision to trust China's word on its activities in the West Philippine Sea, Roque said it would be better for Carpio to write a relevant court decision or to run for a post in government.

"He could run [for] an elective, legislative position if he wants to make policy for government," said Roque.

Galvez: Maute Group “virtually decimated”

From MindaNews (Feb 5): Galvez: Maute Group “virtually decimated”

The Maute Group is now considered “virtually decimated” as it has “no capability to wage war and it will take years before they could recover, if at all,” Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez told MindaNews in a telephone interview.

Galvez said only around 30 remnants of the Maute Group under Abu Dar have been monitored and he is confident that sustained military operations would “completely eliminate them” soon.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Western Mindanao Command says the Maute Group is now “virtually decimated” with only around 30 remnants but sustained military operations, he said, would completely eliminate them soon. MindaNews file photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

The Maute Group and other ISIS/Daesh-inspired allies laid siege on Marawi City on May 23 last year after a failed attempt by government forces to arrest its ally, Abu Sayyaf’s Isnilon Hapilon.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law some eight hours after the clashes started in the country’s lone Islamic City.

The siege lasted for five months and on October 17, a day after Hapilon and Omar Maute were killed by government troops, Duterte declared Marawi “liberated from the terrorist influence.” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana terminated all combat operations in the city on October 23, exactly five months after the siege began.

In July, martial law was extended until yearend 2017 but on December 13 last year, Congress approved President Duterte’s request to extend martial law until yearend 2018.

Galvez told MindaNews on Monday that martial law is still needed “to completely eliminate the threat of Daesh/ISIS and all forms of terrorism in Mindanao.

“We still have the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF)-Daesh threat in Central Mindanoa and the Abu Sayyaf Gorup in Basilan and Sulu. With martial law, we can dramatically reduce the terror and drug menace by yearend,” he said.

Galvez said the Maute remnants under Abu Dar will have a hard time recruiting members because mechanisms have been put in place at the local level to help prevent violent extremism.

He referred to the dialogues and coordination they have conducted with Muslim religious leaders and local officials.

Galvez cited their efforts in “diplomatic mentoring” which involves talking with local chief executives and in settling cases of ‘rido’ (clan feuds).

“Diplomatic mentoring is moral suasion for them to do what is morally right and what is good for their people… to respect rule of law and exercise their leadership to govern and promote the welfare of their people,” Galvez told MindaNews.

“Indirect disarming or voluntary surrender of firearms is just one consequential outcome of our broad diplomatic strategies,” he said.

Last Friday, Mayor Anton Burahan of Pata Island in Sulu surrendered a cache of weapons and ammunition to Brigadier General Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu.

The mayor surrendered 81MM mortar tubes; a 90 RR crew-served weapon; a barrel of caliber .50 MG; four M16 rifles; three M14 rifles; five Garand rifles; an M79 grenade launcher and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

A ‘rido’ settlement in Lanao del Sur also yielded several firearms from erstwhile warring clans.

Rebels giving up arms in exchange for government livelihood aid

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5): Rebels giving up arms in exchange for government livelihood aid

Aside from having a chance to live peacefully with their families and loved ones, more members of the New People's Army (NPA) are voluntarily surrendering to avail of the economic amelioration package being offered by the government.

This was disclosed by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo in an interview Sunday, noting that they have learned this through interviews with surrendered rebels.

Other factors forcing the communist rebels to surrender are constant military pressure and fatigue from incessant hiding and senseless fighting, he pointed out.

"And then meron tayong mga surrender at saka mga economic amelioration packages na ibinibigay para sa mga nagsu-surrender so bottomline by (surrendering) they don't just avoid yung possible neutralization sa mga encounters with government forces, mas makikita pa nila nagkaroon sila ng pagkakataon (to) be with their families and meron talagang opportunity para magbagong buhay kasi may mga economic package na nakukuha sila na matutulungan talaga sila na magsimula ng panibagong buhay," Arevalo added.

From Jan. 1 to 29, military records revealed that 310 NPA rebels surrendered in various parts of the country, while the remaining 16 voluntarily turned themselves in 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 Quiroga was a squad medic of the NPA operating in Davao Oriental designated as chair of ANAKPAWIS, 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 NPA, as well as in their humane treatment of the former rebels," he added.

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

AFP unfazed by 'Joma' warning to kill one soldier a day

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5): AFP unfazed by 'Joma' warning to kill one soldier a day

Despite warnings coming from Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria "Joma" Sison, the military is more than willing to carry out its mandate of protecting the country against all forms of threat.

This was emphasized by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo when sought for a comment regarding Sison's claim that the New People's Army (NPA) can kill at least one soldier a day to force the government to revive the peace talks.

"The Armed Forces of the Philippines will continue to do its mandate of serving and protecting the people from such terrorists like the NPA," he added Monday.

Also, Arevalo added that the CPP founder's claim only shows the true colors of the communist movement.

He stressed that such threats will not diminish the AFP's resolve in preserving the peace and aiding development in the countryside.

"(These threats) will not diminish our resolve to further enhance our services especially peace and development efforts; and infrastructure development particularly in the countryside," the military official pointed out.

Arevalo added that the risk of getting wounded or losing their lives in the line-of-duty is part and parcel of being a member of the AFP.

"To live in constant danger is part of the sworn duty of every serviceman. With or without threat to the lives of our soldiers, our troops will be there for our people in the communities where they are most needed," he stressed.

Palace assures safety of gov't peace negotiators

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5): Palace assures safety of gov't peace negotiators

Malacanang on Monday assured the safety of the government’s peace panel following reports that the New People’s Army (NPA) may retaliate in response to the arrest of National Democratic Front (NDF) consultant Rafael Baylosis and compatriot Guillermo Roque.

“The President (Rodrigo Duterte) is committed to ensuring the safety of the government’s peace panel, and our security forces are ready to perform their mandate at all times,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a Palace briefing.

Roque said the arrest of government negotiators as warned by Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao is a violation of the International Human Law (IHL) which assures protection to non-combatants.

“The NPA has absolutely no legal basis to arrest members of the government peace panel. It is criminal. It is a war crime,” Roque said.

He explained Baylosis’ arrest was lawful in connection with the NDF consultant’s murder raps over the 1985 Inopacan, Leyte massacre.

“We’d like to underscore first that the arrest of Mr. Baylosis was pursuant to a lawful arrest order. Now as such, we should allow the legal process to proceed so that our justice system can take its due course,” Roque said.

Roque said Baylosis can no longer use the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) as protection against arrest since peace talks have already been terminated by the government.

“JASIG does not have any binding effect now that the government has decided to terminate with the peace talks,” Roque said.

Roque questioned Casilao’s authority to talk about the NPAs’ warning against the government peace negotiators.

“Curiously, it appears that Congressman Casilao appears to be privy to information from inside the NPA. And to me, he sounded like he was speaking on behalf of the NPA,” he said.

Meanwhile, Roque said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will not be affected by another warning from Communist Party of the Philippines (CCP) founder Jose Maria Sison who said the NPA could kill one soldier per region in one day.

“Go ahead, make all the threats he want,” Roque said.

He said the government will just not give way to the demands of Sison whose combatants violated the ceasefire when the NPA launched series attacks against military at the height of the cancelled peace talks.

“Bakit kami luluhod, ano ba ang akala niya sa Hukbong Sandataan, hindi natin sila kaya? Manuod siya, ayaw ng Presidente sana na dumanak ng dugo, pero wag niyang tatakutin iyong gobyerno na parang kontrolado nila ang teritoryo ng Pilipinas, (Why we should bow to him? What does he think of the Armed Forces, that we cannot beat them? He should watch. The President does not want bloodshed but he (Sison) should not scare the government as if he has the control of the Philippine territory)” Roque said.

Despite threats from CPP/NPA leaders, Roque has reiterated the government’s call to the NPA fighters to lay down their arms and return to the fold of the law.

3 more patrol planes from Japan arriving next month: DND

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5): 3 more patrol planes from Japan arriving next month: DND

Three more Japanese-donated Beechcraft King Air TC-90 patrol aircraft will be transferred to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) by the third week of March.

This was announced by Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson Arsenio Andolong Monday.

The planes will be tentatively delivered to the Naval Air Group headquarters in Sangley Point, Cavite City, he added.

The first two TC-90s were delivered to the Philippines last March 27. With the pending arrival of the three planes, the number of Philippine-operated TC-90s will climb to five.

Last January 31, one of the first two delivered planes, with tail number 390, conducted its first maritime air patrol mission off Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, Zambales.

The TC-90s have a range of over 1,000 nautical miles, and a cruising speed of 260 knots and capable of carrying eight passengers along with the pilots.

As of this time, the Navy is operating around six Norman Britten "Islander" patrol aircraft, four GAF "Nomad" planes, five AgustaWestland combat utility helicopters and one Robinson R-22 training helicopter.

The TC-90, which is part of the Beechcraft King Air aircraft family, was offered by Japan shortly after the Agreement Concerning the Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology was finalized last Feb. 29, 2016.