Monday, February 12, 2018

Rights group and Reds: Duterte ‘inciting war crimes’

From InterAksyon (Feb 13): Rights group and Reds: Duterte ‘inciting war crimes’

A female NPA fighter (image from

Communist rebels and human rights advocates accused President Rodrigo Duterte of encouraging the commission of war crimes through his recent statements, including one in which he urged soldiers to shoot female guerrillas “in the vagina.”

This comment runs afoul of Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Cleo del Mundo, spokesperson of the New People’s Army’s Apolonio Mendoza Command in Quezon province, pointed out in a statement.

Article 27 says:

“Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honour, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof and against insults and public curiosity.

“Women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honour, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution, or any form of indecent assault.

“Without prejudice to the provisions relating to their state of health, age and sex, all protected persons shall be treated with the same consideration by the Party to the conflict in whose power they are, without any adverse distinction based, in particular, on race, religion or political opinion.

“However, the Parties to the conflict may take such measures of control and security in regard to protected persons as may be necessary as a result of the war.”

Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said in a separate statement that Duterte “incites the worst violations of international humanitarian law, aside from his exhortations to his State forces to disregard basic human and people’s rights.”

Even before he formally terminated peace negotiations with the communists last Novembe, Duterte had regularly threatened the NPA and even organizations he accuses of being “legal fronts” of the rebels.

Among Duterte’s most recent was an offer of P20,000 to indigenous people for each NPA member they kill. Last year, he also threatened to bomb lumad schools and, in a speech to troops engaged in the fighting in Marawi City, appeared to offer them protection if they committed rape.

His “shoot them in the vagina” quip was made in a speech before “rebel returnees” in Malacañang on February 7.

“It is thus no wonder, that his foot soldiers in the military to his minions in the executive branch, the police, and in both houses of Congress have shown the same kind of braggadocio, which is but a mere expression of the Duterte regime’s cowardice to account for its crimes against the Filipino people,” Palabay noted.

On the other hand, Del Mundo contrasted Duterte’s attitude towards women and human rights in general with that of the NPA, which she said “advances a just people’s war that has a high regard for the welfare of civilians, especially children and women.”

“Ang ganitong mataas na respeto sa kababaihan ang dahilan kung bakit nananatiling ang sektor ng kababaihan ay balon ng mga mandirigma, kumander at kadre ng CPP-NPA sa limang dekadang pakikidigma nito (This high respect for women is the reason why the women’s sector remains a well for fighters, commanders and cadres of the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines)-NPA in five decades of fighting),” she said.

On a personal note, she said this recognition of women’s rights “ang humikayat sa kagaya ko na mag-NPA at buong panahong maglingkod sa mamamayang Pilipino (is what convinced those like me to join the NPA and serve the Filipino people full time,” in her case, for more than a decade.

“Bilang ina at NPA na babae, nananawagan ako sa kababaihan ng bansa na mapagpasyang magbalikwas laban sa rehimeng US-Duterte. Madilim ang kinabukasan ng kababaihan sa rehimeng ito (As a mother and a female NPA, I call on th women of the country to turn their backs on the US-Duterte regime. The future for women is dark under this regime),” she said.

Del Mundo pointed out that the NPA’s code of discipline explicitly prohibits taking advantage of women and harming or verbally abusing others, especially prisoners, “the exact opposite of the policy pushed by the macho-fascist Duterte.”

She also urged soldiers and police personnel “to stand against your commander-in-chief” for “insulting the mothers who gave you the lives that Duterte is now gambling with in his demented war on drugs, martial law in Mindanao and Oplan Kapayapaan.”

Southern Mindanao rebels say slain lumad leader, son were militia recruiters

From InterAksyon (Feb 13): Southern Mindanao rebels say slain lumad leader, son were militia recruiters

(image from

Communist rebels in southern Mindanao admitted killing a lumad leader and his son in Talaingod, Davao del Norte early this month, saying they were militia recruiters who were the subjects of a “standing order” to punish them for alleged “landgrabbing, theft and extortion,” among other abuses.

In a statement, the New People’s Army Southern Mindanao Region Operational Command said Bandjao Mampaundag “was no hero or a benevolent tribal leader of Talaingod but a longtime Cafgu (Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit member) and rabid recruiter of the notorious Alamara paramilitary forces under the payroll of the 10th Infantry Division-AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines).”

“Weighing on the grave abuses and injustice masterminded and implemented by the Mampaundags in Talaingod, the NPA has meted the revolutionary justice that the masses have long sought for,” the rebel statement said.

Mampaundag, an Ata-Manobo who was among the indigenous people who attended a government-organized forum in Davao City that was addressed by President Rodrigo Duterte, and his son Jhonard, who the rebels said was also a Cafgu member, were killed in their home in Sitio Igang, Barangay Palma Gil on February 4.

The military said rebels dressed up as soldiers barged into Mampaundag’s home and shot him and his son dead then set off a bomb to dissuade an ambulance from bringing them to a hospital.

But the NPA said “the two were armed and attempted to open fire against the Red fighters.”

A .45 caliber pistol and a shotgun were seized from them, the rebels added.

The rebels said Mampaundag even ignored “appeals from his relatives and civilians in the community,” building a detachment and organizing Alamara, a paramilitary force that has long been accused by lumad communities of atrocities, and was also active in “intelligence gathering” for the military.

Villages who refused to join the militia were allegedly “ordered to leave their homes and farms.”

He was also accused of extortion and profiting from the sale of his tribe’s ancestral land to customers he handed “dubious land titles.”

“NPA fighters have repeatedly issued warning to Mampaundag and his son Jhonard, to desist from engaging in criminal activities and in the counterrevolutionary operations. In several occasions, Red fighters patiently explained to Mampaundag the perils of military detachment building amid the civilian populace, the conscription of Lumad for paramilitary work, and the dangers in abetting enemy’s search and combat operations,” the rebels said.

The Department of National Defense is now preparing the letter for the cancellation of the purchase of 16 Bell EPI combat utility helicopters

From Update Philippines (Feb 12): The Department of National Defense is now preparing the letter for the cancellation of the purchase of 16 Bell EPI combat utility helicopters

The Department of National Defense (DND) is now preparing the letter for the cancellation of the purchase of 16 Bell EPI combat utility helicopters (CUHs) worth PHP12 billion from Canada.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Monday he will sign the letter anytime this week.

“The formal letter cancelling the contract is being prepared and I will sign it this week. We are looking at Korea, Russia, China and Turkey and other countries for our the medium lift helicopters in lieu of the Bell 412,” Lorenzana emphasized.

But he admitted that the cancellation will affect the DND project to acquire medium-lift helicopters as this has set the process “back to square one”.

The cancellation came in wake of the Canadian government’s move to review the deal after receiving reports that the Philippines is planning to use the helicopters against rebel forces, a claim strongly denied by the DND and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

This prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to order the DND and AFP to cancel the deal with Bell Helicopter and Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) which is licensed to manufacture the Bell 412 EPI being ordered by country.

Earlier, the DND chief said that they are more than enough suppliers to meet the Philippine requirement for CUHs should the country’s contract with Bell Helicopter and CCC fall through or be terminated.

“Are there other suppliers if the Canada deal will not push through? Yes, there are,” Lorenzana stressed.

Earlier, AFP deputy chief of staff for plans Major Gen. Restituto Padilla said from the onset both Bell Helicopter and CCC are aware that the soon-to-be acquired 16 Bell EPI combat utility helicopters 412 EPI  will be utilized as “combat utility helicopter”.

“The AFP deal for the acquisition of the Canadian Bell 412 as a combat utility helicopter is a very transparent one. From the very onset, the contract has specified that we are acquiring a CUH,” he added.

“It’s intended use as combat utility helicopter is for the transport of troops especially combat casualties and for troop sustainment. It is not an offensive platform and not armed as such. We have dedicated attack helicopters as offensive platforms for such operations,” the military official pointed out.

Lorenzana, however, questioned the timing of raising the issue regarding the deal.

“Wrong (information) or not I think there is malice in the way it is being raised. First, This is just a repeat order. Why do they raise that issue now? Second, It is not an attack helicopter but a medium lift. Meaning pang hakot ng tao, supplies. Third, hindi naman ito hinihingi kundi bibilhin. We do not have to justify how we use these equipment,” he noted.

And since the Philippines lies in the path of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a disaster prone area, Padilla said the nation’s disaster response plan had tasked the AFP to take the lead in undertaking humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) during such times of contingencies.

On Dec. 29, 2017, Lorenzana and representatives of Bell Helicopter and CCC signed the deal for the purchase of the helicopters worth PHP12 billion. Representing Bell Helicopter in the contract signing was James Williamson and Yvonne Chin, CCC Director for Asia.

Delivery of the first Bell EPI combat utility helicopters 412 EPI  units are supposed to start by the first quarter of 2019 while the last batch will be handed over by the second quarter of 2020.

Acquisition of these helicopters is part of the AFP Modernization Program Horizon 2 and will be use in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and other-related missions.

These aircraft are fully configured and equipped with advance features, which includes an electronic engine control, a glass cockpit display system and Garmin touchscreen navigation system.

Generally, these helicopters are capable of carrying 14 passengers and flying at a maximum speed of 140 knots (around 259 kilometers), cruise speed of 122 knots (226 kilometers per hour) and a range of 402 nautical miles (745 kilometers). It is powered with an enhanced Pratt and Whitney PT6T-3D Twin Pac. (PNA)

Bell EPI combat utility helicopters

The Philippine Air Force is sending a woman pilot for training with the US Air Force

From Update Philippines (Feb 12): The Philippine Air Force is sending a woman pilot for training with the US Air Force

2nd Lieutenant Catherine Mae Emeterio Gonzales, who was among the Top 10 graduates of the Philippine Military Academy in 2017, is the first woman pilot aviator from the Philippine Air Force to be selected for the Aviation Leadership Program (ALP) in the United States.

Gonzales, the daughter of a carpenter from Pagadian City, will attend the ALP from February 2018 to May 2019, where she will receive 164 hours of flight training in the T-6A Texan II aircraft, as well as 239 hours of flight operations ground training.

She was selected by the Philippine Air Force selection board to attend the ALP.

Gonzales was one of 8 female graduates of the PMA Salaknib Class of 2017 who landed in the Top 10. Although they were from Pagadian, the Gonzaleses transferred to Zamboanga City when Catherine Mae enrolled at the Western Mindanao State University.

Eight women graduated top of their class at the country’s premier military school.
The Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 2017 is led by a female valedictorian, Rovi Mairel Valino Martinez of Cabanatuan City.

The PMA Salaknib (“Sanggalang ay Lakas at Bukay Para sa Kalayaan ng Inang Bayan”) Class of 2017 top 10 are as follows:

1. Rovi Mairel Valino Martinez, Cabanatuan City
2. Philip Modesto Viscaya, Ligao City, Albay
3. Eda Glis Buansi Marapao, Baguio City
4. Cathleen Jovie Santiano Baybayan, San Fernando, Pampanga
5. Carlo Emmanuel Manalasan, Canlas, Pampanga
6. Shiela Joy Ramiro Jallorina, Bagabag, Nueva Viscaya
7. Sheil Marie Calonge De Guzman, Manaoag, Pangasinan
8. Joyzy Mencias Funchica, Butuan City
9. Resie Jezreel Arrocena Hucalla, Compostella Valley
10.Catherine Mae Emeterio Gonzales, Zamboanga City

She said that her decision to become the first woman pilot was inspired by the 2013 Zamboanga siege, where she witnessed how the military air force won the battle.

“Since then, I started to dream of becoming a pilot,” Gonzales said. “During those times, I really felt a great eagerness to defend my hometown, and I thought I could be of great help to that mission from above, since insurgents are vulnerable from this point.”

“Serving my country as a female officer shows how the military profession has matured and opened for great changes by allowing us, female officers, to lead,” she added.

Prior to Catherine Mae’s graduation from PMA, the Gonzaleses were considered “indigents” of Zambowood Barangay.

The Aviation Leadership Program was established to provide pilot training, related training and information exchange to air force personnel in allied developing states with the purpose to support their aviation expertise and defense institution building.

Interestingly, once she finishes training in 2019, she could actually be ready to undergo transition training to the Embraer A-26B Super Tucano, which the PAF is expected to receive starting late next year.

The Philippine Air Force is sending a woman pilot for training with the US Air Force.

26 families flee village after threats by rebels

From the Mindanao Times (Feb 13): 26 families flee village after threats by rebels

TWENTY-SIX families comprising 77 individuals are still staying in the evacuation center after fleeing their homes in Barangay Cagawasan, Kibawe, Bukidnon on Saturday over alleged harassment by the New People’s Army.
Capt. Norman Tagros, the civil-military operations (CMO) officer of 403rd Infantry Brigade, said the 77 individuals sought shelter in the municipal hall compound of Kibawe starting on Saturday.

“Accordingly, they will not go back to their homes without the assurance of security,” Tagros told TIMES yesterday.

For now, Tagros said the 88th Infantry Battalion is still coordinating with the local government unit of Kibawe to take care of the needs of the evacuees.

Cagawasan Punong Barangay Roland T. Perequitte claimed that the communist rebels started threatening them after they reiterated their support for the military and the government.

“We do not want to be exploited by the NPA anymore,” he said, adding that they were used as couriers by the rebels, and also told to monitor movements of the soldiers in their community.

“Most importantly, we do no not want to be bothered by their presence. They are now accusing us of being military informants and threatening to murder us,” he added.

Meanwhile, the 88th Infantry Battalion is closely coordinating with the LGU of Kibawe, particularly the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office and the Municipal Police Station, to address the immediate needs of the Internally Displaced Persons.

In a statement, Brig. General Eric C. Vinoya, commander of the 403rd Infantry Brigade, criticized the NPA for harassing civilians.

“The Communist NPA terrorists are already desperate in their desire to win the support of the people and it is very unfortunate that they are resorting to violence,” Vinoya said.

“While their leadership said that they would attack the military and promised to kill one soldier a day, in reality, they are attacking the innocent and helpless civilians and Lumad leaders. This incident in Kibawe, Bukidnon is another manifestation of this terrorist organization’s gross disrespect to the Filipino people and we will not allow that,” Vinoya said.

The brigade commander has already directed the 88th Infantry Battalion to do all necessary measures to ensure the security of the community.

NPA commander, amazon killed in Agusan Sur clash

From the Mindanao Times (Feb 13): NPA commander, amazon killed in Agusan Sur clash

AN ALLEGED top leader of the New People’s Army (NPA) and a female member was killed in an encounter with the soldiers of 26th Infantry Battalion in Sitio Vergara, Barangay Sta. Emilia, Veruela, Agusan del Sur around 4 p.m. this Saturday.
Capt. Renato V. Oller Jr., the civil-military operations (CMO) officer of the 26th IB
, said the troops acted on a tip that the NPA rebels were spotted in a forested area of Barangay La Fortuna starting on Feb. 6. A firefight occurred on the early morning of Feb. 6 when they were ambushed by the rebels.

Four rebels were reportedly wounded in the initial clash. More soldiers were deployed to the area as reinforcement.

 On Feb. 9, soldiers encountered the rebels anew, which resulted in a 30-minute firefight. The troops chased the escaping NPAs, which resulted to another clash.

At around 4 p.m. on February 10, another encounter took place in Sitio Vergara, Barangay Sta Emilia, which lasted for about 25 minutes and killed Levi Amando Bangonan alias King, commanding officer of the SYP Platoon of Guerilla Front 3 of SMRC.

 Another unidentified amazon was found in the area. Soldiers also recovered eight backpacks, two improvised explosive devices, and subversive documents.

 Col. Andres Centino, commander of the 401st Infantry Brigade, said they will continue to pursue the escaping rebels.

“We have laid the better option for them. Their demise is of their own volition,” Centino added. “The people are fed up with all the lies and deceit. These NPA terrorists have no place in a peaceful community.”

Naval Education and Training Command personnel, students conduct cleanup activity

From the Philippine Information Agency (Feb 12): Naval Education and Training Command personnel, students conduct cleanup activity

About 1,108 personnel and students of Naval Education and Training Command conducted base and coastal cleanup activity in line with its 79thanniversary celebration. (Photos courtesy of NETC)

SAN ANTONIO, Zambales - About 1,108 personnel and students of Naval Education and Training Command (NETC) recently conducted base and coastal cleanup activity in line with its 79th anniversary celebration.

“This cleanup activity is part of the advocacy of the Navy Education and Training Command to promote a clean and healthy coastal environment,” NETC Commander RADM Danilo Rodelas said.

The base and coastal cleanup started with a muster at the Naval Station Gantioqui Leovigildo Grandstand.

“The activity involved clearing of all waste materials, debris and weeds of the Big Circle, (Naval Station Leovigildo Gantioqui Main Road) and 4.5-KM coastline from Tower NR4 to NSLG North Beach Area, boundary to the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy,” Rodelas added.

‘Lumad’ vs ‘lumad’ war feared over Du30 order

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 13): ‘Lumad’ vs ‘lumad’ war feared over Du30 order

Groups say bounty for slain NPA rebels ‘bastardization’ of IP culture

MORALE BOOST In this photo taken in June 2017, President Duterte visits soldiers at Camp Leono in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat province, to commend their efforts in the government’s battle against terrorists, communist rebels and bandits in Mindanao. —MALACAÑANG PHOTO

President Duterte’s plan to train “lumad” (indigenous peoples) as government militiamen and his promise to give them P20,000 for every slain New People’s Army (NPA) rebel would pit indigenous peoples (IPs) against each other, an alliance of minority groups based in Mindanao said.

Jerome Succor Aba, Sandugo cochair, said the offer was a bold attempt to reduce the lumad into being “mercenaries.”

“The lumad might be poor but it is not in their culture … to kill for money,” Aba told the Inquirer on Monday.

In Manila, Commission on Human Rights spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said the President’s statement suggested that IPs could be used as “instruments of violence against fellow Filipinos.”


“Lumad have long been victims of different forms of injustice. They form part of the country’s most vulnerable and marginalized,” De Guia told the Inquirer.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said this “bounty-hunting scheme” was a “divide and rule machination” that would further the deterioration of an already grim human rights situation in lumad communities.

ba, however, said Mr. Duterte’s offer would be seized by those who would be blinded by the offer.

“The list goes on of lumad getting killed by their fellow lumad who were trained, brainwashed and paid by the Philippine military and the government,” Aba said.

He said the government’s use of tribal people in the anti-insurgency campaign was not new, noting it had been blamed for killings in the provinces.

“By trying to divide and pit them against each other through military training and offer of money to kill is simply a bastardization of their culture. President Duterte reeks of the worst discrimination against the lumad,” Aba added.

Anticommunist groups

He warned the offer could also embolden the military to target those it simply suspected of being rebels.

Ryan Amper, spokesperson for the human rights group, Barug Katungod Mindanao, said Mr. Duterte’s offers of reward and training appeared to be an attempt to revive the dreaded anticommunist groups Alsa Masa, Tadtad, Pulahan and Ituman in a bloody witch hunt against any suspected communist rebel or sympathizer.

Blanket license
“Duterte is giving blanket license to kill to indigenous paramilitaries like the Alamara, Black Fighters, Bocales Group, Magahat, etc. They will not be able to kill armed NPA [rebels] for sure because the latter have the capacity to kill them as well. But they will massacre hapless civilians, parade their … bodies as slain combatants and claim the reward for themselves,” Amper said.

The military has been training lumad and other villagers to become Cafgu Active Auxiliary (CAA) members.

In December, dozens of Manobo, Tagakaulo, B’laan, Bagobo and T’boli lumad finished their basic military training in Sarangani province.
They became part of the 330 new CAA members who, the military said, would be deployed to their villages in the provinces of North Cotabato, South Cotabato and Davao Occidental.

“They are the communities’ first line of defense … One of their roles is to protect their communities from armed NPA [rebels],” said Col. Roberto Ancan, commander of the Army’s 1002nd Infantry Brigade based in Sarangani.

In an interview last month, Maj. Ezra Balagtey, spokesperson for the Eastern Mindanao Command, said: “We do not tolerate abuses by our men. In fact, we always tell them to put prime consideration to human rights during military operations and even in the conduct of checkpoints.”

Love in the battlefield: Soldier proposes to combat medic

From ABS-CBN (Feb 13): Love in the battlefield: Soldier proposes to combat medic

With rifles slung to their backs, two soldiers were all smiles as they became engaged during combat patrol, just days before Valentine's Day.

CPOL Denemar Albani, a radioman, popped the question to his girlfriend, combat medic Pvt. Christine Porcadilla while their team was resting in a patrol base in the middle of a forest in Barangay Titulok, Bagumbayan, Sultan Kudarat.
With grins on their faces, their comrades from the 33rd Infantry Battalion gamely held placards with the words 'Will you marry me' as Albani knelt and asked for Porcadilla's hand.

Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, commander of the unit, immediately signed the couple's permit to marry, after both completed the requirements set by the Philippine Army.

Both Albani, 27, and Porcadilla, 26, have fought for the government against Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, New People's Army, and several drug syndicates, according to the military.

Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters Assume ISIS’ Mantle in the Philippines’ Troubled South

From the Geopolitical Monitor (Feb 12): Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters Assume ISIS’ Mantle in the Philippines’ Troubled South (By Michael Hart)

Confiscated weapons from the Marawi siege, public domain Philippines Presidential Communications Operation Office,


In the three months since the jihadists of the ISIS-linked Maute group were routed by Philippine troops in Marawi, another radical band of Islamists have risen from the shadows to take their place as the vanguard of Islamic State in western Mindanao. Since the five-month siege of Marawi ended in late-October, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have launched a wave of IED attacks and regularly clashed with security forces, whilst their de-facto leader Esmael Abdulmalik has been touted as a possible replacement for slain Abu Sayyaf militant Isnilon Hapilon as ISIS’ new emir in Southeast Asia.

In the post-Marawi climate of heightened threat awareness, the BIFF’s recent spike in activity has garnered an increasing amount of attention not only in the Philippines, but across the wider region as well. Yet the group has been around for almost a decade and has been involved in high-profile incidents before, notably the Mamasapano clash of January 2015 which left 44 Special Forces soldiers dead and sent shockwaves throughout the country. The BIFF has also claimed responsibility for bomb attacks in the past, whilst a small cohort of its fighters are thought to have taken part in last year’s Marawi siege.

What underlies the BIFF’s intensified campaign of terror? And how has this previously little-known militant group emerged from being a mere footnote in Mindanao’s long-running armed Islamist insurgency to positioning itself as the last bastion of ISIS’ ambitions to carve out a regional caliphate?


The BIFF has its roots in the decades-old Muslim separatist insurgency which has been fought on the Philippines’ conflict-plagued southern island of Mindanao since the early 1970s. In its initial stages, the insurgency was fought by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founded by Nur Misuari, and later by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) founded by Hashim Salamat, which broke-off from the MNLF in 1981. Both organizations enjoyed support from large sections of the Muslim population in the Mindanao region, which has long suffered from underdevelopment and high rates of poverty in comparison to other parts of the majority-Catholic country, leaving its residents feeling marginalized.

The MNLF and the MILF both started out fighting for a fully-independent state for the Muslim-majority Moro population in the south, leading to a protracted conflict which has caused more than 100,000 deaths. Yet in recent decades their stance has softened as both groups have turned their attention away from armed struggle and toward peace talks with the government, aimed at securing greater autonomy in the south rather than independence. This shift angered hardline elements within the separatist movement, resulting in the formation of several radical groups to revive the campaign for a fully-independent Muslim state. A breakaway faction of the MNLF – Abu Sayyaf – emerged in 1990 and went on to gain global notoriety after launching a spate of kidnappings in the region and brutally beheading several Western hostages. Twenty years later, in 2010, a second splinter group emerged this time from within the ranks of the MILF, and called itself the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

The BIFF was formed by Ameril Umbra Kato, who was educated in Saudi Arabia and espoused a more radical brand of Islam, one based on Salafi-Wahhabi ideology and practiced more widely in the Middle East than in Southeast Asia. Frustrated with the MILF’s decision to accept autonomy at the expense of full independence, Kato led around 300 former MILF comrades in a campaign of attacks targeting the military and civilians in rural areas across the provinces of Maguindanao and North Cotabato. The primary aim of the attacks was to disrupt the peace process between the government and the MILF.

Kato was succeeded as leader by Mohammad Ali Tambako after suffering a stroke in 2011, yet Tambako left to establish another militant group two years later. Kato died of natural causes in 2015 and the BIFF appointed Ismael Abubakar as its new figurehead, signalling a new era in which the group separated into factions and became more of a splintered guerrilla organization than a co-ordinated or hierarchical group. The BIFF remains loosely-structured today, and is not thought to have a defined leadership structure or central chain of command.


The ISIS factor. Amidst uncertainty over its direction and leadership, the group pledged allegiance to Islamic State in late 2014. At the time, this was not viewed as a concern by the authorities and was seen as more of an attention-grabbing ploy aimed at aiding recruitment and boosting the group’s profile. This view changed suddenly in May last year, when militants from the ISIS-aligned Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups launched a brazen assault on the city of Marawi. The threat from ISIS had become visible, having materialized itself on a large scale in Southeast Asia for the first time. The Marawi crisis led the security forces in Mindanao to take pledges of allegiance to ISIS by smaller militant groups far more seriously.

The jihadists from the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf took five months to dislodge. In mid-October, the Philippine military announced the end of the siege after the deaths of militant leaders Omar Maute and Isnilon Hapilon in the main battle zone. More than 900 militants were killed in total, dealing a serious blow to Abu Sayyaf’s capabilities and virtually destroying the Maute group as a fighting force. Whilst a small number of the BIFF’s members were thought to be present in Marawi, many of the group’s fighters remained in its heartlands elsewhere in western Mindanao. These BIFF fighters now constitute the surviving remnants of ISIS in the southern Philippines, and have taken up the mantle vacated by the Mautes with a renewed sense of purpose and authority.

Since the end of the Marawi siege, clashes between government forces and the BIFF have intensified in the provinces of Maguindanao and North Cotabato, where the group has its rural strongholds. Government airstrikes, ground offensives and gun battles resulted in the death of 28 BIFF members in the final three months of 2017, whilst two government troops were also killed. In December, the BIFF launched a series of attacks targeting the indigenous Teduray tribe whilst attempting to seize pockets of territory in rural villages in Maguindanao province, setting fire to houses and killing several tribe members whilst driving thousands more from their homes. The BIFF has also launched a spate of bomb attacks targeting police patrols, military bases, and civilians. On New Year’s Eve, the militants detonated an IED outside a crowded bar in Tacurong city, killing two civilians and injuring twelve, having earlier in the day killed one and wounded five policemen in a bomb blast in Datu Hoffer town.

The BIFF remains split into at least three main factions, the largest and most active of which is led by Ismael Abdulmalik, also known by the alias Abu Turaife. In a particularly worrying development, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has reported seeing ‘foreign-looking’ gunmen fighting alongside BIFF militants in Maguindanao province, indicating that terrorist fighters from elsewhere in Southeast Asia may have joined-up with the group. It is possible that surviving Maute group members, including a number of Indonesians and Malaysians believed to have fought in Marawi, may have bolstered the BIFF’s ranks. At present, the BIFF appears to be the new group of choice for the region’s militants.

Local authorities have said they are monitoring the recruitment activities of jihadist groups in western Mindanao and are bracing themselves for another Marawi-style attack. Cotabato city has been mentioned as a possible second target. President Duterte has responded by extending Martial Law in Mindanao until the end of 2018 and has promised to destroy the BIFF, whilst recently-installed military chief Lt. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero has vowed to redeploy resources from Marawi to tackle Islamist groups across the south. Mindanao’s civilian population remains on edge as its security forces maintain a heightened state of alert, having conducted several urban warfare training exercises in recent months to prepare for a repeat of Marawi. The authorities do not want to be caught off-guard again like they were last May.

The BIFF poses a threat to Mindanao’s peace process. The rise to prominence of radical groups such as Maute, and now the BIFF, comes at a crucial stage in the southern Philippines’ drawn-out peace process with the MILF, which has laid down its weapons since a provisional peace deal with the government was signed in 2014. Currently, lawmakers are debating the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which would pave the way for a new autonomous region in the south to replace the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), constituting a final negotiated end to hostilities with the largest groups in the Moro rebel movement.

The bill is expected to be passed later this year. Yet after slow progress in getting even to this stage, concerns have been voiced that if the bill is delayed further, or in a worst-case scenario fails to pass through Congress, frustrations will grow and fertile ground for jihadist recruitment will be created. President Duterte and MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim have both warned of the radicalization risk. Duterte has talked repeatedly of the importance of correcting ‘historical injustices’ committed to the Moro people, whilst Ebrahim has described the BBL as being of ‘great importance for stability and security in Southeast Asia’. In a November interview with Channel News Asia, the MILF leader said ‘the longer this process takes, the more people are going to be radicalized.’ Despite expressing his own frustration over the slow progress being made, Ebrahim has said the MILF remains firmly committed to the peace process and is staunchly opposed to radical groups such as the BIFF and Abu Sayyaf.


Whilst the passage of the BBL may be an important step in quelling the long-running insurgency, it must be noted that previous peace agreements have not succeeded in ending the violence altogether. Despite the creation of the ARMM in 1989 and the signing of separate peace accords with the MNLF in 1996 and the MILF in 2014, several new groups have been spawned and the insurgency has evolved.

At present, it is the BIFF which pose the greatest concern going forward. Radical groups such as the BIFF will remain attractive to those who will never accept autonomy and maintain a desire to see a fully-independent Islamic state created in the southern Philippines. This is especially true for those living in the most impoverished areas of Mindanao, who may feel disenfranchised and excluded from the potential benefits that any political settlement may bring.

As long as the underlying conditions of instability remain present in Mindanao, transnational terror groups such as ISIS and aspiring militants from across the region will seek to take advantage of the situation. These links pose the biggest challenge to the ongoing peace process in the Philippines’ troubled south. Despite efforts on both sides to secure a lasting peace, the spread of ISIS’ global ideology to the region continues to aid recruitment, giving new meaning and impetus to the localized battles fought by formerly little-known militant groups such as the Mautes, Abu Sayyaf and now the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

Troops aid lumads displaced in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 12): Troops aid lumads displaced in Maguindanao

MT. FIRIS, Maguindanao – Teduray natives harassed by lawless elements in this mountain in Maguindanao fear to return home despite assurance that their communities are now safe.

Most of the lumads prefered to stay at nearby sitio Bagong, Barangay Kabingi, Datu Saudi Ampatuan town at night while trying to work on their agricultural crops at day time since they were harassed by IS-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) last December and early January.

“They (natives) fear the Moro bandits might return anytime and harass them anew,” Lt. Col. Gerry Besana, chief of 6th Civil Military Operations Battalion, told reporters during a relief mission for displaced Tedurays here on Sunday.

Besana and soldiers from the 6th CMO Battalion and 57th Infantry Battalion led the relief operation on assisting the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao – Humanitarian Emergency Assistance Relief Team (ARMM-Heart) in providing 61 food packs intended for 61 Teduray families who refused to return home due to fear of the rebels and that they no more homes to settle in.

At least 18 homes of Teduray farmers were set ablazed by the BIFF when they harassed the farmers on Christmas Day. Sporadic firefight lasted until January 7 this year.

The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) admitted they could not sustain their daily needs because they cannot farm and live normal lives. Some male IDPs volunteered to become members of Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) to help protect their lands against aggressors.

5 ASG men killed, 7 soldiers wounded in Sulu clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 12): 5 ASG men killed, 7 soldiers wounded in Sulu clash

Five Abu Sayyaf bandits were killed while seven soldiers were wounded in a clash as rescue operation for the remaining kidnap victims has continued in Sulu, military officials disclosed Monday

The clash broke out when the Marine Battalion Landing Team-3 (MBLT-3) troops, led by Lt. Col. Ramil Densing, chanced upon some 30 Abu Sayyaf bandits at around 4:15 a.m. Sunday in Bud (Mount) Bawis, Panamao, Sulu.

The MBLT-3 troops were scouring Bud Bawis after they received information that the group of Abu Sayyaf Sub-leaders Sansibar Bensio and Hatib Munap Binda were in the area hiding along with some kidnap victims.

“Upon arrival in the area, our troops were fired upon by the enemy, resulting to an exchange of gun fires,” Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, Joint Task Force Sulu commander, said.

Sobejana said the troops were cautious since the safety of the hostages are of paramount concern.

Sobejana said the firefight lasted for one-and-a-half hour after which the Abu Sayyaf bandits fled due to the superior firepower of the troops leaving behind the remains of four slain bandits and an M-14 rifle.

Sobejana said the four slain bandits were identified as the following: Mikdak Juhurim; Annin Black; Tasom Hammiri; and, Undil Husin.

Sobejana said they were informed by witnesses that another Abu Sayyaf follower, identified as a certain Roger, who was wounded, has expired while the bandits were fleeing.

“Also, they (witnesses) saw the (bandit) group carrying and helping a number of wounded companions.” he added.

He said they have coordinated with the local officials of Panamao town to afford appropriate and decent burial to the slain Abu Sayyaf bandits if their remains left unclaimed.

He said the troops are tracking down the group of Bensio and Binda, who are operating in the towns of Panamao, Omar and Luuk.

Bensio belongs to the group of slain Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Alhabsy Misaya and was involved in kidnapping and safekeeping of kidnap victims including those Indonesians who were released in 2016.

“Bensio is listed Number 1 in our Periodic Status Report of government enemies and is reported to have about eight members,” Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, said.

Galvez said that record showed the group of Bensio was involved in a clash with soldiers on January 31, 2017 in Barangays Pugad Manaul and Bulangsi, Panamao.

Galvez said that Binda is a former Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) sub-leader based in the town of Talipao and was operating in Kalingalang Caluang municipality.

Galvez said the Binda’s group was deleted from the government watch list following years of inactivity. His group was also once known to be actively participating and supporting the group of Misaya.

The identities of the wounded troops, who belong to the MBLT-3, were withheld.

“They were all immediately evacuated to safety for immediate medical attention,” Galvez said.

He said operations continue to rescue all the hostages being held captives by the Abu Sayyaf bandits.

Latest Westmincom data showed that the Abu Sayyaf bandits are still holding captives nine people.

They included five foreigners--three Indonesians, one Vietnamese and one Dutch--and four Filipinos.

Villagers flee due to NPA harassment in Bukidnon

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 12): Villagers flee due to NPA harassment in Bukidnon

Residents of an entire barangay in Bukidnon province sought shelter at the Kibawe town hall compound since Sunday following clashes between government and communist rebel forces, the military said.

Fear gripped the whole village of Cagawasan in Kibawe after suspected New People's Army (NPA) rebels hogtied the barangay's chief tanod Saturday afternoon, forcing the residents to flee, said the town's chief of police, Senior Insp. Harvey Sanchez.

A day later, on Sunday, several NPA combatants were spotted coercing the people in the area, Sanchez said.

Cagawasan barangay captain Roland Perequitte said the rebels started harrassing them when he and his fellow villagers decided to withdraw their support to the NPA.

"Dili na namo gusto nga pahimuslan pa mi sa mga NPA pinaagi sa paghatod sa ilang mga supply ug pag monitor sa mga sundalo. Labaw sa tanan, dili na namo gusto nga makatugaw sila sa among kinabuhi pinaagi sa ilang pagpanghilabot sa among pagpadagan sa barangay," Perequitte said . (We don't want to be exploited by the NPA by acting as couriers of their supplies and in monitoring the soldiers. Above all, we don't want them to bother our lives by interfering in the affairs of the barangay).

Because they distanced themselves from the rebel movement, Perequitte said the NPA accused the villagers of being military informants.

1Lt. Tere Ingente, spokesman for the Army's Fourth Infantry Division (4ID), said the 88th Infantry Battalion assigned in the area "is closely coordinating with the municipal government of Kibawe, particularly the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office and the municipal police station, to address the immediate needs of the evacuees."

In a separate statement, 403rd Infantry Brigade commander Brig. Gen. Eric Vinoya assured the Cagawasan residents that the brigade will coordinate with local authorities to address the peace and order situation in the area.

The residents' exodus happened less than a week following an ambush by the NPA that wounded six soldiers in the nearby municipality of Quezon, also in Bukidnon.

Alleged MNLF official, 4 others nabbed in Maguindanao drug raid

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 11): Alleged MNLF official, 4 others nabbed in Maguindanao drug raid

Joint police and anti-narcotics operatives arrested an alleged official of a Moro rebel group and four others during a raid on a drug den in Maguindanao on Sunday.

Juvenal Azurin, the director of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (PDEA-ARMM), identified those arrested as Juhery Sampulna Abdul, 39, alias “Tho,” who allegedly maintained the drug den in Sitio Siawan in Barangay Tamontaka in Datu Odin Sinsuat town; Muslimin Banigan Udtong, 27; Madelo Kasan Abdulkadir, 25; Datu Solban Makasasa Maulana, 22; and Abdillah B. Abdullah, 36.

He described Abdul as troop commander of the Muhtalla National Force Command of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Abdullah was also an alleged MNLF member.

Azurin said the joint operation was conducted at 6 a.m. after months of surveillance by the local police and PDEA agents.

Seized during the raid were 16 sachets of suspected shabu with an estimated market value of P100,000, a cal. 45 pistol, mobile phones and computer sets that contained illegal drug transactions.

Charges for violation of RA 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002) and Republic Act 10591 (Illegal Possessions of Firearms and Ammunitions) were being readied against the arrested suspects, who were detained at the PDEA-ARMM custodial facility here.

5 Abu Sayyaf bandits die, 7 soldiers wounded in clash

From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Feb 12): 5 Abu Sayyaf bandits die, 7 soldiers wounded in clash

FIVE Abu Sayyaf bandits were killed while seven soldiers were wounded in a clash as rescue operations for the remaining kidnap victims continue in Sulu, military officials said Monday, February 12.
The clash broke out when members of the Marine Battalion Landing Team-3 (MBLT-3) spotted 30 Abu Sayyaf bandits at 4:15 a.m. Sunday in Bud (Mount) Bawis, Panamao, Sulu.
The troops were scouring Bud Bawis after they received information that the group of Abu Sayyaf sub-leaders Sansibar Bensio and Hatib Munap Binda are in the area, hiding along with some kidnap victims.
Brigadier General Cirilito Sobejana, Joint Task Force Sulu commander, said the firefight lasted for one and a half hour. The bandits then fled and left behind the remains of four Abu Sayyaf gunmen and an M-14 rifle.
Sobejana said the four slain bandits were identified as Mikdak Juhurim, Annin Black, Tasom Hammiri, and Undil Husin.
He said the military was informed by witnesses that another Abu Sayyaf follower, identified as a certain Roger, has expired.
He said they also saw the bandits carrying some of their wounded companions as they fled.
The troops have coordinated with the local officials of Panamao town to afford appropriate and decent burial to the slain bandits if their remains left unclaimed, Sobejana added.
He said the troops are tracking down the group of Bensio and Binda, who are operating in the towns of Panamao, Omar and Luuk.
The identities of the seven wounded troops were withheld, but they all belong to the MBLT-3.
Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez Jr., Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, said operations continue to rescue all the hostages.
The Abu Sayyaf is still holding captives nine people -- five foreigners and four Filipinos. The foreigners included three Indonesians, one Vietnamese and one Dutch. 

How Marawi pushed Asean nations to join forces against terrorism

From the Asian Correspondent (Feb 12): How Marawi pushed Asean nations to join forces against terrorism (By Michael Hart)

Government soldiers stand by a mural painted by Muslim students as a symbol of 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

DESPITE parts of Southeast Asia experiencing the scourge of Islamist terrorism for decades, the ten Asean member states have in the past struggled to co-operate to tackle the jihadist threat.

After a spate of attacks in the 2000s carried out by Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia and Abu Sayyaf bandits in the southern Philippines, the regional bloc made determined efforts to forge a region-wide response. These well-intentioned moves to implement a multilateral counter-terrorism framework ended up amounting to little more than a set of non-binding protocols and agreements outlining desired outcomes and suggesting best practices for member-states to follow, rather than ushering in a new era of enhanced security cooperation between countries in the region.

Last year’s five-month siege of Marawi by Islamic State-aligned militants, however, proved to be a game-changer. The militants’ brazen attempt to take over a mid-sized city of more than 200,000 people and forge a Southeast Asian IS province centred on the Philippines’ war-ravaged southern island of Mindanao reignited the lingering threat, finally sparking the region’s authorities into action.

SEE ALSO: Philippines most affected by terrorism in Asia Pacific

Southeast Asia has long been afflicted by the presence of local, regional and transnational terrorist groups. Mindanao has been the site of an intractable armed Islamist insurgency since the early-1970s, which started off as a separatist movement but later spawned radical groups such as Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). Meanwhile Indonesia suffered a string of attacks at the hands of homegrown militant group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) in the 1990s and 2000s, supported by Al-Qaeda cells operational within the country. The presence of these groups also caused significant alarm in neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore, whilst sparking fears in the wider region.

Terror groups were able to establish a home in the Southeast Asia’s maritime states, taking advantage of porous sea borders and areas of weak state presence to set up training camps and bases from which to plan and launch attacks. This was especially true for remote parts of the Indonesian archipelago and in the lawless chain of Philippine islands which divides the Sulu and Celebes seas. In 2002, more than 200 people were killed in suicide attacks by JI targeting nightclubs on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, before Abu Sayyaf bombed a packed passenger ferry in Manila Bay in 2004, killing 116 civilians.

Memorial to the 202 people killed in a nightclub bombing on Oct 12, 2002, in Bali, Indonesia. Source: Jorge Láscar/Flickr

These high-profile attacks in the post-9/11 era prompted Asean to introduce a raft of measures intended to combat terrorism. The most important of these was the 2007 Asean Convention on Counter-Terrorism (ACCT), designed to ‘‘provide for the framework for regional cooperation to counter, prevent and suppress terrorism in all its forms’’ and ‘‘deepen cooperation among law enforcement agencies’’. However, the convention was not ratified by all ten member-states until 2013, and remained merely a set of guidelines with no enforcement or compliance mechanism. Several other region-wide agreements including the 2009 Asean Comprehensive Plan of Action on Counter-Terrorism (CPACT) have only had a marginal influence.

The impact of these counter-terrorism measures has been limited for several reasons. Asean’s strict adherence to consensus-based decision-making and the principle of non-interference has faced criticism, whilst the bloc’s use of vague language and its lack of enforcement capabilities have prevented the introduction of concrete region-wide measures to tackle terrorism. The grouping has often been described as a forum for discussion rather than a powerful body willing to push its members into taking firm action.

SEE ALSO: Ties between Southeast Asia and Bangladesh’s jihadis growing

The varied threat level across Asean and the differing military and financial capabilities of its ten member-states have also hindered cooperation. For example, the threat from Islamist terrorism may be high in countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, whilst their armed forces are also relatively well-resourced. In comparison, countries such as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam face a far lower threat, and may not be prepared or equipped to contribute resources to the fight. The past reluctance of Asean nations to share intelligence or permit foreign troops to operate across national boundaries has also blocked greater co-operation in the field of counter-terrorism.

Historically, Asean’s ten member-states have displayed a preference for strengthening domestic legislation and signing bilateral level agreements to tackle terrorism, seeing the threats as national rather than regional or global in nature, and therefore not requiring a multilateral response.

Black smoke comes from a burning building in a commercial area of Osmena street in Marawi city, Philippines, on June 14, 2017. Source: Reuters
That was until jihadists stormed the southern Philippine city of Marawi last May. The threat which had lain dormant beneath the surface since the decline of JI in the late 2000s had suddenly re-emerged in a form that was clearly regional in nature as Islamic State announced their intention to carve out a Southeast Asian caliphate. Leaders quickly realised the need for closer co-operation to prevent the violence spreading, amid fears of further IS-inspired attacks and terrorist infiltration across borders.

Even before the Marawi siege ended in October, regional leaders gathered on several occasions to discuss responses to the evolving threat. Indonesian President Joko Widodo described Marawi as a ‘‘wake-up call’’ regarding the threat posed to Southeast Asia, whilst Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak reaffirmed his country’s commitment to tackle Islamist terror groups in the region. In September, security officials from all ten Asean states took part in a specially-convened meeting on the “Rise of Radicalisation and Violent Extremism” in the region, whilst terrorism also topped the agenda at November’s 31st Asean Summit hosted by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Manila.

SEE ALSO: How prepared is Singapore amid Southeast Asia’s raised terror threat?

The discussions sparked by the takeover of Marawi first resulted in strengthened bilateral and trilateral measures agreed between the states most affected. In June, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines began conducting naval patrols in the Sulu Sea to restrict the movement of jihadist fighters to-and-from Mindanao. These measures were later bolstered by the addition of coordinated air patrols to spot suspicious activity from the skies. Indonesia and the Philippines have also agreed to establish a hotline to alert one another about security threats along their shared maritime frontier.

More recently two multilateral regional counter-terror initiatives have been established, indicating that Asean nations now appear more willing to cooperate on a collective basis than in the past.

In mid-November, the Southeast Asian Counter-Terrorism Financing Working Group (SACTFWG) was established to crack down on the funding of terrorist groups linked to Islamic State. The new regional grouping will include law enforcement agencies from across Southeast Asia, and will be led by the Philippines’ Anti-Money Laundering Council and Australia’s Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (Austrac).

Australian and Philippine soldiers demonstrate an anti-terror training drill at Camp Aguinaldo, on the sidelines of the Association of South East Asian Nations Summit, in Quezon City, metro Manila, Philippines, on Nov 13, 2017. Source: Reuters/Dondi Tawatao

Then in a landmark agreement on Jan 25, six Asean members – Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand – signed-up to a new intelligence-sharing pact labelled the “Our Eyes” initiative. The agreement is expected to facilitate the most extensive counter-terrorism cooperation within Asean to date. It will see senior defence officials from the participating nations meet twice a month, and will allow for the development of a new database of suspected militants which can be accessed by law enforcement agencies across the region.

At its launch, Malaysia’s Deputy Defence Minister Mohd Johari Baharum said the initiative would be crucial in enabling a collective response to emerging security threats which are ‘‘complex and trans-boundary in nature’’. It is hoped that the four remaining Asean states will later join the group, as well as external actors with a stake in the region’s stability such as Australia, India, Japan and the US.

SEE ALSO: Philippines: Duterte vows to crush drugs, terrorism in second SONA

The crisis in Marawi certainly got the region’s leaders thinking about how to better pool resources to tackle the growing threat from Islamist terrorism, but it has not yet resulted in an all-encompassing strategy involving all ten of Asean’s member-nations. Such an aim will always be difficult to achieve, due to the huge variation in threat along with the differing capabilities and priorities of Asean states.

However, ad-hoc collaborative responses have emerged involving the countries most concerned, on a scale not witnessed previously in the region. Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have looked to work with other interested parties to find workable and pragmatic multilateral solutions to the most pressing and immediate problems facing the region’s vulnerable maritime states.

With a series of overlapping bilateral, trilateral and multilateral mechanisms now in place, Asean integration in the sphere of counter-terrorism has been significantly upgraded. In the post-Marawi era of elevated risk, a set of guidelines which meant little in practice is rapidly being superseded by a more coordinated regional strategy, aimed at tackling the most critical threat facing Southeast Asia today.

Army compiling list of ‘rebel-supporters’

From Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Feb 11): Army compiling list of ‘rebel-supporters’
AN ARMY official said he will provide Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano with a list of barangay officials who are allegedly supporting the New People's Army.

"Troops are being deployed in these areas to clear and to conduct the Community Support Programs (CSP), but during the deployment, troops were engaged with the NPA terrorists in Cawayan, it got me wondering why do these barangays have terrorists presence and why does the barangay officials allowed the entry of these terrorists"," Brigadier General Eric Vinoya, commander of the Army’s 403rd Infantry Brigade, said.

The 403rd Brigade based in Malaybalay City operates in the hinterlands of Quezon town in Bukidnon, inlcuding Papacao, Lipa, Linabo, Sta. Felomina and Cawayan, all in Bukidnon.

Vinoya was reacting to an NPA statement saying that 4th Infantry Division's CSP is a lie and is only meant to cloak and intensify combat operations that began in January.

The NPA statement said the CSP was initiated to help state security forces go after communist rebels to pave the way for mining companies and allow plantations to expand.

In the statement issued last week, the NPA also claimed to have killed 19 soldiers in an encounter at barangay Cawayan, Quezon town, Bukidnon province last February 6, a claim denied by the Army.

 Lieutenant Colonel Randy Remonte, 88th Infantry Battalion commanding officer, said the encounter only wounded 6 of their troops and did not kill 19 as claimed by the NPA.

"According to their medical records, they are all stable and recuperating at Camp Evangelista Station Hospital," Remonte said.

Major General Ronald Villanueva, 4th Infantry Division (4ID) commander, meanwhile refuted the allegations of abuse committed by troops.

"When there are abuse complaints, the 4ID will consider it a form of cleansing our ranks. It will be dealt with accordingly. Further, I want to remind everybody to know the difference of facts versus propaganda. The NPA terrorists are very desperate to inflict casualty to our troops and very desperate for support. They give false hope to the lowest element in their ranks due to the influx of surrenders in Bukidnon. Your Army, will not stop crushing them, may it be an exchange of our own lives," Villanueva said.

July 2 hearing for man and Filipino brother-in-law charged with becoming Abu Sayyaf members

From the Sun Daily (Feb 12): July 2 hearing for man and Filipino brother-in-law charged with becoming Abu Sayyaf members

The High Court here today fixed nine days, from July 2, to hear the case of a man and his brother-in-law facing charges with becoming members of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group and not disclosing information on the group.

A local, Hajar Abdul Mubin,25, and his Filipino brother-in-law, Abdul Syamir Dabilin, 25, were believed to be among 19 suspects who attempted to stage an attack at the closing ceremony of the 29th Southeast Asian Games Kuala Lumpur 2017 (KL2017) on Aug 30.

Judge Datuk Mohd Sofian Abd Razak set the dates after being informed by the prosecution, conducted by deputy public prosecutor Azlina Rasdi, that the Attorney-General's Chamber had rejected a representation by Hajar for the charge against him to be dropped.

"The Attorney-General's Chamber rejected the representation submitted by Hajar, request the court to fix the dates of hearing together with his (Hajar) brother-in-law, Abdul Syamir because it involves the same witnesses," she said.

According to Azlina, 12 prosecution witnesses would be called to testify.

On Dec 11 last year, Hajar and Abdul Syamir, both construction workers, pleaded not guilty to the charges made against them.

Hajar, from Sabah, who is believed to be the mastermind in planning the attack at the closing ceremony of the Kuala Lumpur Southeast Asian Games 2017, was charged with becoming a member of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.

The offence, under Section 130KA of the Penal Code, provides an imprisonment which may extend for life and shall also be liable to fine, if found guilty.

He was charged with committing the offence at ZA 2-14 Lorong Pangsa Baiduri 2, Taman Desa Baiduri, Cheras between 2010 and Aug 30, 2017.

Abdul Syamir was charged under Section 130M of the Penal Code with knowingly omitting information about the group at the same place, time and date and faced an imprisonment for up to seven years, or fine, or both, if found guilty.

Hajar and Abdul Syamir were represented by lawyer Zaini Bakar. — Bernama

4 Sayyaf militants killed, 7 soldiers wounded in Sulu clashes

From the Manila Examiner (Feb 11): 4 Sayyaf militants killed, 7 soldiers wounded in Sulu clashes

SULU – At least four Abu Sayyaf militants were killed and 7 soldiers wounded in fierce clashes early Sunday in the southern Filipino province of Sulu where security forces are searching for foreigners kidnapped by the notorious group linked to ISIS, officials said.

Officials said members of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 3 clashed with about 30 militants under Abu Sayyaf commanders Sansibar Bensio and Hatib Munap Binda in Mount Bawis in Panamao town.

Army Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, a spokeswoman for the Western Mindanao Command, said troops were sent to the town late Saturday following intelligence reports that the militants were holding several captives in the area.

“Upon arrival in the area, our troops were fired upon by the enemy, resulting to an exchange of gun fires,” Petinglay said, quoting a report from Brigadier General Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu.

“Our troops were very careful because we believe there were kidnap victims with the Abus, however, the bandits fired at our marines first prompting our forces to fire back. Due to the superior firepower of the government forces, the bandits were forced to withdraw and escape,” Sobejana said, adding, the soldiers were still tracking down the militants and their hostages.

Petinglay said troops recovered the bodies of the slain militants, including an M14 rifle. The identities of the dead remain unknown, but the military, according to Petinglay, is coordinating with local officials to determine the names of those killed in the fighting.

She said the wounded soldiers had been evacuated to hospital. Their conditions were not made public by Petinglay, but General Carlito Galvez, the regional military commander, has asked the public to pray for the wounded soldiers. “We ask for prayers from all peace-loving people of the country, that our wounded soldiers be able to successfully face the battle in the operating tables. Despite the expertise of our doctors, your prayers will be the most powerful tool for them to stay alive and be well again,” he said in a statement sent to the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

Galvez said the operation against the Abu Sayyaf is continuing in Sulu, one of 5 provinces under the restive Muslim autonomous region. “We will not stop until we rescue all hostages and until we neutralize all these terrorists. Our soldiers are out there hunting for them ready to fight and die just to attain peace in our communities especially in Sulu. I once again enjoin everyone to help and support your Armed Forces through Western Mindanao Command in this fight to eliminate terror here in the region,” he said.

The Abu Sayyaf is believe holding about a dozen hostages in the region.

5 Abu Sayyaf militants killed in S. Philippines

From Xinhua (Feb 11): 5 Abu Sayyaf militants killed in S. Philippines

Five members of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf were killed and seven government soldiers were wounded following a firefight on Sunday morning in the southern Philippines, a security official said.

Brigadier General Cirilito Sobejana, the commander of the military's Joint Task Force Sulu, said the government troops were sent to a village on the Sulu island to rescue victims held by the Abu Sayyaf group.

Sobejana said the soldiers were fired upon by the terrorists around 4:15 a.m. (local time) Sunday as soon as they arrived at the enemy lair, leading to a firefight with about 30 Abu Sayyaf men.

"Upon arrival in the area, our troops were fired upon by the enemy, resulting to an exchange of gun fires," said Sobejana.

"Our troops were very careful because we believe there were kidnap victims with the Abu Sayyaf, however, the bandits fired at our marines first prompting our forces to fire back," said Sobejana.

The Abu Sayyaf is said to be holding about a dozen foreign and Filipino victims in Sulu. It was not immediately clear how many victims were being held by the Abu Sayyaf men engaged by the soldiers.

The military said the terrorists withdrew after they realized the superiority of the firepower of the soldiers.

Meanwhile, the seven wounded soldiers were evacuated to a military hospital for treatment.

Bodies of 2 NPA members found after encounter with troops in Agusan del Sur, says Army

From GMA News (Feb 11): Bodies of 2 NPA members found after encounter with troops in Agusan del Sur, says Army

Two members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples' Army (CPP-NPA) were found dead in Agusan del Sur after an encounter with the Philippine Army over the weekend.

According to reports of the Philippine Army, one of the two fatalities was identified as Levi Amando Bangogan or "King," commander of the Samahang Yunit Pangproganda Platoon and Guerilla Front 3. The other one, a woman, has yet to be identified.

The bodies were found in Barangay Sta Emelia, Veruela, Agusan del Sur after an encounter with the troops of the 26th Infantry Battalion on Saturday afternoon.

"It is clear that NPA terrorists are not mindful of their comrades, leaving their dead bodies during clashes with our government troops," Colonel Andres Centino, commander of the 401Bde, said, in an emailed statement.

"The 26th Infantry Battalion and 401st Infantry Brigade will ensure that the dead bodies will be delivered to their respective families, even though the government considers the NPAs as terrorists. This is a gesture to show that Philippine Army respects Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law," he added.

4th Infantry Division Commander Major General Ronald Villanueva urged the militants to surrender or face the same fate as their comrades.

"Either they can choose to suffer the same fate as their comrades recently experienced, whose bodies were left during the clash with the government forces or they can choose to feel and experience a new life away from the evils of Terrorism and its futile efforts by surrendering with the benefits of Comprehensive Integration Program (CLIP) from the government," he said.

Soldiers kill 2 NPA rebels in Agusan del Sur battle

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 11): Soldiers kill 2 NPA rebels in Agusan del Sur battle

Soldiers from the Army’s 26th Infantry Battalion killed two New People’s Army rebels during a clash in Veruela, Agusan del Sur on Saturday, the military reported on Sunday.

One of those killed was a still unidentified female rebel and an NPA platoon leader identified as Levi Bangonan, according to 1st Lt. Teresita Ingente, spokesperson of the 4th Infantry Division based in Cagayan de Oro City.

The bodies of the slain communist rebels were recovered in Barangay Sta. Emelia, along with eight backpacks containing medical supplies and personal items, according to Col. Andres Centino, the commander of the 401st Infantry Brigade based in Agusan del Sur.

Maj. Gen. Ronald Villanueva, the 4th Infantry Division commander, said the military was renewing its call to communist rebels to surrender so that they could live peaceful lives.

The government, he said, would even give them financial assistance.

Military Report - 52 alleged NPA rebels killed, 57 surrendered in Southern Luzon in 2017

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Feb 12): Military Report - 52 alleged NPA rebels killed, 57 surrendered in Southern Luzon in 2017
At least 52 alleged New People’s Army rebels were killed by state security forces in Southern Luzon last year, the commander of the Armed Forces Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) reported.

In a statement, Solcom Chief Lt. General Danilo Pamonag said some 57 alleged rebels also surrendered in Southern Tagalog and Bicol regions while 18 were captured by state troops.

Government forces also recovered 96 high-powered firearms and 54 low-powered firearms from the NPA in 2017, Pamonag said.

“Last month, two NPA rebels were also killed but no casualties on the side of the government,” Pamonag said.

Just this January, Pamonag added that 17 armed communist guerillas and 35 rebel supporters have also surrendered in Bicol.

“This indicates that more NPAs and their supporters have realized the futility of armed struggle and decided to leave the rebel group,” Pamonag said.

Pamonag said the government forces in Southern Luzon remained unfazed by threats of NPA attacks and are always ready to confront the communist guerillas.

Fake rebel returnees
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reported that 326 NPA members surrendered to the military in January alone.

The AFP estimated that from its peak in the late 1980s where the guerilla strength was more than 26,000, it is now down to only 3,700 fighters spread throughout the country.

But exiled Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria “Joma” Sison doubted the number of supposed NPA returnees.

“Are these real NPA surrenderees or fake ones selected from relatives of barangay council members or from the ranks of military draftees?” Sison said on Friday.

The CPP slammed the military for turning the so-called NPA returnees into a media propaganda.

“The AFP’s PR-machinery is working double-time to turn so-called NPA surrenderees into a media spectacle and mount a propaganda offensive to paint the NPA as a waning force,” the CPP said in a statement last week.

The CPP alleged that the military has been making “more frequent and much bigger claims of NPA surrenderees” as part of its counter-insurgency operation “Oplan Kapayapaan”.

The CPP asked the public to look at the reported surrenders of NPA rebels “with a healthy dose of skepticism”.

“It is a well-known fact that the decades-long multi-billion peso ‘Balik Baril’ Program, CLIP (Comprehensive Local Integration Program) and other programs are AFP money-making rackets where field and division commanders recycle surrendered weapons and come up with lists of ghost NPA surrenderees, typically village-folk falsely accused of being NPA members,” the CPP said.

Though it admits that the surrender of few communist guerillas “form part of the realities of war,” the CPP asserted that: “This, however, does not represent a trend nor does it negate in any way the reasons that compel more and more Filipinos to rise up and resist in various forms of struggle, including the armed struggle.”