Thursday, March 1, 2018

US warns of spreading ISIS threat

From the Straits Times (Mar 2): US warns of spreading ISIS threat

The United States warned judicial and law enforcement officials from around the world of the dangers posed by an increasingly decentralised Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group spreading to new regions.

At a two-day conference in Washington that concluded on Wednesday, the US State Department designated seven ISIS-linked groups as terrorist threats - underlining the reach of the network.

The ISIS group's former stronghold in its so-called "caliphate" in eastern Syria and northern Iraq has been all but destroyed by US-backed military operations, but the militants are adapting.

And, with overt military targets harder to find, the next stage in the fight against the extremists will lean more heavily on law enforcement and civilian prosecution of suspected militants.

"I think what we're seeing is ISIS becoming increasingly decentralised," said the State Department's counter-terrorism coordinator Nathan Sales, who addressed the meeting.

"ISIS is evolving and adapting," he said, explaining the decision to blacklist the ISIS regional groups under separate designations.

"You're seeing groups from all corners of the world motivated by the same bloody and deadly ISIS ideology, using the same sort of techniques targeting innocent men, women and children."

In Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, a group that split from the local Boko Haram armed group and is led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, son of the militant group's founder, is now designated as ISIS-West Africa.

In the Philippines, the list now includes ISIS-Philippines and its ally the Maute Group, which triggered the siege of the city of Marawi in May last year and has attempted to bomb the US embassy in Manila.

The ISIS-Somalia group began as a small 20-strong splinter from the Al-Shabaab movement under Abdiqadr Mumin and his deputy Mahad Moalim, but has grown in strength and imported arms from Yemen.

Washington is also concerned about the group's growing foothold in the Indian subcontinent, where the now designated ISIS-Bangladesh launched its campaign by killing an Italian aid worker in 2015.

In Egypt, the US terror designations now list ISIS-Egypt as a separate group from ISIS-Sinai province, with both having carried out attacks and the former claiming responsibility for a deadly church bombing in 2016.

The new designations also include Jund al-Khilafa, a Tunisian armed group that has pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The conference was hosted jointly by the State Department, Interpol and the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law.

Washington is also urging reluctant partners such as Britain and France to take custody of their citizens who joined the ISIS group and were captured in Iraq or Syria and bring them up for prosecution.

What to Expect in the New American ‘War on Terror’ in the Philippines

From the Small Wars Journal (Feb 28): What to Expect in the New American ‘War on Terror’ in the Philippines (By Conor McCormick-Cavanagh)

The U.S. military resumed its counterterrorism mission in the Philippines in September 2017. This new operation comes on the heels of the rise of ISIS-linked groups in the southeast Asian nation. Political analysts believe the new operation will share some similarities with a past one that lasted from 2001 to 2015, but will also include a focus on urban warfare training and equipment improvements. Some analysts also questioned if the plan would succeed.

The previous counterterrorism mission, which lasted for 14 years, degraded, but never fully eliminated Al Qaeda-associated groups. Less than two years after the operation ended, groups with allegiances to ISIS seized the Muslim-majority city of Marawi and held it for five months. The seizure sparked fighting that killed 168 Philippine soldiers, wounded 1,584 others, and displaced more than 350,000 civilians.

Marawi is Located on the Southern Philippine Island of Mindanao Source: Google Maps

The Marawi siege revealed the threat posed by ISIS-linked militants and spurred the new operation. Codenamed Pacific Eagle – Philippines, the mission will involve 200 to 300 American advisors, as reported by The Wall Street Journal and confirmed by the Department of Defense. Pacific Eagle – Philippines qualifies as an Overseas Contingency Operation, which allows a budget exempt from spending constraints. The Department of Defense justified this designation “to acknowledge the severity of the terrorist threat facing the Philippines,” according to a report by the Lead Inspector General for Overseas Contingency Operations.

Urban Warfare Training
The first step of the mission will be to fix a weakness highlighted during the Marawi battle - urban warfare operations.

“The Philippine military needs to receive [this],” said Steven Rood of Social Weather Stations, a Philippine social research non-profit. “Everyone is onto that. The Australians, the Singaporeans, and the Americans are all now doing that” in the Philippines.

The recent city fighting in Marawi caught the Philippine military by surprise, as their soldiers had been previously trained to engage in jungle warfare. The conflict earned the ignominious title of the longest urban battle in the Philippine’s modern history.

The length of the violence in Marawi also troubled some observers. “It was not supposed to last for five months,” said Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College. “I don’t want to take away from the bravery of individual soldiers, but [the battle] revealed glaring weaknesses in the Philippine intelligence, military operations, and joint operations.”

Collateral Damage

One such weakness proved particularly deadly. During the fight, the Philippine military operated air assets itself, in accordance with domestic law, which prevents foreign military forces from engaging in combat on Philippine soil. Not all of the airstrikes were accurate. These mistakes proved fatal, including one instance where ten Philippine soldiers were killed and eight were wounded by a friendly-fire strike.

“Marawi was levelled. Absolutely levelled. The Philippine army has no experience operating with air assets,” said Abuza, indicating another potential area where American advisors can provide guidance.

In the future, American military officials might be tempted to just handle the airstrikes themselves. But this may not be sustainable. “You want the Americans to help, but you don’t want them to do it for you. Long term, that brings up a whole host of problems,” said Greg Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Various Forms of Military Assistance

Instead of providing boots on the ground or manning their own armed air assets, the U.S. will continue providing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assistance in the fight against extremists, according to the new plan.

In addition to providing this type of assistance, the U.S. can also capitalize on the manpower advantage that the Philippine military has over the Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups, and a faction of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, all of whom pledged allegiance to ISIS. The Philippine military killed the top leaders of Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups during the battle.

At the same time, it is important to match this size advantage with enough equipment for forces to “make sure that the Philippine military does indeed own the night,” said Rood. The Philippine military could further tilt the balance against Abu Sayyaf if the U.S. provides it with more night-vision goggles, something that groups like Abu Sayyaf have only in small quantities.

All of the assistance from the U.S. military is essential in fighting against a mobile insurgency which, during times of pressure from the Philippine military, can easily slip from mainland Mindanao, where Marawi is located, to Sulu, a string of islands to the west and even across borders into Malaysia and Indonesia. Importantly, the Philippines already agreed with Indonesia and Malaysia to cooperate on cross-border pursuit of Islamic militants. This should help limit the freedom of movement of extremist elements.

Sulu Archipelago is Located to the West of Mindanao and Marawi  Source: Google Maps

Human Rights Concerns

Critics of President Rodrigo Duterte believe his problematic human rights record should preclude the U.S. from providing military aid. Duterte’s war on drugs has drawn international concern for heavy-handed tactics and extrajudicial killings by police.

A report by the U.S. intelligence community pointed to Duterte’s autocratic tendencies as a danger to democracy in southeast Asia. The report highlighted Duterte’s threat to impose martial law throughout the country. Martial law currently exists only on Mindanao.

Still, some analysts believe human rights concerns should be separated from military aid. “Countries shouldn’t cut off military training for human rights violations because in a situation like this, it’s crucial that [military] exercises go forward, and colonels go off to the U.S. and do six months or a year” of exchange, said Steven Rood, pointing to the importance of winning over the Philippine military.

Is it All for Nothing?

But Rood recognized the limits of the advising approach. He pointed to insurgent activity in the Sulu archipelago as a major challenge. “By retraining the units that are there, the U.S. can help in better managing the situation. But that won’t be a solution to the situation.”

Zachary Abuza questioned why the U.S. is still even involved. “I personally am very skeptical of the Philippine military. Why do they never finish the job? We’ve been fighting Abu Sayyaf since 1991. They always manage to slip away.”

About the Author

Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a reporter based in New York. He is currently a graduate student studying international affairs and journalism at Columbia University. He previously reported from Tunisia.

Egyptian tagged as ISIS commander denies charges

From Malaya Business Insight (Mar 1): Egyptian tagged as ISIS commander denies charges

AN Egyptian who was arrested by authorities last February 16 and tagged as a “commander of (the) Islamic State” yesterday denied the charges during the preliminary investigation of his case at the Justice Department.

Fehmi Lassqued and his Filipina live-in partner, Anabel Salipad, also asked the DOJ to dismiss the charges of illegal possession of explosive devices and firearms filed against them by the Regional Police Intelligence Operations Unit of the PNP-NCRPO, saying it has no basis.

PNP chief Ronald Dela Rosa earlier said Lassqued was an ISIS commander and recruiter for the international terrorist group who entered the country in July 2016 using a forged Tunisian passport.

Lassqued had denied the allegations and claimed he was “forced to say” that he was an ISIS member.

Although admitting his passport was a fake, he said he has no plans or motive to do anything bad to the Philippines.

In his counter-affidavit, Lassqued said there was no truth to the PNP’s claim that he and Salipad were arrested inside his apartment in Ermita, Manila where several improvised explosive devices and a firearm were allegedly found.

In its the complaint, the PNP-RPIOU cited as evidence the explosive devices, including two batteries, three capacitors, two integrated circuits, four pipes, battery clips and 11 resistors as well as the 45 caliber pistol and ammunition recovered from Lassqued and Salipad when they were apprehended last February 16 by a combined team from the PNP and the Philippine Army based on a warrant issued by a Makati court.

5 generals get nod of CA

From Malaya Business Insight (Mar 1): 5 generals get nod of CA

THE Commission on Appointments yesterday confirmed the ad interim appointments and nominations of five generals, flag and senior officers of the Armed Forces, two of them reservists.

No member of the CA defense committee, chaired by Rep. Roy Loyola, questioned the appointments.

Confirmed by the CA were Major Gen. Perfecto Rimando Jr., commander of the Philippine Army’s 5th Infantry Division based in Northern Luzon; Brig. Gen. Reynaldo M. Aquino; Brig. Gen. Jose B. Mier; Brig. Gen. Alden Juan Masagca; and Commodore Ramolito Guinomma.
Rimando is the classmate of PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa at the PMA Class of 1986 (Sinagtala).

Mier and Guinomma are reservists.

BBL reaches Senate plenary

From Malaya Business Insight (Mar 1): BBL reaches Senate plenary

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri yesterday formally opened for plenary debates the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law which he said “gives greatest latitude if not full autonomy” to the new Bangsamoro government that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

In his sponsorship speech on Senate Bill 1717 under Committee Report 255, Zubiri, chairman of the sub-committee on BBL under the committee on local governments, said the new proposed BBL will give Moro people the capability to assert their political and economic self-determination, pursue development programs according to their peculiar historical, cultural, religious and national identities.

The sub-committee conducted 11 public hearings and six whole days of technical working group meetings, and ensured that no provision in the proposal would be questioned before the Supreme Court for its unconstitutionality.

Zubiri said he talked with President Duterte, who promised to certify the bill as urgent in his State of the Nation Address.

At the inauguration of the Bahay Pag-Asa in Marawi City, President again made a pitch for the BBL as the tool that would ensure peace and progress in Mindanao.

“It will pass Congress,” he said.

At the House of Representatives, the proposal is still at the committee level.

Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, chairman of the committee on local government, said BBL has the ultimate goal of achieving long-lasting peace and prosperity in Mindanao.

“The BBL comprises our greatest legal arsenal for achieving peace. It will ensure that the region will become a fertile ground, no longer for violence or terrorism, but for opportunities and active civic engagement. BBL can be life-saving, and hopefully life-changing,” said Angara in his speech.

He said the BBL is needed to help stop armed groups from recruiting and amassing critical support.

Zubiri said the proposed BBL includes a provision that penalizes the unprincipled transfer of a politician from one party to another.

“This bill proposes that if a member of the parliament, after having been elected under the proportional representation system, transfers to another during his incumbency, he will forfeit his seat,” he said.

He said an anti-dynasty provision has also been included in the proposed law, which prohibits relatives up to the second degree of consanguinity in the parliament.

Under the measure, the core territory includes the present territory of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao plus six municipalities in Lanao del Norte, cities of Cotabato and Isabela, 39 barangays in North Cotabato, and other areas that may petition to join the Bangsamoro.

He explained that the reserved powers would be retained by the national government while the concurrent powers will be shared by the Central Government and the Bangsamoro government. The BBL enumerates 14 powers exercised by both governments.

The exclusive powers that are granted the Bangsamoro are agriculture, public administration and waste management, among others.

Zubiri said the Bangsamoro government, a parliamentary government, will be headed by the chief minister and supported by a cabinet.

He said the parliamentary system of government is closer to their tradition as it mirrors their traditional leadership such as the Ruma Bichara (Council) of the Sultanate of Sulu or the Atas (Council) Bichara of the Sultanate of Maguindanao.

Under the bill, the Bangsamoro Justice System will cover the implementation of the civil, commercial and minor criminal aspects of the Shariah law if the parties are Muslims or where parties have voluntarily submitted to the jurisdiction of the Shariah court.

Regular courts will continue to function and allow for the other indigenous peoples in the region to continue to practice their customary laws.

On public order and safety, the Bangsamoro Police will remain part of the Philippine National Police.

Zubiri said a block grant, consisting of six percent of the net collections both of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs, will be automatically appropriated and regularly released to the Bangsamoro akin to the system adopted for the internal revenue allotment of the local government units.

NPA rebels burn tractor in Negros

From Malaya Business Insight (Mar 2): NPA rebels burn tractor in Negros

SUSPECTED members of the New People’s Army burned a farm tractor after its owner refused to pay revolutionary tax in La Castellana, Negros Occidental last Monday.

Belated reports reaching Camp Aguinaldo said four armed communist rebels entered Hacienda Conchita in Barangay Sag-ang, owned by Jorge Vargas, and at gunpoint ordered the tractor’s driver to alight and opened the fuel tank. The rebels then set it on fire.

Brig. Gen. Dinoh A Dolina, commander of the Army’s 3rd Infantry (Spearhead) Division, condemned the attack, saying: “These communist-terrorists keep bragging that they are fighting for the people’s welfare yet their actions contradict their words.” 

Communist rebels also torched a famer’s 10-wheeler truck used for hauling sugarcane in Canlaon City, Negros Oriental on February 22.

Dolina lauded the owners of the cargo truck and farm tractor for rejecting the NPA’s extortion demand. He also called on the people, especially Negrenses, to coordinate with the Army and the PNP on the movements of the rebels.

Terrorism to stay up to 10 yrs: Duterte

From Malaya Business Insight (Mar 2): Terrorism to stay up to 10 yrs: Duterte

PRESIDENT Duterte yesterday told the military and the police to be on alert against terrorism, which he said could last for up to 10 years.

The President, during the opening ceremony of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Challenge in Davao City, said the country is confronted by different fronts like rebellion, crime and illegal drugs and terrorists.

“You know terrorism will stay for quite a time. I predict that it would not go out of this planet within the next five to 10, maybe seven years. That is one of our enemies. The fighting will be fierce. There will be no backing down. I will not, for the life of me, they could kill me but I will not allow it,” he said.

Duterte assailed those who used religion, particularly Islam to promote terrorism.

He said true teaching of Islam does not talk of killing and destruction, as he reminded the Moros, especially the Maranaos, not to allow terrorism to flourish.

He reminded police and soldiers not to rest on their laurels following the victory and liberation of Marawi City, the growing trust in the police force, and the improving crime index.

He said the threats persist and the people will continue to depend on law enforcement units to keep them safe at all times.

The President also reassured the police that each of them would have a hand gun they could carry by July.

Quezon Reds claim successful attacks, probing reports of civilian casualties

From InterAksyon (Feb 28): Quezon Reds claim successful attacks, probing reports of civilian casualties

Communist rebels claimed to have successfully mounted two offensives in as many days in Quezon province’s Bondoc Peninsula and said they were investigating and verifying reports that civilians had been wounded in one of the attacks.

On Monday afternoon, February 26, guerrillas of the New People’s Army’s Apolonio Mendoza Command raided a detachment of the Tumbaga Ranch in Barangay Pagsangahan, San Francisco town, gaining control of the outpost without firing a shot and seizing 10 firearms, including six M16 rifles, ammunition and military gear.

Rebel spokeswoman Cleo del Mundo said in a statement that the rebels captured and later freed unharmed six security guards and two government militiamen then burned the detachment.

Around 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, she said, guerrillas ambushed a military truck ferrying troops of the 85th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Bacong Ilaya, General Luna, and claimed five soldiers were killed and nine others wounded. She said the dead were taken to the morgue in Catanauan town and the seriously injured taken by ambulance to a hospital in Lucena City.

However, the military confirmed only four soldiers were wounded in the ambush. It also reported five civilians — a woman and her two young children riding a jeepney and two men in a tricycle — were wounded when the rebels detonated an explosive device.

Reacting to this, Del Mundo said: “Nasa proseso pa kami ng pag-iimbistiga at pagbeberipika sa iniulat na may limang nasugatang sibilyan sa isinagawa naming ambus. Nililinaw naming pinakamataas na pagsasaalang-alang ang ginagawa ng NPA sa buhay at kabuhayan ng mga sibilyan sa bawat inilulunsad naming operasyon. Nakahanda kaming magpuna at magbayad ng kaukulang danyos perwisyo sa mga nasugatang sibilyan kung ito man ay totoo. Hinihikayat naming lumapit sa alinmang yunit ng NPA ang pamilya ng mga nasugatan.”

(We are in the process of investigating and verifying reports that five civilians were wounded in the ambush. We clarify that the NPA holds the lives and livelihood of civilians paramount in every operation we mount. We are ready for criticism and to pay the proper damages to the wounded civilians if true. We urge the families of the victims to approach any NPA unit.)

Del Mundo said the operations of the Apolonio Mendoza Command were meant to “support the peasant masses’ struggle to break up the haciendas on the Bondoc Peninsula and distributed the lands to farmers for free.”

“Magpapatuloy na magsasagawa ng mga operasyong reyd at ambus ang mga yunit ng Apolonio Mendoza Command laban sa mga armadong goons ng mga panginoong maylupa at laban sa mga pwersa ng AFP-PNP-CAFGU upang wasakin ang mga ito hanggang sa makamit ang mithiin ng mga magsasaka na magkaroon ng sariling lupang binubungkal,” she added.

(The units of the Apolonio Mendoza Command will continue to mount raids and ambuscades against the landlords’ armed goons and the forces of the AFP-PNP-CAFGU to crush them until the farmers realize their dream of owning the land they till.)

Mayor Duterte dons the rank of colonel in AFP Reservist Corps

From the Mindanao Times (Mar 1): Mayor Duterte dons the rank of colonel in AFP Reservist Corps

MAYOR Sara Duterte was donned full-fledged Colonel in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Reservist Corps held at City hall office, yesterday morning.

AFP chief of staff General Rey Leonardo Guerrero led the donning of ranks to Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, Col. Crisanto Violan and former Congressman Isidro Ungab.

Mayor Duterte’s appointment to the rank of Colonel was submitted to the Commission on appointments on Feb. 19.

Like the other appointees, she faced the members of the CA in public hearing to deliberate in her appointment. She had to garner the required 13 votes for her to pass the CA and earn her rank as Colonel of the AFP Reservist Corps.

The AFP Rescom, established in 1993, is a military unit in charge of reserve force management, procurement, and organization. The command’s major task is to enlist potential military reservists through different training courses such as Military Orientation Training Course (MOTC) and the Basic Citizens Military Training (BCMT).

Reserve officers are commissioned by the AFP leadership after undergoing an officer training program. The army, navy and air force also conduct training courses for reservists.

The Reserve officers include lawyers, doctors, nurses, veterinarians, teachers, engineers, other specialists and even government officials.

Soldier killed in Tamayong clash

From the Mindanao Times (Mar 2): Soldier killed in Tamayong clash

ONE of the three soldiers wounded in the Tamayong clash on Monday died at the hospital on Wednesday.Lt. Col. Raymund Dante Lachica, commander of 3rd Infantry Battalion, identified the fatality as Corporal Jurel Gonato, a member of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Battalion.

Gonato was one of the three soldiers who were wounded in the encounter where the rebels detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) in Barangay Tamayong, Calinan District on Monday.

The two other wounded were identified as Corporal Vicencio Galagar and Private Roberto Cardoza. Both are still recuperating in a hospital.

The Tamayong clash started on Sunday when a platoon of 3rd IB troopers conducted security patrol in Sitio Basikong.

The troopers encountered at least 15 rebels, believed to be members of the Guerilla Front 54 under Ka Nasser, at 12:25 p.m. that day. The fight lasted for about five minutes.

The soldiers were able to recover an NPA encampment while conducting clearing operation.

On Monday at 7:35 a.m., troopers of the 3rd IB’s Scout Platoon who were conducting pursuit operation in the same area encountered undetermined numbers of rebels.

It was then that the rebels reportedly detonated the IED.

The exchange of fire lasted for about one hour, resulting to the wounding of three soldiers.

The wounded soldiers were evacuated to the nearest hospital. Gonato expired at the medical facility.

The 3rd IB troopers are currently conducting hot pursuit operation against the rebels.

Lachica condemned the rebel group for violating the International Humanitarian Law for using IED.

148 candidate soldiers finish military training

From the Mindanao Times (Mar 1): 148 candidate soldiers finish military training

ONE-HUNDRED forty eight members of the candidate soldiers (CS) course class graduated from their 16-week basic military training in Sgt. Demerin grandstand, 10th ID headquarters in Barangay Tuboran, Mawab, Compostela Valley on Feb. 28.

Capt. Jerry Lamosao, the spokesperson of 10th Infantry Division, said these new soldiers will become part of the nation-building efforts of the AFP to achieve peace and order in the communities.

“With HPA directive regarding CS quota, the 10ID command is committed to train and hone the potential of these young generation in service to country being new members of the noble profession of soldiery,” Lamosao said.

The 148 new soldiers finished weapons training, jungle warfare and mountaineering, military tactics-techniques-procedures, combat standard operating procedures, intelligence, civil-military operations, and with emphasis on respect of human rights, International Humanitarian Law and rule of law.

Maj. Gen. Noel S Clement, 10th ID commander said in his welcome remarks that the candidates have become “one of the best and the brightest soldiers of the Philippine Army, through the mentoring and supervision of our hardworking Training directorate and members of the 10th Infantry (Agila) Division Training School in coordination.”

“They are trained to be capable of multi-role such as doing civil-military works while very much ready to use force when necessary. These new breed of soldiers will be deployed into areas where people needed them the most,” he said.

They will be assigned to the units under the 10th ID in the fight specifically the communist threat.

Retired general Reynaldo Mapagu, Department of National Defense (DND) undersecretary for veterans and retirees, was the guest of honor and speaker of the event.

He told the graduates in his message, “Love your work, be financially secured and perform given task to the best of your abilities.”

“The government is in full support to the Armed Forces of the Philippines in making the country psychologically peaceful and conducive to further development,” Mapagu said.

Roque defends Duterte's West PH Sea 'co-ownership' remark

From Rappler (Mar 1): Roque defends Duterte's West PH Sea 'co-ownership' remark

(UPDATED) The President's spokesman says Duterte did not really mean 'ownership' as the Philippines only exercises sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea
DEFENDING DUTERTE. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque takes questions from the media. Malacañang file photo
DEFENDING DUTERTE. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque takes questions from the media. Malacañang file photo

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque tried to explain President Rodrigo Duterte's use of the word "co-ownership" when describing joint exploration with China in the West Philippine Sea.

"What he meant was, that's exactly the kind of relationship we will have in a joint exploration and exploitation," said Roque during a press conference on Thursday, March 1.

Roque, asked if the term was used by Duterte to "simplify" the concept of joint exploration, said, "I believe so."

He gave assurances, however, that any agreement for joint exploration to be entered into by the Duterte administration does not mean the government is ceding sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea to Beijing.

Joint exploration can be done without violating the Constitution, he said.

"The existing jurisprudence is 'yes,' we can enter into joint exploration and joint exploitation with foreign entities provided that it complies with the Constitution among others, it be pursuant to a written agreement signed by the President and submitted to Congress," added Roque.

He called joint exploration a "practical solution" that would allow Filipinos to "utilize natural resources without having to deal with the contentious conflicting claims to territories."

Roque, a former international law professor, said he doubted Duterte literally meant ownership as no state can "own" the West Philippine Sea.

"It can't be co-ownership in the sense that ownership is not material to the exclusive economic zone, it's only sovereign rights. There's no ownership in sovereign rights," he said.

Under international law, a state exercises sovereignty over its land territory and 12-nautical-mile territorial sea. Beyond it, and up to 200 nautical miles from its baselines, the state has "sovereign rights" – less than sovereignty, but exclusive and superior to the rights of all other states.

However, China is already exercising sovereign rights over parts of the West Philippine Sea by building artificial islands. Roque said the "right to build artificial islands" is a sovereign right.

Grounds for impeachment?

Malacañang also reacted to former solicitor general Florin Hilbay's criticism of Duterte's remarks.

Hilbay took to social media to say Duterte may be violating the Constitution by entering into a joint exploration agreement with China.

"Here's a clear example of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust. The West Philippine Sea is exclusively ours. He's giving it away," said Hilbay.

Roque challenged Hilbay to file an impeachment complaint against Duterte.

"He's free to file an impeachment complaint if he wants. How can it be a betrayal of public trust when the Supreme Court itself has said it can be done?" said Duterte's spokesman.

However, the Supreme Court (SC) has yet to make a final decision on the petition assailing the constitutionality of the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) in the West Philippine Sea entered into by the Arroyo administration, China, and Vietnam.

The corporations involved were the Philippine National Oil Company, China National Offshore Oil Corporation, and Vietnam Oil and Gas Corporation.

Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano has called on the Duterte administration to await the final verdict of the SC on the JMSU before entering into any agreement with China.

"I believe that the best course of action is to wait for the resolution of the JMSU petition and clear first the doubts as to the proper conduct in exploring and exploiting the resources within our seas," he said, as quoted by Interaksyon.

Alejano urged the SC to decide on the petition.

While Roque said the West Philippine Sea is a "disputed" water body, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague declared as invalid China's claims to the West Philippine Sea.

Duterte says he would 'go to war' to defend Benham Rise

From Rappler (Mar 1): Duterte says he would 'go to war' to defend Benham Rise
SWAT CHALLENGE. President Rodrigo Duterte peers through the scope of a sniper rifle during the opening ceremony of the National Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Challenge in Ma-a, Davao City on March 1, 2018. Malacañang photo
SWAT CHALLENGE. President Rodrigo Duterte peers through the scope of a sniper rifle during the opening ceremony of the National Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Challenge in Ma-a, Davao City on March 1, 2018. Malacañang photo

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte said he would be willing to "go to war" to defend Benham (Philippine) Rise and that he would be first to take a boat to the continental shelf to guard it.
"Hindi ako papayag. And it will mean war. Nandoon na 'yung Marines, huwag kayo matakot. Kasama ako doon, sabay tayo sa barko," said Duterte on Thursday, March 1, during the National SWAT Challenge in Davao City. (I will not allow it. And it will mean war. The Marines are there, don't be scared. I'll join them, I'll ride on the boat with them.)
"We will never agree to an insult like that na just because ganito lang tayo (we are just at this level) – you start to fuck with the areas there. I'll go to war," said Duterte.

He even said he would be willing to die to defend Benham Rise.

"Do not mess with us because we would not allow it. If it's time to go to heaven, so be it. Huwag kayo matakot, mauna ako doon (Don't be scared. I'll be the first one there)," said the Philippine leader. (READ: Gov't admits China surveyed Benham Rise without permit)

But in the same speech, Duterte told his audience of police not to believe his remarks during the campaign period that he would take a jetski to defend islands in the West Philippine Sea from China.

"'Yung sabi ko mag jetski ako sa China, kalokohan 'yun (When I said I would take a jetski, that's nonsense)," said the President, eliciting chuckles from the audience.

Clarification from Malacañang: On Thursday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque sent reporters a message saying Duterte wanted to clarify that his remarks about war over Benham Rise are "not directed at China."
"China has always recognized that we have sovereign rights over the area," said Roque. (READ: Philippines rejects Chinese names for Benham Rise features)

Why it matters: Duterte claimed he's willing to go to war over Benham Rise but has repeatedly said in the past that he can't do the same over the West Philippine Sea.

"I hope you understand that because I cannot afford to go to war. You know, I know that it would end up in a massacre," said Duterte back in November 2017. (READ: 5 ways Duterte can defend Scarborough without going to war)

China has shown interest in Benham Rise, a 13-million-hectare continental shelf said to be rich in mineral resources. China has also sought to claim the West Philippine Sea through its 9-dash line which was declared invalid by an international court in The Hague in 2016.

Malacañang has insisted that China is not claiming Benham Rise. Duterte maintains it belongs to the Philippines even as maritime law experts say the country doesn't "own" the area but has sovereign rights over it.

Duterte asks AFP to reinvent detachments

From Rappler (Mar 1): Duterte asks AFP to reinvent detachments

President Rodrigo Duterte says soldiers should not be easy targets for communist rebels or terrorists                                                                               
FIGHTING TERRORISM. President Rodrigo Duterte, on March 1, 2018, tells the Armed Forces of the Philippines that earlier anti-terrorism strategies have not been effective. Malacañang photo
FIGHTING TERRORISM. President Rodrigo Duterte, on March 1, 2018, tells the Armed Forces of the Philippines that earlier anti-terrorism strategies have not been effective. Malacañang photo

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte asked the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to reinvent detachments deployed in the government's counter-insurgency drive, saying that earlier strategies have not been effective in fighting terrorists.
In a speech in Davao City on Thursday, March 1, he said that instead of assigning detachments to be posted along highways, he would want them taken on a more mobile operation so they do not become easy targets.

"In a normal situation for a day, maraming dumadaan so mahihilo ka and ang soldier niyan (many vehicles pass by so you'll get overwhelmed and a soldier) could only give so much attention to one car," he said.

The President also made the same statement a day ago during the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of Christine Villas in Balo-i, Lanao del Norte.

Asked by reporters how his administration would deal with the New People's Army (NPA) with some of its members having surrendered in recent months, Duterte said he remains unwilling to resume negotiations at this time.

The President was also wary of reports that the NPA is now able to launch sniper attacks, with the alleged return of its "sparrow units."

Duterte suggested that the AFP mount machine guns over a ridge, though he warned this could be dangerous if terrorists attack them with silencer guns.

"And it's easily manufactured, and in the Philippines, you can buy one," he said.

The President maintained soldiers need to reinvent their doctrine on detachments, saying they will end up dying "if they just stand there."

PRRD graces groundbreaking rites of villas for soldiers and police

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 1): PRRD graces groundbreaking rites of villas for soldiers and police

President Rodrigo R. Duterte lowers the time capsule as he leads the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Christine Villas at Brgy. Maria Cristina in Balo-i, Lanao del Norte on February 28, 2018. Assisting the President are National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and National Housing Authority General Manager Marcelino Escalada Jr. (Toto Lozano/Presidential Photo)
BALO-I, Lanao del Norte -- President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Wednesday, Feb. 28, graced the groundbreaking ceremony of Christine Villas under the New Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police (AFP/PNP) Housing Program, assuring the men and women in uniform that public funds are put to good use under his watch.

Upon his arrival at the site, the President was briefed about the project by National Housing Authority (NHA) general manager Marcelino Escalada Jr.

The Chief Executive then led the capsule laying for the construction of the villas for select soldiers based in Region X (Northern Mindanao) and nearby provinces. The units are expected to be turned over in December 2019.

Duterte said housing units for the policemen and the soldiers are being put up in Davao, Zamboanga, Mati, Tarlac, Baguio, and Bacolod, among others.

“Kung maawa ang Diyos, mga lahat ‘yan makumpleto mga 2020, 2019. Ito, madalian ‘to. Kailan ‘to? December 2019,” Duterte said in his speech following the groundbreaking ceremony.

Duterte cited the good performance of the NHA under his administration, adding that the NHA is not tainted with corruption under his watch.

“Pagka ang pera nagamit sa wastong paraan, meron ka talagang makikita. Hindi naman ako. I do not want to compare myself with anybody. But sa panahon ko,” he said.

He also assured the soldiers that his administration will take care of all their needs, such as housing and education for their children.

"I would like to assure the soldiers na sa panahon ko wala kayong problema. Sagot ko lahat. Lahat,” Duterte said.

“Sa panahon ko, may bahay kayo at may plano kasi ako ‘yung Fort Bonifacio. Nag-uusap kami. I want it this year,” he said, noting that he plans to lease part of the camp in Fort Bonifacio.

“Talagang I would like to salute you, the soldiers of the Republic. Yes, sir. Saludo ako basta matatapang,” Duterte said.

This AFP/PNP Housing program came into fruition after the clamor of the military and police personnel assigned in war-torn areas for new designs & modalities that are acceptable and Ready for Occupancy (RFO) to the End-users.

Consisting of 1,000 Duplex-type house and lot package, each of the Christine Villas stands at a 80 sqm. lot and 60 sqm. floor area and costs PHP950,000 per duplex. It will be equipped with living, dining, toilet & bath, family area, and two bedrooms.

The Christine Villas, developed by Eddmari Construction & Trading, is the third of the eleven AFP/PNP Housing Project under the Duterte administration. The first two are Madayaw Residences in Talomo, Davao City and Scout Ranger Ville in Brgy. Calumpang & Tartaro-Sibul, San Miguel, Bulacan.

During the groundbreaking ceremony, the President was accompanied by Department of National Defense (DND) Delfin Lorenzana and Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go.

Meanwhile, Duterte said he is not yet satisfied with the number of rebel returnees from the New People’s Army (NPA).

He also said that he has no choice but to order the killing of the NPA members since the rebel group is fighting the government and killing the soldiers and policemen.

The President also said he is not inclined to resume peace talks with the rebels any time soon.

“Not at this time. Maybe. Alongside with the mass surrenders is also the ferocity of those fighting,” he said in an ambush interview following his speech.

Duterte also told the military to reconfigure its tactics on detachment since the rebels have found ways to still infiltrate and shoot government forces through sniper.

The Chief Executive yet again lashed out at the communist leaders, saying they no longer have the same traction as before due to their old age.

“Pero alam ko hirap na sila kasi matanda na. At may mga sakit. Lahat 'yung mga leaders na 'yan, 'yung the higher echelons nila, wala na 'yan. Puro matatanda na. Hindi na gumagana ang utak,” he said.

As for the remaining Maute terrorists, the President said the government forces will deal with them “harshly.”

“Kaya 'pag ito, maubos na talaga sila. They can regroup anywhere and we can have a fight again. Pero to the last man 'yan,” Duterte said.

“Sabi ko, it will not stop until the last terrorist is neutralized. 'Yun 'yung sa Marawi. It would be the same rule for any other conflict coming our way,” he added.

US terror tag, big reason to hit Maute Group: PNP

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 1): US terror tag, big reason to hit Maute Group: PNP

The United States’ decision to declare the Maute Group as a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" (SDGT) only highlighted the Philippine government’s efforts to neutralize the terror group, the spokesperson of the Philippine National Police (PNP) said late Wednesday.

"That is good news for us at magkakaroon tayo ng (and we will have) more reasons (to) go after this group," Chief Supt. John Bulalacao said when sought for comment on the matter.

The declaration will also greatly impact the group’s capability to raise funds as its sources could be monitored by foreign and local authorities, he added.

Earlier, the US Department of State designated ISIS Philippines, ISIS West Africa, and ISIS Bangladesh as "SDGTs" under Section 1 (b) of Executive Order 13224 as "Foreign Terrorist Organizations", pursuant to Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Also tagged as SDGTs were ISIS-Somalia, Jund al-Khilafah-Tunisia, ISIS-Egypt, and the Maute Group.

With this development, American nationals have been prohibited from transacting with these groups while their properties or holdings in the US have been blocked.

Nothing new with proposal to arm ROTC grads, reservists: DND chief

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 1): Nothing new with proposal to arm ROTC grads, reservists: DND chief

There is nothing new with President Rodrigo R. Duterte's announcement that he is willing to arm Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) graduates and other reservists should terrorism worsen in the Philippines.

"Other countries do it, like Switzerland (and) Israel. They have a small standing armed force backed by a huge reserve force that continually trains with the active force," Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday.

Lorenzana said they were looking at the possibility of each region having a reserve unit, consisting of retired military officers and ROTC graduates with a core group of active duty officers and enlisted personnel.

"Their cadres (officers and enlisted personnel) will be active military. They will have their Regional HQ with armories where they will keep their individual firearms. They can use these firearms during training," he said.

And should these formations be used in combat, peacekeeping and disaster response missions “will have official orders calling them for limited active duty, like we did with the Lanao del Norte Reserve Battalion during the Marawi Siege", Lorenzana said.

US attack submarine in Subic for routine visit

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 1): US attack submarine in Subic for routine visit

The United States Embassy in Manila on Thursday announced the arrival of Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Bremerton (SSN 698) at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone for a routine port visit during its deployment to the Indo-Pacific region.

In a statement, it said the visit highlights the strong partnership between the US and the Philippines as it gives the crew an opportunity to meet the local community living in the Subic area.

“Bremerton’s arrival into Subic Bay means a lot to both my crew and the US submarine force,” said Cmdr. Travis Zettel, commanding officer. “This is Bremerton’s ninth and final visit to Subic Bay in the ship’s 37 year history."

It also demonstrates the US Navy’s commitment to regional stability and maritime security in the US 7th Fleet area of operations, the embassy said.

Bremerton’s crew of 150 sailors regularly conducts a variety of missions to maintain proficiency in the latest submarine fleet capabilities.

Its stealth, mobility, endurance and firepower allow Bremerton to work independently or in conjunction with a carrier strike group.

“My crew and I are looking forward to the opportunity to engage with the local community while simultaneously preparing the ship for the remainder of our deployment,” Zettel said. 

The embassy said a number of the sailors aboard Bremerton have family from the Philippines and through this visit have the chance to better connect with their heritage.

“It really means a lot to me that I get the chance to visit a number of my family members again,” said Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Christopher Gapasin, who lived in the Philippines for six years and has relatives in the area.

Measuring more than 300 feet long and weighing more than 6,000 tons when submerged, Bremerton is capable of supporting a multitude of missions, including anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and mine warfare.

Bremerton is the oldest commissioned submarine in the US Navy and is homeported in Pearl Harbor.

Later this year, it will move to its namesake city, Bremerton, Washington, where it will be decommissioned after nearly 40 years of naval service.

Reds attack defenseless civilians in 2 Quezon towns

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 1): Reds attack defenseless civilians in 2 Quezon towns

A group of New People’s Army (NPA) members ambushed personnel of the Army’s 514 Engineering Construction Battalion (ECB) Alpha Company while aboard a military truck on Tuesday morning in Barangay Ilayang Panaon in Unisan, Quezon.

Reports reaching this camp said the military engineering construction workers were working on a multi-purpose pavement and getting a mixer in Quezon when the ambush happened.

The rebels used lmprovised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that wounded five soldiers and three civilians including a mother and her two children.

The identities of the victims are still being confirmed and verified.

The victims were rushed to Bondoc Peninsula District Hospital and now undergoing medical treatment.

Major General Rhoderick M. Parayno, Commander of 2nd Infantry Division, said the NPAs’ use of lEDs is a violation of Republic Act 9851 or the act penalizing crime against International Humanitarian Law.

“The NPAs are attacking civilians and defenseless people. They don’t want development to reach the communities as this will limit their movement. Hitting soft targets will cover their weakness. This is their way of projecting strength”, Parayno said.

“We are pursuing them. The people are no longer supporting them. The support they are getting are forced majeure,” he said.

The NPA attack came just a day after another NPA group ransacked a ranch and abducted six civilians early evening Monday on Sitio Tumbaga, Barangay Pagsangahan in the town of San Francisco, Quezon.

According to Colonel Elias Escarcha, Commander of 201st Infantry Brigade based in Quezon, the six captives were helpers and security workers of Murray Ranch.

Escarcha said two of the security personnel were off-duty members of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) and were disarmed.

The attackers withdrew towards the hinterland bringing along six firearms from the ranch.

By 7 p.m., the captives were later released by the rebel group and are now back in their homes.

Escarcha reported that the victims were traumatized by the incident.

“They now fear for their lives and for their families as well,” he added.

In an earlier statement, Parayno condemned the NPA attacks on defenseless civilians.

“The crimes perpetrated by the NPAs are clear acts of terrorism,” Parayno said.

CHR conducts autopsy on militiaman killed by 'NPA' in NegOr

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 1): CHR conducts autopsy on militiaman killed by 'NPA' in NegOr

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) exhumed Thursday morning and conducted an autopsy on the remains of a militiaman who was killed a few months ago in Siaton, Negros Oriental by a group of armed men that the police and military had identified as New People’s Army (NPA) members.

CHR-Negros Oriental special field investigator and provincial chief Jess Cañete explained that the exhumation and autopsy were done at the Siaton cemetery, where the body of the late Gelino Vailoces is buried.

A forensics team from the CHR central office, headed by Dr. Ludivino Lagat, performed the autopsy of Vailoces in support of an investigation that the local CHR office, headed by Cañete, is undertaking.

Vailoces, 52, a resident of Sitio Ondol, Barangay Talalak in the municipality of Sta. Catalina, Negros Oriental, was a member of the Special Civilian Armed Auxiliary (SCAA) assigned to the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ 12th Infantry Battalion based in Siaton town, about an hour’s drive south of this capital city.

In the morning of Nov. 13, 2017, more or less 30 armed men had allegedly abducted Vailoces from his residence in Talalak, Sta. Catalina, a town adjacent to Siaton, a police report had said.

Vailoces’ lifeless body, which sustained gunshot wounds, was found later that day, about 1.5 kilometers from the Cuadra detachment, at Sitio Budlis in Barangay Mantiquil by the group of village chief Millares, who brought the body to the Siaton District Hospital, the police report added.

CHR special investigator Jess Cañete explained that the family of Vailoces came to his office earlier asking for assistance to conduct an investigation on the death of the militiaman.

He said even Army personnel had also requested the same.

Cañete clarified that pending investigation, his office would not want to name names, and thus declined to comment that the alleged perpetrators were NPA members, despite pronouncements by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Army.

The CHR officer explained it took awhile for the exhumation and autopsy as this depends on the availability of the forensics team from the CHR main office.

The same team had also performed an autopsy Monday afternoon in Dumaguete City on the cadaver of Police Officer 2 Roderick Maquinta, who was killed by police officers in January, this year, during a buy-bust operation.

Maquinta was dropped from the PNP roster and was tagged by the police as allegedly engaged in the illegal drugs trade.

Duterte inaugurates housing projects for servicemen, IDPs in Lanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 1): Duterte inaugurates housing projects for servicemen, IDPs in Lanao

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte led the groundbreaking ceremony of a housing program for police and military personnel in the town of Baloi, Lanao del Norte on Wednesday.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines/Philippine National Police housing program under the National Housing Authority (NHA) will consist of 1,000 houses within a 210,000 square-meter property in Brgy. Maria Cristina, said NHA general manager Marcelino Escalada Jr.

Escalada said the housing units would occupy around 140,000 square meters, and the rest of the property would be utilized for a multi-purpose covered court, as well as play and green areas.

Each unit will sit on an 80 square-meter lot with a floor area of 60 square-meter. It would be equipped with a living room, dining room, toilet and bath, a family area and two bedrooms, Escalada said.

Escalada said each unit would cost around PHP950,000 and would benefit AFP and PNP personnel within Region 10 and nearby provinces.

Minus the PHP70,000 subsidy that President Duterte has already committed for each beneficiary, the NHA official said recipients would be paying a low amortization cost of PHP5,700 per month for 25 years.

The housing units will be delivered to the beneficiaries by December next year.

On the same day, meanwhile, Duterte also flew to Marawi City to lead the inauguration of the Bahay Pagasa Phase 2 in Brgy. Mipaga.

The Bahay Pag-asa is an immediate shelter and accommodation housing complex for internally-displaced persons (IDPs) , featuring 60 single-detached houses with individual kitchen, toilet and bath facilities.

Sitting on a one-hectare lot, the military-led housing project is equipped with basic community-living amenities such as deep well, water storage facilities, electric power connection, a community center, sports facilities, children's playroom and a learning center, parking lots and even a community garden.

Police, military beef up security for Kaamulan 2018

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 1): Police, military beef up security for Kaamulan 2018

Security preparations for Bukidnoon's annual Kaamulan Festival are already in place, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Army’s 403rd Brigade said.

Col. Roland Orquia, 403rd brigade deputy commander, said the heightened security measures would take effect despite the absence of imminent security threats.

"We must be cautious at all times considering that terrorists usually strike at very opportune time when everybody is unprepared,” Col. Orquia said.

Orquia said the military would assist the local police in providing security, including the deployment of troops in the Kaamulan grounds and other strategic locations.

"We will also deploy a K-9 bomb sniffing dogs, specifically during big events,” the Army official added.

Sr. Supt. Benedicto Pintor, Bukidnon police provincial director, said all security plans are already in place.

On top of checkpoints, Pintor said plainclothes police officers would also be deployed in strategic areas.

Pintor has called on participants to observe security protocol to be implemented on March 24, during the festival's main event--the Kaamulan Street dancing.

“On March 24, we will ban the bringing or carrying of backpacks, umbrella, dark eyeglasses and bull cap in the center oval where the performers present their dances,” he said.

Kaamulan is an annual gathering of the seven tribes of the province namely Bukidnon, Higaonon, Talaandig, Manobo, Matisalug, Umayamnon and Tigwahanon.

Cops seize IED materials in Bukidnon

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 1): Cops seize IED materials in Bukidnon

Authorities recovered various materials believed to be used in assembling improvised explosive device in a village in Bukidnon Thursday morning, police said.

According to Police Supt. Lemuel Gonda, spokesperson for the Philippine National Police in Region 10, personnel from the Police Mobile Force Company responded to a call by residents regarding the presence of two suspicious-looking persons at Purok 5, Barangay Lumbo, Valencia City in Bukidnon.

When the responding police officers arrived in the village, the two persons fled the area but left sacks full of various bomb-making materials.

Police believe the items belong to the New People’s Army (NPA) operating in Bukidnon and nearby areas.

Among the items found were 21 improvised hand grenades, five pieces improvised anti-personnel clamor mines, three PVC pipes; 52-meter long electrical wire; three kilograms of soluble fertilizer; 200 grams of asupre, a chemical substance; a kilogram of ANFO (ammonium nitrite, fuel oil), four pieces dynamite; 60 pieces improvised electric blasting cap; 240 kilograms steel cut fragments (round bars); and 370-meter safety fuse.

Gonda said Northern Mindanao, especially the region’s major urban areas such as Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, remains on high alert following reports of imminent attacks by terrorist groups and armed insurgents.

PNP allays public fear over fresh 'NPA' sightings in NegOr

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 2): PNP allays public fear over fresh 'NPA' sightings in NegOr

The Philippine National Police (PNP) in Negros Oriental has assured residents of hinterland barangays in the north of the province that the police and the military are undertaking measures to ensure the safety and security of the public amid reports of fresh sightings of alleged New People's Army (NPA) members in these areas.

Provincial police director Sr. Supt. Edwin Portento reiterated that the Philippine Army and the PNP are coordinating their efforts to conduct monitoring, patrolling and similar operations in the municipality of Bindoy and adjacent areas to include Ayungon, among others.

Portento assured that the 62nd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army is on top of the situation.

He also assured that the PNP has troops to complement those from the military in responding to reports from hinterland residents of the presence of armed groups there believed to be NPA members.

Portento does not believe reports that the NPA members have reached 600 in number because that would be impossible to “feed”, let alone to converge in just one or a few adjacent villages.

“That is an exaggeration,” he said, adding that he does not believe that the NPA is capable of putting together a force of that size.

Residents from Nalundan, Bindoy and other neighboring “sitios” (sub-villages) have expressed fear because of the armed men allegedly coming to their homes to either ask for food or to spend the night there.

Some teachers have already complained that a few parents have stopped sending their children to school, while other residents have reportedly fled their villages.

But Portento cautioned against spreading unverified information as this might cause unnecessary panic while authorities are still out to ascertain these reports.

Residents, however, who asked not to be identified, have expressed fear because if not addressed immediately, the insurgency problem in these hinterland villages in the past years could resurface.

They also expressed concern because of the presence of uniformed personnel with firearms in their villages, but do not know whether these are legitimate military/police operatives or insurgents.

“Siguro, nagkakaroon lang ng confusion ang mga tawo doon (perhaps the people there are just confused),” Portento said, adding that “they need not fear especially because we are doing something about it.”

“Of course di naman natin pwedeng i-divulge sa public yung operation plan nila (we cannot divulge the operation plan of the Army). And we expect their (people’s) cooperation” regarding the presence of the alleged NPA members in these hinterland villages, Portento stressed.

“There is nothing for them (the people) to worry about,” he reassured.

The PNP director also confirmed that they are conducting regular checkpoints but he does not believe that the NPA members would be traversing national highways except probably for those bringing provisions to the hinterlands.

Portento also disclosed he was invited to the joint Peace and Order Council meeting of the municipalities of Manjuyod, Ayungon, Bindoy, and Tayasan next week to discuss the reported presence of purported NPA members in the hinterlands of these adjacent towns.

Ayungon Mayor Edsel Enardecido, who heads the League of Municipalities in Negros Oriental, recently corroborated the statements of the residents in these towns that armed men were, indeed, sighted in recent weeks there and who have been visiting homes asking for food.