Sunday, March 11, 2018

2 more NPAs surrender

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 10): 2 more NPAs surrender

Two heavily armed New People’s Army (NPA) fighters bolted from their respected highland camps and voluntarily surrendered to military and police units on Thursday, Army and police reports yesterday said.

The two NPA fighters are now under the custody of the government’s field unit commanders and will soon be released so that they could be reunited with their respective families.

A flash report obtained by The Manila Bulletin on Saturday from the Police Regional Office 13 (PRO 13)-Regional Public Information Office (RPIO) stated that the first NPA member brought with him his shotgun loaded with live ammunition when he surrendered to the Maneuver Company of the 13th Regional Mobile Force Battalion and 75th Infantry Battalion, in Purok 15 Sitio Cabauhan, Barangay Bunawan Brook, Bunawan, Agusan del Sur.

Another NPA fighter, who also turned himself in, led troops to three AK47 rifles he had buried in Barangay Rizal in Manay, Davao Oriental.
The names of the former NPA fighters were withheld for security reasons.

“The recovery of the high powered firearms is a great manifestation of the former rebel’s sincerity in submitting unto the folds of the law and we will not lower our guards against any armed threats that can harm the peaceful living of the people,” said Lt. Col. Oscar B. Baligsanay Jr., 25th Infantry Battalion commander.

Marawi’s Embattled Former Residents Face A Tortuous Path Home

From the Eurasia Review (May 11): Marawi’s Embattled Former Residents Face A Tortuous Path Home (By Michael Hart)

A building in Marawi is set ablaze by airstrikes carried out by the Philippine Air Force. Photo by Mark Jhomel, Wikipedia Commons.

A building in Marawi is set ablaze by airstrikes carried out by the Philippine Air Force. Photo by Mark Jhomel, Wikipedia Commons.

Four months since President Duterte declared Marawi ‘liberated from terrorist influence’ after the slaying of militant leaders Isnilon Haplion and Omar Maute during the final throes of battle, the vast majority of the city’s war-weary former residents have not yet been allowed to return home.

More than 200,000 of Marawi’s inhabitants remain displaced and are at the epicentre of what has become a prolonged humanitarian crisis, which is beginning to foster an atmosphere of hopelessness and despair among the resilient but increasingly forlorn community of Marawian evacuees.

The exiled are desperate to resume their lives and begin the slow process of rebuilding everything they have lost, yet the path ahead appears uncertain, dangerous and littered with obstacles.

The government says the full reconstruction and rehabilitation of Marawi could take up to four years to complete, whilst the flattened streets of the city centre remain littered with unexploded ordnance. The scale of devastation across the war-ravaged city makes a return to normality a distant prospect.

In the interim, the prolonged marginalization and disenfranchisement of Marawi’s exiled community could create fertile ground for recruitment by ISIS in the areas of western Mindanao worst-affected by the displacement crisis. Should the government be doing more?

The scale of the humanitarian crisis is huge. More than 353,000 people from around 77,000 families were displaced by the five-month war which pitted government forces against jihadists from the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups. The vast majority fled during the early days of the conflict after militants took the authorities by surprise and over-ran the city on 23 May last year, leaving only around 2,000 civilians stranded in areas of heavy fighting. Several-hundred were taken hostage by the Mautes.

Most internally-displaced persons (IDPs) sought refuge in the nearby provinces of Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte, with smaller numbers residing in Misamis Oriental and South Cotabato. The majority of those who fled have stayed with friends or relatives, yet tens-of-thousands more have been forced to seek shelter in cramped conditions in hastily-established state-run temporary evacuation centres.

The military initially hoped to defeat the jihadists within a few weeks, but as residents anxiously waited for news the conflict ran-on for five long months as the city was reduced to rubble through intense ground battles and sustained aerial bombardment. The scale of devastation was immense, as security forces engaged in some of the heaviest fighting witnessed in the Philippines since World War Two.

Whilst the small number of civilians trapped in the conflict zone endured a desperate daily battle for survival, dodging bullets and launching daring attempts to escape from their captors, those who had already managed to flee to safety were confronted with a new set of dire challenges.

In overcrowded evacuation centres, health became a major concern as cases of fever, diarrhoea and respiratory illnesses soared. Inadequate sanitation facilities increased the risk of waterborne diseases, whilst safe drinking water was in short supply. Dwindling food supplies led to a rise in malnutrition among the elderly and young children, many of whom remain out of education as twenty of Marawi’s 69 schools were totally destroyed. Most other schools suffered extensive damage and remain closed.

The sheer extent of the unfolding humanitarian emergency overwhelmed local authorities, who were ill-prepared to cope with the burgeoning crisis. The siege of Marawi not only destroyed homes but also jobs, livelihoods and entire communities, prompting a sudden exodus with little prior warning.

Some families from the outer-regions of the city were able to return home in the weeks immediately following the ‘termination of military operations’ in the city by the armed forces in late-October. A few thousand others have been moved to temporary resettlement villages built by the government, the largest of which is in Sagonsongan and will eventually be able to accommodate 4,600 families.

Yet the majority of Marawians remain displaced. According to the latest figures released by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) only 87,306 individuals from 16,930 families have returned to Marawi so-far, leaving another 266,615 residents from 53,323 families still without a home.

Contamination of the main battle area with IEDs planted by the militants and unexploded ordnance (UXO) from military air raids presents the most immediate barrier to return. Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBN), the multi-agency group set-up by the government to co-ordinate the rehabilitation effort, is currently working alongside military engineers to clear the hard-hit central Banggolo area.

As of the end of December, TFBN said 30% of the area had been cleared with the army having removed 2,853 items of UXO and 415 IEDs from the ruins. Military spokesman Col. Romeo Brawner says clearing operations in the area, which covers 24 of the city’s 96 villages, are scheduled to be completed by mid-April. Even then it will not be safe for residents to return permanently, only to pay a fleeting visit.

The government estimates that full reconstruction and rehabilitation of the city will take up to four years and cost PHP50bn, yet some have predicted the final bill will surpass PHP150bn. International organizations such as the World Bank and foreign governments including Australia, China, Japan and the US have all pledged financial support, whilst President Duterte has allocated an initial PHP10bn for the rehabilitation of Marawi in this year’s budget. Despite these commitments, little can be done to speed up recovery and get residents home sooner.

More however could be done to support Marawi’s displaced inhabitants while they are living in a state of flux. Nine months after the siege began host families are still struggling with the burden of care, whilst the basic needs of many IDPs staying in evacuation centres are still not being met. It is now clear that most evacuees will not be able to return home for years, prompting calls for greater support.

In the present void, resentment and anger are rising. This could play directly into the hands of the very people who drove Marawi’s residents from their homes. The Philippine military has already voiced concerns over radicalization in the provinces surrounding Marawi, warning that ISIS-linked groups such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and remnants of the Maute group are actively seeking to recruit new fighters, first targeting young men from the most marginalized communities.

Marawi’s residents are eager to return home, but their city has been reduced to rubble and large parts of it will remain uninhabitable for the foreseeable future. The conflict will leave lasting scars not only on the landscape, but also in the minds of those who witnessed the horrors inflicted by ISIS and those who have lived through its aftermath in desperate conditions.

By extending Martial Law until the end of 2018 and looking to bolster the military’s presence in Mindanao, as well as reaffirming his commitment to pass a law creating a new autonomous Muslim region in the south, President Duterte is at least attempting to ensure that the siege of Marawi is not repeated elsewhere in the region whilst concurrently dealing a blow to ISIS’ recruitment ambitions.

Yet with an eye on securing peace for the future, Duterte’s administration is arguably not doing enough in the present to help Marawi’s displaced residents recover and get their shattered lives back on track. Despite starting the process of rebuilding the city and providing various means of assistance to IDPs, the state’s response has been criticized in some quarters as being too slow and inequitable.

The void is being filled by NGOs and the charitable nature of victims’ friends and families. Yet as time passes and funding dries-up, these additional resources will likely wear thin. Duterte must hope that radical groups are not able to also fill part of the void and take advantage of the situation.

Just like the siege itself, the path home for Marawi’s displaced inhabitants is set to be long, arduous and fraught with setbacks.

Michael Hart is a freelance writer and researcher focusing on civil conflict and the politics of East Asia. He has written for online publications including The Diplomat, World Politics Review, Geopolitical Monitor, Asian Correspondent and Eurasia Review. Hart also runs a website – – providing news and analysis of under-reported conflicts. Hart previously studied an MA in International Relations at the University of Westminster, and a BA in Human Geography at the University of Exeter.

Bill strengthening PH defense system filed

From the Manila Times (Mar 11): Bill strengthening PH defense system filed

SEN. Panfilo Lacson has sought a law that would strengthen the country’s defense system against insurgency and terrorism, which includes a two-year “mandatory” military service, to be rendered by Filipinos whether they were natural-born or naturalized.

He filed Senate Bill 1734 or the National Defense Act of 2018, which seeks a stronger Department of National Defense that will implement a more credible national defense system to address inside and outside threats.

“In defending the Philippines, the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest and the right to self-determination,” Lacson said. “The preservation of the State is the obligation of every citizen. The security, freedom and independence of the Philippines shall be guaranteed by the employment of all citizens, without distinction of age or sex, and all resources.”

Section 77 of SB 1734 states that “In relation to the patriotic duty of every citizen to defend the country when obliged to preserve and protect sovereignty, every Filipino, natural-born or naturalized shall be subject to basic, suitable and sufficient military training and education for a minimum of two years mandatory military service.”

“The purpose of the Reserve Force is to provide the base for the expansion of the AFP in the event of disaster, internal disorder, and invasion,” Lacson said.

SB 1734 seeks to upgrade the government’s capabilities against insurgency, terrorism and other threats to national security via several measures, including streamlining the procurement process for defense equipment and prohibiting the sale of strategic defense real properties.

The senator said the mobilization of citizens and resources for national defense should be effected by a “mobilization.”

“The mobilization shall include the execution of all measures necessary to pass from a peace to a war footing or in any case of actual invasion or when public safety so requires as well as during its transition to normalcy or rehabilitation,” he added.

SB 1734 is envisioned to update national defense policies, principles and concepts, to institutionalize needed improvements and to codify various laws on national defense, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the civilian bureaus.

Under the bill, the sale of strategic defense real properties is prohibited, unless recommended by the Defense secretary and approved by the President with the consent of Congress.

Income from the lease or development of defense real estate shall be remitted only to the AFP Modernization Act Trust Fund.

The bill exempts from the Government Procurement Law the acquisition by the AFP of special defense equipment.

It also exempts from import and other licenses the acquisition of defense materiel, and allows the Defense department to accept donations, contributions and grants.

The measure includes the Secretary of National Defense in the chain of command and integrates the Women’s Auxiliary Corps and the Technical and Administrative Service into the AFP Component Services.

On the other hand, under the bill, the National Defense College of the Philippines will be transformed into the National Defense University of the Philippines.

AFP efforts in counter-violent extremism gain ground after of 575 loose firearms

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 11): AFP efforts in counter-violent extremism gain ground after of 575 loose firearms

The Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism (PCVE) in Mindanao gain more ground with the recovery of 575 loose firearms in 2018.

AFP logo (Manila Bulletin)
Notable of these are the gains from seven municipalities in Sulu that surrendered 187 loose firearms on March 6 and other places in ZamBaSulta (Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi) area which is a manifestation of local government units’ (LGUs) cooperation in PCVE efforts of the national government.

The AFP Western Mindanao Command (WMC) reported that the municipal and barangay officials from Talipao, Parang, Omar, Indanan, Maimbung, Jolo and Patikul, Sulu turned over nine M14 rifles, three .30 caliber BAR rifles, nine M79 grenade launchers, 64 M16 rifles, three AR15 rifles, 93 M1 Garand rifles, four M203 grenade launchers, and two caliber .45 pistol.

Among these, Talipao Mayor Nebukadnezar Tulawie surrendered the most with 60 high- and low-powered firearms, consisting of 41 M16 rifles, three AR15 rifles, 12 M1 Garand rifles, two M79 grenade launchers, one bar, and one M14 rifle. These recent developments add up to the successful implementation of PCVE efforts this year.

From January 1 to March 3 this year, 192 assorted firearms were surrendered in Zamboanga City, 52 in Sulu, 30 in Zamboanga Peninsula and Lanao Provinces, and 114 in Central Mindanao.

The AFP’s Public Affairs Office said the campaign to recover loose firearms aims to prevent clan wars, disarm private armed groups, and deny local terror groups access to weapons. The AFP also concluded on March 3 the cascading of PCVE programs to the Unified Commands in Mindanao.

The PCVE program gives emphasis on stakeholder engagements and interagency coordination to deny violent extremists of the opportunity to recruit new members. This program is in collaboration with LGUs, religious scholars and prominent clans to appropriately address issues being used by violent extremists in their recruitment.

Through this program, the AFP is also enhancing the Joint AFP-PNP civil relations committee projects such as the National Youth Leadership Summit and National Indigenous Peoples’ (IP) Leaders’ Summit have also been conducted early this year to make the youth and the IP resilient from violent extremism.

51 Abu Sayyaf neutralized since start of 2018

Meanwhile, efforts to subdue the Abu Sayyaf Group resulted in the neutralization of 51 terrorists in Western Mindanao in the first 65 days of 2018.

Reports from the WMC showed that seven terrorists were killed, eight were apprehended, and 36 have surrendered from January 1 to March 6 this year. The AFP also recovered 49 firearms from ASG, 15 of which were recovered in combat operations.

The AFP through WMC will continue the pressure and sustain the strategic alliance with stakeholders in eradicating the ASG menace and terror threats in Western Mindanao and nationwide.

2 soldiers wounded in clashes with NPA in Batangas

From the Sun Star-Manila (Mar 11): 2 soldiers wounded in clashes with NPA in Batangas

TWO soldiers were wounded after joint military-police forces figured in two clashes with suspected members of the communist New People's Army in Balayan, Batangas province Saturday, March 10.

The first firefight occurred at around 8:30 a.m. when troops conducting combat operations encountered about 30 armed rebels in Sitio Kapihan, Barangay Patugo, according to Captain Patrick Retumban, chief public information officer of the 2nd Infantry Division.

The said firefight lasted for almost 30 minutes until the enemies scampered off to different directions, leaving bloodstains at the scene which indicated that some of there were wounded.

Another gunfight which lasted for about an hour ensued at around 9:12 a.m., when the withdrawing enemies were blocked by another group of soldiers in Sitio Sahing of the same barangay.

Retumban said Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police personnel are continuing pursuit operations against the suspected NPA rebels. Expanded checkpoints have been established in the area.

“These actions will send a message to the enemies-of-state that their terrorist activities against the people is futile,” said Major General Rhoderick Parayno, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division.

Brigadier General Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr., commander of the 202nd Infantry Brigade which supervises the operations, said they learned that the NPA rebels whom the troops encountered are remnants of the Sub- Regional Military Area (SRMA) 4C, which lost 15 fighters and 13 firearms during an armed engagement against the government forces in Nasugbu, Batangas on Novermber 28, 2017.

He also said the NPA members in Balayan area are possibly consolidating for a tactical offensive to project relevance in the province as part of the NPA’s anniversary on March 29.

Parayno, for his part, urged the rebels to surrender. “They are given the opportunity to surrender because, although we do not rejoice in killing our fellow Filipinos, we are duty bound to take calculated and internationally accepted military actions,” he said.

The government earlier promised to provide housing and decent jobs to rebel surrenderers.

ASEAN military chiefs push for peace in South China Sea

From Rappler (Mar 11): ASEAN military chiefs push for peace in South China Sea

ASEAN military chiefs also stress the need for 'a peaceful resolution' of the South China Sea dispute

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

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

Military chiefs of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) pushed for peace in the disputed South China Sea, as they also stressed the need to avoid moves "that may complicate the situation."

The military chiefs made this statement after the ASEAN Chiefs of Defense Forces Informal Meeting (ACDFIM) held in Singapore on Thursday, March 8.

The chiefs reaffirmed "the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety, and freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea, as well as the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities and avoid actions that may complicate the situation."

They also emphasized the importance of "a peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law," according to a statement by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. (READ: ASEAN 2017: A wasted opportunity for the West Philippine Sea)

The Philippines owns the rights over part of the South China Sea, called the West Philippine Sea, within the Southeast Asian country's 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Terrorism, disaster response tackled: After their meeting in Singapore, heads of defense forces also spoke of a "Resilience, Response, Recovery" framework to deter terrorist attacks in the region.

The military chiefs then agreed to work on the “operationalization of mechanisms to enhance ASEAN responses to natural disasters, such as the ASEAN Military Ready Group (AMRG)." (READ: How climate change affects ASEAN affairs)

The AMRG would be a precursor for an ASEAN quick response team for immediate coordinated deployment to ASEAN countries and areas affected by disasters.