Monday, March 26, 2018

No word yet on Holy Week truce

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 27): No word yet on Holy Week truce

Photo courtesy: Philippine Army

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it has yet to receive orders regarding the implementation of a suspension of military operations (SOMO) against the New People's Army (NPA) this Holy Week.

"The SOMO is a political decision vested upon the political leadership. The AFP is yet to receive orders to suspend offensive military operations against the NPA," AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Emmanuel Garcia said late Monday.

He issued this statement following alleged reports that NPA forces have declared that they will be suspending offensives and other attacks against government troops and facilities during Lent.

The AFP official added that the alleged declaration is suspicious as it was only announced by an alleged spokesman of an NPA guerilla front whose coverage is less than a province; and was merely signed by someone from one of the rebels' regional organ.

"We believe that such unusual declaration by the NPA is another ploy to deceive the security forces, the government and especially the people so that the government will be forced to declare SOMO in order for them to reconstitute forces, recruit new members, extort money, and rest from the unceasing focused military operation of the AFP," Garcia stressed.

The AFP public affairs office chief said that the ceasefire pronouncements by the NPAs are nothing but a desperate attempt of the rebel group to gain the moral high ground.

"By seizing the opportunity to paint religiosity in their organization while the basic principle of communism by which their fake revolution is anchored, does not believe in God and reject religion," he added.

Incidentally, the NPA's 49th founding anniversary on March 29 will fall on Maundy Thursday this year.

Anniversary celebrations of the rebels are usually marked by violent attacks against government forces and civilian communities.

"The CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front) can show their sincerity by doing the right thing by stopping all forms of violent activities and atrocities against the people all year round," Garcia stressed.

Also, he also called on the public to be wary of the pattern of deception of the NPA terrorists; to be proactive and to be part of the conscious effort to deny them of the chance to regain strength.

"Whatever the decision of the political leadership, the AFP will follow legally mandated orders. Rest assured that our troops will continue to monitor and conduct appropriate security measures to protect the people and vulnerable communities," Garcia stressed.

Japan to provide spares for donated patrol planes

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 27): Japan to provide spares for donated patrol planes

AIRCRAFT DONATION. Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (middle) shakes hands with Parliamentary Vice Minister of Defense Tatsuo Fukuda (2nd from left) during the turn over of the three Beechcraft King Air TC-90 patrol aircrafts in a brief ceremony at the Naval Air Group headquarters in Cavite City on Monday (March 26, 2018). Also in the photo are Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koji Haneda (left), and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Rey Leonardo Guerrero (2nd from right). The planes were donated by the Japan Ministry of Defense to the Philippine Navy. (PNA photo by Joey Razon)

The Japanese government has committed to provide spare parts and capacity fielding in maintaining the five Beechcraft King Air TC-90 patrol airplanes that it has donated to ensure that these are always operational, the Philippine Navy (PN) has said.

"Having assured of their unwavering support, I am confident that we will be able to operate, maintain and sustain the five TC-90s that will become relevant in achieving our goals of our Active Archipelagic Defense Strategy (AADS); pursuit of our vision that, by 2020, we shall be strong and credible that our maritime nation will be proud of," Navy flag-officer-in-command, Rear Adm. Robert Empedrad, said during the handover ceremony for three TC-90s in Sangley Point, Cavite City Monday.

Under the AADS, the Navy is planning to boost its maritime surveillance capability to fully secure the country’s territorial waters, which is among the largest in the world, and the TC-90s can help achieve this goal, Empedrad said.

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

The first two TC-90s were delivered to the Philippines on March 27, 2017 while the last three were handed over to the Navy on Monday.

The TC-90 has a range of more than 1,000 nautical miles, and a cruising speed of 226 knots and is capable of carrying eight passengers along with the pilot.

To date, the Navy is operating six Norman Britten "Islander" patrol aircraft, five AgustaWestland combat utility helicopters, and one Robinson R-22 training helicopter.

PNP tracks associates of nabbed Indonesian terrorist

UNTV News and Rescue (Mar 26): PNP tracks associates of nabbed Indonesian terrorist

Mugshot photo of Indonesian terrorist Mushalah Somiba alias Abu Omar
The Philippine National Police (PNP) believes Indonesian terrorist Omar was not alone in traveling to the Philippines. This is why the police continue to search for his other colleagues.

Omar was arrested by the Police Regional Office Region (PRO) XII in Palimbang Sultan Kudarat last March 10.

He is now under the custody of the Bureau of Immigration in Mindanao.

PRO 12 Director PCSupt. Marcelo Morales said they are now leaving it up to the immigration bureau the fate of alleged suicide bomber Mushalah Somiba alias Abu Omar.

“Yung naarestong terorista ay itinurn over namin sa Bureau of Immigration for violation of immigration law,” said the regional director. (We already turned over to the Bureau of Immigration the arrested terrorist for violating immigration law.)

Local authorities were able to arrest Omar with the help of intelligence information given by Indonesian authorities.
Police said the suspect even attempted to trigger the explosion of the bomb attached to his body during the arrest.

He was previously detained in Indonesia but was able to go free.

The PNP suspects the alleged suicide bomber had plans to commit a crime in the Philippines.

He was supposed to meet with an active member of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighter (BIFF).

“Convicted na terorista sya sa Indonesia. Nag-serve siya ng one and a half years sa prison for crimes of terrorism sa Indonesia,” said Morales. (He is a convicted terrorist in Indonesia. He served one a half years in prison for crimes of terrorism in Indonesia.)

Authorities confiscated from Omar an ATM card and more than 250,000 rupiah bills.

South China Sea: the Philippine fissure

From The Interpreter (Mar 27): South China Sea: the Philippine fissure

A new normal is evident in the South China Sea disputes.

Last week, Philippine Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana revealed that China continues to exchange radio challenges and responses with Philippine aircraft patrols and resupply missions in the West Philippine Sea. With Manila keen to avoid diplomatic tussles over China’s development of artificial islands, this routine “play of words” masks the underlying modus vivendi that accommodates China’s permanent presence and strategic dominance in areas claimed by Manila.

Phillipines President Rodrigo Duterte himself openly described China’s artificial islands as “military bases”, but he insists they are directed only at the US, not the Philippines. In the meantime, the artificial islands provide protective cover to China’s continued exploitation of resources in the Philippine economic exclusion zone. This notwithstanding the Philippines’ spectacular success in delegitimising China’s resource claims through international arbitration.

Going against most previous Philippine administrations, Duterte accepted China’s offer of joint development of South China Sea resources. He recently announced that the two countries will “prudently” and “steadily” advance cooperation on joint exploration of offshore petroleum resources. Since 2016, the Philippines has turned away from publicly asserting its exclusive maritime rights to instead pursue economic cooperation.

Manila hopes that it will be handsomely rewarded by this trade-off. Relations between the two claimants have improved greatly, with the Philippines actively soliciting Chinese financial investments and infrastructure assistance sorely needed to fuel economic growth. Even in the face of external defence and security demands, the Philippines administration does not want risk such rewards.

Duterte’s celebrated “severance” from the US and preference for a security alliance with China and Russia, however, has so far fizzled out. Neither of the two major powers appear to be as interested in actively and directly challenging the existing network of military relationships in the region.

To the security sector, there is much less doubt about Manila’s true security partners. In the conflict in Marawi City last year instigated by the ISIS-inspired Abu Sayyaf and the Maute Clan, the Philippines–US security alliance quietly reactivated at the outbreak of hostilities. The US provided vital battlefield reconnaissance, intelligence, advice, and logistics support to the Armed Forces of the Philippines that helped it improvise and adapt quickly to defeat the terrorist groups. This resulted in relatively few civilian casualties despite the massive collateral damage.

Australia also played a supporting role in the conflict, providing technical assistance and deploying surveillance aircraft. Duterte’s repeated compliments paid to China for providing the sniper rifle that killed the last remaining Maute and Abu Sayyaf leaders seem trivial and apocryphal when compared with the support the Philippines received from long-time treaty allies.

Two events of the past fortnight exemplify the disjointed nature of Manila’s current policies in the South China Sea.

First, the Armed Forces of the Philippines received six ScanEagle drones from the US, which modestly augment the former’s assets for surveillance, maritime domain awareness, humanitarian assistance/disaster response, and counterterrorism. These capabilities would be especially useful in the West Philippine Sea and Southern Philippine regions. This asset transfer, the latest in a series of unbroken assistance since the previous administration, initially gave the impression that the Philippine–US alliance remains firm.

But then followed a speech by Duterte. He declared the Philippines would never be involved in any US-led wars or “expeditions” unless it is directly threatened, apparently signalling non-involvement in, or no support for, any possible future military actions of any scale between its treaty ally and North Korea. Duterte thus took a very public swipe at the Philippine–US relationship, which obviously weakens it as a tool for or against geopolitical leverage and calls the Philippines’ commitment to the alliance into question.

Considering its timing and geopolitical context, particularly the continuing challenges of China’s maritime dominance in the West Philippine Sea and the slow-burning crisis on the Korean Peninsula, Duterte’s statement seems to run counter to that expected of like-minded, coordinated allies.

These contrasting events exemplify unresolved fissures in Philippine external security policy – the gap between the Phillipines’ accommodation of China and its alienation of and distancing from the US. Although the stated objective has been to bring the Philippines towards a neutral, independent, non-aligned position (a “friend to all, enemy to none”), the latest actions and statements indicate that there are still problems with coming up with a unified, principled, and consistent approach to achieving that objective.

As a result, standing alliance cooperation activities and projects seem to be more transactional, improvisational, and opportunistic in nature. Official actions at the operational level appear starkly disconnected from official positions and statements at the policy level.

Even if, as demonstrated in Marawi, operationally the partnership remains strong and resilient, actions at the leadership level contribute to continuing uncertainty about future Philippine behaviour and follow-through on security treaty commitments.

Unfortunately, if these disjointed actions continue they may translate into perceptions of the Phillippines as an unreliabile or unworthy alliance partner, and over time give cause to sunder the alliance itself.

Abu Sayyaf surrenderers should be treated like NPA returnees, says Duterte

From GMA News (Mar 27): Abu Sayyaf surrenderers should be treated like NPA returnees, says Duterte

President Rodrigo Duterte leads the inspection of the firearms handed over by surrenders from the stronghold of pro-Islamic State militants group Abu Sayyaf at the Capitol Site in Patikul, Jolo, Philippines March 26, 2018. Presidential Palace/Handout via Reuters

President Rodrigo Duterte leads the inspection of the firearms handed over by surrenders from the stronghold of pro-Islamic State militants group Abu Sayyaf at the Capitol Site in Patikul, Jolo, Philippines March 26, 2018. Presidential Palace/Handout via Reuters

Abu Sayyaf members who will surrender to the government should be given the same treatment as members of the New People's Army (NPA), President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday.

In a speech in Patikul, Sulu, Duterte said NPA surrenderers in Davao were given houses, jobs and skills training.

“For those interested, government is ready. Kaya nga, bahay --- malaki man itong Sulu. Hindi ako mag-condo-condo. Gawa na ako konting mga bahay-bahay. And I can accommodate you. Just give me about two years,” he said of Abu Sayyaf members wanting to surrender.

During his visit, the President led the inspection of 652 loose firearms handed over by the local government units of Sulu to the military.

Seventy-six Abu Sayyaf members who surrendered to government were also presented to him.

The Armed Forces' Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) reported that to date, at least 1,157 loose firearms have been recovered by the Joint Task Force Sulu.

The event was part of the President's campaign to recover loose firearms to make the country safe from gun violence. He believes easy access to guns fuels rebellion and insurgency.

The ongoing martial law in Mindanao made it easier for the military to recover undocumented weapons, according to Wesmincom.

The 76 Abu Sayyaf members also surrendered 205 assorted firearms.

From January 1, 2017 to March 26, 2018, a total of 202 Abu Sayyaf members surrendered to Joint Task Force Sulu.

Of this number, 85 are from Basilan, 79 from Sulu, 36 from Tawi-Tawi and two are from Zamboanga City.

Compromise for canceled Canada helicopters?

From Rappler (Mar 26): Compromise for canceled Canada helicopters?

A US company can supply the same Bell-412 helicopters and deliver them within the year

VIP TRANSPORT. File photo of 3 brand new Bell choppers used to transport VIP guests during the 2015 APEC Summit. Malacañang file photo

VIP TRANSPORT. File photo of 3 brand new Bell choppers used to transport VIP guests during the 2015 APEC Summit. Malacañang file photo

 By the looks of it, the P12-billion deal with Canada for 16 brand new Bell-412eP choppers can no longer be saved. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has formally cancelled the government-to-government contract after a word war between the two countries over President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war.

What does it mean for the ill-equipped Philippine Air Force? How much longer will it have to wait to acquire brand new choppers to boost its small fleet that includes second-hand choppers?

It depends.

What's the possible compromise? There's a proposal to transfer the contract to an American counterpart supplying the same Bell-412eP choppers.
It's a possible compromise, assuming the workaround is legal. If President Duterte okays it, the US company will reportedly commi to deliver the choppers within 2018.

It's being discussed but it's not a done deal. Defense officials are keeping their fingers crossed.

What are the other options? The alternative is to wait another two years to get the assets.
The Department of National Defense (DND) is also looking at China, Russia, South Korea and other countries to supply the choppers. But the long procurement process will have to go back to square one if another company is tapped to supply the choppers.

Why are the assets important? The government and the entire military often rely on the Philippine Air Force when moving officials, troops, and supplies around the country.

The Air Force has 8 of these brand new Bell-412 choppers in its current inventory. Some are assigned to the Presidential Airlift Wing.

The military liked the choppers and wanted to acquire more to boost the small fleet of the Philippine Air Force that includes second-hand choppers.

What went wrong with the contract? A repurchase of the Bell-412eP was supposed to be an easy process but the project became controversial when Canada said it would review the contract over concerns the choppers would be used to commit human rights violations.

Canada has called out Duterte's drug war. But it's largely the police, not the military, enforcing it. Peeved, Duterte scrapped the P12-billion contract.

Duterte also earlier cancelled a deal to acquire from the US 26,000 assault rifles for the police after a US senator moved to oppose it over concerns about human rights violations in the Philippines. This happened under the previous administration of US President Barack Obama. It appears Duterte has improved ties with the US under President Donald Trump.

History of controversial chopper acquisitions: It isn't the first time the military's acquisition of choppers has become widely controversial.

President Benigno Aquino III also raised questions about the acquisition of Polish Sokol choppers by the previous Arroyo administration. He riled against the choppers in one of his State of the Nation Addresses.

Two Sokols figured in crash incidents in 2014 and in 2016. The 2014 incident involved a general who would become the Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff – General Ricardo Visaya. At the time, he was chief of the 4th Infantry Division.

The Aquino administration also had its own share of controversy. Its project to acquire second-hand UH-1D Huey choppers was widely criticized and was the subject of a Senate hearing.

Three airmen were killed when one UH-1D chopper crashed in 2018, prompting a call to reopen a probe into the allegedly anomalous deal.

14 NPA leaders abandoned movement in Q1: Eastmincom

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 26): 14 NPA leaders abandoned movement in Q1: Eastmincom

The Eastern Mindanao Command recorded 17 leaders of the New People's Army (NPA) who abandoned the communist movement while five were arrested by Army troops during the first quarter of the year.

The 17 leaders were among the 315 rebels who surrendered to the different units of the Eastmincom.

Maj. Ezra Balagtey, spokesperson for the EastMinCom, said the positions held by the top-ranked NPA surrenderers were Front Political Officer, Commander and Vice Commander of Armed Unit, Supply Officer, Deputy Front Secretary of a Regional Committee, to the highest position of being a Front Secretary.

Aside from the 315 surrenderers, Balagtey said 33 NPA members were also apprehended and captured during Law Enforcement Operations and Combat Operations including Leonida Guiao, the Finance Officer of the NPA in Mindanao.

So far, Eastmincom has accounted 421 surrenderers who were members of the Milisyang Bayan, 229 members of the Sangay ng Partido sa Lokalidad, and 2,216 members of the underground mass organization.

On the other hand, Balagtey reported that the different units under Eastmincom recovered 19 high powered firearms this week in addition to the 219 firearms already recorded by the command during the first quarter of 2018.

Balagtey said some of the 19 firearms were either surrendered by former rebels or recovered during the conduct of Combat and Law Enforcement Operations.

The firearms included six AK47 rifles, eight M16 rifles, three Garand rifles and two Caliber 45 pistols.

Lt. General Benjamin R. Madrigal Jr, the Commander of Eastmincom, attributed the mass surrender and voluntary turnover of firearms to the extensive combat operations carried out by the different units and intensified community support programs and most importantly.

"We attribute this to the extensive security operations being conducted by our units to protect the communities," Madrigal said.

3 Japanese-donated patrol planes now in Navy possession

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 26): 3 Japanese-donated patrol planes now in Navy possession

Beechcraft King Air TC-90 patrol plane. (Photo by Priam F. Nepomuceno)

The Philippine Navy (PN) formally received three more Japanese-donated Beechcraft King Air TC-90 patrol aircraft during short ceremonies at Naval Air Group headquarters in Sangley Point, Cavite City Monday.

The planes were donated by the Japanese government, PN spokesperson Capt. Lued Lincuna said.

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana witnessed the event and served as guest-of-honor and speaker.

Other attendees were Parlimentary Vice Minister of Defense Tatsuo Fukuda, Commissioner of Acquisition, Technology and Logistic Agency Yoshiyuki Suzuki, Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koji Haneda, and delegates from the Japan Ministry of Defense, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and key Philippine military officials.

The three TC-90s were accorded the traditional water cannon salute upon landing at the runway of the Major Danilo Atienza Air Base in Sangley Point, Cavite City.

Lincuna said a meeting point procedure was initially rendered when the three TC-90s were met by the two recently activated TC-90s over Batanes and afterwards escorted them to the Laoag Airport.

The aircraft have a range of over 1,000 nautical miles, and a maximum speed of 226 knots and capable of carrying eight passengers along with the pilots.

Aside from the donated planes, the Navy is operating around six Norman Britten "Islander" patrol aircraft, five AgustaWestland combat utility helicopters, and a Robinson R-22 training helicopter.

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

Lorenzana thanks Japan for military aircraft donation to Navy

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 26): Lorenzana thanks Japan for military aircraft donation to Navy


AIRCRAFT DONATION. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (6th from right), Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koji Haneda (6th from left) along with key officials of Armed Forces of the Philippines and Japan's Ministry of Defense lead the turn-over of three TC-90 patrol aircraft to the Philippine Navy in Sangley Point, Cavite on Monday (March 26, 2018)

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday thanked the Japanese government for donating three more Beechcraft King Air TC-90 aircraft to the Philippine Navy (PN).

"We are very thankful for this first grant project of JMOD (Japan Ministry of Defense) following the amendment of Japan Government’s Self-Defense Force Act which allows the donation of excess defense and military equipment to partner countries such as ours," he added.

The transfer of these aircraft was originally a lease contract but this was transformed into a grant following the letter of agreement signed by the Department of National Defense with JMOD last November.

"These aircraft will definitely boost the PN's capability in providing humanitarian assistance and conducting disaster relief operations. Also, with its patrol range that is double compared to those of the existing Philippine aircraft which only has a maximum range of 300 kilometers, the maritime air surveillance and intelligence surveillance reconnaissance capability of PN will also be enhanced," Lorenzana emphasized.

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

"On behalf of the One Defense Team, we are truly grateful to the government of Japan for its tremendous assistance in helping us improve our ability to carry out maritime security operations," the defense chief emphasized.

However, despite the addition of these aircraft to the PN's inventory, Lorenzana admitted that much is still to be done to boost the country's military capability and equipment in order to meet a number of persistent maritime security challenges.

"These challenges range from territorial disputes with China and other Southeast Asian nations over the ownership of resource-rich islands in the West Philippines Sea, to piracy, movement of armed insurgents in the Sulu sea, and other transnational crimes," he added.

But the defense chief assured the public that they are doing everything they can to enhance the defensive capability and to modernize the military equipment pursuant to the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Program.

The first two TC-90s were delivered to the Philippines on March 27, 2017.

The aircraft have a range of over 1,000 nautical miles, and a cruising speed of 226 knots and capable of carrying eight passengers along with the pilots.

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

Empedrad: PH Navy needs to further develop maritime surveillance

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 26): Empedrad: PH Navy needs to further develop maritime surveillance

With the Philippines having massive maritime domains, the Philippine Navy (PN) needs to further develop its maritime surveillance capability to fully secure its territorial waters.

This was emphasized by PN flag-officer-in-command Rear Admiral Robert Empedrad during the turn-over ceremony of the three Beechcraft King Air TC-90 aircraft donated by the Japanese government on Monday.

"One of the major components of the Active Archipelagic Defense Strategy (AADS) of the PN, is maritime domain awareness, due primarily to the vastness of our territorial waters and our exclusive economic zone that has a total area of 586,210 square miles bigger than most nations of the world in the world. Having said that, the PN needs to strengthen its maritime surveillance capability to increase the coverage of our massive maritime waters," Empedrad said.

The Navy chief also stressed that the TC-90 aircraft will greatly boost the Navy's air capability.
"The TC-90 is far more superior than our current inventories in terms of speed, range, loiter time capability, superior search, tracking, imaging and identification; larger capacity for medical evacuation, other utility missions; and can participate in maritime exercises and other engagements internationally," Empedrad said.

The first two TC-90s were delivered to the Philippines last March 27, 2017. The aircraft has a range of over 1,000 nautical miles, and a cruising speed of 226 knots and capable of carrying eight passengers along with the pilots.

At present, the Navy is operating around six Norman Britten "Islander" patrol aircraft, five AgustaWestland combat utility helicopters and one Robinson R-22 training helicopter.

DND chief: Resumption of peace talks up to PRRD

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 26): DND chief: Resumption of peace talks up to PRRD

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he will leave to President Rodrigo Duterte's decision the resumption of peace talks with the New People's Army (NPA).

He made this statement Monday when sought for a comment regarding pronouncements made by 61 members of the House of Representatives urging the government to talk with the rebels again.

"I will have to defer to the decision of the President if he wants to pursue the talks but the Defense Department will not approach the peace talks," Lorenzana stressed.

"Initially I am opposed to the peace talks but we will find out ano ba talaga gusto nila mangyari ngayon (what they really want to happen) because we have been talking to them for the past several decades, nothing is happening. Now why are they forcing the government, para bang nakikiawa sila na peace talks na naman (it seems they are begging for peace talks again) so I don't know what is the purpose of this," he further stressed.

In November last year, Duterte signed Proclamation 30, ordering the termination of all peace negotiations and meetings with the rebel group.

The termination was an offshoot of the rebel atrocities and other acts of violence against civilians, and security forces.

"Initially I do not agree to this peace talks but I have to talk to the President first and get his sense kasi mas marami naman siyang impormasyon sa akin na nanggagaling sa labas (because he has more information than me which come from the outside) so after I talk to him, it would be his decision to pursue the peace talks, then we have to abide but personally I am not in favor of it," the DND chief stressed.

As this develops, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) called on the public to support the military and police in thwarting the terroristic deeds of the NPA rebels, who are expected to celebrate their 49th founding year this coming March 29.

"Our forces will continue to be on a proactive stance against all threats of violence and will exert every effort to preserve the peace in every locality. Your soldiers and policemen cannot do it by themselves. We call on our people to help in the preservation of peace in their community by reporting any suspicious individuals or activities in their surroundings," the AFP said in a statement Monday.

Also, the military called on the public to refrain from joining public gatherings that are linked with the celebration of the NPA’s anniversary or any activity that is associated with any terror group.

Dureza welcomes Congress call to resume talks with Reds

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 26): Dureza welcomes Congress call to resume talks with Reds

Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza has welcomed the call of the House of Representatives (HOR) for President Rodrigo R. Duterte to resume peace talks with communist rebels represented by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

The NDFP is the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Dureza made this remark after 61 congressmen signed House Resolution No.1803, calling for the conclusion of the comprehensive agreements on socioeconomic and political reforms to obtain peace.

“We thank the House and welcome Resolution 1803 and their interest in the continuation of the peace process,” Dureza said in a press statement Sunday.

Dureza, however, said that an “enabling environment” will be the sole determining factor to resume the peace talks but noted that Congress’ resolution could contribute as well.

“While such a Resolution is not necessary as the presence of an enabling environment will be the sole determining factor, the collective voice from Congress can very well contribute to that desired enabling environment that can be basis for the desired resumption of the peace talks,” Dureza said.

Duterte started formal peace talks with the NDFP shortly after he became president in 2016.

However, he canceled the peace talks in November last year due to continued attacks of the New People’s Army, CPP’s armed wing, on government forces despite ongoing peace talks that time.

In December last year, Duterte issued a proclamation classifying the CPP-New People’s Army as a terrorist organization.

Suspected Indonesian terrorist nabbed in Sultan Kudarat

From ABS-CBN (Mar 25): Suspected Indonesian terrorist nabbed in Sultan Kudarat

An Indonesian believed to be a terrorist was nabbed by members of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Sultan Kudarat, authorities said Sunday.

The suspect was identified as Mushalah Somina Rasim who also goes by his other aliases: Abu Omar, Musola Rasim Sumina and Musola Bin Rasim.

The NBI said they nabbed the suspect early this March while he was looking for the leader of "Anshar Khalifa Philippines" that has pledged support to the terrorist group Islamic State in the Palambang town.

The foreigner failed to show any passport nor immigration papers, according to the authorities, as the suspect reportedly entered the country through its southern backdoor.

The NBI found out that the Indonesian is facing charges for illegal possession of firearms and explosives in his home country. He also allegedly figured in a suicide bomb attempt in Ceribon, Indonesia.

The suspect is undergoing deprocessing and debriefing, they said, adding that a probe is underway.

Military to present Abu Sayyaf surrenderers to Duterte

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 24): Military to present Abu Sayyaf surrenderers to Duterte

JOLO, Sulu – The military said it would be presenting to President Rodrigo Duterte the 76 Abu Sayyaf bandits, who surrendered to authorities since last year, when the Chief Executive comes for a visit here Monday.

Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez Jr., the commander of Western Mindanao Command, also said 325 loose firearms yielded by civilian owners would likewise be presented to Mr. Duterte.

Sulu had an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 loose firearms, and some of these are in the hands of armed groups such as the Abu Sayyaf.

NPA accuses rival group of terrorism

From Panay News (Mar 24): NPA accuses rival group of terrorism

The Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA) is “sowing terror and banditry” in central Negros Occidental, according to the Leonardo Panaligan Command of the New People’s Army (NPA).

In a March 22 statement, NPA spokesman Ka JB Regalado said armed RPA members ransacked a residence in Barangay Ma-ao, Bago City, Negros Occidental two weeks ago.

Regalado said the RPA does “no longer adhere to its revolutionary principles.”

The NPA also accused the RPA to be responsible for a series of “harassments” of poor families and farmers in the province.

The NPA spokesman also claimed that the RPA is conniving with some members of the Philippine Army and the Philippine National Police to “harass left-leaning people’s organizations.”

Regalado said NPA members had raided the alleged safe house of RPA rebels at Hacienda Jamandre in La Castellana, Negros Occidental, wherein they recovered high-powered firearms.

The activities of the RPA are “counter-revolutionary and anti-people,” stressed Regalado.

Two alleged high-ranking NPA commanders surrender to authorities

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 24): Two alleged high-ranking NPA commanders surrender to authorities

CAMP BANCASI, Butuan City – Two alleged high-ranking commanders of the communist-New Peoples’ Army (CPP-NPA) voluntarily surrendered on Thursday in Talacogon, Agusan del Sur, Lt. Tere Ingente, chief of Public Affairs Office (PAO) of the Army’s Northeastern and Northern Mindanao 4th Infantry (Diamond) Division (4th ID) today said.

Agusan del Sur Map (Photo courtesy of Google Map)

The 4th ID PAO officer added that the two armed NPA commanders voluntarily gave themselves up to Lt. Col. Rommel S. Pagayon, commanding officer of the Army’s 26th Infantry Battalion (26th IB).

Aside from the two high-ranking NPA commanders, another armed NPA regular also voluntarily yielded to the 26th IB commander, the 4th ID PAO officer further added.

Pagayon identified the alleged former NPA rebels as Jeffrey D. Mondejar, a.k.a. Bars, alleged vice commander of Regional Sentro de Grabidad (RSDG) COMPAQ and Jaica G. Precioso, a.k.a. IC, alleged Platoon Medic commander of Sandatahang Yunit Pampropaganda (SYP) Banglas of Guerilla Front Committee 88 (GFC 88) of the CPP-NPA North Central Mindanao Regional Committee (NCMRC).

The 26th IB commander also identified another regular fighter, Apatan S. Agsubo, a.k.a. Tan of SYP2, GFC 34 of the CPP-NPA Southern Mindanao Regional Committee (SMRC), who also voluntarily gave up himself on the same day.

The surrenderers also yielded four high-powered automatic rifles, magazines with live ammunitions and one hand gun with live bullets, Pgayon added.

The immediate cash assistance, in exchange of their surrendered firearms, livelihood and other support from the government are already in the process of documentation, in relation to the CLIP program of the government.

Meanwhile, according to Col. Andres Centino, commanding officer of 401st Infantry (Unity) Brigade, the former rebels surrendered because they can no longer stand the alleged widespread corruption inside the NPA and the alleged rampant atrocities it inflicts to innocent civilians.

The recent surrenderers heard the different programs of the government in a radio broadcast and were thereby convinced of the sincerity of the Duterte’s administration to help the former rebels. More so when they found out that their former comrades were invited to Malacañang Palace to dine with our President,” Centino said.

Earlier this month, 123 FRs from the 4th ID area of responsibility (AOR) were invited by President Duterte for a three-day tour in Manila and a dinner at Malacañang Palace.

“There is a life far more progressive and peaceful than the life being experienced by the NPA terrorists in the mountains. Our president is extending his hands to help them and to find extraordinary ways to encourage them to lay down their arms and return to the mainstream society,” also said Maj. Gen. Ronald C. Villanueva, northeastern and northern Mindanao 4th ID chief.

Aside from the dinner invitation, former female rebels are now in the process of getting passports for a future trip abroad care of the President of the Philippines, Villanueva added.

Soldier hurt in NPA attack in Albay

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 24): Soldier hurt in NPA attack in Albay

A still unidentified Army soldier was hurt in an attack staged by suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels on Saturday morning in a remote village in Camalig town in Albay province.

A platoon of soldiers was going to Barangay (village) Magogon to hold a dialogue with villagers as part of the Army’s community support program when the attack happened about 10:30 a.m., Capt. Joash Pramis, spokesperson of the Army’s 9th Infantry Division said.

At least five NPA rebels armed with assault rifles fired at the soldiers, hitting one of them, Pramis said in a phone interview.

A firefight that resulted lasted for around five minutes after which the rebels immediately fled towards a mountainous area.

The wounded soldier was brought to the University of Santo Thomas
(UST) Hospital in this city for treatment.

Duterte warns lumads vs joining New People’s Army

From the Philippine Star (Mar 26): Duterte warns lumads vs joining New People’s Army                          

“I will help you survive, but you have to start now,” the President said. “I will give you financial assistance to cultivate your lands. If you are not in good terms with each other, just go here and I’ll be the one to mediate. If you have more relatives, then that’s okay.” Photo
President Duterte has vowed to provide livelihood to lumads or members of indigenous groups as he warned them against joining the communist rebellion.

Speaking during a gathering of lumads in Davao City last Friday, Duterte vowed to provide tractors and seedlings to indigenous groups so they can cultivate their lands. He said each tribe would receive five tractors as well as financial assistance and seedlings.

“I will help you survive, but you have to start now,” the President said. “I will give you financial assistance to cultivate your lands. If you are not in good terms with each other, just go here and I’ll be the one to mediate. If you have more relatives, then that’s okay.”

Last month, the President said the government would release P100 million to tribal communities in Mindanao to spur development in the countryside.

Military officials have said the rebels are exploiting the lack of development in lumad areas to recruit new members.

In the same event, Duterte urged lumads to stop supporting the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the communist movement. The President said those who joined the armed struggle had abandoned their families.

“What’s worse is that you join the NPA and die for it. You will lose yourself to nothing,” the Presiden said.

He also took a jab at Communist Party of the Philippines founding chairman Jose Maria Sison, whom he described as “the most cowardly of all cowards.”

“You follow Sison whom you’ve treated as your God. Sison is the most cowardly of all cowards. He was my idol when I was still a student. But now, whenever I talk to him, he tells me that he wants to join the government. We are like a politburo if that’s the case. A committee. They like that,” Duterte said.

Sison is a former professor of Duterte at the Lyceum University, where he completed his political science degree.

“They want a committee then they’re on the other side while I’m on the government side. Our Constitution is the basis of sovereignty and the government. It can only be given to the person that was chosen by the people,” he added.

Duterte scrapped the peace talks with the communists, saying they are pushing for a coalition government, a setup that he said is not allowed under the Constitution.

PNP willing to take rebels as cops

From the Philippine Star (Mar 26): PNP willing to take rebels as cops

Former communist rebels can become police officers.

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa over the weekend said rebel returnees could join the police force “if they want to (and if they are) sincere and qualified.”

Dela Rosa made the statement in response to the pronouncement of President Duterte that the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines are open to rebel returnees as part of the effort to confidence building and to reform them.

Accepting former rebels is not new in the PNP.

“In fact, we have a lot of former New People’s Army members who joined the police force after their surrender,” Dela Rosa said in a briefing over the weekend.

PNP’s program for former rebels is expected to boost the law enforcement function of the PNP, particularly anti-insurgency operations.

Dela Rosa said interested rebel returnees should meet the necessary requirements to be able to enter the police organization, which at present has a total strength of 190,000 personnel.

The requirements for police recruits include a college degree, a height of five feet and four inches for males and five feet and two inches for females, and not more than 30 years old.

Duterte has approved the increase in the salary of Police Officer 1, the lowest rank in the police service, to almost P30,000 or double the previous salary.

The government, through the Department of the Interior and Local Government, also has programs to encourage rebels to return to the fold of the law.

They will be given assistance including livelihood projects and cash depending on the firearm they will surrender. The President also promised to give rebel returnees a decent home.

4 suspected NPAs killed in Cotabato firefight

From GMA  News Online (Mar 24): 4 suspected NPAs killed in Cotabato firefight

Four suspected New People's Army (NPA) members were killed by troops in an encounter in Magpet, Cotabato on Saturday.

Captain Randy Llunar, chief of the 901st Infantry Brigade's civil military operations, said they received an information about the presence of an undetermine number of NPA members in Barangay Manobo.

Llunas said the responding troops were met by gunfire from the rebels upon their arrival at the barangay.

The rebels retreated after a one-hour firefight, he said.

He said residents in the area told troops about the four NPA fatalities. They also informed troops that at least seven rebels were injured during the firefight, he added.

Two Army members were also hurt.

Pursuit operations are ongoing against the rebels.

More than 60 reps call on Duterte to resume peace talks

From CNN-Philippines (Mar 25): More than 60 reps call on Duterte to resume peace talks

More than 60 members of the House of Representatives are asking President Rodrigo Duterte to resume peace talks with rebels.

The lawmakers filed House Resolution No. 1803 to urge the President to reopen peace negotiations between the government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

The Resolution was received by the House on March 22.

The lawmakers said under the Duterte administration, talks between the government and rebels have "reached remarkable and unparalleled headway," after reaching four rounds of negotiations.

"Continuing the peace talks would benefit the Filipino people most of whom are poor peasants and workers, as the agreements on agrarian reform and national industrialization may address their issues and concerns and help provide relief for their economic hardships," they said.

Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate said he and other lawmakers are hoping the President heeds the call for "a just peace."

"We are also urging our other colleagues to also co-author the resolution as there is a more urgent need and reason now to continue the GRP-NDFP peace process in the midst of escalating clashes between the military and the communist rebels," he said in a statement.

Zarate added the talks should continue even if armed conflict between both sides are ongoing as the best way to deal with the conflict is through peace talks.

Peace talks ended in November 2017, after Duterte signed Proclamation 360 declaring the termination of peace negotiations with the NDFP-Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) -the New People's Army (NPA).

The CPP is the mother organization, while the NDF is its political arm negotiating with the government. The NPA is the armed wing.

Presidential Peace Process Adviser Jesus Dureza said the decision to end the talks was in response to frequent attacks by rebels, and the communists' lack of willingness to negotiate.

However, just last month, the President said he was open to peace talks once again.

"I'm talking to the communists. The Norwegian officials came here to score the possibility of talking again. I have to consult my military people," the President said in a speech before lawmakers on February 20.

Sparu revival only a ploy, CPP warns

From The Standard (Mar 26): Sparu revival only a ploy, CPP warns

THE Communist Party of the Philippines on Saturday said President Rodrigo Duterte was creating another scheme to silence his critics with his claim that the infamous hit squad of the New People’s Army—“Sparu” or “Sparrow” unit—had been revived.

“It seems Duterte is doing some scenario-building to hatch up another tyrannical scheme,” the CPP said in a statement.

Earlier this month, Duterte warned soldiers against the supposed resurgence of the Sparrow Unit.

PNP chief Director-General Ronald dela Rosa also said the “Sparu” unit of the NPA boosted its operations against government forces after Duterte terminated the peace talks with communist rebels last year.

“The PNP’s plan to have a group of ‘seasoned retired police officers’ to train PNP field personnel on ‘anti-sparrow’ operations sound shady, to say the least,” it said.

Meanwhile, the military on Saturday claimed it had 28 leaders of the CPP-NPA who surrendered to security forces along with the seizure of at least 51 camps across the country as troops waged relentless anti-insurgency campaign during the first quarter of 2018 following the collapse of peace talks.
In related developments:

• The Armed Forces will continue implementing appropriate security measures to fully secure the country during the Holy Week despite the absence of major security threats against the annual religious observation.

“There is no specific threat monitored for the Holy Week but the AFP will not put its guard down. We will continue to conduct appropriate security measures where needed to safeguard vulnerable communities,” AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Bienvenido Datuin said in a text message to the Philippine News Agency on Friday.

He added the military would make appropriate deployment when and where the need arises.

“In every security measure, there will always be a gap that criminals and terrorists will pursue and take advantage of,” Datuin said.

And while the AFP does everything it can to protect the country and its people against all forms of threats, the military official said the help of the public in foiling lawless elements was always welcome.

“Again we recognize the importance of the help of our citizens and the community against the enemies of peace. We call on our people to be part of the security net to detect, deter and frustrate any move by criminals and terrorists,” he added.

• The National Capital Region Police Office has intensified crime prevention effort and deployed 11,800 policemen all over Metro Manila in connection with the country’s observance of Lent this week.

The authorities will be using deliberate, sustained police operations such as checkpoints, mobile and beat patrols supported by scientific crime reporting from the Community Precincts to the stations, to the districts up to the NCRPO headquarters.

NCRPO director Oscar Albayalde said more police personnel would be dispatched to secure orderly situation in bus terminals, airports and seaports and other crowded places such as shopping malls and other commercial establishments in Metro Manila.

“Aside from areas of public convergence, our policemen were also tasked to conduct patrols around communities to prevent burglars from entering houses left by families on vacation,” he said.

Lt. Col. Emmanuel Garcia, chief of the Public Affairs Office, said that most number of NPA surrenderers came from the Eastern Mindanao Command which accounted for 17 ranking leaders.

Garcia said the ranking NPA leaders included two amazons identified as Alvie Marie Cominador, alias Ara, 51, secretary of Guerillas Front; Shane Rosete Cacdac 51, alias Neo, staff officer of sub-regional committee in Davao; and Gerardo Baro, also known as Arnold, former vice commander of Guerrilla Front 27.

The NPA leaders were Noel Legaspi, alias Efren, deputy secretary, and his wife Jeanalyn Bendalian, alias Wendy, a medical officer; Beong Dalumatan, a sub-commander of Guerillas Front 72 based in Sultan Kudarat.

Garcia claimed the NPA leaders yielded to various army battalion forces to include 36th IB, 73rd IB, 27th IB, 73rd IB, all operating in Western and Eastern Mindanao.

“The spike in the number of CNT leaders who are surrendering is attributed to the government’s sincere efforts in helping former rebels reintegrate to their communities and families, particularly through the efforts of the local government units [LGU], the AFP and the PNP,” Garcia said.

“The AFP is positive that through the continuous partnership of the security forces and the LGU, more CNT leaders, members, and supporters will go back to their families and live peaceful lives,” he added.

Meanwhile, Garcia said 38 of the NPA camps seized were in Eastern Mindanao, two in Western Mindanao, seven in the Visayas and four in Luzon.

Garcia said two of the seized camps were in the hinterlands of Laak-San Isidro complex in Compostela Valley and in Boston villas in Davao Oriental which can accommodate 30 persons and 20 rebels respectively.

The locations of the other camps were not mentioned.

The seizure, Garcia said resulted to the discovery of explosive devices to include booby traps left by the fleeing rebels.

He said the NPAs who abandoned their camps were being pursued by soldiers and to prevent them from securing other temporary shelters.

He projected the eventual seizure of more NPA camps in the days ahead as the military operations continued.

“The AFP urges the remaining NPAs still in different encampments to lay down their arms and go back to their families. Many former rebels are now working together with the government for peace and development programs,” Garcia said.

Albayalde said families on vacation must secure their respective homes, unplug electrical appliances and make sure that all points of entry are locked.

He also reminded them to avoid posting photos on social media indicating their location as various criminal elements, especially members of the so-called “Akyat-Bahay Gang” and “Salisi Gang” might take advantage of the situation.

“Make sure that our homes’ doors are also properly locked before we go on a trip. Be cautious in posting location status update on the social media. We cannot let out guard down. At times like these, we should be more alert and vigilant. Criminals have no holidays,” he said.

The NCRPO chief said there might be a lull in the anti-drugs operations during Holy Week, but policemen would still be on standby for emergency operations.

Meanwhile, the Metro Manila Development Authority suspended the number coding scheme for city and provincial buses on March 28 and April 2 in anticipation of increase number of passengers going to and from provinces this Holy Week.

“The Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program or number coding scheme is suspended for City and Provincial Buses only on March 28 [Holy Wednesday] and April 2 [Monday],” said Sharon Gentalian, MMDA chief information officer.

The move, according to MMDA, would ensure there would be enough public utility buses to serve the passengers going to and from their respective provinces.

The MMDA Traffic Discipline Office also advised the public to brace for heavy traffic along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue leading to the North Luzon Expressway and South Luzon Expressway.

The agency will deploy more personnel to help man the traffic, especially along major thoroughfares leading to and from transportation hubs such as provincial bus terminals, airports and seaports.

MMDA traffic enforcers and quick response groups will also be manning stations of Light Rail Transit and Metro Rail Transit, choke points, domestic airports and churches.

Aside from traffic enforcers, the agency’s roadside emergency group will also be put on standby alert to provide emergency services and assistance to motorists.

Motorists and the general public can also call the agency’s Metrobase hotline 136 for periodic traffic updates and requests for assistance.

The MMDA’s Facebook and Twitter account will also be open 24/7 during the Holy Week to accept and respond to inquiries.

Cops detain 7 terrorists planning attacks on houses of worship

From The Star Online (Mar 24): Cops detain 7 terrorists planning attacks on houses of worship

Seven suspected terrorists allegedly planning multiple attacks in the country have been detained in Sabah and Johor.

The suspects were arrested by the Bukit Aman Special Branch Counter Terrorism Division in multiple operations held between Feb 27 and March 15.

Six of the suspects arrested in Johor were members of an Islamic State (IS) cell and had planned attacks on non-Muslim houses of worship as well as the kidnapping and killing of police personnel.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun said the first series of arrests involved three suspects on Feb 27.

"The mastermind is a 37-year-old technician who spearheaded plans to attack houses of worship in Johor Baru. He was also actively recruiting new militants.

"The second suspect is a 49-year-old security guard and adviser to the terror cell," he said adding that the suspect was in charge of keeping the cell and its plans secret.

"He also threatened to kill any cell members who leaked the secrets.

"The third suspect, a 30-year-old security guard, was tasked with acquiring firearms from a neighbouring country.

"He also scouted several houses of worship targeted by the terror cell," he said in a statement on Saturday.

Mohd Fuzi added that the suspects planned to escape to a neighbouring country and seek refuge from a terror group there after carrying out their plans.

He said three other members of the same cell were detained in follow-up operations.

"One of them – a 25-year-old waiter – was arrested on Feb 28 and we learnt that the mastermind had ordered him to kidnap and kill police personnel.

"Two others, aged 23 and 22, were arrested on March 1 and were working as janitors in Singapore. One of them acted as the intermediary in the purchase of firearms for the cell," he said.

The final arrest was of a 31-year-old Abu Sayyaf member in Sabah on March 15, added Mohamad Fuzi.

"The Filipino man is a trusted lieutenant to Furuji Indama, the group's leader based in Basilan.

"We believe the suspect has connections to Malaysian militant Dr Mahmud Ahmad and is also wanted by Philippines' authorities for involvement in a kidnap-for-ransom syndicate," he said.

He added that the suspect was an expert at making improvised explosive devices.

"He also planned to attack several locations in Sabah and was entrusted to make the state a safe haven for terror groups from the Philippines," he said.

Malaysia arrests 7 with Daesh links over attack plot

From The Gulf News (Mar 25): Malaysia arrests 7 with Daesh links over attack plot

KUALA LUMPUR:Malaysian police have arrested seven men with links to the Daesh militant group who were planning attacks on non-Muslim places of worship and other targets, authorities said on Saturday.

The country has been on high alert since gunmen allied with Daesh carried out a series of attacks in Jakarta, the capital of neighbouring Indonesia, in January 2016.

Six Malaysians were arrested in Johor state, north of Singapore, while a seventh, a Filipino member of the Daesh-linked Abu Sayyaf group, was detained in the eastern state of Sabah, in multiple operations between Feb.27 and Mar.15, Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement.

He said the six detained in Johor were members of an Daesh cell and included a 37-year-old technician who recruited new militants and was believed to be the mastermind of planned attacks on non-Muslim places of worship in the state’s capital.

A second suspect was a security guard who served as the cell’s advisor and ensured members kept their activities secret.

A third man was tasked with buying firearms from a neighbouring country and identifying targets for attacks, he said.

“All of them planned to escape to a neighbouring country and seek shelter from members of a militant group there after successfully carrying out the plan,” Muhamad Fuzi said, without naming the country.

Authorities arrested three other members of the same cell in follow-up operations, including a 25-year-old restaurant worker who had been ordered to kidnap and kill police personnel.

Police also detained a 31-year-old Philippine national in Sabah, on Borneo island, who was said to be a trusted lieutenant to Abu Sayyaf group leader Furuji Indama and has links to Malaysian militant Mahmud Ahmad, Mohamad Fuzi said.

The man, wanted by the Philippines for his involvement in a kidnap-for-ransom syndicate, was also an expert in making improvised explosive devices.

Mohamad Fuzi said the suspect had planned to carry out several attacks in Sabah and was responsible for making the state a safe haven for terror groups from the Philippines.

Malaysia has arrested hundreds of people over the past few years for suspected links to militant groups.

The Philippines: Islamic State's next stronghold?

From The Hill (Mar 24): The Philippines: Islamic State's next stronghold?

The Philippines: Islamic State's next stronghold?

You may have heard we’ve met with great success in the past year in crushing ISIS in the Mideast. But it turns out that knocking them down in one spot means their battle-hardened fighters are showing up in surprising, new places — like the Philippines. The U.S. State Department has just added ISIS Philippines and six other Islamic extremist terrorist groups to the U.S. list of designated terrorists.

Why is ISIS showing up in the Philippines? It helps to look back at where ISIS began in 2014. Shortly after President Obama referred to ISIS as the “J.V. team,” the terrorist group publicized dozens of videotaped beheadings as it fought and won bloody battles in key Iraqi and Syrian cities. ISIS came to control half of Syria and important strongholds in Iraq.

By last November, U.S. and coalition forces had retaken Mosul, Iraq, and the Islamic extremist terrorists had been all but driven out of the region. Their search for refuge among like-minded brethren pointed some of them to the southern Philippines region of Mindanao. The vast majority of Filipinos are Christian, but according to the 2000 census, one in five residents of Mindanao is Muslim.

I reported from Mindanao last summer, where ISIS fighters from the Mideast were already joining established Islamic extremists. Hundreds of terrorists had attacked the Philippine army in the region’s island city of Marawi, population 200,000. Civilians were taken hostage, thousands of them fled and almost the whole city was evacuated. The fighting continued for months and, at the end, 400 terrorists were dead. So were more than 100 civilians and Philippine troops.

Most people don’t know it, but the battle with violent Islamic extremists in the Philippines actually goes back decades. Gen. Lito Sobejana of the Western Mindanao Command explained to me that Muslim extremists there have been conducting a terrorist campaign for an independent Islamic state or “caliphate” since the 1970s. In the ’90s, it was the group Abu Sayyaf that dominated headlines; one of the most violent Islamic jihadist groups, Abu Sayyaf was responsible for the Philippines’ worst terrorist attack — a 2004 ferry bombing that murdered 116 people.

Today, kidnappings, firefights and the threat of terrorism are growing in the Philippines. In some places, tourists and locals can’t move freely without fear of being snatched off the street by Muslim terrorist thugs who raise money by demanding ransoms. In 2016, militants beheaded two Canadian hostages. During my visit, Sobejana and his men were actively working to save more than a dozen kidnap victims held by Islamic extremists. The day before, one of the general’s men was shot and six terrorists killed. It’s so bad, President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in the province, and the Philippine Congress has since extended it twice.

President Duterte is a controversial global figure, leading a violent campaign crackdown on drug pushers — and even users. Elected in May of 2016, he pledged he could kill 100,000 Filipinos, if necessary, to “purge” society in his war on drugs. Advocates estimate his administration was responsible for killing more than 10,000 citizens his first year in office. Yet Duterte has enjoyed incredibly high popularity ratings, partly because of his tough stance against Islamic extremist terrorists. The same brutal approach he deploys against drug offenders is considered necessary — and effective — in dealing with a savage terrorist enemy that’s attempting to create chaos. During my visit last summer, the President’s popularity hit a stunning 82 percent.

As Abu Sayyaf lines up with ISIS, the U.S. and other Western nations are beginning to pay closer attention to what’s happening in the Philippines. If the terrorists have their way, they’ll be able to establish a new headquarters there — amid tropical islands and pristine beaches — to use as a launching point for ideological-based violence across Southeast Asia and beyond.
[Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) is an Emmy-award winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times bestsellers “The Smear” and “Stonewalled,” and host of Sinclair’s Sunday TV program “Full Measure.”]

Lorenzana backs reintegration program for former Abu Sayyaf

From the Philippine Star (Mar 25): Lorenzana backs reintegration program for former Abu Sayyaf

Former members of the Abu Sayyaf group surrender to the military in January. Pareño, file
Local efforts to reintegrate members of the Abu Sayyaf into mainstream society got a boost this week with the assurance of support from Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
Lorenzana made the commitment during the March 21 meeting of the inter-agency regional peace and order council of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao at the headquarters of the Western Mindanao Command in Calarian, Zamboanga City.
The council and local officials in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi have negotiated the surrender, with the help of the ARMM police and WestMincom units, of 173 Abu Sayyaf members in the past 20 months through the regional government’s Program Against Violence and Extremism.
The initiative, also called PAVE, was pioneered by the office of ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman with the assistance of regional line agencies.  
PAVE is now assisting more than a hundred Abu Sayyaf militants in Basilan who surrendered to the police and the military in batches in the past 18 months.
The reforming militants are now being ushered into mainstream society via different interventions by the regional government, among them ARMM's Bangsamoro Regional Inclusive Development for Growth and Empowerment Program. 
Chief Superintendent Graciano Mijares of the Police Regional Office-ARMM said Sunday he and members of their top tactical and administrative staff core are thankful for Lorenzana’s assurance to assist the PAVE initiatives.
Lorenzana is a retired Army general who served in hostile areas in southern Mindanao.
"Secretary Lorenzana’s manifested support to PAVE is a big boost to the joint peace initiatives of PRO-ARMM, the ARMM executive department and WestMinCom," Mijares said.
Livelihood and support for former Abu Sayyaf
Regional officials reported to Lorenzana during the March 21 security council meeting in Zamboanga City that former Abu Sayyaf members in Basilan have been provided with livelihood and other humanitarian support, including core shelters by the ARMM-BRIDGE program.
The manager of PAVE, John Louie Balagot, also regional cabinet secretary, said Sunday ARMM officials were elated by Lorenzana’s gesture.
"We can certainly expand the PAVE program now that we have the support of the Department of National Defense," Balagot said.
Balagot said Alexander Macario, who is assistant secretary for peace and order in the central office of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, also pledged to help implement the PAVE.
Macario is also a retired Army officer who was assigned in Maguindanao and in Basilan while on active duty.
National program sought
Former Abu Sayyaf members in Basilan had earlier urged Malacañang to forge a national amnesty program for Islamic State-inspired militants to complement ARMM’s domestic reconciliation campaigns.
They relayed their appeal to reporters during the March 5 to 15 People’s Day medical and dental outreach missions of the regional government’s Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Response Team and ARMM-BRIDGE personnel.
The outreach activities were capped off with the distribution of 20 tons of food rations to thousands of residents in different towns in Basilan, among them former Abu Sayyaf members.
The beneficiaries of the food dispersal project also benefited from the medical and dental services provided free by ARMM employees.
Mijares said he is optimistic President Rodrigo Duterte will consider the viability of a reconciliation program for Abu Sayyaf members who would wish to surrender, in support of the ARMM government’s bid to bring more of them back into mainstream society.
"While our president is tough in enforcing the law, he has been compassionate to enemies of state who are willing to return to the fold of law. Obviously, he is keen on building a progressive nation whose people are at peace with one another, at peace with the government," Mijares said.

Abu Sayyaf leader jailed for life for huge arms cache

From the Gulf Today (Mar 25): Abu Sayyaf leader jailed for life for huge arms cache

A Metro Manila regional court sentenced to life imprisonment a defeated candidate, also tagged by the police as a leader of the Daesh-linked Abu Sayyaf terrorists, following his conviction for illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

The court in suburban San Juan City in Metro Manila imposed the stiff penalty on Kenneth Isa who was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt for 11 counts of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

In its 20-page decision, the court rejected isa’s claim that he did not own the huge illegal cache because he was just a visitor when the police team raided the house.

Isa was arrested in September 2016 from a house literally a stone’s throw away from the Philippine National Police (PN P) national  headquarters where the raiding team confiscated assorted high-powered firearms like M-16 assault rifles, grenade launchers, pistols, materials for the manufacture of improvised bombs and  8,000 rounds of assorted ammunition.

Superintendent Roque Merdegia, the head of the raiding team, told the court that aside from being an Abu Sayyaf leader, Isa was also involved in gunrunning activities from Metro Manila for the “warlords” on the island provinces of Sulu and Basilan in Mindanao.

Merdega likewise revealed that isa ran but lost in the vice-gubernatorial race in Sulu, where the Abu Sayyaf operate with impunity, in the May 2016 national election.

Meanwhile, police confirmed on Saturday that the Abu Sayyaf released the principal of a public school in the town of Patikul, Sulu whom they had abducted.

“A little amount was given to the kidnappers as token — for cigarettes,” admitted a member of the family of Marjorie Abdul, who was abducted while at work in school on Thursday morning but was released later on that same day.

Police also confirmed that another public school teacher, identified as Doris Hamsirani,  was abducted by the Abu Sayyaf on March 7 but was freed on Tuesday after her family likewise paid a “token” ransom.
The military blamed the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute Group that pledged allegiance to the Daesh,  for the siege of Marawi, the capital city of Lanao del Sur, on May 23, 2017 that prompted President  Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte to declare martial law over the whole of troubled Mindanao.

Bato rejects reentry of PMA grads to PNP

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 25): Bato rejects reentry of PMA grads to PNP

Director General Ronald dela Rosa, chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), has rejected proposals to allow the return of the graduates of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in the police service.

PNP Chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa (Kevin Tristan Espiritu / MANILA BULLETIN)

Dela Rosa also said that allowing the return of the PMA graduates would violate a law that disallows the commissioning of PMA graduates as officers of the PNP.

“I am contemplating on that but in the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) alone, PMA is not enough to supply the demand for officers,” said dela Rosa.

The official was reacting to the proposal that came amid the lack of officers to supply the roster of officers of the police force following the series of recruitment for more policemen.

During the time of PNP chief Alan Purisima, a Technical Working Group was created to study the return of PMA graduates in the police service but it did not materialize.

One of the reasons cited is the possible escalation of rift between PMA and PNP Academy graduates which is already brewing over competition to get juicy posts in the police service.

The last batch of PMA graduates in the PNP are those from Class 1992, with officials projecting that there PNPA graduates would dominate PNP by 2027.

Dela Rosa said the solution he sees is to increase the quota for those who want to enter the PNPA.

The official said that doing so would be in line with the directive of President Duterte to allow more Moslems and other members of ethnic groups to the PNPA.

Recruitment for CPLA closed

Sun Star-Baguio (Mar 24): Recruitment for CPLA closed
PRESIDENTIAL Adviser for the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza quashed fears of alleged recruitment the Cordillera People's Liberation Army (CPLA) to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

 "There are requirements for everyone to follow if they want to enter the armed forces. In the case of the CPLA, what we plan to do is to give them livelihood particularly in the field of farming for them to sustain themselves while for those wanting to bear arms, we will field them in the field of security like security guards but not as members of the armed forces," Dureza said during his visit to the province of Abra.

Dureza emphasized the government’s moves for their re-integration through a program on peace and development.

"The present administrations process for the re-integration of the CPLA members is for them to be part of the peace and development force wherein they would have their arms be re-inventoried by the armed forces prior to their training to become part of the reserve force which would serve as force multipliers, for others to have access to livelihood programs which will give them profit coming from government, and for educational programs for those wanting to study," the secretary explained.

The Duterte administration have made inclusivity as a main objective in the peace process since it believes everyone has a part in the process of development and is against the disruption of lives in the community.

The proposed formation of the Peace and Development Forces (PDF) to former Cordillera rebel groups is part of the peace agreement between the government and the Cordillera Bodong Administration-Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CBA-CPLA).

During the “galigad” or a ceremonial cessation of hostilities presented by the CBA-CPLA and Abra Vice Governor Ronald Balao-as faction, Dureza, AFP-Peace Process Officer chief Brigadier General Raniel Ramiro suggested the process of decommissioning of firearms as an initial step to the eventual creation of the PDF towards the normalcy of former rebel groups in Cordillera.

"Is it possible for you to have your firearms be inventoried by the military and for them to be the custodian for safe keep in purposes after which you undergo training as army reservists and eventually after qualifying, be a reservist in the army," Dureza asked the returnees.

In January 17, Senator Miguel Zubiri fulfilled a recent promise to the Cordillerans by filing Senate Bill 1678 or an Act Establishing the Autonomous Region of the Cordillera. Zubiri is among the senators supportive of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region and the Autonomous Region of the Cordillera.

The Senate Bill 1678 states the establishment of an Autonomous Region of Cordillera that will give the Cordillerans the opportunity to decide on what policies and programs will best fit the economic, social, and cultural development within the framework of the national sovereignty and in consonance with their local practices and cultural heritage and identity.

 It also aims to address underdevelopment and poverty in the Cordilleras more effectively through regional autonomy. Last year, leaders and representatives of various rebel factions and other groups, namely the CPLA and CPLA-CBA, Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), Cordillera Broad Coalition (CBC), Cordillera Regional Consultative Commission (CRCC), and North Luzon Coalition for Good Governance (NLCGG), jointly called on all Cordillerans to unite and rally behind efforts to establish the constitutionally mandated Autonomous Region of the Cordillera.

The group, together with the local chief executives and representatives of the six provinces of the Cordillera and the City of Baguio, have expressed support for the passage of House Bill 5343, “An act establishing the autonomous region of the Cordillera,", while a house committee hearing in HB.5343 is set to be done in Baguio City, Abra, and other provinces in the relation next month for Congress to know the real pulse of the people.