Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Malaysia Charges 2 Militant Suspects of Planning Attacks on Places of Worship

From BenarNews (Mar 26): Malaysia Charges 2 Militant Suspects of Planning Attacks on Places of Worship


Suspected Malaysian militant Nik Muhamad Zaini Nik Hassan is led to the Johor Bahru court complex by a counter-terrorism officer after he was arrested on suspicion of planning to attack a house of worship, March 26, 2018.               

Malaysian authorities filed charges Monday against two suspected Islamic State (IS) members, alleging they were planning to launch attacks on non-Muslim places of worship and other targets, including police stations.

Another suspected militant was charged in the southern state of Johor with possession of pro-IS videos in his mobile phone and tablet, officials said.

The three were part of a six-member terrorist cell arrested by Malaysian counter-terror officials in three separate raids since the end of February in the state, Malaysia’s Inspector-General of Police Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement on Saturday.
Authorities did not name the places of worship in the charge sheet.

“We cannot reveal the names of their targets, but I can confirm they were targeting a few police personnel and officers from Johor,” Fuzi told reporters.

A suspected Filipino bomb maker with alleged ties to Furuji Indama, a leader of the pro-IS militant group Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines, also was arrested in the eastern state of Sabah this month, Fuzi said. Officials did not release the suspect’s name.

Abu Sayyaf militants are known for beheading hostages unless ransom payments are made. Last year, they beheaded a German captive in February and two Vietnamese sailors in July.
Charge sheet details

Officials alleged that Nik Muhamad Zaini Nik Hassan, 37, who works as a technician, and security guard Ismadi Md Nor (alias Ismail), 30, planned to launch an attack on a building in Johor Bahru, the capital of Johor.

If found guilty, the duo could face imprisonment of not more than seven years.

The third accused, Mohammad Zaki Ibrahim, 49, also a security guard, was charged with possessing video clips of IS activities in his mobile and tablet. He also faces a seven-year prison term, if found guilty.

The three men were not represented by a lawyer and, according to court officials, no pleas were recorded on Monday. They had planned to escape to an unnamed neighboring country upon successfully executing their planned attacks, Fuzi said.

The poorly secured seas separating Malaysia from the southern Philippines are a haven for pirates and terrorists, officials said. The two Southeast Asian nations began joint air patrols with Indonesia in October 2017 to bolster their trilateral maritime efforts aimed at ridding their shared borders of threats from IS extremists.

Fuzi said the terror cell allegedly planned on attacking police stations after Sunday’s national Police Day celebrations.

A source close to the investigation told BenarNews it was not the first time Malaysian authorities knew about plans of militants to attack and kill police personnel.

The Johor cell is considered dangerous as it has links to groups based in southern Thailand, the source also said.

Muslim-majority Malaysia’s top IS recruiter Wanndy Mohamad Jedi, who was killed in a drone attack last year in Syria, had called for IS members in Malaysia to launch attacks in the country against police personnel.

Plan to turn Borneo into haven for extremists
Fuzi told reporters on Saturday that the Filipino bomb maker had been planning to attack targets in Sabah in a bid to transform the Malaysian part of Borneo into a safe haven for the IS terrorists.
“The suspect has links with Dr. Mahmud Ahmad, a Malaysian citizen who joined IS in the southern Philippines,” Fuzi said. “The suspect is also wanted by the Philippine authorities for his alleged involvement in series of attempted murders and kidnap-for-ransom activities.”

Abu Sayyaf members, backed by Southeast Asian and other foreign militant fighters, joined forces last year to take over the southern Philippine city of Marawi, engaging Philippine security forces in five months of vicious gunbattles that killed more than 1,200 people, mostly militants.

The arrests bring to 389 the number of detained terrorism suspects as Malaysian authorities stepped up efforts to disrupt militancy during the past four years, according to a BenarNews tally confirmed by Fuzi on Sunday.

Malaysia, home to about 32 million people, including 19.5 million Muslims, is one of the most-developed economies in Southeast Asia. It has foiled at least nine IS-related bomb plots since 2013, according to officials.

Those foiled plots included one that targeted the Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur in August 2017, police said. But in June 2016, IS-linked militants carried out a grenade attack at a nightclub in Puchong, near the capital Kuala Lumpur, injuring eight people.

Prime Minister Najib Razak on Sunday paid tribute to Malaysian police for keeping the country safe.

“Up until today, I am grateful that none of Malaysian were killed in the country over an IS attack,” Najib said in a speech. “This is because of the effective police action.”


Duterte nixes separate security forces for Bangsamoro region

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 27): Duterte nixes separate security forces for Bangsamoro region                          

Soldiers in hijabs take selfies with President Duterte after he declared the liberation of Marawi City in October 2017. AFP
President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said that he will not give the proposed Bangsamoro region its own regional armed forces and police, neither of which are included in the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law.
"It stays to the commander-in-chief," Duterte said Monday at the provincial gymnasium in Jolo, the capital town of Sulu province.
Duterte issued the pronouncement as he urged Sulu residents, who are predominantly Tausug, to resolve ethnic rivalries that may affect implementation of the Bangsamoro Basic Law measures, which Congress is holding hearings on.
Duterte had aired concerns on whether leadership in the new region should be by region or by ethnic group.
He said that Suluanos (Tausug people who are residents of Sulu), Sama and Yakans in Basilan may not get along with ethnic groups in Central Mindanao like the Maguindanaons, Iranon, Maranao and other indigenous people's groups.
"Meaning to say if you Tausug want the Maranao will lead like the present ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao)," Duterte said.
ARMM Regional Gov. Mujiv Hataman is actually a Yakan from Basilan province. He succeeded Ansaruddin-Abdulmalik Adiong, a Maranao, and Zaldy Ampatuan, a Maguindanaon. Ampatuan, whom Adiong replaced in 2009 in the aftermath of the Ampatuan massacre, succeeded Parouk Hussin, a Tausug.
The position of regional governor is elective.
"I do not mean that I do not trust you, but I also mean what I say. Whether you like it or not there's one thing I cannot give in, the regional armed forces and regional police. It stays to the commander-in-chief," Duterte said.
BBL does not propose own police, military
The draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, which is posted on the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, holds that "the defense of the Bangsamoro shall be the responsibility of the Central Government."
The draft BBL only tasks the central government to create a Bangsamoro Military Command, which will be part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and which "shall be organized, maintained, and utilized in accordance with national laws."
The BBL also creates a Bangsamoro Police to maintain peace and order in the region. The draft clearly states that "it shall be part of the Philippine National Police."
The Bangsamoro Police, however, will be governed by a Bangsamoro Police Board, "which shall perform the functions of the National Police Commission in the Bangsamoro Government." That board will be part of the National Police Commission. 
The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process clarified that it is a misconception that the new region will have its own separate security forces and that while the military and police organizations will have different names, they will function like a regional police office or military command.
"The police and military in the meantime should belong to only one (government). I suggest you elect a president that is not stupid. One that will not wrest the government and use the military to rebel against his own government," Duterte added.
The proposed Bangsamoro region will have a parliamentary form of government. The Bangsamoro Parliament will elect its chief minister.
The president also reminded Sulu residents and officials that the new region will need support from the central government in its early years.
"When you start a new system, it's wobbly like a baby learning to walk, which needs assistance," Duterte said.
Government, MILF affirm commitment on 4th anniversary of peace deal
The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Tuesday affirmed their commitment to peace as they marked the fourth year since the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the peace deal reached after 17 years of negotiations.
"The Bangsamoro Basic Law is not just a part of the implementation of the CAB but is meant to address the commitment of the government with the MILF and the Bangsamoro people. The milestones of the peace process are a reminder of how far we’ve come after the signing of CAB in 2014," Undersecretary Nabil Tan, deputy presidential peace adviser, said in a release from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.
The BBL is meant to implement the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.
The CAB has been instrumental in milestones in the peace process, OPAPP said.
"In a landmark event in the Bangsamoro Peace Process, 75 high-powered and crew-served weapons from 145 MILF combatants were ceremoniously turned over to the Independent Decommissioning Body on June 16, 2015," it said.
The agreement also paved the way for cooperation in creating a "Peace Corridor" during the 2017 Marawi siege. The corridor, which was secured by the military and by the MILF facilitated the entry of humanitarian aid to displaced civilians and the rescue of 255 Marawi residents trapped in the city. 
"The CAB, BBL, and the comprehensive peace process is not for the benefit of the MILF but about addressing the historical injustices suffered by the Bangsamoro communities," MILF Implementing Panel Chairman Mohagher Iqbal said.
"The peace process hopes to achieve the contribution to the prosperity and resilience in Mindanao such as job opportunities for the youth, education for our children, infrastructures, incomes for home-grown businesses, and delivery of primary services especially to conflict-affected areas," he also said. 

Palace sets conditions for resumption of peace talks with communists

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 27): Palace sets conditions for resumption of peace talks with communists

The government has called on the communist rebels to put an end to their hostilities and extortion and lay down their arms before the peace negotiations could resume.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque has laid down these conditions for an “enabling environment” conducive for the revival of the peace talks with the communist rebel group.

Presidential Spokesperson Atty. Harry Roque  (YANCY LIM/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)
Roque made the remarks after thanking a group of congressmen for a resolution calling for the resumption of the peace talks with the rebels.

“We reiterate that there must be an enabling environment that must be present for the desired resumption of peace talks such as genuine sincerity on the part of the CPP-NPA-NDF,” Roque said in a statement.

“They must cease their hostilities against innocent civilians and government forces; end their extortion activities, violent streaks, and wanton killings; lay down their arms and return to the fold of law and restart to live normal lives,” he said.

The President has been committed to peace but has resented the communists rebels for being “spoilers of peace,” according to Roque.

“Right from the very beginning of his term, the President’s position has always been clear and consistent: He remains committed to peace,” he said.

“However, we find it unfortunate that the communists have become spoilers of peace because of their penchant for double talk and treachery. Their motives are not for attaining sustainable peace but rather to push for their greater control and influence,” he added.

More than 60 lawmakers recently signed House Resolution No. 1803 urging the President to revive the peace negotiations with the communist rebel group to resolve the decades-old conflict. They also called for the completion of the agreements on social, economic and political reforms to lay the groundwork for a just and lasting peace.

Roque said they recognize the independence of House of Representatives in filing the resolution to continue with the peace negotiations and complete the related agreements. “We thank those who signed the resolution for their support to the peace agenda of the administration,” he added.

He assured that the government would sustain efforts to attain peace despite the suspension of the talks.

“Even without the peace talks, the government’s efforts at forging peace with communist rebels have been gaining ground, as evidenced by the surrender of NPA fighters,” he said.

“Rest assured that the government will exhaust any and all means to achieve lasting peace towards unity and progress” he added.


GPH, MILF commit to sustain gains of the 4-year-old CAB

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 27): GPH, MILF commit to sustain gains of the 4-year-old CAB

The Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) affirmed their commitment to pursue the milestones gained since the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) during the celebration of the peace agreement’s 4th anniversary in Pasig City, on Monday.

In his remarks, Deputy Presidential Peace Adviser Undersecretary Nabil Tan commended both parties for continuing the legacy of CAB through strengthened partnership for four years.

Deputy Presidential Peace Adviser Undersecretary Nabil Tan (OPAPP / MANILA BULLETIN)

“The Bangsamoro Basic Law is not just a part of the implementation of the CAB but is meant to address the commitment of the government with the MILF and the Bangsamoro people. The milestones of the peace process are a reminder of how far we’ve come after the signing of CAB in 2014,” Tan said.

The CAB is the political settlement between the government and the MILF that signaled the end of 17 years of intensive negotiation and started the normalization phase toward achieving peace in this war-torn part of the country.

Since its conception, CAB has been instrumental in maintaining a peaceful relationship with the Moro rebels, with socioeconomic programs and security mechanisms put in place to ensure former combatants can get back to their normal civilian lives.

In a landmark event in the Bangsamoro Peace Process, 75 high-powered and crew-served weapons from 145 MILF combatants were ceremoniously turned over to the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) on June 16, 2015.

Another landmark in the cooperation between both parties was the creation of the Peace Corridor during the Marawi siege, paving the way for the retrieval of 255 civilians trapped in the war zone and allowing access of humanitarian aid to the displaced civilians.

In his message during the celebration, MILF Implementing Panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal urged both parties to continue banking on the gains of peace process, asking the stakeholders to continue supporting the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.

“The CAB, BBL and the comprehensive peace process are not for the benefit of the MILF but about addressing the historical injustices suffered by the Bangsamoro communities. The peace process hopes to achieve the contribution to the prosperity and resilience in Mindanao such as job opportunities for the youth, education for our children, infrastructures, incomes for home-grown businesses, and delivery of primary services especially to conflict-affected areas.” he said.

The proposed BBL is a legal document which will operationalize the final peace agreement with the MILF. The Senate and House of Representatives are expected to pass the law in May.

“This long-awaited legislation (BBL) will serve as the core of a regional government, one that is stronger than ARMM,” ANAK Mindanao Partylist Rep. Amhilda Sangcopan said during the celebration.

“ANAK Mindanao believes that the true spirit of law-making is drafting the laws that address the needs and aspirations of the most-pressing interests of the Bangsamoro people,” she added.


AFP expects to wipe out ASG by year’s end

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 27): AFP expects to wipe out ASG by year’s end

The commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Joint Task Force (AFP-JTF) Sulu Tuesday said that they will do their best to finish off the Abu Sayyaf problem in Sulu before the end of the year.

Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana made the pronouncement in a phone interview, a day after President Rodrigo Duterte visited Sulu for the surrender of several ASG members and handover of loose firearms.

AFP logo (Manila Bulletin)

“Kakayanin natin…. magiging optimistic tayo (We will try our best…. we will be optimistic),” Sobejana said.

Sobejana said, at present, the strength of the terrorist group in Sulu was estimated to be between 300 to 400. He added that the group was still holding 10 hostages – a Dutch national three Indonesians and six Filipinos.

The JTF Sulu commander also revealed that President Duterte expressed satisfaction with the ongoing military operations against the Abu Sayyaf, especially since that there was a huge improvement in the over-all security situation in Sulu.

“Okay naman… Oo, masaya siya na may significant improvement sa security situation sa Sulu (It’s okay… Yes, he’s happy that there is significant improvement in the security situation in Sulu),” Sobejana said. “But of course chinallenge niya iyung local government to also do their part (But of course, he also challenged the local government to also do their part),” he added.

Sobejana said militarily, they have an edge over the Abu Sayyaf but admitted that with the terrorist still holding hostages, the military needs to be cautious in order not to endanger their lives.

“Kaya naman, actually patapos na eh. Ano na lang iyan eh makuha natin iyung… ang priority kasi natin iyung kidnap victims para hindi na restricted iyung ating operation. Sa ngayon kasi with the kidnap victims syempre medyo calculated,. Kapag nawala iyan, priority iyan, the freedom of the kidnap victims (We can, actually it’s almost over. Once we get them… Our priority are the kidnap victims so that our operations will no longer be restricted. Of course with the kidnap victims we need to be calculated),” Sobejana said.

Sobejana said troops just need to sustain their ongoing operations against the enemy.


Coast Guard to commission into service two more ships

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 27): Coast Guard to commission into service two more ships

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) is set to formally commission into service tomorrow, March 28, two more ships acquired through a loan from Japan.

(PCG / Manila Bulletin)

PCG spokesman Capt. Armand Balilo said the ships to be commissioned are the 44-meter multirole response vessels (MRRVs) named BRP Cape San Agustin and BRP Cabra.

BRP Cape San Agustin was named after a cultural heritage situated in Mindanao while BRP Cabra was named after an old lighthouse in Cabra Island in Lubang, Occidental Mindoro, according to PCG.

These MRRVs were part of the government’s loan agreement worth P7.3 billion with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade will lead the joint commissioning ceremony at 9 a.m. at the PCG main headquarters in Port Area, Manila.

Joining him as one of the key attendees is Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koji Haneda.

According to Department of Transportation,, commissioning is a tradition, which “grants the vessel an authority to belong to a service and authorize her to perform the mandated mission of the agency.”

PCG said the new MRRVs will join the first six ships from Japan aimed to address the country’s maritime concerns along its coasts. The older vessels were also acquired through an Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) loan from JICA.

The Coast Guard said these MRRVs have “fire monitors, night vision camera, radio direction finder, work boat, and bullet-proof navigation bridge.


Satellite images reveal show of force by Chinese navy in South China Sea

From ABS-CBS (Mar 27): Satellite images reveal show of force by Chinese navy in South China Sea

Satellite photo dated March 26, 2018 shows Chinese ships south of Hainan, China. Planet Labs, Handout via Reuters 

HANOI/HONG KONG - Dozens of Chinese naval vessels are exercising this week with an aircraft carrier in a large show of force off Hainan island in the South China Sea, satellite images obtained by Reuters show.

The images, provided by Planet Labs Inc, confirm a Chinese carrier group has entered the vital trade waterway as part of what the Chinese navy earlier described as combat drills that were part of routine annual exercises.

The Liaoning carrier group last week traversed the Taiwan Strait, according to the Taiwanese defense ministry.

The photos, taken on Monday, show what appear to be at least 40 ships and submarines flanking the carrier Liaoning in what some analysts described as an unusually large display of the Chinese military's growing naval might.

Sailing in a line formation more suited to visual propaganda than hard military maneuvers, the flotilla was headed by what appeared to be submarines, with aircraft above.

Jeffrey Lewis, a security expert at the California-based based Middlebury Institute of Strategic Studies, said the images showed the first confirmation that the carrier was joining the drills.

"It's an incredible picture," he said. "That’s the big news to me. Confirmation that, yes, the carrier participated in the exercise."

While the Liaoning has previously entered the South China Sea as part of drills in uncontested training grounds south of Hainan, its annual exercises are closely watched by regional and international powers eyeing Beijing's growing military might.

It is unclear where the flotilla was headed, or how long operations will last. China's defense ministry did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.

Collin Koh, a security expert at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, described the deployment as unusual for its size and scope.

"Judging by the images, it does seem they are keen to show that elements of the South Sea Fleet are able to routinely join up with the carrier strike group from Dalian in the north," he said.

"It does seem they want to show inter-fleet interoperability - something the (Chinese) navy has been quietly working on for some time."

Chinese naval and coast guard forces have expanded rapidly in recent years and now patrol the vast swathes of the South China Sea, but little is known about their combat readiness and co-ordination.

Koh said as well as the destroyers, frigates and submarines that would ordinarily support a carrier, the flotilla appeared to include a large oiler for re-supply as well as smaller corvettes and possibly fast attack catamarans.

"While it highlights an extensive ability to deploy, we are still left to guess at the PLAN's combat readiness," Koh said.

As well as Vietnam, China's claims in the South China Sea are disputed by the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei while Taiwan also has claims.

The exercises come amid fresh signs of tension in the resource-rich waterway, with Vietnam recently halting oil exploration off its coast by Spanish firm Repsol under pressure from Beijing.

Beijing also objected to a so-called freedom of navigation patrol by a US warship last week close to one of its artificial islands in the Spratlys archipelago further south.


PH needs more work on maritime security: DND

From Malaya Business Insight (Mar 27): PH needs more work on maritime security: DND

DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday said the security threat due to the dispute in the South China Sea remains a challenge despite warmer ties with China.

Lorenzana made the remarks as he received three additional TC-90 aircraft donated by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force during rites held at the headquarters of the Naval Air Group in Sangley Point Cavite City.

“We must admit that much still has to be done to boost our military capability in order to meet a number of persistent maritime security challenges,” said Lorenzana.

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

Apart from the Philippines and China, the others that have laid claim over the chain of islands and islets in the South China Sea are Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan. China has turned aggressive in its claims over the past years and even conducted land reclamation in several reefs.

“We, at the defense department, are doing all we can to enhance our capability and to modernize our military equipment, pursuant to the AFP modernization program,” said Lorenzana.

The ongoing modernization program of the Armed Forces calls for the acquisition of modern assets, including frigates and long-range patrol aircraft.

“This turnover ceremony of TC-90 aircraft is part of that effort,” said Lorenzana.

He said the aircraft will enhance the Navy’s capability in maritime patrol and surveillance and in giving humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

The three aircraft are part of the five TC-90s initially leased by the Japan for $24,200 per annum to boost the Philippine’s maritime domain awareness. Two were transferred to the defense and military establishment in March last year.

During the Association of Southeast Asian (Asean) summit in Manila in November last year, Japanese defense ministry officials signed an agreement with their Filipino counterparts to donate the five aircraft.

Lorenzana said the aircraft will be playing a huge role in the conduct of maritime patrol in the disputed areas in the South China Sea.

“We already have five. The two that arrived earlier are already equipped with all the sensors, optical sensors, infrareds. They (military) can now operate day and night,” he said.

“So it will fill the gap on our maritime surveillance. The effect is huge, and it will ensure also that we can patrol our maritime domain and ensure security of passage of all ships,” he added.

Lorenza received the three aircraft from Japanese officials and then turned them over to the Philippine Navy which is in dire need of aircraft.

The aircraft were accorded with the traditional “water canon salute” upon their exit from the taxiway, going to their parking area at the NAG headquarters.

The aircraft arrived in the country on March 23 and were accorded a “meeting procedure” over Batanes, involving the two earlier-delivered TC-90 aircraft that escorted them to the Laoag airport.

Defense chief: Why do Reds want peace talks?

From Malaya Business Insight (Mar 27): Defense chief: Why do Reds want peace talks?

DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday said he is opposed to the resumption of peace negotiations between government and the communist movement.

He said the government has been pursuing peace with the communists in the past decades but nothing has happened. The Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, have been involved in the armed struggle for 49 years.

Lorenzana said government must determine what the communists “really want this time because we have been talking to them for the past several decades and nothing is happening.”

“I will have to defer to the President if he wants to pursue the talks but the defense department, we oppose the peace talks,” Lorenzana told a press briefing at the headquarters of the Naval Air Group in Sangley Point in Cavite City.

He issued the statement a day after at least 60 members of the House of Representatives signed a resolution calling on President Duterte to revive the talks.

“Why are they forcing the government, pleading to resume the peace talks again? I don’t know the purpose of this,” Lorenzana said.

He said efforts to resume the talks could be a move to prevent the CPP-NPA from being tagged a terrorist group, and to prevent more NPA members from surrendering.

The military earlier said at least 4,000 rebels and supporters have surrendered this year.

“Maybe they are trying to salvage themselves because they are about to be considered as terrorists and secondly, a lot of them are surrendering in droves everyday so they are trying to use the peace talks as a last ploy to stop surrenders and avoid the terrorist tag,” he said.

Signatories of the resolution are members of different political parties. One of the authors is Rep. Carlos Zarate of the party-list group Bayan Muna which is associated with the communists. The resolution is asking Duterte to “listen to the clamor of the people” to resume the talks, which it said will be beneficial to peasants and workers.

The CPP-NPA has been in the US list of foreign terrorist organizations since 2002.

In December last year, Duterte declared the CPP and NPA as terror groups. A government petition for the declaration is pending with a Manila court.

The month before, he cancelled the peace negotiations because of NPA attacks on government forces even while the talks were ongoing. Duterte started talking peace with the CCP-NPA-National Democratic Front of the Philippines in 2016 shortly after he became president.

Peace adviser Jesus Dureza said Sunday only “an enabling environment conducive to negotiations” would convince government to resume the talks.

Lorenzana said the communist should show sincerity first, by agreeing to a bilateral ceasefire agreement, before the government agrees to resume the talks.

“We are asking for bilateral ceasefire... But these people, the CPP-NPA is insisting on fight and talk but I don’t believe in that. If we talk, we should stop fighting first,” said Lorenzana.

PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa encouraged his men to take advantage of the good weather to launch tactical offensives against the NPA.

“This summer season, we are taking advantage of good weather to launch our own tactical offensive operations against the CPP-NPA front organizations and support systems particularly CPP-NPA personalities who are wanted by law for criminal offenses,” he said.

He reminded police stations nationwide to step-up their defense plans I preparation for the NPA’s 49th anniversary on March 29.

The NPA traditionally launches attacks on remote and isolated police or military stations to mark its anniversary.

“I am instructing all PNP regional directors to put in place all necessary counter measures to strengthen defenses of soft targets and avoid being caught flatfooted in cases of offensive enemy actions... Police units are instructed to double its efforts in launching offensive operations against local insurgents by mobilizing the barangay information networks and other intelligence sources in the community to deter CPP-NPA hostilities,” he said.

Rep. Tom Villarin (PL, Akbayan) slammed Dela Rosa.

“Instead of an all-out peace regardless of weather conditions, the Duterte government has used the coercive powers of the state to wage a bloody war against a long-drawn insurgency that has taken roots because of poverty and injustice,” said Villarin, one of the signatories of the resolution.

Villarin said instead of peaceful and long-lasting solutions, the government has embarked on a “myopic” and even a “senseless war of attrition.”

“It takes more than bullets to kill an idea or a thousand offensives to find lasting peace,” he said.


Peace rally

From the Mindanao Times (Mar 27): Peace rally

Simultaneous Mindanao-wide gathering aims to end conflicts
MULTI-SECTORAL peace rallies are set to be held today in key areas of Mindanao to call for the immediate cessation of conflicts and to encourage remaining Communist rebels to go back into mainstream society.

The simultaneously rallies will be conducted in the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Koronadal, Kidapawan, Butuan, Tagum, Mati, and Davao.

The Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) said security measures will be in place at the rally venues.

Lt. Gen. Benjamin Madrigal, EastMinCom chief, has directed his subordinate units to extend assistance and secure the Multi-Sectoral Peace Assembly Rally.

In the directive, the military units were directed to coordinate with the organizers, respective Philippine National Police (PNP) counterparts, and the concerned Local Government Units to ensure the peaceful and orderly conduct of the activity and mitigate the inconvenience that it may cause to the public.

Capt. Jerry Lamosao, the spokesperson of 10th Infantry Division, also said they are expecting around 5,000 participants in each rally point.

Lamosao said former rebels will be in rally, which aims to show support to President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign to obtain peace.

Last January, a peace rally was staged following the surrender of 290 former members of the New People’s Army’s underground mass organization on December 28 to 29 in Barangay Araibo, Pantukan, Compostela Valley.

The group marched around the barangay with the participants raising placards that stated, among others, “No to Communism,” “No to ceasefire violation,” “Yes to Democracy,” “We Love Peace & Justice,” and “No to Terrorism.”

Prior to the peace rally, the former NPA members underwent a two-day debriefing by the 66th Infantry Battalion.

Lt. Col. Palmer Parungao, the 66th IB commander, told TIMES that the activity was intended to “de-radicalize” the surrenderers and allow them to integrate back into the society.

Lectures were also given by the different sectors of the government to educate and inform the rebel returnees of the government’s plans and programs.

Likewise, team-building activities were also conducted for the returnees to feel that they form a significant part of the community.

Parungao expressed his gratitude on the support extended by the local government of Pantukan through Mayor Roberto Yugo and other partner agencies for the success of the peace rally and the live-in seminar.

“This is not for us, but for our brothers and sisters in barangay Araibo,” he said.

Maj. Gen. Noel Clement, commander of the 10ID, said they appreciate “the peace initiatives of the local government and our units involved in pursuing peace.”

“With these former members of CPP-NPA-NDF conducting peace rally and the community as well, it is just a matter of time that all the people will come together and denounce NPA atrocities,” Clement said.

“We call (the) citizens to unite against the anti-people NPA extortion gang disguised as revolution,” he added.


28 NPA leaders surrendered since January 2018: military

From the Mindanao Times (Mar 27): 28 NPA leaders surrendered since January 2018: military

THE ARMED Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has recorded a total of 28 CPP-NPA leaders who surrendered to security forces since the start of the year.

Lt. Col. Emmanuel Garcia, the AFP spokesperson, said The most number of surrender came from the Eastern Mindanao Command, which reported 17 ranking NPAs in 2018. The most recent of the surrender was Edwin Coquilla alias “Jemar.”

Garcia said he is a former squad leader of a platoon of the NPA’s North Eastern Mindanao Regional Committee.

He yielded to troops of the Philippine Army’s 36th Infantry Battalion and brought along nine improvised explosive devices at Headquarters 36IB, in Tago, Surigao del Sur on March 11.

Three high-ranking leaders of an NPA Guerilla Front also surrendered including a former vice commander of GF27 Geraldo Baro alias Arnold who yielded to the 71st Infantry Battalion in Mawab, Compostela Valley on Feb. 7; and Alvie Marie Cominador alias Ara, secretary of GF51 and Shane Rosete Cacdac alias Neo, staff officer of a sub-regional committee who both yielded to the 73rd Infantry Battalion in Davao Del Sur on Feb. 1.

In January, five leaders voluntarily surrendered to troops. Highest-ranking among them were deputy secretary of the FSMR, Noel Legazpi alias Efren, and his wife, Jeanalyn Bendalian alias Wendy, who is the former medical officer of FSMR. They both surrendered to members of the 27th Infantry Battalion in South Cotabato on Jan. 15.

Notable also was a certain alias Simon a former vice team leader of GF71, Far South Mindanao Region (FSMR) who surrendered on Jan. 23 to the 73rd IB in Sarangani Province.

Randy Atong and Renie Atenza, finance officer and a team leader of GF51, respectively, yielded to troops in Davao Del Sur on Jan. 10.

Beong “Ka Tukay” Dalumatan, formerly a sub-commander of Guerilla Front (GF) 72 based in Sultan Kudarat, turned himself in to Columbio Municipal Police Office on March 3.

Meanwhile, 10 other NPA leaders, who requested not to be named, surrendered in Albay on Jan. 19. They are composed of political guides, squad leaders, and medics.

The spike in the number of NPA leaders who surrendered 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, the AFP, and the PNP.


Lorenzana against peace talks: 'I don't know the purpose of this'

From Rappler (Mar 27): Lorenzana against peace talks: 'I don't know the purpose of this'

'Because we have been talking with them for the past several decades. Nothing is happening,' says a weary Delfin Lorenzana

DEFENSE SECRETARY. Delfin Lorenzana speaks to House committee on national defense and security. File photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

DEFENSE SECRETARY. Delfin Lorenzana speaks to House committee on national defense and security. File photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

Citing "decades" of failure to reach an agreement with Philippine communist rebels, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Monday, March 26 that he was personally against the resumption of peace talks.

"The defense department will oppose the peace talks... I'll try to find out ano ba talaga ang gusto nilang mangyari ngayon? (What do they really want to happen now?) Because we have been talking with them for the past several decades. Nothing is happening," a weary Lorenzana said in a press conference at the Sangley Point Naval Base in Cavite City.

"They are actually forcing the government parang nakikiawa sila na mag-peace talks na naman. (It's like they are begging to re-start the peace talks again.) So I don't know the purpose of this," he added.

Lorenzana was reacting to the House of Representatives resolution calling for the talks' resumption, signed by more than 60 congressmen, which resurrected the discussion on the issue.

Just an initial assessment: Lorenzana clarified, however, that he is open to changing his mind, but only on certain conditions.

First, he said, he would have to be convinced by a talk with President Rodrigo Duterte. (READ: The end of the affair? Duterte's romance with the Reds)

"I have to talk to the President first and get his sense, because he knows more than I do. It's likely that he has more information that comes from outside sources," Lorenzana explained.

Second—a line repeated by defense officials on many occasions— the communists would have to be sincere coming into the conversation.

"What we are asking for, [is] bilateral ceasefire. That's the only thing, with a mechanism to see if both sides are abiding by the bilateral ceasefire," Lorenzana said.

"But these people, CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army), is insisting [to] fight and talk. I don't believe in that. If we talk, we should stop fighting first," Lorenzana added.

Duterte's stand: Lorenzana and Duterte are on the same page.

In a press conference on March 6, Duterte said he "may consider" peace talks if Reds are ready to declare a ceasefire.


Duterte eyes dividing Bangsamoro entity

From Rappler (Mar 27): Duterte eyes dividing Bangsamoro entity

President Rodrigo Duterte wonders if the Bangsamoro entity should be further divided into regions representing tribes. He wants the issue resolved this year, by the time Congress passes the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

MINDANAO CONCERNS. President Rodrigo Duterte shakes hands with Supreme Tribal Council for Peace and Development executive chairman Datu Roel Ali Sr in Davao City. MalacaƱang file photo

MINDANAO CONCERNS. President Rodrigo Duterte shakes hands with Supreme Tribal Council for Peace and Development executive chairman Datu Roel Ali Sr in Davao City. MalacaƱang file photo

While he has been assured by lawmakers that they can pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by May this year, President Rodrigo Duterte said he's worried about lumping together Muslim provinces in mainland Mindanao with those in the Sulu archipelago under one Bangsamoro entity.

"Nangangamba ako, would it do well to mix it all in one pot? Meaning to say, kayo bang Jolohano handa na mamumuno ang isang Maranao, kagaya ng ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) ngayon?" wondered Duterte on Monday, March 26. (I am worried, would it do well to mix it all in one pot? Meaning to say, will you people of Jolo be ready to be led by a Maranao, like in the ARMM?)

The President was speaking at the handover of firearms from Abu Sayyaf surrenderers in Sulu.

Would it be better, he wondered, for regions within the Bangsamoro entity to be further divided according to tribes?

"Magkanya-kanya ba o puwede isa ilagay mo sa isang governing authority, and who would it be?" he asked. (Should they go separate ways or can you put them all under one governing authority, and who would it be?)

Duterte, the country's first president from Mindanao, said he does not see any problem if a Maranao would lead a region dominated by Maranao peoples. But could a Maranao lead peoples of the Yakan or Tausug tribes?

"Would it also be good? Whether we do it by regions of the tribe or iba dito (it's different here) and a separate governing authority? I have to fathom it. Da-dive pa ako tapos kukunin ko 'yung ilalim talaga (I have to dive and get to the bottom of it)," he said.

The President said he wants to resolve the issue this year, or by the time Congress passes the BBL.

"That's why I need to talk to you. And I want to finish it this year," he said.

Duterte emphasized that resolving whether or not to further divide the Bangsamoro entity is necessary so that the BBL does not become a failure.

"I want it solved [in] the best way that is acceptable to everybody. So that no one will say, 'I don't like this because it's just that group again.' It would not promote anything and we would be back to square one," said the President.

Further dividing the Bangsamoro region would mean more regions under the federal system of government Duterte envisions for the country.

Duterte has said he wants the BBL passed ahead of the ratification of a new federal constitution. The Bangsamoro would then become one of the states in a federal Philippines. (READ: Con-Com members point out challenges for BBL with federal shift)


Pres. Duterte sets one-day exclusive meeting with ASG surrenderers

From the Philippine Information Agency (Mar 26): Pres. Duterte sets one-day exclusive meeting with ASG surrenderers

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte invited Abu Sayyaf surrenderers here today to a whole day meeting to discuss next steps particularly on how to improve their lives through government intervention, and efforts to finally have peace in Sulu and in the southern part of Mindanao.

“I will invite you to a meeting, maybe in Malacanang,” President Duterte said, speaking to 76 Abu Sayyaf surrenderers and about 900 sectoral representatives including barangay captains, local officials and other stakeholders.

The President nevertheless condemned the beheadings and inhumane atrocities committed by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).“I am not angry with the Abu Sayyaf, I understand where you are coming from, but you have to stop it.” the President said.

President Duterte believes that the ASG have been victims of poverty, poor education and lack of opportunities. “Napabayaan sila,” he said. (They have been left behind.)

“If there is a way for me to help you, please tell me. Come to me and I will listen, but you also have to listen to me,” the President said.

The President said the Abu Sayyaf surrenderers are welcome in Malacanang, and that he is expecting to talk with them for one whole day to discuss the best courses of action to improve their lives. He mentioned that Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and Al Haj Murad Ebrahim of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will also be invited to this meeting to share their ideas on the best path to peace, and also to consult them on their insights regarding the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and Federalism.

“Wala akong ibang hangarin kundi bigyan ng kapayapaan ang Moro sa Mindanao. I am pleading for peace,” he said.

Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan II thanked the President for this particular visit.

“Pag lahat ng gustong makita kayo pupunta dito ngayon, hinding hindi po talaga magkasya,” Governor Tan said. (If all those who wanted to see you came today, there surely would not be enough space.)

Some 652 loose firearms were presented today to President Duterte during the activity. These firearms were turned over by local officials and residents of the province.

According to Brigadier General Cirilito Sobejana, Joint Task Force Sulu commander, this number is ‘just the beginning.’

“Surrendering your weapon is not easy to do. But nevertheless they did it because they believe in our President and his efforts for peace,” General Sobejana said.


AFP: Reds must show sincerity in peace talks

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 27): AFP: Reds must show sincerity in peace talks

AFP Public Affairs Office chief Lt. Col. Emmanuel Garcia. (Photo courtesy: Kawal Pinoy Facebook page)

The rebels must show sincerity in dealing with the peace process.

This was emphasized by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Emmanuel Garcia when sought for a comment regarding the possible resumption of peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) Tuesday.

"The AFP will always follow the policy direction of the political leadership. We leave it to our political leaders to decide on political questions and we will always follow legally mandated decisions," he said.

Garcia also said that AFP supports every effort and initiative to forge peace in the country and the need for having a just and lasting one.

"However, the CPP-NPA-NDF must show sincerity in dealing with the peace process. They must stop all atrocities including attacks, ambush of troops, coercion and killing of civilians, recruitment, use of IEDs (improvised explosive devices), extortion, arson; and all anti-peace activities that undermine communities," the military official added.

Garcia said regardless of the outcome of the proposed peace talks, the AFP will always abide by our constitutional mandate to protect the people and the state.

On Nov. 23, 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Proclamation 360, 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.