Thursday, April 5, 2018

Counterterrorism Yearbook 2018: Southeast Asia

From the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI)//The Strategist (Nov 4): Counterterrorism Yearbook 2018: Southeast Asia

Last year’s Marawi crisis represents the most significant terrorism development in Southeast Asia since the 2002 Bali bombings. Despite expectations that the rollback of Islamic State (IS) forces in the Middle East would see a return of fighters to Southeast Asia, the group’s capacity to occupy an entire city—and to repel Philippines conventional forces for five months—was unforeseen.

The Marawi model has injected new enthusiasm into the small fringe of militant Southeast Asian Islamists who operate in remoter parts of the Philippines and Indonesia. It also demonstrated the possibilities of a command and control model whereby IS commanders direct local forces from offshore locations.

The Marawi crisis was swiftly followed by the August Rohingya crisis. This has left a smouldering and tragic humanitarian disaster, with some 700,000 Rohingya now sheltering in tent cities on Myanmar’s western border with Bangladesh and no quick solutions in sight.

There are legitimate fears that the resentment sown by this example of what UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called ethnic cleansing will breed a new generation of terrorists and ready recruits for IS.

Both these situations are serious, warranting close attention from regional governments. The good news is that so far, it would seem, Marawi at least has spurred unprecedented levels of counterterrorism (CT) discussion among regional governments, and there’s at least some evidence of an increase in practical cooperation.

The Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia have instituted coordinated patrols in the Sulu Sea in an effort to net militants seeking to leave by boat from the southern Philippines. Australia recently hosted a sub-regional defence ministers’ meeting on counterterrorism that saw ASEAN countries agree to link intelligence databases on terrorism suspects. Australia continues to push for closer cooperation and more capacity building, as evidenced at the last month’s ASEAN summit in Sydney.

In the case of the Rohingya, stonewalling by Myanmar’s government continues despite ASEAN’s pressure and the personal efforts of Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak and Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo. Myanmar’s scheme to repatriate the Rohingya has been met with skepticism and little uptake to date.

But here there’s some consolation. The Islamist group ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army), which mounted the attacks on police posts that triggered Myanmar’s scorched-earth retribution, appears to hold limited political objectives. They aspire more to winning a better deal for the Rohingya than to linking with the IS global caliphate.

This makes ARSA’s struggle more akin to Thailand’s 14-year-old southern insurgency, which has largely remained focussed on the issue of local autonomy, and largely remained disconnected from IS goals elsewhere in Southeast Asia, which include launching attacks on Westerners.

Beyond the Rohingya and Marawi crises, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia each continue to develop their CT legislative frameworks and security arrangements. Singapore, the region’s acknowledged CT leader, experienced its first case of self-radicalisation and has moved quickly to strengthen its counter-radicalisation programs, as well as arrangements for crowd security.

Singapore’s situation is easier, however, than those of Indonesia and Malaysia, whose security forces must operate over more dispersed geography, with larger populations and more complex political challenges posed by their predominantly Muslim societies.

Indonesia’s political leaders are walking a fine line between accommodating the demands of an increasingly pious, and in some respects, less tolerant Islamic society, while also acting to firmly crack down on the groups who seek to tear at Indonesia’s delicate social fabric, or worse, to carry out actual violence.

The former motivation saw the sentencing and imprisonment of former Jakarta mayoral candidate Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (‘Ahok’) for blasphemy. The latter saw the passing of a an illiberal bill (known as ORMAS) giving Indonesia’s executive government powers to outlaw any community group deemed to be espousing principles inconsistent with the state ideology of Pancasila. This bill was subsequently used to ban the extremist organisation Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia.

Indonesia also continues to work on significantly strengthening its primary counterterrorism legislation, although the bill is currently held up as politicians and military officers wrangle over a larger role for the TNI in Indonesian CT. Meanwhile, the Australian-trained and highly effective police CT outfit, Detachment 88, continues to maintain an effective surveillance net over many of Indonesia’s potential militants.

Malaysia also continues to fine-tune its CT arrangements, opening a large-scale counter-messaging centre in cooperation with the government of Saudi Arabia while boosting the numbers of its CT police force. Malaysia continues to disrupt plots and apprehend terrorists en route to or from conflicts such as Marawi or the Middle East.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Thailand’s southern insurgency continues to take lives, but hasn’t escalated beyond the southern border provinces, as was feared after the 2016 Queen’s Birthday attacks.

In sum, the picture for terrorism in Southeast Asia remains dynamic and concerning, but there are positive signs that Southeast Asian governments are treating the issue with increasing seriousness and diligence.

Joma to Duterte: Drop terror tag bid vs Reds

From ABS-CBN (Apr 5): Joma to Duterte: Drop terror tag bid vs Reds

FILE PHOTO: Guerrillas of the New People's Army (NPA) stand in formation in the Sierra Madre mountain range, located east of Manila, July 30, 2017. Noel Celis, AFP

The Duterte administration should withdraw its bid to declare communist guerrillas as terrorists before fanning hopes of reviving stalled peace talks with the group, their exiled leader Jose Maria Sison said Thursday.
Duterte on Wednesday asked his Cabinet to work on resuming peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the umbrella organization of the communist movement, 4 months after he called off talks.
The Department of Justice, however, has a pending petition before a Manila court to cite the NDFP's political wing, the Communist Party of the Philippines, and its armed wing, New People’s Army, as terrorist organizations.

The petition is "a problem" because it has banned NDFP communist consultants from the 2 organizations from participating in peace negotiations, said Sison, founder of the CPP.

"That kind of obstacle or hindrance must be dealt with properly in a timely manner," the Netherlands-based Sison said in an interview with ANC.

"If the GRP (government of the Republic of the Philippines) side is really serious in aiming for the big results, which is the attainment of peace and even truce or ceasefire in the meantime... the obstacles and hindrance should be done away with," he added.


Duterte, who was Sison's student at a Manila university in the 1960s, earlier promised to end the decades-old communist rebellion. The President, however, abandoned peace efforts in November, complaining of repeated rebel attacks.

The President said he would resume the talks if the rebels stop collecting "revolutionary taxes" from businesses and torching equipment of construction firms.

Sison said the rebels will "gladly" enter a ceasefire agreement so peace talks could resume if "what was promised since a long time ago by President Duterte -- the amnesty and release of the political prisoners -- is fulfilled."

The NDFP and the government, he added, should discuss Duterte's offer of providing support to the rebels if they stop collecting revolutionary taxes.

The government and the communists have been in on-again, off-again negotiations since 1986. Norway has brokered some talks.

The communist insurgency has stunted economic development in several resource-rich provinces, just as Moro separatist rebellions have plagued large parts of the south of the Catholic-majority country.

Philippine Maoist rebels reject preconditions for peace talks

From Reuters (Apr 5): Philippine Maoist rebels reject preconditions for peace talks

Philippine Communist guerrillas are willing to resume peace talks with the government after President Rodrigo Duterte revived the idea but reject any preconditions, their leader said on Thursday.

Duterte campaigned in 2016 on a promise to end the nearly 50-year Maoist rebellion, which has killed more than 40,000 people, by finding a political solution but he abandoned peace efforts in November complaining of repeated rebel attacks.

On Wednesday, he ordered his cabinet to work on a truce to enable talks. It was not immediately clear what prompted the change of heart.
Jose Maria Sison, founder and leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) who has been living in exile in the Netherlands since the late 1980s, said the two sides can resolve any differences during negotiations.

“There should be no preconditions on the resumption of peace talks,” Sison said in a radio interview, adding both sides should “bring different positions on issues to the table in order to thresh out the differences and arrive at agreements”.

Jesus Dureza, a presidential adviser, said in a radio interview there should be no attacks from either side before talks resume and the rebels had to stop their practice of extortion.

These were not conditions, he said, only moves to create an “enabling environment”.

The New People’s Army has attacked mines, plantations, construction and other businesses and collected “revolutionary taxation” to finance its rebellion.

Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said the president also wanted the rebels to drop their plan to join a coalition government because “that is absolutely not on the bargaining table”.

Sison said both sides must comply with previous agreements and “remove all obstacles and hindrances to the peace negotiations” without identifying any issues.

The government and the communists’ political wing, the National Democratic Front, have been in on-again, off-again negotiations since 1986. Previous agreements have fallen apart when the government re-arrested rebels who served as consultants in the talks.

The mainly Roman Catholic Philippines is also fighting several Muslim insurgencies in the south.

A military spokesman, Brigadier-General Bienvenido Datuin, said the army would support the government’s peace initiative but “will continue performing our mission and mandate of protecting the people and security the state”.

Defense and military officials also doubt how much control political leaders abroad have on their fighters at home after attacks during peace negotiations last year.

Abu terrorist not yet off the hook – DND

From the Manila Times (Apr 5): Abu terrorist not yet off the hook – DND

Despite his surrender to the military, Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Nhurhassan Jamiri still needs to face the law for “capital offenses,” according to the Department of National Defense (DND).

DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday said justice should be served those who were victimized by the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) that is based in Basilan province in southern Mindanao.

Lorenzana pointed out that all members of the ASG without exception are accountable for kidnapping and other crimes.

“We will not [let them off the hook]. We still must look at the capital offenses they had committed. We cannot let them escape [from those offenses]. We have to serve justice to those who were killed, those they kidnapped, those they beheaded. We cannot just let them walk freely with those offenses,” he said in a chance interview.

Lorenzana said operations by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Jolo in Sulu province, also in Mindanao, had forced Jamiri to escape to Malaysia, where he was recently caught.

“He was being chased there [Malaysia]. They [Philippine military authorities] thought that he was killed there but he was not and maybe, [he]found out that the President [Rodrigo Duterte] was willing to offer some benefits to [him]if [he returns]to the fold of the law,” he told reporters.

Last week, Jamiri, along with his 13 of his followers, surrendered to Joint Task Force Basilan and turned over 10 high-powered firearms, 40 assorted ammunition magazines and 651 pieces of live ammunition.

Prior to the surrender, President Duterte went to Sulu to meet the Abu Sayyaf rebels who had given up fighting and even committed benefits such as housing.

The same commitment was made too to communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels who had also turned themselves in to the military.

‘Bangsamoro Basic Law ready for signing into law by June’

From the Philippine Star (Apr 5): ‘Bangsamoro Basic Law ready for signing into law by June’

The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) will be ready for signing into law when Congress adjourns sine die on June 1, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said yesterday.

Sotto and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III were set to meet with President Duterte and members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) last night to discuss the BBL.

Sotto said the timetable for the approval of the BBL is among those expected to be taken up.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, chairman of the Senate sub-committee on local government for the BBL, said the Senate should approve the measure on May 23.  

If both houses approve the proposed BBL before June 1, Sotto said the President would have until July 22 to go over the bill so he could report it out during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 23.

“Hopefully (it will be signed before the SONA). It would be ideal. It will be a good development even for the peace process,” Sotto said.

While the President could certify the BBL as an urgent measure, Sotto said it would not affect the debates at the Senate. He said deliberations on the measure are expected to be lengthy due to various concerns raised by several senators.

Sotto said certifying a bill as urgent would remove only the three-day rule before it could be approved on third reading after second reading.

In a letter to Pimentel on Monday, Presidential Legislative Liaison Office Secretary Adelino Sitoy conveyed the President’s directive for him to urge Congress to hasten the passage of the Bangsamoro bill.

On the same day, Duterte in a speech said he is “racing against time” to pass the BBL.

“I gave my solemn promise and… I am working hard to meet the deadline,” Duterte assured members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, BTC and government negotiating panel.

MILF welcomes presence of US forces in southern Philippines

From the Arab News (Apr 4): MILF welcomes presence of US forces in southern Philippines
  • Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Al-Hajj Murad Ebrahim speaks to Arab News
  • US forces are “quite visible” in the island provinces of Mindanao

Philippines: Unexploded Ordnance Slow Return of Marawi Residents

From BenarNews (Apr 4): Philippines: Unexploded Ordnance Slow Return of Marawi Residents


A woman gathers a few copies of the Quran from her ruined home in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, April 4, 2018.
Richel V. Umel/BenarNews

Almost 1,000 displaced Filipino families have been allowed back into battle-scarred Marawi city to check their homes under tight military security over the past few days, but unexploded bombs strewn amid the rubble have limited their movements.

On Wednesday, BenarNews reporters and journalists from other media outlets accompanied some of the families that have been trickling into the former war zone in batches since April 1.

The Philippine gave them permission to venture back inside so they could pick through the debris for whatever was left of their previous lives, five months after a siege by Islamic State-linked militants and an ensuing battle with government forces destroyed the scenic southern city.

The families and reporters were packed into private vehicles that snaked through the city’s “main battle area.”

No one was permitted to stray. Reporters who joined the first batch on Wednesday were allowed to observe, but were told to respect the grieving returnees.

A woman in a traditional Muslim garb was visibly upset as she gathered tattered copies of the Quran from her home in Tulali, a village in Marawi. Around her was a wall that had been painted a vibrant pink. Now, bullet holes pockmarked it.

“This is too painful,” the grieving woman told BenarNews. She was too distraught to say her name.

Troops armed with assault rifles patrolled nearby streets, while others stationed themselves inside the ruined homes, their outlines framed by gaping holes in the walls.

Philippine troops guard hundreds of residents who were allowed to visit their ruined homes in the southern city of Marawi, April 4, 2018. [Richel V. Umel/BenarNews]

Troops recover human remains

Apart from Tulali, the military allowed the 979 families to enter two other villages, said Maj. Gen. Roseller Guanzon Murillo, who is with the Army’s 1st Infantry Tabak Division and commands Joint Task Force Ranao.

But the military explosive ordnance and disposal team and the engineering brigade were also on constant lookout after finding many unexploded bombs in the debris.

“To date, these include eight unexploded ordnance, one 60-millimeter mortar, one hand grenade and six 40-millimeter rounds of ammunition,” Murillo said.

Since the fighting ended in late October, the military so far had recovered 1,178 unexploded bombs and 323 improvised explosive devices, he said. Only 17 of the more than 70 bombs dropped by the military, but which did not explode, have been recovered.

And troops were still recovering human bodies, with eight skeletal remains retrieved this week alone, he said.

Ordnance-clearing teams were slowly combing through the rubble, and hoped to finish it by the end of June, “although it does not mean 100-percent clear,” Murillo said.

Meanwhile, the military was continuing to ask civilian residents of nearby areas to turn over unregistered firearms to the army, as a precaution against violence breaking out, he added.

Fighting broke out in May 2017 when the military moved to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged leader of Islamic State (IS) in the Philippines, who spotted hiding out in Marawi, a lakeshore community considered the center of Islam in the predominantly Catholic Philippines.

But Hapilon, backed by local militants from the Maute group and Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern fighters, repulsed the troops, provoking a battle that dragged on for five months and saw the militants engage the Philippine military in vicious urban warfare.

The siege ended in October after troops killed Hapilon and the rebellion’s other leaders. Officials said 1,200 people, most of them militants, died in the fighting.

The battle, however, forced Marawi’s 200,000 residents to flee into overcrowded evacuation camps, where sanitation became a major challenge.

Col. Generoso Ponio, the local army brigade commander, said the military was continuing to monitor fresh recruitment efforts by those militants who had escaped from Marawi.

“We are calling the civilians and other organizations not to allow themselves to be infiltrated and recruited by the terrorists,” Ponio said.

Counterterrorism Yearbook 2018: the Philippines

From the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI)//The Strategist (Apr 5): Counterterrorism Yearbook 2018: the Philippines

The Philippines is now the site of the greatest terrorism threat in Southeast Asia. That much is clear from the dramatic developments in the southern island of Mindanao during 2017. For some five months, a group of pro-Islamic State (IS) jihadists captured and held parts of the city of Marawi in the province of Lanao del Sur.

That prompted a massive counteroffensive by the Philippines military that included extensive bombing of the city. Apart from Filipino fighters, jihadists from elsewhere in the region and the Middle East also took part in the battle. Casualties exceeded a thousand, and more than 300,000 people were displaced.

This was the most significant jihadist operation in Southeast Asia since the 2002 Bali bombings and it was the first time that a Southeast Asian city had been taken by Islamists. Like the Bali attack, Marawi has captured the attention of jihadists globally, and has inspired emerging extremists.

IS media outlets in the Middle East have begun featuring Marawi in their videos and online publications, urging jihadists from across the globe to join the cause in Mindanao. There are already signs that dozens, perhaps hundreds, of prospective fighters have left for the southern Philippines or are seeking to go there.

The Marawi conflict has exposed the low competence of Philippines security services in combatting armed jihadists in urban settings, as well as the failures of President Rodrigo Duterte’s government in managing the propaganda fallout. There’s a high likelihood that Mindanao will entrench itself as the centre of pro-IS extremism in Southeast Asia, helping jihadists from around the region to gain the skills needed to escalate operations in their own countries.

Fighting broke out between the jihadists and government forces in Marawi on 23 May 2017, after Philippines military units discovered Isnilon Hapilon—the IS emir in Southeast Asia and a commander of the local Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)—hiding in the city. Up to 500 jihadists from ASG and other Mindanao-based militants from the Maute Group launched operations against army and police facilities, quickly taking strategic sites. The distinctive black flags of IS were soon displayed in many parts of the city.

Government spokesmen boasted that the jihadists would quickly be defeated. But it soon became apparent that they grossly underestimated the difficulty of the task. The Hapilon–Maute forces were well entrenched in a part of the city that featured fortified buildings and tunnels—a product of the frequent clan conflicts (rido) in that part of Mindanao.

The jihadists were well armed and adept at ambushing and sniping at Philippines government soldiers. Alarmed at the rising casualty rate, the Philippines defence forces evacuated the population and began large-scale bombing of the city, causing extensive destruction of buildings and infrastructure. By July 2017, journalists who beheld the devastation began referring to Marawi as ‘the Mosul of Southeast Asia’.

Not until mid-August could the defence forces claim to have gained the upper hand in the battle, confining the jihadists to a few neighbourhoods in one corner of the city. Still, the task of defeating the militants proved difficult, and Philippines soldiers had to conduct the sort of intensive street-by-street urban warfare that they had little expertise in.

On 16 October, the government announced that Isnilon Hapilon and key Maute leaders had been killed in firefights. Eventually, on 23 October, exactly five months after the beginning of the battle, the Philippines military was able to declare that Marawi had been cleared of jihadists.

Despite the eventual defeat of the jihadists, the battle for Marawi was in many ways a strategic and propaganda success for pro-IS forces in the region. The ability of the Hapilon–Maute fighters to seize and control a major city for almost half a year, and to withstand the Philippines Army’s counterattack, won them valuable regional and international credibility in jihadist circles.

The presence of as many as a hundred US advisers to the army, as well as US and Australian intelligence support, added to the propaganda dividend for the jihadists, allowing them to cast the battle as not just a local conflict, but also as part of a broader global Muslim–Christian contest.

Moreover, the jihadists succeeded in drawing the Philippines defence forces into a massive overreaction that has alienated the local Muslim population and added to the already deep levels of resentment towards Manila’s handling of Islamic issues. Most of the damage to buildings and infrastructure in Marawi resulted from the defence forces’ bombardment, not from jihadist actions. This allowed the jihadists to portray the Philippines government, rather than themselves, as the source of suffering and destruction.

But, above all else, Marawi showed that the southern Philippines, with its porous borders, tenuous government control over large land areas, and corrupt and inept security services, is the most favourable site in the region for training jihadists and mounting major operations.

At a time when IS in Syria and Iraq is shrinking rapidly after a succession of military defeats, Mindanao stands as one of the more promising new theatres of activity. This elevated profile was evident when the Philippines received cover-story status in the IS Rumiyah magazine in June 2017, the first time that Southeast Asia had so featured. Similarly, editions 3 and 4 of the Inside the Caliphate videos from the IS Al-Hayat Media Centre were also devoted to Marawi and Mindanao.

Although there has been no serious resumption of IS-related violence in Mindanao since late 2017, the long-demonstrated regenerative capacities of Filipino jihadism suggests that Marawi-style operations are unlikely to be a one-off phenomenon.

NPA attacks thwarted in four provinces over Holy Week, AFP claims

From GMA News Online (Apr 3): NPA attacks thwarted in four provinces over Holy Week, AFP claims

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Tuesday said that it managed to thwart the planned atrocities of the New People's Army in four provinces during the Holy Week.

Even if the NPA was able to conduct a series of attacks during the Holy Week, AFP Public Affairs Office chief Lieutenant Colonel Emmanuel Garcia said that government troops have also managed to successfully thwart other planned attacks in Misamis Oriental, Davao Del Norte, Camarines Norte, and Quezon Province.

"These legitimate and intelligence-driven military operations led to the neutralization of five CPP-NPAs and confiscation of five assorted firearms and six improvised explosive devices," Garcia said in a statement.

The AFP also strongly condemned the atrocities committed by NPA members during the Holy Week, saying that one of the attacks resulted in the deaths of two NPA members who surrendered to government forces.

"Despite declaring a halt to their tactical offensives for the holidays, four atrocities were launched by NPA terrorists targetting government troops as well as civilians and properties," Garcia said.

Garcia said that NPA rebels ambushed two NPA rebels who recently surrendered in Montevista, Compostela Valley and the soldiers who accompanied them.

"The attack also endangered the lives of a barangay captain and a councilor who assisted the two former rebels. We believe that their former members are in possession of some knowledge that will expose the CPP-NPA-NDF," he added.

The rebels also burned construction equipment which include give units of backhoe, four dump trucks, and one bulldozer in Davao City.

The said equipment, amounting to millions of pesos, were intended for the construction of a bypass road in Buhangin District, said Garcia.

Such action, according to Garcia, manifested that the "CPP-NPA-NDF is anti-development and anti-progress."

"Such atrocities against the people and terroristic activities against communities only show their true color and reinforce their terror tag," Garcia said.

The AFP has also recorded two attacks in the form of harassment in military detachments in Pigcawayan, Cotabato on March 28 and T'boli, South Cotabato on March 29. There was no casualty on the government side during the two incidents while one M-16 rifle was recovered in Pigcawayan.

The AFP, meanwhile, reiterated its call to the communist rebels to "wake up" and "join the mainstream society and work for peace and progress."

"We call on the public to be more vigilant and report to our units on the ground any presence of terrorists and criminals in their communities. The CPP-NPA-NDF respects no occasion, religious or not, in their conduct of armed atrocities," Garcia added.

Barangay chairman, bodyguard killed in North Cotabato ambush

From the Philippine Star (Apr 4): Barangay chairman, bodyguard killed in North Cotabato ambush

A barangay chairman and his security escort were killed in an ambush Tuesday in Carmen, North Cotabato.

The 56-year-old Joaquin Segumban, chairman of Barangay Tonganon in Carmen, and Joey Gamutia, 57, were on their way home from the municipal center when gunmen fired at their vehicle, killing them both on the spot.

The suspects immediately escaped on motorcycles parked nearby.
Chief Inspector Aldrin Gonzalez, spokesman of the Police Regional Office-12, said personnel of the Carmen municipal police are still investigating on the incident.

The slain barangay chairman was known to be supportive of the crackdown on illegal narctocis and was also active in helping the local police and the military monitor the movements of Islamic State-inspired militants in Carmen.

More than 20 members of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, which uses the black Islamic State flag, were killed by pursuing soldiers in a spate of encounters in Carmen early this year.

PH, Australia complete 2nd maritime security engagement

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): PH, Australia complete 2nd maritime security engagement

Officers of the Philippine and Royal Australian Navies pose for posterity photo on Monday during the closing ceremony of the 21-day 2nd Combined Maritime Security Engagement (MSE) at the Naval Station Romulo Espaldon in Zamboanga City. (Photo courtesy: Naval Forces Western Mindanao PIO)

The Philippine Navy (PN) and Royal Australian Navy (RAN) have completed the conduct of the 21-day 2nd Combined Maritime Security Engagement (MSE) in Mindanao, a top Navy official said Wednesday.

Rear Adm. Rene Medina, Naval Forces Western Mindanao (Navforwem) commander, said the closing ceremony was held at the Naval Station Romulo Espaldon in this city on Monday.

Medina said the MSE, held from March 13 to April 2, involved the deployment of vessels from the navies of both countries.

He said Navforwem’s Naval Task Force 61 had utilized the BRP-Gregorio del Pilar (FF15); BRP-General Mariano Alvarez (PS-38); BRP Felix Apolinario (PC-395), BRP Filipino Flojo (PC-386); and BRP-Florencio Inigo (PC-393), while the water assets from the RAN were the HMAS Broome (ACPB-90) and HMAS Launcestaun (ACPB-94).

The vessels patrolled the Area of Operations of Joint Task Forces Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, and Basilan during the 21-day MSE, said Medina.

The MSE, he said, is part of the government’s anti-piracy and anti-terrorism campaign to help curb the security threats affecting the islands of Mindanao.

The joint engagements were seen as one of the major factors in the decreasing number of kidnapping incidents in Western Mindanao, the Navy official said.

Last year, not a single kidnapping was recorded within the Navforwem area of responsibility through the effort of both local and international agencies.

For their part, RAN officials appreciated the professionalism and skills shown by their Filipino counterparts. They also emphasized that the engagement help develop operational concepts and enhanced interoperability in handling threats faced by both countries in the maritime sphere.

The closing ceremony on Monday was attended by Lt. Col. Judd Finger, the Commander of Joint Task Group 629 as the keynote speaker, and Capt. Joe Anthony Orbe, Naval Task Force 61 acting commander, who represented Medina.

The PN and RAN successfully held their 1st Combined PN-RAN Maritime Security Engagement from Nov. 10 until Dec. 1 last year. The focus of the patrol was the Sulu Sea.

Medina said the activity has enhanced the Maritime Cooperation with other regional navies and continues to secure the maritime domain of the Sulu Sea.

Manhunt launched vs killers of IP rep in North Cotabato

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): Manhunt launched vs killers of IP rep in North Cotabato

Authorities are pursuing a communist hit squad who shot dead an Indigenous People Municipal Representative (IPMR) and wounded two others Wednesday in Magpet, North Cotabato.

Supt. Bernard Tayong, spokesperson for North Cotabato, identified the slain victim as Magpet IPMR Antonio Takinan, 50, who sat as an appointed member of the town council in concurrent position.

Takinan’s two injured colleagues were identified as Robello Tambunan, 62, IP representative of Barangay Tagbac, and Rene Soriano, 50, an escort.

Tayong said the victims were on their way home from a town council session onboard two separate motorcycles when tailed and fired upon by motorcycle-riding members of the New People’s Army (NPA) along the road.

The attackers sped off towards the interiors of the town following the incident.

Recovered by responding policemen from the ambush site were empty shells from M16 rifles and .45 caliber pistols.

Tayong said that Takinan, prior to his death, was a staunch critic of the NPA group operating in the area under a certain Commander Rosete.

NPA recruitment targets youth in Panay – Army

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): NPA recruitment targets youth in Panay – Army

The New People’s Army (NPA) is recruiting young people in Western Visayas, according to the Philippine Army’s 301st Infantry Brigade (IB) based in Dingle, Iloilo.

Colonel Pio Diñoso, commanding officer of the 301st IB, on Wednesday said flyers have circulated in some barangays in the towns of Tigbauan and Miag-ao in Iloilo province a day after the NPA celebrated its 49th founding anniversary last March 29.

The flyers read “Pamatan-on Mag-entra sa NPA” (Youth join the NPA) and “Mabuhay ang ika-49 nga anniversary sang NPA” (Mabuhay 49th year anniversary of the NPA).

Diñoso said the rebel group will be unable to gather new recruits at the mainland as he described the public in these areas as “well-informed and educated”.

He said the recruitment of the rebel group here is a “year-round activity”.

Diñoso said the recruitment is “not a sign that they (rebels) are strengthening” their forces. “It might be a sign of desperation because their number might be fluctuating now so they need to recruit on the mainland as they no longer have recruits in the upland areas,” he said.

Diñoso said the number of NPAs in Panay usually range at more or less 150.

He said the rebel group here has changed its tactics but he assured that the military is also strengthening its combat operations.

He said some of their troops underwent further training to safeguard the public especially the youth amid the ongoing recruitment.

He added that they are also continuously conducting programs like “Youth Leadership Summits” and “Public Affair Programs” to educate the youth and encourage them not to join the NPA.

Meanwhile, Diñoso appealed to parents, teachers and village heads to protect children from recruitment by the rebels.

“It should be a comprehensive solution. This is not only the fight of your military, the fight of the government, it should be the fight of the whole nation,” he added.

Diñoso also warned the youth, encouraging them to be vigilant against the rebel group.

“Do not be easily swayed or be convinced. Concentrate on your studies and this summer season, help your family in doing the household chores or engage in sports like basketball and even biking,” he added.

72 families flee as troops, NPA rebels clash in Sarangani

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): 72 families flee as troops, NPA rebels clash in Sarangani

At least 72 families of a remote village in Alabel town in Sarangani province have evacuated after fierce fighting erupted in the area on Wednesday between government troops and suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.

1Lt. Daryl Cansancio, company commander of the Army’s 73rd Infantry Battalion, said Thursday they engaged with around 15 rebels under the Front 71 at past 6 a.m. at the boundary of Barangays Tokawal and Alegria Alabel.

He said a soldier was slightly wounded during the 15-minute firefight and is currently in stable condition.

The official said they are still verifying reports regarding casualties on the side of the rebels, reportedly led by certain Ka Allan and Ka Jerry, who retreated towards the mountainous portion of the area.

But he said their troops recovered a backpack left by the rebels that contained improvised explosives.

“The pursuit operations are ongoing and we’re making sure that our communities would be properly secured,” he told reporters.

Cansancio said they initially monitored the presence of the rebels near Barangay Tokawal last week.

Citing intelligence reports, he said the rebels have already run out of food and other supplies and are out to extort from local residents.

He said the area host several agricultural plantations, but owners were no longer entertaining demands from the NPA for revolutionary taxes.

“They reportedly decided to go down to prey on our civilians and threaten those who would not support them,” he said.

Noel Morido, Tokawal barangay chair, said the evacuees are currently taking temporary shelter at the village center.

He said 12 of the affected families were initially trapped in the middle of the crossfire but were eventually rescued by government troops.

The 60 other families were forced to evacuate due to the volatile situation as a result of the ongoing operations.

Morido said the local governments of Alabel and Sarangani provided food and other relief assistance to the evacuees.

“Some evacuees were traumatized by the incident so they will undergo stress debriefing,” he added.

Mayor Sara transforms local peace body to Peace 911

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): Mayor Sara transforms local peace body to Peace 911

The Davao City government will soon launch Peace 911, a transformation of the local peace body that Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio created last year to initiate negotiations with the New People’s Army (NPA).

In a press interview Thursday at the headquarters of the Davao City Police Office (DCPO), Duterte-Carpio said she amended her previous executive order creating the Davao City Peace Committee (DC-Peace). The committee will now be called as Peace 911.

Peace 911, the mayor said, is a local body that will oversee the implementation of projects recommended by people in communities known to be NPA-affected.

The infrastructure projects and programs, which will be launched anytime this month, will alleviate poverty. She said the list of the projects will be unveiled during the launching.

The mayor said it is always cited that poverty has pushed people in the communities to join the struggle of the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). Duterte-Carpio said the list of projects for implementation was the result of a series of consultations conducted by the Peace 911 in the communities.

Should the national government resume the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the mayor said the work of the Peace 911 will not be affected.

She said with or without the GRP-NDFP peace talks, Peace 911 will sustain and continue implementing projects for peace and development in the communities.

It may be recalled that Duterte-Carpio cancelled the localized peace negotiation with the New People’s Army (NPA) following the declaration by President Rodrigo Duterte of the communist rebels as terrorists.

The cancellation was also a consideration of he government’s policy to never negotiate with terrorists. However, the mayor did not dissolve the Davao City Peace committee (DC-PEACE) but retained its membership, this time conduct consultations to gather issues affecting the people in far-flung communities.

Westmincom accounts for 1,337 loose firearms

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): Westmincom accounts for 1,337 loose firearms

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, announces in a press conference the accomplishments of Westmincom in the campaign against loose firearms in its area of operations. (Photo by: Teofilo P. Garcia Jr.)

The Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) accounted for 1,337 loose firearms from January 1 until April 1 this year in line with the campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte against unlicensed guns.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Westmincom chief, told the Philippine News Agency that mostly or 574 of the 1,337 loose firearms were turned over by the municipal and barangay officials of Sulu.

The remaining firearms were accounted by the troops in the following areas: Central Mindanao, 345; Zamboanga City, 229; and, Zamanga Peninsula and Lanao (ZamPelan) areas, 189.

The Westmincom area of jurisdiction covers Zamboanga Peninsula, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Central Mindanao, and the provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, which are part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“In line with the pronouncement of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, the campaign against loose firearms was launched by the Joint Task Forces (of Westmincom) to implement the Security, Governance and Development Strategies of Martial Law in Mindanao,” Galvez said.

The recovered firearms included crew-serve weapons such as 81-millimeter (mm) mortars, 60-mm mortars, 90-mm recoiles rifle, and caliber .50 heavy machinegun.

The others included assorted high-powered assault and sniper rifles and handguns such as pistols and revolvers.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Westmincom chief (second from right), and Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero (right), Armed Forces of the chief-of-staff, inspect the crew-serve weapons accounted for in the province of Sulu. (File photo courtesy of Westmincom PIO)

Galvez said the campaign was sustained with the participation of local government units (LGUs) and “our peace partners” in preparation for the May 14, 2018 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections.

He said the law enforcement support operations to prevent lawless violence and curb illegal drug activities in the areas of operations of Westmincom will be sustained in cooperation with the LGUs, law enforcement agencies, and peace partners amid the implementation of Martial Law here in Mindanao.

Duterte appoints new DOJ, AFP, PNP chiefs

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): Duterte appoints new DOJ, AFP, PNP chiefs

President Rodrigo R. Duterte administers the oath of office to Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra as Department of Justice Ad Interim Secretary, replacing resigned Vitaliano Aguirre II. (Photo courtesy of PTV4)

President Rodrigo R. Duterte has appointed new chiefs to lead the Department of Justice (DOJ), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made the announcement Thursday after Duterte, in a speech in Malacañang, mentioned that he has replaced some of his Cabinet members.

Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra was appointed as DOJ Ad Interim Secretary, replacing resigned Vitaliano Aguirre II.

This week, reports circulated that Aguirre had already submitted his resignation letter, while another report said Duterte was likely to fire Aguirre over the dismissal of drug trafficking charges against businessman Peter Lim and self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa.

“President Duterte has appointed Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra as Secretary of the Department of Justice,” Roque told reporters in Filipino moments after Duterte’s speech.

He said Duterte has already signed Guevarra’s appointment papers and he is expected to take his oath “right away”.

Roque noted that Duterte did not want to wait until Friday to make the announcement, stressing that the DOJ is among the “most sensitive” departments.

He said Guevarra is the perfect replacement for Aguirre since he has “integrity” aside from extensive legal knowledge.

Guevarra, who holds the post of a cabinet secretary, will simply transfer his appointment from the Office of the President to DOJ.

“Because Congress is on recess, so valid ad interim appointment, he is a full-pledged Secretary,” Roque added.

When asked why Aguirre resigned, Roque said he did not see the resignation letter but noted that Duterte said that it was “just a matter of accepting a resignation tendered to him”.

Meanwhile, Roque said Duterte also appointed Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. as new AFP chief of staff, replacing Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, who will retire on April 24.

Duterte also announced that he has appointed National Capital Region Police Office chief Director Oscar Albayalde as the new chief of the PNP.

Roque told reporters that Abayalde will take oath on April 18.

PNP Chief Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa will be the next chief of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) after his term ends on the same date Abayalde takes his oath.

Albayalde elated over appointment as next PNP chief

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): Albayalde elated over appointment as next PNP chief


National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) Director Oscar Albayalde on Thursday thanked President Rodrigo R. Duterte for naming him as the next chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

“Siempre (I am) very much elated, I’m overwhelmed at thankful sa Presidente at kay (to the President and to the) Chief PNP (Ronald dela Rosa) for giving me trust and confidence. Rest assured that I will not betray their trust and confidence na ibinigay nila sa akin (which they gave me), yan ang maipapangako ko sa kanila (that is what I can promise them),” Albayalde said.

Albayalde also said thanked the outgoing PNP chief for endorsing him as his replacement.

“I would like to thank him (dela Rosa) sa kanyang (for his) support. Hindi niya alam na malaking bagay yung page-endorse nya sa akin sa ating Presidente (He is not aware that his endorsement to the President is something big), so I want to thank him from the bottom of my heartbeat,” he added.

Dela Rosa was set to retire in January but his term was extended by the President.

“I will continue to work with the President, support his advocacy especially yung pagbabago na gusto ng Presidente, yun ang pinapangako ko (especially the changes that the President wants, that is what I promise)” Albayalde told reporters.

Albayalde, 54, is a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of “Sinagtala” 1986.

For his part, PNP spokesman Chief Supt. John Bulalacao said the PNP will fully support the country's next top cop.

“The PNP welcomes the appointment of P/Dir. Oscar ALbayalde as incoming CPNP, as announced by the President in his speech during the awarding of Gawad Saka 2017.The 190,0000 strong PNP uniformed and non uniformed personnel will give its full support to his leadership. His proven track record of service assures that the policies of the government relative to public order and safety will be sustained,” Bulalacao said in a statement.

Duterte wants ‘another last chance’ for peace talks with Reds

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 4): Duterte wants ‘another last chance’ for peace talks with Reds

President Rodrigo R. Duterte wants to give peace negotiations with the communist rebels “another last chance,” Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza said Wednesday.

This, after the Chief Executive earlier said he would be “happy” to resume peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDFP) as long as the NPA stops its attacks, but Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the administration’s petition to tag the communist rebels as terrorists stays.

“The President said: Let’s give this another last chance. He also committed to provide support, if necessary, in replacement of the “revolutionary tax” that he asked be stopped,” Dureza said in a statement.

Dureza said during the Cabinet meeting Wednesday, the President directed them to work on the resumption of talks with the communist rebels with “clear instructions on the importance of forging a ceasefire agreement to stop mutual attacks and fighting while talks are underway”.

Guevarra earlier said the resumption of peace talks with the communists would be subjected to preconditions, which include the government’s demand for the communist rebels to lay down their arms.

“For now, that statement by the President, which is premised on certain preconditions, will not affect in anyway the pending petition for the proscription of certain individuals as terrorists or violators of the Human Security Act,” Guevarra said in a Palace briefing.

Guevarra explained that the terrorist tag stays because in the first place, peace negotiations have not even resumed yet.

Dureza earlier said that “the presence of an enabling environment” will be the “sole determining factor” to the resumption of peace talks.

Duterte started formal peace talks with the National Democratic Front shortly after he became President in 2016 but canceled them o November last year amid continued attacks of the NPA on government forces and civilians.

Duterte signed a proclamation in December 2017 declaring the CPP-NPA as a terror organization using Republic Act 10168 or the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012 as basis.

DND weighs pros, cons of acquiring small naval craft

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): DND weighs pros, cons of acquiring small naval craft

The Department of National Defense (DND) is looking into the pros and cons of acquiring smaller naval craft compared to larger or frigate-sized ships.

"That is one option we are contemplating. There are pros and cons of big ships and so do small ships. We’ll look at our geography and the mission our ships will undertake. Yun ang magiging basis natin sa ating desisyon (That will be the basis of our decision)," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Wednesday.

Lorenzana was responding to comments that it only takes a torpedo or a missile to sink a multi-billion-peso ship like a frigate.

At the moment, the Philippine Navy is awaiting two missile-armed frigates being built by Hyundai Heavy Industries and scheduled to be delivered in 2020 and 2021.

The naval vessels, which cost PHP18 billion including their weapons systems and munitions, will back up the three more elderly Del Pilar class-frigates (formerly the Hamilton class cutters) acquired from the United States.

Lorenzana said steel-cutting for the two ships are expected by this month.

Lorenzana backs PRRD's 'last chance' peace talks with Reds

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): Lorenzana backs PRRD's 'last chance' peace talks with Reds

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday said he strongly supports the initiative of President Rodrigo Duterte to give peace talks with the rebels a "last chance".

"I support this 'last chance' initiative of the President," Lorenzana said.

Lorenzana said the Chief Executive has agreed to talk peace with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) subject to the following preconditions:

• Bilateral ceasefire;
• No coalition in government with them;
• No attacks on government forces and civilians;
• No extortion;
• No destruction of properties;
• No expansion and recruitment;
• No roaming around with firearms.

AFP supports PRRD’s effort to bring lasting peace, development

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): AFP supports PRRD’s effort to bring lasting peace, development

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) strongly supports all efforts of the Duterte administration to bring about peace and development in the country.

This was emphasized by AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Bienvenido Datuin when sought for a comment on the Chief Executive's decision to start peace negotiations again with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front.

"The AFP supports the administration in all its efforts and initiatives to bring just and lasting peace and development for the country," Datuin said Thursday.

He also stressed that the AFP will continue performing its mission and mandate of protecting the people and securing the state.

DOJ: Terror tag petition vs. CPP-NPA stays

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): DOJ: Terror tag petition vs. CPP-NPA stays

The Department of Justice (DOJ) will push through with its petition seeking to declare as terrorist groups the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).

Justice Undersecretary Erickson Balmes made the statement Thursday following President Rodrigo R. Duterte's order to give the peace talks with the communist rebels a “last chance.”

“We are all for peace. However, the peace talks have not actually resumed. We will comply with any new directive of our President on this matter. For the time being, there being no order to the contrary, we will pursue the petition as filed,” Balmes said when sought for comment.

The DOJ earlier asked the Manila Regional Trial Court to declare the CPP and the NPA as terror groups.

During Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza said the President directed them to work on the resumption of talks with the communist rebels with “clear instructions on the importance of forging a ceasefire agreement to stop mutual attacks and fighting while talks are underway.”

Duterte initiated formal peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF) shortly after winning the presidency in 2016 but canceled them in November last year amid continued attacks of the NPA on government forces and civilians.

The President signed a proclamation in December 2017 declaring the CPP-NPA as a terror organization using Republic Act (RA) No. 10168 or the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012 as basis.

In a 55-page proscription petition filed by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter Ong, the DOJ asked the Manila RTC to issue an order declaring the CPP and NPA, also known as the Bagong Hukbong Bayan, as terrorist and outlawed organizations, associations or group of persons pursuant to Section 17 of RA 9372 or the Human Security Act of 2007.

Ong said the petition was basically based on two grounds: that the organization, association or group of persons was organized for the purpose of engaging in terrorism; and that even if the organization, association or group of persons was not organized to engage in terrorism, it still commits acts of terrorism, such as murder and arson and other activities, for the purpose of sowing terror.

The petition also said that the CPP-NPA are just buying time by deceiving the government in entering into peace talks while their main purpose is to mobilize their forces in preparation for a “people’s war” to overthrow the duly-constituted authorities, seize control of the government, and impose a totalitarian regime.

Ong said the CPP-NPA also committed acts of terrorism, such as murder, kidnapping, arson and other activities, to sow terror and panic.

He also said their investigation showed how the CPP-NPA did not honor the good faith and sincerity extended by the Duterte administration and continued their offensives during the earlier peace talks.

Ong cited numerous attacks made by the CPP-NPA in various provinces across the country as basis to legally declare it as a terrorist group.

The DOJ has earlier confirmed that CPP founding chair Jose Maria Sison and former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo were among the 600 persons included in the terror tag petition against the communist rebels.

Gov't may withdraw terror tag petition vs. Reds if peace deal inked

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): Gov't may withdraw terror tag petition vs. Reds if peace deal inked

The Duterte administration may withdraw its petition to declare communist rebels as terrorists but only once a formal peace agreement has been signed, Malacanang said Thursday.

"That's a possibility," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said after President Rodrigo R. Duterte noted that he was willing to resume peace talks under three conditions - absolute ceasefire; cease and desist from collecting revolutionary taxes; and no coalition government.

In a Palace briefing, Roque noted that should peace negotiations resume, the government could file a manifestation to hold the petition in abeyance pending the outcome of the peace talks. The petition stays until there is a final peace agreement signed.

“I think it will be withdrawn if there is a final peace agreement signed. But while the peace talks are ongoing, ang pupuwedeng gawin is, diyan lang siya (what we can do is keep it there),” he said.

Former congressman Hernani Braganza was deployed on Wednesday to meet with the bargaining panel of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) - NPA to relay Duterte’s conditions, Roque said.

He, however, said it is best to wait for the response of the CPP-NPA to the conditions set by the President.

“We don’t know in the first place if the CPP-NPA will agree to the terms of the President because the terms are not subject to negotiation,” the Palace official said.

Roque, meanwhile, confirmed that Duterte also vowed to assist members of the CPP-NPA if they agree to his terms.

“Well, he will find ways and means to assist members of the CPP-NPA by way of providing them livelihood and housing if possible; provided that they cease and desist from collecting revolutionary taxes,” he said.

Sison welcome to return

According to Roque, if peace talks resume, Duterte said CPP founding chairperson Joma Sison is also free to return to the Philippines without being put to jail.

“If the CPP-NPA would agree to these conditions, then peace talks could resume; and if peace talks would resume, the President said he’s even able and willing to grant Joma Sison an assurance that he can come home without being arrested for the purpose of participating in the peace talks,” Roque said.

Sison, however, reportedly said that there should be no preconditions for the resumption of peace talks.

“We are awaiting their response to the government position that we are willing to resume peace talks, but subject to those conditions. So, if that is the official response of the CPP-NPA, so be it,” Roque said.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza earlier said that “the presence of an enabling environment” will be the “sole determining factor” to the resumption of peace talks.

Duterte initiated formal peace talks the National Democratic Front of the Philippines shortly after he became President in 2016 but canceled them November last year amid continued attacks of the NPA on government forces.

He issued a proclamation classifying the CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization in December last year.

PNP backs 'sincere' return to peace table with Reds

From the Philippine News Agency (Apr 5): PNP backs 'sincere' return to peace table with Reds

The Philippine National Police (PNP) said it supports efforts for the resumption of 'sincere' peace talks between government and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

"The PNP is pro-peace and we support all government efforts to achieve lasting peace," PNP spokesperson Chief Supt. John Bulalacao said Thursday.

"All of us have witnessed the sincerity of the government through President Duterte for exhausting all possible means to hold the peace negotiation with the CPP-NPA-NDF," he said.

Bulalacao, however, noted that "the rebels should show sincerity and good faith while talking peace with the government. They need to show control of their men on the ground so that the final peace talk may successfully work".

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday said he supports the peace initiative.

Lorenzana said President Duterte has agreed to talk peace with the CPP-NPA-NDF subject to the declaration of a bilateral ceasefire.

The government added that there should be no attacks on government forces and civilians and that insurgents should also desist from destroying property, stop recruitment drives and other atrocities.