Sunday, May 6, 2018

Security forces arrest 15 alleged hired killers in Zamboanga Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6): Security forces arrest 15 alleged hired killers in Zamboanga Sur

Security forces arrested over a dozen suspected hired killers, including a former mayor and a village chieftain, following a firefight in the town of Sominot in the southern Filipino province of Zamboanga del Sur, officials said Sunday.

A police photo released to the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner shows the arrested suspects in Zamboanga del Sur's Sominot town.

Officials said police commandos, backed by army soldiers, were sent Saturday to arrest the suspects when gunmen opened fire at them sparking a fire fight. No was killed or injured in the gun battle and security forces managed to capture all 15 suspects, including the town’s former mayor, Stephen Acosta; and councilor Nemecia Pepito, president of village chieftains in Sominot.
Provincial police chief John Guyguyon said the gang members were allegedly involved in the series of shooting incidents in Sominot and in Oroquieta City in the neighboring province of Misamis Occidental.

He identified those other arrested as Arnel Pepito, who is the alleged leader of the Pepito Gun-for Hire Group; Garry Pepito, Edgar Pepito, Rey Pepito, Ruther Biawan, Allan Dicierdo, Anicito Andulong, Rolando Ramayrat, Romeo Capangpangan, Jesryl Romo, Lorenzo Malayao, Roberto Hasma and Romando Andrade.

“Security forces also seized automatic pistols from the suspects. “All arrested persons were brought to the headquarters of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Zamboanga Del Sur,” Guyguyon said, adding, the suspects were being interrogated to determine the extent of their criminal activities.

No other details or information were made available by the police or military to the killings allegedly perpetrated by the gang.

Army program drives NPA members to surrender

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6): Army program drives NPA members to surrender

Amid the continued harassment activities of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Davao region’s hinterlands, the Philippine Army further strengthened its Community Support Program to discourage more people from supporting the communist movement.

This resulted in the mass surrender of 194 members of the underground mass organization in Barangay Tagugpo, Pantukan, Compostela Valley province and the turnover of 31 assorted firearms.

“This brings another significant development in our continuing campaign (against the CPP-NPA),” said Capt. Jerry Lamosao, the spokesperson of the 10th Infantry Division based in Tuburan, Mawab, Compostela Valley on Sunday.

As part of community support program, the army team holds a mass surrender campaign to include lectures and indoctrination as part of their de-radicalization process.

In sustaining the gains against the NPA, Lamosao said the government troops from the 66th Infantry Brigade continue to conduct focused military operations against the NPA’s Guerilla Front 25.

He cited the operation on May 1 when the troops encountered the rebels in Sitio Hanginan, Barangay Langawisan in Maragusan town that resulted in the capture of one M14 rifle and one M79 grenade launcher and several war materiel.

Lamosao said the operation prompted the rebels to be dislodged from the area and consolidate their forces with other threat units.

“They have been monitored evading government troops and consolidating their forces,” he said.

According to the Lamosao, the massive consolidation of two NPA units was monitored in Sitio Calinawan, Barangay Rizal, Manay, Davao Oriental prompting the troops to launch a combat operation to block the possible withdrawal of GF25 to Barangay Langawisan, Maragusan.

“The 66IB is doing what your army is ought to do. We are here to protect the peace, and ensure an insurgency-resilient community for our people,” said Lt. Col. Palmer Parungao, the commander of the 66IB.

MILF vows to help ensure peaceful village, SK polls

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6): MILF vows to help ensure peaceful village, SK polls

CAMP DARAPANAN, Maguindanao -- The military arm of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said it will help ensure a peaceful and orderly Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections but will not actively participate in the electoral process, an MILF official on Sunday said.

Von Al Haq, the spokesperson of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), said the MILF prohibits its armed members to get involved in the country's electoral process as a matter of policy.

“We are not allowed to directly or indirectly participate in the electoral process,” Al Haq said.

He explained that indirect participation includes acting as security escorts of candidates, lending firearms and other weapons, and other acts that would provide support to any candidate and political parties.

Al Haq also said that the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) of both the MILF and government has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on May 4 to maintain the “peace on the ground” during the election period.

Under the MOU, both parties agreed that the police and military could enter MILF-controlled areas during the election period provided that proper coordination is observed.

“We know that they will enter, pass by, or bring ballots. And that was agreed on by both parties. We do not see it as a problem,” Al Haq said in a statement.

“BIAF would provide help to the AFP and PNP only if required,” he said.

The guidelines of the barangay election agreement between the government and MILF include mechanisms on the mobility of people and forces.

“The main routes, water, and land usually used by the MILF troops during movements and activities shall be left open. Provided, however, that MILF movements are properly coordinated earlier with the GPH CCCH and the existing ceasefire mechanisms,” the MOU stated.

The MOU also said that MILF "shall refrain from consolidating its forces for any purpose including peace gatherings from the time the election paraphernalia are deployed until the election has been completed except at Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, Camp Bushra in Lanao del Sur, and in urban centers, when necessary, and in coordination with the GPH CCCH."

Armed MILF elements are also prohibited from going near polling centers and precincts, displaying their firearms and uniforms along routes leading to the areas where electoral activities are ongoing, it added.

BIAF members violating this memorandum will be sanctioned according to the MILF policies as determined by the disciplinary board.

2-week 'Balikatan' exercises open Monday

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6): 2-week 'Balikatan' exercises open Monday

The 34th iteration of the two-week "Balikatan" military exercises between American and Filipino troops will formally start Monday.

The annual maneuvers will kick off with an opening ceremony at the Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters in Quezon City while the closing ceremony is slated May 18.

This year's exercises will focus again on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, counter-terrorism and mutual defense, Lt. Liezl M. Vidallon, "Balikatan 2018" public information officer said.

She earlier stressed that all Balikatan exercises will be confined to the Northern Luzon Command area-of-operations which includes provinces located in Northern and Central Luzon.

Number of participating American and Filipino troops will be announced later, Vidallon added.

Balikatan is the annual military exercise between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and United States Pacific Command.

"Throughout (the) Balikatan (exercises) Philippines and US forces will be working shoulder to shoulder in information exchanges and live training events. This will enhance both forces' interoperability in planning and execution of joints and combines operations to advance regional security cooperation and collaborative actions in addressing security concerns," Vidallon noted.

In last year's Balikatan exercises, around 2,800 Filipino soldiers, 2,600 Americans and 80 members of the Australian Defense Forces and 20 from the Japan Self Defense Force participated in the series of military maneuvers from May 8 to 18.

Highlights of last year's exercises are the urban search-and-rescue and collapsed structures exercises which were conducted at Fort Magsaysay, Palayan City, in Nueva Ecija.

The former involves rescue methods for individuals trapped in collapsed structures, a common occurrence in massive earthquakes.

Diplomatic action on WPS missile deployment in place: Cayetano

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6): Diplomatic action on WPS missile deployment in place: Cayetano

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said "diplomatic action" on the reported missile deployment at the West Philippines Sea is in place, but withheld details as to how the issue is being dealt with.

"Diplomatic action is the general term: it can include protest, it can include bilateral consultative mechanism, it can include note verbale, it can include a phone call Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Ministry of Foreign Affairs," he told reporters Saturday at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay.

"But we don’t discuss details because that’s the way diplomacy should be done," he explained.

Latest reports said China deployed missiles to (Kagitingan) Fiery Cross Reef, (Zamora) Subi Reef and (Panganiban) Mischief Reef within the past 30 days. This, following earlier reports it has installed a jamming device in one of the areas in the disputed waters.

Cayetano said these activities in the West Philippine Sea remain a "grave concern" for Manila.

"Of course, it is of grave concern sa atin because may territorial at sovereignty rights claims tayo. Tayo, 100 percent na naniniwala na ‘yung territory natin covers ‘yung disputed areas, and then we have sovereignty rights under UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea)," he stressed.

However, he underscored there are multiple claimants in the region, many of which currently occupy features, some even with installations in place.

"Ito ay ‘di maso-solve ng Pilipinas lang at ng China," he said, adding critics who claim the government is not doing anything, are ‘wrong’. 'Yung ginagawa, ‘yung diplomatic action, nandoon. Just because hindi tayo nakikipagsigawan, hindi ibig sabihin na hindi ginagawa," he added.

During the interview, Cayetano noted the need to expedite the crafting of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

"Puwedeng sakupin ng Code of Conduct ‘yung usapin ng militarization ng mga features sa South China Sea," he said.

The official bared that the Philippines' stand from the start, similar with Brunei is complete non-militarization in the area. "Hindi lang ‘wag mag-militarize, but to demilitarize any assets doon."

"So far, of all the claimants, Pilipinas lang at Brunei ang klaro ang stand na ganoon. ‘Yung ibang claimants, ayaw din ng militarization, pero meron din silang runway, meron din silang bunker," he added.

China, Philippines and several littoral states have overlapping claims in the vast West Philippine Sea, believed to have deposits of oil and natural gases.

In 2017, after 15 years of stalled talks, the framework of the COC was approved during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit held in Manila.

Following its adoption, China and ASEAN agreed to hold COC negotiations this year.

PAF allots P6.4-M for SF-260TP aircraft engine parts

From the Philippine News Agency (May 7): PAF allots P6.4-M for SF-260TP aircraft engine parts

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) is now looking for suppliers capable of providing it with spare parts needed for the maintenance of the engine systems of its two SIAI-Marchetti SF-260TP training aircraft.

Contract for the project is placed at PHP6,498,000, the bid bulletin posted at the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System said.

Submission and opening of bids is on Tuesday, 9 a.m. at the PAF Procurement Center Conference Room, Villamor Air Base, Pasay City.

"The Philippine Air Force reserves the right to reject any and all bids, declare a failure of bidding, or not award the contract at any time prior to contract award in accordance with Section 41 of RA 9184 and its IRR, without thereby incurring any liability to the affected bidder or bidders," PAF Bids and Awards Committee chair Brig. Gen. Ferynl Buca said in the same bid bulletin.

The SF-260 is an Italian light aircraft marketed as an aerobatics and military trainer. The military versions are popular with smaller air forces, which can also arm it for close-support roles.

Analysis: China's missiles in the South China Sea put the United States and Australia in a difficult position

From the Australia Broadcast Corporation (May 4): Analysis: China's missiles in the South China Sea put the United States and Australia in a difficult position

The missiles sit on a blue and white truck, they are grey with a blue tip, they have 'YJ' printed on them in black.

Photo: China's missiles in the Spratly Islands show Beijing is intent on controlling the South China Sea. (China Ministry of National Defence)

China's deployment of missiles to the disputed Spratly Islands shows Beijing is serious about exerting long-term domination and control over the South China Sea, and has no intention of keeping its promise not to militarise the contested area.

The placement of anti-ship missiles and surface-to-air missiles — if confirmed — will further ratchet up tensions over the South China Sea, particularly with those nations that have long laid claim to the Spratly Islands, including Taiwan and Vietnam.

For the first time, according to the US CNBC network, China has stationed missiles on three outposts in the Spratlys — Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef — which lie between Vietnam and the Philippines.

On one level the move is hardly surprising, given China has already placed missiles on Woody Island further north, and has installed military hardware on another artificial island in the Spratlys.

But this latest manoeuvre sends an implicit threat to other claimant nations that if they even try to exercise their rights to the Spratly Islands they will come within range of Chinese missiles.


Photo: China is capable of controlling the South China Sea militarily, according to US Admiral Philip Davidson. (Reuters)

More importantly though, China's move represents a more explicit threat to the US, which has maintained an ongoing military presence in the South China Sea for decades, as a counter to Beijing's growing territorial ambitions.

The US is arguably the only nation with the power and motive to stop China's military expansion in the area.

After all the South China Sea is one of the busiest shopping lanes in the world.

Some estimates suggest as much as a third of all shipping passes through there.

But as Beijing continues to build its missile armoury and other military hardware in the South China Sea the chances of that happening steadily diminish — unless one or other side declares outright war.

The anti-ship missiles reportedly have the range and power to strike a vessel within about 300 nautical miles, and could easily destroy a US aircraft carrier.
Delicate balance for the Americans
China's missile deployment puts the US in an increasingly difficult position.

An international court ruling in The Hague in 2016 failed to contain China's territorial claims over the South China Sea. Diplomacy has had limited impact. But a military conflict remains unthinkable.

As US Admiral Philip Davidson said last month, "China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States," and "would easily overwhelm the military forces of any other South China Sea claimants".


Photo: China's movement of missiles to Subi Reef, in the Spratly Islands, has angered other nations. (Reuters: Francis Malasig)

The White House has warned there will be short and long-term consequences if China continues its militarisation of the South China Sea, in the wake of the CNBC reports.

But it gave no detail on what they might be. At least one defence analyst says China's military expansion spells all sorts of trouble for the US Navy.

"The biggest dilemma is that Beijing could, over time, deploy many more missiles than Washington's naval missile defence platforms could defend against," Harry Kazianis, the director of defence studies at the Center for the National Interest, told the CNBC network.

"At the end of the day, for Beijing, simple math means they would win a short-term military engagement."

In March, a US Navy ship angered China's military by sailing within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef, an artificial reef in the Spratlys that China seized from the Philippines in 1995.

The US regularly carries out Freedom of Navigation operations (FONOPs) in the South China Sea to reinforce its right to sail unimpeded through the area.

But Beijing called it a military provocation and ordered the ship to leave. Similarly, three Australian Navy ships were challenged by the Chinese military as they sailed through the South China Sea last month, towards Vietnam.

US and Australia forced to reconsider moves
Dr Euan Graham, the Director of International Security at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, says the latest manoeuvres in the Spratly Islands will force the US and allies, including Australia, to reconsider before sending ships into the South China Sea.

"The key point here is the US will still be able to operate. But it will have to adjust its procedures to pass through the Spratlys," he said.

"But for the South-East Asian countries and even smaller countries like Australia, France and the UK, which have been operating in the South China Sea recently, it'll be another ratcheting up of the threat level that will give politicians more pause for thought potentially before they commit to sending a single ship to prove a right to access."

At the same time, the threat is as much psychological as it is military.

"China's use of military power is a subtle one, in that it avoids fighting unless it absolutely has to," Mr Graham said.

"The key is not to do this in terms of military-on-military armed conflict. Rather it's how China uses this at a psychological level to shape and condition countries in the near region to a position of compliance. And they do that over time, both with a mixture of threats but also economic inducements. So it's a composite approach."

Radicalised Filipina lured Indian men into IS web

From The Hindu (May 6): Radicalised Filipina lured Indian men into IS web

 Radicalised Filipina lured Indian men into IS web

She is a key link in Asia-Pacific terror network, and had tracked speeches of Zakir Naik and Anjem Chowdhury, says NIA

A 37-year-old former call centre executive in the
Philippines, arrested for propagating Islamic extremism, has emerged as a key link for investigators in the U.S., Australia and India to gauge the reach and influence of the Islamic State in the region.

Arrested in the Philippines last year for calling on foreigners to join the fight against government forces to establish an Islamic State (IS) in Marawi, Karen Aisha Hamidon told the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that she had not been taking orders from the IS leadership in Syria or Iraq and was her “own boss”.

Online operations

Ms. Hamidon was arrested by the National Bureau of Investigation-Counter Terrorism Division of the Philippines on October 11, 2017. Her arrest came after the NIA sent evidence to the authorities in Manila in April 2017 after her name surfaced in several chats and messages of suspects held in India for propagating the IS ideology.

Following her arrest, an NIA team travelled to Manila and questioned Ms. Hamidon from April 24 to 28.

“The Philippines authorities were helpful and the visit is a good example of international cooperation in terrorism-related matters,” an NIA spokesperson said.

A senior NIA official said Ms. Hamidon held a degree in English and had worked in business process outsourcing (BPOs) and call centres. She used to run several chat groups on social media platforms such as Facebook, Telegram and WhatsApp, propagating the IS ideology. Married on four occasions — thrice online — Ms. Hamidon sought money from the men she chatted with.

She closely followed the speeches of Islamic preacher Zakir Naik and the U.K.-based Anjem Chowdhury. Mr. Naik is wanted by the NIA for unlawful activities and terror funding.

“She stared at us when we asked who her handler was, paused, and then laughed out loud. She said she was her own master and claimed that she was not in touch with anyone in Syria or Iraq. She considers herself a leader by virtue of being the administrator of so many chat groups, where men followed her directions to carry out subversive activities,” an NIA official said.

According to the official, Ms. Hamidon stopped working at call centres three years ago to make a full-time career of selling IS propaganda.

“She contacted men online, chatted with them, instigated them to work for the Caliphate and on some occasions asked for money in return. She said though Indian men were good looking, they were stingy. We have evidence that at least three Indians, arrested in 2015 and 2016, had sent her money,” the official said.

Ms. Hamidon’s parents retired from the police. Her mother is Christian and father a Muslim. She practised Christianity till she was 19. “She converted to Islam when she was 19. She is highly radicalised and believes in the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate. She said non-believers (non-Muslims) had no right to stay in an Islamic country and if they wished to do so, they should pay jizya (tax). She was consciously and deliberately indulging in these activities,” the official said.

Call for fight

The day she was arrested from a condominium in Taguig City, Ms. Hamidon was sending messages on Telegram asking local and foreign Muslims to join the ‘Maute’ fighters in Marawi. The Maute group, an insurgent group active in south Philippines for years, pledged allegiance to the IS two years ago. They had captured Marawi city and were engaged in a conflict with security forces till October last year.

Ms. Hamidon was married to Abu Sharifah, the head of Ansar Khilafah in the Philippines that pledged allegiance to the IS.

“She has been married on four occasions, but lived only with Sharifah. He was killed in January 2017 by government forces. She says the other three marriages were online — including to a Singaporean,” the official said.

Giving details of the overseas investigations, an NIA spokesperson said that during the agency’s probe of IS-related cases registered in 2015 and 2016, it was found that three accused persons — Mohammed Naser of Tamil Nadu, and Mohd Sirajuddin and Adnan Hasan of Karnataka — were in online contact with Ms. Hamidon on Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram. “She recognised the Indians she was in touch with. This will strengthen our case in court,” the official said.

The agency also said Ms. Hamidon was in online contact with several Indians in central Asian countries.

Miag-ao clash: 2 'rebels' killed

From Panay News (May 6): Miag-ao clash: 2 'rebels' killed

3 soldiers hurt in IED explosion in Calinog

Two suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA) were killed in an encounter with government troops yesterday in Miag-ao, Iloilo, police and military officials said.

Two hours later, three soldiers on their way to a village in Calinog town were wounded when an improvised explosive device (IED) – believed planted by rebels – detonated.

Authorities have yet to ascertain the real identities of the slain suspected rebels.

“We did not recover any identification document, just a wristwatch,” said Chief Inspector Johnny Tumambing, Miag-ao police chief.

The encounter happened at 5:49 a.m. in Barangay Cabalaunan, Miag-ao.

Citing accounts from locals, Tumambing said one of those slain was “Bebot Goma” of the NPA Panay Southern Front Committee.

Police and the military have yet to countercheck this.

Involved in the encounter were members of the Philippine Army’s 61st Infantry Battalion and the Military Intelligence Company.

At the time they were out to verify intelligence information that rebels were recruiting members and extorting money from villagers, said Brigadier General Pio Diñoso, 301st Infantry Brigade commander.

When they reached the village around 15 armed men opened fire at them.

After a 10-minute firefight, the armed men – believed to be rebels – withdrew toward the northeast of Barangay Ongyod, leaving their two dead companions behind, Diñoso said.

“No fatality and wounded among our men,” said Diñoso.

The military said they further recovered from the encounter site a baby Armalite and an AK-47 with ammunition.

In Calinog, the three wounded soldiers were part of a team on patrol duty, Diñoso said. He did not specify the number of soldiers.

They were on board a military truck and passing by Barangay Caratagan when the IED exploded at around 8 a.m.

Diñoso insisted that the shrapnel wounds the soldiers sustained were minor.

“Konting galos lang ang natamo ng tao natin. We already applied medication,” the Army commander said.

As of this writing the Philippine Army has yet to release the names of the wounded soldiers.

Diñoso said they suspected that the NPA’s Central Front Committee was behind the Calinog explosion.

More soldiers were sent to the area to augment the existing forces as they conduct follow-up operations, he added.

3 armed men slain, 3 captured in clash with police in Negros Occidental

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 5): 3 armed men slain, 3 captured in clash with police in Negros Occidental
Three armed men were killed while three others were captured in an encounter with members of the Regional Public Safety Battalion in Western Visayas (RPSB-6) in Barangay Cambayobo, Calatrava town, Negros Occidental.

Chief Inspector John Joel Batusbatusa, Calatrava police chief, identified the fatalities as Sabino Mancao, Ramil Castor and Emar Himang.

Those captured were Romnick Octavio, Pepe Lausa and Josie Castor, said he added.

Recovered from the slain suspects were two homemade 357 revolvers and a .38 caliber revolver.

A KG 9 automatic pistol, a 12-gauge shotgun, a 38-caliber revolver and assorted ammunition were also recovered at the encounter site.

Three other members of the armed group led by Mancao, however, managed to escape, Batusbatusan said.
Members of the RPSB-6 led by Chief Inspector Yolando Lago Jr. and Senior Insp. Ryan Villasario were conducting operations when they encountered the group of armed men initially believed to be communist rebels.

But the police on Saturday learned that the suspects were part of an armed group operating in the hinterlands, about 40 km from the town proper.

The Calatrava police said Mancao used to be a member of the New People’s Army, who was expelled from the rebel movement. He later formed his own group who was engaged in extortion and related illegal activities.

Batusbatusan said Mancao’s group figured in a shoot-out with another independent armed group reportedly led by another former NPA rebel in Calatrava last month.

AFP dismantles ComVal NPA unit

From the Philippine Star (May 6): AFP dismantles ComVal NPA unit

A New People’s Army (NPA) unit in Maragusan, Compostela Valley has been dismantled.

At least 194 members of the Guerrilla Front 27 of the South Mindanao Regional Committee surrendered on Wednesday after gunfights with soldiers belonging to the 66th Infantry Battalion (IB) in Sitio Hanginan, Barangay Langawisan earlier this week, Col. Jerry Lamosao, 10th Infantry Division public affairs office chief, said yesterday.
Lamosao said the surrenderees turned over 31 assorted firearms. He said an M14 rifle and a grenade launcher were also recovered at the scene.

Lamosao said the rebels had tried to link up with their comrades from an NPA unit in Manay town, but they were intercepted by Army soldiers. 

He said the rebels surrendered following a dialogue in Pantukan town.

He said the strength of communist rebels in Manay and Pantukan has diminished, noting that the dismantled guerrilla front is operating with NPA units in the two towns.

Lt. Col. Palmer Parungao, 66th IB commander, said the surrenderees would undergo a series of lectures as part of the Army’s deradicalization process.
Meanwhile, in Masbate, two police officers were wounded when a bomb believed planted by NPA rebels along the highway in Barangay Cajunday, Baleno went off.

Personnel of the Baleno police and Regional Special Operations Task Group were on their way to Camp Serrano when the explosion occurred.
Around 2,000 policemen were deployed to Masbate last April 30 to provide community relations and legal services, among other assistance to its residents.

5 NPA rebels killed in W. Visayas clashes

From the Manila Bulletin (May 5): 5 NPA rebels killed in W. Visayas clashes

In less than 12 hours, five suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels were killed in two separate encounters with government forces in Western Visayas.

Superintendent Joem Malong, Police Regional Office 6 (PRO6) spokesman, told The Manila Bulletin that three suspected NPA rebels were killed in Calatrava town, Negros Occidental in a late Friday night encounter with the PRO-6’s 605th Mobile Company-Regional Mobile Force Battalion.

Malong said investigators are still trying to establish the identity of the rebels.

Two more suspected NPA members were killed in Miag-ao town, Iloilo province Saturday morning.

Captain Eduardo Precioso Jr., spokesman of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division (3ID), said this was the result of the 10-minute firefight between the 61st Infantry Battalion (61 IB) and the NPA in Sitio Anoy, Barangay Cabalunan in Miag-ao.

One of the rebels killed was identified as an alias “Bebot Goma.”

Meanwhile, there was also another clash between the army’s 61 IB and the NPA in Calinog town, Iloilo province earlier today.

The clash resulted to the wounding of three government troopers.

Lieutenant Colonel Sisenando Magbalot Jr., 61 IB commander, noted that government troops are making their presence felt after locals have complained that minors are being forced to join the NPA.

Reds to expand guerrilla zones

From Tempo (May 6): Reds to expand guerrilla zones

The National Democratic Front (NDF) and the Lucio de Guzman Command of the New People’s Army (LDG-NPA) in Mindoro disclosed they are going to expand guerrilla zones in an effort to fortify their bases.

Ma. Patricia Andal, spokesperson of NDF-Mindoro and Madaay Gasic, spokesperson of NPA-Mindoro in a joint statement explained this is because more and more Mindoreños have been joining the NPA due to their continued frustration with the government.

“Thousands more are organizing themselves in various revolutionary underground organizations in rural areas and urban centers in the island while bureaucratic corruption and bankruptcies fail to improve quality of life”, they added.

As to the upcoming SK and barangay elections, Andal and Gasic stressed everyone should exhaust all efforts to assert for a clean and honest election.

“They should uncompromisingly fight various forms of election fraud and violence…(they) should thwart all dirty maneuvers and political chicanery of the most reactionary and most corrupt enemies of the people vying for positions at the local level,” they added.

Military checking reported killing of Abu Sayyaf leader

Sun Star-Manila (May 7): Military checking reported killing of Abu Sayyaf leader

THE Armed Forces of the Philippines said Saturday, May 5, it is checking intelligence reports that a Middle East-educated commander of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group has died after being wounded in an artillery strike in the south.

Brig Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said that if the reported killing of Yassir Igasan in southern Sulu province turns out to be true, it would add to a leadership crisis within the Abu Sayyaf. The brutal group has lost many commanders to combat and surrenders in recent years.

The military received intelligence that Igasan was seriously wounded in the leg by artillery fire in the hinterlands of Sulu's Patikul town in October and then died later, Sobejana said.

Some of Igasan's men, who have surrendered, have told the military that Igasan has not been seen nor appeared in meetings in recent months, said a military intelligence officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to speak about the terrorism issues.

Igasan is one of about half a dozen factional leaders of the Abu Sayyaf but is distinguished because of his connections to Middle East-based militant groups and ability to speak Arabic.

Igasan, who was educated either in Libya or Jordan, has been regarded as a candidate to be the next regional leader of the Islamic State group, Philippine security officials say.

The group's previous leader, Isnilon Hapilon, who was killed in the final battle in southern Marawi city last year. The city was seized by Islamic State group-linked militants on May 23 and troops quelled the disastrous insurrection after five months.

Emerging in the late 1980s as an offshoot of the decades-long Muslim separatist rebellion in the south, the Abu Sayyaf lost its top commanders early in combat and descended on a bloody path toward terrorism and criminality.

The United States and the Philippines have blacklisted the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization for bombings, ransom kidnappings and beheadings.

Despite battle setbacks, the small but violent group remains a key security threat. Two policewomen and a villager were kidnapped in Patikul last weekend by suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen, who have demanded a ransom for their release, police said.

Philippines to exhaust diplomatic options on SCS

From the Philippine Star (May 6): Philippines to exhaust diplomatic options on SCS

The government is still in the process of exhausting all diplomatic means to address concerns over China’s deployment of missiles on the manmade islands at the South China Sea (SCS), Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said yesterday.

“If it is verified, of course, we view it with much concern because any form of militarization of the West Philippine Sea is worrisome, given that it is one of the busiest sea lanes of the world,” Roque said at a press briefing in Davao City.

Roque added that there is no need at this time for the government to summon Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua to shed light on the issue.

He said the Philippines will “resort to diplomacy, resort to diplomatic protest if the (Department of Foreign Affairs) deems it fit.”

“But (the Philippines) resorts to all forms of peaceful resolution of disputes and of course, we capitalize on the fact that we have a very good relationship with China,” Roque said.

President Duterte is unlikely to bow to pressure to assert the Philippines’ sovereign rights over the disputed areas in the Spratlys after the Chief Executive questioned the apparent inaction of the previous Aquino administration when Beijing was constructing structures in the area.

“The President has spoken. He said he was hoping that the previous administration was able to act on this since the artificial islands were dug, built during the past administration,” Roque added.

“We are not blame-tossing but we have to realize that (the structures) are already there,” he said.

Roque added that the Palace has yet to get official confirmation of the reports by US media.

“Everything we read in the papers is based on a US media report, which we really should not completely rely on. So we are first verifying if it is true,” he said.

For their part, senators agreed that the militarization of the South China Sea is cause for alarm.

Sen. Gregorio Honasan said yesterday there is reason for the Philippines and the rest of the region to be alarmed by China’s militarization of the sea.

Honasan, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security, said the Philippines should start talking with its regional and defense allies to look for ways to address the actions of China, which affect not only the sovereignty of the Philippines, but also the economic and security interests of many nations.

In an interview over dwIZ, Honasan said the Philippines has every reason to be alarmed by the installations of China in the West Philippine Sea because they are within its territory, something that has been affirmed by the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague.

While the Philippines has the right to assert its jurisdiction over the West Philippine Sea, Honasan admitted that getting China to acknowledge this is another matter.

In order to get China to listen, Honasan said the Philippines should now tap its allies to exert some pressure on them.

“So we should now make an inventory of our allies. It appears that China, while having the economic and military might, is alone in its actions,” Honasan said.

He said the government should invoke its Mutual Defense Treaty and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US and its alliance with its regional neighbors under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to help defend Philippine sovereignty.

Honasan said President Duterte himself could also use his close relationship with the Chinese to help resolve the situation since he has a direct line to Beijing.

According to Honasan, it is in the best interests of the global community to back the Philippines on this matter because what China has done in the South China Sea is, in effect, controlling the maritime and air space in the disputed waters.

What is most important in all these efforts, Honasan said, is to come up with a peaceful solution because the Philippines cannot afford an armed conflict with China.

Sen. Leila de Lima, in a statement, said China has crossed yet another line with its installation of surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles in the Spratlys.

She said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) cannot remain silent while all of this is going on, considering that this could now be considered the “single biggest threat to national security in recent decades.”

“The Chinese cruise missiles in the Spratlys are now the single biggest existential threat to the Philippines and to Filipinos. But apparently, in line with the President’s amorous affair with China, the AFP has chosen to play the monkey that sees, hears and speaks no evil whenever it comes to China’s aggressive escalation of military capabilities in the (West Philippine Sea),” De Lima said.

“It is time that the AFP draw the line between Duterte’s mendicant policy toward China, on the one hand, and national defense and security, on the other,” she added.

De Lima said this is a wake up call for the AFP as well as the civilian hierarchy.

Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said the installation of missile systems in the West Philippine Sea by China is an assault on the sovereignty of the Philippines.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said the reports of China deploying missile systems in the West Philippine Sea, if verified, “must be seriously be looked into and dealt with high concern and priority by the government.”

“More than ever, the Philippines must remain calculated with its actions in responding to this troubling move by China, acknowledging that it is still within our interest to maintain good Philippine-Sino relations,” Gatchalian said.

“Needless to say, we must defuse the tension by making the most of the best available bilateral and multilateral diplomatic options. We should also strengthen our security and defense cooperation with regional and global security partners, while enhancing and modernizing the defense capabilities of our own military,” he added.

PH-US ‘Balikatan’ mutual defense exercises open today

From the Manila Bulletin (May 7): PH-US ‘Balikatan’ mutual defense exercises open today

The Balikatan (BK) 2018 joint military exercises between the United States and the Philippines open today with US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Y. Kim and Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana leading the ceremony at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Filipino Soldiers launch a joint amphibious landing with US Soldiers on the shores of Casiguran, Aurora as part of the Civil Military activities from the sea of the 17th US-Philippines Balikatan excercises. PHOTO/ Alvin Kasiban
Lt. Liezl Vidallon, BK2018 public affairs director on the Philippine side, said yesterday that this year’s joint military exercises will not only focus responding to natural calamities but also man-made emergencies.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff, and Lt. Gen. Emmanuel B. Salamat, AFP Northern Luzon Command (NoLCom) Chief who is also the Exercise Director on the Philippine for this year’s Balikatan, will join high-ranking defense and military officials from both the US and Philippines at the opening rites.

Vidallon said every year both American and Filipino forces are trying to level up the training and this year’s 34th iteration of the two countries’ biggest annual military exercise is no exception.

“For example, the humanitarian assistance and disaster response training last year focused only on natural calamities. This year, we will also train for man-made disasters like, for example, a chemical attack,” she said in broken English.

Vidallon said those who participate in the exercises every year learn new tactics, techniques and procedures and they will apply what they have learned from the previous exercise.

“Mutual defense kasi ang balikatan (and) is more on interoperability of both forces, and then counter terrorism and HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) so scenario based itong Balikatan (the Balikatan is scenario-based),” Vidallon said.

Balikatan (shoulder to shoulder) is an annual military exercise between the AFP and the United States Pacific Command.

Balikatan 2018 features humanitarian civic action activities in pre-selected areas in Cagayan and Central Luzon.

 On May 9, there will be an Amphibious Landing at the Naval Education Training Command, San Antonio, Zambales while on May 15, 2018, there will be a combined

Arms Live Fire Exercise at Colonel Ernesto Rabina Air Base, Tarlac, (Crow Valley).

However, the Amphibious Landing and combined Arms Live Fire Exercise between the two countries are not open for media coverage as directed by higher authorities.

The closing ceremony of Balikatan 2018 will be held at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City on May 18.

Military limits media coverage for ‘Balikatan’

From the Manila Times (May 6): Military limits media coverage for ‘Balikatan’

MEDIA coverage for this year’s Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises between the Philippines and the US will be limited to the opening and closing ceremonies, a military spokesman said on Sunday.

Lt. Liezl Vidallon, Balikatan public affairs director for the Philippines, said that “higher-ups” have decided to close the field exercises in Crow Valley, Tarlac and in Zambales, with Zambales being close to the disputed territories, particularly the Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc) in the West Philippine Sea where China recently set up anti-ship and air-to-air missile systems.|

Vidallon did not give the reason for the limited media coverage.

The announcement came weeks after the military advised members of the media to have themselves accredited for the Balikatan exercises that would start on Monday, May 7, and end on May 18.

The military had maintained its silence over the dispute, saying that it will leave the matter to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

It was not the first time, however, that the military has limited the coverage of the media.

Last April, the public affairs office of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was asked if the first flag-raising ceremony of Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. as the new AFP chief would be open to the media.

However, it said that it would not be open to reporters and advised that Galvez would be facing the media to present the military’s “accomplishments” and if there were huge events inside its headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.