Thursday, May 17, 2018

AFP task force Sulu focused on rescue of hostages, neutralization of ASG

From the Manila Bulletin (May 17): AFP task force Sulu focused on rescue of hostages, neutralization of ASG

The commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Joint Task Force (AFP-JTF) Sulu Thursday said that they will continue with their focused military operations as part of efforts to safely rescue the Abu Sayyaf Group’s remaining hostages.

Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana made the remark during an interview a day after a police report indicated that the two policewomen abducted in Sulu last month had been released by their captors.

The two were identified as PO2 Benierose Alvarez and PO1 Dinah Gumahad, who were abducted April 29, 2018, by heavily armed men along with two male companions identified as Jackosalem Blas and Faizal Ahidji in Patikul, Sulu.

Sobejana said during a recent command conference presided by no less than AFP Chief of Staff General Carlito Galvez Jr.,he personally instructed them to give premium to the rescue of the remaining kidnap victims and the neutralization of the Abu Sayyaf.

He also asked military commanders to be active partners in the development of Sulu.

Sobejana said General Galvez also instructed them to finish off the Abu Sayyaf the soonest possible time to once and for all stop their atrocities in the province.

“Actually the target date is December if we will fast track our operation but the realization considering all factors, he said it can be done in two years,” Sobejana said.

“But our aim is December. That’s the specific instruction of our Chief of Staff as he will retire this December,” he added.

Sobejana said they are doing everything they can and using all available war material and resources both ground, air and sea to defeat the enemy.

He said based on their estimate there are at least 300 Abu Sayyaf members still in Sulu.

To ensure the success of their operations an additional ranger battalion was sent to Sulu from Marawi City to gain their objective in defeating the enemy.

“Very soon we will launch massive focus military operations to rescue the remaining victims and bring down the strength of the ASG into an insignificant level,” Sobejana said.

He said there are a total of 11 battalions of soldiers in Sulu including special units task to go after the Abu Sayyaf which are still holding close to a dozen hostages.

Rebel surrenders in Sarangani

From the Manila Bulletin (May 17): Rebel surrenders in Sarangani

A squad leader based in the Sarangani Province has surrendered to the government following the fall and arrest of Zaldy Cañete, alias Ka Jinggoy, in Bukidnon, according to the Eastern Mindanao Command.

Samson Pagalangan Salda alias “Lakay,” a 39-year old resident of Brgy. Sulit, Polomolok, South Cotabato, surrendered to troopers of the 73rd Infantry Battalion last May 15.

Salda said he surrendered due to fear for his life. He knew that Ka Jinggoy was apprehended in Bukidnon and also said that he found hope in the government since he knew that many former NPA members were humanely treated and given livelihood support.

The rebel surrendered one M16 Rifle (elisco) with a defaced serial number, three long magazines, 79 rounds of ammo, and one Icom radio.

 He was brought to the Headquarters of 73IB at Brgy. Felis, Malita, Davao Occidental for proper disposition and custodial debriefing, according to the 10th Infantry Division.

Abu Sayyaf paid P2.5 M to release 2 female cops

From the Manila Bulletin (May 17): Abu Sayyaf paid P2.5 M to release 2 female cops

Abu Sayyaf bandits in Sulu reportedly collected P2.5 million in ransom for the two female police officers they kidnapped in Patikul, Sulu, on April 29.

The group, led by Injam Yadah, has reportedly released Police Officer 3 Bienerose Alvarez at 10:15 a.m Tuesday, and Police Officer 1 Dinah Gumahad about 13 hours later, in two different areas in Talipao, Sulu.

The bandits seized Alvarez, Gumahad and their male companions, Jacksalem Blas and Faizal Ahidji, while they were riding a tricycle in Patikul.

Ahidji was released on May 7 and Blas was freed a few days later.

Alvarez is assigned at the Engineering Service Division under the Regional Logistics Division of the regional police force. Gumahad is assigned at Midsalip MPS, Zamboanga Del Sur, and was undergoing a 45-day Criminal Investigation Course at Regional Special Training Units 9 in Zamboanga City.

A source who declined to be identified said relatives of the two officers paid R2.5 million for their release.

The Abu Sayyaf first demanded P5 million, the source said.

It was also reported that a leader of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who is close to former Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan, had negotiated with Abu Sayyaf leaders Idang and Mujir for the release of the two officers.

Week of Peace to celebrate heroism and bravery of survivors, victims of Marawi siege

From the Manila Bulletin (May 18): Week of Peace to celebrate heroism and bravery of survivors, victims of Marawi siege

The Sangguniang Panlungsod of the Islamic City of Marawi in its regular session on May 15, through its mayor Atty. Majul Gandamra. has passed an ordinance declaring every 17th to 23rd of May of every year as a Marawi Week of Peace at the Marawi City Hall, May 17.

The ordinance supported by Resolution 93 series of 2018 has enjoined the different offices of the city government, national government agencies (NGAs), Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), religious and private sector to support the celebration, ABC president Farmida Macabando said.

With this, the city government of Marawi greatly honors the act of heroism and bravery of those who died and survived the siege on May 23, 2017, launched by the ISIS-inspired terrorists, the ordinance said.

TFBM Field Manager Asec Felix Castro, Jr., and Asec Rolando Asuncion of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) led the ribbon cutting during the opening of the Marawi Week of Peace with its theme “Peace starts with us, Give Work Share” at the Marawi city hall Thursday.  (MANILA BULLETIN)
A gesture in honoring their act, it is important to declare a special week of peace, a weeklong celebration to commemorate the tragic incident and to serve as a reminder for all the constituents and to work for its nonrecurrence, Macabando said.

Thus, it marks the new beginning of the people of Marawi moving forward for a long and lasting peace.

Atty. Faisal Cali, a representative to the provincial government, said peace is a shared responsibility and this is all our concern issues. Thus he called everyone to not just demand peace rather implement it.

“We call on not just our neighbors, but also our fellow Maranaos, fellow Christians to please not just demand peace–implement peace, iyan po ang kailangan natin (that’s what we need).”

Ito ang pinakamagandang oras, o araw o period of the year kung kailan pwedeng pag-usapan ang kapayapaan– ang Ramadan palaging iniisip iyang kapayapaan at alam naman natin ano nangyayari doon sa May 23 (This is the best time, day or period of the year when we talk about peace— the Ramadan always thinks of peace and we all know what is happening on May 23) ,” said Field Office Manager, Task Force Bangon Marawi Asec Felix Castro Jr., field office manager.

Those things can be prevented to happen again if everybody will pursue peace individually, he said.

From May 17 to 23, the Marawi Week of Peace will provide socio-economic support to IDP families, foster spiritual development particularly among the youth and promote social healing among others.

TFBM will conduct food drives, open civil registration services, and sponsor job food trade and trade fairs to improve livelihood and employment opportunities.

The National Commission on Muslim. Filipinos and the Ulama League will conduct “khutbas and wasiyats” (religious preachings) and open seminars to remind us all especially that Islam is a religion of peace.

Moreover, youth groups will lead the cleanup drives to instill in others the importance of civic responsibility.

Security tightened after Indo attacks

From the Mindanao Times (May 17): Security tightened after Indo attacks

Authorities in the region have tightened security measures in the city and other areas of the region following the series of terrorist incidents in Indonesia that already left at least 43 dead since May 8.

“We are ready to counter (any) possible threat,” said Davao City Police Office (DCPO) director Sr. Supt. Alexander Tagum during the AFP-PNP Press briefing held at the conference room of the Davao City Police Office (DCPO).

Tagum said the DCPO and the Task Force Davao are “very strict” in the border checkpoints while the Philippine National Police Maritime Group and the Philippine Coast Guard are doing the same in the sea and coastline.

Tagum added that city residents are “lucky” because the local government has a City Public Safety Security Command Center that supports the DCPO, TFD, and other supporting security units against terrorists.

Chief Supt. Manuel Gaerlan has also ordered the lower units “to be always in full alert status since we are still in election period.”

“We also ordered the lower units to conduct target hardening in areas especially in vital installations, places of convergence and security operations,” said Chief Insp. Milgrace Driz, the spokesperson of Police Regional Office (PRO) XI.

She added that the intelligence monitoring will also be intensified.

Driz encouraged everyone to be vigilant because public safety is not only the concern of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PNP (Philippine National Police).

“So we should always be on alert,” Driz added.

The public, she said, should immediately report to the nearest police station or AFP unit if they observe any suspicious activity in their community.

Brig. Gen. Ernesto Torres, the commander of 1003rd Infantry Brigade, said the military, while focusing on the insurgency operations, is also doing counter terrorism.

Torres said they also have established a good exchange of information and intelligence with other units outside the city as plan to attack particular places doesn’t always “come from within.”

The brigade commander said they have been strengthening the effort by conducting “critical infrastructure protection and security operations” where they conduct security forums together with their security counterparts and civilian security officers in the city and some parts of Davao del Norte under his jurisdiction.

“So with this kind of operation that we have with the other law enforcement and civilian security (units), I think we have the mechanism that can detect before any terroristic activities can enter in the region,” Torres added.

He admitted that incidents similar to Indonesia may likely happen in the city.

“But we must remain vigilant and alert,” he further said.

Indonesia is on high alert following the attacks.

For three days, from May 8 to May 10, inmates at a detention center staged a riot resulting in the death of five police officers and one inmate in Depok, West Java.

On May 13 to 14, at least five attacks hit Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, killing a total of 26 persons, including the 13 attackers. The attacks also injured 57 others.

The first set of attacks hit three churches – the Innocent Saint Mary Catholic Church (Ngagel), the Indonesia Christian Church (Diponegoro), and the Surabaya Central Pentecost Church Church (Arjuno) – on May 13.

The second attack hit a public housing in Sidoarjo on May 13.

The first two sets of attacks were reportedly staged by family of bombers with children believed to be among the attackers.

On the third attack, on May 14, a suicide bomber attacked a police station.

On May 16 in Riau, five persons with swords attacked a police station, killing one police officer. Four of the attackers were killed.

Body of NPA fighter found in Agusan Sur

From the Mindanao Times (May 17): Body of NPA fighter found in Agusan Sur

A New People’s Army (NPA) fighter who reportedly attacked the Sinacungan Patrol Base in Barangay Sinacungan, Esperanza, Agusan del Sur last May 14 was found dead.

Brig. Gen Franco Nemesio M. Gacal, commander of the 402nd Infantry Brigade, directed 23rd Infantry battalion whose jurisdiction covers the municipality of Esperanza to launch a retrieval operation after receiving reports from civilians of dead NPAs hurriedly buried in shallow graves by fleeing NPAs in Brgy Sinacungan, Esperanza, Agusan del Sur.

“The reports of the civilians were validated and our troops were able to retrieve one cadaver,” Gacal said, adding that they have yet to identify the body.

They received reports that the Red fighter was severely wounded during the firefight with the government troops. He succumbed to the wounds while trying to escape.

“His remains were brought to the Hope Funeral Parlor in Poblacion, Esperanza, and it will be turned over to the family so that they can provide decent burial to the deceased,” the brigade commander said.

He said the attack of the Sinacungan patrol base violated the self-proclaimed ceasefire by the NPA leading to the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections.

“It is also a deception, clear and simple, as they were trying to catch our troops off-guard with the soldiers were busy in assisting the Comelec,” he said.

Civilian eyewitnesses said three bodies of the NPA under Lino Namatindog alias Dahon were carried by their fleeing comrades.

Recovered after the firefight were one Colt M16 rifle with serial number 4837662, one damaged M203 grenade launcher, two M16 magazines, one AK47 magazine, live ammunition of M16, AK47, M14 rifles, and M60 machine guns, and three Molotov cocktails.

Bohol remains safe despite latest Army-NPA clash

From the Philippine News Agency (May 17): Bohol remains safe despite latest Army-NPA clash

Despite the encounter between government forces and purported members of the New People’s Army in Bilar, Bohol last Tuesday, a military official maintained that the province remains to be insurgency-free.

Col. Ignacio Madriaga, commanding officer of the 302nd Infantry Brigade, on Thursday said Bohol remains free from insurgents since the conditions and basis for being free from rebels prevail in the province.

He told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) that an inter-agency body determines whether an area is an insurgency-free or not.

The inter-agency body usually takes a long hard look at the situation and studies the conditions to declare an area insurgency-free or not, Madriaga said.

There are certain parameters the agencies involved in the process use in the analysis or assessment of the condition.

One important element taken into consideration by the inter-agency body is the active participation of the local government executives from the province, town and down to the barangay levels in addressing the issues impacting the residents especially in the hinterlands.

Madriaga said declaring an area insurgency-free is not absolute and does not mean there would be zero presence of armed groups or communist rebels.

For this reason, it would be difficult to remove the insurgency-free tag from Bohol based only on one incident, he added.

Last Tuesday, members of the 47th Infantry Battalion engaged in a firefight against suspected NPAs in Sitio Ilaud, Barangay Campagao, Bilar. The armed group was allegedly led by a certain Domingo Compoc.
Two members of the government forces were injured and a civilian was wounded after reportedly getting hit by a stray bullet during the firefight.

Madriaga said Bohol has been a model for other provinces as a successful case study in eradicating the insurgency problem, which some provinces are unable to do.

He said Bohol has been able to achieve the so-called “trinity of peace” or the cooperation of government, security forces, and the community, including the media being the watchdog of society.

Bohol is unique since it has deployed the so-called “Pro Teams” under the Countryside Development Program-Purok Power Movement to certain barangays in the province in an effort to listen and to address the concerns of residents and to make them feel the presence of government’s care for their situation.

In 2010, Bohol and Cebu were declared insurgency-free by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

One of the indicators used at that time by the AFP to declare Bohol as insurgency-free was the insignificant level of armed men sightings.

However, there were sightings of armed men since 2017 in various rural areas in Bohol, as reported by the military to the Provincial Peace and Order Council.

Esperon eyes stronger PH-Russia security relations

From the Philippine News Agency (May 17): Esperon eyes stronger PH-Russia security relations

A bilateral meeting between Philippine and Russian security officials in Moscow on May 18-19 aims to strengthen the two nations’ security cooperation.

The bilateral discussion builds on the successful efforts of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano in solidifying Philippine-Russian diplomatic relations along President Rodrigo Duterte’s independent foreign policy, when Cayetano met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the same city last May 15, said a news release issued by the Office of the National Security Adviser on Thursday.

The leader of the Philippine delegation, National Security Adviser and Director General of the National Security Council (NSC), Secretary Hermogenes Esperon Jr., will meet with Secretary Nikolay Patruchev of the Security Council of the Russian Federation (SCRF) to follow through on the implementation of the memorandum of understanding on the security cooperation between the NSC and SCRF that was signed in May last year.

Other members of the Philippine delegation who will meet with their Russian counterparts are senior officials representing the departments of defense, interior and local government, and justice, the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the Philippine National Police.

They are expected to explore cooperation mechanisms on information exchange, capacity-building, training, and other matters that are mutually beneficial to both nations.

Lorenzana, 3 top PH officials to meet US Pacific Command chief

From the Philippine News Agency (May 17): Lorenzana, 3 top PH officials to meet US Pacific Command chief

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana will meet with US Pacific Command (PACOM) head Admiral Harry Harris on May 17-21.

This was confirmed by DND spokesperson Arsenio Andolong in an interview Thursday.

Lorenzana will be joined by Foreign Affairs Secretary Allan Peter Cayetano, Department of the Interior and Local Government officer-in-charge Eduardo Año, and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.

"They are supposed to meet with PACOM head Admiral Harris. The trip will be from today, May 17 to May 21. The agenda is not privy to us. Mahirap mag-speculate kasi wala namang sinabi but silang apat ang magkakasama (It is difficult to speculate because nothing was mentioned. But the four of them will be together," Andolong added.

The US Pacific Command, the oldest and largest unified combatant command of the United States Armed Forces, is responsible for military operations in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

BRP Gregorio Velasquez committed to help in PH Rise studies

From the Philippine News Agency (May 18): BRP Gregorio Velasquez committed to help in PH Rise studies

ABOARD THE BRP DAVAO DEL SUR -- The BRP Gregorio Velasquez (AGR-702) will be the sole ship committed to help Filipino scientists in conducting further research off the 13-million-hectare Philippine Rise.

This was disclosed by Defense Undersecretary Cardozo Luna during the first anniversary of the renaming of the Philippine Rise in Casiguran off Aurora province on May 16.

Luna said this is in line with President Rodrigo R. Duterte's order that all available support be provided to Filipino scientists tasked to conduct additional studies off the Philippine Rise.

"I understand (that the) the BRP Gregorio Velasquez is already here. She is our research ship. I will tell Secretary Delfin Lorenzana that I am committing her to you and you can use her anytime," Luna said in Filipino.

The ship is the sole Navy asset capable of conducting oceanographic and hydrographic surveys.

The BRP Gregorio Velasquez (formerly the R/V Melville) is one of the two ex-American ships pledged by then President Barack Obama during his visit to the Philippines during the APEC Leaders Summit in November 2015.

The other ship is the USCGC Boutwell which is now renamed to BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF-17) – the third Hamilton-class cutter of the Philippine Navy (PN).

The BRP Gregorio Velasquez was commissioned into the PN service in June 2016. In 1976, then R/V Melville was used in the movie “King Kong” starring Jessica Lange because of its Hypoid propulsion drive capability to move sideways. This type of drive is used on research vessels for station-keeping in the ocean over drill and coring sites.

As per policy, auxiliary research vessels are to be named after national scientists, hence her namesake, Dr. Gregorio Velasquez – a pioneer in Philippine physiology.

Velasquez, who was named an academician in 1978 and conferred as National Scientist in 1982.
He was also conferred with a Distinguished Science Medal and Diploma of Honor from the Republic of the Philippines (1956), the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1956-57), Men of Science, Division of Biological Sciences in 1969, World's Who's Who in Sciences in 1970, and the Republic of the Philippines Cultural Heritage award in 1972.

Activities for the first year anniversary of the renaming of the Philippine Rise started with a send-off ceremony for the marine scientists by President Duterte at the mouth of Casiguran Bay and the signing of Presidential Proclamation declaring Philippine Rise as a Protected Marine Source Area.

These events were highlighted by an on-deck flag raising ceremony at BRP Tarlac (LD-601), simultaneous with the laying of underwater flag marker at 47 feet below sea level (shallowest part of Benham Bank). The activities were documented by an underwater video conducted by the geologists of Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Mines and Geosciences Bureau using a remotely-operated vehicle.

This was followed by casting of the first buoy off Philippine Rise.

The one-ton buoy was made of fully urethane foam with a stainless body attached to a five-ton concrete anchor by a 40 mm fully ethyline rope.

It was designed in Malabon but was fabricated in San Fernando, Pampanga for 10 days from April 2, 2018.

A transponder was also attached to determine its exact location, costing the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources a total of PHP85,000.

Call for release of NPA leader slammed

From the Sun Star-Davao (May 17): Call for release of NPA leader slammed

THE 1003rd Infantry Brigade (IBge) slammed a human rights group for seeking the release of the wounded high-ranking leader of the New People's Army (NPA) who is facing multiple charges for perpetrating several atrocities in Southern Mindanao.

In a press forum at the Davao City Police Office (DCPO) conference room Wednesday, May 16, 1003rd IBge commander Brigadier General Ernesto Torres assured the public they will uphold the rule of law and will give humane treatment to the arrested leader identified as Elizalde Cañete alias Jinggoy, who is currently undergoing medical treatment Don Carlos Doctors Hospital, Don Carlos, Bukidnon.

Torres said that human rights groups have nothing to worry with hospital arrest that they implemented following the statement released by Exodus for Justice and Peace who made such appeal based on humanitarian grounds and in pursuance to the re-opening of the peace talks between the government (GPH) and the National Democratic Front (NDF).

“They need not lecture us on those things, we know that very well but probably they have to realize that actually it is an effort of the some organization to probably downplay the significance of the arrest of Jinggoy and probably it is an attempt to exonerate him from the charges that are against him,” Torres said.

The human rights group wants a humanitarian consideration for Cañete who was seriously wounded during an encounter in Bukidnon with the troops. They pointed that under the Geneva Convention and International Humanitarian Law (IHL), wounded combatants or Hors de Combat must be protected from attacks as they are incapable of engaging in combat, and must be accorded rights to medical care and other rights under IHL.

“Despite the atrocities that he has committed in the past, the [AFP] organization is still doing its best to protect him so that he would be made answerable to the atrocities that he has committed,” he said.

He also cited that Eastmincom commander Lieutenant General Benjamin R. Madrigal Jr. directed them to ensure the protection of Cañete so he would be prosecuted once he recovers.

"The arrest of Jinggoy and his eventual prosecution will now give justice to the victims of his many atrocities particularly, to the late Larry Buenafe who was just peacefully earning a living when he was killed by an NPA-laid landmine. While he is receiving medical treatment, we will be backing up the Philippine National Police in providing security and in the eventual prosecution of his numerous cases," Madrigal said.

Cañete is currently confined at the hospital with military troopers guarding him. Based on the Inter-Agency Report of 1003rd Infantry Brigade, 403rd Brigade and Don Carlos Municipal Police Office, the team served the warrant of arrest last May 12 for multiple murder and arson while he was in the hospital seeking for medical treatment after he was wounded in a recent encounter in Kitaotao, Bukidnon on May 10 between the troops of 1003rd Brigade and his group.

He sustained six gunshot wounds in his body and is currently recovering.The NPA fighter is facing 12 various cases for murder, harassment, robbery and theft, among others.

He was the one who replaced Leoncio Pitao alias Parago as the leader of Pulang Bagani Command (PBC1), Southern Mindanao Regional Committee (SMRC) after the latter was killed in an encounter.

His area of operation covers the boundary of Bukidnon, Davao del Norte and the mountainous districts of Davao City. His group was allegedly responsible for the burning of road-building equipment being used in the ongoing bypass road at Barangay Mandug and Fatima, both in Paquibato, Davao City and the burning incident of Lapanday facility in Mandug, Davao City.

CPP demands release of rebel leader

From the Manila Times (May 17): CPP demands release of rebel leader

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) has demanded the release of a New People’s Army (NPA) leader arrested in Don Carlos, Bukidnon.

In a statement late Tuesday, the CPP said the release of Zaldy Cañete, or Jinggoy, would be in return for the NPA considering captured soldiers as “prisoners of war” to be treated “leniently,” and even released promptly.

Cañete was arrested on Thursday last week by the military and police while he was inside the intensive care unit of a hospital in Don Carlos.

“He was recovering from a brain surgery to treat a bullet injury he sustained in a firefight last May 10 in Kitaotao town,” the CPP said.

“He was under the watch of his family and hospital doctors,” it added.

The CPP insisted Cañete must be “expeditiously released” by the military, citing provisions of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (Carhrihl).

“[This] stipulates that persons deprived of their liberty for reasons related to the armed conflict shall be considered for safe release on humanitarian or other grounds,” the CPP said.

It also said that releasing combatants nabbed during armed conflict was a practice of humanitarian exercise observed since World War 2.

“[It is also] enshrined in the Geneva Conventions, which the NPA strictly observes,” the CPP noted.

The Armed Force’s Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) said only the court could order the release of Cañete, as he was arrested by virtue of a warrant.

“Why would we release him? How about the justice that should be served for their victims? He was not removed from the hospital and he is being accorded with medical attention,” said Maj. Ezra Balagtey, EastMinCom spokesman.

“We also want him to recover so that he can face the charges filed against him,”
Balagtey added.

Army confirms clash with NPA in Bohol

From the Manila Bulletin (May 16): Army confirms clash with NPA in Bohol

Local military leaders confirmed that the armed group that clashed on Tuesday with Army soldiers in a town in Bohol are guerrillas from the New People’s Army (NPA).

Despite the clash, Bohol remains insurgency-free, said Col. Ignacio Madriaga, commanding officer of the 302nd Infantry Battalion.

The NPA group was allegedly led by certain Domingo Compoc, a known leader of the communist rebels in the area, Madriaga said.

Compoc’s group is known to maintain a presence in the area where the encounter happened.

He is reportedly a native of Barangay Dagohoy in Bilar town.

Compoc is a wanted man, with arrest warrants for various charges, Madriaga said.

Several citizens reported sighting Compoc and his men in the rural areas of Bilar town days before the town fiesta on Tuesday.

The Army sent troops to Bilar to check out the report.

The soldiers and the rebels exchanged fire for about an hour in Sitio Ilaud, Barangay Campagao. Madriaga said.

Compoc thought he had the support of the community, but it was the residents who reported his presence to the authorities, he said.

The people’s support is critical in keeping Bohol insurgency-free, Madriaga said.

He estimated the NPA group to have at least 15 men.

Aussie spy plane flies over Nueva Ecija, simulates role in Marawi

From Rappler (May 17): Aussie spy plane flies over Nueva Ecija, simulates role in Marawi

Over 100 Australian Defense Forces are now in the Philippines to participate in two separate exercises in urban fighting, simulating its role during the siege of Marawi last year, where ADF provided real time intelligence and training

WAR GAMES. The Australian Defense Force has 60 personnel participating in Exercise Balikatan 2018

WAR GAMES. The Australian Defense Force has 60 personnel participating in Exercise Balikatan 2018

An Australian Defense Force (ADF) P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft flew over Nueva Ecija from May 16-17 to watch armed men simulating urban fighting in a densely populated urban center.

The ADF participated in war games with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and US Pacific Command. Its job is to provide real-time intelligence – coordinates – on the location of the enemies.

“It is similar to the role performed by the aircraft during the Marawi crisis,” Captain Brad White, Australian defense attache to the Philippines, told Rappler.

The ADF deployed 60 personnel – mostly air men – to participate in Exercise Balikatan, an annual military exercise primarily between the Philippines and US. (READ: PH-US Balikatan drills open amid concerns over China missiles)

They are among 8,000 forces, including 3,000 Americans and a small contingent of 20 Japanese. The war games are aimed at improving the interoperability of the allied militaries.

Vice Admiral David Johnston, ADF Chief of Joint Operations, said Australia’s participation in the war games shows its commitment to regional security and stability. It’s the 5th year Australia is joining the exercise.

“The United States, the Philippines and Australia have a longstanding relationship dating back to World War II resulting in a significant, ongoing contribution to regional security,” Johnston said.

“Exercise Balikatan 18 is a valuable opportunity for participating nations to prepare for real world challenges,”Johnston said.

Australia and US are the only two countries which have visiting forces agreements with the Philippines. The Australian treaty came to force in 2012. During the siege of Marawi, the ADF flew in two P3-Orion to help provide real time intelligence.

The relationship between the two countries matured significantly during the 5-month long battles. After the war, they agreed to conduct a training program on urban fighting that is exclusive between the two militaries.

“We’ve got significant engagement with the Philippines. Since Marawi, we’ve actually increased our engagement,” said White.

Separate war game
While Balikatan is ongoing, another group of 70 Australian forces is preparing for a 4-week exercise to train Philippine Army troopers in urban fighting. It’s similar to what the Americans provided Filipino ground troops in Balikatan.
“Each rotation is about 4 weeks long. Bunch of training is delivered, then consultation with AFP for new target audience where that goes. We move where the Philippine Army wants us to move to deliver that training,” said White.

“Depending on our government funding, it will go on. We work with the AFP. The training gets shaped to more nuanced things as we complete one element of training. You just don’t do the same thing, you have to mature that and turn it into something else,” said White.

On top of the exercises, the ADF is also helping the Philippines patrol the waters of southern Philippines. This is part of the campaign against local terrorist groups operating in the islands of Mindanao.

A number of Philippine military mid-level officers also take postgraduate courses in Australia every year.

It’s a relationship that both countries seek to advance further.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines is looking forward to an increased Philippines-Australia cooperation engagement in the near future,” said AFP chief of staff General Carlito Galvez Jr at the opening ceremony for Balikatan on May 7.

AFP, US soldiers finish project in Cabanatuan City

From the Manila Bulletin (May 16): AFP, US soldiers finish project in Cabanatuan City

Filipino, American, Japanese, and Australian soldiers conducted a dedication ceremony for a newly-constructed school building as part of Exercise Balikatan’s Engineering Civic Assistance Projects for Cabu Elementary School (CES) in Cabanatuan, City, Nueva Ecija Province, on Wednesday (May 16, 2018).\


The ceremony was attended by Maj. Gen. Herminigildo Francisco Aquino, Philippine Forces Assistant Exercise Director, and Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, U.S. Forces Exercise Director. Also present was CES Principal, Ms. Cecilia Santarina.

“The AFP and U.S. forces began Exercise Balikatan through community engagement activities in Northern Luzon in mid-April. The Engineering projects were conducted to improve the local infrastructure of schools and other institutions in selected areas in Cabanatuan City, as well as in Cagayan, Isabela, and Tarlac,” Aquino said.

At CES alone, 26 soldiers from the 546th Engineer Construction Battalion, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and 30 from the 130th Engineer Brigade, U.S. Armed Forces and additional teams from Japan and Australia built a one story, two-classroom building. They also installed a water catchment system, and made minor on-site beautification projects. They started the construction on April 2, 2018.

Principal Santarina expressed her gratitude to the AFP and U.S. Armed Forces for their benevolence in choosing CES as one of the recipients of the new school building.

Nicholson, for his part, also praised the team for their contributions.

“The greatest gift you can give any organization, any society is the gift of education. The five schools built over the last couple of weeks is a testament to our commitment to the Balikatan Team and to the future of this great country, this great alliance,” he said.

Prior to the official start of Balikatan, Filipino, U.S., Japanese, and Australian service members worked together on construction projects and conducted medical engagements with local residents throughout Northern Luzon. In total, they constructed five school buildings, and installed drainage systems, sidewalks, and water catchment systems.

Balikatan is an annual military exercise between the AFP and U.S. Armed Forces that is focused on mutual defense, counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief.

House OKs bill adopting military rank names for PNP

From Rappler (May 17): House OKs bill adopting military rank names for PNP

House Bill 5236 seeks to quell public confusion on how cops should be addressed, says its principal author former police general Romeo Acop

NEW RANKS SOON? House approves House Bill 5236, which adopts military naming for police ranks

NEW RANKS SOON? House approves House Bill 5236, which adopts military naming for police ranks

The House of Representatives approved Tuesday, May 15, a bill adopting military rank naming for the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Voting 166-6, without abstention, the House approved on the third and final reading House Bill 5236, which seeks PNP officers to have the following change of titles:

Director General to Police General
Deputy Director General to Police Lieutenant General
Director to Police Major General
Chief Superintendent to Police Brigadier General
Senior Superintendent to Police Colonel
Superintendent to Police Lieutenant Colonel
Chief Inspector to Police Major
Senior Inspector to Police Captain
Inspector to Police Lieutenant

The following shifts in naming, meanwhile, are sought to be adopted for non-commissioned officers:

Senior Police Officer IV to Police Master Sergeant
Senior Police Officer III to Police Technical Sergeant
Senior Police Officer II to Police Staff Sergeant
Senior Police Officer I to Police Sergeant
Police Officer III to Police Corporal
Police Officer II to Patrolman First Class
Police Officer I to Patrolman

This will be done by changing the current naming conventions set by Section 28 of Republic Act 6975 or the Department of the Interior and Local Government Act of 1990.

Why does this matter? According to the bill's principal sponsor, Representative Romeo Acop of Antipolo, "the bill seeks to stop public and military confusion on how cops should be addressed."

In a House statement, Acop said the change of designations would promote a "common understanding" among the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the PNP. Acop himself was a former police general.

It would enhance their efficiency in inter-agency operations, Acop added.

Law just for formality? In practice, however, cops already colloquially use military ranks in addressing each other.

Fresh graduates from the PNP Academy, for one, are widely called "teniente" (lieautenant), while many veteran cops do not say they want to be "Chief Superintendents" — they aspire to be called "Generals."

It's an old custom that even a law couldn't kill as the country's police force used to stand under the military as the Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police.

A lot of the PNP's top officials, in fact, used to be part of the PC before the creation of the PNP.

For many in the police force, it's only now that the convention is on its way to be reflected by the law.

Read the bill in full below:

 House Bill 5236 by Rambo Talabong on Scribd

The Dangers of Allowing U.S.-Philippine Defense Cooperation to Languish

From War on the Rocks (May 17): The Dangers of Allowing U.S.-Philippine Defense Cooperation to Languish (By Gregory B. Poling and Conor Cronin)

 Image: Cpl. Tyler Giguere

On April 17, Philippine defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana and U.S. ambassador Sung Kim took part in a groundbreaking ceremony for the first official construction project under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The project to build a warehouse for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief supplies at Cesar Basa Air Base in Pampanga Province comes more than four years after the two sides inked EDCA, and two years after the Philippine Supreme Court affirmed its constitutionality. The ceremony was at once an important milestone, and a sobering reminder of how far short of expectations EDCA has fallen. If implementation of the agreement continues at this rate, the national interests of both the Philippines and the United States will suffer. Without a fully implemented EDCA, the Philippines will likely lose its maritime rights in the South China Sea, either by force or the threat of force from China, and the United States will be seen as a paper tiger unable to protect its allies or defend freedom of the seas.

The Reasons for EDCA

Manila and Washington signed EDCA in 2014 as a vehicle to modernize the U.S.-Philippine alliance to better meet shared challenges In particular, the agreement was meant to help address growing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and natural disasters in the Philippines, which are projected to become more frequent and more destructive with a changing climate. Less than two years before, China had seized control of Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines, prompting Manila to file its landmark case against Beijing’s claims before a tribunal at The Hague. In late 2013, the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Yolanda, or Haiyan—the strongest storm on record to make landfall in the country. The U.S. military’s rapid response proved critical in delivering supplies and evacuating the injured from affected areas, and reminded both sides of the public goods that the alliance could offer.

In case there was any doubt about its aims, Article 1 of EDCA says the agreement is meant to ensure that both sides can meet their obligations under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty to “maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.” The only state actor threatening armed attack against the Philippines or Filipino forces is China in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. The shared perception of a Chinese threat to Philippine, and ultimately international, interests in the South China Sea is clearly at the core of the agreement. Article 1 goes on to say that EDCA will focus on improving interoperability…and for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) addressing short-term capabilities gaps, promoting long-term modernization, and helping maintain and develop additional maritime security, maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities. [emphasis added]

To accomplish these goals, EDCA negotiators agreed that the Philippines would allow U.S. troops and military platforms to access and preposition equipment in certain “agreed locations.” In 2016, Manila and Washington settled on five initial Philippine military bases on which the United States would construct facilities, position equipment, and rotate forces . These were Basa Air Base and Fort Magsaysay, both in Luzon; Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, Palawan; Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu, Visayas; and Lumbia Air Base in Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao. The United States would undertake construction of necessary facilities at those locations, to be eventually handed over to the Philippine military. This would allow for more joint training and boost America’s ability to assist with maritime domain awareness, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and other missions in the short and medium-term, while contributing directly to the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ long-term modernization and capacity-building efforts.

Four of the five EDCA sites are on Philippine Air Force bases, reflecting the agreement’s focus on maritime domain awareness and security, as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, both of which rely heavily on air capabilities that the Philippines is sorely lacking. The fifth, Fort Magsaysay, is the largest military base in the country and the hub for the annual U.S.-Philippines Balikatan joint exercises. The ability to preposition military equipment and rotate more troops there could boost joint training and help modernize the Philippine military.

While each of the five initial locations has certain advantages, Basa and Antonio Bautista Air Bases are most important for accomplishing EDCA’s stated goals (though Mactan and Lumbia could prove important for disaster relief and counter-terror operations, respectively). Most U.S. military aircraft that currently rotate through the country for training or other missions, such as maritime patrol (e.g. P-8 Poseidons that regularly patrol the Spratly Islands) operate from Clark Air Base north of Manila. Basa would provide a much-needed alternative nearby, especially as future U.S. access to Clark is uncertain because of ambitious plans to develop Clark International Airport into an alternative civilian hub for Manila. U.S. combat aircraft rotating through Basa would also be well-placed to respond quickly to any incidents threatening Filipino assets at Scarborough Shoal.

Puerto Princesa, meanwhile, is the home of AFP Western Command and its air component, the Tactical Operations Wing West, whose area of responsibility includes the Spratly Islands. Building up the capacity of this air wing with U.S. assistance is critical if the Philippines hopes to monitor, patrol, and eventually establish a minimum credible defense posture within its exclusive economic zone and disputed land features in the South China Sea. Finally, in the short and medium term, having U.S. combat aircraft rotate through Antonio Bautista would allow rapid response to, and create a deterrent against, attacks on Filipino ships or soldiers in the Spratlys.

Delays, Downgrades, and Diminished Hopes

More than two years later, plans for all five military bases face considerable hurdles, and it is unclear whether two will see any EDCA activity at all. During a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Assistant Secretary of Defense Randy Schriver insisted that the delays were merely bureaucratic, but the problems are much deeper than that and will require serious political effort on both sides to correct.

EDCA’s future became uncertain almost as soon as President Rodrigo Duterte entered office in July 2016. Duterte is famously anti-American and has repeatedly said that the United States cannot be trusted to fulfill its treaty commitments to the Philippines. As evidence, he has cited Washington’s refusal to confirm that the Mutual Defense Treaty applies to the South China Sea—which President Barack Obama did for the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty and the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Most Filipinos remain supportive of the alliance, but America’s failure to confirm that it will step up in the only region where the Philippines is likely to face an external threat raises doubts. And it provides ammunition for Duterte and his allies to chip away at the security relationship, including EDCA.

Throughout his first six months in office, Duterte repeatedly threatened to scrap the agreement, while Lorenzana and the military brass urged its continuation. Eventually, the military’s arguments carried the day, likely bolstered by the important security assistance the United States provided during the May to October 2017 siege of Marawi city. In November, Duterte reaffirmed Manila’s commitment to the deal in a joint statement with President Donald Trump. But in the first year and a half of the Duterte administration, plans for the agreed locations were delayed and, in important ways, downgraded.

In January 2017, Lorenzana said that the United States would prioritize work at Basa, followed by Antonio Bautista and Lumbia Air Bases, with construction at all three expected to start later that year. The first two made perfect sense given EDCA’s original stated goals, which focused on modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, joint training, maritime security and domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Lumbia, the only EDCA site in restive Mindanao, could also boost counterterror cooperation –increasingly relevant after the Marawi siege and one of Manila’s primary objectives, according to Lorenzana – through the agreement. The secretary confirmed that the United States would undertake runway improvements, construct housing for troops, and build storage facilities for equipment, all of which would eventually be transferred to the Philippine military.

But a few days later, Duterte decried rumors that the United States was “unloading arms” at those three bases and insisted he would not allow it. The Philippine defense establishment moved quickly to reassure the president no weaponry was being unloaded, and highlighting EDCA’s focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief while downplaying other aspects of the agreement. Military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla insisted that storage facilities built by the United States would be used to preposition disaster relief supplies like generators, rubber boats, tents and water purifiers. Lorenzana followed this by assuring the president, “There will be no stockpiling of weapons or anything that could be used for war games,” and said Duterte had made that a precondition for continuing with the agreement. The only indication that EDCA sites would still be allowed to contain more than humanitarian assistance and disaster relief warehouses was Padilla’s concession that the United States would be permitted to construct fuel storage facilities that U.S. planes would need during disaster relief operations.

In March 2017, the Philippines suddenly called off plans for EDCA construction at Antonio Bautista. No reason was given, but the decision fit with the Duterte government’s broader effort to deprioritize its maritime disputes with China and reject U.S. security assistance focused on the South China Sea. Lorenzana said at the time that construction would still begin at Basa and Lumbia Air Bases later in 2017.That timeline again proved unrealistic, though planning and survey work for facilities at Basa and Lumbia, along with Fort Magsaysay, slowly moved forward.

Adm. Phil Davidson, nominee to head U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), provided further details on the agreement’s implementation in written responses to the Senate Armed Services Committee last month. The admiral said PACOM would be pursuing construction projects at Basa, Lumbia, and Magsaysay in FY18 and FY19. These include the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief warehouse as well as a Command and Control Fusion Center at Basa. Construction at Lumbia and Magsaysay will likely follow the same footprint, focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief storage. Fuel storage facilities should also be expected at the two air bases, as Padilla said last year. But there is no indication so far that barracks, hangars, storage for other defense equipment and materiel, or any of the other infrastructure to support a robust U.S. rotational presence will be allowed at the three locations.

The situations at Antonio Bautista and Mactan Air Bases are even more worrying. Under the Duterte administration, it appears that plans to expand Philippine armed forces facilities and build EDCA locations at those sites have been deprioritized in favor of more ambitious upgrades to the adjoining civilian airports (which share runways with the military bases) under the government’s push to boost tourism. It is unclear whether EDCA plans at either site will, or can, be reworked to accommodate these civilian initiatives, or whether the Duterte government will be open to such plans. But even if those sites are still being considered, the delays at the other three locations suggest they are unlikely to see construction anytime soon.

Dangers of Delay

Changes to the regional security environment in the four years since EDCA was signed have made Article 1 of the agreement more prescient than negotiators intended. Without robust implementation, both sides will find it increasingly difficult to “maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack,” at least within the South China Sea. China has constructed three large air and naval bases in the contested Spratly Islands, which are now primed for deployments of combat aircraft and have reportedly been equipped with surface-to-air and anti-ship cruise missiles. Every ship or plane near the Spratly Islands is now operating inside Chinese missile range, and will soon be within the combat radius of Chinese fighter jets.

Should there be any violent incident, unless there happens to be a U.S. carrier sailing through the South China Sea, the United States has no combat aircraft nearer than Okinawa and Guam—at distances of about 1,200 and 1,700 nautical miles. Rotational deployments under EDCA could resolve that dilemma. But without fully implementing the defense cooperation agreement, the United States will be incapable of rapidly responding to threats against Filipino troops and vessels in the South China Sea. This could have the perverse effect of making a violent incident between China and the Philippines more likely. The threat of a U.S. response under the Mutual Defense Treaty has been the strongest deterrent against a Chinese use of force. The treaty has allowed Manila to push back against certain Chinese actions, such as the 2014 blockade of the Sierra Madre, because Philippine leaders could be reasonably confident that Beijing would not employ direct military force.

The immediate fault lies with the Duterte administration, but American policymakers have had a role to play as well. By failing to publicly affirm that an attack on Philippine troops or vessels in the South China Sea would fall within the scope of the Mutual Defense Treaty (as the text of the treaty indicates it should), the United States has repeatedly called into question its willingness to live up to its commitment to an ally. Proponents of that ambiguity privately argue that keeping the treaty’s scope vague avoids provoking Beijing and could be quickly remedied with high-level public statements in case of a crisis. But in the meantime, it breeds concerns about U.S. reliability, makes it difficult for defenders of the alliance in Manila to make their case, and reduces the likelihood that EDCA will be implemented as originally envisioned. And without EDCA, the credibility of the U.S. treaty commitment to the Philippines, along with broader U.S. goals in the South China Sea, will be undermined by simple distance. China will be present; the United States will not.
[Gregory B. Poling is director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative and a fellow with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. He oversees research on U.S. foreign policy in the Asia Pacific, with a particular focus on the South China Sea disputes, democratization in Southeast Asia, and Asian multilateralism.

Conor Cronin is a research associate with the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative and was previously a research associate with the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. He conducts research on the maritime disputes of the Asia Pacific and U.S. foreign policy in Southeast Asia.]

Amnesty Offer to Muslim Rebels Brings Calm to Philippine Island

From the Voice of America (May 16): Amnesty Offer to Muslim Rebels Brings Calm to Philippine Island

The Philippine president's offer of work and possible amnesty to holdouts from a violent Muslim rebel group that battled troops last year may bring momentary calm to an embattled southern island, experts say.

President Rodrigo Duterte visited that city, Marawi, on May 11 with pledges to provide shelter and “livelihood assistance” to 27 surrendered holdouts of the Maute Group, the presidential website says.

The group joined hands from May through October last year with the Islamic State-backed Abu Sayyaf rebels to fight troops for control of the largely Muslim city. Their fight was part of a decades-old struggle for Muslim autonomy on the southern Philippine island Mindanao.

Duterte’s move will help deter new violence in Marawi in the short term, analysts say, if he proves sincere. That calm would help the city rebuild, allowing more of its 200,000-plus inhabitants to return after fleeing the war. It might raise hopes among other rebel groups on Mindanao, the historically violent island where Marawi is located, for better interaction with the government, they say.

FILE - Government soldiers stand in front of damaged houses and buildings in Marawi city, Philippines, Oct. 25, 2017.

“It’s a confidence building measure to try to perhaps deal with resentment and fears,” said Maria Ela Atienza, political science professor at University of the Philippines Diliman. “If people of Marawi will indeed be prioritized, then people who sympathize with the Maute Group can look at this as another opening.”

Danger of resurgence

People from Marawi wonder when they can go home. Some worry that government reconstruction will be channeled into an industrial zone rather than the original sites of their homes and stores, Atienza said.

The promise of Chinese reconstruction aid has fanned new fears. she said. China granted $79.5 million in Marawi reconstruction aid as it tries to patch over an old maritime sovereignty dispute. Total reconstruction is due to cost $1.1 billion. Local officials are also talking to a consortium of five Chinese and five Filipino companies about how to rebuild, domestic media reported in April.

FILE - President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during the 121st anniversary celebration of the Philippine Army in Taguig city, east of Manila, Philippines, March 20, 2018.

Duterte’s offers this month came just ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, casting it as a “diplomatic gesture,” said Rhona Canoy, president of an international school in the nearby city Cagayan de Oro and part of a family active in local politics. People from the city feel “a lot of resentment” because of the extent of war damage, she added.

Suspicions fester

For Maute Group members who surrendered, Duterte indicated last week he would offer “idle land” in their home province to grow rubber trees and produce palm oil, the head of state’s website says.

Duterte said on his visit he would look into the possibility of amnesty for Maute rebels with old arrest warrants but willing to surrender. They “should be willing to talk peace” and avoid Islamic State or any alliance with the country’s armed communist rebels, he said.

FILE - Smoke rises in the residential neighborhood of Marawi City as fighting rages between government soldiers and the Maute militant group, in southern Philippines, May 27, 2017.

The president in office since mid-2016 has tried other routes, including talks with the violent founder of another rebel group, to quell violence by Mindanao.

It’s unclear whether Duterte will keep his pledges to Marawi, Atienza said.

Marawi will be hard to pacify long term, Canoy said, because of its history of trade in illegal goods.

Rebel groups in Mindanao have shown a pattern of retrenching under new names or different locations after fights with troops or police. Muslims have lived in the 21 million-population island’s west and outlying islands for some 500 years, chafing at times against the country’s Christian majority over resources.

About 121,000 people have died from related conflicts since the 1960s and 1,127 died in Marawi last year.

“As far as the long-term peace is concerned, that’s never really been Marawi in the first place, so I don’t know how it’s going to work out,” Canoy said. “Marawi has always been a violent city. It’s been our wild west.”

Muslim Mindanao’s 20 rebel groups may want solutions other than amnesty and a livelihood, analysts caution. One group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, wants Congress to pass a stalled law that would give them greater autonomy following a 2014 peace deal, for example.

Duterte asked Congress in April to pass the law this year, domestic media say.

Foreign sympathizers of Islamic State (ISIS), an international terrorist outfit that weakened last year near its bases in Iraq and Syria, might also reenter the Philippines to help rebels, said Enrico Cao, a Ph.D. student of international affairs and strategic studies at Tamkang University in Taiwan.

Philippine officials suspected that Islamic State-backed Indonesians and Malaysians reached Marawi last year to support the Maute rebels.

“I think the military knows that the ISIS flags have been flying in those villages for some time now. And I think the ideology is very difficult to root out,” said Eduardo Araral, associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s public policy school.

Women police officers kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf freed

From the Gulf News (May 17): Women police officers kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf freed
At least 12 militants killed during operations carried out by Philippine troops to secure the release of the two policewomen

Manila: Two women police officers kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf last month in Sulu have been released unharmed by their captors, reports reaching Manila said.

National Police Director-General Oscar Albayalde said Benierose Alvarez and Dinah Gumahad had been released to the custody of Sulu Governor Toto Tan around 10am on Wednesday.

It was unclear whether money changed hands to secure freedom for the two, but the Abu Sayyaf earlier demanded five million pesos (Dh350,638) as ransom for the two police officers.

The two, who were stationed at the Zamboanga City crime laboratory in Calarian, were riding a tricycle taxi on their way to Camp Teodulo Bautista in downtown, Jolo, Sulu when some 11 Abu Sayyaf men abducted them last April 29. They were kidnapped together with two other civilians, identified as Blas Jackosalim Ahamad, and Faizal Ahidji.

Ahamad and Ahidji were released last May 5, reportedly after 300,000 pesos (Dh21,038) ransom was paid for each of them.

Albayalde said he could not say whether ransom was paid for the release of Alvarez and Gumahad.

Rescue operations by the Armed Forces’ Task Force Sulu to secure the release of the two policewomen had resulted in the killing of 12 militants over the past several days.

Three soldiers had died is the same operations while 20 more were injured.

The government under President Rodrigo Duterte had launched a renewed campaign to root out the Abu Sayyaf which were responsible for a number of abductions in Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi as well as in the island of Sabah in Eastern Malaysia.

Sabahan terrorist Amin Baco’s relative killed, says report

From the Philippine News Agency (May 16): Sabahan terrorist Amin Baco’s relative killed, says report
Younger brother of Amin’s father-in-law was among 10 Abu Sayyaf members killed in a clash with Philippine troops in Sulu.

The younger brother of Amin Baco’s father-in-law was among 10 Abu Sayyaf members killed on Sunday, media reports said.

KOTA KINABALU: A Filipino relative of wanted Sabahan terrorist Amin Baco was killed on Sunday in a clash between Philippine troops and the Abu Sayyaf militant group led by two sub-leaders wanted by the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom).

Taha Sawadjaan was one of the 10 Abu Sayyaf members killed during the fighting in Patikul town, Sulu. Two other members were wounded, Philippine media reported yesterday.

Taha was the younger brother of Amin’s father-in-law Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, an Abu Sayyaf sub-leader.

A report said the two wounded were from a combined group led by four Abu Sayyaf sub-leaders including Hatib and Indang Susukan, who are on Esscom’s wanted list.

Another report said Indang and another sub-leader, Jajan Sawadjaan, were also involved in the firefight but may have got away.

One of the two wounded Abu Sayyaf members was Adzren Sawadjaan. It is not clear whether Adzren and Jajan are related to Hatib and Amin.

Two soldiers were also killed and at least 12 others wounded, security officials were quoted as saying. The fighting happened while troops were on a search-and-rescue operation in Patikul for the terrorist group’s kidnap victims.

Sulu Joint Task Force commander Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said the troops encountered the Abu Sayyaf group in a suburb at about 6:15am.

The soldiers also recovered a rifle, ammunition and components of improvised bombs after the clash.

Amin, who is from Tawau, Sabah is also wanted by Esscom. He was believed to have been killed last year while fighting Philippine troops in a siege of Marawi city by Islamic State-affiliated groups.

His body was never found but later the Philippine authorities said they suspected Amin had fled Marawi and was holed up in the mountains off Patikul town under the protection of Hatib.

Indang is suspected to have beheaded a Malaysian hostage, Bernard Then Ted Fen, who was kidnapped from a seafood restaurant in Sandakan three years ago.

Amin, Hatib and Indang are among 16 people on Esscom’s wanted list.

Military to exercise caution in security operations in observance of Ramadan

From the Philippine News Agency (May 16): Military to exercise caution in security operations in observance of Ramadan

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will exercise caution in its security operations in observance of the holy month of Ramadan, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

“The AFP—most especially the Muslims amongst us—is one with the Islamic faith in wishing that this month-long period of penance, prayer and reflection remind each one of us of the value of peace, love and sense of community,” Col. Edgard Arevalo said in a statement.

He also reminded Muslims to remain vigilant while commemorating Ramadan, citing the possibility of “unscrupulous” individuals or groups planning to sow chaos.

“Let us, together, prevent them from disrupting the solemn observance of the Holy Month of Ramadan,” Arevalo said.

Arevalo said soldiers on the ground would exercise “caution and be mindful of the sensitivities called for in the occasion.”

“We will be careful, so we won’t disrupt the celebration of Ramadan, that’s the sensitivity we are referring to,” he told reporters.

“The conduct of our operations is to protect our communities and our people that is why we cannot halt [our operations],” Arevalo said.

Among the perceived threats during the Ramadan are the Abu Sayyaf, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and even the New People’s Army members stationed in Mindanao, Arevalo said.

8 wounded soldiers in NegOcc get medals

From the Philippine News Agency (May 16): 8 wounded soldiers in NegOcc get medals

MEDALS FOR THE WOUNDED. Brigadier General Dinoh Dolina, commander of the Army’s 3rd Division, awards the Wounded Personnel Medal to one of the 62nd Battalion soldiers injured in a clash with communist rebels in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental last May 12. Awarding was held at the Camp Peralta Station Hospital in Jamindan, Capiz on Tuesday (May 15,2018). (Photo courtesy of Philippine Army, 3rd Infantry Division)

BACOLOD CITY -- The eight troopers of the Philippine Army’s 62nd Infantry Battalion injured in a clash with suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental over the weekend were awarded the Wounded Personnel Medal.

In an emailed statement on Tuesday, the 3rd Infantry Division said the awarding rites, led by commander Brig. Gen. Dinoh Dolina, was held at the Camp Peralta Station Hospital in Jamindan, Capiz.

Dolina said the wounded soldiers fought not only for the people, but also defended peace and progress.

“Your Army in Central and Western Visayas are steadfast in their mandate of serving the people and securing the land,” he added.

Those who received the medals were Sgt. Niño Nabaunag, Private First Class (PFC) Angelito Banga, PFC Michael Bersana, PFC Voltair Catamin, PFC Kenneth Cerbo, and Privates John Daryle Delgado, Ryan Las Piñas, and Joven Taghap.

The 62nd Battalion troops encountered about 60 communist rebels while conducting a patrol and combat clearing operation in Sitio Atubon, Barangay Tan-awan early morning last Saturday.

The clash also claimed the lives of Sgt. Sandy Arevalo and PFC Vicente Marcon.

“We express our deepest sympathy to the family of our Spearhead troopers who paid the ultimate sacrifice in serving the Negrenses,” Dolina said, adding that despite the setback, the Army will remain committed in serving the people. “We are ready to protect them against these oppressive and cold-blooded terrorists at all times.”

Meanwhile, three soldiers of the 61st Battalion, Sgt. Paolo Ogaro, PFC Hans Christian de la Cruz, and PFC John Anthony Barrientos, who were wounded by the improvised explosive device planted by the NPA in Calinog, Iloilo last May 5, also received the Wounded Personnel Medal.

PMA Class '82 slams attack on Cebu mayor

From the Philippine News Agency (May 16): PMA Class '82 slams attack on Cebu mayor

The Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Sandigan Class of 1982 has denounced the recent slay attempt on one of its members, former police general and now incumbent Daanbantayan, Cebu Mayor Vicente Loot.

The Philippine Military Academy Sandigan ’82 Association Inc. (PSAI) expressed their strong condemnation of the attack on Loot in a statement dated May 15 but released to the Cebu media on Wednesday.

“The PSAI denounces in no uncertain terms this cowardly attack on their constitutionally protected rights and the safety of one of their members (Loot) and his family,” the statement said.

Last Sunday, around five men armed with M-16 assault rifles sprayed bullets on Loot and his family upon their arrival at the New Maya Port in Daanbantayan from a vacation in Malapascua Island.

Loot and his family were unharmed, but his two drivers and nanny of his grandchild were seriously wounded.

Although they were unscathed, the PSAI said the assault in broad daylight and on the eve of the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections has “traumatized” the Loot family for life.

“This defiant display of armed aggression when the gun ban is strictly imposed by the PNP (Philippine National Police) cannot be countenanced as it is an affront to peace-loving citizens about to participate in the democratic process of selecting their barangay elective officials,” said PSAI.

The PMA Sandigan Class ’82 also appealed to authorities to intensely investigate the incident and bring “swift justice” to Loot and his family.

“We appeal to the leadership of the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct an honest to goodness and unrelenting investigation on this incident, and to leave no stone unturned until the solution of the crime is accomplished. This is the only way by which our people can be assured of a peaceful community to live in,” the PSAI said.

The PSAI statement was signed in Makati City reportedly by more or less 100 retired generals and officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and PNP together with their honorary members.

Loot was named by President Rodrigo Duterte last year as one of the five police generals involved in drugs.

Sarangani to build halfway house for ex-NPA rebels

From the Philippine News Agency (May 16): Sarangani to build halfway house for ex-NPA rebels

The provincial government of Sarangani is pushing for the construction of a halfway house for returning New People’s Army (NPA) rebels this year.

Lizette Lopez, provincial focal person for the Comprehensive Local Integration Program (CLIP), said Wednesday preparations are underway for the establishment of the facility in a 1,168-sq. meter lot in Alabel town.

Lopez said the project will be built through a PHP5-million grant from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

“The DILG has already downloaded the PHP5-million budget for the construction of the halfway house,” she said.

Lopez said the halfway house will have three rooms for males, three rooms for females, a conjugal room, an office, kitchen and a conference room.

The DILG had allotted grants of PHP5 million to local government units, including the province, that have signified to establish a halfway home for returning rebels as a component of the CLIP.

A halfway home or house is a temporary residence that serves as the processing center for former rebels.

The facility could also be used to cater to other individuals in crisis situations, such as victims of violence against women and children, juvenile delinquents, former convicts and times of disaster.

Pending the completion of Sarangani’s halfway house, returning rebels in the area now stay in an Army camp for protection while undergoing the CLIP process.

Lt. Col. Marion Angcao, commanding officer of the Army’s 73rd Infantry Battalion, said at least 15 NPA rebels already surrendered to troops operating in the province this year.

He said the rebels, who were under units operating in the hinterlands of Malapatan and Alabel towns, yielded voluntarily along with six M-16 rifles, two AK47 rifles and a Cal. 30 M2 carbine rifle.

Since 2011, he said a total of 159 rebels from different parts of the province have already surrendered to them.

Lopez said some 127 returnees have so far availed of the PHP65,000 livelihood and immediate cash assistance from the DILG under the CLIP.

She said the provincial government and concerned municipal governments provided a counterpart assistance of PHP5,000 to each of the returnees who did not meet the requirements set by the DILG.

CLIP reintegrates former rebels into the social mainstream and seeks to uplift their socio-economic conditions to enable them to become active partners in local development.

Army’s 6ID gets citation for anti-terrorism campaign

From the Philippine News Agency (May 17): Army’s 6ID gets citation for anti-terrorism campaign

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao--The Philippine Army has cited the 6th Infantry Division (ID) for its "effective" campaign against violent extremism in its area of jurisdiction, Army Lt. Gen. Arnel dela Vega said here Thursday.

Dela Vega, commander of the 6ID which covers the whole of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, part of North Cotabato and part of Lanao del Sur, said the citation has boosted the morale of the officers as well as the men and women of the “Kampilan” division.

“Currently, the 6ID is actively implementing various civil-military operations to prevent extremists from infiltrating Moro communities in Maguindanao and at the same time successfully preventing the Islamic State-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) from expanding outside,” dela Vega said.

Col. Markton Abo, 6th ID civil military officer, received the commendation at the Army headquarters in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City on Wednesday.

Dela Vega said the award would inspire the 6th ID personnel to sustain the gains of the anti-terrorism campaign that could mean more BIFF members neutralized or convinced to surrender and become productive citizens of Maguindanao.

He also attributed the division's "successful campaign" against lawless elements to community stakeholders, such as local government officials, the police, and residents "who on many occasions provided the Army with timely and accurate information on the activities of lawless elements and terrorists in the 6ID area of responsibility."

Since January this year, at least 15 BIFF members have turned themselves in, along with their firearms, dela Vega said.

Improvised bomb shuts down Maguindanao highway

From the Philippine News Agency (May 17): Improvised bomb shuts down Maguindanao highway

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao--Traffic along the highway in Maguindanao was shut down for more than an hour Thursday morning after soldiers and militiamen found an improvised explosive device (IED) by the roadside.

The IED, fashioned from combined 60mm mortar and 40 mm rifle grenade with mobile phone as triggering device, was found by patrolling government troopers around 6 a.m. in Sitio Panang, Barangay Salbu, Datu Saudi Ampatuan.

The IED was successfully disabled by Army bomb disposal experts at 7:30 a.m.,” Capt. Arvin John Encinas, speaking for the 6th Infantry Division based in Camp Siongco, Barangay Awang, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao, said.

He said elements of the Army’s 57th Infantry Battalion and members of Maguindanao Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) were conducting foot patrol along the highway as the Ramadan fasting month began Thursday when they found the bomb.

Encinas said no one claimed responsibility in the foiled bombing but military intelligence unit is eyeing the IS-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) that operates in the peripheries of the town as the ones behind the foiled attack.

He noted that the IED could be intended for military convoys that regularly pass by the Barangay Salbu section of the highway.

ECS of PH Rise, 11 years in the making

From the Philippine News Agency (May 13): ECS of PH Rise, 11 years in the making

PH RISE. National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) Deputy Administrator Efren Carandang talks about the Philippine Rise, formerly known as Benham Rise, in an interview with the Philippine News Agency. On May 16, the all-Filipino scientific research team is scheduled to visit the Philippine Rise, an important fishing ground for tuna fishermen from Infanta and Real in Quezon; Baler, Aurora; Catanduanes; and other adjacent provinces along the northern tip of the Philippines. (PNA photo by Noel D. Veloso)

Did you know that the country's first validated claim under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), or the additional 118-nautical mile extended continental shelf (ECS) of the Philippines Rise took more than a decade for the country to hold?

The story of the country's claim on Philippine Rise, known as Benham Rise, began with a workshop in 2001 to assist the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources's (DENR) National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) on the implementation of then freshly ratified UNCLOS.

NAMRIA Deputy Administrator Efren Carandang told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) that the plateau, much more the potential ECS, during those times was a relatively unknown area of the Pacific Ocean east of Luzon, "a blank canvass."

From 2004 to 2010, NAMRIA conducted a total of 23 survey cruises in the area, where they were able to discover saddles or connection in the natural prolongation of Luzon.

Carandang shared that experts who were studying the area back then warned NAMRIA the survey may be a lost cause.

"Sabi nila wala (nang makikita) because of the Philippine trench. What NAMRIA did is to survey every corner in the seabed," he said. "Then we saw a saddle--a connection. It was deep, but it was a connection. At the Palanan saddle, it was the same, we established there was a connection."

"So dati para lang siyang blank canvass, you can't imagine how it looked. It's through our surveys that we were able to figure out the configuration of Benham Rise."

The Philippine Rise region, comprised of the 200-nautical-mile continental shelf from the baselines of Luzon, extends 118 NM beyond the legal continental shelf limits.

Its main body is like a plateau with its broad crest and steep slopes toward the deep ocean floor of the West Philippine Basin. Meanwhile, it's comprised of the NAMRIA-discovered Palanan Saddle and the Bicol Saddle.

It has also two prominent spurs: the Narra Spur in the northeast and the Molave Spur in the southeast.

Submission on Benham Rise
After establishing the connection on the natural promulgation of Luzon, the next step was to mark the ECS. To claim this, the Philippines had to make its Submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), the deadline of which was on May 13, 2009.

A few months after it made the submission on April 8, 2009, the country made its first presentation to the CLCS en banc on Aug. 15, 2009.

According to a Benham Rise primer written by Carandang and Dr. Jay Batongbacal, the Philippine presentation led by Ambassador Minerva Falcon, concluded the meeting on a "very optimistic note."

At first, the team thought the Philippines would have to wait five more years before the CLCS would begin its consideration on the Submission. To their elation, a notification in January 2011 came saying the CLCS Subcommission had began validating the claim, and that it had already sent technical questions.

From the period of August 2011 to April 2012, the Philippines engaged the CLCS Subcommission for Benham Rise with several meeting. At least eight written response and six presentations from the Philippine delegation was submitted. While the Subcommission provided four written responses and four presentations.

On April 12, 2012, the Philippine delegation made its final presentation to the CLCS en banc, before latter's deliberation on the Philippine Submission.

It was on the same day that the CLCS of the United Nations confirmed that Philippine Rise is part of the country's continental shelf and the ECS.

According to the primer, the outer limits of the ECS now, as established on the basis of the CLCS recommendations, are defined by 226 points, covering a seabed area of 135,506 square kilometers.

Through the process of validating the claims, Carandang shared that the challenging part was really collecting a substantial amount of data to craft a solid submission.

"We have to collect a lot of data, before it was like a blank canvass, we don't have an idea what is the configuration of the area so we really had to do a very detailed study," he said. "We have to prove there was no cut, that there is a connection."

"We're happy that when we faced the CLCS, while there were many questions, all were answered satisfactorily."

On April 12, 2012, the UN, through recommendations of the CLCS, awarded the ECS to the Philippines.

On May 16, 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 25 renaming Benham Rise to Philippine Rise.

Six years since the region fell under the Philippine maritime jurisdiction, on May 16 this year, experts and government officials will lead an expedition to visit the area off Aurora province.

"We are visiting it now to mark the first anniversary of (Philippine) Rise. On this occasion, we are deploying 70 scientists aboard three research ships of the Navy, DENR and BFAR. We will also deploy the two biggest ships of the Philippine Navy and several others from Philippine Coast Guard, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and Philippine National Police. Air assets will also be patrolling the area," National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said.