Sunday, June 3, 2018

3 Reds surrender in Soccsksargen

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 3): 3 Reds surrender in Soccsksargen

The campaign against the New People’s Army (NPA) continued to gain ground in Mindanao as three more rebels surrendered to the military in the past two days.

Capt. Jerry Lamosao, the Army's 10th Infantry Division (ID) spokesperson, said Saturday three NPA members in Region 12 (Soccsksargen) abandoned the Communist armed group and brought with them their firearms.

On Saturday, two NPA members operating in South Cotabato gave themselves up to troops of the 27th Infantry Battalion (IB) in Barangay Upper Sepaka, Surallah, South Cotabato.

Goyo Lagal Pandatu, 27, married and a resident of Barangay Moloy, Surallah, South Cotabato and Toto Lumbay Sore alias Toto, 32, married and a resident of Barangay Upper Sepaka, also in Surallah, surrendered with their firearms -- an M16 rifle, an improvised M79 rifle and a Caliber .45 Thompson sub-machine gun.

Last Friday, the 73rd IB received Boy Cabisa Diale, alias Busaw, in Barangay Upper Suyan, Malapatan, Sarangani province.

Capt. Mc Gary Dida, the civil-military operations officer of the 1002nd IB, said Diale, 75, married and a resident of Sitio Lino, Barangay Upper Suyan also surrendered his M16 (Bushmaster) rifle to troops of the 73rd IB.

Pandatu, Sore and Diale had told the military in an interview that they left the NPA because they were tired of being on the run due to the continued military operation against the armed group and the fear of an encounter with government troops.

Their surrender followed a series of encounters between government security forces and the NPA in T’boli, South Cotabato and Maasim, Sarangani that resulted in the apprehension of one NPA terrorist, and the recovery of four high-powered firearms.

“We will keep on intensifying our efforts in security operations, Community Support Programs, information gathering and collaboration with our stakeholders to further our gains and preempt possible atrocities planned by the NPA terrorists," said Lt. Col. Jones Brisal Otida, commander of the 27th IB.

Pandatu, Sore and Diale are the latest surrenderers in the list of the 10th ID.

Lamosao said 333 members of the NPA; 529 members of the Militia ng Bayan; 212 members of the Sangay ng Partido sa Localidad; 5,407 NPA supporters; and 11 members of left-leaning groups have surrendered from January to May 31.

Over the same period, Lamosao said, the military has also recorded 173 firearms surrendered and 114 recovered from military operations, along with 141 improvised explosive devices recovered.

He further said that the military has arrested 24 NPA members, including top leader Elizalde Cañete alias Jinggoy, who is currently detained at the Davao City Jail.

Dida said the latest surrenderers will be presented to the local governments of South Cotabato and Sarangani so they could be given immediate assistance and enrolled in the Comprehensive Local Integration Program. There will also be additional cash assistance for their surrendered firearms.

Major Gen. Noel S. Clement, commander of the 10th ID, assured that the military will continue to be steadfast in putting the NPA in a state where it can no longer influence people in communities where the 10th ID is operating.

Clement vowed that the 10th ID will continue to intensify its security operation and collaboration with stakeholders to protect and secure the people.

PAF allots P53.5-M for 'Huey' parts

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 3): PAF allots P53.5-M for 'Huey' parts

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) is looking for suppliers of structural, hydraulic, rotor and flight control systems needed for the repair and maintenance of its one of UH-IH/D "Huey" combat utility helicopters.

The budget for the project, according the bid bulletin posted at the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System, is PHP53.5 million.

The submission and opening of bids will be held at the PAF Procurement Center Conference Room, Villamor Air Base, Pasay City on Thursday.

"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 (Republic Act No.) 9184 and its IRR (Implementing Rules and Regulations), 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 PAF operates 30 to 40 units of the "Huey" helicopters for transport, supply and medical evacuation missions.

RIMPAC to make PH Navy more efficient, effective

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 3): RIMPAC to make PH Navy more efficient, effective

The Philippine Navy’s (PN) participation in this year's Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval drills in Hawaii will greatly enhance its operational capability, making it more efficient and effective in its mandated task.

"The PN’s participation in this undertaking is expected to advance its maritime operational capability to multilateral level, thereby increasing readiness and interoperability and enabling the nation’s premiere maritime force to be more effective and efficient in the conduct of its mandated task," Navy spokesperson Capt. Lued Lincuna said in statement over the weekend.

Two Navy ships, the strategic sealift vessel BRP Davao Del Sur (LD-602) and frigate BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF-17), along with its Agusta Westland AW-109 naval helicopter, will participate in RIMPAC 2018 on June 27 to August 2.

These assets, along with an estimated 700 sailors and marines, are expected to depart from Cebu to the Hawaiian training area by June 6.

The RIMPAC maneuvers, considered to be the world's largest international maritime war games, are led by the US Navy's Pacific Fleet. Its theme this year is "Capable, Adaptive, Partners”.

Lincuna said this is the first time the PN will be deploying naval and air assets to RIMPAC.

"In the past years, we were active and regularly sending participants as observers for the RIMPAC but this time it will be the first that we will be sending our ships (Tarlac-class and Del Pillar-class) and aircraft (AW-109) and around 700 sailors and marines," he added.

Septuagenarian NPA gives up after decades of fighting

From the Manila Bulletin (Jun 3): Septuagenarian NPA gives up after decades of fighting

Saying that he’s already tired of fighting against the government, a 75-year-old New People’s Army (NPA) combatant surrendered to military authorities in Malapatan, Sarangani over the weekend.

Brig. Gen. Robert Ancan, 1002nd Infantry Brigade commander, said Boy Cabisa Diale, a resident of Barangay Upper Suyan, Malapatan, Sarangani, surrendered to 73rd Infantry Battalion officials based in Malapatan town.

Ancan said the NPA surrenderee also turned over his M-16 Bushmaster Armalite rifle.

Diale said he decided to surrender because of the failed promises of the NPA leaders, who reneged on their promises to uplift their economic condition.

He said he had been an NPA combatant for the past 50 years, and yet his life in the mountain remained miserable these past decades.

“I’m already old and tired of always on the run from the government forces who had been hunting us down in the mountains,” Diale said.

He said he wanted to start a new peaceful life and avail the government’s peace and reconciliation initiatives.

Capt. Garry Dida, 1002nd Civil military officer, said Diale will be turned over to the Sarangani provincial government which will enlist him to the Comprehensive Local Integration Prog (CLIP) wherein he will be given livelihood training and assistance.

More than 200 NPA rebels in Sarangani have already surrendered to authorities since 2016, and have availed the livelihood assistance under the CLIP program.

Duterte eyes purchasing Bell choppers from SoKor

From the Philippine News Agency (Jun 3): Duterte eyes purchasing Bell choppers from SoKor

President Rodrigo Duterte said Sunday the Philippine government is considering the purchase of Bell helicopters from South Korea to boost the capability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“I went here, I’m trying to, the day after tomorrow, to buy helicopters for… we can look here in South Korea,” Duterte said in his speech before nearly 2,000 Filipinos who gathered at the Grand Hilton Hotel in Seoul.

Duterte is on a three-day visit to Seoul to further strengthen Philippine-South Korean bilateral ties, especially on trade, investments and defense and security.

The Philippines was supposed to purchase 23 helicopters from Canada but Duterte ordered the cancellation of the USD234-million deal last February after the Canadian government set conditions that the choppers should not be used for combat operations.

“You know, originally we had them. We ordered Bell (helicopters) from Canada. They said they will deliver Bell helicopters but you cannot use it against you own citizens,” the President said.

The Canadian government said the choppers should be used only for “air ambulance” but Duterte said the Philippines has to protect its citizens from enemies of the state.

“My citizens are joining the New People’s Army, the communists, and they are fighting (against the) government and killing my soldiers and my policemen and civilians. It’s a dirty war and the people are dying,” he explained.

Duterte said the country is also facing a problem on terrorism, which, he predicted, would remain in the next 10 to 15 years.

Aside from fighting terrorism and criminality, he vowed to continue his war on drugs and his campaign against graft and corruption.

“I said only four. Corruption and I’m doing it. I said illegal drugs and criminality. And talk to the enemies of the state to seek peace,” he said.

Duterte said his government has already been talking with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front, as well as with the New People’s Army, particularly with communist leader Jose Maria Sison.

Meanwhile, the President thanked the South Korean government for treating well the more than 66,000 Filipinos living and working in Korea.

“I would like to thank (the South Korean) government for hosting so many Filipinos here and keeping them safe here,” Duterte said.

Accompanied by his Cabinet members, Duterte was welcomed by nearly 2,000 flag-carrying and cheering Filipinos who chanted his name after the President was introduced by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.

Duterte is scheduled to have a bilateral meeting with South Korea President Moon Jae-in at the Blue House on Monday.

The two leaders will then witness the signing of major agreements on transportation, science and technology, trade and economic cooperation, and a loan agreement on the New Cebu International Container Port project.

15 NPA terrorists, 63 militia men surrender; AFP claims victory

From the Manila Bulletin (May 31): 15 NPA terrorists, 63 militia men surrender; AFP claims victory

CAMP JAIME N. FERRER SR., Bislig City – Field commanders of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) claimed strategic victory on Thursday following the surrender of 15 heavily armed Communist New People’s Army Terrorists (CNTs) and 63 members of Militia ng Bayan (MB), during surrender rites held at this military camp in Northeastern Mindanao today (May 31).

FILE PHOTO: Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Mark Balmores | Manila Bulletin File Photo)

The surrenderees were formally presented by Brig. Gen. Andres C. Centino, commanding general of the 401stInfantry (Unity) Brigade and Lt. Col. Jaime R. Datuin, commanding officer of the Army’s 75th Infantry (Marauder) Battalion to Maj. Gen. Ronald C. Villanueva, commanding general of the Army’s Northeastern and Northern Mindanao 4th Infantry (Diamond) Division (4th ID).

The armed CNTs also yielded 14 high-powered automatic rifles and 20 low-powered firearms and several bomb materials and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

“This is a big blow against the communist movement in this part of Mindanao and I commend our field units for the continuing success of their operations,” said Maj. Gen. Villanueva.

Local government unit officials based here and officials from neighboring province of Agusan del Sur led by Provincial Board member Santiago B. Cane, Jr. and by Mayor Edwin G. Elorde of Bunawan town, Agusan del Sur, also witnessed the surrender rites.

“This is a result of the efforts of all units in the area and local government unit officials, since the start of our anti-insurgency drive, as more CNTs are coming to the fold of the government,” said Brig. Gen. Centino.

The surrenderees took their oath of allegiance to the Republic, with Bunawan town Mayor Edwin G. Elorde officiating.

Top AFP officials in the region led by Maj. Gen. Villanueva welcomed the former rebels after the oath-taking ceremony.

Meanwhile, the command group of the 4th ID here today (May 31) welcomed back the 75th Infantry (Marauder) Battalion (75th IB) in a reassignment ceremony held at Camp Jaime N Ferrer Sr., here.

The 75th IB traces its roots from the famed 26th Infantry Battalion Combat Team in 1950s which earned distinction in Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog. In 1970s, it was reorganized, refitted and retrained, then designated as 26th Infantry (Ever Onward) Battalion of 4th ID that was deployed in the provinces of Lanao del Norte and Sur, Zamboanga del Sur, Basilan and Sulu archipelago.

n 1980s, when First Scout Ranger Regiment (FSRR) was activated, the unit was absorbed into the new organization and became the 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion that covered Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon provinces. When FSRR was deactivated, 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion with 10th Scout Ranger Company was reorganized again to become the 75th IB that is the strike unit of 6th Infantry (Kampilan) Division effective January 1, 1990.

From then, 75th IB was deployed to different areas in Mindanao from Davao City to Sultan Kudarat to Maguindanao, to Cotabato City, to Davao del Sur and North Cotabato from mid to late 1990s.

Remarkably, the unit participated in the all-out-war of the government against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which resulted in the fall of Camp Abubakar and its satellite camps. Further, 75th IB was deployed to Sarangani province and was adjudged as the Best Battalion of 6ID in 2001.

From 2001 to 2009, 75th IB confronted different threat groups of: MILF, Abu Sayaff Group, and Misuari Breakaway Group in the different areas of deployment in Southern and Western parts of Mindanao.

On December 23, 2009, 75th IB was placed under operational control again of 4ID and was given the area of Southern Bukidnon and Wao and Bombaran of Lanao del Sur under 403rd Infantry Brigade. 75IB was transferred to the control of 402nd Infantry Brigade that covers the area of Lianga, Barobo, Tagbina, Hinattuan and Bislig City, all of Surigao del Sur and San Francisco, Bunawan and Rosario, all of Agusan del Sur.

Currently four Infantry Brigades, and 13 Infantry Battalions are deployed in the whole 4th ID area of responsibility that includes Caraga region, parts of Northern Mindanao and 2nd district of North Cotabato.

“4th Infantry Division is happy that finally 75th Infantry Battalion is back to its home and now a member of ‘Team Diamond. The 75th IB is an experienced combat unit of Mindanao and has confronted different kinds of threat groups – NPA terrorists, MILF, ASG and MBG that have made them what they are now.

“To 75th IB, welcome back to Team Diamond! I know that 75th IB will be doing its best to help 4ID achieve its mission of securing the populace in our area to achieve the peace and development they deserve” added Maj. Gen. Villanueva.

‘BBL not a magic bullet’

From the Philippine Star (Jun 2): ‘BBL not a magic bullet’

Anna Tarhata Basman, former head of the legal team of the government panel in the BBL, said the law is not a silver bullet for the generations of problems besetting the Bangsamoro region.

The passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) is a step forward, but it will not solve all the problems in Muslim Mindanao, a former member of the government peace panel said.

Anna Tarhata Basman, former head of the legal team of the government panel in the BBL, said the law is not a silver bullet for the generations of problems besetting the Bangsamoro region.

“It is a step forward towards that goal of peace and development in the region, but definitely it cannot solve the host of problems in the region,” she said Wednesday night in an interview with The Chiefs aired on One News, the news channel of Cignal TV.

“(The region) suffered from years of neglect. It suffered from years of criminality born by the absence of government at some point in history, patronage politics at some point in history. All of these things will not be solved by the enactment of one law,” she added.

Basman stressed the importance of faithfully implementing the provisions of the law to prevent the rise of new groups that would feed on the frustrations of the people.

“There should be a realization that the full implementation, the good faith implementation of the peace agreement, has an effect on the emergence and growing of strength of new groups,” she said.

“We should realize that the emergence of these groups did not come from the signing of the peace agreement. It is the failure to implement it properly,” Basman added.

She noted that the versions recently approved in the House and Senate were acceptable to various parties involved in the peace process and in the crafting of the BBL.

“It covers the host of governance problems that the parties saw in the ARMM that if we keep true to those provisions, if they are retained and properly implemented, then I’m OK with that,” she said.

In the same program, Akbayan party-list Rep. Tom Villarin, a member of the technical working group that crafted the House version, agreed that the BBL should not be seen as a “cure all” for all the problems or concerns of the Bangsamoro people.

He recommended the crafting of a separate law that would address the historical injustices committed against the Muslims in Mindanao.

“While there is a provision on transitional justice, I think we also need a comprehensive law to address all (of these injustices),” he said.

“It should take some sort of a commission to really look into that. BBL is just a governance mechanism that tried to pull in different factions or groups,” he added.

Villarin said members of the bicameral conference committee can meet even when Congress is in recess to consolidate the Senate and House versions of the bill.

He said lawmakers can ratify the bicameral conference report when Congress resumes session on the day of the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of the President on July 23.

Reports earlier said that the President wants to sign the BBL on the day of his SONA.

Villarin, however, stressed that Congress should not rush passage of the law, noting there are major contentious provisions in the House and Senate versions of the BBL.
Enough time

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, chairman of the subcommittee on the BBL, believes there is enough time for Congress to come up with a consolidated and final version of the measure that President Duterte can talk about in his SONA.

“We’ll just take a brief rest after the very tiring deliberations on the BBL and start working on the first week of July the bicam (bicameral conference committee),” Zubiri said in a telephone interview.

The committee, often referred to as the “third chamber of Congress,” is composed of representatives of the Senate and the House.

The Senate approved its version on Thursday with over 150 amendments from the 109-page draft written by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), which is composed of representatives from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Moro National Liberation Front and other sectors in Mindanao.

The House version is closer to the BTC draft. The BBL seeks to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Zubiri, who will lead the Senate contingent to the bicameral committee, reiterated that the BBL, as passed by the Senate, would be able to withstand a constitutional challenge before the Supreme Court.

“We survived walking on a tightrope, balancing the search for peace, right to self-determination, governance and democracy… and we did it crossing party lines,” Zubiri said. “Even at this early stage, the BBL is a legacy for all the efforts to bring about peace and progress in lands which most experienced poverty, inequity and war in the Philippines.”

Also included in the Senate contingent are Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sens. Risa Hontiveros, Loren Legarda, Sonny Angara, Sherwin Gatchalian, Aquilino Pimentel III and Joel Villanueva.

Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas will lead the House contingent which will include Reps. Pedro Acharon Jr.. Mauyag Papandayan Jr., Ruby Sahali, Bai Sandra Sema, Pablo Bondoc, Johnny Ty Pimentel, Eugene Michael de Vera, Arthur Defensor Jr., Rodolfo Albano III, Amihilda Sangcopan, Wilter Wee Palma, Celso Lobregat, Mohamad Dimaporo, Abdullah Dimaporo, Romeo Acop, Seth Frederick Jalosjos and Angelina Tan.

Red leaders seek court permits to attend Netherlands talks

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 2): Red leaders seek court permits to attend Netherlands talks

FILE- Communist Party of the Philippines leaders (right and left) Benito Tiamzon and his wife, Wilma. PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER / NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

Five consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have asked a Manila regional trial court (RTC) to allow them to travel to the Netherlands this month ahead of the resumption of formal peace negotiations with the government.

In separate urgent motions, Benito Tiamzon, chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) when he was arrested with his wife Wilma in 2014; Adelberto Silva; Rafael Baylosis; Randall Echani; and Vicente Ladlad urged RTC Branch 32 Judge Thelma Bunyi-Medina to allow them to fly to Utrecht on June 3.

The petitioners said they would participate in back-channel talks and consultations prior to the holding of fifth round of talks with the government panel.

The five, along with several other suspected communist leaders and former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo, face 15 counts of murder before the court for their alleged involvement in the killing of 15 civilians whose remains were found in a mass grave in 2006 in Inopacan, Leyte province.

Comment pending

Medina has not resolved the motions, however, pending comment from state prosecutors, said Edre Olalia, the petitioners’ legal counsel and secretary of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers.

The fresh round of the Norwegian-brokered peace negotiations are expected to work out a deal on a joint interim ceasefire, social and economic reforms and human rights issues.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, chair of the government peace panel, said an interim peace agreement to pave the way for the resumption of formal peace talks had been worked out by both parties in back-channel talks.

In their motions to travel, the five communist leaders argued that their participation was indispensable in the drafting of a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms—a key point in the fifth round of talks.

Tiamzon and Silva, meanwhile, requested that the court also lift their arrest warrants issued on Jan. 11.

No ‘coalition’ government in peace pact, chief NDFP negotiator says

From ABS-CBN (Jun 1): No ‘coalition’ government in peace pact, chief NDFP negotiator says

The chief peace negotiator for Maoist rebels insisted Friday they were not demanding to be part of a coalition government, one of the reasons previously cited by President Rodrigo Duterte for the breakdown of peace talks last year.

“We never asked for a coalition government. We said this can come as a result of agreements,” said Fidel Agcaoili, chairman of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines’ (NDFP) peace panel.

Duterte earlier sounded the alarm on what he suspected was the rebels’ plan to establish a coalition government at the end of the peace negotiations.

He said it was something he could not give.


Agcaoili said “any such government will depend on the balance of forces.”

“In this instance, we’re saying, let’s have these agreements,” he told ANC’s Early Edition. “Then let’s have an election where we can also take part and perhaps, jointly tayo, as a coalition party or whatever movement.”

Political and constitutional reforms are among the main agenda items in the protracted peace process, which is aimed at ending nearly 50 years of Maoist rebellion in the Philippines.

While government continued to negotiate peace with the rebels, Duterte is pushing for the broader federalism project, which is expected to encompass wide-ranging systemic and structural reforms in the economy and the political system.

A Duterte-formed committee now drafting a new federal constitution was supposed to include representatives from the NDFP, ABS-CBN News has learned.

But its slots were left vacant in the 25-man group as the peace talks were derailed for months, following continued attacks by the New People’s Army on government troops.

NPA eyes ‘integration’ with AFP

From the Manila Standard (Jun 1): NPA eyes ‘integration’ with AFP

A communist leader said the New People’s Army rebels should be “integrated” with the Philippine military should the peace talks between the rebels and the government negotiators succeed.

According to Fidel Agcaoili, chairman of the National Democratic Front’s peace panel, he expects longer negotiations on the final item in the agenda covering the
“end of hostilities and disposition of forces.”

Presently, the NPA boasts of an estimated force of close to 4,000 combatants, which the military claimed to have been responsible for attacks on state troops in the countryside.

“The [government panel] has to exercise a certain flexibility there,” Agcaoili said in an interview.

“Kasi if what they have in mind is simply decommissioning [of rebel forces], eh walang mangyayari.”

Agcaoili said integrating NPA rebels in the armed forces could be a “form of disposition of forces,” citing the case of former members of the Moro National Liberation Front following its final peace agreement in 1996.

“We should be creative. There are many forms,” he added, as he suggested that some rebels could also serve as forest guards or work in certain industries.

Army blames NPA for killing of lumad leader

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 1): Army blames NPA for killing of lumad leader
The military on Friday blamed anew communist rebels for Wednesday’s killing of another lumad leader in Southern Mindanao region.

Lt. Col. Gilbert Ombos, 60th Infantry Battalion commander, said Datu Laurelio Tilacan was gunned down by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels as he was heading to his farm in Bollukan village in Laak town, Compostela Valley province.

Ombos said the 43-year-old lumad leader was with his 15-year-old son on his way to his farm, some 500 meters from his house, when armed men believed to be members of the NPA’s Pulang Bagani Company (PBC) 4 and Section Committee 3 appeared and opened fire on him around 8 a.m.

Tilacan died there and then but his son was unharmed, Ombos said.

Tilacan, an Ata-Manobo, was the latest leader of his tribe to be killed by alleged NPA rebels in Southern Mindanao.

Last February, communist insurgents also murdered Ata-Manobo chieftain Datu Banadjao Mampaundang and his son, Jhonard, in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

On December 19, Datu Benandao Maogan was also killed outside his house in Barangay Gupitan in Kapalong town.

Ombos believed the murders were due to the IP leaders’ refusal to cooperate with, and allow the NPA in their communities.

Mindanao’s Insurgencies Take an Explosive Turn

From The Diplomat (Jun 1): Mindanao’s Insurgencies Take an Explosive Turn (By Michael Hart)

Under rising pressure from the military, Mindanao’s armed groups are increasingly turning to IEDs.

Mindanao’s Insurgencies Take an Explosive Turn

Philippine National Police Bomb Squad remove items at the scene following two overnight explosions in Manila's Quiapo district, Philippines (May 7, 2017).  Image Credit: AP Photo/Bullit Marquez
The triple suicide bombings targeting churches in the Indonesian city of Surabaya in mid-May focused global attention on the explosive tactics of Islamic State-linked militant groups in Southeast Asia. Yet while the scale of the attacks in Surabaya sent shockwaves through the region, 1,500 kilometers to the northeast on the Philippines’ insurgency-plagued southern island of Mindanao, IED (improvised explosive device) attacks by Islamist groups have risen steadily since the end of the Marawi siege last October.
The bombing of a cathedral in Koronadal city injured three people in late April, while an explosion in a crowded bar in Jolo left another 10 civilians wounded in early-May. These IED attacks were among the latest aimed at harming civilians in the region. The first was carried out by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) while the second occurred in a stronghold of the notorious Abu Sayyaf group.

Yet more often security forces have been the preferred target of IED blasts, launched with increased regularity not only by Islamist groups but also the communist rebels of the New People’s Army (NPA). With Mindanao under an extended period of Martial Law – which was first imposed by President Rodrigo Duterte at the height of the five-month Marawi siege – the long-troubled island’s plethora of armed groups appear to be turning to IEDs as they come under sustained pressure from military operations.

The use of IEDs is nothing new in the southern Philippines, which has a history of large-scale militant bombings. However, in the current context, an influx of foreign fighters trained in bomb-making has been amplified by insurgent groups shifting to more covert, guerrilla-style tactics in response to the ongoing crackdown by government forces in Mindanao, resulting in a surge in small-scale IED attacks.

To what extent are IEDs becoming a weapon of choice in Mindanao’s multiple insurgencies? And what is being done to mitigate the growing threat from these makeshift devices before it escalates further?

Rising IED Attacks in Mindanao Since the Marawi Siege

The use of IEDs was a key tactic employed by the ISIS-aligned Maute group as they laid siege to Marawi from May to October last year, and this trend has continued across Mindanao since the jihadist uprising was extinguished by the Philippine military. According to data obtained through local media reports, the final three months of 2017 witnessed 10 attempted IED attacks by armed groups in the region. Nine of the devices detonated, resulting in four deaths and 30 injuries. In the first three months of 2018 the number of attempted attacks almost doubled to 19, with 15 of the devices exploding as intended, killing another four people and leaving 25 wounded. So far, the trend has continued during April and May, with another 16 attempted attacks since the beginning of April maiming at least 24 people. Three groups – Abu Sayyaf, the BIFF, and the NPA – are mostly responsible.
The threat varies geographically across the island. In western provinces of Mindanao, the ISIS-aligned militants of the BIFF have carried-out the majority of IED attacks – 31 since the beginning of October. In some of the larger attacks attributed to the BIFF, on December 8 three devices exploded in separate locations across Maguindanao province, wounding a police officer and seven soldiers; while on New Year’s Eve a bomb exploded onboard a motorcycle near the entrance to a packed bar in Tacurong city, killing two civilians and leaving another 16 wounded. The region’s longer-established Islamist militants of Abu Sayyaf have also carried out IED attacks in the western maritime provinces of Basilan and Sulu.

In eastern Mindanao, the IED threat emanates primarily from the Maoist rebels of the NPA, who have waged a long-running insurgency against the government since 1969. The group has used IEDs on seven occasions so far in Mindanao this year. Whereas Abu Sayyaf and the BIFF often target civilians, the NPA uses explosive devices to ambush security patrols. In late February an IED blast killed a soldier and left two others wounded near Davao, while on March 20 three soldiers were injured after the rebels used a roadside IED to blow up a military truck in Compostela Valley. In early March the army discovered a cache of bomb-making materials in Bukidnon and later announced the seizure of 174 IEDs from the group during the first two months of 2018, evidencing the growing scale of the threat.

What explains the increasing number of IED attacks launched by armed groups in Mindanao?

An important first point to note – as mentioned earlier– is that IED attacks are not a new phenomenon in the Philippines. The country has previously been rocked by several mass-casualty attacks involving explosives, most notoriously when Abu Sayyaf bombed a passenger ferry in Manila Bay in February 2004, killing 116 people. More recently, Islamist militants bombed a busy night market in Davao city in September 2016, killing 15 and leaving more than 70 wounded. In addition to large-scale, attention-grabbing attacks targeting civilians, militant groups in the conflict-affected south – in particular Abu Sayyaf – have a history of using IEDs against the security forces. The problem was exacerbated by the influx of al-Qaeda- and Jemaah Islamiyah-affiliated militants trained in bomb-making skills during the 1990s, such as Indonesian jihadist Rahman al-Ghozi and the Malaysian expert bomb-maker, Marwan.
Influx of Foreign Fighters and the Transfer of Bomb-Making Skills
The present wave of IED attacks by Islamist groups in Mindanao can be attributed to a repeat scenario, after recent years witnessed a second influx of foreign fighters with bomb-making skills to the island from neighboring Indonesia. However, this time the wave of recruits was inspired by the modern-day successor to al-Qaeda as the leader of transnational jihadism: ISIS. As a result of the large influx of militants before the Marawi siege, IED-making skills have been transferred from fighters in the Middle East and jihadi hotspots in Southeast Asia to local militants in the maritime borderlands of the southern Philippines. Foreign fighters who joined up with the Mautes are thought to have trained members of the BIFF, which is now Islamic State’s primary vanguard in the region and poses the main IED threat.

The influx of ISIS-trained bomb-makers prior to the Marawi siege was facilitated by lax security in the porous waterways surrounding Mindanao. Jihadists were able to amass in a region already blighted by a climate of lawlessness, the presence of armed groups, and a well-developed illicit economy. These conditions fostered an ideal environment for the transfer of militants, IED components, and bomb-making skills. ISIS was likely able to further exploit these vulnerabilities by using encrypted messaging apps to disseminate bomb-making knowledge hidden from the scrutiny of law enforcement agencies.

In January, the Philippine army’s intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Fernando Trinidad, confirmed that foreign fighters remained present in Mindanao. He said these foreign fighters had trained local militants in urban warfare and the construction of IEDs. Yet such fears had already been realized last October during the final throes of the Marawi siege, when government soldiers discovered a Maute-run IED manufacturing base, indicating the extent of militant training and the mass production of IEDs on an industrial scale.

A year since the militant uprising in Marawi began, the ongoing military crackdown in Mindanao is providing ample opportunity for Islamic State’s remnants to put their newly acquired skills to the test. Pushed onto the back foot by Martial Law, groups such as Abu Sayyaf, the BIFF, and the NPA have been forced to splinter and adopt guerrilla-like tactics to an even greater extent than was already the case. Having sustained heavy losses on the battlefield and with their capability to engage in conventional ground battles against a bolstered military gradually receding, IED attacks serve as a way for increasingly desperate armed groups to make their presence felt and demonstrate that they are still alive.

How Can the Growing IED Threat Be Countered?
For the government, countering the IED threat remains a huge challenge. Local intelligence reports can help prevent a planned attack from succeeding when a device is spotted before it explodes. Since October, military bomb-disposal experts have thwarted attempted attacks after responding to call-outs and defusing or safely detonating primed devices on at least 10 occasions. The military has also seized several caches of bomb-making materials during raids on insurgent hideouts across the island.

At a wider regional level, authorities have implemented measures intended to subvert the underlying conditions enabling the transport of foreign fighters and IED components in porous maritime border areas. Since last June, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines have conducted trilateral naval and air patrols over the Sulu Sea to detect and disrupt suspicious activities, including the smuggling of arms and bomb-making materials. Just a few weeks ago Malaysian soldiers arrested a man onboard a vessel found to be containing 10,000 detonator fuses, headed in the rough direction of Mindanao’s coastline.

These cooperative measures signal hope for the future. Yet the present IED threat will remain hard to mitigate and effective countermeasures difficult to implement for as long as Mindanao’s current generation of militants are able to retain and pass on their bomb-making knowledge to new recruits.
As Philippine troops continue their dual crackdown on Mindanao’s Islamist militants and communist rebels under Duterte, for the regions’ armed groups – increasingly on the retreat – IEDs are becoming a weapon of choice. As the conflicts raging in Mindanao become more asymmetric, the use of IEDs enables militants to inflict damage on the military and strike fear into communities, without incurring casualties of their own in the struggle to maintain influence and hold on to small pockets of territory.
IEDs are a particularly potent weapon in the rural jungle environments of Mindanao, where armed groups have for decades sought new means to demonstrate their survival and make their presence felt. Yet IEDs also increasingly pose a threat in urban settings such as Marawi, where the laying of IEDs became a key factor in extending the length of the siege as the Maute group became entrenched in their positions. The Philippine army has repeatedly warned of large-scale Islamist assaults using IEDs on other major cities in the region, with Davao, Cotabato, and Zamboanga mooted as potential targets.

While a repeat Marawi-type scenario can’t be ruled out, there also remains a possibility of large-scale bomb attacks similar to those seen in Indonesia. Even if these two worst-case scenarios are avoided, the proliferation of IEDs in the region remains a major concern and will further complicate the ongoing efforts of the military to extinguish Mindanao’s intractable – and increasingly explosive – insurgencies.
[Michael Hart is a freelance writer and researcher focusing on civil conflict and terrorism in Southeast Asia.]

US commitment to defend Philippines in sea dispute uncertain

From the Philippine Star (Jun 2): US commitment to defend Philippines in sea dispute uncertain

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis delivers his speech during the first plenary session of the 17th International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Shangri-la Dialogue, an annual defense and security forum in Asia, in Singapore, Saturday, June 2, 2018, in Singapore.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Saturday maintained that Washington “stands by its allies,” although he remained muted on whether the US' treaty obligation to the Philippines covers Manila-occupied reefs and Filipino vessels in the contested South China Sea.

Mattis’ remarks came amid doubts over Washington’s commitment to come to the aid of the Philippines in case of an attack on its territory or armed forces in the disputed waters, where China has been aggressively staking its claim.

Asked if the US is bound to defend Manila-controlled features and Filipino ships in the South China Sea under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, Mattis evaded the question and said Washington “maintains confidentiality at times in these efforts.”
“We stand by our treaty allies but this is a discussion between the current administrations in the Manila and in Washington D.C. and it’s not one that can be answered as simply as your question would indicate,” Mattis said at an international security forum in Singapore.

It was not the first time that American officials dodged queries on the scope of the Mutual Defense Treaty.

During his visit to the Philippines in 2014, former US President Barack Obama gave no categorical answer on whether the 66-year-old treaty would come into play in the event of an armed confrontation in the South China Sea.

“We don’t go around sending ships and threatening folks,” Obama said in a joint press conference with former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III in Malacañang.

In 2011, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton steered clear of the same question. “I don’t want to discuss hypothetical events but I want to underscore our commitment to the defense of the Philippines,” Clinton said.

READ: DFA: US' obligation to Philippines covers South China Sea

Complex issues

At the same security forum, Mattis justified the US' seeming refusal to categorically answer questions about the coverage of the Mutual Defense Treaty.

“Let me tell you that when we have discussions on these matters, the reason why public figures do not want to give specific answers is that these are complex issues," Mattis explained.

“To simply turn it into a military and non-military response is a shortchanging of the issue... Diplomacy is all about taking contrary perspectives and finding common ground and we’ve got to try to do that in this world,” he also said.

“I mean it’s a free and open press here and I support that. But at the same time, you could often do most of your good work and set in the conditions for path ahead by not locking yourselves into public statements, where understandably people take each word separately apart and now pretty soon you’re locked in the positions that do not allow the diplomats to find common ground,” he added.
Strong detterent

The Philippines claims parts of the South China Sea within its exclusive economic zone and calls it the West Philippine Sea.

Ties between China and the Philippines soured after the previous Aquino administration filed a case in 2013 with a United Nations-backed tribunal. The ruling, which favors Manila, was handed down a few days after President Rodrigo Duterte assumed the presidency.

But China vehemently rejected the landmark decision, which Duterte put on the back burner in exchange for warmer ties and Chinese funding for his administration’s ambitious infrastructure program.

Duterte has also been under fire over his apparent refusal to confront China, which recently landed nuclear-capable strategic bombers and installed missile systems on outposts in the contested waters.

Meanwhile, experts say it’s high time for the US to publicly state its commitment to defend Philippine troops, ships and planes from attack under the Mutual Defense Treaty.

“That clarification would not only reassure the Duterte government that the United States would actually back the Philippines when needed but would act as a strong deterrent to Chinese aggression,” Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative director Gregory Poling said in a commentary published on last January.

READ: US think tank expert: South China Sea diplomatic breakthrough ‘unlikely’

The South China Sea’s Muddled and Increasingly Militarized Future

From Just Security (Jun 1): The South China Sea’s Muddled and Increasingly Militarized Future (By Mark Nevitt)

The Chinese Air Force recently landed a number of bombers on a heavily disputed “island” in the South China Sea. The military landings follow the placement of three anti-ship cruise missiles on three islets in the Spratly Islands by China earlier this year. These moves represent yet more provocative steps in the militarization of disputed islands, rocks and low-tide elevations in the region – something that Chinese President Xi Jinping promised President Barack Obama he would not do in 2015. In response to these recent actions, the Pentagon announced that it is disinviting the Chinese military from participation in the biennial U.S. Pacific Fleet’s 20-nation “Rim of the Pacific” (RIMPAC) exercise.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters earlier this week that China has been disinvited from the exercise because its militarization of these islands is “out of step with international law.” And the new Indo-Pacific Commander, Adm. Philip Davidson, recently said, “China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in scenarios short of war with the United States.”

Historically, China has declared broad maritime claims in the region based on a so-called “Nine-Dash Line” that asserts some degree of sovereignty and control over much of the South China Sea. But China’s capacious claim has a weak basis in international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Indeed, China’s South China Sea legal claims suffered a noteworthy blow in 2016 when the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) ruled against the bulk of China’s claims in Philippines v. China. After appearing to honor the spirit and contours of the ruling for a while, China has since changed course, asserting that the tribunal lacks jurisdiction to settle such matters.

In the absence of a clear mechanism to enforce the ITLOS-ruling and penalize Chinese aggression, China has rapidly built artificial islands and military infrastructure on numerous contested islands, rocks and so-called low-tide elevations in the region. Other nations – to include the Philippines, which has a longstanding mutual defense treaty with the U.S. – have also made claims in the South China Sea. But they all lack China’s capability (and chutzpah) to follow through. Today, international law and freedom of navigation norms are slowly giving way to the law of raw power and control. And China appears to be winning.

China’s continual disregard of the ITLOS-ruling and international, more generally, could have dire long-term consequences for the rule of law in the region. Complicating matters, the Chinese buildup has been overshadowed by negotiations with North Korea and ongoing trade disagreements between China and the U.S. China is, by far, North Korea’s biggest trading partner and food source. China’s cooperation is crucial to any worldwide efforts to contain the North Korean nuclear threat. Further, the U.S. and China remain locked in increasingly high-stakes trade negotiations.

The U.S. has repeatedly stated that it takes no position on competing sovereignty claims in the South China Sea and its underlying objective is a peaceful settlement of territorial disputes in the region. But the U.S.’s ability to influence outcomes is hampered by two realities: the U.S. is not itself a claimant in the region (a fact that China is quick to point out), and the U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that has not ratified the UNCLOS treaty – although it has consistently treated the navigational provisions as binding customary international law.

Despite not being party to UNCLOS, the U.S. has played a critical and historic role in ensuring freedom of navigation throughout the South China Sea and the world. The U.S. Navy has served as the maritime watchdog of a rules-based order on the sea for much of the 20th century. Indeed, the Navy’s very mission is linked to the maintenance of freedom of the seas. Today, an estimated 3.4 trillion dollars worth of trade flows through the South China Sea alone. Stopping this flow or restricting trade in other ways would have negative consequences for the world economy and truly catastrophic consequences for nearby nations’ economies.

In response to China’s excessive maritime claims, the U.S. military has refused to back down. U.S. forces have stepped up freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the South China Sea. Just last weekend, two Navy warships conducted a freedom of navigation exercise in the vicinity of Woody Island in the Paracel Island chain. This is the same island on which Chinese bombers conducted military exercises earlier in the month. The U.S. has also conducted several FONOPS (to include four in five months) since President Donald Trump took office. This follows four other FONOPS in the South China Sea during the Obama administration. There remain open questions about the actual effectiveness of such operations and their long-term ability to deter Chinese build-up in the region. In the meantime, it seems clear that the Chinese build-up of the South China Sea (military and otherwise) will continue, as will freedom of navigation operations by the U.S. In light of these trend lines, where do we go from here?

First, we should accept the reality that China and U.S. forces will operate in the region in greater numbers, increasing the risk of an operational mishap between the two militaries. We should build upon earlier efforts to facilitate military to military communication and alleviate any risk of a China-U.S. operational mishap – a black swan-type event that could shatter peace and stability in the region.

Recall that in 2001 a U.S. Navy EP-3 surveillance plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet in the region – an incident that greatly increased tensions between the two nations. We should clarify that the existing U.S.-China Memorandum of Understanding regarding air maritime encounters applies to freedom of navigation operations in the region and provide a legal mechanism for non-compliance. Any and all steps to improve communication and ease tension between the two militaries should be pursued. While China is not participating in the upcoming RIMPAC exercise, we should remain steadfast in finding ways to “operationalize” the 2014 Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) in the South China Sea. CUES is designed to reduce the chance for an incident at sea between the 21 countries that have signed on to this agreement.

Second, the U.S. should continue to request that other navies conduct similar FONOPs in the South China Sea, particularly neighboring non-claimant nations. All nations benefit from a rules-based maritime system, so why shouldn’t other nations chip in? And the failure to persistently object to China’s militarization of the region and disregard of the ITLOS-ruling only serves to embolden China and provide some semblance of legitimacy to their claims. Passivity comes with its own costs.

Too often, the South China Sea narrative pits a rising China against the United States. That’s not particularly helpful. Other nations – particularly those that rely upon the South China Sea for the bulk of their trade – would stand to lose if China were allowed to disregard international law and continue its de facto dominion over the region. Australia and India are natural partners to assist with this effort. The British Navy lacks the power projection force that it once had, but it has endorsed the U.S. FONOP-approach in the South China Sea and will be conducting its own FONOP in the region later this year. Even better, a coalition-based freedom of navigation exercise of two or more countries would demonstrate a unified front against excessive Chinese maritime claims.

Third, the increasingly tense South China Sea situation once again reinforces the need for the U.S. Senate to provide its advice and consent to UNCLOS, the so-called “Constitution of the Seas.” The U.S. routinely stresses the importance of relevant UNCLOS provisions when making legal arguments for Chinese compliance with international law in the region. Indeed, Secretary Mattis did just that when criticizing Chinese militarization in the region. But the U.S. is not a party to UNCLOS, the governing international legal framework designed to settle maritime disputes. China, in turn, is quick to remind the U.S. of its non-party status. A diplomatic stalemate often ensues. This back and forth will likely unfold at the Shangri-La dialogues to be held this weekend. While there are no immediate plans for the Senate to take up UNCLOS ratification, it should. It would remove an enormous distraction in the “battle of talking points” and would only bolster U.S. credibility when debating the finer legal points of UNCLOS. We should remove that barrier.

The U.S. remains the only coastal state in the world that is not party to UNCLOS (168 nations in total are parties) due to a small but vocal group of Republican senators who assert that ratifying UNCLOS would cede U.S. sovereignty to an unaccountable international organization.

These three actions alone will not by themselves dramatically alter the security landscape in the South China Sea, but we need to begin somewhere to alter the current worrying trend lines. Ultimately, the South China Sea is in need of international leadership and broad and creative diplomatic solutions. Absent this, the law of raw power and control will define the South China Sea’s future. And that future increasingly favors China.

[Mark Nevitt Sharswood is a Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and former commander in the Navy, serving as a tactical jet aviator and attorney in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps for 20 years. Follow him on Twitter (@marknevitt).]

IMT starts probe on deaths of 9 guerillas in police raid

From the Philippine Star (Jun 2): IMT starts probe on deaths of 9 guerillas in police raid

Local and foreign peacekeepers are now investigating on the deaths of nine Moro guerillas in a police raid in Matalam, North Cotabato.
The International Monitoring Team has urged stakeholders not to let the death of nine Moro guerillas in a police operation in North Cotabato on May 26 affect the southern peace process.

The IMT, comprised of military and police officers from Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and civilian uniformed conflict resolution experts from Japan, Norway and the European Union, is now investigating on the incident.
The transnational peacekeeping contingent has been observing since 2004 the enforcement of an interim ceasefire pact forged by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front two decades ago.

The Malaysian-led IMT started its inquiry on the incident on Friday based on a complaint from the MILF.

Malaysian Army Major Gen. Dato Haji Mohd Nazir Bin Haji Mami, IMT mission head, on Saturday appealed for sobriety on the MILF and the government to avoid the incident from turning into an irritant that could derail the current common peace initiatives by both sides.

Mami said the IMT will see to it that its probe on the alleged shootout between the nine MILF members and the police shall be comprehensive.
The MILF had said its slain guerillas were not drug traffickers, contrary to claims by the police.

The chairman of the MILF’s ceasefire committee, Butch Malang, said they also found out that there was no truth to assertions that the victims provoked the gunfight with law enforcement agents who raided their lair in Barangay Kilada in Matalam, North Cotabato to search for drugs.

The government and the MILF are bound by an interim accord — the July 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities — to resolve together security issues besetting conflict flashpoint areas.

Officials of IMT and representatives from the joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities were together in Friday’s initial on-site verification of the alleged encounter in Barangay Kilada.

The joint ceasefire committee, a bloc of senior officers from the Philippine National Police, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and MILF representatives, enforces bilateral security protocols meant to prevent hostilities between state and guerilla forces in far-flung areas.
The investigation that the IMT launched Friday is being supported by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the newly-installed commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana.

Sobejana has earlier directed the 602nd Brigade, which covers North Cotabato, to help local officials restore normalcy in Barangay Kilada through multi-sectoral interventions meant to ease the tension caused by the bloodshed in Barangay Kilada.

Sobejana had told reporters during his assumption as 6th ID commander on May 26 that he will support extensively the diplomatic overtures of President Rodrigo Duterte with Moro sectors in central Mindanao.

Besides North Cotabato, the 6th ID also secures the provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat and several towns in Lanao del Sur, where there are guerilla enclaves covered by the government-MILF ceasefire deal.

Sagot ko lahat basta walang coalition govt! Duterte appeals to Joma anew

From Politiko (Jun 3): Sagot ko lahat basta walang coalition govt! Duterte appeals to Joma anew

For the nth time, President Duterte assured Communist Party of the Philippines founding leader Jose Maria Sison that the government was ready to pay for the latter’s board and lodging in the Philippines but he would not agree to a coalition.

” Let’s end this by just shaking our hands and we will resume the violent war. It leaves us no other alternative,” he said, referring to Sison in a speech before leaving Manila to South Korea early Sunday (June 3, 2018).

Duterte urged Sison to accept his offer in the name of peace. The President said he is bending a bit backwards to accommodate the exiled leader, now based in The Netherlands, as long as the communist ideologists won’t ask for term sharing or the set-up of a coalition government.

“But as I said, I’m willing to talk. Ako ang ga-guarantee sa billeting nila, pagkain, lahat. But my condition is that no demand for coalition. That is not acceptable to me at all and any other group for that matter asking autonomy. I will not and I will never agree of any splintered armed group na sabihin mo…,” he said.

Duterte is now in Seoul for a three-day official visit from June 3 to 5, 2018.

Duterte serious about asking Joma to leave if peace talks fail: Let’s shake hands then resume war

From Politiko (Jun 3): Duterte serious about asking Joma to leave if peace talks fail: Let’s shake hands then resume war

President Rodrigo Duterte will ask Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison not to return to the Philippines should he decide to come back and the peace talks collapse again.

In a press conference Saturday (June 2) before leaving for South Korea, Duterte said he meant his earlier statement that he will escort Sison to the airport in case the negotiations fall through.

“It was not a joke. Actually, it was — it’s my sentiment na we have suffered a lot, resources, lives and all. At sana it — sana matagumpay,” he said.

“Pero kung hindi naman, sabihin ko na lang sa iyo na huwag ka nang bumalik. Let’s end this by just shaking our hands and we will resume the violent war. It leaves us no other alternative,” Duterte added.

Sison has been living in exile in The Netherlands for more than 30 years. He was asked to return by Duterte for 60 days so he could participate in the peace talks.

The President said he is willing to foot the bill for Sison’s stay in the country but will not agree to the communists’ demand for a coalition government.

But as I said, I’m willing to talk. Ako ang ga-guarantee sa billeting nila, pagkain, lahat. But my condition is that no demand for coalition. That is not acceptable to me at all and any other group for that matter asking autonomy. I will not and I will never agree of any splintered armed group na sabihin mo…

Well, for example, itong sa BBL. I might as well be frank. I will accommodate — I will move the extra mile but never would I agree that there will be a fissure somewhere.

PDEA nabs alleged MILF member, cohort; seizes P1.1M worth of shabu in Maguindanao

From Politiko Mindanao (Jun 2): PDEA nabs alleged MILF member, cohort; seizes P1.1M worth of shabu in Maguindanao

The anti-narcotics agents have arrested an alleged member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and his cohort in a buy-bust operation, resulting to the seizure of P1.1 million worth of suspected shabu in Maguindanao province.

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director General Aaron N. Aquino
identified the suspects as Mail Guiamad Kamid alias Mayon, 43, and alleged MILF members, and Thor Dalundong Sela.

They were nabbed during the operation on May 31 along the National Highway, Poblacion Dalican, Datu Odin Sinsuat.

Confiscated from the suspects were four pieces of heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet of suspected shabu, weighing about 175 grams, with an estimated value of P1,190,000.00, two identification cards, one mobile phone and the buy-bust money.

The suspects will face charges for allegedly violating Republic Act 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

Security forces monitoring freed MNLF members vs putting up camps – Dela Vega

From Politiko Mindanao (Jun 2): Security forces monitoring freed MNLF members vs putting up camps – Dela Vega

Authorities have been monitoring the whereabouts of 96 members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who were released from Taguig jail recently to ensure that they would not establish any camp, particularly in Zamboanga City.

The former detained MNLF members were among those charged due to the 2013 Zamboanga siege.

The Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 158 in Pasay City ordered their freedom last week as a result of the plea bargaining agreement between them and the Department of Justice (DOJ) despite the objection of the city government of Zamboanga, the City Legal Office said.

“We are not to be complacent. First, we profiled them then monitor their whereabouts and render progress reports of their activities to prevent them do unlawful act,” the city government said, quoting Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief Lt. Gen. Arnel dela Vega.

The local government said Dela Vega made the statement after Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco raised concerns during the Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) for Zamboanga Peninsula, which she is heading, Friday, June 1.

Of those released MNLF members, 45 were sent to Basilan, 32 to Jolo, 12 in Zamboanga City, while the rest to Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga del Sur, according to Westmincom.

“They are welcomed to places they wish to go to and live there as residents but never for them to establish their camps,” Dela Vega said.

He urged the local chief executives in the region to file protest letters to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) if there are violations of the peace agreement on the ground like putting up of camps or communities by either the MNLF or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)

The government and the then secessionist MNLF led by Nur Misuari signed a final peace agreement in 1996.

The MILF, on the other hand, forged a comprehensive peace deal with the previous administration. But full implementation of the peace accord is yet to be realized.

Rebel with M16 rifle surrenders in Sarangani

From Politiko Mindanao (Jun 1): Rebel with M16 rifle surrenders in Sarangani

A member of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) has surrendered in Sarangani Friday, June 1, military said Saturday.

The rebel was identified as Boy Cabisa Diale, alias Busaw, 75, from Sitio Lino, Barangay Upper Suyan, Malapatan, Sarangani.

He also surrendered his M16 rifle to the troops of the 73rd Infantry Battalion (IB).

“With our intensive security operations and continuous collaborations to our Local Government Units (LGUs) and other stakeholders, we can align our efforts in attaining a peaceful and conflict resilient communities with in our area of operation,” said Lt. Col. Marion Angcao, commander of the 73rd IB.

The former rebel will be presented to the LGU of Sarangani for immediate assistance and enrollment to the Comprehensive Local Integration program (CLIP), the official said.

He will be provided also with livelihood assistance and he will receive additional cash aid for his surrendered firearm in order for him to start a new and peaceful life, he added.

PH Army toughens up

From Tempo (Jun 3): PH Army toughens up

The future of the Philippine Army (PA) looks bright as a total of 285 aspiring soldiers will undergo rigid training in Maguindanao in the next 14 weeks to be the country’s next military officers, the PA’s 6th Infantry Division (ID) announced.

Of the number, 256 are male aspirants while 29 are females, according to Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the PA’s 6ID.

Sobejana said the aspirants comprised the second batch of this year’s candidate soldiers program of the Army.

Sobejana adds they will be sent to the Division Training School (DTS) in Barangay Semba, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao after they took their oath Friday at the 6ID Grandstand at Camp Siongco.

The chosen candidates are considered to be the most competent ones among over 1,000 applicants after they passed the strict selection process and the physical, medical, neurological, and psychological examinations, Sobejana said.

The candidate soldiers’ training were broken down into three modules namely the “Transformation,” “Basic Squad Training” and “Application of Knowledge,” all aimed at molding them to become well-disciplined, competent and capable soldiers to fill in the enlisted ranks of the Army.

“The candidate soldiers’ training is fundamentally stressful as they will initially experience an abrupt change from being a civilian to adapting the military lifestyle,” Sobejana explained.

“I am reminding the personnel of DTS to instill discipline and respect to the recruits, and to guarantee that they will develop a mindset of survival in the military profession,” he added.

AFP financial institutions up for antigraft cleanup

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 3): AFP financial institutions up for antigraft cleanup

The Armed Forces and Police Savings and Loan Association Inc. (AFPSLAI) building at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City —PHOTO FROM AFPSLAI WEBSITE

LUCENA CITY — A cleanup of the military’s financial institutions is under way, and the country’s top soldier wants the troops to know that their contributions, including interests, will be returned to them.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, on Saturday said “people with integrity” would soon be tapped to manage two graft-ridden military pension and savings funds.

In his speech at the military’s Southern Luzon Command headquarters in Camp Nakar here, Galvez said he was serious about ridding the AFP-Retirement and Separation Benefits System (AFP-RSBS) and the Armed Forces and Police Savings and Loan Association Inc. (AFPSLAI) of corruption.

President’s guarantee
President Rodrigo Duterte, he said, guarantees that the soldier’s contributions in AFP-RSBS plus their accumulated interest will be given back.

“The money will be given [back] immediately, so let us not worry that it might be lost,” Galvez said to soldiers’ applause.

The AFP-RSBS was established in 1976 as a pension fund for soldiers and was funded from their contributions.

But the pension fund has long been mired in corruption. Last year, several of the fund’s top officials were convicted of graft and corruption in cases involving hundreds of millions of pesos.

Galvez said they had already stopped the practice by 12 military-affiliated financial institutions of automatic salary deductions.

Troops better be frugal

Urging soldiers to live a frugal life, he noted that a great majority of them were deeply mired in debt. An estimate of their total borrowings, he said, is about P200 billion.

“In AFPSLAI, our (the soldiers’ total) monthly loan used to be P200 million. Now, it reaches P500 to P600 million. The AFPSLAI is running out of money because of the soldiers’ piling debt,” he disclosed.

He cited the story of a heavily indebted soldier who had to be contented with just eating the leftovers of his superior because he had already pawned his subsistence allowance.

“You cannot spend what you cannot earn,” he said. “For every salary, you save 20 percent and you become a millionaire when you retire.’’

Take-home pay

He said the AFP had also stopped the controversial RTS—“return to sender”—practice involving military funds. RTS refers to portions of operational funds allocated to a military division which are allegedly withdrawn and diverted to accounts of senior officers.

The Office of the Deputy Staff for Personnel, he said, will soon issue a directive making the mandatory take-home pay of soldiers at not less than P15,000.

Vowing to be an honest chief of staff, Galvez said everything the government promised would be given to the soldiers. “My motivation is not about money. My motivation is to serve and make people happy, to work for others, to make the organization grow and to be professional.”

‘Duterte very serious’

The AFP, he said, will soon implement its “Integrity Development Program” to help sustain the President’s no corruption policy.

“I am reminding you that the President is very serious,” Galvez said, apparently addressing AFP logistic and financial personnel, the military men most susceptible, historically, to corrupt practices. “We all see how serious he is.”

Corruption still haunted even the AFP General Headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, he added. “I will admit that at the headquarters there is still corruption.”

‘No stand-down order, no letup in war on NPA’

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jun 3): ‘No stand-down order, no letup in war on NPA’

 FEAR OF CROSSFIRE Clashes in February between government soldiers and communist rebels lead to evacuations in Lanuza town, Surigao del Sur province, forcing this family of evacuees to seek shelter far from the fighting. —ERWIN MASCARIÑAS

The military would continue its operations against New People’s Army (NPA) until it was ordered to stand down, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez said on Saturday.

“Let’s keep pushing on. We will not stand down,” Galvez told troops at the military’s Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) headquarters in Lucena City.

Galvez lauded the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division (ID) for what he said were counterinsurgency operations and conferred decorations, including a Gold Cross Medal, to soldiers for gallantry in action.

Solcom chief Lt. Gen. Danilo Pamonag presented to Galvez several firearms and ammunition recovered by troops from NPA rebels in Bicol and Southern Tagalog regions.

‘White areas’

He reminded soldiers, though, that cities in Southern Tagalog remained to be “white areas” or those where rebels enjoy substantial support.

Maj. Gen. Rhoderick Parayno, 2nd ID chief, said soldiers would continue counterinsurgency operations “until such time that President Duterte orders us to stand down.”

Galvez made the statements as the government and National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) prepared to sign next month an interim peace agreement (IPA) ahead of formal peace talks.

The IPA was meant to pave the way for a formal ceasefire between the military and NPA during the duration of the formal peace talks.

In preparation for the talks, several detained rebel leaders had asked courts to grant them bail so they could travel to the Netherlands to take part in the talks.

Top rebels

Communist Party of the Philippines central committee members, Rafael Baylosis and Alan Jazmines, asked courts in Taguig and Quezon City to grant them bail and allow them to travel to Utrecht for the talks on June 5 to 9.

The two were among NDFP consultants who were supposed to take part in negotiations on “finishing touches” of the IPA.

Aside from Baylosis and Jazmines, four other rebel leaders—Benito Tiamzon, Adelberto Silva, Vicente Ladlad and Randall Echanis—had also asked the court to grant them bail to join the talks, according to NDFP lawyer Edre Olalia.

But just as the rebel leaders sought temporary liberty, another was captured by the military during an operation in Butuan City.

Maj. Ezra Balagtey, spokesperson for the Eastern Mindanao Command in Davao City, said Nerita Calamba de Castro, allegedly a key finance officer of NPA in Mindanao, had been arrested during an operation in Butuan City.

ICRC donates medical supplies to AFP’s Zambo main hospital

From the Manila Bulletin (Jun 2): ICRC donates medical supplies to AFP’s Zambo main hospital

The Zamboanga City-based Camp Navarro General Hospital (CNGH) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) received last week medical supplies from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to treat people wounded in recent clashes in Sulu.

ICRC media liaison specialist Allison Lopez said intravenous fluids and wound-care materials necessary in furthering the services of CNGH to its clientele, especially soldiers and residents injured in military clashes with lawless elements in Sulu, were donated by the international agency.

Piotr Dregiel, head of ICRC-Zamboanga City office, said the initial medical supply could “cover the needs of 20-30 wounded people.”

Rank and file personnel of the CNGH, a main military medical base in Southern Philippines, appreciated the ICRC continuing assistance.

“Their (ICRC’s) medical donations since 2016 have supplemented the supplies and medicines of the hospital which at times can become low due to increased patient needs especially during the height of military operations,” Lt. Col. Maria Victoria Mandin said during the turnover of the medical supplies.

Lopez said the ICRC regularly supports five hospitals in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao, releasing every quarter medicines, vaccines and medical supplies. It also provides ad hoc assistance to hospitals during crises situations.

China told: Keep out of Spratlys

From the Manila Standard (Jun 3): China told: Keep out of Spratlys

President Rodrigo Duterte has asked China to stay away from the Philippine claimed the Spratly Islands, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told his pre-departure news conference Friday night.

Before he took the four-hour flight from Manila to Seoul, where he joined President Duterte on the latter’s first official visit to the Asian country, Cayetano added that aside from Duterte’s request to China regarding lending the Philippines billions of pesos worth of loans, that if Beijing stopped entering the disputed Spratly Islands, both countries could be friends.

At the same time, Cayetano said China gave “assurance” to the Philippines regarding the latest “incident” in the disputed West Philippine Sea, which prompted the Department of Foreign Affairs to file a diplomatic protest against its giant neighbor.

Last May 11, a Philippine Navy boat resupplying Filipino troops at the Ayungin Shoal was allegedly challenged and harassed by the Chinese Coast Guard and China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy.

Cayetano explained that the note verbale on the incident was filed just recently because it “was not settled immediately” through dialogue.

While he did not elaborate on the issue, the foreign affairs chief said the Philippines already received an assurance from China over the incident.

“It’s how we should talk and how our resupplying would not be hampered. In fact, someone already went here the other day. The conversation was good—coast guard to coast guard,” Cayetano said in Filipino.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China are set to convene negotiations for the crafting of the code of conduct on the South China Sea in August, Cayetano said.

But he admitted all parties were still facing challenges on the substance of the COC but assured that the Philippines was keen on pushing for a substantial document.

“We only have the framework as of now, but this August, there will be a meeting of the Ministers. This time around, like what we had last year, it won’t be just the Asean but also our dialogue partners, our strategic partners, they’re all included,” he said in Filipino.

“We intend to push it to get as far as we can, as fast as we can,” he added, adding the Philippines expects no less than an “effective COC.”

“We want an effective COC, something that we can rely on because the DOC (Declaration of Conduct), a lot has happened (to) it, so we want the COC clear. For example on the environment, how do we protect (it), what will be the arrangement and how do we implement (it),” Cayetano said.

Last year, the Asean regional bloc and China adopted the COC framework under the Philippines’ chairmanship, where both parties welcomed the adoption as a sign of progress after 15 years since the 2002 DOC was signed.

China, Taiwan and some Asean member states including the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam have overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea.

During the Asean Foreign Ministers Retreat in February 2018, Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan admitted the COC negotiation would be “very complicated” and will require all parties to “ultimately exercise political will” to resolve sensitive issues, adding territorial claims would not be resolved with the COC alone.

For his part, Cayetano said he was confident Singapore, as the current Asean chair, would steer a fruitful COC negotiation.

“As I’ve said, Singapore is the perfect country to lead us now. (It) is a perfect country to negotiate all of this because they are open-minded and they have this mindset of no-nonsense, get things done,” he said.

He admitted there was a recent incident: one the long-range bombers and the other in Sandy Cay, and the Philippines has so far received a report of only two incidents of China’s militarization in the West Philippine Sea in two years under Duterte’s regime.

The two incidents were far lower than the several incidents of aggressive claims by China during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III.

“Two incidents in two years,” Cayetano said.

He slammed the criticisms of the opposition, calling them “hyper and paranoid” over two incidents done by China.

Cayetano said the Duterte administration strategy was different from that of the previous administration’s.

If the previous administration preferred to announce every move—which he called “loud action”—to get the support of other nations, the present administration would rather have bilateral talks.

Unlike the leadership of then Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario where it pursued in resolving the dispute with China multilaterally, Cayetano said the present administration was handling it bilaterally through the Bilateral Consultative Mechanism.

“They try to influence the talks through diplomatic action, including protest. The difference between a protest and other diplomatic action, you solicitor you expect an answer,” he added.

He said the approach of the diplomatic action if one country did not stop, was: one, through media, where he sees as the extreme one; two, and another most extreme through military force.

During the Aquino administration, the DFA pursued a three-pronged diplomatic track approach: 1) diplomatic, through multilateral discussion; 2) political; and 3) legal track, including arbitration.

The diplomatic protest is being filed to document any action that may violate any international or local laws; which can be used when a country files an arbitration against the alleged aggressor.

None from the Aquino administration pursue a track of military force.

Cayetano admitted the Philippines could not file a protest against China’s long-range bombers since the aircraft landed outside the country’s territory.

He was reacting to Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, an American think-tank reporting that “nearly all of the Philippines falls within the radius of the bombers.”

Cayetano said since it was outside Manila’s territory, the only thing a country could do was to protest multilaterally or before the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations.

“But for you to protest about something beyond your territory, something you do not claim, it’s quite ridiculous. Professionals and experts find that funny,” he said in Filipino.

Recent aggressive actions were made last week when Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of the Center of Strategic and International Studies reported that a long-range-missile, including top of the line H-6K long-range strategic bomber, landed in the South China Sea, particularly near the five military bases of the Philippines.

Over the past years, China has claimed some of the features of the disputed South China Sea particularly the Philippine-owned-reefs-turned-islands in the Kalayaan Group of Islands (Spratlys) where Beijing has installed weapon system in the region.

The reclamation in the South China Sea started when a standoff happened between the Philippines and China after Manila caught Beijing for catching live turtles and other resources within the country’s territory.

China’s activities over the disputed sea have become more visible when the Philippines filed a case before the Arbitral Tribunal and ruled in favor of Manila three years after declaring Beijing’s 9-dash line claim as excessive and illegal.

The Philippines has won an arbitration case against China on July 12, 2016 invalidating Beijing’s nine-dash line of its so-called Chinese ancient map.

China, on the other hand, slammed the order and said it would not recognize the Tribunal ruling, stressing that its claim to the sea is “indisputable.”

Manila’s arbitration case is limited to determining the role of historic rights and the source of maritime entitlements in the South China Sea and did not tackle territorial ownership.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration’s mandate is limited to the interpretation or application of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea.

Duterte set aside the ruling to forge better ties with China but vowed to raise it at a proper time during his presidency which ends in 2022.