Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Bangsamoro law: not fully CAB-compliant but “it’s ARMM plus definitely”

From MindaNews (Jul 14): The Bangsamoro law: not fully CAB-compliant but “it’s ARMM plus definitely”

It may not fully comply with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace agreement signed by the government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014, but “it’s ARMM plus definitely,” Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said of the new political entity that would replace the 28-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The Bicameral Conference Committee (bicam) suspended its Thursday session (Day 4) at the Nograles Hall of the House of Representatives with Zubiri, bicam co-chair, announcing they had completed “99%” of the work as of 12:50 a.m. on Friday, July 13, the 15th death anniversary of MILF founding chair Salamat Hashim.

Zubiri told MindaNews they only need to review the clean copy and “clean up” three sections that were tabled: inland waters, repealing clauses and the fund resource for the 11 towns in Maguindanao and Basilan that were created through a regional law and are without an internal revenue allotment.

But he said they already have, “more or less… an understanding” on these issues and “we just want to come up with the proper wording.”

The Bicameral Conference Committee on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law on their fourth session on Thursday, 12 January 2018. at the Nograles Hall, House of Representatives in Quezon City. The session was suspended at 12:50 a.m. Friday, 13 July, for resumption on July 17. MIndaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

The bicam will resume sessions at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, July 17 at the EDSA Shangrila hotel in Ortigas or back to the Crowne Plaza where they met from July 9 to 11.

July 17 will be exactly one year to the day the 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) composed of 11 nominated by the MILF and 10 by the government, handed over to President Rodrigo Duterte its draft BBL in the presence of then Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr.


In the four-day deliberations, peace stakeholders as well as vested interest groups and those with personal interests staked out inside the session hall of the Grand Ballroom of Crowne Plaza in Ortigas and the Nograles Hall at the House of Representatives, with one-pager proposed amendments to specific provisions slipped in to bicam members or their staff, or whispered into their ears. Outside the session hall, lobbyists staked out in the lobby, corridors, and even in the comfort rooms.

How many phone calls and how many text messages — personal and group — were sent to legislators would be an interesting study. Text messages and recordings from the session hall informed those who could not get inside. Security stickers were passed on from one person to the other to gain access into the hall.

Members of civil society groups who had no access to the session hall took turns making their presence felt. On Day 1, July 9, a peace caravan was held from the Senate to the House of Representatives to the Quezon Memorial Circle; on Day 2, a group picketed outside the Crowne Plaza.

On Day 3, Wednesday, Bangsamoro civil society groups from Mindanao and Manila along with Manila-based peace advocacy groups gathered at the nearby EDSA Shrine for an interfaith rally to call on the bicam to pass a CAB-compliant law by restoring the key provisions that the two houses deleted or amended from the BTC-drafted BBL .

Members of Bangsamoro civil society from Mindanao and Manila and Manila-based peace advocacy groups gather at the EDSA Shrine in Quezon City for an interfaith rally on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 to urge the Bicameral Conference Committee meeting in nearby Crowne Plaza hotel to come up with a final version of the proposed Bangsamoro law that is compliant with the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

“I tried to stay true to the CAB in terms of the provisions of this BBL kaya marami minsan naiinis sa akin dahil I am not flexible daw, I am pro-MILF, but its’ not that,” Zubiri said, adding he was just doing his job. “At the end of the day, we senators have to look at the bigger picture … and the bigger picture is the peace process. Ayaw natin ng gulo” (We don’t want trouble),” he said, referring to the ARMM provinces, the core territory of the future Bangsamoro in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), and neighboring provinces like Lanao del Norte.

False hopes

Zubiri noted what President Duterte said on Wednesday when they sought him to break the deadlock on territory: “let’s not give them false hopes” that the provision will not be questioned on constitutional grounds.

House Bill 6475 provides for a double majority in the plebiscite for the six towns in Lanao del Norte and 39 barangays in North Cotabato that voted for inclusion in the ARMM in the 2001 elections — the majority vote in the town or barangay, and the consent of the majority in Lanao del Norte and the municipalities in North Cotabato.

The CAB provides that part of the proposed core territory, subject to ratification in a plebiscite, are the six Lanao del Norte towns and 39 barangays in North Cotabato that voted for inclusion in the supposed expanded ARMM in 2001.

Before heading to Malacanang on Wednesday, Zubiri told MindaNews that territory “is something very sacred to a lot of the politicians there (Lanao del Norte). Me, am trying to be magnanimous, am trying to be a statesman so I can get the overall picture which is basically I don’t want any outbreak of war or hostilities in any part of the core territories of the BBL,” he said.

These are predominantly Moro areas where some of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) stay, the most prominent of them the legendary Abdullah Macapaar aka Commander Bravo.

The deadlock on territory, Zubiri said, prompted them to seek an audience with the President “because according to our sources from the peace process .. the territorial issue is a major issue of concern due to the nature of security in these areas … If we make a mistake on the decision on core territory, there could be an outbreak of hostilities in the areas na hindi isasama(that will not be included)so that is a deep concern because I don’t want anyone to die.”

President Duterte ruled in favor of the House version of double majority.

He said the President’s decision was “painful” but he recalled the President told them “let’s not give them (MILF) false hopes.” Duterte is a lawyer and in the Malacanang meeting were Justice Secretary Guevarra and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and several undersecretaries of justice “and they were all in unison” that the mother unit has to give its consent. “That is constitutional,” Zubiri said.

He said he didn’t want to assure the MILF it can be done and then somebody takes it up to the Supreme Court and it will strike it down as unconstitutional. “That is even worse (because) it’s like you’re giving them hope and then you’re taking it away from them.”

He expressed fears this would lead to more violence. This early, he stressed, it would be better if you can “tell them this is all that we can give otherwise the entire process might be destroyed. Imagine if the Supreme Court strikes not only that but other provisions?”

“80-90% CAB-compliant”

Zubiri said he is happy that BTC chair, Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF’s 1st Vice Chair, was happy with the outcome. “I was so happy to hear him say this is an improvement of the ARMM. He said that although we did not get everything we wanted, meaning the BTC, this is a very good improvement already to the ARMM. So I was relieved to hear that.”

MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told MindaNews the chances of the bicam version being accepted by them “seem high” and that their initial assessment is that it is “80 to 90% CAB-compliant.”

READ: MILF chair on bicam version of Bangsamoro law: “80 to 90% CAB-compliant”

Zubiri cited features of the bicam now calls the Bangsamoro in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) that will make it “more than ARMM,” among them the parliamentary system of government and the annual block grant representing 5% of the net national internal revenue collection of the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs.

READ: What makes the new Bangsamoro political entity “more than ARMM”

“Sometimes what you want in the CAB … may seem right but is not constitutional,” Zubiri told MindaNews on Wednesday, citing the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) that was already initialed by the GPH and MILF but its formal signing on August 5, 2008 in Kuala Lumpur was stopped by the Supreme Court which issued a temporary restraining order and later declared it unconstitutional.

Some members of the Bicameral Conference Committee on the proposed Bangsamoro law flash the peace sign for a souvenir photo past 1 a.m. on Friday, July 13, 2018. The Day 4 session ended at 12:50 a.m. with “99%” work done and will resume at 10 a.m. on July 17, 2018. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

“Legislation must comply with constitutional requirements,” he said.

But the draft BBL was vetted by the Office of the President and it took sometime before it was transmitted to the Senate, MindaNews reminded Zubiri.

“And they did a lousy job and you can quote me on that. Lousy job. Horrible job. Yeah it’s Malacanang who told us it’s (territory issue) unconstitutional but it was in the draft BBL.”

“You know our number one complaint was why did they (Malacanang which vetted the draft BBL) give us a bill that was so kalat when it came to constitutionality although it was better than the MOA-AD ha. For the record ha, this is much better than the MOA-AD but there were still provisions there that were questionable,” Zubiri said.

Despite this, Zubiri said he is optimistic the proposed Bangsamoro law will be signed by President Duterte on July 23, the same day he delivers his third State of the Nation Address.

“This is the farthest this (Bangsamoro law) has ever been. Very good,” he said, heaving a sigh of relief.

MILF chair on bicam version of Bangsamoro law: “80 to 90% CAB-compliant”

From MindaNews (Jul 14): MILF chair on bicam version of Bangsamoro law: “80 to 90% CAB-compliant”

The chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said they will hold consultations with the Bangsamoro people as soon as they get the “final clean copy” of the proposed Bangsamoro law version of the Bicameral Conference Committee (bicam) but will likely accept it as it is “initially estimated to be 80 to 90% CAB-compliant.”

“CAB-compliant” refers to compliance with the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the peace agreement signed by government and the MILF in March 2014.

“We are waiting for the final clean copy of the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) to start our consultation process. We hope to complete the consultation and come up with final decision before the scheduled signing by the President on or before his SONA (State of the Nation Address), MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim told MindaNews on Friday, adding the “chances of it being accepted seem high.”

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza brought Murad and Muslimin Sema of the Moro National Liberation Front into the Grand Ballroom of Crowne Plaza in Ortigas, on Day 1 of the bicam session to meet its members. “Handshake is a good way to help push BBL,” Dureza said.

Before the meeting of the Bicameral Conference Committee started on Monday morning, July 9, 2018, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza brought into the meeting venue — the ballroom of Crowne Plaza Hotel in Ortigas — the chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim (third from left, beside Dureza), and Muslimin Sema of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) beside his wife, Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, Deputy Speaker for Mindanao “o meet members of the bicam. Photo courtesy of OEBONE ENOBIO
Murad told MindaNews in a sit-down interview on June 7 that the Senate and House versions of the BBL were “very diluted” and that they would consult their people whether or not to accept the proposed law after the bicam shall have come up with a final version. “Even if we accept it, if the people don’t accept it, don’t support us, then we cannot do much if the people will not support us,” he added.

The MILF’s consultation period, however will be less than a week as the bicam will resume deliberations on July 17and hopefully finish on the same day or the next day and the SONA is scheduled on July 23.

MILF peace implementing chair Mohagher Iqbal Iqbal is definite about accepting the bicam version. “Yes, MILF will accept but we (will) continue to find ways to have those not included to be realized in the future. All that are not provided for in the BBL can still be pursued in many ways,” he told MindaNews on Friday.

He said the bicam version “provides many key elements in addressing the historical injustices committed against our people. It captures many if not most of the issues and concerns in the peace negotiations.”

Just before suspending the Day 4 session at 12:50 a.m. on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said they are “99% done” and will only need to review the clean copy and “clean up” three sections over which they had already agreed in principle. The bicam will resume its meeting on July 17, one year to the day the BBL was submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacanang in the presence of then Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr.

“I commit to support – in front of everybody – my covenant with you that I will support and husband this instrument as it goes in the legislator for its consideration,” the President said then. “I am for this — within the context of the Republic of the Philippines, there shall be a Bangsamoro country,” he said.

The bicam has renamed BBL as the “Organic Law for the Bangsamoro in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (OLBARMM) and the new autonomous political entity as the Bangsamoro in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Major gains, major losses
Asked what he considers to be their major gains, Murad cited the “ministerial form of government and fiscal autonomy” but considers as major losses “the principle of power-sharing, the deletion in the Preamble and other sections of parity of esteem, asymmetrical relations and the right to self-determination, and the “succeeding plebiscite on the contiguous areas” or periodic plebiscite.

Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, acknowledges in a sit-down interview late Thursay afternoon, June 7, 2018, in the MILF’s Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao. that that Bangsamoro Basic Law versions that the House of Representatives and the Senate passed is “very diluted” but hopes something can still be done at the level of the Bicameral Conference Committee on July 9 to 13. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

The BTC-drafted BBL provides that five years after the ratification of the law and every five years thereafter for a period of 25 years, a plebiscite shall be held in the cities, municipalities, and other geographic areas which were not able to join the Bangsamoro; and contiguous provinces, cities, municipalities, barangays, and other geographic areas particularly mentioned in the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and 1996 Final Peace Agreement, “to determine whether or not they desire to join the Bangsamoro.”

Senate Bill 1717 and House Bill 6475 deleted this provision. Legislators referred to it as “creeping expansionism” but Iqbal says it is not expansionism but “restoration” of the Bangsamoro homeland should residents in these areas opt to join the Bangsamoro later.

Murad said he has mixed feelings — happy and worried — about the bicam’s version

He said he is happy because “finally the process is about to be completed” but worried because “the bigger challenges are coming up, to work out its acceptance to the Bangsamoro and ensure the success in its implementation.”

“If the result of the bicam turns out acceptable and implemented and managed properly, it can serve as one of the major solutions,” Murad said as he explained that “the Bangsamoro problem is a result of decades of injustices and cannot be easily solved by one instrument alone. That is why we established the transitional justice committee that came up with several recommendations to address both the short and long term effect of the injustices.

Salamat Hashim
Zubiri suspended the session in the early hours of July 13, the 15th death anniversary of ILF founding chair Ustadz Salamatn Hashim, MILF chair.

Asked if Salamat would have accepted the bicam version of what is supposed to be the enabling law of the CAB, Murad said “the late chairman always upheld the principle of consultation and usually accepted its result.”

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF peace panel chair from 2003 to 2016, peace implementing panel chair since 2016. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Iqbal said Salamat “will accept but what is not sure is whether he will join the BTA (Bangsamoro Transition Authority that will be the interim government until the election of the BARMM leaders.

It is his personal view, he said, that if Salamat were still alive, as political and ideological leader, he will not join the BTA or run for a position in the 2022 election of the first set of BARMM officials.

MindaNews also sent MILF 1st Vice Chair Ghazali Jaafar, the BTC chair, the same questions asked of Murad and Iqbal but he sent no reply.

Jaafar, then MILF Vice Chair for Political Affairs was the first chair of the MILF peace panel which entered into formal negotiations with government in 1997. Murad, then MILF Vice Chair, served in a concurrent capacity as MILF peace panel chair from 2001 to 2003. He assumed the chairmanship when Salamat passed away in July 2003. Iqbal served as peace panel chair from 2003 to 2016, was BTC chair from 2014 to 2016 and peace implementing chair under the Duterte administration.

MILF peace panel chairs: (L to R) Ghazali Jaafar (1996-1998), Al Haj Murad Ebrahim (2001 to 2003) and Mohagher Iqbal (since 2003). The three attended the Eid’l Fitr celebration with President Rodrigo Duterte at the SMX Convention Center in Davao City on 16 June 2018. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Robert Maulana Aloto, a member of the MILF peace panel that negotiated with the government the 2012 Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the 2014 CAB, posted on his Facebook page that Salamat would not have accepted the bicam version because it is “more than ARMM.”

Alonto recalled that in 2003, when Salamat was in the mountains of Lanao del Sur after the Arroyo administration’s attack on Buliok, Maguindanao, “the Arroyo regime secretly offered to him an ‘enhanced ARMM’ but Salamat rejected it as “tae a aso” (dog shit).

“The point is that ARMM, whether less of it or more of it, is not the benchmark for accepting or non-accepting a Congress-made ‘BBL’. The benchmark will have to be and ought to be the signed political agreements – the FAB and CAB. No more, no less. For what good will peace agreements be if at the end of the day the parties don’t abide by them? As one observer rightly opined: The consistent failure to implement agreements designed to end conflicts is closing the door to future peace negotiations or resolving conflicts through peaceful means,” Alonto said.

Army laughs off rebels’ harassment try

From the Daily Guardian (Jul 14): Army laughs off rebels’ harassment try


The Philippine Army’s 301st Infantry Brigade dismissed as a desperate act to gain mileage the move of suspected New People’s Army (NPA) in harassing an Army detachment in Igbaras, Iloilo.

“Nagpapansin lang ang mga ‘yan. It’s a futile attempt for their presence to be felt,” said Colonel Benedict Arevalo, 301st IB commander.

At around 12:30 a.m. of July 13, 2018, the Igbaras Police Station received a call informing them of the harassment incident at Barangay Passi, Igbaras.

SPO1 Victor Espina said the report claimed that gunfire erupted near the Century Peak.

When police verified the incident with the 61st Infantry Battalion’s Bravo Company located at Barangay Igtalongon, it was confirmed that an undetermined number of suspected rebels fired at an Army detachment.

Since the attackers were more or less 250 meters from the detachment, the Army dismissed it as plain harassment.

No casualty or injury was reported on the government side.

Arevalo said the incident could also be a diversionary tactic of the NPA.

Just the same, Arevalo said Army troops all over Panay are always on alert for rebel attacks.

NPA leader, 4 others nabbed in Northern Samar —military

From GMA News (Jul 14): NPA leader, 4 others nabbed in Northern Samar —military

An alleged leader of a New People's Army (NPA) unit and four others were apprehended Friday afternoon at Barangay Bangkerohan in Catarman, Northern Samar.

On Saturday, the military identified the "high-ranking terrorist leader" as Marieta Bartolo alias Tayang said to be the Front Secretary of Metro 1, Sub-regional Committee Emporium, an NPA unit operating in several Northern Samar municipalities.

"They are responsible [for] the atrocities against the [Philippine National Police], military personnel and civilian in the said area," the military said.

Tayang was apprehended along with Ruth Martirez Figueroa, Eboy Loberiano, Gil Martirez, and Danny Basiloi.

The inter-agency operations were conducted by elements of the 803rd Infantry Brigade and Northern Samar Provincial Police Office on Friday at around 4:30 p.m.

The operatives served two warrants of arrest for murder and attempted murder against Bartolo.

Weapons recovered from the suspects included three calibre .45 pistol, a 38. calibre revolver, a KG9 SMG gun, and a Glock 9 mm pistol.

Other items seized were 12 envelops with P30,000 each and other subversive documents.

According to Colonel Ramil M. Bitong, commander of the 803rd Brigade, the cash is believed to be "grease money" to support the candidacy of Figueroa for Association of Barangay Chairman (ABC) President of Catarman.

Bartolo, the military added, is believed to have raised the funds to ensure the election of Figueroa as ABC President.

Bitong said the suspects were currently in the custody of the Northern Samar Provincial Police Office.

He added that criminal charges will be filed against the suspects while cohorts and other companions who escaped are subject to man-hunt operations.

Top Samar Red, Bayan Muna leaders captured

From the Journal Online (Jul 14): Top Samar Red, Bayan Muna leaders captured

THE Philippine Army announced it has “captured” on Friday, a ranking leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP/NPA) responsible for communist operations in Northern Samar together with the provincial “president” of the militant group, ‘Bayan Muna.’

Capt. Ryan Velez, spokesman of the 803RD ‘Peacemaker’ Brigade, 8th Infantry ‘Stormtroopers’ Division, identified the alleged CPP-NPA leader as, Marieta ‘Ka Tayang’ Bartolo, front secretary of ‘Metro-1’ operating in the municipalities of Pambujan, San Roque, Silvino Lobos, Las Navas, Mondragon and Catarman, all in Northern Samar.

Velez said also captured with Bartolo were Ruth Martirez Figueroa, Bayan Muna President-Northern Samar and the incumbent Bgy. Chairwoman of University of Eastern Philippines, Zone 3, Catarman, Northern Samar; Eboy ‘Bagyo’ Pinuton Loberiano and, Gil Espelimbergo Martirez.

In a statement, Velez added the group were nabbed in the vicinity of Bgy. Bangkerohan, Catarman while on board a vehicle by a joint military and police team sent to effect the serving of an arrest warrant for murder and frustrated murder against Bartolo issued by the Gamay Regional Trial Court.

“Three Caliber (Cal) .45 pistol, one Cal .38 revolver, one KG9 SMG, one Glock 9mm pistol were recovered from the vehicle used by the suspects,” Velez said.

“Other items recovered were 12 envelops with P30,000 each and other subversive documents,” the spokesman added.

Col. Ramil M. Bitong, Commander of 803rd Brigade, believes the recovered cash are ‘grease money’ to support the candidacy of Figueroa who is allegedly running as president of the Association of Barangay Chairman (ABC) in Catarman.

“Bartolo is believed to have raised the funds to ensure the election of Figueroa as ABC president,” Bitong averred.

He added his men are also conducting a “manhunt operation” for the arrest of the group’s other unidentified companions who managed to escape.

South China Sea Exercises Fortify Once Edgy U.S.-Philippine Relations

From the Voice of America (Jul 13): South China Sea Exercises Fortify Once Edgy U.S.-Philippine Relations

Analysts say joint naval exercises by the Philippines and the United States in the South China Sea are an indication the island nation is drawing closer to its former colonizer and historic friend after several years seeking warmer relations with the United States’ cold war foe, China.

The exercises, July 9-16, include two Philippine warships and two ships, plus an aircraft carrier from the United States, according to the U.S. Navy’s Indo-Pacific Command website. The venue off the west coast of Luzon Island adjoins a tract of the sea where the Philippines and China dispute sovereignty.

FILE - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures while addressing the crowd after leading the flag-raising rites at the 120th Philippine Independence Day celebration at the Emilio Aguinaldo Shrine at Kawit, Cavite province south of Manila, June 12, 2018.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, in office now for two years, had put aside the sovereignty dispute to build relations with China and sidelined the United States. Analysts say Duterte is now seeking to renew relations with Washington because Philippine citizens, the armed forces and even members of the Cabinet favor a stronger maritime defense.

China isn’t expected to give up on its friendship with the Southeast Asian archipelago, however, unless the joint exercises get bigger.

“In recent months there has been a very subtle shift of attitude on the side of the Philippines, so I think this sort of move, to have joint exercises with the U.S., is in line with that,” said Oh Ei Sun, international studies instructor at Singapore Nanyang University.

Sailors and fighter jets are seen on the deck of the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) as it anchors off Manila Bay for a goodwill visit, June 26, 2018, west of Manila, Philippines.

Pro-U.S. recalibration

Under Duterte, the annual joint Philippine-U.S. naval exercises have avoided the South China Sea, a venue picked by his predecessor for the same events.

In December 2016, Duterte threatened to end a visiting-troops agreement with the United States.

He was angry then about a U.S. foundation’s withholding of development aid over human rights concerns linked to the deadly Philippine campaign against illegal drugs.

But members of the relatively weak Philippine armed forces have pushed Duterte for more U.S. engagement, experts say. Public opinion surveys indicate much of the public also supports a U.S. role for the Philippines.

On Thursday, Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo gave a speech on “the importance of asserting the country’s rights over its territories,” her office said in a statement.

Defense officials prefer the United States to China, said Maria Ela Atienza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman. The two countries signed a mutual defense treaty in 1951 shortly after the United States ended its colonization of the archipelago.

Washington sees the Philippines as part of a network of allies in East Asia.

“We do not have a security alliance agreement with China yet,” Atienza said. “We have (them) of course with our usual allies.”

FILE - The BRP Gregorio Del Pilar Philippine warship, at Manila's pier, Philippines, Dec. 17, 2014. The warship is a refurbished former U.S. Coast Guard Hamilton-class weather high endurance cutter.

Effort to build a Philippine navy

The two navies are doing exercises this week to “increase proficiency in air” as well as missile defense, the Indo-Pacific Command website says. The so-called “Sama Sama” exercises also cover diving maneuvers and search-and-rescue operation.

The Philippines is also trying to improve its navy overall, said Eduardo Araral, associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s public policy school.

A naval inspection committee approved the design review for the two new frigates in March. Another vessel, the BRP Andres Bonifacio, entered the navy two years ago after being decommissioned by the U.S. military.

The Philippine government may need U.S. help in learning to operate the ships, Araral said.

“The bigger picture is that the Philippines has not broken off with the U.S. military alliance, so you wouldn’t be surprised if in the future they will have infantry training, armed forces training, navy retraining, so on and so forth,” Araral said.

China calm for now
China “won’t read too much” into this month’s U.S.-Philippine exercises as long as the activities avoid disputed islets, Araral said.

Officials in Beijing would be more likely to object if the United States alone were carrying out the exercises, Atienza said.

Washington does not have a claim to the South China Sea, which extends from Hong Kong south to the island of Borneo, but it regards the waterway as international and periodically sends vessels to counter growing Chinese maritime control.

South China Sea Territorial Claims

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam contest China on sovereignty over all or parts of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea. All sides value the sea’s fisheries and fossil fuel reserves.

Beijing has irked the other claimants by landfilling several islets for military use. But it has offered economic aid to much of Southeast Asia, including pledges of $24 billion to the Philippines, to ease that friction.

Two years ago this month China lost a world arbitration court ruling to the Philippines over the legal basis for its maritime claims.

3 Abu Sayyaf bandits die in Sulu firefight

From PTV News (Jul 13): 3 Abu Sayyaf bandits die in Sulu firefight

Three Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) members, including a navigator, were killed in a brief clash early Thursday as troops conducted combat operations in Indanan, Sulu, a top military official said.

Brig. Gen. Divino Rey Pabayo, Joint Task Force Sulu commander, said the clash took place around 4:30 a.m. Thursday in Barangay Kuppong, Indanan municipality.

Pabayo said troops from the Army’s 2nd Special Forces Battalion conducted a combat operation after receiving reports about the presence of the ASG bandits in Barangay Kuppong.

Pabayo said the firefight lasted for about two minutes, after which, the ASG bandits fled to different directions.

He said the troops recovered the remains of one of the three slain ASG bandits, who was identified as Pakam Sakam Sappari alias Last Pangit. Also recovered was a caliber .45 pistol with four live ammunition.

“Pakam Sakam Sappari was a skilled sea navigator identified with various ASG sub-groups, the latest of which was the group of the late ASG sub-leader Alden Bagade. He was reportedly involved in several kidnapping activities,” Pabayo said.

He said the remains of the other two slain bandits were dragged by their comrades, who fled to different directions.

The Abu Sayyaf bandits are still holding hostage 10 people, including five foreigners. They comprise three Indonesians, one Dutch, one Vietnamese and five Filipinos.

Lt. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega, Western Mindanao Command chief, has commended the troops for their accomplishment and thanked the community for their contribution by providing essential information.

Bicam approves final Bangsamoro Basic Law version

From the Philippine Star (Jul 14): Bicam approves final Bangsamoro Basic Law version

The bicameral conference committee worked overtime on Thursday night to resolve the few remaining contentious issues in the law that would create a new Bangsamoro territory to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The Senate and the House of Representatives agreed yesterday on the final version of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

The bicameral conference committee worked overtime on Thursday night to resolve the few remaining contentious issues in the law that would create a new Bangsamoro territory to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
“We finished everything in principle at 12:15 a.m.,” Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said.

He said the conference committee authorized his Senate counterpart Juan Miguel Zubiri “to finalize our report and we will meet on Tuesday, July 17, for its approval and, forthwith, forward it to the President for his consideration.”  
“If he finds it to his approval, we will have it ratified in plenary by the House and the Senate when we convene our third regular session on Monday, July 24, 2018, at 10 a.m., for it to be signed into law by the President on or before the SONA at 4 p.m.,” he said.

A commission composed of representatives of the government, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other Muslim groups drafted the proposed BBL.

MILF vice chairman Ghazali Jaafar has indicated that his organization would accept the final version written by the Senate-House conference committee co-chaired by Fariñas and Zubiri.
He said they did not expect the panel to water down the proposed BBL.

On Wednesday, in a meeting with bicam members, President Duterte resolved the panel’s deadlock on the territory of the proposed new Bangsamoro region and the conduct of a plebiscite among the affected areas.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the President convinced the committee to adopt the pertinent provisions of the House version, which are consistent with a 2014 ruling of the Supreme Court.

In the case, the high court ordered the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to conduct a plebiscite in the entire province of Nueva Ecija, not just Cabanatuan City, on Cabanatuan’s conversion as a highly urbanized city.

In the draft BBL, aside from the five provinces now covered by the ARMM, the envisioned Bangsamoro region would be expanded to include six towns in Lanao del Norte and 39 barangays in North Cotabato. The new region would replace ARMM.

Philippines rolls out red carpet for Moro rebels

From the Anadolu Agency (Jul 13): Philippines rolls out red carpet for Moro rebels

Philippines rolls out red carpet for Moro rebels

High-ranking officials of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) visited the Philippine military’s headquarters in the capital Thursday, marking another milestone in the peace process between the government and the Bangsamoro people.

"On behalf of the soldiers, sailors and airmen, I welcome you to the military headquarters” at Camp Aguinaldo, military chief General Carlito Galvez Jr. told the MILF officials as quoted by Rappler, a Philippine news site.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines rolled out the red carpet for MILF Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar and Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces Chief of Staff Sammy Al Mansour as well as their colleagues in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission.
“We feel honored by the invitation and humbled by the welcome,” said Jaafar.

After being handed a white rose symbolizing peace, Jaafar was escorted by Galvez to shake hands with other high-ranking military officials.

The historic visit comes as bicameral conference committee meetings are being held in congress to reconcile the conflicting provisions of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque last Wednesday announced that President Rodrigo Duterte will sign the BBL into law before he delivers his State of the Nation Address on July 23.

Mansour, Galvez’s counterpart in the MILF who heads the rebel group’s armed forces, said their visit is a “fruit of the peace process” which he never thought would happen.

“There is a general who said if you want peace, be prepared for war. That’s not correct. If you really want peace, then be prepared for peace. Without peace…it’s very impossible for us to be here at Camp Aguinaldo,” said Mansour.

MILF, the country’s largest Moro separatist group, signed a peace deal with Manila in 2014.

WFP Philippines Situation Report #8 - 13 July 2018

Posted to the Relief Web (Jul 13): WFP Philippines Situation Report #8 - 13 July 2018

Published on 13 Jul 2018
  • Through the generous support of the Government of Italy, WFP started a food assistance for assets activity in 15 barangays in Lanao del Sur. WFP provided vegetable seeds for planting to 1,580 participants and reached 7,900 individuals with rice.
  • WFP reached 93,270 individuals in Marawi and Iligan cities and nine municipalities in Lanao del Sur with rice, through general distributions.
In Numbers

208,000 returned individuals in need of assistance
214,000 individuals still displaced and in need of assistance

Marawi City Situation
  • As the Government shifts to the recovery and rehabilitation phase of the Marawi crisis seven months after the liberation of the city in October 2017, some 208,000 individuals have returned to their homes in Marawi City, but are still in need of food and livelihood support. Meanwhile, over 214,000 are still displaced and likewise require food and livelihood assistance.
  • In mid-June, hostilities broke out between the Government security forces and some suspected members of the ISIS-inspired Maute Group in the Tubaran-Pagayawan boundary in Lanao del Sur. More than 1,300 families reportedly fled to safety and are currently staying in evacuation centres or with host families in neighbouring municipalities.
  • The Armed Forces of the Philippines assured that the incident will not lead to another siege such as the Marawi crisis as the Maute fighters retreated to a mountainous region far from residential areas.
    WFP Response
  • In June, WFP expanded its humanitarian activities to cater to the need for livelihood support of families engaged in agriculture-based activities. Through a food assistance for assets activity, WFP targeted more than 1,500 farming families to support with rice and seeds for planting.
  • WFP will undertake another emergency food security assessment in Marawi City in July. The third in a series of assessments in Marawi, this aims to monitor the food security and nutrition situation of the people affected by the crisis one year after the disaster happened and eight months after the crisis ended.

New army commander in Panay, Guimaras

From the Manila Bulletin (Feb 13): New army commander in Panay, Guimaras

ILOILO CITY — Col. Benedict Arevalo is the new commander of the Philippine Army’s 301st Infantry Brigade (301 IB), which oversees the islands of Panay and Guimaras.

(Philippine Army Spearhead Troopers via Facebook / MANILA BULLETIN)

Arevalo replaced Brig. Gen. Pio Diñoso, who has been assigned to Camp Aguinaldo as the deputy chief of staff for logistics of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Arevalo was recently installed in a ceremony presided by Maj. Gen. Dinoh Dolina, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division at Camp Hernandez, the headquarters of 301 IB.

Arevalo vowed to continue addressing the communist insurgency in Panay by getting the participation of various stakeholders.

“It is putting together pieces of the broken puzzle that represents each of us who has a significant role to resolve the decade-long social problem,” Arevalo said.

While the strength of the New People’s Army (NPA) has dwindled in Panay, Arevalo is hopeful that more NPA rebels will give up their armed struggle and rejoin the folds of society.

Arevalo was previously assigned under units of 3ID. Specifically, he served as an intelligence officer for the 302nd Infantry Brigade in Negros Island during the 1990s. He was also an intelligence and operations officer of the defunct 7th Infantry Battalion.

A native of Baguio City, Arevalo graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 1990.

AFP to return P192.5-M Maguindanao road project fund

From Rappler (Jul 14): AFP to return P192.5-M Maguindanao road project fund

Some P192.5 million allotted for road projects in Maguindanao under the Pamana program is not utilized by the Armed Forces of the Philippines

PAMANA. Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus G. Dureza (left) and OPAPP Assistant Secretary
Yeshter Donn Baccay meet with AFP officials led by 52nd Engineering Brigade commander Brigadier General Dionisio Baudin Jr. (right) on July 10, 2018 to discuss issues on
the implementation of PAMANA projects. Photo from OPAPP

PAMANA. Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus G. Dureza (left) and OPAPP Assistant Secretary Yeshter Donn Baccay meet with AFP officials led by 52nd Engineering Brigade commander Brigadier General Dionisio Baudin Jr. (right) on July 10, 2018 to discuss issues on the implementation of PAMANA projects. Photo from OPAPP

The Armed Forces of the Philippines will return the unused P192.5 million for road projects in Maguindanao back to the Bureau of Treasury.

In a statement on Friday, July 13, Chief Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said that he had asked the AFP to return the unused funds under the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (Peaceful and Resilient Communities) or Pamana program.

The Pamana program is the government's peace and development framework for empowering conflict-affected areas in the country.

A total of P250 million was allocated for the concreting of the Lamud-Ganassi-Biarong Road in South Upi and the Makir-Sibuto-Kinabaka Road in Datu Odin Sinsuat town in Maguindanao.

In July 2012, funds from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) were initially downloaded to the AFP as the implementing agency. However, the AFP encountered delays in the implementation of the program.

In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled some specific acts under the DAP are unconstitutional. The remaining funds for the project were not fully released due to the decision.

In a meeting with AFP officials, Dureza said the delays "had caused serious concern" among the constituents in the area.

He added that the project cost "would vary from the program of work that costs 6 years ago."

Brigadier General Dionisio Baudin Jr, 52nd Engineering Brigade Commander, said that the AFP "will comply" and would consider "securing future fresh funds" based on the expected costing for the same project 6 years later.

If the funds are not returned, the Commission on Audit (COA) may declare the unused budget as unliquidated.

In its 2017 audit report, COA said that some P267.45 million under the Pamana program remained unliquidated, pending status reports on some projects and liquidation documents from implementing agencies.

CPP rejects localized peace talks, says Duterte 'pretending to want peace'

From CNN Philippines (Jul 13): CPP rejects localized peace talks, says Duterte 'pretending to want peace'

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) on Friday said it won't participate in the localized peace talks being pushed for by the government.

The country's biggest communist organization shot down President Rodrigo Duterte's policy for local government officials to talk peace with rebels, saying he will only "pretend to want peace while actually waging total war against the people."

"[The] so-called localized peace talks are a sham, a waste of people's money, and are doomed to fail. It is a worn-out psywar tactic to project victory to conceal the continuing failure of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) to suppress the people's resistance and stem the steady growth of the NPA (New People's Army)," the CPP said in a statement.

The NPA is the armed wing of the CPP which has waged a five-decade insurgency, the longest-running in Asia.

The rejection comes as the Duterte cabinet finalized the guidelines local government officials should follow in talking peace with the communist rebels. Malacañang said an executive order will formalize and spell out these guidelines.

READ: Guidelines for localized peace talks set

Malacañang has said the local government's talks with the rebels have been proven successful in the past, as evidenced by the surrender of thousands of fighters.

This is a claim repeatedly denied by the CPP, calling it an "illusion."

It accused the AFP of rounding up local residents and misrepresenting them before the public as surrenderees.

"They have overdone their surrender campaign as they have declared close to 8,000 surrendered since January, after having claimed earlier this year that there are only 3,000 NPA members," the CPP said.

It also maintained its members are "united under the Party's central leadership," and expressed its support for the National Democratic Front, which represents rebels in talks with the government.

Duterte walked away from the negotiations in November 2017 as both sides accused each other of violating their own unilateral ceasefire declarations.

The talks were supposed to resume last June, but Duterte postponed it for a three-month review. This sparked a word war between government officials and the communist leadership, particularly CPP founding chairman Joma Sison who said they would rather wait for a new government and participate in Duterte's ouster than talk peace with his administration.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque previously said the government is "laughing at" the supposed target of the rebels to oust Duterte by October, while the Armed Forces said the rebels have no capacity to overthrow the government.

Troops, 60 Abu Sayyaf bandits clash in Sulu

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 12): Troops, 60 Abu Sayyaf bandits clash in Sulu

One soldier died while 10 others were wounded in a fresh clash triggered by the continuing military operations aimed at rescuing hostages from the hands of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Sulu, officials said Thursday.

Brig. Gen. Divino Rey Pabayo, Joint Task Force Sulu commander, said the latest encounter took place in Sitio Kan Apo Aluk, Barangay Panglayahan, Patikul, Sulu at about 1:55 p.m. on Wednesday.

Pabayo said the troops were conducting an operation when they chanced upon 60 ASG gunmen led by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, one of the bandits' sub-leaders in the province.

He said the firefight raged sporadically and lasted for about two hours, resulting in the death of a soldier and the wounding of 10 others. The casualties on the bandits’ side could not immediately be determined, he added.

The identities of the slain and wounded soldiers have not been released, but Pabayo said they belong to the Army’s 32nd Infantry Battalion, led by Lt. Col. Ronaldo Mateo.

“We believe that a number of bandits were wounded and probably could have died due to loss of blood after yesterday’s encounter,” Pabayo said, adding that reinforcements were deployed to block all possible withdrawal routes as troops continued to scour the area.

Lt. Gen. Arnel dela Vega, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, said the lone casualty on the military's side will only give the troops more resolve to further intensify offensives against the ASG.

“We recognize the commitment of our troops to thwart lawlessness, to the point of sacrificing even their lives,” dela Vega said.

The Abu Sayyaf bandits are still holding 10 people hostage, five of whom are foreigners. They comprise three Indonesians, one Dutch, one Vietnamese, and five Filipinos.

Army extends medical aid to displaced Maguindanao residents

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 13): Army extends medical aid to displaced Maguindanao residents

HEALTH MISSION. Military doctors and members of the Maguindanao medical team work together to serve the displaced people of Datu Salibo town during a medical-dental outreach program Thursday (July 12) in Barangays Butilen and Butalo of the municipality. (Photo by 6ID)

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao – While various Army units are pursuing Islamic State-linked armed men in Maguindanao, others are extending medical and dental services in one of the conflict-affected towns in the province.

In partnership with the Maguindanao Peoples Medical Team, the Army's 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion on Thursday conducted medical and dental services to displaced families from Barangays Butilen and Butalo of Datu Salibo at the town's municipal covered court.

Capt. Arvin John Encinas, speaking for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the beneficiaries were those who have been displaced and affected during last week’s military operation against the group of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) sub-leader Abu Toraife within the “SPMS box”.

The SPMS box refers to the adjacent towns of Datu Salibo, Pagatin (Datu Saudi), Mamasapano and Shariff Aguak, all situated in the province’s second district.

Lt. Colonel Alvin Iyog, 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion commander, said the provision of health services recognizes "no boundaries, faith, culture and political affiliations."

"Thus the Army got out of its way to help the needy. We will continue to facilitate the delivery of health services to the most affected communities that need medical attention,” Iyog said in an interview here Friday.

Brigadier General Cirilito Sobejana, 6th ID chief and concurrent commander of Joint Task Force Central (JTFC), hailed the troops, who on top of "protecting civilians from the BIFF in Central Mindanao, promotes the spirit of volunteerism and services to others."

“It is with great pride for the JTFC to have served the people of Datu Salibo and address one of the most serious threats of violent extremism brought about by the BIFF who had been creating fear and sorrow to communities,” Sobejana said in a statement.

“It’s also a way of giving back, the JTFC launched medical mission and civic action programs for some communities after being assisted by the residents in the fight against the terror group,” Sobejana added.

Encinas said the Datu Salibo outreach program served a total of 228 persons--123 for medical check-up, 60 for dental services, and 45 children circumcised.

12 ex-NPA rebels from Sarangani get financial aid

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 13): 12 ex-NPA rebels from Sarangani get financial aid

Twelve former New People’s Army (NPA) rebels from Sarangani province and neighboring areas received some P780,000 worth of financial assistance on Thursday from the government’s enhanced reintegration program.

Defense Undersecretary Reynaldo Mapagu personally handed over the assistance to the returnees in a simple ceremony held at the Kasfala Hall of the Sarangani provincial capitol in Alabel town.

Mapagu said the move is in fulfillment of the national government’s commitment to help former rebels as they return to normal lives.

The financial assistance is part of the support packages that may be availed by returning rebels under the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP), he said.

The beneficiaries received PHP65,000 each or PHP15,000 as immediate assistance and PHP50,000 as livelihood grant. Among them was former NPA-Far South Mindanao or Valentin Palamine Command spokesperson Noel Legaspi, alias Ka Efren.

Legaspi and his wife Wendy surrendered voluntarily in South Cotabato last January after serving the rebel movement for 26 years.

Mapagu, who chairs the Task Force Balik-Loob, reiterated that the national government remains committed to assist rebels who want to surrender and return to the folds of the law.

Through the E-CLIP, he said the government has expanded the support programs that may be availed by returning rebels.

“Aside from financial assistance, we have set a range of services from government agencies that they may access,” the military official said.

Mapagu said they have set convergence programs for the former rebels as provided for in Administrative Order No. 10, series of 2018.

The participating agencies include the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, Department of Agriculture, Department of Agrarian Reform, National Housing Authority, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Philippine Health Insurance Corp., Department of Education, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Trade and Industry and Department of Justice.

Mapagu said they are hoping that more NPA rebels will give up arms, especially recruits from tribal communities that reportedly comprise the bulk of NPA fighters in Mindanao.

Mapagu also lauded the provincial government of Sarangani for addressing the needs of the area’s tribal communities and supporting the E-CLIP.

The provincial government is currently working on the establishment of a halfway house for former rebels in Alabel, allocating some P1.5 million for the acquisition of the property as counterpart to the project.

The DILG earlier released a P5 million grant to the local government for the development of the facility, and committed an additional P2 million to facilitate the construction of the administration building within the compound.

Gov’t peace program benefits Zambo fisherfolk

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 13): Gov’t peace program benefits Zambo fisherfolk

Livelihood projects mostly in agri-fishery production under the PAyapa at MAsaganang PamayaNAn or PAMANA programs are now being implemented in conflict-vulnerable coastal areas in the provinces of Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga del Norte.

Among these areas are in the town of Naga in the province of Zamboanga del Norte.

Municipal fishery technician Payja Y. Roxas said at least 100 fisherfolk stand to benefit from the additional livelihood assistance, which includes mobile municipal bag net fishing and seaweed production.

“These projects are very important to the people of Naga. The beneficiaries are considered ‘poorest of the poor’ in our municipality,” Roxas said, referring to the coastal villages of Kaliantana and Mamagon.

“The implementation of PAMANA livelihood program in our area will help the problem of peace and order. Majority of the beneficiaries are victims of armed conflict,” she added.

Roxas said the bag net method allows fishermen to catch fish more effectively in municipal waters. The seaweed farming production project, meanwhile, will cover an initial 15 hectares.

Roxas said these villages have been considered hideouts of kidnappers.

“With these projects, we are giving the people on the ground the opportunities to earn a decent (living),” she said.

Her testimony is just one of the several positive impacts of the PAMANA program that were highlighted during its mid-year assessment meeting here on July 4.

Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Assistant Secretary for Administration and Finance Yeshter Donn Baccay, who is also the deputy program manager for PAMANA, said the program initiatives in these provinces seek to shore up the fishing industry through the practice of sustainable fishing methods as well as incorporate sound marine conservation efforts in coastal areas.

At same time, the projects focus on the much-needed livelihood assistance for the fisherfolk who were affected by years of armed conflict.

PAMANA, which is being managed by OPAPP and its partner government agencies, has been providing vital developmental projects for the last eight years in areas nationwide that have been adversely affected by armed conflict.

“These PAMANA projects are for peace and dividends of peace,” Baccay said. “Our primordial objective here is to let the people on the ground understand and feel the dividends of peace.”

The idea is to ensure that conflict-prone and poverty-stricken areas could transform into self-sufficient and economically viable communities, thus creating an environment where peace building initiatives could prosper, Baccay said.

Baccay also reminded them of the stern warning of OPAPP Secretary Jesus Dureza not to be victimized by “bogus and scammers who are pretending to be connected with OPAPP to get your project proposals and in return asking for budget cuts.”

Felipe B. Gapatan, officer-in-charge of Municipal Agriculture Office of the town of Payao in Zamboanga Sibugay, said this is the same reason they are implementing the PAMANA in the identified nine coastal villages, which are known to be conflict-prone areas and are formerly hotbeds of lawless groups.

In 2011, for instance, thousands of people were displaced after security forces launched a major operation against kidnap-for-ransom groups in the town of Payao.

Gapatan said they are targeting to provide 56 fishermen with 56 pump boats with engines, complete with fishing gear. Each pump boat, he said, is worth PHP35,000.

“At least 1,500 farmers are also set to receive farm materials for their seaweed farming,” he said.

This will cover more than 200 hectares for seaweed farming along the coastline of Payao.

“The implementation of PAMANA is a big help. Our main objective here is not only to uplift their economic status but also bring the needed social transformation in these coastal villages,” Gapatan said.

“Providing them these livelihood projects will make them think twice about joining lawless activities and illegal fishing,” he added.

Known for its rich marine resources, Payao is among the region’s major sources of high-value commercial fishes and contributes significantly to the county’s demand for raw seaweed, which is a prime ingredient for cosmetic and hygiene-care products.

Edwina Desoasido, municipal planning and development coordinator of the town of Tungawan in Zamboanga Sibugay, said since the implementation of PAMANA in recent years, there has been a reduction in the crime rate in their municipality.

“People now can access far-flung areas in our town because of the farm-to-market roads under PAMANA. Lawless elements can no longer seek refuge in these areas,” she said, adding that these roads provide the needed access to basic government services.

Tungawan is implementing PHP8.5 million worth of livelihood projects, which include aquaculture productions and fishing gear for fisherfolk.

3 Abu Sayyaf men surrender in Sulu

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 13): 3 Abu Sayyaf men surrender in Sulu

Three members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) have surrendered as government offensives against the bandits continue in the island province of Sulu, a top military official said Friday.

Joint Task Force Sulu commander, Brig. Gen. Divino Rey Pabayo, said the three ASG members surrendered in Camp General Teodulfo Bautista in Jolo town at about 2:12 p.m. on Thursday.

Pabayo identified them as Radjuli Hadjijani, 25; Jun-Jun Elah, 45; and Indek Sahimarri, 28. They also turned over three Caliber .30 M1 Garand rifles.
They have already undergone medical examination and documentation.

Their surrender brings to 127 the total number of ASG members who have yielded to the military in Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi since January. Of the total, 58 gave themselves up in Sulu, 62 in Basilan, five in Tawi-Tawi, and two in this city.

The continuing military offensives against the ASG are aimed at rescuing the 10 people still being held captive by the group in the hinterlands of Sulu. The hostages comprise three Indonesians, one Dutch, one Vietnamese, and five Filipinos.

Pangasinan's 1st mobile police company has new home

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 13): Pangasinan's 1st mobile police company has new home

(Photo courtesy of Alaminos City Government) 
ALAMINOS CITY, Pangasinan -- The 1st Provincial Mobile Force Company (PMFC) of Pangasinan now has a new home -- a newly constructed two-storey building in Barangay Tanaytay here that was inaugurated on Thursday.

Engineer Mienardo Inacay, chief of construction of the Department of Public Works and Highways’ (DPWH) 1st Engineering District of Pangasinan, said on Friday that construction of the PHP3.2-million building was a priority project under the Local Infrastructure Program of Pangasinan 1st District Rep. Jesus Celeste.

“Our office was the implementing agency. We started construction in February this year,” Inacay said.

Deputy force commander of 1st PMFC, Senior Insp. Arnold Soriano, said they were overwhelmed by the support they received from the Alaminos city government and Celeste.

“We have the most modern building among the PMFCs in the province. From our bungalow-type office, we now have a two-storey building,” he said.

Soriano also said that the 1st PMFC vowed to improve its capabilities and the delivery of public safety and law enforcement.

The 1st PMFC’s primary concern is the monitoring of insurgency in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd districts of Pangasinan, as well as support for the police stations in these districts on the conduct of operations, said Soriano.

The blessing and inauguration of the new building was officiated by Rev. Fr. Napoleon Molano III and was attended by officials of the Pangasinan Police and the city government.

Army commander welcomes another NPA surrenderer in Laguna

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 13): Army commander welcomes another NPA surrenderer in Laguna

(Official logo of the 2nd Infantry "Jungle Fighter" Division (2ID), Philippine Army)

CAMP GEN. MATEO CAPINPIN, Tanay, Rizal -- Major Gen. Rhoderick M. Parayno, commander of the 2nd Infantry "Jungle Fighter" Division, Philippine Army welcomed on Friday a member of the outlawed New People’s Army who surrendered to the 1st Infantry ”Always First” Batallion (1IB).

Parayno said the surrender is another indication that members of the communist terrorist group are now abandoning their lost cause and getting back into the society.

“We are hopeful that there will be more NPAs who will surrender, especially that we are pursuing a localized peace negotiation with the communist terrorist group,” Parayno said.

He lauded the efforts of the 1IB against the NPA terrorists in the area, which resulted in another rebel surrenderer at Sitio Patola, Barangay Cansuso in Cavinti, Laguna last Wednesday (July 11).

The 2ID commander said the series of surrenders in the area of Quezon and Laguna were the result of sustained combat operations and community support program of the troops.

“We will assist and link them to the concerned government agencies and local government units (LGUs) for them to receive the necessary benefits and assistance from the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP),” he added.

He also acknowledged the support of the LGUs and the cooperation of the residents in the area.

Lt. Col. Jonathan S. Manio, acting Commanding Officer of 1IB, has identified the rebel surrenderer as alias “Oli”, 23, who gave up to authorities due to hardships and starvation while moving from one place to another to evade government troops.

Manio said “Oli” was a member of Platoon 4A1, Sub- Regional Military Area (SRMA) 4D, Southern Tagalog Regional Party Committee (STRPC) operating in the hinterlands of Laguna and Quezon.

The NPA surrenderer also turned over his M16 rifle and a bandoleer with magazines and ammunitions.

According to the 2ID, “Oli” narrated to authorities his frustrations and hopelessness over unfulfilled promises by his NPA comrades, such as a good life where he can support his family.

“Pero ang mas masakit para sa akin ay nang pinabayaan ako nila noong ako ay masugatan sa isang enkwentro sa Laguna. Kaya napag- isip isip ko na walang patutunguhan ang aking buhay sa pagsama ko sa mga NPA kaya minabuti ko pong sumuko (But what was more painful for me was when they abandoned me when I was injured in an encounter in Laguna. So, I thought that there is no direction in my life in joining the NPA, thus I'd rather surrender),” Oli said.

Oli also said he witnessed that his former rebel comrades, who have surrendered ahead of him, are now back to their normal lives as they engage in better livelihood.

Meanwhile, Capt. Patrick Jay M. Retumban, chief of the 2ID Public Affairs Office, said that the surrendered rebels are placed under the government’s Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP).

Retumban said that the program provides a former rebel the benefits, such as PHP15,000 in immediate cash assistance; PHP7,000 in reintegration assistance; PHP50,000 livelihood assistance; PHP450,000 for housing; and PHP45,000 to 90,000 for firearms remuneration.

He said that aside from these monetary assistance, the surrendered rebels could also avail of services from government agencies, such as psycho-social debriefing from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD); skills training from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA); Conditional Transitional Grant; and college stipend for their children.

Ex-rebels train on organic farming

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 14): Ex-rebels train on organic farming

TRAINING FOR EX-REBELS: Some of the 10 former rebels of the New People's Army (NPA) are shown in this photo (with blurred faces to protect their identities) while undergoing a 10-day training on organic agriculture production sponsored by the Palawan government and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority. (Photo courtesy of PIO)

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Palawan -- Some 10 former members of the New People’s Army are undergoing a training course on organic agriculture production in this province as part of their amnesty under the Local Social Integration Program (LSIP) and the continuing bid to empower them back to society.

Lucita Padul, social welfare officer III of Palawan’s Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office (PSWDO), said Saturday the training on Organic Agriculture Production (OAP) NCII in an undisclosed location, is from July 12 to 21.

Padul said its goal is to provide the rebel returnees with skills and abilities in organic farming to uplift their and their families’ lives following their return from armed struggle.

“Patuloy na isinusulong ng Pamahalaang Panlalawigan katuwang ang ibang ahensiya ng pamahalaan ang pagtataguyod ng kapakanan ng mga nagbalik-loob sa pamahalaan o rebel returnees sa pamamagitan ng LSIP na ipinapatupad sa ilalim ng PSWDO (The provincial government, in close cooperation with other agencies, is continuously supporting the return of former rebels through the LSIP that is implemented under the PSWDO),” she said.

The OAP NCII consists of competencies that they must achieve to produce organic farm products, such as chicken and vegetables, including the production of organic supplements, such as fertilizer, concoctions, and extracts.

It has two elective competencies, which are about raising organic hogs and raising organic small ruminants. It is facilitated by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

After finishing the course, they will have OAP NCII qualifications, which means they have been trained in producing organic supplements or fertilizers.

Padul said the training course also includes lectures on drug abuse prevention being led by the provincial police.

The rebel returnees are also provided with subsistence assistance, counseling, food, shelter assistance, educational support, and transport assistance.

“Ang mga ganitong aktibidad ay bahagi lamang ng pagtataguyod ng programa upang mapangalagaan ang kapakanan ng mga former rebels (Activities like these are part of the provincial government’s commitment to ensure that the well-being of our former rebels are not neglected),” she said.

Padul added that the administration of Palawan Governor Jose Alvarez is serious in making the 10 former rebels become active community partners for change.

She said they hope their support for the returnees would encourage the latter’s former comrades in the NPA to surrender peacefully.

Padul commended the assistance extended to the LSIP program by the Western Command and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority for the former rebels who have expressed optimism in gaining skills about livelihood opportunities in agriculture.

The training course was provided under Provincial Ordinance No. 2540, series of 2015, which establishes the implementing guidelines and provision of assistance to rebel returnees through the LSIP.

13 NPA rebels surrender in Zamboanga del Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 14): 13 NPA rebels surrender in Zamboanga del Sur

Thirteen members of the New People’s Army (NPA) have surrendered due to continuing military offensives, an Army official said.

Col. Bagnus Gaerlan, Army’s 102nd Infantry Brigade commander, said the NPA rebels surrendered on Thursday to the troops of the 53rd Infantry Battalion in Guipos, Zamboanga del Sur. The surrenderers belong the the NPA’s Section Committee “Kara” and “security elements” of the Western Mindanao Regional Party Committee (WMRPC) operating in the Zamboanga Peninsula.

Gaerlan said they turned over three firearms that included a caliber .30 M1 Garand rifle, one Carbine rifle, and a caliber .45 pistol.

Lt. Col. Marlowe Patria, 53rd Infantry Battalion commander, said one of the surrenderees, whom he only identified as a Ka Eric, disclosed that they decided to surrender because the rebel movement broke its promise to support their family.

Ka Eric, according to Patria, cited other reasons such as constant physical, mental, and emotional weariness as well as hunger due to almost endless movement that they had to endure to evade military troops. The surrenderers also felt disillusioned and just want to give their children a brighter future, the miitary official added.

Patria said some of rebels were enticed to surrender after hearing on a local radio station about the military-led peace fellowship featuring former rebels and their families. In the program, military officials and NPA surrenderers discussed about the government’s implementation of the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP).”

Patria assured the surrederers they will facilitate their enrollment to the E-CLIP of the government, which included the grant of PHP50,000 livelihood assistance, PHP15,000 immediate cash assistance, and firearms remuneration like PHP30,000 for Garand rifle, PHP25,000 for Carbine rifle and PHP16,000 for caliber .45 pistol.

He said they could also avail services from other government services such as phycho-social debriefing from Department of Social Welfare and Development, as well as skills training by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

Westmincom honors 10 wounded soldiers

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 14): Westmincom honors 10 wounded soldiers

Lt. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega, Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief, pins medal to a wounded soldier during his visit on Friday, July 13, to the troops at Camp Bautista Station Hospital in Jolo, Sulu and at Camp Navarro General Hospital in Zamboanga City. (Photo courtesy: Westmincom PIO) 

The Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) has awarded medals for gallantry in action to 10 soldiers who were wounded in a recent clash with Abu Sayyaf bandits in the province of Sulu.

Lt. Gen. Arnel dela Vega, Westmincom chief, awarded the wounded personnel medals (WPM) during his visit on Friday to the soldiers at Camp Teodulfo Bautista Station Hospital in Jolo, Sulu.

Lt. Col. Gerry Besana, Westmincom information officer, on Saturday said the recipients of WPM are the personnel from the Army’s 32nd Infantry Battalion, who were hurt in a two-hour sporadic firefight with around 60 Abu Sayyaf bandits on Wednesday in Sitio Kan Apo Alu, Barangay Panglayahan, Patikul, Sulu.

Brig. Gen. Divino Rey Pabayo, Joint Task Force Sulu commander, earlier said the troops were on a military operation when they clashed with the group of Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan.

Most of the 10 wounded soldiers were admitted at Camp Teodulfo Bautista Station Hospital, while the others were airlifted to Camp Navarro General Hospital in this city. Besana said dela Vega also visited the wounded soldiers at the hospital in this city.

Besana said dela Vega has commended the soldiers for their professionalism and dedication, and willingness to give up their lives just for the people to live in peace within their communities.

Group of retired generals supports BBL passage

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 13): Group of retired generals supports BBL passage 

A group composed of retired generals in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has declared its full support for the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) being pushed by the Duterte administration to finally attain a genuine and lasting peace in Mindanao.

“The Association of Generals and Flag Officers (AGFO) fully supports the program of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s program, especially in the issue of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. We are confident that the President has developed a meaningful program to bring about peace in Mindanao,” Raul Urgello, AGFO president, said in an exclusive interview with the Philippine News Agency (PNA) at the sidelines of the AGFO regular meeting held at General Ricarte’s Hall in Fort Bonifacio on Thursday.

The BBL is being thoroughly examined and debated by the members of both the Senate and House of Congress.

“I’m sure they (lawmakers) will come out a law acceptable to our government and the Bangsamoro," said Urgello, a retired three-star general and former commanding general of the Philippine Army with almost two decades assignment in Mindanao during the war in the 1970s and 1980s.

He admitted that the issue is "complicated", adding that “there is no simple solution, but we have to move towards peace in the region.”

All war broke out in Mindanao between government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1974, killing more than 120,000, mostly combatants, until a peace agreement was on Sept. 2, 1996 during the time of President Fidel V. Ramos.

However, a breakaway group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) continued the war in 2000 during the Estrada presidency.

During this war, the government practically overran all MILF camps in Central Mindanao, but peace has remained elusive as ever, although both the government and the MILF have ceased fighting to date with the hope of achieving a genuine and lasting peace with the passage of the BBL.

Urgello said AGFO expressed hope that “President Duterte will succeed in his effort to bring peace in Mindanao through BBL within the purview of the Constitution.”

He stressed that most, if not all, AGFO members had their experience in combat in the Mindanao war and said it is about time to end the armed conflict in the region.

Former Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita, a retired three-star general and an AGFO member, also expressed the same sentiment that peace is long overdue in Mindanao.

AFP supports planned EO on localized peace talks

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 13): AFP supports planned EO on localized peace talks

The military on Friday expressed support to President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to issue an executive order on localized peace talks should the peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) do not push through.

"The decision is very apt for the current trend in the field, and the Armed Forces is very much in support of President Duterte's decision to localize the peace talks," Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Col. Noel Detoyato said in a message to the Philippine News Agency (PNA) Friday.

He said the decision is very realistic as New People's Army (NPA) rebels are voluntarily surrendering to government forces in many parts of the country.

"Armed NPA regulars are coming down in so many areas around the country and local peace talks is the appropriate approach," Detoyato said.

The AFP earlier announced that NPA forces nationwide are on the decline as some 7,531 rebels and supporters had been neutralized from Jan. 1 to June 28 this year, with 71 killed, 114 captured and 7,346 who voluntarily surrendered.

Earlier, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte will issue an executive order on localized peace talks if the talks between the government and the CPP failed to materialize.

Roque said the guiding framework for localized peace talks was approved during Wednesday’s special cluster meeting of the security, justice and peace committees in Malacañang Palace.

The meeting was attended by the President, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, House of Representatives Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, and some members of the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines.

AFP commits to peace, dev't in Bangsamoro Region

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 13): AFP commits to peace, dev't in Bangsamoro Region

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) expressed its commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflict and attainment of a lasting peace and development in the Bangsamoro Region.

This was stressed by AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. following a meeting with members of the Bangsamoro Transition Committee (BTC) headed by its chair, Commissioner Ghazali Jaafar, at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City Thursday afternoon.

"The cooperation and solidarity among us is necessary now more than ever, as we are only a few steps closer to achieving the objectives of the transition process. I trust that we shall see better days ahead for our brothers and sisters in Mindanao," Galvez said.

Also present in the meeting were AFP vice chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Salvador Mison Jr.; deputy chief-of-staff Vice Admiral Gaudencio Collado Jr.; Western Mindanao Command head Lt. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega; 1st Infantry Division chief Major Gen. Roseller Murillo; 6th Infantry Division commander Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, and the chiefs of the military's joint and personal staff.

While Jaafar was joined by fellow commissioners Abdularaof Macacua, Ibrahim Ali, Haron Abas, Said Shiek, Hussein Muñoz, Melanio Ulama, Gafur Kainan, Ammal Solaiman, Dr. Susana Anayatin, and Romeo Saliga.

During the meeting, AFP Peace and Development Office head, Col. Cesar de Mesa, presented updates on the military's efforts in support of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

Efforts are currently focused on ensuring the successful implementation of the various peace mechanisms, particularly, the AFP's creation of organize Joint Peace and Security Teams (JPST) with the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Each JPST is composed of seven AFP, eight PNP and 15 MILF members. Initially, the AFP was able to train 14 teams which were deployed in Central and Western Mindanao last June. This number will continue to increase as the normalization process continues.

Jaafar thanked the AFP and all the agencies involved for their "collective effort" in pushing for peace and development in Mindanao.

"We pray to Allah and to your God that they will finally give peace to us," he added.

Meanwhile, Galvez thanked the members of the BTC on behalf of the whole AFP.

"We convey our sincerest appreciation to all the honorable members of the Commission who served and especially those who are still serving since it was created in 2013," he added.

Ranking American, Japanese naval officials visit PN

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 14): Ranking American, Japanese naval officials visit PN

TRADITIONAL ALLIES. Philippine Navy chief-of-naval staff, Rear Admiral Erick A. Kagaoan (left) welcomes US Pacific Fleet Task Force 73 commander, Rear Admiral Murray Joe Tynch III, at the Navy headquarters on Thursday (July 12, 2018). During their meeting, Kagaoan and Tynch discussed the two countries’ strong relationship in maritime security, the campaign against terrorism, and disaster response. (Photo courtesy of the Naval Public Affairs Office)
In line with ongoing inter-operability efforts, ranking American and Japanese naval officials called in at the Philippine Navy (PN) headquarters in Roxas Blvd., Manila last July 12.

First to visit was Rear Admiral Murray Joe Tynch III, US Pacific Fleet Task Force 73 commander, Navy spokesperson Commander Jonathan Zata said in statement Friday.

Tynch was received by PN chief-of-naval staff, Rear Admiral Erick A. Kagaoan, who also represented Navy flag-officer-in-command, Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad.

"Discussions during the courtesy call highlighted the strong US-Philippines relationship, especially with regard to maritime security, the global campaign against terrorism, and disaster relief and crisis response," Zata added.

Kagaoan also thanked the US Navy for its visit and its commitment to the maritime training activity "Sama sama", conducted in San Fernando, La Union on July 9-14. This year’s training activity focused on maritime security operations to enhance mutual capabilities and strengthen partnerships.

Meanwhile, Zata said the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) sent observers to the exercise.

On the same day, Capt. Masahiro Goto, JMSDF Chief of Planning Section, Operations Support Division, Maritime and Plans Department, also paid the Philippine Navy a visit. He was received by Kagaoan and they talked about the strong partnership between the two navies.

Zata said the JMSDF regularly conducts humanitarian assistance and disaster response collaborations with the PN.