Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Drug trade in southern Philippines still bankrolling pro-Islamic State militants: Analyst

From Channel News Asia (Aug 1): Drug trade in southern Philippines still bankrolling pro-Islamic State militants: Analyst (By Amy Chew)

KUALA LUMPUR: The illegal drug trade in the southern Philippines is funding remnants of pro-Islamic State (IS) militias in Marawi city as they regroup and consolidate their forces following their defeat by the military in October last year, according to a security analyst.

While the pro-IS militants are a long way off from mounting a large-scale attack similar to the Marawi siege last year, they are planning bomb attacks in major cities in the southern Philippines, warned Professor Rommel Banlaoi, head of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.

“There is evidence of groups engaged in illegal drugs which are still in touch with remnants of pro-IS groups in Marawi city,” Professor Rommel Banlaoi, a security analyst, told Channel NewsAsia.

“The IS group is headed by Abu Dar … which I call the Abu Dar Group (ADG). The illegal drug trade continues to fund the activities of the ADG,” said Prof Banlaoi.

The drug trade forges ties with militants as they want to foment conflict which then provides a conducive environment for them to sell their drugs, he said.

"The state of conflict in an area can provide a conducive environment for drug traders to sell because the attention of the law enforcement agency will be divided with many, many concerns," said Prof Banlaoi, adding that some of the combatants are also drug-users.

READ: The men behind the Marawi siege

READ: Fears of another Marawi as Islamic State militants regroup, plan suicide bombings

In May 23 last year, the pro-IS Maute Group led by brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute, together with Isnilon Hapilon of the Abu Sayyaf Group, seized control of Marawi city and held on to it for five months before the military wrestled back control on Oct 17, 2017.

More than 1,100 people died in the fighting which also displaced some 400,000 people.

It also marked the most serious assault by IS in its bid to establish a foothold in Southeast Asia, unsettling governments in the region.

The Maute brothers and Abu Sayyaf’s Hapilon were killed in the fighting. Hapilon was also the IS head in Southeast Asia.

Some local press reported that Abu Dar succeeded Hapilon, but this was dismissed by Prof Banlaoi as speculation.

“It is just speculation. There is no official recognition of Abu Dar as being the head of IS Southeast Asia. But we consider him to be the head of pro-IS groups operating in Lanao del sur,” said Prof Banlaoi.

Lanao del Sur is the province where Marawi city is the capital.

“Currently Abu Dar is a nomadic militant, moving from one place to another in Lanao del Sur according to my monitoring of his activities,” Prof Banlaoi added.

Armed groups in Southeast Asia that have pledged allegiance to ISIS. (Source: International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research)

The ADG is currently recruiting, regrouping and consolidating their forces as many of the pro-IS leaders and militants have been killed.

“They are recruiting from the ranks of displaced people in Marawi who are disgruntled,” said Prof Banlaoi.

Up until today, more than 200,000 people in Marawi city displaced from their homes during the violence remain in temporary shelters.

“It will take time before they (ADG) are able to develop the same kind of capabilities they enjoyed during the Marawi siege,” said Prof Banlaoi.

“But pro-IS militants are planning and have the capacity to carry bomb attacks in major cities in Mindanao and Manila,” Prof Banlaoi added.

READ: Fractured lives in limbo: Marawi residents facing long wait to return to shattered homes


According to Prof Banlaoi who just published a book titled Marawi City Siege and Threats of Narcoterrorism in the Philippines, the Marawi siege was also partially funded by illegal drugs money.

The Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf Group linked up with the illegal drug trade to get funding for their armed activities, according to Pro Banlaoi. 

"One of the prime reasons the Maute Group linked up with the drug groups was to get funds for their activities. Some members of the armed groups were also drug users," said Prof Banlaoi. 

“Some of the (IS) combatants the military encountered during Marawi siege were high on drugs in order to sustain their energy during the fighting. Based on forensic investigations their DNA sample indicated usage of drugs."

READ: A rocky road to peace in the southern Philippines: Pressures on the MILF leadership

Prof Banlaoi interviewed displaced persons from Marawi and several other cities in Mindanao as well as other stakeholders involved in the fighting for his book.
According to his research, proceeds from arms sales and remittances from overseas Filipino migrant workers were also used to fund the Marawi siege.

“These workers are relatives, friends and former classmates of the Maute Group,” said Prof Banlaoi.
The financier for the siege was former Malaysian university lecturer Mahmud Ahmad whom the Philippines has declared dead. The Malaysian government has yet to do the same, as his body has not been found.

“Apart from Mahmud, many other Malaysian personalities associated with IS also contributed huge sums of money to the Marawi siege,” said Prof Banlaoi.

Following Marawi, the militants have since gone underground, making their activities and existence difficult to track.

“Before Marawi, they openly displayed the IS black flag; openly displayed their activities on social media, their propagation of Islamic State," said Prof Banlaoi. 

"Now, they are more cautious and discreet, less visible, making it difficult for authorities to track and monitor them. That is their intention."


No. 2 ranked felon apprehended in Rizal

From the Manila Bulletin (Jul 30): No. 2 ranked felon apprehended in Rizal

CAMP VICENTE LIM, Laguna- The joint police have arrested a suspected member of the New People’s Army (NPA) facing murder case and with P.5 million reward on his head at Barangay Pinugay, in Baras, Rizal, Police Regional Office 4A (PRO4A), reported, Monday.

PRO4 regional director Edward Carranza identified the accused as
Raul Razo, alias Ka Jade.

Based on police records Razo was rank no. 2 regional level of most wanted felon in PRO4A, with affiliation with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) New People’s Army (NPA)/NDRMFB4A Carranza said that around 7:30 p.m. on Sunday joint Regional Mobile Force Battalion in CALABARZON, Laguna and Rizal Police Office and Regional Intelligence Unit 4A conducted operation against Razo at Block 54, Phase 1, South Ville 9, Barangay Pinugay in Baras, Rizal.

Reports added that the accused did not resist after lawmen surrounded his lair.

Accordingly, the reward money was covered by Department of National Defense-Department of the Interior and Local Government (DND-DILG) joint order number 14-20112 by virtue of the warrant of arrest for the crime of murder.


AFP troops overrun NPA terrorists’ encampment in Agusan

From the Manila Bulletin (Jul 31): AFP troops overrun NPA terrorists’ encampment in Agusan

CAMP BANCASI, Butuan City – Combat maneuvering troops of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) overran a Communist New People’s Army Terrorists (CNTs) encampment in Cogon-cogon area, Barangay Tagmamarkay, Tubay, Agusan del Norte, military official reported Tuesday.

Capt. Al Anthony B. Pueblas, Civil Military Operation (CMO) officer of the Army’s 402nd Infantry (Stingers) Brigade told The Manila Bulletin that a gun battle erupted before the combat maneuvering troops of the 29th Infantry Battalion (29th IB) seized the CNTs encampment.

The seized camp, which can accommodate 60 to 70 persons has some make-shift huts and kitchens and listening posts believed to belong to SPP 16-A of Guerilla Front Committee 16 of the CPP-NPA Northeastern Mindanao Regional Committee (NEMRC).

Initially operating troops of the 29th IB seized inside the camp some bomb materials including 100 meters trip wire, improvised explosive devices, one AK 47 Rifle loaded with 30 rounds of live ammunition, backpacks and personal belongings.

“The discovery of the camp started when patrolling troops of the 29th IB responded to the reports provided by the highland villagers on Thursday of CNTs presence extorting money and foods in their locality,” Pueblas claimed.

Responding troops arrived in reported Cogon-cogon area at 2:20 p.m. on Thursday and a heavy firefight immediately ensued which lasted for almost 30 minutes, the 402nd Brigade CMO officer further claimed.

“Our operating troops believe that undetermined number of CNTs were killed or wounded as blood stains were seen inside the camp and along the rebels escape route of withdrawal,” he said.

Pueblas said heavy blood stains were seen in the captured CNTs camp indicating the enemy’s large casualties hence additional combat troops were sent to pursue the running CNTs,” Pueblas said.

“Our field troops are still hoping that they can rescue the wounded soldiers for possible evacuation and immediate medical attention to the hospital,” he said.

No casualty or loss was incurred by the government forces during the capture of the said CNTs encampment, he said.

Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Franco Nemesio M. Gacal, commanding general of the 402nd “Stingers” Brigade. lauded the operating troops of the 29th IB for the successful conduct of their operation that led to the capture of the NPA camp.

“The successful combat operation was also a result of the local community’s support to get rid of lawless elements from their community,” Gacal said.

“Our operations against the NPA terrorists will be relentless. We will pursue them right at the heart of their guerrilla bases. The communities have already voiced out against the continued presence of the NPA terrorists as they only brought misery and suffering in their locality,” he added.


Submarine program OK’d

From Tempo (Jul 31): Submarine program OK’d

The Department of National Defense (DND) Monday said that President Duterte has given the go signal for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to have its own submarine program.

In an interview, DND spokesman Director Arsenio Andolong said the submarine acquisition is part of the wishlist of the AFP and no less than the Chief Executive has given his blessing for the AFP to push through with it.

Andolong said the Philippine Navy is currently undergoing the study for doctrine and research.

“Well, the proposed submarine program at least was given a go by the president. The Philippine Navy has began studying its doctrines and planning its procurement,” Andolong said.


ASG leader Indama behind Basilan blast: AFP

From PTV News (Jul 31): ASG leader Indama behind Basilan blast: AFP

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has confirmed that veteran Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) leader, Furuji Indama, was behind the blast that killed 11 people, including the suspected bomber, and wounded seven others in Lamitan, Basilan early Tuesday.

In a press briefing in Camp Aguinaldo, AFP spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo said the attack was in response to the growing number of ASG terrorists voluntarily surrendering to government forces, causing the bandit group to lose ground in Basilan.

“This group of Furuji Indama is swiftly losing ground. That is why they are resorting to these desperate moves in order to disrupt the mass surrender of Abu Sayyaf members in Basilan and in Sulu,” Arevalo added.

He said military units in the area were on alert after receiving reports that improvised explosive devices (IEDs) would be deployed to various areas in Basilan.

“Now, as we told you, this vehicle loaded with IEDs is being driven by a lone person. Na-checkpoint natin ito (It went through checkpoint) because we have received earlier reports that say there could be IEDs that could be deployed (to) various areas, specifically in this area of Basilan. That is why our checkpoints in Mindanao have been alerted,” Arevalo added.

The explosion took place at 5:50 a.m. near the Magwakit Detachment in Barangay Colonia, Lamitan City.

Reports indicated that troops in the area intercepted a white van containing IEDs.

The vehicle was being inspected when an explosion tore into it, killing one soldier, five members of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU), and four civilians, including the driver who was believed to be the suspect.

Also wounded were one CAFGU and six members of the 9th Scout Ranger Company.

Despite the losses suffered by military personnel, the AFP spokesperson said they have successfully performed their mandate as they had prevented the IEDs from reaching the intended target, which he believed to be downtown Lamitan.

“(AFP) Chief-of-Staff Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. commends the vigilance and dedication to duty and the sacrifice of these heroes,” Arevalo said.

“And while we commend our troops, we condemn in the highest possible terms this yet another dastardly attempt of terrorists to kill, maim, and injure innocent civilians,” he added.


AFP hails Basilan checkpoint troops: ‘They stopped IEDs heading to city at cost of their own lives’

From GMA News (Jul 31): AFP hails Basilan checkpoint troops: ‘They stopped IEDs heading to city at cost of their own lives’

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Tuesday condemned the bombing at a military checkpoint in Lamitan City, Basilan that left 11 people dead, but also praised the vigilance of the security personnel at the site.

"They have foiled an attempt to bring in a vehicle loaded with IEDs [improvised explosive devices] to downtown Lamitan City—at the cost of their own lives," said AFP chief-of-staff Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez Jr. in a statement.

The blast happened Tuesday morning, moments after troops stopped a van and spoke to the driver, who was the vehicle's lone occupant, according to an official on the island of Basilan and a military incident report.

An explosion originating within the van killed one soldier, five members of the Philippine Army's Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU), and four civilian dependents of CAFGU. Reuters reports that two of the civilians were a woman and her child.

The driver of the van was also killed, bringing the total to 11.

Injured in the attack were one CAFGU and six members of the 9th Scout Ranger Company.

"While we commend our troops, we condemn in the highest possible terms this yet another dastardly attempt of terrorists to kill, maim, and injure innocent civilians," said AFP spokesperson Colonel Edgard Arevalo in the statement.

"The Commander, WesMinCom Lt. Gen. Arnel de la Vega, commits the resources under his command to thwart attempts by terrorists to disrupt the peace obtaining in Western Mindanao," Arevalo added.

The military vowed to hold accountable those behind the bombing incident.

"Local police and AFP personnel are not going to stop in the investigation and in pursuing every leads to identify and neutralize all those who are part of this abominable attempt by terrorists to kill innocent civilians and destroy properties," Arevalo said.

"These terrorists will not succeed given the strong collaboration between the military and the local government that draws strength from the active participation of Governor Mujjib Hattaman and other municipal mayors not only in Basilan but in the entire Western Mindanao," he added.

Arevalo also urged the public to report to the police and military any suspicious people or activities happening in their locality.


PH gets 4 new patrol boats, 30 grenade launchers from China

From the Manila Bulletin (Jul 31): PH gets 4 new patrol boats, 30 grenade launchers from China

The Philippine Navy (PN) said that China has recently donated four patrol boats to help the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in its modernization efforts.

(photo from Francis Wakefield/ MANILA BULLETIN)

In a statement, Navy spokesman Commodore Jonathan Zata said that the four units of patrol boats came with 30 units of Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) Launcher (40MM) with corresponding ammunition.

The equipment was sent during the third week of this month.

Zata said the equipments provided by China are brand new and are currently being assessed as to how these can be integrated within the organization and supported in the long term in terms of logistics.

“Likewise we have assigned personnel to train on its operation and maintenance,” Zata said.

Department of National Defense (DND) Spokesman Arsenio Andolong said the assets are part of China’s US$14 million grant to the Philippines.

“It is (also) a manifestation of the warming relations between our two countries,” he said.

Andolong said the acquisition of the military equipment from China is in keeping with President Duterte’s independent foreign policy.

“We are acquiring equipment from various sources which can provide us with the hardware we need to achieve the credible defense posture that we are pursuing,” Andolong said.

President Duterte earlier said that he was inclined to seek military assistance from China rather than the United States if a full-blown war against terrorists erupts in Mindanao,

The President said he could rely on China’s help since it is closer to the Philippines.

Duterte recalled that the government recently tried to purchase weapons from the US but the sale was halted due to opposition by some lawmakers. “The President and Congress seem to be in parity, not co-equal. They are really in parity of powers,” he said.

China, on the other hand, provides weapons to the Philippines for free amid improving ties between the two nations.

China previously offered more than P500 million worth of military equipment to also augment the Philippine arsenal in battling Islamic State-linked militants.

The donation follows the provision last year by China of about 6,000 assault rifles and hundreds of sniper rifles.

The Chinese rifles went to the Philippine National Police (PNP), helping to fill a shortfall after U.S. legislators blocked the sale of about 26,000 M4 rifles to the police in 2016.

China’s donation is part of a new wave of diplomacy to engage a country with which Beijing has a bitter history of territorial disputes in the South China Sea.


NPA is a belligerent force in PH, spokesman says

From the often pro-Communist Party of the Philippine (CPP) online publication the Davao Today (Jul 31): NPA is a belligerent force in PH, spokesman says

The New People’s Army continues to show its belligerent status in the Philippines, this, despite the fact that the regime of President Rodrigo Duterte and the Armed Forces of the Philippines has declared the revolutionary forces as “terrorists and criminals.”

This is the claim made by Rigoberto Sanchez, the spokesperson of the NPA Regional Operations Command in Southern Mindanao Region in a press statement released on Sunday, July 29.

Among the irrefutable facts of NPAs belligerency are the releases of Prisoners of War, one of those was the recent release of Police Officer Menardo N. Cui that was facilitated last July 27 in Sitio Indawhong, Barangay Salaysay in Baguio District, Davao City.

Sanchez said the release was done in Davao City in the midst of the claims of the AFP that the city is virtually free of the NPAs.

Cui was officially released through Special Assistant to the President, Christopher “Bong” Go, a fact that Sanchez said made the Duterte regime obliterate the reality that the NPA continues to be a belligerent force in the country.

“The US-Duterte regime’s principal, Rodrigo Duterte, has declared the NPA and revolutionary forces as terrorists and criminals and scuttled the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. But by sending his closest emissary and chief representative, Duterte has unwittingly acknowledged the status of belligerency acquired by the NPA under international laws,” Sanchez pointed out.

He added that the People’s Democratic Government has proven its status of belligerency whenever the NPA captures and detains prisoners of war for various lengths of time and accords them humane treatment under the Geneva Conventions and Protocol I.

It is also through the waging of revolutionary armed struggle and the building of political power and the organization of the people that are capable of defending their own territories that the NPA also gained such belligerency.

“It is by doing all these and achieving greater victories in people’s war that it has gained wide international recognition of the NPA’s status of belligerency and the recognition of the People’s Democratic Government,” he added.

Sanchez also clarified that the NPA-SMR rejects the announcement of Go on the localized peace talks as this will only connote surrender to the continuing psy-war operations of the US-Duterte regime.

“The NPA is adamant not to be made a party to local peace negotiations that reject the masses’ clamor for genuine land reform and national industrialization,” he added.

He also made a contradiction to the safe and orderly release of Cui as compared to the tyranny, fascism and anti-peace talk stance that characterize the regime of Bong Go’s principal Rodrigo Duterte.

“Despite the martial law in Mindanao and Presidential daughter and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte’s sway over AFP and PNP forces to vanquish NPA forces in her turf, the NPA persists in its areas of operation in Davao City,” Sanchez said.

He also stressed that the People’s Democratic Government continues to conduct governance and police power, including granting clemency or archiving cases filed against enemy state forces on justifiable grounds in the city.

“The same comfort cannot be expected from the US-Duterte regime which prefers extra-judicial killing and arrest of innocent civilians and plunder of the nation’s coffers,” he added.

Sanchez also recalled how the AFP and the PNP inflict harm and cruel detention to the red fighters, the 99 political prisoners in Southern Mindanao and on the case of NPA Commander Zaldy Cañete.

He said that POW Cui expressed appreciation for the humane and lenient treatment by the NPA custodial force.

Sanchez also reported that a day after Cui’s release, the AFP troops deployed for combat and pursuit operations against the NPA custodial force were hit by command-detonated explosives in Sitio Kamarag, Brgy. Tambobong, Baguio District at around 10:25 am.

He said that they received an initial report revealing that the state forces sustained at least 6 casualties in the said NPA offensive.


UPDATE: Car bomb kills 11 in Basilan

From MIndaNews (Jul 31): UPDATE: Car bomb kills 11 in Basilan

A car laden with a powerful bomb exploded at a military checkpoint in Basilan province in the southern Philippines Tuesday morning, killing at least 11 persons, including five government troops, officials said.

The deadly blast came less than a week after President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law, which seeks to establish the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Basilan is part of the ARMM, an impoverished, war-torn region in the south and home to the minority Muslim Filipinos.

Lt. Col. Gerry Besana, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), refused to characterize the incident in Lamitan City as a suicide attack, saying that authorities are still conducting investigations.

Lamitan City Vice Mayor Roderick Furigay said it was the first case of suicide bombing in his city.

Besana also belied speculations that the car explosion could be the handiwork of those opposing the BOL, a measure many hoped would bring just and lasting peace to Mindanao after almost 50 years of armed conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

“This is an act of terrorism,” Besana said in a phone interview.

The bomb exploded inside the car and the shattered parts became shrapnel, said Besana, explaining the death of the five government troops who belonged to the 9th Scout Ranger Company.

After flagging down the vehicle, they surrounded it after being tipped off that a bomb was inside the car, Besana said.

He said five civilians and the driver of the car, whom authorities considered a suspect, were also killed in the blast.

Two other militiamen were wounded, according to a Westmincom statement.

Besana declined to tag any group behind the explosion, saying they still have to determine the signature of the explosive.

He noted, however, that Basilan has become “peaceful” lately due to the series of surrenders of Abu Sayyaf members in the province.

This year, 55 Abu Sayyaf members have surrendered in Basilan, the official said.

Lieutenant General Arnel Dela Vega, WestMinCom commander, vowed to exhaust every available resource under his disposal to immediately identify the perpetrators so that the people of Basilan will have the peace that they truly deserve.

ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman condemned the blast, which he described as a “brazen act of violence against our people.”

“We mourn the loss of lives in this senseless attack to our safety, and we continue to thank those who have devoted and continue to devote their lives to securing peace in the Bangsamoro,” he said in a statement.

Hataman, who assured the victims’ families of help, vowed to strengthen the security in the region “without compromising the rights of the Moro people.”

Mindanao remains under martial law until the end of the year.


Media forum on violent extremism, peace process set

From MindaNews (Jul 31): Media forum on violent extremism, peace process set

The Mindanao Institute on Journalism (MIJ) and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) will conduct a forum on August 3 which aims to equip journalists in the Davao Region a working knowledge on the peace process and the phenomenon of violent extremism.

MIJ chair H. Marcos Mordeno told Kapehan sa Dabaw on Monday that the forum seeks to encourage journalists in the region to provide a proper context to their stories about events in the island.

He said the lack of proper context in most stories about Mindanao was evident in news items on the Marawi siege last year.

“Not only in Marawi but also in other coverage on armed conflict. Reports often lack proper context,” he said.

Mordeno, an associate editor of MindaNews, the online news portal of MIJ, said that by not giving a proper context to the five-month Marawi siege, the journalists did a “disservice to the reading public” for failing to explain why the incident happened.

“We know that last year the Marawi crisis happened and maybe it was the first time Mindanawons came face to face with violent extremism. But there were a lot of questions that were left unanswered because media has a tendency to focus on the war. The more sensationalized the reporting, the better. Among these questions are, ‘is it true that ISIS is here in Mindanao?’ Media did not explore this dimension,” he said.

He said that during the forum MindaNews will share some insights based on their experience in covering the conflict in Marawi.

Mordeno, who covered the Marawi siege, will talk on “Violent Extremism: The Mindanao Experience,” and Dr. Mansoor Limba will tackle “Countering Violent Extremism: Radicalization in Mindanao.”

Luis Mendoza Jr., peace development officer 4 at OPAPP said OPAPP Undersecretary Nabil Tan will discuss the peace and development agenda of the Duterte administration and updates on the peace process.

Jose Lorena Jr., a commissioner of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, will explain the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (OLBARRM), previously referred to as the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

A briefer released by OPAPP on Monday said it is important for media to develop a clear and deeper insight on the roots of the decades-long armed struggle in the island-region, and what the different stakeholders are doing to reach a final and long-lasting settlement of the conflict.

Amalia Bandiola, a board member of MIJ and Mindanao Times editor-in-chief said Friday’s forum at Linmarr Hotel is a follow-up to the “Reporting Marawi, Reporting Violent Extremism” workshop held on December 1 to 3 last year in Davao City for journalists who covered the Marawi siege.

Bandiola added MIJ will hold similar forums in the cities of Cotabato, Cagayan de Oro, Butuan, Malaybalay and Zamboanga.


Car bomb explodes in Basilan, 11 killed

From the Mindanao Examiner (Jul 31): Car bomb explodes in Basilan, 11 killed
Eleven people were killed when a car bomb exploded Tuesday morning at a security checkpoint after government militias stopped the suspicious vehicle in Lamitan City in the southern Philippine province of Basilan.

The powerful explosion obliterated the vehicle and left a huge crater and among those killed were a woman and a child. Five soldiers were wounded in the explosion.
The bodies of those killed in the blast were all scattered around the checkpoint in Bulanting village, about 2 kilometers away from downtown Lamitan. Three goats grazing from a nearby field also died from the explosion which can be heard from as far as five kilometers away.

It was unknown how many people were inside the van, but media reports said among the passengers was believed to be a foreign terrorist.

It said the terrorists came from a nearby town and heading to downtown Lamitan when they were stopped at the checkpoint after the passengers could not speak the local dialect or answer questions asked by militias and minutes later the explosion occurred.

Among those killed in the blast was the militia commander whose unit is under the supervision of the Philippine Army.
It was not immediately known how many civilians were injured in the explosion.

Governor Mujiv Hataman, of the Muslim autonomous region, has strongly condemned the violence and said authorities were investigating the blast. He said a total of 11 people were killed in the blast.

"We condemn this brazen act of violence against our people, and trust that we will exert every effort to help the families affected by this incident and we will strengthen efforts to secure our region without compromising the rights of the Bangsamoro."

"We mourn the loss of lives in this senseless attack to our safety, and we continue to thank those who have devoted and continue to devote their lives to securing peace in the Bangsamoro. The commitment to rights and safety of our people that we share with them defines our collective efforts, and we continue to stand and work with them as we seek justice for those who have lost their lives to conflict and violence," he said.

The province is a known stronghold of the militant group Abu Sayyaf whose leaders have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Several foreign fighters had been killed in clashes with soldiers in Basilan in recent years.

The Philippine military earlier urged the public to be on alert and stay vigilant at all times following attempts by pro-ISIS militants to bomb civilian targets in the restive southern region.

Just recently, troops and policemen foiled a bombing attempt in the southern Tacurong City after a civilian discovered an improvised explosive along General Lim Street and immediately informed authorities about it.

Security officials have blamed failed attack to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and tagged two fighters Brah Lumambas and Bohari Adam, both bomb-makers under militant leader Gani Saligan, as behind the attempt.

The BIFF, whose members were mostly former Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels, is on a terror campaign following a series of defeat from deadly clashes with military forces in Mindanao in recent months.

Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the 6th Infantry Division, appealed to citizens to immediately report to authorities anything that is suspicious – from people to abandoned baggage in public places and communities.

Sporadic clashes still continue between troops and militants in the South as BIFF stepped up its attacks on military targets.

In June, fighting broke out in Olandang village in North Cotabato’s Midsayap town where troops raided a BIFF hideout and the target of the operation was militant leader Mando Mamalumpong. Soldiers recovered an M16 automatic rifle, ammunition, two grenades and improvised explosive, including military uniform and a binocular, in the area where the gun fight occurred.

The military also launched an offensive in Liguasan marsh in the neighboring province of Maguindanao and claimed to have killed over a dozen militants. It said the strike also destroyed an alleged weapons’ factory of the BIFF in the marsh.

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly called on militants to talk peace and also promised amnesty and financial aid if they surrender to the government.

‘Suicide bomber’, 10 others die in Basilan explosion

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 31): ‘Suicide bomber’, 10 others die in Basilan explosion

Eleven people, including a foreign-looking individual suspected to be suicide bomber, were killed while five others were wounded in a car bomb explosion early Tuesday in Lamitan City, Basilan province, officials said.

Lt. Col. Montano Almodovar, the Army’s 3rd Scout Ranger Battalion commander, said over RMN-Zamboanga that the explosion happened around 5:50 a.m. at the Magkawit Detachment, located along the boundaries of Barangays Bulanting, Colonia, and Maganda, Lamitan City.

Lamitan City Vice Mayor Roderick Furigay told the Philippine News Agency the intersection of the three barangays serves as the main thoroughfare to the nearby towns of Akbar and Mohammad Ajul.

Almodovar said that prior to the incident, the troops flagged down a white van that was traveling towards Lamitan City proper for inspection.

Citing witnesses, he said the van suddenly exploded while the troops requested its driver to disembark from the vehicle.

The driver was a foreign-looking person and could not speak any of the local dialect, including Filipino, he said. Among the fatalities were a soldier, five militiamen and four civilians who were militia dependents.

An Army Scout Ranger junior officer, an enlisted man and three militiamen were among those injured and were airlifted to the Camp Navarro General Hospital in this city.

The explosion wrecked the van as well as the checkpoint and a motorcycle.


3 soldiers hurt in NPA ambush in Bukidnon

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 31): 3 soldiers hurt in NPA ambush in Bukidnon

MALAYBALAY CITY, Bukidnon -- Three members of the Army's First Special Forces Battalion were injured in an ambush believed to have been perpetrated by communist guerrillas in Pangantucan town, this province, Monday.

The injured Army personnel were part of a company of soldiers taking part in a pursuit operation against New People's Army (NPA) rebels, who launched a predawn attack on the battalion's patrol base on the same day, said Insp. Jiselle Ester Lou M. Longakit, information officer of Bukidnon Police Provincial Office.

Longakit identified the wounded Army personnel as Sgt. Arnel Chico, and Privates Albert Necesario and Felix Ganagan, who were brought to the Bukdinon Provincial Hospital in nearby Maramag town.

Longakit said the 2:30 a.m. attack on the Army base in Barangay Mendis by around 20 members of suspected NPA rebels were repelled, forcing the guerrillas to retreat.

She said the ambush occurred at around 4:36 p.m. on the same day in Sitio Mapait, Barangay New Eden of the same town, as troops scoured the area for the fleeing rebels.

A team of local policemen and Army units from the 403rd Brigade immediately responded and conducted a clearing operation, forcing the NPA to withdraw north of the Mt. Kalatungan Mountain Ranges, she said.

After the clash, government forces recovered from the enemy position a limb, possibly from one of the wounded rebels, an empty rifle grenade launcher case, ammunitions and other high-powered firearms.

Longakit said evidence obtained from the clash site showed that the NPA suffered casualties.

Pangantucan town is located on the south-western part of Bukidnon.


20 NutriAsia protesters in violent clash arrested

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 31): 20 NutriAsia protesters in violent clash arrested

CAMP GEN ALEJO S. SANTOS, Bulacan -- Twenty workers and supporters of a labor protest against NutriAsia Inc. were arrested by police following a violent clash outside the company’s factory in Barangay Pantoc, Meycauayan City, this province Monday afternoon.
Senior Supt. Chito G. Bersaluna, acting director of the Bulacan Police Provincial Office (BPPO), identified the arrested protesters as Alon Ang, Hiyas Saturay, John Bonifacio, Psalty Caluza, Eric Cantoc, Einstein Receded, Mark Ezequiel Quinto, Nikkie John Abilar, Danny Boy Cea, and Mark Ponce.

Also nabbed were Marylle Jons Alcantara, Jeovellyn Bornales, Daisy Jane Happa, Reynaldo Aboy, Sidney Naharo, Jerald De Leon, Jaime Castro, Imelda Rey Miraposte, Aileen Raganit, and Edwin Barana.

Based on the report of Marilao and Meycauayan Police, the protesters included members of NutriAsia Laborers Union and militant groups such as League of Filipino Students, Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) and Anakpawis.

"A violent attack was instigated by the protesters by throwing stones and pieces of lumber against the guards. This prompted the guards to defend themselves by blocking the attack,” Bersaluna said.

He said 12 security guards sustained injuries while no one was reported hurt on the protesters’ side.

“Father Rolly De Leon, the priest who officiated the Holy Eucharist prior to the clash and his companion were secured by the police," Bersaluna added.

Confiscated from the protesters after the clash was a .22-caliber revolver with two live ammunitions.


Mayor’s bodyguard shot dead in Negros Oriental

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 31): Mayor’s bodyguard shot dead in Negros Oriental

A 63-year-old bodyguard of Guihulngan City Mayor Guido Reyes was shot dead by two unidentified armed men in Barangay Bulado, Guihulngan City Tuesday morning.

Policarpio E. Bulado, a resident of Sitio Kinayan in the said village, succumbed to gunshot wounds when two unidentified men suddenly opened fire at him around 9:35 a.m. while he was on his way to an abandoned slaughterhouse to feed his swine and chicken.

SPO1 Emmanuel Magallones, case investigator, said Bulado was a job order employee of the local government unit of Guihulngan City, who reportedly worked as Reyes' bodyguard.

According to Magallones, police investigators are still trying to determine the motive of the killing.

Some witnesses are to be interviewed by the police on Wednesday. Initial accounts of witnesses claimed that one of the suspects had his face covered.

Meanwhile, Supt. Mario Baquiran, city chief of police, disclosed the suspects had other cohorts, who served as backup and were observing at a distance, particularly in an area overlooking the sitio because the site is an "ambush area".

Baquiran hinted that the victim had a son, who is an active member of the Philippine Army, and that could be a possible motive.

Recovered from the crime scene were spent shells for caliber 9 mm and .45-caliber pistols. However, some eyewitnesses claimed some of the suspects had long firearms.

Baquiran said it was the same scenario when a retired soldier was gunned down, also in Barangay Bulado a week ago. Several other people also allegedly hid in the bushes and were ready to fire in case reinforcement units arrived at the crime scene.

In last week's incident, the fleeing suspects made it known that they were members of the New People's Army.


Bomb blast injures trike driver, passenger in Antipolo City

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 31): Bomb blast injures trike driver, passenger in Antipolo City

CAMP GEN. VICENTE LIM, Calamba City – A suspected improvised explosive device (IED) exploded shortly before noon Tuesday along the roadside in Calumpang, Barangay San Jose in Antipolo City, damaging a tricycle and injuring its driver and passenger.

Police Supt. Chitadel Gaoiran, Police Regional Office (PRO4A)-Calabarzon regional public information office chief said the Rizal provincial tactical operation center (PTOC) reported that the explosion happened at a time when two military trucks were passing in the area.

Gaoiran said the two military vehicles were traversing the road around 11:10 a.m. Tuesday, and as they overtook a tricycle, the explosion occurred.

The blast damaged the tricycle and injured the 38 year-old tricycle driver identified as Jaime Cabanero, a resident of Sitio Paenaan, Barangay San Jose in Antipolo City; and his passenger, Ellaiza Acula, 23, a resident of the same barangay.

The blast victims were rushed to the hospital for treatment of minor injuries and are declared in stable condition.

Authorities are now conducting an investigation into the blast.


NPA no longer enjoys mass base support, says Army General

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 31): NPA no longer enjoys mass base support, says Army General

CAMP GENERAL MATEO CAPINPIN, Tanay, Rizal – The New People’s Army (NPA) communist terrorist group no longer enjoys mass base support in the province of Batangas, Brig. Gen. Arnulfo Marcelo B. Burgos Jr, commander of the 202nd Brigade of the Philippine Army’s 2nd Infantry “Jungle Fighter” Division, said Tuesday.

"This only proves our assessment that the insurgency in Batangas is now on the verge of collapse,” Burgos said, citing Monday’s clash between the government troops and the rebels and the skirmish in Laiya Aplaya, also in San Juan town, last week.

Burgos made the assessment as pursuit operations are still ongoing following the more than an hour gun battle between the Philippine Army’s 202nd Infantry Brigade and the NPA rebels erupted in San Juan, Batangas at 11:20 a.m. Monday.

He said the armed encounter ensued after elements of the 1st Infantry Battalion conducted interdiction operations against the terrorists after receiving information from concerned civilians, who were being forced to give food and money to the NPA terrorist group.

The rebels even told the civilian populace that they were planning to harass the patrol base in Barangay Bulsa in preparation for a coordinated attack on different resorts in the eco-tourism zone of San Juan.

Reports reaching this camp said no casualty was reported on the government side during Monday’s firefight but the enemies suffered multiple casualties, based from the heavy bloodstains on the NPAs’ withdrawal route.

The military also recovered an M16A1 rifle, Improvised Explosive Device (IED) of the Claymore and grenade type components with paraphernalia, MacBook laptop, USB, cellular phones, numerous war materials and voluminous enemy documents left behind at the encounter site.

Burgos said the intelligence community is validating reports that the terrorist group was coercing and agitating informal settlers at Barangay Laiya Aplaya, San Juan last week during the demolition of shanties encroaching on private lands in San Juan’s main tourist area and beach zone.

Last week’s clash led to the killing of two unarmed security guards and resulted in 18 other unarmed security personnel injured from what seemed like a mob’s furious attack against the private land security personnel.

He assessed that since 2017, the communist insurgency in Batangas has suffered serious debacles from the military, “including what is now known in the history of Luzon as the greatest single-encounter loss of the terrorists when 14 NPAs were killed, 13 firearms were recovered and one terrorist was apprehended.”

Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Rhoderick M. Parayno, commander of the Army’s 2ID called on the NPAs to give up their armed struggle.

“Time and again, we have seen the government’s overwhelming military might. We do not rejoice in killing our fellow Filipinos. Give up your arms and join us in pursuing peace, prosperity and development for our country and people,” he said.

Also, the military commanders in Region 4A attributed their active intelligence gathering to the trust and support of the different sectors, agencies and civilians in the Calabarzon Region comprising Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon.


Cops arrest suspect in grenade attack on mayor’s house in S. Kudarat

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 1): Cops arrest suspect in grenade attack on mayor’s house in S. Kudarat

Police have arrested one of the two suspects in the twin grenade attacks in Lambayong, Sultan Kudarat, an official said Tuesday.

Senior Supt. James Gulmatico, Sultan Kudarat police director, declined to name the arrested suspect in Saturday's grenade-throwing incidents at the house of Lambayong Mayor Ramon Abalos and the Lambayong police office pending further investigation.

The grenade blast at the mayor’s house left his brother, Lambayong Councilor Carlos Abalos and a cousin, Richard, wounded. As the suspects fled, they also lobbed a grenade at the nearby Lambayong police office, hurting no one.

Gulmatico said the suspect was nabbed by a joint team of Lambayong policemen and personnel of the Army’s First Mechanized Infantry Battalion few hours after the blasts.

He said the suspect was identified by several witnesses, who claimed to have seen him - along with a companion - tossing a hand grenade at the mayor’s residence at about 7 a.m. last Saturday, July 28.

Police also recovered the motorbike suspected to have been used by the two grenade suspects.

“The two victims at the mayor’s house are now out of the hospital,” Gulmatico said.

Gulmatico said the Islamic State-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters remain as principal suspects in the grenade attacks. Lambayong town with a population of about 80,000 inhabitants is adjacent to Maguindanao where the BIFF operates.

 “Manhunt is still going on for the other suspect,” he said.


Security forces ready for Kadayawan Festival

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 1): Security forces ready for Kadayawan Festival

DAVAO CITY – Close to 16,000 security forces will be deployed city-wide to secure the Kadayawan Festival from August 9 to 20.

In an interview Tuesday, Benito De Leon, the chief of Public Safety and Security Command Center (PSSCC), said the city government will be deploying more forces during this year’s festival following the Basilan explosion on Tuesday.

“There is an increase because of what happened in Basilan,” De Leon said, adding that the number does not include augmentation from the Police Regional Office (PRO)-11 yet.

Col. Nolasco Mempin, commander of Task Force Davao, said they have already implemented stricter measures in checkpoints in and out of Davao City.

Senior Insp Maria Teresita Gaspan, the spokesperson of the Davao City Police Office (DCPO), said the deployment will start this week and that more forces will be deployed depending on the nature of the activity. She said civilian volunteers like village watchmen, and police auxiliary will also be deployed.

“Around 6,000 DCPO personnel and police auxiliary number of frequent personnel that will be deployed during major activities,” she added.

Orgaizers said this year's festivity promises to be bigger in terms of tourist and visitor arrivals, which are expected to hit 200,000.


PH, Aussie navies hold maritime security exercise in Tawi-Tawi

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 1): PH, Aussie navies hold maritime security exercise in Tawi-Tawi

The Philippine Navy's Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NFWM) command and the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) are holding a joint exercise off the coast of Tawi-Tawi, an official said Tuesday.

Rear Adm. Rene Medina, NFWM commander, said the 10-day joint exercise -- the second leg of the 4th Combined PN-RAN Maritime Security Activity -- kicked off on Sunday in Tawi-Tawi.

Lt. Commander Musksin Jasid, NSJM chief, and Lt. Col. Judd Finger of the Australian government’s Joint Task Group 629 led the opening ceremony at the Naval Station Juan Magluyan (NSJM) in Batu-Bato, Panglima Sugala, Tawi-Tawi.

It was followed by a fellowship games between the PN and RAN delegates and a boodle fight meal, which served as a symbol of brotherhood and strong bond between the two navies.

Medina said the 4th combined PN-RAN Maritime Security Activity includes the conduct of a series of meeting procedures and maritime patrols in the Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs), particularly in the waters of ZamPeLan, (Zamboanga Peninsula and Lanao) Basilan and Tawi-Tawi.

He said there will also be various ship drills aboard PN and RAN vessels to test the readiness of the crew.

The PN vessels BRP-Felix Apolinario (PC-395), BRP-Anastacio Cacayorin (PC-387, and Multipurpose Attack craft BA 482 are participating in the activity. The participating RAN vessels are the HMAS Wollongong and HMAS Ararat.

Medina underscored the importance of the activity in enhancing the maritime inter-operability between the PN and RAN and other regional state navies. It also complements the current operations of the Naval Task Group Basilan and Naval Task Group ZamPeLan to pre-empt and end piracy, kidnappings and terrorism in the maritime domain, he added.

The first leg of the Maritime Security Activity was held in the Naval Forces West Area of Responsibility in Palawan from July 16 to 25, this year.


Bangsamoro Organic Law ceremonial signing will be ‘re-enactment’

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 31): Bangsamoro Organic Law ceremonial signing will be ‘re-enactment’

Malacañang clarified on Tuesday that the ceremonial signing of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) slated on Aug. 6 will be a “re-enactment”.

“There is a ceremonial re-enactment of the signing of the BOL on Aug. 6 at 3:45 p.m.,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a Palace briefing.

Roque earlier announced that President Rodrigo Duterte has already signed the BOL last July 26, two days after the House of Representatives ratified its bicameral report on the BOL.

Duterte was supposed to sign the BOL during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 23 but failed to do so since it was only the Senate that was able to approve the bicameral report.

The lower chamber failed to ratify the landmark measure during the opening of the third regular session following a leadership shakeup.

“Re-enactment lang ‘yun. 'Yan 'yung seremonya (It’s just a re-enactment. That will be the ceremony) that we were deprived of kasi (because) the ceremony was supposed to be in Congress itself,” Roque said.

He said that authors, and stakeholders, including the Bangsamoro Transition Committee (BTC), of the landmark measure will be invited during the event.

On Monday, Roque said that Duterte is “not really fond of” holding ceremonies, although he personally felt that the BOL deserves one.

“Alam ninyo si Presidente talaga, hindi mahilig sa seremonya (You know, the President, he’s not really fond of holding ceremonies),” Roque said in an earlier briefing.

He said if the administration of former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III held a ceremony for the signing of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) despite it not being passed by Congress, the Duterte administration’s BOL certainly deserves a ceremony as well.

On Monday, Duterte’s top aide, Christopher “Bong” Go confirmed that a ceremonial signing will be held in Malacañang.

The BOL, which seeks to establish a new Bangsamoro political entity to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), is expected to pave the way for lasting peace in Mindanao.


PNP denounces Basilan attack, vows to go after perpetrators

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 31): PNP denounces Basilan attack, vows to go after perpetrators

The Philippine National Police (PNP) vowed to go after those behind the bombing of a Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) detachment in Lamitan City, Basilan Tuesday morning.

"We will mobilize all available resources at our disposal to bring the authors of this crime before the bar of justice.We urge the peace-loving people of Basilan not to be cowed by this single act of heinous terror but to keep calm but vigilant against any attempt to sow violence and disrupt our normal lives," PNP spokesman Senior Supt. Benigno Durana Jr. said in a statement.

"We join the Filipino nation in strongly condemning this bastardly act of taking human lives for whatever motive its perpetrators may have," the PNP added.

The explosion took place at 5:50 a.m. near the Magwakit Detachment in Barangay Colonia, Lamitan City.

Reports said troops in the area intercepted a white van containing IEDs.

The vehicle was being inspected when an explosion tore into it, killing one soldier, five CAFGU members and four civilians, including the driver who was believed to be the suspect.

Also wounded were one CAFGU and six members of the 9th Scout Ranger Company.


No evidence yet to determine Lamitan blast a lone-wolf attack: AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 31): No evidence yet to determine Lamitan blast a lone-wolf attack: AFP

There is still no sufficient evidence to prove that the van blast, which killed 11 persons and wounded seven others in Lamitan City, Basilan, was committed by a so-called a lone-wolf attacker, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo said Tuesday.

"Yun nga kinaklaro natin kanina at sinasabi natin wala tayong sufficient na basehan para sabihin natin na ito ay 'lone wolf attack' or isang 'suicide bomb attempt' ng isang foreigner or hindi kasi lahat ng nagkaroon ng contact dun sa checkpoint ay namatay kasama mismo (ang) nag-iisang pasahero na nagmamaneho ng van (We are clarifying and saying that we do not have sufficient basis to say that it is a 'lone wolf attack' or a 'suicide bomb attempt' of a foreigner because not everyone who had contact with the checkpoint died, including the driver of the van)," Arevalo added.

Also, Arevalo said they are still determining the identity of the van's driver as of this time.

The AFP spokesperson added authorities will not stop in tracking down and neutralizing terrorists headed by Abu Sayyaf Group leader Furuji Indama who was believed to be involved in the attack.

The explosion took place 5:50 a.m. near Magwakit Detachment in Barangay Colonia, Lamitan City.

Reports indicated that troops in the area intercepted a white van containing improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Inspection were ongoing when the vehicle exploded killing one soldier, five CAFGUs and four civilians, including the driver who was believed to be the suspect. Also wounded were one CAFGU and six members of the 9th Scout Ranger Company.

The attack was in response to the growing number of ASG terrorists voluntarily surrendering to government forces and causing the bandit group to lose ground in Basilan.


Report suspicious-looking individuals, AFP urges public

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 31): Report suspicious-looking individuals, AFP urges public

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo urged the public to immediately report to police and military authorities any suspicious-looking person in their area.

"We call on our people to be vigilant and continue their active participation with security forces in reporting their observations," Arevalo told a press briefing in the wake of the blast in Lamitan City, Basilan that killed 11 people and wounded seven others.

He said this means the public should notify the AFP and Philippine National Police of any suspicious person or activity occurring in their locality.

Arevalo said authorities will not stop tracking down and neutralizing terrorists headed by Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) leader Furuji Indama, who is believed to have been involved in the attack.

The explosion took place near the Magwakit Detachment in Barangay Colonia, Lamitan City at 5:50 a.m. Tuesday.

Reports indicated that troops in the area intercepted a white van containing improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Inspection was ongoing when the vehicle exploded, killing one soldier, five members of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU), and four civilians, including the driver who was believed to be Indama. Injured were one CAFGU and six members of the 9th Scout Ranger Company.

According to Arevalo, the attack was in response to the growing number of ASG terrorists voluntarily surrendering to government forces, causing the bandit group to lose ground in Basilan.


Surrender if you're innocent, Palace urges Liza Maza

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 31): Surrender if you're innocent, Palace urges Liza Maza

Malacañang on Tuesday called on National Anti-Poverty Commissioner (NAPC) Liza Maza to surrender to authorities following an arrest warrant issued by a regional trial court.

Maza, former representative of Gabriela Women’s party, was recently issued with an arrest warrant from a Nueva Ecja court in connection with a murder complaint in 2006.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said that arrest warrants are “lawfully issued” by regional trial courts and Maza should turn herself in if she is innocent.

”So, if they are innocent, then they should in fact surrender, recognize the jurisdiction of the court and prove their innocence in court. That is what we expect from everyone,” Roque said in a Palace briefing.

Roque said if Maza refuses to surrender, she will become a “fugitive” and urged her to “adhere to the rule of law in this country.”

He noted that although Maza has not yet been fired, President Rodrigo R. Duterte may have to decide his next move if she continues to be absent from work, including Cabinet meetings.

“She hasn’t been fired. But, because she is wanted, she may be become a fugitive if she doesn’t surrender. And if she goes on AWOL, absence without leave, then the President will have to decide on her continuing appointment if need be, because she cannot be absent,” Roque said.

“I don’t know if she is reporting, but she has to report, surrender physically to the Regional Trial Court because there is a warrant of arrest,” he added.

Roque, however, said he has not seen Maza even once during regular Cabinet meetings.

“Since I came on board, I’ve not seen her attend any Cabinet meeting,” Roque said.

Roque noted that the NAPC is “very critical” to the fight against poverty and noted that the government “cannot have a secretary who is a fugitive from the law.”

He also denied that the government is purposely persecuting former lawmakers, stressing that it had no power to issue warrants of arrests.

“She has to heed the warrant of arrest, not even the President can interfere in our judicial process. We have to respect the judicial process. The same thing with (Senator) Leila de Lima, you have pending cases in court, prove your innocence in court, that’s a separate branch of government,” Roque said.

Roque insisted that it was the task of the Executive to implement the law through its law enforcement agencies to make sure that these warrants of arrest are properly served.

“It’s a warrant of arrest issued by a court, not by the Executive branch; we don’t have the power to issue warrants of arrests,” he said.


Senators condemn Basilan blast

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 31): Senators condemn Basilan blast

Several senators on Tuesday expressed their condemnation and concern over the deadly van explosion in Basilan that resulted in the deaths of at least 10 persons.

One soldier, five militiamen, three women, one child and the suspected bomber were among those killed after a passenger van exploded 15 meters away from a checkpoint in Barangay Bulanting, Lamitan City early Tuesday morning.

Senator Risa Hontiveros strongly condemned the incident and expressed her condolences to the families of the victims of the “horrifying attack.”

“I express my deepest condolences to the families of the victims and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for their terrible loss, and wish the injured their full and speedy recovery,” she said.

She called on authorities to immediately conduct an investigation and bring to justice all those responsible for “this despicable and cowardly act.”

“The administration must secure the peace in the region. It must see to it that this incident will not derail our efforts to achieve peace and prosperity in the region, especially with the passage of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL),” she said.

“I stand with the people of Mindanao at this critical time. I join them in condemning this kind of violent extremism,” Hontiveros said.

In the meantime, Senator Nancy Binay said the bloody Lamitan incident has no place in a civilized society.

“I am deeply saddened by the brazen and despicable act of cowardice. I urge the Philippne National Police (PNP) and all law enforcement agencies to dig deep into the bottom of this very saddening incident, and I hope what happened today won't sidetrack our efforts to achieve true peace in Mindanao,” she said.

“The Filipino people must stand united to fight violence and collectively condemn this cowardly act,” Binay added.

Meanwhile, Senator Panfilo Lacson said if the incident was indeed the very first case of suicide bombing in the country, the government should immediately act to prevent “a series of such terroristic acts” from hitting other highly populated urban centers.

“The incident should prod the government to step up their intelligence and security capabilities to address this new deadly threat,” the former police chief-turned-lawmaker said.

“I would say, proactive offense prompted by good intelligence is still our best defense,” Lacson said.


No ‘secret talks’ with China: Cayetano

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 31): No ‘secret talks’ with China: Cayetano

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano on Tuesday assured the public the administration has not engaged China in "secret meetings" amid transparency calls on the issue of the West Philippine Sea.

This comes after former President Benigno Aquino III called on the Duterte administration to disclose its negotiations with Beijing on the bilateral settlement of the territorial dispute.

Cayetano said the DFA made efforts to reach out with government agencies, the Congress, and some media outfits, as well as the opposition.

"I've offered briefings and even those that are classified. I've spoken about talks with China that goes beyond a normal revelation of information of what's been going to make the people and the media in the loop," he told reporters in a press briefing.

“We have had no secret meetings, all the meetings are on the record," he added.

The official underscored that all meetings between the administration and the Chinese government were "all on record," from the levels of President Rodrigo R. Duterte and President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Kequiang, down to his talks with China's new vice president Wang Qishan.

“Some of them are even on Facebook live. There are no secret deals. We are working out the issues, the issues are being discussed," he said.

Cayetano claimed the previous administration should be the one answering questions on transparency.

“On the contrary, maybe President Aquino should ask Secretary (Albert) del Rosario: 'We're you transparent with me?'" he said, adding that there is no complete report at the agency on who ordered the Philippine forces to leave Scarborough Shoal during a standoff in 2012.

"I have some of the reports but it's not complete, ang nakalagay lang, 'O hintayin natin 'yong text ni Senator (Antonio) Trillanes sabi ni presidente,' then nawala na 'yong ships, so sinong nagsabing tanggalin? Hindi naman nila kinumpleto 'yong records (what I saw only is this: ‘let’s wait for the text of Senator (Antonio) Trillanes as ordered by the president’. Then the ships are gone, who ordered them to leave? They did not complete the records)."

Meanwhile, he called on critics to look at the administration's overall strategy and goals, not just the approach.

“We are not enemies. We want the same thing but we don't agree on the approach to get that thing but it's not true that we are not transparent."

Cayetano left Manila on Tuesday morning to attend the 51st ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Singapore, where an update is expected on the negotiation for the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea.


ASEAN, China hopeful for ‘substantially completed’ COC in 2018

From the Philippine News Agency (Jul 31): ASEAN, China hopeful for ‘substantially completed’ COC in 2018

The Philippines, alongside China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), expressed optimism that the negotiations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) will be "substantially completed" within 2018.

"The hope is that by November, when our leaders meet, we will have it," Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told reporters before leaving for the 51st ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Singapore.

"In terms of attitude as soon as possible, in terms of actual as we aspire for a deadline as soon as possible for this year, but if we have to make an educated guess, it could be anytime towards the end of the year or next year until we actually have a COC that I think will satisfy everyone," the official added.

He said, however, that Singapore, the 2018 ASEAN chairman, already asked Beijing and the regional bloc to mitigate their expectations because a COC approved by all parties "is not that easy to come out."

While he called the ongoing discussions as a “sign of progress”, Cayetano admitted that the negotiation process is slow since talks are held multilaterally.

"Even the framework itself just the framework, the negotiation was exhaustive but then if you look at what the framework is to many people, they may say, "that's all?,” he said.

He called on the public to understand that the negotiation takes time.

In the past meetings, he said the parties agreed to start drafting a document which contains points that the ASEAN and China could agree on.

"The problem with the negotiation of the COC (is) anyone can throw in a deal breaker then we don't have an agreement. We have to take advantage of the fact that in the past, there were regional players and claimants, etc. who were not bullish about the COC, now everyone is," he said, but did not go into details about the ongoing negotiations.

For more than a decade, China and ASEAN have reaffirmed their commitment to work towards the early adoption of the COC. But it was only during the 20th ASEAN-China Summit in the Philippines in November last year that development on the document began to move forward.

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