Friday, August 3, 2018

6 more Abu Sayyaf members surrender —Wesmincom

From GMA News Online (Aug 2): 6 more Abu Sayyaf members surrender —Wesmincom

Six more Abu Sayyaf members have surrendered to the military, increasing the tally to nearly 150, the West Mindanao Command said on Thursday.Two yielded to troops of the Joint Task Force Sulu at around 2:30 p.m. They were identified as Alfahad Totong Sahipa, 17, and Julpin Sawadjaan Kumdun, 47.
They had both worked under ASG subleader Hajan Sawadjaan.
The other four had surrendered on Wednesday morning to troops of the Marine Base Landing Team (MBLT) 3.

They were identified as Kareem Sahiya aka Sabirul, Ekiram Asara aka Hatib, Jasok Unaw aka Rajad, and Abdulhakim Kahal aka Lahik.

They were from the group of the late ASG leader Alhabsi Misaya.

Brig. Gen. Divinio Rey Pabayo, commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu, said that the surrendered Abu Sayyaf members were brought to their headquarters for a physical and medical check up and custodial debriefing.

As of August 1, the military said a total of 146 Abu Sayyaf Group members have surrendered and laid down their weapons this year.

Seventy-six of this number were from Sulu, 63 from Basilan, five from Tawi-Tawi, and two from Zamboanga.

Philippine Police Detain Man with Suspected Links to Basilan Suicide Bomb Attack

From BenarNews (Aug 2): Philippine Police Detain Man with Suspected Links to Basilan Suicide Bomb Attack


Philippine soldiers man a security checkpoint in Lamitan city on southern island of Basilan Aug. 2, 2018. Mark Navales/BenarNews 
Philippine authorities arrested a 58-year-old Filipino man who allegedly helped a Moroccan Islamic State operative plan and carry out a car bombing that killed 10 people on the southern island of Basilan, the military said Thursday.

The man, indentified as Muslim cleric Jainul Malialim Indamin, was arrested Wednesday at his home in Basilan’s Lamitan City, regional military spokesman Col. Gerry Besana said.

“Actually, he is known in their village as a possible link who probably facilitated the bombing,” Besana said, referring to intelligence information gathered about Indamin.

“However, when police went into his house to invite him for questioning a grenade was recovered from his possession,” Besana said.

He said Indamin was being interrogated Thursday, and is held on charges of homicide and murder, as well as illegal possession of an explosive.

Authorities, however, have yet to establish the link between Indamin and Abu Kathir al-Maghribi, a Moroccan identified by the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group as the bomber, citing a report by the IS’ Amaq news agency.

The suspect, who also goes by the name Abdulgani, allegedly had “full knowledge of the bombing,” according to a military intelligence report.

“Abdulgani also facilitated entry of foreign terrorist fighters coming from Malaysia,” the report said.

The suspect was in a van allegedly carrying explosives when he was stopped at a military checkpoint outside of Lamitan on Tuesday. Reports said he raised suspicion when he could not speak Filipino when questioned minutes before the blast, which left a deep hole in the ground.

Ten people were killed from the blast, including a soldier, several members of a pro-government militia unit and some civilians. Several people were also wounded, investigators said.

On Thursday, police also traced ownership of the van to a man who was a former village head in Lamitan, but it was not clear if he is considered a suspect in the case.

The attack came a few days after President Rodrigo Duterte invited the Abu Sayyaf – a terrorist group known for vicious attacks – to the negotiating table. It also came shortly after he had signed a law giving Muslims in the south autonomy over areas in the south, four years after the government signed a peace deal with the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Philippine soldiers check a van in Lamitan city, Aug. 2, 2018. [Mark Navales/BenarNews]

MILF to help hunt down militants

MILF leader Murad Ebrahim expressed outrage over the attack and vowed that his forces would help the military track down the plotters of the bombing, which he said undermined the peace deal.

“There will be no compromise with terrorists whose aims are to create chaos, destruction and bloodshed,” Murad said. “No quarters shall be given to them and they must be defeated at once. They must not be allowed to grow.”

Murad directed his lieutenants in Basilan to be in full alert and to coordinate with their counterparts in the military and police in thwarting future attacks.

The peace deal called for the MILF to lead a transitional government before members of the autonomous region are elected in a plebiscite. His fighters would be stripped of their weapons, but could opt to join a regional police force under the command of the central government in Manila.

In 2002, as part of the peace talks, the MILF and government agreed to work “to interdict and isolate” criminal groups, such as kidnappers and terrorists.

Murad said that based on their initial intelligence report, the bomber arrived in Basilan from the southern island of Jolo. Two other militants believed to be foreign nationals arrived using the same route.

He said the foreign terrorists were under the protection of Furuji Indama (alias Abu Dujanah), the Abu Sayyaf’s Basilan commander.

Intelligence sources earlier said the blast could have been directed by Mike Lila, believed to be one of Indama’s aides.

Indama took the reins of the Abu Sayyaf from Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged IS commander in the south who led a combat force that included fighters from Southeast Asia and the Middle East who occupied the southern city of Marawi city last year.

More than 1,200 people were killed, including Hapilon and an undetermined number of foreign fighters, in five months of fighting that destroyed Marawi.

“The MILF Central Committee views with deep concerns the latest upsurge of violence and terrorism in Mindanao particularly in Basilan,” Murad said.

“The wounds inflicted on our people and peace-loving people of Marawi City on May 23 last year are still unhealed and aching; and here again, signs are clear,” Murad said. “The terrorists are not yet down and out.”

On Thursday, the European Union joined the United States and France in condemning the attack.

“The EU is determined to combat terrorism around the world and expresses solidarity with the countries affected by this course,” EU ambassador to Manila Franz Jessen said.

Basilan bomber was a foreigner, say Moro rebels

From The Gulf News (Aug 4): Basilan bomber was a foreigner, say Moro rebels
The July 31 roadside blast in the Philippine village of Colonia in Lamitan sent shock waves of fear
Police inspect a vehicle at a military checkpoint where a bomb exploded in Lamitan, Basilan province, southern Philippines.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said it has information that a foreigner of German-Arab extraction was behind the July 31 bomb blast in Basilan that killed 11 people including four non-combatants.

In a report posted August 2 in its ‘Luwaran’ website, the MILF said that it has information that the foreign perpetrator “arrived in Basilan via Sulu few days before the blast.”
The bomber arrived in Basilan along with two others, believed also believed to be foreign nationals, using the same route. It was taken that the perpetrators had used the so-called southern back door, a porous area between Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

“The foreign terrorists are under the custody Abu Sayyaf Commander Furuji Indama, also known as Abu Dujanah,” it said.

MILF’s own intelligence network has a measure of credibility being free from intramurals among government law enforcement agencies.

Earlier reports based on surviving witnesses who saw the bomber just moments before the blast, said the perpetrator appeared to be a foreigner and was having difficulty communicating when spoken to in Basilan’s native Yakan dialect.

Blast rocks country

The July 31 roadside blast in the village of Colonia in Lamitan sent shock waves of fear. According to reports, a lone foreign-looking man in a white van was flagged down by members of the militia, the Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) at a checkpoint near a military camp early morning on that day.

As the driver was being quizzed by the army sergeant heading the CAFGU unit, the bomb detonated immediately, killing the soldier and four militiamen as well the bomb courier.

MILF Chair Murad Ebrahim, reacting to the July 31 blast, which occurred days after President Rodrigo Duterte passed the Bangsamoro Organic Law, said: “there will be no compromise with terrorists whose aims are to create chaos, destruction and bloodshed. No quarters shall be given to them and they must be defeated at once. They must not be allowed to grow.”

General Carlito Galvez Jr, Armed Forces chief-of-staff, said they have reason to believe that the blast was carried out by the Abu Sayyaf. “It could be a bombing mission in Lamitan by the Abu Sayyaf but the bomb prematurely exploded at the military checkpoint,” he said.

He said it is highly likely that the target of Tuesday’s bombing was the parade for the nutrition month culmination activity in Lamitan City where thousands of children from the different schools in Lamitan City, took part.

“They (Abu Sayyaf) wanted to make a very strong statement through the bombing,” Galvez said.

Murder in Mindanao: A bombing in the Philippines tells peacemakers to make haste

From The Economist (Aug 2): Murder in Mindanao: A bombing in the Philippines tells peacemakers to make haste

A new law could resolve some of the grievances of Muslim separatists

IT DID not take long for Islamic State (IS) to claim responsibility for a bomb on the island of Basilan, part of the southern region of Mindanao in the Philippines, that killed nine soldiers and civilian bystanders, along with the driver of the van the bomb was carried in. The army suspects the work of Abu Sayyaf, a brutal kidnapping-for-ransom gang from Basilan and the neighbouring island of Jolo which these days claims allegiance to IS.

The attack, on July 31st, highlighted the dangers of dragging out a slow, stumbling peace process that had made a leap forward just days before, when President Rodrigo Duterte enacted the Bangsamoro Organic Law. The law is key to ending half a century of rebellion by Filipino Muslim separatists in Mindanao which has cost tens of thousands of lives. It is surely key, too, to ending the chaos in which jihadists such as IS thrive.

Congress in Manila, the capital, had taken years to pass the new law, which provides for greater autonomy for the homeland of the Bangsamoro, Muslims who are in a majority in their part of Mindanao (which is predominantly Christian, like the country). In return, the main rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has dropped its demand for Bangsamoro independence. Greater autonomy was promised in a peace agreement signed by the government with the MILF in 2014.

The armed campaign for Bangsamoro independence began in 1969. The 2014 agreement was the culmination of decades of on-and-off negotiations between the government and Muslim separatist rebels, first the Moro National Liberation Front and then its less secular offshoot, the MILF. During those years, war-torn, impoverished Mindanao spawned a plethora of armed groups: some Muslim separatists, some communists, some simply violent criminals. Jihadists took advantage of the general lawlessness to recruit fighters to their cause.

After the peace agreement was signed, Congress shied away from passing the legislation it entailed when current and former MILF fighters killed 44 paramilitary policemen operating against jihadists. When Mr Duterte, whose power base is in Davao, the largest metropolitan region in Mindanao, became president in 2016, he said he was determined to complete the peace process.

Yet Congress was still slow to pass the legislation, fearful lest it turn out to contravene the country’s constitution. In 2008 the Supreme Court had declared a previous peace agreement unconstitutional, so infuriating one faction of the MILF that it broke away. The splinter group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), later pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

The Bangsamoro Organic Law may yet be challenged in court. That is one reason (admittedly of several) why Mr Duterte has called for the constitution to be rewritten to turn the Philippines from a unitary state into a federation.

A bloody attempt last year by groups, including Filipino adherents of IS, to capture and hold the city of Marawi was crushed when the army laid siege for months, destroying the city to save it. In that siege, one notable Abu Sayyaf leader, Isnilon Hapilon, was killed. Yet BIFF guerrillas and Abu Sayyaf terrorists remain active in the south, as the latest bombing in Basilan showed. Not just the government but also the MILF chairman, Al-Hajj Murad Ebrahim, believe peace and economic development in Mindanao will defeat the jihadists by drying up their sources of recruits. The battle for Marawi, and now this latest bombing, are warnings that jihadists are lurking, ready to pounce unless Mr Murad and Mr Duterte make haste to end the separatist conflict.

Rare Suicide Bombing in Southern Philippines Highlights Security Risks Ahead

Posted to BenarNews (Aug 2): Rare Suicide Bombing in Southern Philippines Highlights Security Risks Ahead


Men carry the body of one of the victims of an explosion near Lamitan City in Basilan province of the southern Philippines, July 31, 2018. AP 
On July 31, a man drove up to a checkpoint outside of Lamitan town on Basilan Island in the southern Philippines and detonated a bomb, killing 10 people, including himself. The dead included a soldier, five paramilitaries and three civilians, among them a woman and a child.

We should note that the Armed Forces of the Philippines vigorously denies that the attack was a suicide bombing or that it had any ties to the Islamic State (IS), attributing it to a failed extortion attempt.

This seems very unlikely, and follows a pattern of Philippine denials of IS influence, which we have consistently seen since 2014. With the five-month siege of Marawi, they should no longer be in denial. But once again, they appear to be deflecting attention from internal security lapses.

While the Philippines is no stranger to terrorism, suicide bombings are a rarity. The last occurred in 2002 when a suicide bomber drove a motorcycle laden with an explosive device that killed a member of the U.S. Special Forces outside a restaurant frequented by troops in the southern city of Zamboanga.

There has not been one since, even during the siege of Marawi when they were expected. Anytime one crosses that Rubicon, it is significant. But the bombing has significance for a host of other reasons.

New fronts and foreign fighters

First, while the Philippine military was quick to pin responsibility on the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the Islamic State has claimed credit for the attack.

The leader of the ASG’s Basilan operations, Furuji Indama, was one of Isnilon Hapilon’s top deputies. Hapilon was one of the first in Southeast Asia to declare his allegiance to the Islamic State in mid-2014. He would later travel to Lanao del Sur where he joined forces with the Maute brothers and perpetrated the Marawi siege in May 2017.

Indama was left in charge of Basilan operations and his forces have remained doggedly resilient in the face of government offensives. BenarNews has reported that the operation was done by one of Indama’s trusted lieutenants.

The bombing happened at a time when IS is in serious need to go on the offensive. It has lost significant territory in the past year, and recently had to reorganize into two “wiliyat” or provinces, down from 22. While it will not abandon its goal of a caliphate, its losses have been too great to dismiss.

IS is clearly laying the theoretical groundwork to go back to a global insurgency. So new fronts are important.

There were mixed signals last week about whether IS had declared a wilayat in East Asia. IS’s Amaq News Agency announced one, but then seemed to walk it back.

Regardless, it is clear that militants in Southeast Asia are trying to escalate the violence to attract the attention of the IS leadership, in order to attain wilayat status.

Second, IS’s Amaq News Agency announced that the bomber was a Moroccan, “Abu Kathir al-Maghribi.”

This in itself is interesting for a few reasons. Since 2014, IS has told followers that if they could not travel to Iraq or Syria to join the caliphate project, that they should join the fight in Mindanao, the only place in the region where IS groups have a hope of holding territory, or at least making the region significantly ungovernable. This was a central theme of their 2017 video on the Marawi siege, part of their “Inside the Caliphate” series.

Foreign militants flowed into the country in larger numbers ahead of the Marawi siege. Philippine officials estimated their number to be more than 80. Militants from Indonesia and Malaysia, and as far as Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Chechnya, were killed.

In 2017, Philippine authorities arrested Middle Easterners and a Spaniard suspected of ties to terrorist groups. Some of the most important IS cells in neighboring Malaysia have been logistic cells in Sabah state, responsible for moving people in and out of the Philippines.

Foreigners hold important positions, beyond being contacts who can bring in resources or certain skill sets. They can often transcend some of the parochial divides among the alphabet soup of pro-IS cells that rarely cooperate with each other.

In general, foreign militants have eschewed the ASG cells in Sulu, which are renowned for their kidnapping for ransom. Their commitment to IS seems fleeting: it is only Western hostages that they place in front of IS flags, or use IS-style messaging to command higher ransoms. And although they have beheaded hostages in the past, it has only been after ransoms went unpaid.

Ammonium nitrate
The third reason the attack was significant was that it could indicate “learning” or cross-fertilization.

Bombs have different designs, compositions and detonating devices, commonly referred to as their “signature.” Philippine authorities have revealed that the composition of the Basilan bomb was ammonium nitrate.

Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) tend to reflect what is readily available and within the terrorists’ technical means. Most IEDs in the southern Philippines are built using artillery or mortar shells, since there are so many of those around.

While ammonium nitrate has been used in the Philippines before, it is not that common. Moreover, the use of a car-bomb is highly unusual in the Philippines, though motorcycle-borne IEDs are more common.

Fourth, the attack comes just a week after the Philippine Congress finally passed and President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law that implements the 2014 peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

This attack is an attempt to spoil the peace process and, as such, we should expect more of them.

Groups that have pledged allegiance to IS were originally part of the MILF, and now accuse its leadership of siding with the “kuffir.” Such attacks are not just an attempt to derail the peace process, but an attempt to wrest leadership of the Moro away from the MILF leadership, which they view as having sold out.

Indeed, the attack came just a few days after Duterte publicly offered a “peace process” with the ASG.

Fifth, with the death of Hapilon and the Mautes in Marawi, there has been a dearth of leadership. No one person has risen to the top from the vying groups. One of the ways that groups compete is a process of “outbidding,” perpetrating more violent attacks than others to attract followers and outside support.

How far they would go

Finally, there are different ways to think about whether the attack was a sign of strength or weakness.

The AFP wants to show that their concerted offensives forced the ASG to go on the run, and thus they are now resorting to desperate measures.

But I am immediately drawn to the May 2018 suicide bombings in the Indonesian city of Surabaya that saw three families – including women, and children 8 to 19 years old – launching one unsuccessful and four successful bombings.

Those attacks were horrific, and the only thing that I can come up with to explain how parents could do this to their children is that they were trying to set an example for others, showing how far they would go, sacrificing their entire family, for the sake of defending their religion.

And that would make sense in this case, if the real intention of the suicide bomber was not to inflict casualties but to inspire others to follow his lead.

The attack reiterates just how tenuous the situation is in the Southern Philippines, and cautions against attempts by the government to deflect attention.
[Zachary Abuza is a professor at the National War College in Washington and the author of “Forging Peace in Southeast Asia: Insurgencies, Peace Processes, and Reconciliation.” The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of the U.S. Department of Defense, the National War College or BenarNews.]

The Philippines stays free and open in its position on the Indo-Pacific

From the East Asia Forum (Aug 2): The Philippines stays free and open in its position on the Indo-Pacific (By Christian Vicedo, National Defense College of the Philippines)

When US Defence Secretary James Mattis met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on 28 June 2018, he conveyed Washington’s growing concern over Beijing’s military activities in the South China Sea (SCS). In response Xi stressed that Beijing ‘cannot lose one inch’ of its territory. This bold statement portends a more challenging time for US President Donald Trump’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ (FOIP) strategy and raises the question of how regional US allies and partners like the Philippines may respond to the FOIP.

The FOIP strategy is the encapsulation of US security interests as a status-quo power in the Indo-Pacific region. ‘Free’ pertains to the freedom of sovereign nations from coercion, while ‘open’ refers to open sea lines of communication and airways.

A crucial aspect of the FOIP is that it seeks to challenge China’s behaviour in the SCS. Speaking at the 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue, Secretary Mattis underscored that Beijing’s militarisation of artificial features in the SCS — including the deployment of surface-to-air and anti-ship cruise missiles, installation of electronic jammers and test-landing of a nuclear-capable bomber — runs in stark contrast to the policy of openness that the FOIP promotes.

The FOIP presents an opportunity for the Philippines to be part of a loose coalition of states that are willing and able to counter unilateral Chinese behaviour in the SCS and to preserve the rules-based regional order. As outlined in the 2018 US National Defense Strategy, the United States seeks to transform its system of alliances and security partnerships in the Indo-Pacific into a ‘networked security architecture capable of deterring aggression, maintaining stability, and ensuring free access to common domains’.

US allies and security partners have started to orient their policies towards these objectives. Japan has adopted a FOIP strategy that seeks to connect the SCS and the Indian Ocean and to ‘enhance strategic collaboration’ with India, Australia and the United States. Similarly, as underscored in its 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, Australia seeks to develop its ‘Indo-Pacific partnerships’ with Japan and India in the areas of maritime security and naval capability development.

Meanwhile, Vietnam continues to explore closer maritime security and defence industry cooperation with the United States. Vietnam has also strengthened cooperation with US allies through the adoption of the Vietnam–Japan Joint Vision Statement on Defense Relations and the elevation of Vietnam–Australia security relations into a strategic partnership.

The FOIP also presents an opportunity for the Philippines to develop its defence capabilities. On 20 June 2018, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte approved a budget of US$5.6 billion to fund the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Program Horizon 2. The program aims to transform the AFP from an internal security-oriented military to an external security-capable armed force with advanced defence and maritime security capabilities. The United States’ commitment to increase defence investment in, improve interoperability with and prioritise requests for military equipment sales to its regional partners as part of its FOIP strategy could assist the AFP in this modernisation effort.

Under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, the Philippines agreed to authorise the rotational access of US troops to agreed locations within Philippine territory. During the 2017 Philippine–US Bilateral Strategic Dialogue, both countries affirmed their commitment to ‘uphold freedom of navigation and overflight’ in the SCS. These legal and political commitments provide a substantive basis for the United States to call upon the Philippines to support the FOIP and its freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the SCS.

But the Philippines’ continued support for US FONOPS and potential engagement with the FOIP strategy will depend on future developments in the SCS. While the Philippines–US alliance remains intact, the Philippines still seeks to defuse tensions in the SCS and promote closer economic ties with Beijing.

The Philippines has communicated to China certain red lines in the SCS that it should not cross. These include the construction of Chinese facilities on Scarborough Shoal, any attempt to remove the BRP Sierra Madre (a grounded ship that the Philippine Navy uses as a military outpost) from Second Thomas Shoal, any attempt to harass Filipino soldiers on resupply or repair missions, and unilateral exploitation of the SCS’s natural resources. Similar to how former Philippine president Benigno Aquino shifted his foreign policy stance from equi-balancing to balancing China after the 2012 Scarborough Shoal stand-off, Duterte may adopt a more assertive stance towards China should any of these red lines be crossed.

Consistent with Duterte’s current efforts to improve bilateral relations with China, the Philippines’ participation in a coalition of states in support of the FOIP and the regional rules-based order is likely to transpire only if China crosses any of the SCS red lines. On the other hand, consistent with the Philippines’ National Security Strategy, which acknowledges the need to ‘increase the size and deterrent capability’ of the AFP, it is likely that the Philippines will readily support the FOIP strategy in the context of enhancing its defence ties with the United States.

In short, unless developments in the SCS compel Duterte to radically shift his China stance, the Philippines’ engagement with the FOIP can be expected to be partial at best.

[Christian Vicedo is Senior Defense Research Officer in the Research and Special Studies Division, National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP). The views expressed are the author’s own and do not reflect the official position of the NDCP.]

Another strong blast rocks Philippine port

From the Gulf Today (Aug 3): Another strong blast rocks Philippine port

A powerful explosion believed to have come from an improvised bomb rocked a port on the island province of Masbate in the Visayas even as the Philippine National Police (PNP) placed Metro Manila on “heightened alert” to prevent a repetition of the car bombing in Mindanao that killed 10 people and seriously wounded five others.

Captain Joash Pramis, the spokesman of an Army division, reported the explosion occurred late on Wednesday night at the port of Masbate’s capital city of Masbate where mostly fishing boats and a vessel from the Philippine Coast Guard were moored.

Fortunately, no one was wounded in the Masbate blast that came 24 hours after the a passenger van driven by a “foreigner” who could not speak Filipino or English and believed loaded with home-made bombs exploded near a military checkpoint in Lamitan City in Basilan on Tuesday morning, according to Pramis.

Pramis added no group or individual has come out to admit the bombing but security officials said they believe the attack was the handiwork of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) operating in Masbate.
On Thursday, the PNP also placed Metro Manila, composed of 15 cities and one town with a total population of 12 million, under “heightened alert” to obviate the possibility of a car bomb attack similar to that on Basilan.

The same alert was raised over the whole of troubled Mindanao, including Davao City, the hometown of President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte.

“We should always be ready, prepared here in Metro Manila with what happened in Lamitan City,” said Chief Superintendent Guillermo Eleazar, the head of the PNP Metro Manila regional command.

“That is the reason,” Eleazar said, “why we are upgrading our alert status for us to be prepared. We don’t want a similar attack in Metro Manila.” He explained this meant the deployment of additional police beat patrols and intensification of intelligence-gathering to monitor any threats that may be carried out in Metro Manila.

But Eleazar assured that so far, they have not received any “credible” report about a possible attack in Metro Manila Meanwhile, police reported they have identified the owner of the passenger van, based on the engine number of the vehicle they had recovered from the scene.

Police said the owner appeared to be a former “barangay” (village) chairman of the town of Hadji Mohammad Ajul in Basilan, who will be invited for questioning to shed light on the case.

Troops find abandoned remains of NPA rebel in Batangas

From UNTV News & Rescue (Aug 2): Troops find abandoned remains of NPA rebel in Batangas

The abandoned body of an NPA rebel covered with dried coconut leaves in an attempt by the NPA to conceal the body. (Photo courtesy of the AFP)

 CAMP GENERAL MATEO CAPINPIN, Tanay, Rizal — Government troops on Wednesday, August 1, found the abandoned remains of a New People’s Army (NPA) member at Sitio Sampaloc, Brgy Bulsa, San Juan, Batangas during a pursuit and tracking operation following an encounter with the rebels.

The body was later identified as alias “Jepoy” of the Kilusang Larangang Gerilya Silangan.

Jepoy is believed to have been killed in an armed encounter against soldiers last Monday where he suffered two fatal gunshot wounds in the chest.

The rotting remains of the rebel were tracked by K9 dogs that followed the blood stains from the encounter site.

The body was found in a grassy area one kilometer away from the encounter site. It was covered with dried coconut leaves in an attempt by the NPA to conceal the body.

Major General Rhoderick M. Parayno AFP, Commander, 2ID condemned the NPAs treatment of their dead combatants.

“They should provide proper medication to those that are wounded. But the most unacceptable thing is to leave a comrade behind and conceal the body by covering it with dried leaves”, he added.

He also appealed to the rebels to, “Give up your arms and join us in local peace talks.”

Meanwhile, the cadaver has been transported to the municipal police station for proper disposition while waiting for possible claimant.

Aside from the previous recovered items such as M16 rifle, backpacks, bandoleers and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) during the firefight, the troops also recovered additional IEDs, blasting cap, hand grenade, assorted ammunition, MacBook laptop, cellphones and other subversive documents.

The government troops are continuing massive pursuit operations against the terrorists in an attempt to locate the other wounded NPA reported by the civilians.

Check points are also being expanded in the area.

Army not intimidated with NPA attacks

From the Manila Bulletin (Aug 2): Army not intimidated with NPA attacks

The Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) is not intimidated with the two consecutive attacks by the New People’s Army (NPA) in Iloilo and Capiz provinces.

“The harassments are clear indication of desperation. They know better that they are already irrelevant,” said Major General Dinoh Dolina, 3ID commander.

“They are afraid to directly engage with our troops, but they wanted to project that they are still a force to reckon with,” Dolina added.

Government troops under the 61st Infantry Battalion (61 IB) and the NPA rebels belonging to NPA Panay’s Southern Front Committee clashed Wednesday in Miag-ao town, Iloilo province. Lieutenant Colonel Sisenando Magbalot, 61 IB commander, said a gunfight ensued for five minutes before the NPA withdrew in different directions.

Wednesday’s clash came days after the NPA tried to attack the detachment of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) Active Auxiliary also in Miag-ao town. The NPA rebels physically harassed the CAFGU volunteers.

Last July 16, several NPA rebels peppered bullets at another CAFGU attachment in Tapaz town, Capiz province. There was a similar incident in Igbaras town, Iloilo province last July 13.

“Our troops are not new to this kind of despairing move and they are always prepared for any NPA attacks,” added Dolina.

2 CAFGUs killed in Masbate clash with suspected Reds

From GMA News (Aug 3): 2 CAFGUs killed in Masbate clash with suspected Reds

Two government militiamen were killed while four others were wounded following a clash with suspected New People's Army rebels in Masbate Friday morning, a regional Army spokesperson said.

Captain Joash Pramis, public affairs officer of the Army's 9th Infantry Division, said at 9:37 a.m., an encounter erupted between elements of the 22nd Infantry Battalion and an undetermined number of insurgents at Purok Mangga in Barangay Mactan in Cawayan town.

The firefight lasted for 20 minutes, resulting in the deaths of two CAFGU members. In addition, three other militiamen were wounded, as well as the Army team leader.

There was no reported casualties on the rebel side.

The clash came as peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front have been on a standstill since November last year.

Army denies casualties in Agusan gun battle

From the Manila Bulletin (Aug 3): Army denies casualties in Agusan gun battle

The area command of the Army’s 402nd Infantry (Stingers) Brigade on Friday strongly denied that four of their operating Army soldiers were killed during a fierce gun battle with the Communist New People’s Army Terrorists (CNTs) on Wednesday.

“There’s no truth to the information waged by the other side (CNTs),” stressed 402nd Brigade civil military operation officer (CMO) Capt. Al Anthony Pueblas.

However, the 402nd CMO officer only confirmed two members of the Army’s 23rd Infantry Battalion (23rd IB) were slightly wounded during the 37 minutes gun battle with the SPP Kingdom Guerilla Front Committee 4-A (GFC 4-A) of the CPP-NPA Northeastern Mindanao Regional Committee (NEMRC) under certain “Commander Bryan” at Tabon area, Barangay Aclan, Nasipit town, Agusan del Norte.

“The two wounded soldiers are out of danger,” the Army officer stressed.

Pueblas claimed that an unidentified amazon of GFC 4-A was killed in that gun battle, based on the reports of the highland villagers who allegedly saw her being dragged by her comrades-in-arms as they ran away toward the municipal border of Buenavista and Nasipit in Agusan del Norte province.

He said the Tabon gun battle took place after the highland villagers reported the alleged force revolutionary taxation imposed by the CNTs in the area.

Meanwhile, hot pursuit operation against the fleeing rebels is still ongoing in Agusan del Norte highland areas.

“Our pursuing troops also wanted to recover the slain amazon so that she will be given proper burial,” the 402nd CMO officer said.

He added that Brig. Gen. Franco Nemesio Gacal, commanding general of the 402nd “Stingers” Brigade also wanted the wounded CNTs be given medical attention in any hospital in the province.

“Our operating troops also believed that unaccounted numbers of CNT’s were wounded in Tabon gun battle,” Pueblas further claimed.

Soldiers, NPA clash in Agusan

From Tempo (Aug 3): Soldiers, NPA clash in Agusan

Government troops clashed with New People’s Army (NPA) rebels Wednesday in Barangay Aclan, Nasipit, Agusan del Norte, leaving scores wounded, report reaching police and military headquarters.

A flash report said a peace and development team of the Army’s 23rd Infantry Battallion (23rd IB) were conducting security patrol in Tabon area when it engaged the rebels around 10:38 a.m.

The fierce gunfight lasted for almost 40 minutes until the rebels retreated, initial report said.

The rebels fled toward the mountain border of Buenavista and Nasipit, also of this province.

The rebels are members of SPP Kingdom Guerilla Front Committee 4-A of the CPP-NPA Northeastern Mindanao Regional Committee (NEMRC) under certain “Commander Bryan”, according to the report.

Two soldiers were wounded and brought to the nearest hospital in Nasipit. Their identities were withheld pending notification of their respective kin. An undetermined number of rebels were also wounded.

The Army’s 402nd Infantry (Stingers) Brigade based at Camp Bancasi deployed troops to assist the 23rd IB.

'Leave immediately or you will pay' - China is warning foreign ships that get too close to its island fortresses, but the US Navy isn't changing a thing

From the Nordic Business Insider (Jul 31): 'Leave immediately or you will pay' - China is warning foreign ships that get too close to its island fortresses, but the US Navy isn't changing a thing

US Navy destroyers

  • China is increasingly issuing stern warnings to foreign ships and planes operating near contested territories in the South China Sea.
  • Varying from past practice, the warnings are now coming from China's artificial islands, where China has taken steps to fortify its position through the deployment of jamming technology, missiles, and other defense systems.
  • The U.S. Navy says it is unfazed by Chinese activities and will operate wherever international law allows.
The U.S. Navy and allies have noticed an increase in Chinese radio queries to foreign ships and planes operating in the South China Sea, some less than friendly and others downright threatening.
"Leave immediately," Chinese forces in the disputed Spratly Islands warned earlier this year when a Philippine military aircraft flew to close to a Chinese outpost, according to the Associated Press, citing a Philippine government report. "Philippine military aircraft, I am warning you again, leave immediately or you will pay the possible consequences," the Chinese military threatened when the plane refused to leave the area.
In the latter half of last year, Philippine military aircraft operating near contested territories, specifically those held by the Chinese, received at least 46 radio warnings.

While these warnings have traditionally been delivered by Chinese coast guard units, the messages are now being broadcast by personnel stationed at military outposts in the South China Sea.

"Our ships and aircraft have observed an increase in radio queries that appear to originate from new land-based facilities in the South China Sea," Cmdr. Clay Doss, a U.S. 7th Fleet spokesperson, told the AP. "These communications do not affect our operations." The Philippine military also tends to carry on with its activities as planned.
Although China's extensive claims to the South China Sea were, to a certain extent, discredited by an international arbitration tribunal two years ago, China has continued to strengthen its position in the flashpoint region.

In recent months, China has deployed jamming technology, surface-to-air missiles, anti-ship ballistic missiles, and even heavy bombers to the South China Sea, leading Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to accuse China of "intimidation and coercion" in the tense waterway. Beijing, however, argues that it has a right to defend its sovereign territory, especially considering the increased frequency at which the U.S. Navy conducts freedom-of-navigation operations in the area.

Despite Chinese warnings and objections, the U.S. military has repeatedly made it clear that America will maintain an active military presence in the South China Sea regardless of China's actions. "International law allows us to operate here, allows us to fly here, allows us to train here, allows us to sail here, and that's what we're doing and we're going to continue to do that," Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins said in February.

The U.S. military is also confident in its ability to deal with China's military outposts in the region should the situation escalate. "The United States military's had a lot of experience in the Western Pacific taking down small islands," Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, told reporters in May. "It's just a fact."

China's activities in the South China Sea led the U.S. to disinvite the People's Liberation Army Navy from participating in this year's iteration of the multilateral Rim of the Pacific maritime exercises, and the Philippines has reportedly raised the issue with Beijing on multiple occasions.

AFP-WestMinCom through PH Navy welcomes Royal Australian Navy

From the Manila Bulletin (Aug 1): AFP-WestMinCom through PH Navy welcomes Royal Australian Navy

The Armed Forces of the Philippines-Western Mindanao Command (AFP-WestMinCom) through the Philippine Navy welcomed the Royal Australian Navy in Tawi-tawi for the 2nd leg of the 4th Combined PN-RAN Maritime Security Activity, held on Sunday.

Naval Station Juan Magluyan, an organic unit of NFWM facilitated the Arrival and Opening Ceremony of the 4th Combined PN-RAN MSA with the two Royal Australian Navy Patrol Boats – HMAS Ararat and HMAS Wollongong in Batu-bato, Panglima Sugala, Tawi-Tawi.

The said activity was attended by Lt. Col. Judd Finger of the JTG 629 of the Australian Government and Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Muksin A Jasid, Commander, Naval Station Juan Magluyan. They were joined by the officers of NSJM and Commanding officers of PN vessel.

Right after the opening ceremony, fellowship games between the PN and RAN delegates were held followed by a boodle fight which served as a symbol of brotherhood and strong bond between the two navies.

Moreover, series of meeting procedures and maritime patrols in the Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs) particularly in the waters of ZAMPELAN (Zamboanga Peninsula, Lanao) Basilan and Tawi-Tawi were conducted during the Maritime Security Activity. Also, various ship drills aboard PN and RAN vessels were also undertaken for the benefit and readiness of crew on board.

Vessels involved in the maritime patrols under the control of NFWM include BRP Felix Apolinario (PC 395), BRP Anastacio Cacayorin (PC 387), Multipurpose Attack Craft BA 482. On the other hand, HMAS Wollongong and HMAS Ararat were utilized by the Royal Australian Navy.

Prior to this, a Coordinating/Planning Conference was held by the PN with RAN counterparts on June 5, 2018 as preparation for the conduct of the 4th MSA. Likewise, the first leg of the said MSA was held in Naval Forces West Area of Responsibility (NFW AOR) from July 16- 25, 2018.

According to the AFP WestMinCom, the continuous conduct of such activity enhanced the maritime interoperability between the PN and RAN and other regional state navies and to also complement 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.

Also, the efforts of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao is in support to the anti-terrorism and piracy campaign of the government to maintain a safe maritime environment in Western Mindanao Command’s Area of Responsibility (AOR).

Gov’t troops, armed men clash in Miag-ao

From Panay News (Aug 2): Gov’t troops, armed men clash in Miag-ao

Government troops and suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels had a skirmish in the hinterland barangay of Alimodias, Miag-ao, Iloilo yesterday morning.

The gunfight lasted for some five minutes then the armed men withdrew, said Lieutenant Colonel Sisenando Magbalot of the Philippine Army’s 61st Infantry Battalion (61IB).

The clash started at around 9:20 a.m. Soldiers led by 2nd Lieutenant Harly Quibod engaged around 10 armed men.

The suspected rebels were believed to be under
NPA Panay’s Southern Front Committee.

Magbalot said the armed men left trails of blood, an indication that they were wounded.

On July 30, rebels fired at an Army detachment in nearby Barangay Pudpud.

“Our men were in the area to verify reports about the presence of armed men there,” said Magbalot.

Government troops clashing with rebels are not new in Miag-ao. On May 5 this year, two died in an encounter with 61IB soldiers in Barangay Cabalaunan.

The government troops were verifying intelligence information that rebels were recruiting members and extorting money from villagers when they encountered some 15 armed men.

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

Military: ISIS claim in deadly Basilan blast a 'terrorist propaganda'

From CNN Philippines (Aug 1): Military: ISIS claim in deadly Basilan blast a 'terrorist propaganda'

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 1) — The military on Wednesday refused to acknowledge the claim of the Islamic State group or ISIS that it was responsible for the car bomb attack in Lamitan, Basilan that killed 10 people.

"Any terrorist group or organization can conveniently claim responsibility and ride on the incident for their own glorification. Jumping into it will be like aiding their narrative and lending themselves (the people) as instruments of terrorists' propaganda," the Armed Forces of the Philippines said in a statement.

ISIS, through a statement carried by its news agency, claimed responsibility for the Tuesday "suicide bombing" attack.

AFP Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez clarified that 10 people were killed in the blast, not 11 as earlier reported.

He said one soldier, four government militiamen, four relatives of paramilitary members, and the suspect who drove the van were killed when homemade bombs packed inside a car exploded at a security checkpoint in Lamitan, Basilan. Officials earlier reported five militiamen were killed.

Related: Military suspects Abu Sayyaf behind blast that killed 11 people in Basilan

AFP Spokesperson Colonel Edgard Arevalo said they were not discounting the possibility that either ISIS or the Abu Sayyaf Group was responsible for the attack.

Arevalo earlier said that based on intelligence reports, authorities suspect that the group of ASG senior leader Furuji Indama was behind the attack.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana,meanwhile, cautioned against calling the attack the handiwork of a foreign terrorist or a lone-wolf attacker.

"I enjoin everyone not to jump to any conclusion and just allow our investigators to do their job. (It is) now the subject of an investigation being conducted by a joint team of the AFP and PNP," he said in a statement.