Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Reds burn equipment in Santa Catalina

From the Visayan Daily Star (Sep 19): Reds burn equipment in Santa Catalina
The Army’s 303rd Infantry Brigade reported yesterday that the New People’s Army is continuing its rampage by burning three more heavy equipment Saturday in Brgy. Cawitan, Santa Catalina, Negros Oriental.

Testimonies of residents, Capt. Samuel Maglinao, acting Civil Military Operation officer of the 303rd Infantry Brigade, showed that the armed suspects, who introduced themselves as NPA members, poured gasoline and set fire on the heavy equipment owned by Nestor Lim of HN Trading that is engaged in a quarry business in Sitio Major Danao of the barangay.

Maglinao said members of the terrorist NPA organization also took two 21-plated batteries of the heavy equipment, two cellular phones, a big pack containing cash and personal belongings of quarry workers.

Lim told the 15th Infantry Battalion that two backhoes were destroyed while the payloader suffered damage.

In previous months, three heavy equipment, being used for a national road concreting project, were burned in separate incidents by New People’s Army rebels in Barangays Luyang and Bagtic in Mabinay town, Negros Oriental.

Estimated damage has been placed at P5.4 million.

Col. Alberto Desoyo, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, who condemned the latest NPA atrocities, said NPA rebels, who are members of the Sangay ng Partidong Platoon-South East Front (SPP-SEF) are terrorizing residents in the area, to make them give in to their extortion demands.

Desoyo is encouraging Negrenses to immediately report rebel extortion demands.

NPA orders tactical offensives

From the Visayan Daily Star (Sep 19): NPA orders tactical offensives

The National Democratic Front that is accusing the Armed Forces of the Philippines of trying to sabotage the continuation of the peace negotiations between them and the Philippine government, has ordered its units under the Leonardo Panaligan Command to launch widespread tactical offensives against those they accused of being peace saboteurs and counter-revolutionary forces. 

Ka JB Regalado, in a statement issued by the LPC, accused Col. Alberto Desoyo, commander of the 303rd Infantry Brigade, and his spokesman, Capt. Ruel Llanes, of being peace spoilers, allegedly by fabricating “obsolete and one-sided news”.

Regalado condemned the attempt to sabotage the peace talks being pushed to President Rodrigo Duterte, through House Resolution Number 1803, that was also welcomed by NDFP negotiating panel chairman, Fidel Agcaoili.

He also slammed the 303rd Infantry Brigade for the conduct of military operations in the hinterlands of Trinidad, Tacpao, Binubuhan, Sandayao and Imelda, all in Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental, that had resulted in what he claims to be massive human rights violations, the use of unmanned drones, ransacking of residences, that he said is also taking place in Brgy. Quintin Remo, Moises Padilla, Negros Occidental.

The 303rd Infantry Brigade had reported earlier that the NPA in Negros figured in 14 liquidation activities, with the victims either civilians or barangay officials accused of being military spies, two attempted liquidations and involved in four incidents of arson and two disarming incidents in the past eight months of the year.

Defense chiefs of Philippines, U.S. tackle ISIS in Pentagon meet

From Rappler (Sep 19): Defense chiefs of Philippines, U.S. tackle ISIS in Pentagon meet

The two defense chiefs – Delfin Lorenzana of the Philippines and James Mattis of the United States – discuss 'combating ISIS and other violent extremist networks'
DEFENSE CHIEFS. Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana meets with US Defense Secretary James Mattis at the Pentagon on September 18, 2018. Photo by Lia Macadangdang/Philippine embassy in Washington DC
DEFENSE CHIEFS. Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana meets with US Defense Secretary James Mattis at the Pentagon on September 18, 2018. Photo by Lia Macadangdang/Philippine embassy in Washington DC

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana met with his American counterpart, US Defense Secretary James Mattis, to discuss the fight against the terrorist Islamic State (ISIS), maritime security, and the defense relationship between their countries.

Lorenzana and Mattis met at the Pentagon, the headquarters of the US defense department, on Tuesday, September 18. The Philippine embassy in the US sent a press release on this on Wednesday, September 19.

In a readout of their meeting, Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana White said Lorenzana and Mattis met at the Pentagon "to reaffirm the long-standing defense relationship between the United States and the Philippines."

PENTAGON VISIT. Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana visits the Pentagon for a meeting with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on September 18, 2018. Photo by Lia Macadangdang/Philippine embassy in Washington DC
"The leaders discussed a broad range of defense issues, to include their commitment to fighting terrorism and reaffirmed US military advisory support to assist the Philippines in combating ISIS and other violent extremist networks," White said.

"Secretary Mattis thanked Secretary Lorenzana for his country’s contribution to maritime security through its trilateral air and maritime patrols with Indonesia and Malaysia in the Sulu and Celebes Seas," she added.

MARITIME SECURITY. US Defense Secretary James Mattis in a meeting at the Pentagon on September 18, 2018, thanks Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana for the Philippines' contributions to maritime security. Photo by Lia Macadangdang/Philippine embassy in Washington DC
The meeting between Lorenzana and Mattis comes as their countries' relationship remains tense because of tirades by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Just a month ago, Duterte lashed out at the US after an American defense official warned the Philippines not to buy Russian military equipment. Duterte had also questioned the US' commitment to "die" for the Philippines in the face of extremists.

REAFFIRMING TIES. Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and US Defense Secretary James Mattis at the Pentagon on September 18, 2018, reaffirm their countries' relationship. Photo by Lia Macadangdang/Philippine embassy in Washington DC
The President's men, however – including Lorenzana, a former Philippine defense attaché to the US – continue working with Washington on the ground.

16 more barangays to be declared insurgency free

From the Mindanao Times (Sep 20): 16 more barangays to be declared insurgency free

Sixteen more barangays in the city will be assessed by October before they can be declared as free from influence by the New People’s Army.

Speaking in yesterday’s AFP-PNP press briefing held at Task Force Davao headquarters, Brig. Gen. Ernesto Torres, the commander of the 1003 rd Infantry Brigade, explained that before a barangay can be declared cleared from insurgency, it will first be assessed by the evaluation board, which submits a recommendation to the validation board.

The board is composed of the Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, local government units, and barangay captains.

“In area clearing evaluation board, 16 will be submitted to the validation board wherein here in the city Mayor Sara Duterte is a member,” he added.

The 16 barangays are Gumalang, Dacudao and Lacson in Calinan; Baganihan and Magsaysay in Marilog; Atan-awe, Kilate, and Tagluno in Toril; Dalagdag in Calinan; Pandaitan, Fatima, Sumimao in Paquibato; Tigatto and Indangan in Buhangin and Barangay Gatungan in Buhangin; and Lampianao in Calinan.

“Should these be validated from 48 plus the 16 barangays we’ll have a total of 64 barangays in the area of the 1003rd brigade that would be cleared of insurgency,” Torres said.

The parameters the validation board follows in declaring a barangay insurgengy-free include, “the dismantling of CPP-NPA politico-military structure; the denial of CPP-NPA access to the area, resources, and manpower; and the establishment of a functioning barangay information network and integrated community public safety system.”

Duterte awards Order of Lapu-Lapu to four hero soldiers

From the Philippine Information Agency (Sep 19): Duterte awards Order of Lapu-Lapu to four hero soldiers

President Rodrigo Duterte confers the Order of Lapu lapu with the rank of Kampilan to a hero soldier, 5th ID, PA at Camp Melchor dela Cruz in Isabela, Tuesday, Sept. 18. (Photo by Oliver T. Baccay/PIA 2)

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte conferred Order of Lapu-Lapu with the rank of Kampilan to four hero soldiers who were seriously wounded in bloody clashes against the New People’s Army (NPA) in this province and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Jolo, Sulu.

The President conferred the award Tuesday, Sept 18 during his visit to the 5th Infantry Division, Philippine Army troop at Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Isabela.

The awardees were Sgt. Arnold Mangawit who was injured in an encounter with the NPAs in Jones town on August 10 this year, Sgt. Reynald Tumanguil who fought with NPAs in Echague town on September 3, Pfc. Sergio Cawad and Pfc. Jaymar Oligo who joined the government troop against the ASG in Jolo, Sulu last June 9 and June 30.

The Order of Lapu-Lapu with Kampilan Rank medal is awarded to officials and personnel of the government and private individuals, who were seriously wounded, injured or suffered great loss of property as a direct result of their participation in an activity pursuant to a campaign or advocacy of the President.

Duterte lauded the bravery of the soldiers for keeping peace and security of the nation.

“We honor the sacrifices of our wounded and fallen soldiers who have fought for the freedom we currently enjoy,” Duterte said as he stressed that the medals given to the four wounded soldiers are proofs of the soldiers’ patriotism and bravery in facing danger.

He also commended the active involvement and relentless efforts of the 5th Infantry Division against the various threat groups in its area of operations.

“The presence of the NPA surrenders is proof of the 5th ID’s achievement and collective resolve to restore peace in our land,” Duterte said

He further lauded 5th ID’s effort in convincing almost a hundred of NPAs who surrendered to return to the folds of the law and the recovery of 45 firearms.

Western Visayas cops remain on full alert vs. rebels

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): Western Visayas cops remain on full alert vs. rebels

FULL ALERT. Western Visayas top cop Chief Supt. John Bulalacao says the Police Regional Office 6 remains on a full alert status in preparation for the possible retaliation of the communist terrorists New People's Army. (PNA File photo)

The Police Regional Office in Western Visayas remains on full alert against possible attacks by rebels and other criminal elements, the region’s top cop said Tuesday.

In an interview, Chief Supt. John Bulalacao reminded all chiefs of police in the region and field commanders to be proactive against all threats posed by the New People’s Army (NPA) and other lawless elements.

This is also to maximize their effectiveness in doing their mandate to ensure peace and order in every community, Bulalacao added.

He also reiterated his instruction that there should always be 85 percent of personnel deployed in every police station.

“This means that only 15 percent are allowed to avail of emergency and sick leave. The 85 percent shall remain present in stations even during rest period to maximize deployment for law enforcement and other peace and order maintenance duties,” he said.

Bulalacao was dismayed after he caught the chief of police assigned at Barotac Nuevo Police Station in Iloilo, allowing only 50 percent of his personnel to render duty, during his surprise inspection last week.

Chief Insp. Reymund Celoso was consequently relieved from his post for not complying with Bulalacao's orders.

“If there is only 50 percent presence of personnel, it would greatly affect our operational readiness,” he said, adding that it will also compromise police visibility and their duty to implement special laws like against illegal gambling and illegal drugs.

He said the incident serves as a warning to all other personnel of PRO-6 to follow instructions because he does not want to file charges against police personnel.

“While I am enforcing or instilling discipline among my personnel, I am also sensitive to the feelings of the affected families,” he said.

Since the incident that happened in San Jose, Antique, where seven suspected NPA members were killed in a clash with the government troops last month, the police force has been expecting retaliation from the insurgents.

Bulalacao has been randomly inspecting police stations in the region to check on their preparedness against possible attacks.

Police file raps vs. 13 BIFF men for Sept. 2 Isulan blast

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): Police file raps vs. 13 BIFF men for Sept. 2 Isulan blast

Police have filed double murder and multiple frustrated murder charges against 13 leaders and members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in connection with the Sept. 2 bomb blast in the Sultan Kudarat town of Isulan.

Chief Supt. Eliseo Rasco, regional director of the Police Regional Office-12, said in a press conference here on Wednesday the suspects were identified based on evidence and intelligence information gathered by the composite Special Investigation Task Group (SITG) "LJ."

The task group was named after Liezther James internet café, where the improvised bomb exploded around 7:35 p.m. on Sept. 2,  killing two persons and injuring 12 others.

Rasco said the complaint was filed by the task group before the Provincial Prosecutor's Office of Sultan Kudarat province.

Charges were primary suspect Esmael Pendatun Nawal alias Gary and BIFF leaders Esmael Abdulmalik alias Abu Turaife, Imam Animbang alias Kagui Karialan, and Ismael Abubakar alias Imam Bungos.

The other suspects were Salahuddin Hassan, Nur Hassan alias Andot and Abu Salman, Dudin Hassan, Making Hassan, Bashir Nilong, Mersidik Naway alias Abu Mersid, Momong Ismael, Ali Solaiman, Carmen Usman and several other "John Does."

Rasco said the suspects were from Buliok in Pagalungan town and Barangay Tukanakuden in Sultan sa Barongis, all in Maguindanao province.

"The SITG's investigation showed that the suspects conspired in the planning and execution of the attack," Rasco said.

The Sept. 2 explosion was then the second in Isulan in just five days. The first incident occurred two days before the culmination of the town's 7th Hamungaya Festival and 61st foundation anniversary celebration on Aug. 28.

Three persons were killed and 36 others were wounded in the first bomb blast, which happened near an "ukay-ukay" stall along the national highway in Barangay Kalawag 3.

Police earlier filed multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder cases against 25 BIFF leaders and members in connection with the Aug. 28 attack.

Army ups threat level in Davao amid incidents in neighboring areas

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): Army ups threat level in Davao amid incidents in neighboring areas

The Philippine Army has raised the threat level in Davao Region to three, indicating that a terrorist threat is imminent because of the region's proximity to Central Mindanao, where there is a notable presence of threat groups.

The threat groups include the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the Abu Sayyaf and the communist New People’s Army (NPA), said Brig. Gen Ernesto Torres, commander of the Army's 1003rd Brigade, and Col. Nolasco Mempin, chief of the Task Force Davao, on Wednesday.

However, both officials clarified that although the threat is high, there are no confirmed reports on the presence of terrorist groups in the region.

Both Army officials attended the AFP-PNP press corps at Task Force Davao headquarters to brief the local media on the government's security measures, following the blasts that rocked several areas of Mindanao in recent weeks.

Torres explained that Security Alert Level 3 was raised because Davao Region is contiguous to areas, where security incidents, such as the bombings in Region 12 and terrorist activities in Central Mindanao, have recently occurred.

Outside of Davao City, Torres said Talaingod town in Davao del Norte continues to face challenges from the communist rebel group, although the government forces are gaining ground because of the recent surrender of a large number of NPA combatants and  supporters.

“We are relentless in our effort in getting as much security personnel as possible,” said Torres, whose brigade covers Davao City and parts of Davao del Norte.

In Davao City, Mempin assured that there are no ISIS-linked groups that have been monitored in the city. However, he added that "we do not let our guards down versus threat. We ensure the safety of the people, our visitors."

"Gusto natin i-secure lahat ng installation, strikto yong mga checkpoints natin, searches and inspections (We want all installations secured. We are strict in the checkpoints, our searches and inspections),” Mempin said.

The intesified security measures, he said, are designed to preempt terrorist activities or spillover of attacks from neighboring areas, he added.

“We cannot predict when or where they will strike,” he added.

Capt. Jerry Lamosao, spokesperson of the Army's 10th Infantry Division, said troops have also been conducting military operations and security patrol in the hinterlands.

"We are prepared for the possible impact of the security incidents in neighboring areas," Lamosao said.

Police Chief Inspector Milgrace Driz, Police Regional Office-11 spokesperson, said the police force remains on full alert.

Driz said all police units in the region have been ordered to harden target areas and mobilize additional units to ensure the safety of the public.

Police Senior Supt. Andrew Cayad, Regional Maritime Unit-11 chief, said the maritime group has been conducting routine patrols in the region's coastal areas in coordination with other law enforcement units.

Police tag terror-linked crime group in GenSan blast

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): Police tag terror-linked crime group in GenSan blast

GENERAL SANTOS CITY -- Police tagged on Wednesday a criminal group earlier linked to a local terrorist cell in Sunday's bomb attack here that left eight people wounded.

Chief Supt. Eliseo Rasco, regional director of the Police Regional Office (PRO)-12, said in a press conference investigators are looking at the Nilong Group as behind the bomb blast in front of the Bonita Lying-in Clinic in Makar junction, Barangay Apopong here.

Rasco said they already identified the alleged suspects but declined to give further details due to the ongoing investigation of the composite Special Investigation Task Group "Bonita."

"We already have a name and we also identified the group. We have good developments right now as far as the investigation is concerned," the police official said.

Rasco presented during the press conference the computerized facial composite of an unnamed suspect, based on accounts by at least two witnesses.

The suspect was about 35 to 40-years-old, weighs 55-57 kilograms, has brown complexion, curly hair and was last seen at the site wearing a multi-color dominant red sweatshirt and multi-color dominant red cargo pants.

He was accompanied by another person who was then wearing a black ski mask, black sweatshirt, and black pants.

The first suspect was reportedly the driver of the black motorcycle that stopped near the blast site while the second was the one who left the brown eco-bag that contained the explosive.

The Nilong Group, which reportedly originated and previously based in Barangay Lumakil in Polomolok, South Cotabato, emerged two years ago after being linked by authorities to a robbery, illegal drug trafficking, gun-for-hire, and other criminal activities in the area.

The group was allegedly allied with Sarangani-based terror group Ansar Al-Khilafah Philippines (AKP), which was part of the local network of the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group.

Rasco confirmed that the group had merged with the remnants of the AKP, whose leader, Tokboy Maguid, was killed in an encounter with joint operatives in Kiamba, Sarangani in January last year.

"Yes, that's the same group," he later told reporters.

As to the motive of the blast, the official said it could have been due to a "personal grudge," specifically a family-related conflict involving the lying-in clinic's owner.

"The Nilong Group could have been hired to stage the attack," he said.

This indicated, he said, that Sunday's bombing was not related to the Aug. 28 and Sept. 2 bomb explosions in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat that killed five people and injured more than 40 others.

City Mayor Ronnel Rivera said he is satisfied with the progress of the ongoing investigation into the blast.

"We're happy that there are results already and hopefully they will lead to the arrest of the suspects," Rivera said.

"Rest assured that we're doing everything, not only for the arrest of the suspects but also in terms of the implementation of proactive security measures to prevent similar attacks from happening again," he added.

Steel-cutting for PN's 2nd missile-armed frigate done deal

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): Steel-cutting for PN's 2nd missile-armed frigate done deal


The steel-cutting for the Philippine Navy (PN)'s second missile-armed frigate took place at Pohang City, South Korea on Monday.

In a statement Wednesday, PN said this was held at the Shin Hwa Tech facility, a sub-contractor of Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), the shipyard builder that won the PHP18-billion contract for the two ships.

Steel-cutting is considered the official start of construction (building) process.

Commander Jonathan Zata, PN spokesperson, said this was confirmed to them by Capt. Sergio Bartolome, the Navy representative supervising the frigate construction project in South Korea.

Present during the steel-cutting were the HHI project manager and staff, ranking PN officials, executives of Shin Hwa Tech, and Lloyds Shipping Register.

The project number for the second frigate is P160. Meanwhile, the keel-laying for the first frigate with project number P159 will be on Oct. 16 at Dock Number 6 of HHI Special and Naval Shipbuilding Division, Ulsan, South Korea.

Steel-cutting for the first frigate took place last April.

Zata said the projected delivery date of the PN first missile-armed frigate is by 2020 with the second frigate in 2021.

The PN Frigate Project is part of the ongoing modernization program that seeks to provide a credible defense capability for the PN and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

PAF assets help 'Ompong' relief missions

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): PAF assets help 'Ompong' relief missions

(Photo courtesy: Air Force Public Affairs Office)

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) is using all its available assets to help the government in its ongoing relief efforts for Typhoon Ompong victims.

"As of to date, the PAF is continuously conducting reconnaissance missions and working hand in hand with other government agencies in support to the humanitarian assistance and disaster response duty of the 15th Strike Wing and the Philippine Air Force in general to the areas affected by Typhoon Ompong, specifically to the northern part of the country," PAF spokesperson Maj. Aristides Galang said in a statement Wednesday.

This includes the search-and-rescue operations conducted by the PAF 505th Search and Rescue Group, an aerial reconnaissance and rapid disaster assessment and needs analysis (RDANA) done by 15th Strike Wing AgustaWestland AW-109 helicopters in different typhoon-hit areas, such as Vigan in Ilocos Sur and the towns of Badoc, Pagudpud and Laoag City in Ilocos Norte.

"The team also made an aerial reconnaissance and RDANA to some areas of Baguio City particularly at Barangay Ucab, Itogon, which was known to be the most affected area in Benguet due to landslides and the most number of people reported missing," Galang noted.

Upon its arrival, the PAF team immediately addressed all the necessary requirements needed to respond to typhoon-affected areas, he added.

Panay Army to secure politicians vs. rebel extortion

From the Philippine News Agency (Sep 19): Panay Army to secure politicians vs. rebel extortion

The Philippine Army’s 301st Infantry Brigade assured incumbent and would-be politicians that they will be protected against extortion by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.

Col. Benedict Arevalo, commander of the 301st IB, made the assurance less than a month before the filing of certificate of candidacy on October 11-17.

“Our preparation for the elections is to attack the NPAs. They cannot ask for extortion money from our politicians,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

Soldiers in Panay continue with their patrol operations, particularly in areas where there are threats of extortion and sighting of rebels.

Arevalo said the pieces of evidence from the seven NPA leaders and members killed in a clash with government troops in San Jose, Antique last month, showed extortion activities of rebels.

Among those recovered from the encounters, he said, were four laptops, more than 20 cellphones and hard drives and four external hard drives.

“We got a lot of information there. We have names of companies and individuals who are giving (money),” he said.

“There are candidates but I do not want to name names,” he added.

Aside from politicians, Arevalo also said they would protect private contractors of various projects on Panay Island and businessmen.

He urged those who are subjects of extortion to immediately report to them through 09281757208 and 09167663740.

“We will act on it. To all those contractors and businessmen, we will help you,” he said.

NPA rebels use mines, wound seven

From the Manila Standard (Sep 19): NPA rebels use mines, wound seven

New People’s Army rebels set off a roadside bomb at a military convoy Tuesday, wounding seven army soldiers shortly after an encounter in Buenavista, Agusan del Norte the military described as a violation of International Humanitarian Law. 

Maj. Gen. Ronald Villanueva, commander of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, said the NPA violated the provision of the IHL relating to the use of anti-personnel mines during hostilities.

“NPA terrorists have again violated International Humanitarian Law by using landmines that cause severe damage to a person and may decapitate his body,” Villanueva said.

Troops from the 23rd Infantry Battalion were heading back to their barracks preceding an encounter with NPA rebels at Sitio Afga, Brgy Lower Olave, Buenavista town when NPA rebels detonated a landmine on their path.

Reports said the landmine exploded few minutes after troops and the NPAs from Alias Yolly from Guerrillas Front Committee 4A of Northern Central Mindanao Regional Command figured in a clash, wounding seven soldiers.

Villanueva said the seven soldiers suffered minor bruises from shrapnel and were immediately evacuated to a nearest medical facility.

But Villanueva said such incident “will not shake our will to fight. In fact, it will push our troops to exert more effort.”

He said the encounter occurred after a tip-off from individuals regarding the presence of NPAs in their area, prompting the 23rd IB “to launch combat operations,” said Lt. Col. Francisco Molina Jr., Commanding Officer of the 23rd IB.

Prior to the incident, troops encountered the same NPA terrorist group of Alias Yolly in Sitio Bulak of the barangay and municipality.

The firefight lasted for 30 minutes with more or less 15 members of GF4A.

After the encounter, troops found an NPA terrorist dead with his M4 rifle. 

It was identified by the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines—Northern Mindanao Region as Rex Hangadon, 23 years old, and a Lumad farmer.

Villanueva said: “Yes, unfortunately, the dead body (sic) was a Lumad and was identified by former rebels as Alias Ipit. On the other hand, operating troops were able to recover the following during scouring the encounter site: Four cellphones; seven SIM Cards; two memory cards with NPA pictures and videos; one short mag of M16 with 18 live ammos; subversive CNTs documents; and one small solar panel.”

“Currently, forensics people are inspecting the recovered cellphones and sim cards,” Molina added.

He said the 4th Infantry Diamond Division was saddened that there were Lumads who were “continuously deceived and recruited by the NPA terrorists to believe in their failed ideology.”

Opinion: More on the NPA in Panay and Negros

Opinion piece By Marit Stinus-Cabugon in the Manila Times (Sep 17): Opinion: More on the NPA in Panay and Negros

A BELATED congratulations to the Philippine Army’s 301st Infantry Brigade, Antique Provincial Mobile Force Company and San Jose Police Station for neutralizing seven key officials of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People´s Army (CPP-NPA) Panay in a firefight in San Jose, Antique, last August 15. Congratulations not for the killing of the seven because it would have been better to have taken them alive, but for neutralizing them. Felix Salditos, Eldie Labinghisa, Peter Mecinas, Karen Ceralvo and Liezl Bandiola were education and propaganda staff of the CPP while Jason Talibo and Jason Sanchez were there to “provide technical services,” according to National Democratic Front-Panay.

The army and the police claimed that some of the fatalities were involved in extortion or collection of so-called revolutionary tax, something that NDF-Panay denies. Jason Talibo was wanted for frustrated murder, while Joven Ceralvo—who was one of those who managed to escape—allegedly participated in the June 18, 2017 raid on the police station in Maasin, Iloilo.

Whether involved in extortion or education, the slain CPP members were not ordinary foot soldiers. Without their extensive education and propaganda work, the NPA and its front organizations could neither recruit members nor gain and maintain support locally and abroad. Most of the casualties might indeed have been unarmed as claimed by the NDF—they were non-combatants—but knowing who they were and what they were doing, it is impossible to believe that they would just be sleeping innocently on the floor without having armed comrades standing guard, ready to open fire.

To show that the communist armed struggle in Panay hasn’t lost steam despite the loss of key officers, the NPA has staged several attacks since then. On August 24, they ambushed the police in Leon, Iloilo. On September 6, there were encounters in Maayon, Capiz, and Leon. Most recently, on September 8, an encounter in Janiuay, Iloilo, cost the life of a member of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu). The local police force and the Army’s 61st Infantry Battalion claim that the encounter had preempted bomb attacks by the NPA on the towns of Lambunao and Cabatuan during their town fiestas (The Daily Guardian, September 12). However, it would be uncharacteristic of the NPA to deliberately risk a large number of civilian casualties.

While authorities in Panay scored big against the NPA with the August 15 operation in Antique, the NPA continues to play hide and seek with security forces in Negros. On August 30, the NPA’s Mt. Cansermon Command liquidated barangay chairman Mario Gonzales of Panciao, Manjuyod in Negros Oriental. A few days later, an encounter followed in the same barangay between the NPA and the 15th Infantry Battalion. Twelve families had to be evacuated. Manjuyod, which has been a peaceful town for so long, is adjacent to Mabinay where UP Cebu graduate Myles Albasin, Caloy Ybañez of Mandaue City, and four locals, were arrested in March. Ms Albasin was reportedly doing education and propaganda work, while her armed male companions were securing her.

Next to landlocked Mabinay is Kabankalan where the Mt. Cansermon Command last May burned a bunkhouse and a backhoe belonging to the National Irrigation Administration, and later engaged the 62nd Infantry Battalion in a firefight that claimed the lives of two soldiers and one NPA, with eight soldiers wounded.

Further north, in Guihulngan City, the killings continue. When businesswoman Heidi Malalay Flores was killed by motorcycle-riding assassins last August 21, it is said that she was on the kill list of a local vigilante group called Kawsa sa Guihulnganon Batok Druga ug Komunista. On September 7, Jail Officer 2 Val Daniel Rivera Guzman was shot dead by motorcycle-riding gunmen in Brgy. McKinley. The victim had been assigned at Canlaon City jail since April but had previously worked at the Guihulngan District Jail. The NPA’s Leonardo Panaligan Command claims that a certain “Vigilante sa Guihulngan ug tibuok isla sa Negros” group was behind the killing of the jail guard. Central Visayas Police Regional Director Debold Sinas’ pep talk to the Guihulngan City policemen last month neither stopped the killings nor resulted in the solving of previous ones.

The charges against three suspects in the murder of radio broadcaster Edmund Sestoso—who was killed in Dumaguete City on April 30—have been dismissed by the Dumaguete City prosecutor for insufficiency of evidence. The testimony of the “star witness” was full of holes and hearsay statements and was contradicted by other eyewitnesses. The police wanted to pin Sestoso’s murder on alleged NPA leader Rene Bustamante after having failed to have him convicted for the murder of a former NPA supporter and illegal possession of explosives in 2014. The second suspect in the Sestoso case was gunned down in La Libertad two months ago while the third was wounded in the same attack. Justice for Sestoso seems more elusive than ever.

NPA linked to illegal logging in Samar

From the Manila Bulletin (Sep 17): NPA linked to illegal logging in Samar

STA.RITA, Samar – Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) Officer-in-Charge Forester Crisostomo Badeo Jr. offered to tender his resignation after Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Eastern Visayas Regional Executive Director Atty. Crizaldy Barcelo exposed the rampant illegal logging activities in the area.


Badeo said he is willing to step down, if only to be cleared of the illegal logging issue in his area of jurisdiction.

He said the problem is that armed men, believed to be New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in the boundary of Lawaan, Eastern Samar are protecting the illegal loggers.

“I am willing to resign from this post and return to the DENR regional office in Tacloban City in order that my name be cleared of the issue. We are not involved in illegal activities and I was even an awardeeof the regional office,” Badeo said.

Badeo said his office has been launching anti-illegal logging activities in Samar, particularly in Marabut.

Badeo pointed out that furniture makers in Marabut town have legitimate sources of lumber and the multi-sectoral monitoring council composed of the various sectors of Marabut are involved in forest protection in Marabut.

Palace dismisses International People's Tribunal as 'sham proceeding'

From the Philippine Star (Sep 18): Palace dismisses International People's Tribunal as 'sham proceeding'                          

A sultan from Marawi and the daughters of detained National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace consultants will testify on alleged rights violations of the Duterte administration before the International People’s Tribunal in Brussels, Belgium.
The IPT is a global court convened by lawyers and human rights groups from across the world. The court’s verdict will be submitted to the International Criminal Court, the European Parliament and the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Asked to respond to the potential testimonies at the IPT, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said: "Nothing, because that's not the official proceeding. That's a propaganda proceeding of the Left."

Roque said the tribunal is "a sham proceeding... for propaganda purposes."
President Rodrigo Duterte in March announced that the Philippines is leaving the International Criminal Court because of "the baseless, unprecedented and outrageous attacks on my person as well as against my administration, engineered by the officials of the United Nations."

According to the International League of Peoples' Struggle, which endorsed the event, organizations convening the tribuna include the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, IBON International, and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines.
Karapatan, BAYAN
to raise incidents of abuse

Sultan Hamidullah Atar, one of the traditional leaders in Marawi City, will testify about the alleged human rights violations committed by state forces during the five-month siege in the city and during the imposition of martial law in Mindanao, which has been extended until the end of the year.

Suara Bangsamoro chairperson Jerome Succor Aba will, meanwhile, bring up the religious discrimination and torture committed against him by agents of US Department of Homeland Security and US Customs and Border Patrol last April, as well as the killing of seven Tausug youths in Patikul, Sulu over the weekend.

The military has dismissed the killings as part of a legitimate operation against the Abu Sayyaf in Patikul. The Western Mindanao Command said the allegation is fabricated and is meant to discredit the military.

The daughters of NDFP peace consultants Rafael Baylosis and Ferdinand Castillo, meanwhile, will raise the arbitrary arrests of government critics.

Various local organizations led by rights group Karapatan and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan will raise 21 cases or incidents of abuse before the IPT, which will be held from September 18 to 19.
Karapatan: Tribunal to raise awareness of situation on ground

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said that the global court will help raise awareness of the real situation on the ground.

“We are maximizing all platforms to exact accountability from this murderous regime. If Duterte is hell-bent on continuing his crimes against the Filipino people, primarily through his counterinsurgency drive and war on drugs campaign, then so are we in pursuing justice,” Palabay said.

She added: “We will hound the Duterte regime and break down all of its lies—in every avenue that is available to us.”

Nur Misuari seeks dismissal of Sandiganbayan case

From GMA News (Sep 18): Nur Misuari seeks dismissal of Sandiganbayan case

Moro National Liberation Front founding chairman Nur Misuari has sought for the dismissal of his criminal case at the Sandiganbayan over the alleged anomalous purchase of educational materials during his term as governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

In his 15-page motion to dismiss, Misuari told the Third Division that there is no evidence that can link him to the irregular transactions. He also raised the issue of inordinate delay against the Office of the Ombudsman.

Misuari is accused of giving undue advantage to CPR Publishing House, MBJ Learning Tools, and White Orchids for the procurement of "ghost textbooks" for ARMM from 2000 to 2001.

He and his co-accused also allegedly falsified procurement documents to justify the legality of the P77.26-million contract.

Misuari was initially charged with three counts each of graft and malversation, but the prosecution dropped one charge of each case.

However, Misuari said he cannot be liable for the transaction wherein he is no longer the governor of ARMM.

The MNLF leader said the payments to CPR Publishing took place in July 2004, MBJ Learning in December 2003, and for White Orchids in July 2004 and September 2005.

Misuari said these were covered by the incumbency of former ARMM governor Parouk Hussin since his term expired on September 30, 2001.

"It is likewise clear as day that accused Nur Misuari did not receive any money or funds subject matter of the complaint as the demand for payment was made when he was no longer performing the functions of the Office of the Regional Governor of ARMM," Misuari said in his motion.

The issue of conspiracy is also non-existent, according to Misuari, as he was detained in Malaysia from December 2001 to January 2002 and for six years in the Philippines from 2002 to 2008.

Misuari said he was in detention at the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force Training Center in Sta. Rosa, Laguna when the three private companies were paid.

Thus, he said that it would be impossible to facilitate the transaction and denied signing any of the purchase orders and disbursement vouchers.

"The co-accused were not under the direct control and supervision of Nur P. Misuari but they worked directly under the Regional Cabinet Secretary of the ARMM Department of Education and Sports therefore it would not have been possible for the accused to goad any of the co-accused to commit the irregular transactions," Misuari said.

Inordinate delay
At the same time, Misuari said his case should be dismissed after the Ombudsman took a total of four years and four months to finish its preliminary investigation.

Misuari said a fact-finding team recommended his indictment in 2014, while the charges were filed at the Sandiganbayan on May 5, 2017 without conducting a preliminary probe which allows him to appeal the finding of probable cause.

This forced the Sandiganbayan on November 28, 2017 to compel the prosecution to conduct an investigation for a period of 60 days, but Misuari said the Ombudsman finished its probe after more than 118 days on March 26, 2018.

"Such protracted investigation from the filing of the complaint up to the time the information were actually filed in court constitutes inodrinate delay on the part of the Office of the Ombudsman; thereby, effectively removing from it the authority to file the information and to pursue the instant criminal cases," he said.

Misuari is enjoying his temporary freedom after posting a P460,000 bail bond in September 2017.

NPA rebels harass army patrol base in Nueva Ecija

From the Manila Bulletin (Sep 18): NPA rebels harass army patrol base in Nueva Ecija

A band of New People’s Army (NPA) rebels harassed a patrol base of the army’s 70th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Labi, Bongabon, Nueva Ecija on Monday.

Major Ericson C. Bulosan, Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) spokesman, confirmed that around 10 armed members of the NPA’s Kilusang Sierra Madre fired at the patrol base at 11:20 a.m. Monday.

Bulosan said there were no casualties on the government side and that the troopers were able to return fire and establish their combat position.

He said the rebels, who had positioned themselves about 500 meters away from the army’s patrol base, immediately withdrew from the site.

“This eventuality shows the real intent of these terrorist groups that despite the willingness of the NOLCOM troopers to provide help and assistance to its people who were heavily-affected by typhoon Ompong, they (rebels) picked this crucial time to attack and harass our forces who are currently on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) mode,” said Bulosan.

“Instead of being there with the people and lending a helping hand to the typhoon victims, they disrupted the composure of the helping troops as well as the community which serves as a setback for the servicemen in doing their HADR mission,” he said.

He said that all the Community Support Program (CSP) Patrol Bases of the said army unit are on the move to conduct combat and pursuit operations.

Military in relief mission attacked

From the Manila Standard (Sep 18): Military in relief mission attacked

The military’s relief and humanitarian mission in ‘‘Ompong’’-stricken areas in Nueva Ecija and Nueva Viscaya was disrupted after New People’s Army rebels fired at troops manning a patrol base at the outskirts of Bongabon town in Nueva Ecija the other day.

Maj. Ericon Bulosan, head of the Public Information Office of the Army’s Northern Luzon Command said at least 10 NPAs attacked the patrol base of the 70th Infantry Battalion of the 7th Infantry division in Brgy Labi Tuesday morning.

He said the rebel group from the Kilusang Sierra Madre positioned 500 meters away from the patrol base fired at on-duty personnel forcing an ensued fighting. The troops who were on their way to villages affected by Typhoon Ompong was forced to reinforce, derailing the ongoing humanitarian mission.

“This eventuality shows the real intent of these terrorist groups that despite of the willingness of troopers to provide help and assistance to its people who were heavily-affected by typhoon Ompong, they picked this crucial time to attack and harass our forces who are currently on humanitarian and disaster relief mode,” Bulosan pointed out.

Instead of being there with the people and lending a helping hand to the typhoon victims, they disrupt the composure of the helping troops as well as the community which serves as a setback for the servicemen in doing their HADR mission” he added.

The troops suffered no casualty during the attack.

Commentary: China expands its control in South China Sea

Commentary in the Japan Times (Sep 17): China expands its control in South China Sea (By Brahma Chellaney)

 China expands its control in South China Sea

The Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter carrier Kaga and destroyers Inazuma and Suzutsuki sail with the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and two other U.S. warships in the South China Sea on Aug. 31. | U.S. NAVY

NEW DELHI – As China consolidates its hold in South China Sea and wields its military, economic and diplomatic leverage, smaller countries see no credible option but to work with Beijing, even if that means furthering Chinese objectives. Manila, for example, seems willing to accede to Beijing’s demand for joint development of hydrocarbon resources in the Philippines’ own exclusive economic zone.

The plain fact is that U.S. inaction under successive administrations has allowed China to gain effective control over a strategic sea that is more than twice the size of the Gulf of Mexico and 50 percent bigger than the Mediterranean Sea. Australia’s Kevin Rudd, who is still fending off accusations that he was “a slavish pro-China prime minister,” has acknowledged that “Chinese policy has not yet been challenged in the South China Sea by the United States to any significant extent.”

The U.S., even at the risk of fostering Philippine helplessness against Chinese expansionism, has refused to clarify whether its 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with Manila would apply to an attack on Philippine troops or vessels in the South China Sea. This refusal stands in contrast to Washington’s commitment to the defense of the Japanese-administered but Chinese-claimed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. U.S. President Donald Trump, in his joint statement with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in April, said that “Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security covers the Senkaku Islands.”

In the South China Sea, China has astounded the world with the speed and scale of its creation of artificial islands and military infrastructure. The first Chinese dredger arrived in the region in December 2013. Less than five years later, China has largely completed building most of its forward military bases. It is now ramping up its military assets in the South China Sea.

Yet China has incurred no international costs for pushing its borders far out into international waters. In fact, China stepped up the expansion of its frontiers after an international arbitration tribunal invalidated its expansive claims in the South China Sea through a 2016 ruling in a case instituted by the Philippines.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently called out China for its “intimidation and coercion” of smaller nations in the region. His criticism of the Chinese strategy in the South China Sea followed American action to disinvite China from this summer’s Rim of the Pacific maritime exercise, known as RIMPAC.

This might suggest that the U.S. is taking a tough line. In reality, America’s response to China’s expansionism in the South China Sea has remained muted. The U.S. has focused its concern merely on safeguarding freedom of navigation through the South China Sea.

In fact, the U.S. has refused to take sides in the territorial disputes between China and the other claimant-states in the South China Sea. The Trump administration stayed silent even when Chinese military threats forced Vietnam in March, for the second time in less than nine months, to halt oil and gas drilling on its own continental shelf.

The U.S. has similarly stayed neutral on disputes elsewhere between China and its neighbors. For example, President Barack Obama publicly said that “we don’t take a position on the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands” and advised Tokyo and Beijing to sort out their dispute peacefully. This line has not changed under Trump, despite his reassurance that the Japan-U.S. security treaty covers the Senkakus.

Growing Asian anxieties over China have helped the U.S. to return to Asia’s center-stage by strengthening old alliances, such as with Japan, South Korea and Singapore, and building new strategic partnerships with India, Vietnam and Indonesia. It has also befriended the former pariah state of Myanmar.

Yet, despite this diplomatic windfall, the U.S. has been reluctant to draw a line on Beijing’s salami-style actions to change facts on the ground.

To be sure, the Trump-led U.S. has stepped up the so-called freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. But these operations neither reassure the smaller states nor deter China, whose actions continue to violate the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS.

In the East China Sea, China established an air-defense identification zone (ADIZ) in 2013 covering territories, like the Senkakus, that it claims but does not control. This action set a dangerous precedent in international relations.

In the South China Sea, rather than openly declare an ADIZ, China will likely seek to enforce one by gradually establishing concentric circles of air control — but only after it has deployed sufficient military assets there and further consolidated its hold.

It has already set up an interconnected array of radar, electronic-attack facilities, missile batteries and airfields on the disputed Spratly Islands. And by turning artificial islands into military bases, it has virtually established permanent aircraft carriers whose role extends to the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific.

China’s strategy poses a serious challenge to its neighbors, which face a deepening dilemma over how to deal with its creeping aggression.

The U.S., while seeking to protect its military freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, has effectively turned a blind eye to the broader Chinese assault on the freedom of the seas, including restricting the rights of other states to natural resources on their own continental shelves.

Unless the U.S. shifts its focus from freedom of navigation to freedom of the seas, China will have its way, including forcing its smaller neighbors to share their legitimate resources with it.

The Philippines, for example, is at serious risk of wilting under Chinese pressure. Prevented by Chinese military threats from tapping energy resources in an area of seabed known as Reed Bank, which is located close the Philippine coast, Manila seems willing to enter into a deal with Beijing to equally share the output from a joint gas project there.

Under the international arbitration ruling, the Philippines have exclusive rights to Reed Bank. But with China trashing the ruling in the absence of an international enforcement mechanism, the message to Manila is that might makes right.

Left with no other option, Manila appears ready to offer Beijing half of the gas production, but no sovereign rights. The logic behind such a prospective offer is that any Western oil giant, if it developed Reed Bank, would take about 50 percent of the output as its share. So the choice is between a Western oil company like Exxon Mobil and a Chinese state-run giant, such as the China National Offshore Oil Corp.

But such a Philippine deal would encourage China to seek similar concessions with other claimant-states, effectively blocking out Western oil firms from the South China Sea.

Make no mistake: Chinese territorial and maritime revisionism has made the South China Sea the world’s most critical hot spot. In fact, the South China Sea has become central to the wider geopolitics, balance of power and maritime order.
[Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground.”]

Israel firm to invest $50m in manufacturing weapons in Philippines

From the Middle East Monitor (Sep 18): Israel firm to invest $50m in manufacturing weapons in Philippines

Israeli soldiers aim their weapons and use tear gas at Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem [Anadolu]

Israeli soldiers fire their weapons and use tear gas on Palestinians in Jerusalem [Anadolu]

An Israeli company is set to invest about $50 million in a weapons factory in the Philippines next year, Filipino media reports have revealed.

The Philippine News Agency reported that the Israeli firm Silver Shadow Advanced Security Systems Ltd (SSASS) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Philippines Rayo Illuminar Corporation (RIC) to open the factory that will be operational by next year.

According to the news agency, Salvador Zamora, chairman of Filipino Rayo Illuminar Corporation, said that officials from Israeli SSASS would visit the Philippines later this month to finalise plans for an assembly plant slated to start producing firebombs and ammunition by 2019.

The Jerusalem Post said that “Israel and the Philippines maintain close security ties, with Israel selling a large amount of weaponry to the Philippine army over the years.”

READ: Amnesty protests Israel arms deals with Philippines’ Duterte

The Israeli newspaper added: “With tensions rising in the South China Sea over the Spratly Islands – an archipelago disputed by the Philippines, Malaysia, China and Vietnam, the overall flow of arms to the region has spiked,” noting that during the Pilipino president’s visit to Israel, “more than 20 agreements worth nearly $83 million were signed.”

According to the Israeli newspaper, Philippine Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said: “These agreements are a clear indication of the enormous business and investment opportunities in the Philippines available to Israelis.”

“The Philippines is committed to pursue several growth opportunities by strengthening partnerships with emerging economic partners like Israel. Our engagement with them allows us to reinvigorate ties and increase trade between our countries.”

Commentary: Facing the Guns versus Butter Dilemma: Kilo Class Submarines for the Philippine Navy?

From the Thinking Beyond Politics column in the Business World (Sep 18): Commentary: Facing the Guns versus Butter Dilemma: Kilo Class Submarines for the Philippine Navy? (By Renato Cruz De Castro)

The Philippine government, for the first time since 1946, released a national security strategy (NSS) doctrine in July 2018. Entitled “Security and Development for Transformational Change and Well-being for the Filipino People,” the 59-page NSS provides a realistic assessment of the Indo-Pacific region as marked by “increased uncertainty and unpredictability.” It identifies the rivalry of the major powers as the “most important (regional) strategic concern” and notes that the Philippines’ geography is both a source of strength and vulnerability as it provides a strong temptation to expansionist powers. Learning from the lesson of history, the NSS emphasizes the need to increase the size and capability of the Philippine Navy (PN) and the Philippine Air Force (PAF) as quickly as possible. This is to enable these two armed services to be country’s external deterrence in the face of an uncertain and potentially dangerous Indo-Pacific region.

In the same month, President Rodrigo Duterte agreed to finance the second phase or horizon two of the 15-year Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) modernization program. Horizon two (to be implemented from 2018 to 2022) provides for an ambitious and expensive period in which the Philippine military will begin acquiring weapon system for external defense, which includes two diesel-electric submarines for the PN.

The current PN Flag Officer, Vice-Admiral Robert Empedrad, had pushed for the immediate inclusion of the submarines in horizon two as undersea warfare, he argued, is the trend in naval warfare. The Department of National Defense (DND) supported his initiative, saying that the acquisition of the submarines will boost the morale of the AFP and improve the PN’s capability in defending the Philippine-occupied land features in the South China Sea.

Since 2015, the PN had already established a submarine program office that is in the process of reviewing contemporary submarine designs and drawing up concepts for the operational use of this naval asset. The PN is eyeing the purchase of two conventional diesel-electronic submarines possibly from France, South Korea, Germany or Russia. DND Secretary Delfin Lorenza, however, revealed that President Duterte wants the PN’s first submarine to be bought from Russia.

Aware that the Philippine government has a limited budget for its submarine acquisition program, Russia has offered soft loans for the PN to purchase two second-hand Kilo-class submarines which have displacement of 2,350 tons and maximum speed of 20 knots. In early August 2018, the PN and the Russian Navy started discussions on a draft Memorandum of Understanding that would require Russia to provide the PN with submarine training to support military operations, maintenance, and sustainable capability. The Philippines will decide whether or not to acquire its submarines and from whom within the next 12 months. The Philippines and Brunei Darussalam are the only two of seven littoral Southeast Asian countries that do not possess a submarine among its naval assets.

Since assuming the presidency in mid-2016, President Duterte has supported the AFP modernization program that began during President Benigno Aquino III’s term, as a challenge then to China’s maritime expansion in the South China Sea. He increased the 2017 defense budget by 15% and the supplemental allocation for the AFP modernization program from Php 20 billion to Php 25 billion, approved the acquisition of two guided missile frigates from South Korea, and received five former Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force TC-90 reconnaissance aircraft for the PN. Despite his substantial support for the PN, the submarine acquisition project faces the following obstacles:

• The PN is in a very tight financial situation. It still needs to replace several of its World War II-era surface combatants and transport ships with modern naval assets, overhaul its overworked surface combatants, and more importantly, build bigger and proper naval bases that could house its newly acquired surface combatants like the three Del Pilar-class (former U.S. Coast Guard Hamilton Class cutters) frigates and two guided-missile frigates from South Korea that are expected to arrive in 2020. Currently, the PN’s newly acquired surface combatants are using civilian piers all over the country.

• The PN will have to compete with other services, especially against the Philippine Army (PA), for its rightful share of the defense budget. The 2017 siege of Marawi City and the raging communist insurgency have enabled the PA to take the lion’s share of defense budget as it has been given the green light to recruit additional 20,000 soldiers for its counter-insurgency operations and to acquire towed and self-propelled howitzers, light tanks, and multiple launch rocket systems to develop its conventional capabilities.

• The DND and the AFP will have to convince President Duterte and his economic officials to further increase the defense budget given the more pressing domestic priorities such as the ambitious and expensive infrastructure program and the president’s personal agenda of changing the Philippines’ system of government from a unitary to a federal system.

After his trip to Russia last month, Secretary Lorenzana admitted that the Philippines is still looking for other affordable options to the Kilo-class submarines because they are more expensive at the cost of Php 10.7 billion per unit. Another Php 10 billion will be spent for training of the officers and crew, maintenance, infrastructure, and spare-parts. The total cost of the program will be Php 30 billion or about 30% of the projected Php 300 billion for horizon two of the AFP modernization program. The PN’s submarine project shoves the Duterte administration to face squarely the guns versus butter dilemma.

[Renato Cruz De Castro is a professor of International Studies at DLSU and Trustee of the Stratbase-ADR Institute.]

Duterte wants no repeat of graft scandal at AFP after increased benefits

From GMA News (Sep 18): Duterte wants no repeat of graft scandal at AFP after increased benefits

Officers and members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines should not be embroiled in any corruption scandal after President Rodrigo Duterte provided the military with increased pay and other benefits, the Chief Executive said on Tuesday.

Duterte made the remark a month after he ordered the dismissal of military officials and personnel over the alleged anomalous transactions at the AFP Health Service.

"In my time lahat na hiningi ninyo binigay ko, lahat medisina. Nagka-problema lang tayo nagalit ako... Hindi talaga ako papayag. I hope it would not be repeated again," Duterte told troops at the headquarters of the Army's 5th Infantry Division in Gamu, Isabela.

Duterte last month ordered the dismissal and commencement of court martial proceedings against some 20 officials and personnel including Brigadier General Edwin Leo Torrelavega, AFP Health Service Command chief, and Colonel Antonio Punzalan, commander of the AFP Medical Center in Quezon City.

Malacañang said the military officials and personnel took part in fraudulent transactions, including ghost purchasing, splitting of contracts to circumvent mandatory bidding processes and conceiving fictitious suppliers.

Duterte had vowed to reduce corruption to the barest minimum under his watch.

In his speech, Duterte assured the soldiers that the government would provide the "tools and resources" necessary so they could effectively perform their mandate as protectors of the nation.

"The Filipino people are grateful for your heroism and as your commander-in-chief, I assure you that you are not alone in this fight. You have my full support and I stand by you as we secure a safer future for our children," Duterte said.

"With your bravery and patriotism, I am optimistic that we will one day defeat our threats to our sovereignty, improve the lives of our people and strengthen the foundation of a more inclusive and progressive tomorrow," he added.

The escalating violence of the New People’s Army in Mindanao

Posted to the Relief Web (Sep 19): The escalating violence of the New People’s Army in Mindanao (By Luke Lischin)

Report from New Mandala
Published on 19 Sep 2018 — View Original

“The peace table is now wide open for everybody,” declared Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza to mark the National Peace Consciousness Month in the Philippines.

“This table is not only for the Muslims, for the New People’s Army, for the indigenous peoples, but for all Filipinos,” he added.

While Dureza reserves their seat, the New People’s Army (NPA) shows no signs of returning to the table. Rejecting President Rodrigo Duterte’s call for localised talks, the NPA remains a growing threat to national security, especially in Mindanao.

As of June 2018, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) estimates the presence of approximately 3,900 NPA rebels nationwide. The Eastern Mindanao Command reports 50% of the NPA’s strength resides in within its area of operations. Whereas the AFP is confident in its ability to degrade and inevitably defeat the NPA, the level of NPA violence in Mindanao has increased since the election of Duterte.

Of the 1,103 incidents recorded from January 2017 to July 2018 in the Political Violence in the Southern Philippines Dataset, the NPA was involved in 425 or just over one quarter of all incidents. This dataset is based on the coding of open source-materials including periodicals, official press releases, and academic/humanitarian reporting on episodes of political violence occurring within the administrative boundaries of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago.

NPA violence dogged the final months of Benigno Aquino III’s presidency before giving way to a “honeymoon period” after Duterte’s election, which led to a formal ceasefire agreement in August 2016. The ceasefire effectively reduced violence to negligible levels, but could not produce lasting peace in the absence of a negotiated political settlement. With the breakdown of negotiations and tensions in the field, the NPA formally ended the ceasefire on 30 January 2017 with a heightened series of offensives through April 2017. After dropping off in April 2017, the number of NPA incidents picked up again from May through September 2017 when Duterte declared Martial Law in Mindanao due to the Siege of Marawi. This explicitly motivated the NPA to escalate its operations, which in turn led the Duterte administration to cancel the anticipated fifth round of peace talks.

During the initial Martial Law period, attacks against security forces including the AFP, police, and government militias averaged 16 incidents per month. Although there were 16 incidents overall in October 2017, only 7 were attacks on security forces, while the rest were attacks on civilian and commercial targets. This trend suggests that the NPA shifted to “soft” targets as the AFP was able to dedicate more assets away from Marawi. This shift was short-lived, however, as from November 2017 to July 2018 security forces endured 12 attacks on average per month.

Across all incidents the NPA was responsible for killing 168 soldiers, police officers, and civilians, while wounding an additional 266. Casualties on the side of security forces peaked at 67 in July 2017, when a short series of ambushes in Bukidnon and Compostela Valley resulted in relatively heavy losses for the AFP. By August 2017 through March 2018 casualties averaged 10 per month, and then increased to 16 casualties per month from April 2018 to July 2018, showing a clear increase in the intensity as well as the frequency of NPA incidents.

Meanwhile the NPA sustained 185 fatalities and 109 injuries within their own ranks. 20% of the fatalities and almost 25% of the casualties were sustained during the March 2017 post-ceasefire hostilities. This marks the single biggest period of losses for the group. Otherwise, NPA fatalities and injuries remained low in total but persistent over time, averaging about 3 fatalities and 7 injuries per month. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the casualties sustained by the NPA as well as the surrenders of rebels flaunted by the government have not visibly reduced levels of NPA violence over time.

Fluctuations in the numbers of NPA incidents were also observed geographically. From January 2016 to July 2018, 23 provinces in the Southern Philippines experienced NPA incidents, during which time only Compostela Valley (48), Agusan del Norte (44), Bukidnon (44), Cotabato (44), and Davao del Sur (43) experienced more than 40 incidents, accounting for roughly 61% of total injuries and 50% of total fatalities on all sides.

Of these provinces, Cotabato transformed from one of the least violent provinces in all of Mindanao in 2016, to the most violent in 2017. Unlike NPA incidents in Compostela Valley, Bukidnon, and Davao del Sur, the overwhelming majority of NPA violence in Cotabato consisted of armed assaults against security forces where the NPA was on the offensive. In Agusan del Norte security forces also experienced relatively high levels of NPA attacks, especially in 2017, but these did not escalate as dramatically those in Cotabato.

Beyond just Cotabato and Agusan del Norte, the NPA overwhelmingly favoured security forces as their target. Although the military often dismisses the NPA as bandits, 74% of all NPA incidents engaged state security forces. Only 13% of NPA incidents targeted obvious commercial sites, such as company vehicles, plantations, mines, and offices. Over 40% of incidents directed at commercial targets occurred in the provinces of Bukidnon, Davao del Sur, and Agusan del Norte. Lumads, politicians, regular civilians, and other miscellaneous targets were victimised in the remaining 16% of incidents. Some of these incidents may have also entailed financial motivations, but the abduction, injury, or murder of these persons were undoubtedly politically motivated.

With 5 months yet to be coded in the dataset, 2018 has already surpassed 2016 in terms of the average number of incidents and casualties per month. It is likely that it will match or even surpass 2017 by the same measures. As NPA violence grows worse, it becomes difficult to envision a return to the negotiating table given the lack of effective military solutions or political incentives. In the meantime, the Duterte administration and analysts like Rommel Banlaoi insist Martial Law will keep violence from the NPA and other groups under control, but so far this blank-cheque approach to counterinsurgency has yet to pay real dividends.

Alternatively, localised peace talks and greater regional autonomy via federalism are non-military solutions promoted by the Duterte administration. The prospect of devolved governance has achieved preliminary but positive results in Mindanao with the Bangsamoro Organic Law, and may hold promise for other conflict-affected regions, including proposed Autonomous Region for the Cordillera.

Nevertheless, the NPA considers localised talks to be “a classic divide and rule tactic” and is equally suspicious of federalism, making the path to peace through governance an uphill battle no matter how it is waged.