Friday, December 14, 2018

Military rule in Duterte's homeland

From Rappler (Dec 14): Military rule in Duterte's homeland (by Sofia Tomacruz)
What has martial law in Mindanao accomplished so far?
That 2018 came to a close with martial law extended once more in Mindanao surprised a few. There have been no indications that a Congress dominated by administration allies would deny the request of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Every time the government sought an extension, it provided the same justification.

Duterte first proclaimed martial law in Mindanao on May 23, 2017 – all the way from Russia where he attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, after local terrorists linked to the Islamic State (ISIS) attacked Marawi City.

The 60-day limit to military rule would later prove too short as fighting still raged and Duterte requested for an extension until the end of 2017. Congress granted it in July 2017.

Duterte sought a second extension – one year, this time, or for the whole of 2018 – and he got the nod of Congress. The President then said it was needed to “primarily ensure total eradication” of several terrorist groups, “communist terrorists and their coddlers, supporters, and financiers.”

DUTERTE’S DECISIONS. President Rodrigo Duterte inspects firearms surrendered by the ISIS-Maute Group in Marawi. MalacaƱang photo

Weeks before martial law was to lapse on December 31, 2018, Duterte requested a third extension and Congress again approved it. The President and his security officials said it was still needed as “terrorism and insurgency still lurk in Mindanao.”

Last Wednesday, December 12, a total of 235 members of the House of Representatives and the Senate voted to extend martial rule in Mindanao up to end of 2019. Only 26 lawmakers voted against it, while one abstained.

Is martial law truly necessary? The Constitution says it should only be a last resort.

What has military rule in Duterte’s homeland accomplished so far?

'Closer to peace'

Recently retired Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Carlito Galvez Jr sought to answer these questions by citing martial law's supposed impact on the general situation in Mindanao.

But military historian Jose Custodio doused cold water on these claims, warning that the consequences of extended military rule could be far reaching. Soldiers may once again grow accustomed to governing, like what they used to in the dark years of the Marcos dictatorship, according to Custodio.

Using secondary data, Galvez trumpeted Mindanao's region's gains in economy and tourism, as well as the increase in the number of surrendered rebels. These gains were fueled by martial law, he said.

In a press conference in November, Galvez said “peace in Mindanao has never been closer than in the times that martial law is in place.”

LONGER MARTIAL LAW. Some Mindanao local officials call for another extension of military rule. File photo by Martin San Diego/Rappler
Galvez's claims cover only parts of Mindanao, however, and they were made without context. (READ: No actual rebellion, no data to back martial law extension – lawmakers)

From January to November 2018, Galvez boasted that 11,333 members and supporters of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) in Eastern Mindanao surrendered to government.

He did not highlight the fact that bulk of those were not armed fighters but supposed underground members and mass supporters – 8,117 of them, according to data from the AFP. The total also includes 1,505 members from "NPA-affiliated groups" such as Milisyang Bayan and Sangay ng Partido sa Lokalidad.

Of the total who surrendered in Eastern Mindanao from January to November 2018, only 768 were regular members of the NPA. Data from the AFP's Eastern Mindanao Command showed that this is a jump from the 309 recorded in 2017, 167 in 2016, and 223 in 2015.

“By next year, as the trend is sustained, we can make these terrorists irrelevant,” Galvez added.

Armed rebellions
During a joint session in Congress to approve the 3rd extension martial law, newly appointed AFP chief Lieutenant General Benjamin Madrigal said 2,435 rebels still remained in the whole of Mindanao.

Of this number, 424 are from the Abu Sayaff Group, 264 from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, 111 from Daulah Islamiyah, and 1,636 communist rebels as of December 2018. Madrigal said the figures were based on intelligence reports.

CRISIS IN MARAWI. In August 2017, a Marine Fire Support armored vehicle passes through the Mapandi district as it pulls out from the main battle area in Marawi City. File photo by Bobby Lagsa/Rappler

In terms of economic gains, Galvez cited the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Its gross domestic product (GDP) supposedly increased from 4.3% to 7.3%, but he did not specify the comparative period.

According to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the economy of ARMM registered a growth rate of 7.3% in 2017 – from a 0.4% growth rate in 2016.

There was indeed an improvement in ARMM’s economy, but while Galvez counted it as a martial law gain, the PSA attributed it to improved performance of agriculture, hunting, forestry and fishing (AHFF).

The PSA said the AHFF sector – which comprises 56.4% of the ARMM's GDP – rebounded to 7.7% growth rate in 2017 from the -2.9% growth rate in 2016. Among the factors that contributed to poor performance in 2016 was the low production and harvest of corn, which is a main crop of the region.

For Rappler columnist and economist JC Punongbayan, it is also not possible to pin down the effect of martial law on ARMM's economic growth. “It might just be because of ARMM's natural growth catch-up. That is, the region would have grown fast anyway even without martial law.” (Data for 2018 was not yet available.)

Rising trend in tourism

On tourism, Galvez said that with the improved security situation, more tourists ventured into areas such as Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, and Sulu in 2017 and 2018.

To prove this, the AFP cited in its assessment a news report that said an average of 3,000 tourists per month visited Tawi-Tawi in 2017 compared to 1,000 in 2016.

These were consistent with the numbers cited by the ARMM's Department of Tourism as Tawi-Tawi provincial tourism officer Mobin Gampal said tourist arrivals increased 3 times over with an average of 3,000 toursit arrivals recorded per month in 2017 compared to 1,000 in 2016.

But the upsurge in tourists may not be a success wholly attributed to military rule.

Tawi-Tawi – the most peaceful of the Muslim provinces in Western Mindanao – has seen a steady increase in number of tourists in the last few years as its local government and the ARMM invested over P3 billion worth of projects in the province, including tourism infrastructure since 2012. One tourism project, for instance, was to develop tourist site Bud Bongao into an Eco-Tourism Park. The project had been provided a budget of about P56 million, according to the ARMM-DOT.

Yet, all these gains, Galvez said, "could not be sustained" without martial law.

Not military alone

Military historian and analyst Custodio disagrees.

He said the gains cited by the military could have been attained without the imposition of martial law – a point raised by some lawmakers opposed to the martial law extension. Such achievements also could have been the result of previous practices of local governments already in place prior to military rule.

“At the end of the day, after one year of martial law, what does it establish? Nothing really in terms of even delivering the basic necessities. So it’s as if you put a layer of martial law over the area,” Custodio said in an interview with Rappler.

'TERRORIST ORGANIZATION.’ In December 2017, Duterte signs a proclamation declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army as a terrorist organization. Rappler file photo by Edwin Espejo

He also noted that over a year since the war in Marawi ended, government forces were still runing after various armed groups while Marawi remained in tatters.

“The Maute has not thoroughly been beaten. In fact, it's still there and there's still a danger of it reviving. Marawi has not yet been rehabilitated after a year. Martial law is supposed to expedite those things but no, it's not even [doing that]. They're mired in one controversy after another. The NPA is also up and running in Eastern Mindanao…. So what has it really accomplished?” Custodio said.

One glaring gap in the implementation of martial law was its failure to expedite the rehabilitation of Marawi City, which the military had promised. (READ: Road to Marawi rehab: What caused months of delay?)

Reconstruction efforts have been mired in controversy and plagued by delays after the Task Force Bangon Mawari's initial plan to have the Chinese-led Bangon Marawi Consortium did not push through following the group's disqualification. This led some Mindanao lawmakers to hit the rehabilitatioon process as "painstakingly slow."

And after at least 4 delays, grounbreaking for rehabiltiation efforts in the war-torn city only took place last October 30, over a year since the war ended.

OPPOSE. Leaders of the Barug Katungod Mindanao composed of mostly lumads, farmers, church workers and human rights defenders oppose the extension of martial law in Mindanao. Photo by Jire Carreon/Rappler

Conflicting claims
In working towards a recommendation for a third martial law extension, security officials also sought to bolster their claims that Mindanao residents favored the move and gathered reviews from local officials.

Two governors and 8 mayors were listed as in favor of extending military rule in Mindanao, according to the AFP, which based this on news reports and public statements.

Leaders like Compostela Valley Governor Jayvee Uy said the implementation of martial law was “a step in the right direction.” Meanwhile, several lawmakers also said they were not aware of any abuses since the start of its implementation.

During the joint session on the request for another extension of martial law, Senator Francis Escudero said that under the Constitution, maintaining peace order and improving the economy are not valid reasons to impose martial law.

“What are mentioned are invasion or rebellion only – not for maintaining peace and order, not to improve the economy or not because this is what the people want,” said Escudero, one of 5 senators who voted against the extension.

ANTI-MARTIAL LAW. Some Mindanaoans troop to the House of Representatives on December 12, 2018, to protest as Congress holds a joint session on the extension of martial law. Photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

During the past year, it was also hard to ignore Mindanao residents who claimed human rights violations were committed by the military.

Leaders of indigenous tribes, labor groups, and evacuees said martial law had led to more instances wherein residents were either forced to leave their homes or could not return to hometowns due to intense military operations. (READ: Marawi resident makes emotional plea vs martial law abuses)

However, these have never been addressed in detail. The police and military also insisted that there were no violations.

Former Bayan Muna representative Teddy CasiƱo, in a previous interview with Rappler, rejected this and said security officials failed to listen to the sentiments of residents themselves.

“Martial law is not a popularity contest. Gumaganda daw yung peace and order ngayon dahil sa martial law, but they (local officials) will always say, okay naman 'yung martial law. Sa ganitong pagkakataon, ano mas dapat nating pakinggan? 'Yung mga apektado,” he said.

(Martial law is not a popularity contest. Peace and order is supposedly better because of martial law, but they (local officials) will always say martial law is okay. In such a situation, who should we listen to? The ones affected.)

Custodio said the peace and order and economic problems cited by the administration as being addressed by martial law have been there for decades – and will likely remain for many years, given Mindanao's seemingly intractable problems.

“It's always going to be there. Alam naman nila (They know) what are the tools to defeat this – it's development. It's a little bit of security and a lot of development and aid,” he said.

REBUILD MARAWI. A soldier stands in Marawi City as the ground breaking ceremony for the rehabilitation and rebuilding of the city’s most sffected area finally pushed through on October 30, 2018. Photo by Martin San Diego/Rappler

All this for what?

If results from over a year of military rule are mixed at best, what could be expected after another year-long extension?

Custodio warned it could be public mind-conditioning for prolonged military rule in Mindanao or even nationwide martial law.

“The reason for martial law was not really to keep peace and order…. It was martial law because we need martial law. Marawi was a localized battle, martial law would have been justified if you had the MILF going at the same time like what happened during [former president] Erap’s time, which was even a larger battle with more casualties. And did Erap establish martial law? No, he didn’t,” he said.

The willingness of security officials to push for an extended military rule, Custodio said, also showed they could be forgetting reforms that took decades to put in place after Martial Law under the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos,

“They are unlearning everything that they were being taught in the 1980s up to the current period which is reforms, sectoral reform – kinakalimutan nila (they are forgetting). That is what Duterte is doing, he is slowly the undermining the AFP institution as a professional organization,” he said. (READ: In 2018, Duterte turns to military for (almost) everything)

Duterte vs Islamic State for Mindanao’s heart and soul

From the Asia Times (Dec 13): Duterte vs Islamic State for Mindanao’s heart and soul (by Bong S. Sarmiento)

A January 21 plebiscite aims to address long-held local grievances in the insurgency-prone region but it's not clear yet Islamic militant groups won't win the day

Al-Hajj Murad, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Ghazali Jaafar, vice chairman of MILF, gesture with the peace sign during a ceremony for Bangsamoro Organic Law draft being submitted to the president at the Malacanang Palace. Manila, July 17, 2017. Photo: AFP/Ted Aljibe

Al-Hajj Murad, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Ghazali Jaafar, vice chairman of MILF, gesture with the peace sign during a ceremony for Bangsamoro Organic Law draft being submitted to the president at the Malacanang Palace. Manila, July 17, 2017. Photo: AFP/Ted Aljibe

While Islamic State aligned militants stir violence and instability on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, the government hopes a proposed new political entity will help to stop the spread of its radical ideology across the long-troubled region.

The proposed new autonomous region, the main upshot of a peace deal between the government and insurgent Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), currently doubles as safe haven for the Islamic State-aligned Abu Sayyaf Group, Maute Group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Bolstered by foreign jihadists, the Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups last year launched a deadly siege on Mindanao’s Marawi City that displaced over 350,000 civilians, of which over 50,000 remain uprooted, and laid waste to a city Islamic State had aimed to establish as the center of an independent caliphate.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao hours after the urban war erupted in May 2017. The rights-curbing order has since been extended twice by Congress on the chief executive’s request and is scheduled to expire at years-end.

On December 12, Congress approved Duterte’s request to extend martial law for another year on the grounds the situation has not stabilized. Opposition critics have raised concerns his government aims ultimately to extend martial law across the entire nation in a bid to consolidate Duterte’s authoritarian power.

Despite the liberation of Marawi in October 2017 after five months of fighting, the security sector’s intelligence units continue to monitor the entry of foreign terrorist fighters into the island across porous sea borders who are coddled by Islamic State’s local affiliates.

In the first week of December, new clashes erupted between government forces and the BIFF, a breakaway group of the MILF, in Mindanao’s Maguindanao province.

The hostilities were sparked, perhaps symbolically, just days before the start of the campaign period for the ratification by plebiscite of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), which seeks to establish a new autonomous area to replace the current 28-year-old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, or ARMM.

At the same time, Duterte recently directed deployment of an entire military division to the southernmost Sulu area, a bailiwick of the Abu Sayyaf, following the deaths of at least five soldiers killed in a clash with the Islamic State-aligned terror group.

At least two brigades, each consisting of 1,500 soldiers, are reportedly now deployed in Sulu against the Abu Sayyaf. Underscoring resistance to the peace deal’s terms perceived as favoring the MILF, the region’s governor, Abdusakur Tan II, has questioned the BOL’s legality.

Many observer’s believe the plebiscite’s passage is a shoo-in. Both the government and the MILF have expressed confidence that the BOL will win majority support at the ballot box.

President Rodrigo Duterte (L) presents the signed Bangsamoro Organic Law document to Moro Islamic Liberation Front chairman Murad Ebrahim (R), August 6, 2018. Photo: AFP/Ted Aljibe

But while they have both heralded the BOL as a potential panacea to the Bangsamoro people’s quest for the just and lasting peace needed to underpin economic progress in the impoverished island, Islamic State linked groups remain potent potential spoilers.

Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF’s chief peace negotiator, acknowledges the problem of Islamic extremism which exploded violently on the island during last year’s Marawi siege won’t be completely placated by the new Bangsamoro arrangement.

The BOL will address “85% of the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people,” and will help to extinguish grass roots discontent, especially among Moro youth, according to Iqbal. “The BOL cannot address extremism in full but it can help,” he said at a recent media forum.

On December 6, the eve of the start of the BOL’s ratification campaign period, the MILF leader called on residents in the proposed autonomous territory to vote “yes” at the plebiscite scheduled for January 21, stressing the measure will address the Bangsamoro people’s call for self-governance.

“The BOL is for the welfare not only of the Bangsamoro people but (also of) non-Muslims residing in the Bangsamoro areas,” he said. “The BOL is a formula for peace, development and progress.”

On December 10, thousands of supporters from areas covered by the plebiscite turned out in Cotabato City as the government and MILF officially launched the campaign for the ratification of the BOL.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front members secure Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, Mindanao on July 29, 2018. Photo: AFP/Ferdinandh Cabrera

If passed, the BOL will give wider political and economic powers to the proposed Bangsamoro region through a parliamentary government headed by a chief minister and a 75%-25% wealth-sharing scheme that favors regional over national government.

An annual block grant, pegged at a 5% share of national internal revenue, would also be automatically and unconditionally appropriated to the region if the plebiscite passes.

For many, including his critics, President Rodrigo Duterte’s signing of the BOL is among his otherwise embattled administration’s biggest accomplishments. The country’s first president from Mindanao, Duterte has also claimed to have Moro heritage.

And he has taken the peace process seriously. Duterte recently fired two executives working at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process for alleged corrupt practices, resulting in the resignation of his main peace advisor Jesus Dureza.

A high school classmate and long-time friend of Duterte, Dureza was instrumental in brokering the deal with the MILF. Duterte assigned ex-Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Carlito Galvez, who retired this month, as Dureza’s replacement, an appointment welcomed by the MILF.

Abandoned house vandalized with “I LOVE ISIS” graffiti in Marawi, southern Philippines, June 9, 2017. Photo: NurPhoto via AFP/Richard Atrero de Guzman

Last October 6, Galvez set foot at Camp Darapanan, the MILF’s sprawling headquarters in Maguindanao province, marking the first time a sitting AFP chief entered the rebel camp, to declare the end of a civil war that has taken as many as 120,000 lives, including civilians, over several decades.

“I will work hard and dedicate my life for the Bangsamoro. I love you all. Today is the end of war and now we will begin peace in our land,” he wrote in the MILF’s guest book.

It was not, however, the first time Galvez had entered Camp Darapanan. As former chair of the government peace panel’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, he had regularly visited the MILF ‘s headquarters to defuse tensions.

Galvez, who commanded troops during last year’s five-month-long Marawi siege, also believes that the BOL will reduce threats from Islamist militants, although they will remain a security concern, he says.

But amid the hopes for lasting peace, security forces remain on high alert against Islamic State-backed groups that were not totally defeated during last year’s battle for Marawi and apparently now aim to upend the MILF’s peace deal and spoil the future Bangsamoro region through violence.

Soldier, 4 ASG bandits killed in Sulu clash

From Politiko (Dec 14): Soldier, 4 ASG bandits killed in Sulu clash

A soldier and four other suspected members of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) were killed in an encounter in Sulu province, military said.

Troopers from the Joint Task Force Sulu had a clash with about 50 bandits under Majid Emamil on Minis Island in Patikul, Sulu early Thursday, December 13.

“Heavy skirmishes ensued, resulting in the killing of three enemies based on body count, while a soldier died and two other personnel incurred minor injuries,” Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) said in a statement.

While conducting further clearing operation in the encounter site, troops of the Philippine Marine Ready Force-Sulu under the Joint Task Force Sulu recovered another dead body of an ASG member in the mangrove area, it said in another statement.

Government troops also recovered in the encounter site two M14 rifles.

“We are deeply saddened by the news that another gallant soldier was killed during the recent encounter of our troops with the ASG bandits,” said Lt. Gen. Arnel B. Dela Vega, Westmincom commander.
He assured assistance to the bereaved family of the slain soldier.

“As we are nearing the end of 2018, we hope for peaceful resolutions rather than armed engagements in our quest for peace in the province of Sulu,” Dela Vega said.

Army troops in baptism of fire

From the Manila Bulletin (Dec 13): Army troops in baptism of fire

Army troops clashed on a test mission had their baptism of fire when they clashed with at least 20 members of the New People’s Army (NPA) Thursday morning in Calu­bian town, Leyte.

8th Infantry Division Public Af­fairs Officer Capt. Francis Agno said the soldiers from the 93rd and 78th Infantry Battalions led by 1Lt. Julieto Degorio were on a test mission when they chanced upon the communist reb­els who were having a plenum in Sitio Calogtogan, Barangay Anislagan.

The encounter lasted for about 15 minutes, Agno said. He did not say if there were casualties from either side but mentioned that an M16 rifle, five cellphones and subversive documents were left by the rebels.

Wanted NPA member arrested after 31 years of hiding

From Tempo (Dec 14): Wanted NPA member arrested after 31 years of hiding

AN alleged member of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) tagged in the kidnap-slay of an Aurora town mayor was arrested in Rizal province after 31 years of hiding, the Philippine National Police (PNP) reported Friday.

Arnold Juego alias Ka Arnold was arrested by members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group’s Anti-Transnational Crime Unit (CIDG-ATCU) around 5:30 p.m. Thursday through “Oplan Paglalansag Omega” and “Oplan Pagtugis”.

Authorities found Juego inside his house at Blk. 6, Lot 6, Phase 2, Villa Verde East, Angono, Rizal.

Superintendent Wilfredo Sy, CIDG-ATCU chief, said police initially served a search warrant against Juego for violation of Republic Act 10591 or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Law.

Sy said they had been monitoring Juego after receiving information that he has in his possession firearms without license. However, no gun was recovered from the suspect.

They arrested Juego after getting a warrant for the kidnapping and murder of Rosauro Tangson in 1987, then mayor of San Luis town in Aurora province. The warrant was issued by the Baler, Aurora Regional Trial Court Branch 90 on August 27, 1987.

Juego was brought to the CIDG detention facility for documentation and booking procedures.

Cop killed after fighting off NPA abductors — PNP

From the Manila Bulletin (Dec 14): Cop killed after fighting off NPA abductors — PNP

A police officer was shot dead by still undetermined number of gunmen who allegedly tried to abduct him in his house in Agusan del Norte, the Philippine National Police (PNP) reported Friday. The abductors are said to be members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

Senior Police Officer 1 Reil Morgado (PNP / MANILA BULLETIN)

PNP chief, Director General Oscar Albayalde identified the slain cop as Senior Police Officer 1 Reil Morgado, assigned at Santiago Municipal Police Station in Agusan del Norte.

According to a police report received by Albayalde from Chief Supt. Gilbert Cruz, regional director of Caraga Police Regional Office (PRO-13), Morgado was resting in his home in Purok 4, Barangay Jagupit around 8:30 p.m. Thursday when the incident occurred.

Morgado allegedly noticed a couple of suspicious-looking men surrounding his house, Cruz said.

Accordingly, Morgado prepared his service firearm and went out of the house to investigate.

However, the victim was met with a series of gunshots from the suspects, Cruz said.

“He managed to return fire but was subsequently felled by multiple gunshot wounds,” Cruz stated in his report.

After the shootout, the suspects looted some personal belongings of Morgado, including his service firearm.

The suspects then sped off to an unknown direction onboard two Rusi 150cc motorcycles, Cruz said.

A confidential informant then led the investigators to the nearby Purok 8 in Barangay Poblacion where authorities placed under police custody three “habal-habal” drivers identified as Renato Caerleng, 34; Ryan James Caerleng, 18 and Riedel Cabello, 26.

The said drivers allegedly drove the motorcycles used by the suspects in their escape.

Meanwhile, Albayalde extended the condolences of the PNP to the bereaved family of Morgado. He assured them of all state benefits due for personnel who died while in the line of duty.

Cruz believes the suspects are members of the CPP-NPA but he has yet to provide concrete details to back up his claims.

Albayalde reminded all policemen to always be on guard especially after the CPP ordered the NPA, its armed wing, to intensify its attacks across the country with the recent approval of the third extension of martial law in Mindanao.

me for the return to power of politicians tainted with corruption and abuse of power; and the administration’s support to control the minds of the people by manipulating public opinion through the employment of fake news providers – strike at the very core of democratic values and institutions.”

For the teachers, the extension of martial law and the so-called “whole-of-nation” approach of the administration in its “anti-communist drive” would further “aggravate” the current situation. “In the end, it will be the people who will bear the brunt of such consolidation of the authoritarian character in the Duterte regime,” the group ended.

On December 12, the Congress granted President Rodrigo Duterte’s request to extend martial law in Mindanao for another year or from January 1 until December 31, 2019.

Pasig court convicts Abu Sayyaf bandits over 2000 Basilan mass kidnapping

From ABS-CBN (Dec 14): Pasig court convicts Abu Sayyaf bandits over 2000 Basilan mass kidnapping
A Pasig City court on Friday convicted several members of terrorist group Abu Sayyaf over the mass kidnapping of teachers and students in Basilan in 2000.

The Pasig Regional Trial Court Branch 261 found 66 Abu Sayyaf members guilty of kidnapping and serious illegal detention over the March 20, 2000 abduction of 52 students and teachers from the Tumahubong Elementary School and Claret School in Sumisip town.

The convicts were sentenced to reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years in prison without the possibility of parole. Twenty others were, meanwhile, acquitted.

Of those convicted, 29 were found guilty of 52 counts of kidnapping and serious illegal detention, 1 guilty of 44 counts, 10 guilty of 41 counts, 12 guilty of 18 counts, 3 guilty of 11 counts, and 11 guilty of 7 counts of the same offense.

Each of the convicted Abu Sayyaf members was also ordered to pay the heirs of the victims P180,000 for every count of conviction.

It can be recalled that at the height of the abduction, actor Robin Padilla even went to the Abu Sayyaf hideout to ask them to release the victims, especially the children.

The bandits first released 18 hostages back then in exchange for 200 sacks of rice.

Among those kidnapped was priest Rhoel Gallardo and 3 teachers who were found dead in May 2000.

Abu Sayyaf leaders Khadaffy Janjalani, Abu Sabaya and Isnilon Hapilon were among those originally charged but have since died.

Their names were no longer included on the list of those convicted because under Philippine criminal law, death extinguishes criminal liability.

Also charged was Hector Janjalani, who is currently detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig, but his name was not on the list of convicted Abu Sayyaf members.

The names of 2 convicts and another person who was acquitted were redacted by the court in its decision.

According to Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter Ong, another judgment is due to be promulgated after Christmas, which explains why the names were redacted.

Lumads flee as military bombs Kalabugao plains in NorMin

From MindaNews (Dec 14): Lumads flee as military bombs Kalabugao plains in NorMin

Members of the New People’s Army of Northern Mindanao Guerilla Front 68 in formation during a ceremony in Barangay Tikalaan, Talakag town in Bukidnon in this file photo taken last April 17, 2017 when the NPA released a police officer it earlier held captive. MIndaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

Lumads or Indigenous Peoples fled their homes as government planes bombed suspected New People’s Army guerrilla bases in Kalabugao plains in Northern Mindanao ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines on Dec. 26.

Col. Edgardo de Leon, commander of the 403rd Infantry Brigade said the bombings and military operations are focused in the mountain villages in the Kalabugao plains straddling the tri-boundary of Agusan del Sur, Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental.

“We discovered a major NPA hideout that is probably a projected venue of the CPP anniversary celebration,” de Leon said.

An NPA source identified as Ka Emil confirmed the bombings have been going on in the past 13 days and have dislocated the Higaonon lumads around barangays Hagpa and Kalabugao in Impasugong town, Bukidnon.

He blamed the local government officials of allowing the military to harass the lumad.

“Classes were stopped as schoolchildren refused to go to school while the elderly and pregnant women left their villages to live with their relatives far away from the fighting,” Ka Emil said.

The CPP has declared a unilateral two-day ceasefire from Dec. 24 midnight until Dec. 26 for the party’s 50th anniversary.

“No amount of military offensives by the AFP can stop the Filipino people and their revolutionary forces from mounting rallies and other mass gatherings and meetings all over the country to celebrate the Party’s achievements and victories,” the party’s statement published in their website, Philippine Revolution Web Central said.

Unlike in the past, the Philippine government did not reciprocate the ceasefire offered by the communist and instead ordered its military forces to continue to hunt the rebels.

The continuing communist insurgency was cited as one of the reasons cited by Philippine Congress to extend Martial Law in Mindanao for another year.

Centcom chief lauds troops in raid of Leyte rebels’ 'plenum'

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 14): Centcom chief lauds troops in raid of Leyte rebels’ 'plenum'

EVIDENCE. A soldier from the 802nd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army stands to guard the firearms, ammunitions, gadgets, subversive documents with high intelligence value, and personal belongings left by the fleeing rebels after an encounter in Barangay Anislagan, Kalubian, Leyte on Dec. 13, 2018. (Photo contributed by the 3rd Community Relations Group of the Armed Forces of the Philippines)

CEBU CITY – The commander of the Central Command (Centcom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Friday commended the soldiers of the Philippine Army’s 802nd Infantry Brigade stationed in Eastern Visayas for successfully raiding a “plenum” held by the New People’s Army (NPA) at the outskirts of Barangay Anislagan, Kalubian, Leyte, early morning of Dec. 13, scoring firearms and subversive documents.

Lieutenant General Noel Clement, Centcom commander, said in a statement obtained by the Philippine News Agency that the Brigade received report from the residents about an ongoing "plenum" (meeting) of the “communist-terrorist groups” in the said area.

“We definitely hit them hard and we will hit them harder as we have the support of the people in the communities. Congratulations to the swift response of our troops. We were able to frustrate the plans of these terrorists,” Clement said.

According to his statement, Brigadier General Lope Dagoy, brigade commander, immediately deployed two squads from the 93rd Infantry Battalion and 78th Infantry Battalion to encircle the rebels who were, at that time, conducting a meeting.

The government troops encountered at least 20 NPA rebels in the area. The firefight lasted for about 30 minutes, with the rebels fleeing from the site, Clement said.

The Army troopers recovered one M16 rifle, two homemade shotguns, three magazines loaded with 5.56 caliber ammunitions, gadgets, subversive documents with high intelligence value, and personal belongings believed to be owned by the rebels.

“There is an insurgency situation in the area that needs to be addressed. NPA terrorists continue (with) their extortion and recruitment activities, victimizing the poor farmers and children,” Dagoy said in his report to the Centcom commander.

He said the civilian populace in the area reported the presence of the rebels in Barangay Anislagan.

"With the success of our operation, we give credits to the timely and relevant information provided by the civilians who are fed up of these atrocities,” Dagoy said.

Soldiers from the two battalions under the tactical control of 802nd Brigade are, as of this writing, are conducting pursuit operation against the fleeing rebels.

70 Mangyan rebels surrender en masse in Mindoro

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 14): 70 Mangyan rebels surrender en masse in Mindoro

CAMP GEN. CAPINPIN, Tanay, Rizal – Some 70 Mangyan indigenous peoples, who claimed they were recruited by the New People’s Army (NPA) Communist terrorist group, have surrendered en masse to troops of the 4th Infantry Battalion (4IB) in the tribal communities of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro.

Reports reaching this 2nd Infantry “Jungle Fighter” Division army camp here said the Mangyan indigenous tribes, who have since joined the rebel movement, have voluntarily yielded to authorities in Organized Mass Base (OMB) to the 4IB troops who were conducting their Community Support Program (CSP) in Barangays Naibuan and Monteclaro, a Mangyan ancestral domain in San Jose last Dec. 10.

The 70 Mangyan IP surrenderers were formally presented last Tuesday to San Jose Mayor Romulo Festin and Social Welfare and Development Officer Alicia M Cajayon for their enrollment in the government’s Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) for former rebels who returned to the fold of law and could be afforded cash and livelihood assistance, among other benefits.

Lt. Col. Dennis C. Gutierrez, Commanding Officer of the 4IB, said that of the 70 surrenderers, around 62 were members of “Milisyang Bayan” (MB) and eight were Sangay ng Partido sa Lokalidad (SPL) or local party branch which composed the mass base.

He described the SPL as the Communist Party organ in an NPA influenced sitio (sub-village) or barrio.

Interviewed by government troops during their surrender, a Mangyan rebel alias Nards, 40, who was a SPL member admitted they were deceived by the NPAs.

“Napaniwala ako ng mga NPA sa matagal na panahon na ang lupang aming sinasaka ay ipinagkaloob ng hukbo sa amin, kaya ganoon na lang pagtingala ko sa kanila. Sa tuwing anihan, ilang porsyento ng aming ani na palay at mais ay iniintrega namin sa hukbo (We were duped into believing the NPA for a long time that the land we were tilling would be turned over to us, and that’s the reason we trusted them. Every harvest, a certain percentage of our rice and corn harvest was given to the armed movement),” Nards said.

He added: “Ito ang aking kinagisnan mula pa sa aking mga magulang. Ngayon ko lang napagtanto na sinakyan lang ng mga NPA ang isyu sa lupang agraryo at lupa ng aming mga ninuno. Gumawa sila ng paraan para ipakita sa aming mga katutubo na parang utang namin sa kanila na mga NPA ang aming ikinabubuhay (This was what I grew up with my parents. It is only now that I realized the NPAs were just riding on the agrarian issue and the ancestral domains of our forebears. They schemed things out to show to our indigenous community that we owe our livelihood to the NPAs).”

Troops have also accounted that three of the 70 surrenderers were minors and all were MB members and confirmed they were forced to attend several NPA meetings.

“Pagkatapos ng ilang mga miting namin, sinasama kami ng hukbo sa kanilang basehan at tinuturuan magkalas ng armalite. Pag may mga taktikal na opensiba laban sa militar, ginagamit kami nila. Pagkatapos ay bumabalik din kami sa mga baryo namin, nag- lelegal, at kami na ang nagiging kontak nila sa tuwing papasok sila sa barangay namin (after our meetings, the movement comrades brought us to their camp and trained us on assembly/disassembly of the armalite. They also used us during their tactical offensives against the military. After the encounter, we returned to our respective villages, pretending to have legal activities, and we became their contacts before they intrude into our villages),” the young Mangyan rebels said.

Meanwhile, Colonel Marceliano V. Teofilo, the new Commander of the 203rd Infantry Brigade who has operational jurisdiction over Mindoro Island, slammed claims by Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) chairman Joma Sison and former Partylist Rep. Satur Ocampo that the CPP/NPA does not recruit minors.

“I heard personally the revelations of these teenagers how they were used by the NPAs on their operations and extortion activities, violating their rights and worst, putting their lives in great danger,” Teofilo said.

“We will sustain the momentum of our combat operations until these terrorists are destroyed. The order to them to conduct intensified attacks is mere propaganda. We will run after them until their only option left is to surrender,” he added.

Major General Rhoderick M. Parayno, Commander of the Philippine Army’s 2nd Infantry “Jungle Fighter” Division (2ID), lauded the accomplishments of the 4IB troops against the NPA terrorists in the area.

“The vast number of NPA surrenderees clearly shows that they lost the support of the communities especially the Mangyan IPs in Mindoro. Such number will impede the communist party anniversary preparation in the area and we will give them no time to celebrate their futile cause,” he said.

“We encourage them to go home and feel the beauty of living peacefully and productively with their families, their wives and their children. We will help them enroll in the ECLIP like their former comrades who yielded ahead of them. I guarantee their safety and I'll make sure that they receive all the benefits due them offered by the government,” Parayno added.

Under the government’s Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP), a former rebel can receive PHP15,000 immediate cash assistance; PHP50,000 livelihood assistance, firearms remuneration, have access to housing, loans, medical and legal assistance, among others.

The ECLIP also includes educational benefits which can be extended to the rebel’s immediate family members.

Davao Region cops ordered to stay alert vs. NPA

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 14): Davao Region cops ordered to stay alert vs. NPA

The Police Regional Office in Region 11 (PRO-11) directed all its local units to remain vigilant against possible terrorist attacks from lawless elements--including the New People's Army, during the Yuletide season.

Chief Superintendent Marcelo Morales, PRO-11 director, pointed out on Friday that the NPA--the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)--has threatened to launch attacks against government facilities as it marks its 50th founding anniversary.

Morales said the potential for NPA attacks remain high even if it declared earlier a unilateral ceasefire. NPA is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

“While everyone is busy enjoying the spirit of Christmas, lawless elements may take advantage of the situation and carry out their nefarious activities. The threats of terrorists and criminal groups or individuals can never be discounted,” the PRO-11 director said.

Morales said the Philippine National Police will intensify security measures under its “Ligtas Paskuhan 2018" operational guidelines and procedures.

“As the Filipinos mark on Sunday dawn, the first of nine Simbang Gabi (pre-dawn masses) on December 16, leading to Christmas Day, PRO-11 will increase police visibility on the streets and implement what it calls Ligtas Paskuhan 2018 that is designed to minimize crimes during this Christmas holiday season,” Morales said.

Morales said "Ligtas Paskuhan" involves police presence, focused law enforcement operations, target hardening measures, strengthening police-community partnership, and information dissemination.

He said the police will continue to intensify the campaign against loose firearms, illegal discharge of firearms, illegal drugs and campaign against criminals during the Christmas and New Year's celebrations.

Morales also reminded the general public on the strict implementation of the ban on firecrackers and other pyrotechnic devices.

It has been more than 10 years since this city banned the firecracker explosion and use of pyrotechnics. The city also banned transport or shipment of firecrackers via Davao City.

Muslim intellectuals welcome Galvez as peace adviser

From GMA News (Dec 14): Muslim intellectuals welcome Galvez as peace adviser

A Muslim-based think tank shared high hopes on the appointment of retired Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Carlito Galvez, Jr. as Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.
In a statement on Friday, the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID) congratulated Galvez on his appointment and expressed confidence that the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) would be "effective" in leading government efforts to address conflict-related issues, including the impact of the of the upcoming Bangsamoro Organic Law plebiscite.

PCID president Amina Rasul noted the experience of the former AFP chief in peacebuilding as the chair of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) during the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which she said
"augurs well for the OPAPP's efforts to strengthen government's peace initiatives."

Galvez has been called a "soldier of peace" for seeing soldiers as "both protectors of the state and contributors to economic development, human security, and social service support," Rasul added.

Last December 5, Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo announced that Galvez would succeed Jesus Dureza, who resigned in the wake of corruption issues hounding the OPAPP.

"While saddened by his abrupt departure, Secretary Dureza should be commended for acknowledging command responsibility and reminding all in government that the abuse of power, authority, and resources by public officials hinders the progress of our nation and diminishes the legitimacy of the state and moral stature of the bureaucracy in the eyes of the population," Rasul said.

"Notwithstanding the change, we feel OPAPP could effectively steer government's efforts in dealing with the current challenges in the various conflict affected areas of our country, including the impact of Bangsamoro Organic Law plebiscite set less than two months away," she added.

‘Hijab troopers’ to be deployed nationwide

From Tempo (Dec 13): ‘Hijab troopers’ to be deployed nationwide

hijab troopers

PHILIPPINE Army chief Lt. Gen. Macairog Alberto pins military medal to each of 50 well-trained female soldiers tagged by the AFP Civil Military Operations office as ‘hijab troopers’ during their recognition day on Dec. 11 in Taguig City

The “Hijab Troopers” program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will be implemented nationwide after the successful deployment of veiled female soldiers during the Marawi siege last year, according to the AFP’s Civil Military Operations (CMO).

In a statement, Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., head of the CMO regiment, said the “hijab troopers” will be deployed first in core areas of the National Capital Region, namely Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas and Valenzuela City (known as CAMANAVA) and Maharlika Village, to provide cultural and psychosocial services in urban communities.

“Kung gusto niyong ipagpatuloy ang trabaho ninyo as hijab troopers, mayroon tayong isang kumpanya na organic sa CMO Regiment and we are still continuing the type of work that we are doing in Marawi City,” Brawner told around 50 hijab troopers during the recognition program held for them on Monday.

The well-trained female soldiers, sporting head veils called “hijab” among Muslims, were given a military merit medal each by Philippine Army Commanding General Macairog Alberto, Brawner said.

Undersecretary Diosita Andot from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) graced the recognition event and underscored the significant role of the veiled soldiers in confidence-building across the nation.

“I am biased towards women empowerment, so I encourage you to accept Colonel Brawner’s challenge,” Diosita said in reference to the planned deployment.

“As women in uniform, you are already in the task of peacekeeping. And I know that with the job you are doing in the IDP (internally displaced persons) camps, you can also do peacemaking and peace-building as well,” she told the female troopers.

The CMO statement did not mention the specific date of deployment.

In separate reactions, peace advocates have expressed preference for the deployment of the trained female soldiers on Feb. 1 next year when 190 nations across the globe would celebrate the World Hijab Day.

February 1 is also being pushed as a national event for promotion of understanding hijab in the Philippines, through a bill set for passage in the 17th Congress.

Anak Mindanao Partylist Rep. Amihilda Sangcopan authored the bill earlier filed by her predecessor, resigned Rep. DJalia Turabin-Hataman.

The World Hijab Day is a worldwide initiative to fight negativity and discrimination against women wearing the Islamic head covering. It was the brainchild of Nazma Khan, a US citizen who moved from Bangladesh to New York City with her family at the age of 11.

Khan once told a global news network that the prejudice and hostility she encountered as a hijab-wearing woman ramped up following the 9/11 attacks.

Reds: Holiday truce stands amid order to heighten tactical offensives

From the Philippine Star (Dec 14): Reds: Holiday truce stands amid order to heighten tactical offensives                          


This photo taken on July 30, 2017 shows guerrillas of the New People's Army in formation in the Sierra Madre mountain range, located east of Manila. AFP/Noel Celis

The Communist Party of the Philippines on Friday said its armed wing, the New People’s Army, will comply with the party’s declaration of unilateral temporary ceasefire during holidays.

The CPP made the commitment a few days after it ordered the NPA to intensify attacks in response to another extension of martial law in Mindanao until Dec. 31, 2019.

“The unilateral declaration of a temporary five-day ceasefire […] stands and will be strictly complied with even as the party calls for heightened armed resistance against the Duterte regime’s extended martial law in Mindanao and de facto nationwide martial law,” it said.
The temporary truce will take effect from 12:01 a.m. of December 24 to 11:59 p.m. of December 26. Another ceasefire is set from 12:01 a.m. of December 31 to 11:59 p.m. of Jan. 1, 2019.

The CPP on Wednesday threatened tactical offensives hours after Congress voted in favor of extending military rule and suspending the privilege of writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao. The move could be seen as proving the government right as insurgency is among the justifications cited by the president for the extension of martial law.

But the party stressed that it is NPA’s “duty to the people to carry out extensive tactical offensives” amid “worsening abuses perpetrated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.”

“A temporary halt will be observed on the specified days of the unilateral ceasefire,” CPP said.

The Yuletide ceasefire has been a customary move by both sides since the launch of formal talks in the late 1980s.

Duterte has not yet issued an order to military to suspend military operations against NPA.

Security officials earlier said they are not inclined to recommend that the government declare the traditional truce with communist insurgents.

The CPP also claimed that the military “desperately” wants to stop the celebration of its 50th anniversary.

“In the past few days, field reports indicate that AFP camps and airbases especially in Northern and Eastern Mindanao are busy flying drones and helicopters everyday, scouring rural villages and mountains, dropping bombs and firing artillery causing widespread terror among the people,” it alleged.

The Jose Maria Sison-led CPP will mark its 50th anniversary on December 26, while NPA will turn 50 in 2019.

Philippines urged to boost cybersecurity amid Huawei concerns

From the Business World (Dec 14): Philippines urged to boost cybersecurity amid Huawei concerns

AS several countries start cutting ties with Chinese technology companies particularly Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. due to security concerns, cybersecurity experts in the Philippines urge the government to start improving the country’s defenses to avoid a bigger problem in the future.

Cybersecurity expert Angel “Lito” S. Averia, Jr. said recent reports about Chinese-made network products should raise red flags on local telcos’ existing partnerships with Chinese companies such as Huawei.

“Rather than simply stating that Huawei has supplied equipment to the duopoly for a number of years, the Department of Information and Communications Technology together with the National Security Council and perhaps the Armed Forces of the Philippines (must) investigate and assess the risks and impact of foreign technologies on our national security and identify vulnerabilities that may weaken the countries national security posture and implement the appropriate security measures,” Mr. Averia said in an e-mail interview.

In the past weeks, United States, United Kingdom and New Zealand have barred the use of products from Huawei Technologies for the fifth generation (5G) network rollout of its telco firms, citing security concerns.

A report from the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission published last month raised possibilities that tech partnerships with Chinese companies could result in compromised state and corporate information.

“China’s central role in manufacturing global information technology, IoT (Internet of Things) devices, and network equipment may allow the Chinese government — which exerts strong influence over its firms — opportunities to force Chinese suppliers or manufacturers to modify products to perform below expectations or fail, facilitate state or corporate espionage, or otherwise compromise the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of IoT devices or 5G network equipment,” the report said.

Both PLDT, Inc. and Globe Telecom, Inc. have partnered with Huawei for their 5G networks.

PLDT inked an agreement with Huawei in February last year for the development of its 5G network, which involves the establishment of an innovation laboratory and showcase network. The two also signed in January a $28.5-million deal to overhaul PLDT’s wireless service delivery platforms.

On the other hand, Globe forged a deal with Huawei in 2011, which was renewed in 2015, for the upgrade and expansion of its networks and the formation of a mobile innovation center.

Chinese firm China Telecommunications Corp. is part of the Mislatel Consortium, which was named as the new telco player last month.

“What makes Huawei challenging is that it is privately held and isn’t subject to the typical corporate governance other companies are subject to. (But) I do agree that the state should have a hand in increasing our information security posture. At least, it should serve as an example of good infosec (information security) practices,” William Emmanuel S. Yu, cybersecurity expert and founder of the Philippine chapter of Internet Society, said in an e-mail interview.

Last week, outgoing DICT Chief Eliseo M. Rio, Jr. told BusinessWorld he does not see issues surrounding Chinese tech firms as a cause of concern.

“(The) countries you mentioned that are prohibiting Chinese products in their telecommunication networks, have more cybersecurity issues threatening their national security than our country,” Mr. Rio said in a text message, referring to US, UK and New Zealand.

Mr. Rio said the government has a “simple solution” to such threats — employing a third party cybersecurity auditor that will monitor existing telecommunications networks.

“Our telcos, including the third telco, are required by our government to get an independent cybersecurity audit team to monitor their network, because any breach in their network that would threaten our national security could lead to their franchise being recalled by the government, not to mention possible payment of huge fines and even imprisonment of concerned personnel,” he said.

“So far we have not experienced any major threat to our national security. But even now we are strengthening our cybersecurity measures to further protect our cyberspace,” Mr. Rio added.

Mr. Averia said the government must facilitate research and development activities that would improve products and devices used in government networks and encourage the private sector to be involved in such activities.

National Privacy Commission Chairman Raymund E. Liboro said in a text message the government is already doing its part to increase cybersecurity awareness.

“Everywhere, stricter laws are being introduced to protect citizens… Also, counter technologies are being developed for threat detection, prevention and response, giving us data users a better chance against external actors with malicious intent,” he said.

Sought for comment, PLDT and Globe did not reply.

[Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has a stake in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls.]