Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Militant who beheaded two Canadians still on the loose and investigators may have uncovered why

From the Global News (Dec 18): Militant who beheaded two Canadians still on the loose and investigators may have uncovered why

Alleged executioner of two Canadians seen in photo wearing uniform of Philippine police counter-insurgency unit.
In photos posted on his Facebook page, the Abu Sayyaf Group militant believed to have beheaded two Canadians in 2016 wears a big self-satisfied smile, like he has nothing to worry about.

His name is Behn Tatuh.

And more than two years after he allegedly executed
John Ridsdel and Robert Hall in the southern Philippines, he appears to be still on the loose and posting selfies online.

An investigation by the intelligence research group
iBrabo has uncovered not only Tatuh’s Facebook page, but also a troubling possible explanation for his longevity: he may have been trained by the Philippine police.


Photo comparison showing, in the top and bottom centre images, the militant who executed two Canadians on video. The images on the upper and lower right and left are from Bhen Tatuh’s Facebook page.iBrabo
“You see him on his Facebook profile and he’s smiling,” said Jeff Weyers, senior analyst at Waterloo, Ont.-based iBrabo, which was to release a report on its investigation on Tuesday. “It’s infuriating because you think to yourself, he shouldn’t be allowed to smile. He’s a killer, right? But there he is.”

The executions of Ridsdel and Hall, who were kidnapped from a resort in the southern Philippines in 2015, prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to vow to bring those responsible to justice, “however long it takes.”

But Weyers said Tatuh was still posting updates on Facebook as recently as early November, when his page was taken down, possibly because he had been increasingly posing with the ISIS flag.

Facebook photo believed to show Abu Sayyaf militant Bhen Tatuh wearing a Philippine National Police uniform.iBrabo

iBrabo’s most significant discovery was a photo, posted on Tatuh’s Facebook page, that appears to show him in a Philippine National Police uniform consistent with that worn by the Special Counter Insurgency Operation Unit, or SCOUT.

SCOUTs are trained in jungle survival, improvised explosive devices, team operations, leadership, mission planning, patrols, amphibious assault and firearms — all skills that would make Tatuh more difficult to catch.

Whether Tatuh served in the police before turning to militancy or infiltrated to benefit from training is unknown. He looks younger in the photo allegedly showing him in uniform. His name can be seen written on the base of his ammunition, which iBrabo said “would be typical of officers being responsible for their issued kit.”
READ MORE: Timeline of John Ridsdel’s kidnapping and execution in the Philippines

While it’s also possible he was playing dress-up, Weyers doesn’t think so.

“With that congruence of factors going on we have strong reason to believe that he was at some point a police officer within the PNP. And we’ve got nothing to refute that at this time,” Weyers said.

“The question becomes, if we take on the face what he’s trying to tell us, that he is a police officer or was a police officer, when did that transition happen? When did he defect?”

Facebook photo of Behn Tatuh, with ISIS flag behind him.iBrabo

SCOUT training “would put him in an ideal position for a leadership role within Abu Sayyaf,” he added. “Everything that you would need to know to attack Abu Sayyaf, now you have this member within Abu Sayyaf that can counter all of those different things that are happening to them.”

“So it’s a really significant finding in terms of our investigation and it also points to the difficulty that the Philippine army is having in trying to stop, get rid of, remove Abu Sayyaf,” he said.

The RCMP said it was investigating the killings but would not answer any further questions.

READ MORE: Family of former Calgarian kidnapped, murdered in the Philippines demands answers from federal government

The iBrabo report is a key development in the cases of Hall and Ridsdel, who were abducted by gunmen on Samal island on Sept. 21, 2015, along with a Norwegian man and a Filipino woman.

Weeks after the kidnapping, Abu Sayyaf began releasing a series of videos demanding millions for the release of the hostages. Trudeau responded that the government of Canada did not pay ransoms.

Following the kidnappings, iBrabo began monitoring the online activities of Abu Sayyaf as well as its affiliate, the Islamic State in Southeast Asia, and found that many of the fighters were active on Facebook. The analysts, Weyers and Prof. Camie Condon, did so on their own initiative rather than under contract with police.

WATCH: ‘We saw an opportunity’ to learn about the kidnappers, says analyst who tracked militant group Abu Sayyaf

“I think, like all Canadians, we were shocked by what was taking place,” Weyers said. “And having our skill set and knowing that Abu Sayyaf was very active on social media, we saw an opportunity to see if there was any way that we could provide input or gather intelligence on the group ourselves.”

“And so when the initial hostage videos, the ransom videos, came out, we started to monitor Abu Sayyaf on primarily Facebook.”

When the deadline for payment expired, Abu Sayyaf released a video showing an unmasked militant beheading Ridsdel with a sword. Two months later, another video showed the killer doing the same to Hall.

The other hostages were released.

The Philippine military said in April 2017 it had killed the Abu Sayyaf commander responsible for the Canadians’ kidnapping and deaths, but his face does not match the executioner seen in the videos.

Facebook page of Bhen Tatuh, courtesy iBrabo. The page has now been removed.

Who is Tatuh?

When iBrabo analysts came across Tatuh’s Facebook page, they immediately noticed his striking resemblance to the executioner. Using facial-recognition software, they compared the Facebook photos with the execution video, and they were a close match.

They were also able to find Tatuh in the background of Abu Sayyaf kidnapping videos as far back as 2014.

Philippine army reports have described Tatuh — who also goes by Boy Tattoo, Abu Ben Tattoo, Bhen Quirino and Ben Yadah — as a sub-leader within Abu Sayyaf Group, which Canada calls a militant Islamist group that “uses terrorism for profit.”

But Tatuh appears to be an ambitious figure in the group. On Facebook, an associate called him the “Big Boss,” and fighters often pose for pictures with him. Posting the police photo and showing his face while killing the Canadians may be signs of his leadership aspirations.

“The fact that he stepped forward to be the executioner in both John Risdel and Robert Hall’s murders, there’s a reason for that. He’s looking to take on a broader role,” Weyers said. “And having that skill set, that SCOUT training, would also accelerate him up the ladder.”

Where is Tatuh?

Tatuh’s cell operates in the Patikul mountain area of Sulu, iBrabo said. But despite initial enthusiasm to get him, there is little evidence of an ongoing manhunt, the report said.

Immediately after the Hall and Ridsdel killings, Tatuh went off the radar, but he resurfaced this year. According to Philippine military reports, “Ben Quirino” was injured in a May 14 battle near the village of Maligay.

On June 20, “Ben Tattoo” helped kidnap relatives of the mayor of Sulu, and on Aug. 23, the 41st Infantry Battalion engaged an Abu Sayyaf contingent under his command, according to the military reports.

Tatuh’s Sulu cell may now be hiding the regional ISIS leader, Malaysian Amin Baco. Tatuh’s increasing use of ISIS imagery on his Facebook page suggests “a strong possibility Tatuh may now be acting directly under Baco’s command,” the iBrabo report said.

WATCH: Ontario firm may have found terrorist who beheaded two Canadian men
Global National: Ontario firm may have found terrorist who beheaded two Canadian men


Reds harass Capiz Cafgu

From the Panay News (Dec 19): Reds harass Capiz Cafgu

Some 15 New People’s Army (NPA) rebels sprayed with bullets two detachments of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) in Tapaz, Capiz yesterday around 1 a.m.

“We expected those harassments. Our men were vigilant and repelled the rebels,” said Lieutenant Colonel Sisenando Magbalot Jr., commander of the Philippine Army’s 61st Infantry Battalion (61IB).

Government troops have been put on red alert. The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) would be marking its 50th founding anniversary this Dec. 26.

The NPA, the armed wing of the communist party, usually marked the day with offensives against government troops.

The detachments were in Barangay Abangay and Barangay Katipunan, Tapaz. No Cafgu members were hurt.

In the Barangay Abangay detachment, the firefight between the rebels and Cafgu members lasted for 20 minutes.

After nearly an hour, the rebels fired at the detachment in Barangay Katipunan for some three minutes then retreated.

According to Magbalot, the rebels belonged to NPA-Panay’s central front committee and led by Francisco “Ka Tonying” Balaios.

“We know the rebels’ plans. We have enough men to fight them,” he said.

The Cafgu was created in July 1987. Barely six months after the 1987 Constitution took effect, then President Corazon Aquino signed Executive Order (EO) 264 providing for the “Citizen Armed Force” and creating in the process the Cafgu.

What was invoked as justification for the formation of the Cafgu was the provision in the 1987 Constitution calling for the formation of a “citizen armed force” (Article 16, Section 4), which shall undergo military training and serve as may be provided by law.

EO 264 provided that all able-bodied citizens shall become reservists with appropriate ranks. All reservists in a particular locality shall be organized into reserve geographical units subject to call and mobilization as the need arises, individually or as a unit.

Magbalot thanked the public for continuously giving the Army information about the rebels.

Just this Dec. 9, 61IB troops repelled rebels from the hinterland barangays of Barangay Trangka, Maasin, Iloilo and Barangay Canawillian, Janiuay, Iloilo.

Department of National Defense (DND) secretary Delfin Lorenzana is not recommending a suspension of military operation (SOMO) against the rebel groups this Yuletide season.

“We shall not allow the CPP to use a SOMO to celebrate their 50th anniversary,” he said in Metro Manila.

Lorenzana’s views were echoed by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson, Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo. Firming up the decision is the fact that the rebels have not shown any sincerity in the previous years, he said.

“They continue with their terroristic and criminal activists, extortion, harassments, etc. and we do not want to give them the opportunity to gather and mass up to joyfully celebrate their 50th anniversary,” Arevalo stressed.


No mercy for NPAs, Duterte says

From the Philippine Star (Dec 18): No mercy for NPAs, Duterte says

Members of the communist New People's Army do not deserve mercy, President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday, as he chided the rebels for promoting violence and for committing crimes.

Duterte claimed the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, is no longer composed of revolutionaries but but "criminals" who are out to destroy the country.

"You do not deserve mercy," the president said during a summit of barangay executives in Davao City. 

"The NPAs are criminals. They are just plain bandits and that's how we should treat them," Duterte, who has claimed past membership in the underground Kabataang Makabayan, added.

Duterte made the statement hours after his executive secretary Salvador Medialdea said the president would not declare a holiday ceasefire with the rebels.

The president said communists have disrupted the peaceful lives of lumads or indigenous peoples. He also alleged that the rebels are no longer following an ideology but are now "market-driven."
Duterte: I want to finish communists, drugs during my term

Duterte, who previously vowed to talk peace with communists, said "not in a billion years" would rebels seize power from government

"Who are you to impose your will on the people without even getting one vote? This country is a democracy. Leaders are elected. Leaders may be son of a b**** but if he is chosen by the people, we have to respect their choice," the president said.

The president also claimed there is no need for an arrest warrant when apprehending rebels because they are violating laws against rebellion.

According to the Revised Penal Code, rebellion "is committed by rising publicly and taking arms against the Government for the purpose of removing from the allegiance to said Government or its laws, the territory of the Republic of the Philippines or any part thereof, of any body of land, naval or other armed forces, or depriving the Chief Executive or the Legislature, wholly or partially, of any of their powers or prerogatives."

Duterte said: "By the fact that you are a rebel, you are a 24-hour violator of the revised criminal code, act of rebellion."

Duterte reiterated that he would put an end to the communists' decades-old armed struggle before he steps down.

"Yung komunista gusto ko tapusin, pati yung droga (I want to finish communism and illegal drugs). I want it done within my term," the Philippine leader said.

Earlier, Duterte said he would create a civilian armed unit that would counter the NPA sparrow unit, a group blamed for the killing of soldiers, policemen and former communists. Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo later on clarified that the president was just floating an idea that has to be studied by government forces.

Duterte's first year in office saw a return to formal peace talks with the communist rebels, with the former Davao City mayor saying he is the first president from the Left.

He changed his stance after a series of NPA attacks in 2017 and growing opposition to martial law in Mindanao.

The communists, including CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison, have since been among the targets of his fiery speeches.
CPP: Military on all-out offensive in Northern Mindanao

In a press statement, the Communist Party of the Philippines said the militay has been conducting an "all-out military offensive and massive bombardment...in the boundaries of Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon and Agusan del Sur provinces."

Citing reports from the NPA, the communists said more than 400 military and police personnel have been deployed in the Kalabugan area.

"By mounting non-stop combat operations and incessant shelling and bombing, however, the AFP is spoiling the peace and holiday preparations of the residents in the community. Also, they have doused on the high hopes of their foot soldiers to have a brief respite during the holidays to be with their families," the CPP, which is marking its 50th anniversary this month.

It said shelling and bombardment has affected the livelihoods of lumad residents in areas of Claveria, Misamir Oriental; Impasug-ong, Bukidnon; and Esperanza, Agusan del Sur.

It also claimed that government troops have suffered at least 14 casualties in clashes with NPA units in the area.


Duterte says he'll 'hamlet' Lumad to keep them from NPA

From Rappler (Dec 19): Duterte says he'll 'hamlet' Lumad to keep them from NPA

President Rodrigo Duterte plans to keep indigenous peoples in 'hamlets' to be guarded by military and police

PROPOSAL. President Rodrigo Duterte meets with leaders of various indigenous peoples on November 8, 2018. Malacañang file photo

PROPOSAL. President Rodrigo Duterte meets with leaders of various indigenous peoples on November 8, 2018. Malacañang file photo

President Rodrigo Duterte said he will “hamlet” indigenous peoples (IPs) in order to keep them from getting influenced or harmed by communist rebels.
In a speech on Tuesday night, December 18, the President said he would implement the policy "this year."

“There is a certain point but it will be this year. Ako, para unahan na nako sila para dili na sila mang-imbento (I have to be the one to say this first so that they won’t make up false stories). I will hamlet them. Why? Because if they remain scattered, they are really in danger,” he said.

He was speaking at the Barangay Summit for Good Governance in Davao City. Among the audience were Lumad leaders.

“I cannot get their loyalty if they are scattered because they are afraid to be far from each other,” he continued.

Duterte was not clear if the “hamlets” he envisions would be in ancestral lands granted to IPs, though he said earlier this year that he planned to relocate IPs.

As early as February this year, the President had told Lumad leaders of his plan to move IPs to "temporary shelters" and that he would release P100 million to fund the move. He hinted then that it was part of his counterinsurgency plan. (READ: Duterte tells Lumad leaders to prepare for relocation)

Hamletting involves isolating people in villages known to have communist rebel presence or influence through forced relocation. Human rights groups have criticized the practice as making communities vulnerable to human rights abuses and harassment.

Hamletting is among the human rights violations committed under Ferdinand Marcos' Martial Law as documented by Task Force Detainees.

Under guard

On Tuesday, the President said these hamlets will be Lumad territory and that IPs will guard them.

“Now I will hamlet them. You natives won’t be able to say that you’re being imprisoned. But I will make a secure place for you that will be your territory for the meantime. I will be the one to decide whether you’ll be given arms. No one else will be able to enter. You will be the ones who will guard it,” he said in Bisaya.

But the President said he would also order military and police to help guard the hamlets. He appeared to say soldiers and police would be ordered to shoot members of the New People's Army (NPA) – the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines – who attempt to enter the territory.

“Nobody else can enter. There will be no other tribe. It’s all for you. But if I say that the Matigsalug will be here, don’t – I’ll tell the military and police to operate in your area. Guard the place and if you see them, shoot them right away,” said Duterte.

“If you don’t, he’ll go back and take your gun. Anyway, you don’t need to say the human rights [groups] will be keeping count. Eh natural. As long as he’s carrying a gun or a bolo, ‘Are you an NPA?’ Ah they’ll leave right away. If I were you I’ll say, ‘This was Duterte’s orders,’” continued the President.

He added that hamletting will be done "all throughout the Philippines" and that he will provide Lumads with livelihood opportunities within their hamlets.

"Whichever tribe yours is, Matigsalog, stay there with them. I will be the one who will provide you with a living. But I will also give you a – I’ll give you a tractor," said Duterte.

He then slammed communists for radicalizing the Lumad and using them for their own purposes.

"How many Lumad, Matigsalug, Ata, Bagobo, everyone. No one is spared including the Manobos in Agusan. They controlled them and gave them firearms. That’s what makes it ugly. They’ll just say they were given firerams," said Duterte.

In the same speech, Duterte acknowledged the unilateral ceasefire declared by communists but slammed them for a violent incident in Sorsogon.

He then reiterated that it would be “futile” to revive peace talks with the Left.


Southeast Asia 2018: Attacks Persisted But No Group Gained Traction

From BenarNews (Dec 17): Southeast Asia 2018: Attacks Persisted But No Group Gained Traction

Firefighters battle a blaze caused by a suicide bombing at the Surabaya Center Pentecostal Church in Surabaya, Indonesia, May 13, 2018.

Firefighters battle a blaze caused by a suicide bombing at the Surabaya Center Pentecostal Church in Surabaya, Indonesia, May 13, 2018. AFP/Pemerintah Kota Surabaya/Andy Pinaria                    

The security picture in Southeast Asia was far more stable this year than tumultuous 2017, when Islamic State (IS) militants took over the Philippine city of Marawi for five months. While there were attacks and attempted attacks by militants across the region, most had lower levels of lethality and professionalism, and no group really gained any traction.

Ironically, the two most significant attacks in 2018 may in fact reflect growing concern from within the jihadist ranks. The May suicide bombings in Surabaya, Indonesia involving two entire families, as well as the unprecedented suicide bombing by a foreign fighter in Basilan, Philippines, may have been attempts to goad others into action; representing internal debates and frustration over the loss of momentum and commitment to the jihadist cause.

And the impact of IS’s loss of more than 90 percent of its territory in Syria and Iraq could have implications for Southeast Asia as the region adopts a global insurgency model. Although IS has declared the establishment of an East Asian Wilayat – or province – there is little evidence this has had a major bearing on the flow of foreign fighters or resources into the region.

Fears of a centralized and unified IS presence in Southeast Asia are over-blown. What is now commonly referred to as Islamic State East Asia (ISEA) remains a loose constellation of small groups and cells divided by geography, competency and egos.

The Philippines

The security situation in the Philippines remains poor, imperiling peace and development within the country but also having regional security implications.

On the one hand, the peace process between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is proceeding. The Philippine Congress passed the implementing legislation in mid-2018, after a three and a half year delay.

Preparations are being made for a January 2019 plebiscite for inclusion in an autonomous Muslim region in the south. If all goes to plan, an autonomous government with a new political system will be in place by mid-2019.

This is important because MILF controls significant territory in Mindanao, and the onus will be on them to deny militants and foreign fighters sanctuary. They have to prove themselves responsible stakeholders.

And the MILF will face the challenge of getting adequate buy-in from their rival, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which sees this accord as undermining their own 1996 agreement with the government.

But the peace process is not a panacea.

Indeed, there was an uptick of bombings in central Mindanao in mid-2018, by the rival Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, which broke away from MILF 10 years ago. In addition to these spoilers is the reality that the funding for demobilization, disarmament, and rehabilitation programs for MILF combatants remains inadequate.

The Philippine south is awash in young men with arms and little in the way of job prospects. Pro-IS groups, including the Maute band, which led the Marawi siege, are actively recruiting from MILF ranks.

And they are benefitting from the slow, top-down reconstruction of Marawi, an issue that continues to alienate the local population, many of whom remain were displaced by the siege and ensuing battle between the militants and the Philippine military.

Mid-2018 saw a series of clashes between government forces and Maute “remnants.” There are clear signs that the Maute group is itself rebuilding, tapping into local grievances.

The Philippines remains the only place in Southeast Asia where IS can actually control physical space. That will continue to be a draw for foreign fighters, who may bring some technical expertise, but more importantly, in the Philippine context, they can also bridge parochial divides and rivalries among groups.

The Abu Sayyaf Group continued to engage in kidnapping for ransom. For the most part, they targeted local Filipinos, who tend to pay ransoms quickly.

But late 2018 saw a revival of maritime operations. A Malaysian and four Indonesian fishermen were abducted in two operations, while a Malaysian tugboat crew was able to thwart a third attack.

Trilateral maritime policing between Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, which began in 2017 after a spate of maritime kidnappings in 2016, had an immediate impact, deterring subsequent attacks. And yet, militants are once again feeling confident enough to target vessels.

Meanwhile, violent incidents from the communist New People’s Army kept rising, spreading the poorly resourced Philippine security forces very thin.

In December, the Philippine Congress passed the second extension of martial law in portions of Mindanao that has angered the local population and has allowed the Philippine military to act with greater levels of impunity.


Indonesia saw a range of attacks in 2018. The majority were amateurish, conducted by lone wolves inspired by IS propaganda.

These included a grenade attack on a police station in Makassar, and a student’s machete attack at a Yogyakarta church that wounded six. A group of eight sword-wielding militants killed a policeman in Pekenbaru; four were killed. In May, police arrested two men in Palembang, in possession of TATP, an explosive materiel. In December, police arrested two militants in Yogyakarta for plotting to attack churches on Christmas.

Also this year, there were two separate prison riots involving terrorism detainees, at the Mobile Brigade (Brimob) police headquarters outside of Jakarta. Several terror suspects were either killed or arrested en route to joining the uprisings.

But the headline attacks of the year were a series of suicide bombing in Surabaya, in May, that included two entire families. A family of six, including four children aged 9-18, carried out three suicide bombings on a trio of churches there, killing at least a dozen people and wounding scores more.

It was the first successful female suicide bombing in Southeast Asia. Another family set off to detonate their IED at a police housing complex. The bomb went off prematurely, killing the parents and their son; a daughter survived.

As a result of the Surabaya bombings, Indonesia’s controversial Counterterrorism bill that had been stalled in parliament for nearly two years, was hurriedly passed. The new law criminalizes joining terrorist groups overseas and lengthens jail sentences for terrorism-related crimes.

But it has many controversial provisions, including the ability to strip citizenship, preventative detention, and gave the armed forces (TNI) a formal counterterrorism role.

Parliament allocated funding for the elite counter-terrorism police force, Densus 88, to double in size to 1,300 men, from 16 to 34 detachments deployed in all 34 provinces of the archipelago.

The new legal authorities and resources led to a surge in arrests in the second half of 2018. Over 200 had been arrested since the Surabaya attacks.

In July, an Indonesian court banned Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), which has morphed from an umbrella grouping for IS cells to a terrorist organization in its own right, while another court sentenced the spiritual leader of IS, Abdurrahman Aman, to death.

Indonesia continues to face a range of other counterterror challenges, including how to deal with the over 600 nationals who traveled to Iraq and Syria, as well as the pressing issue of penal reform.

Some 60 terror suspects were released in 2018, while some 140 are expected to be released in 2019. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda militant supporters who were responsible for a reign of terror during the first decade of the century, have laid low, quietly rebuilding their ranks.​


Counter-terrorism police remained very busy in Malaysia. Unlike Jemaah Islamiyah, which never actively targeted Malaysia, IS groups have repeatedly tried to perpetrate violence. But the real line of effort was in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah, which remains a key transit point for foreign fighters traveling in and out of the southern Philippines.

Most cells that police disrupted in 2018 were relatively unsophisticated but focused on attacking Christian and Hindu minorities. The one exception to this was a five-man cell of Shia arrested in August that was plotting to attack Saudi Arabia from Yemen, according to Malaysian police.

Since February 2013, the police’s counter-terrorist special branch has arrested 425 suspected militants, including 44 women. Of those, 314 are Malaysians while the others are foreigners from the Philippines (39), Indonesia (35), Iraq (8), Bangladesh (5) and Yemen (4). The government said it had stopped 18 terror plots. Over 50 Malaysians remain in Syria.

Despite the tight budget that the Pakatan Harapan government inherited following its surprise electoral victory in May, the government has pledged to continue to make Sabah security a priority.

​Malaysia has stepped up resources for the inter-agency Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM), as well as provided more resources for the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. The MMEA has stepped up patrols in the Sulu Sea and engaged suspected militants thought to be planning kidnapping raids into Sabah.

The Pakatan Harapan government has still not made clear what it intends to do with several controversial laws, including the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act (2012) and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (2015).


The insurgency in the three Malay-dominated provinces of southern Thailand, entering its 15th year, has seen a sharp decline in violence.

The low levels of violence (there were under 100 deaths, and some 150 wounded in 2018) is at a rate that the government can attribute it to criminal activity.

The pattern of violence, a decline in more indiscriminate bombings and more targeted shootings, suggests that violence is now very calculated and in response to government actions.

While a decline in violence is positive, it also minimizes any pressure on the government to make any meaningful concessions, despite its lip service to continue talks with the umbrella grouping MARA Patani. The main rebel group, Barisan Revolusi Nasional, continues to sit out the talks despite Malaysian and Thai government pressure.

There are also concerns that younger militants in the Deep South have grown frustrated with the current stasis. The year 2018 saw two Thai nationals, both with ties Deep South-based rebel groups, arrested in Malaysia in conjunction with terror cells, including one Johor-based IS cell.

The Rohingya crisis

After launching a series of attacks that led to a ferocious backlash by Myanmar security forces, which, in turn, drove more than 700,000 people into neighboring Bangladesh, the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army has largely gone underground, unable and unwilling to take responsibility for the massive human suffering it has caused.

Myanmar security forces have held a series of negotiations with their Bangladesh counterparts to allow for the repatriation of some Rohingya refugees, but, without full legal protections and citizenship, there have been few takers.

More than 100,000 Rohingya who remained in Myanmar are living in what can only be described as concentration camps, while government pogroms continue.

Despite concerns about terrorism, calls from transnational jihadist organizations to exact revenge on the Myanmar government it have been nothing but lip service.

There remains slim hope for any resolution of the humanitarian crisis.

The plight of Rohingya remains one of the real wedge issues within ASEAN, and the Myanmar government is able to rely on key backers to give it the diplomatic cover and financial backing that it needs to withstand international opprobrium, including charges of genocide by the U.N.

[Zachary Abuza is a professor at the National War College in Washington and the author of “Forging Peace in Southeast Asia: Insurgencies, Peace Processes, and Reconciliation.” The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of the U.S. Department of Defense, the National War College or BenarNews.]

Ozamiz summit reintegrates IPs on basic rights, social services

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 17): Ozamiz summit reintegrates IPs on basic rights, social services

Indigenous Peoples (IP) or ethno-linguistic groups in Ozamiz City and nearby towns in Misamis Occidental were given reorientation on their basic human rights and other social services as provided by the government.

During the IP summit on Saturday (Dec. 15), discussions about Republic Act 8371 or the IP Rights Act (IPRA) were presented, including updates on existing and ongoing government programs for IPs.

The summit was organized by the local government of Ozamiz City, in partnership with the
10th Infantry Battalion and Alpha Company of the 1st Civil-Military Operations Battalion.

The IP Summit was attended by representatives of all IP barangays in Ozamiz City, IP representatives from the 13 municipalities and the three cities of Misamis Occidental, and different national government agencies.

The information provided by the Armed Forces of the Philippines did not specify whether the summit is organized yearly. Most of the participants are members of the Subanen indigenous cultural community.

The summit also included testimonials from rebel returnees, who are also Subanen, and information on the government's Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) that seeks to contribute towards achieving permanent and peaceful closure of all armed conflicts with non-state groups, as well as facilitate the mainstreaming of former rebels.


‘No reason for CPP to celebrate’

From the Visayan Daily Star (Dec 18): ‘No reason for CPP to celebrate’
“They are celebrating 50 years of trying to destroy our country.”

That was the reaction yesterday of Col. Benedict Arevalo, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, to the New People’s Army’s planned celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines on December 26.

The five guerilla fronts of the NPA on Negros Island are all set to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the CPP, Ka Juanito Magbanua, NPA Negros spokesman, said Sunday.

“Are they celebrating the misery that they have caused their country for 50 years?” Arevalo asked.

“There is no reason for them to celebrate, they should be ashamed of themselves for causing misery to the people,” he said.

He also said the NPA has been using holiday ceasefires to their advantage by regrouping and consolidating their forces, before launching terroristic activities.

“But we will not give them that opportunity,” he said.

“My order to the troops, as always, is to attack the NPA before they attack us,” Arevalo said.

Magbanua disclosed earlier that the NPA will observe the yuletide truce, but will remain on defensive mode.

“Stressing that the CPP-NPA-NDF is an organization that has mastered the art of deception and has fooled many,” Arevalo said “We should not take their words as it might just be a ploy to make us put down our guards and give the NPA an opportunity to hit us before or after their anniversary”.

Whether the NPA are in defensive or offensive mode, Arevalo ordered his troops to launch an attack against communist rebels, to ensure that they will not be able to victimize government forces and civilians in celebration of their “50 years of trying to destroy our country”.

Magbanua said that the NPA will resume its tactical offensives against government forces, such as the staging of ambushes, raids and liquidation activities, when opportunities arise.


New generals honored

From the Visayan Daily Star (Dec 18): New generals honored
Thirty-three newly-promoted Philippine Army generals, six of whom were formerly assigned in Negros Island, took their oaths recently before President Rodrigo Duterte at Malacañang in Manila.

The newly promoted senior military officers included Maj. Gen. Dinoh Dolina, 3rd Infantry Division commander, Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, 6th Infantry Division commander, Maj. Gen. Pio Diñoso, AFP Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Maj. Gen. Bernard Neri, chief of the AFP Intelligence Service, Brig. Gen. Ignacio Madriaga, 302nd Infantry Brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Ramil Bitong, 803rd Infantry Brigade commander and Brig. Gen. Francisco Felicidario, 101st Infantry Brigade commander.

Neri and Dinoso used to serve as 79th Infantry Battalion commander in southern Negros, Bitong as 11th Infantry Battalion, Madriaga as spokesman of the 303rd Infantry Brigade and Felicidario as commander of the elite 1st Scout Ranger Battalion.

Sobejana, a Medal of Valor awardee, served at the 11th Infantry Battalion in northern Negros in the early 1990s.

They were given traditional military honors at the Philippine Army headquarters by Lt. Gen. Macairog Alberto in Fort Bonifacio, in Taguig City.


Army activates Brigade Combat Team vs terrorism, insurgency

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 18): Army activates Brigade Combat Team vs terrorism, insurgency

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Philippine Army activates its 1stBrigade Combat Team that is focused on countering terrorism and insurgency. The team, with headquarters based in Fort Magsaysay, is composed of two infantry and one mechanized battalions as maneuver elements, engineer combat and field artillery battalions, signal and intel as maneuver support, and medical and service support as sustainment units. (Cherie Joyce V. Flores/PIA 3)

FORT MAGSAYSAY, Nueva Ecija -- Philippine Army activated its 1stBrigade Combat Team that is focused on countering terrorism and insurgency.

It will be the service branch’s rapid deployable unit with the right force-mix to any area of strategic significance.

“As a contingency force, it will provide operational flexibility and will be the decisive force in times of crisis or armed conflict situation,” Philippine Army Commanding General Lieutenant General Macairog Alberto said.

The team, with headquarters based in Fort Magsaysay, is composed of two infantry and one mechanized battalions as maneuver elements, engineer combat and field artillery battalions, signal and intel as maneuver support, and medical and service support as sustainment units.

It will temporarily be attached to the 7thInfantry Division and further be placed under tactical control of Training and Doctrine Command for consolidation and organizational training.

“The activation of 1stBrigade Combat Team will definitely improve the capability of the Philippine Army to respond to any forms of situation because of its distinct characteristics as independent, rapid deployment and combined arms force,” Alberto furthered.

He added that they will continuously embark and develop concepts and strategies to remain relevant and responsive to evolving operational challenges.

MID, partners conduct gift-giving activity in Capas

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 18): MID, partners conduct gift-giving activity in Capas

SHARE JOY AND HOPE. Approximately 400 students from Maruglu Elementary School in Capas, Tarlac benefit from a community service and gift-giving activity organized by the Army Mechanized Infantry Division in partnership with Go Share Foundation and other stakeholders. (Cherie Joyce V. Flores/PIA 3)
CAPAS, Tarlac -- Approximately 400 students from Maruglu Elementary School in Capas benefited from a community service and gift-giving activity organized by the Philippine Army - Mechanized Infantry Division (MID) in partnership with Go Share Foundation and other stakeholders.

“This activity is in time for the Christmas season that we are celebrating and also part of our Armor Adopt-A-School Program which was conceptualized to provide social services, assist and help indigent elementary students with their basic supplies and other services,”
MID Commander Major General Gilbert Gapay said.

“This program is not just being implemented and conducted here in Tarlac but also in the entire country.  From Aparri to Julo, we are doing this project to reach and help especially our youth and their future,” he added.

“We know the struggles in sending our children to schools just to give them the future that they deserve, that’s why we are committed on doing this to give joy and hope to the students more specially during this Christmas season,” Gapay furthered.

Aside from gift giving, other services were free medical check-up, free distribution of prescribed medicines, feeding program and distribution of slippers and toys.

“Beyond this gifts, we want to emphasize that the meaning Christmas is not just about gifts but more importantly it is about sharing, love and hope,” Gapay said.

“To our students, always remember that you have a ‘Kuya’ and ‘Ate’ who are ready and willing to help you in times of need. We are always here not just to maintain peace and security but also to take part in helping the youth towards their bright future,” he emphasized.

In behalf of Maruglu Elementary School, Principal Augusto Balatbat expressed his gratitude to MID and its stakeholders in sharing and implementing significant programs for the indigent students.

NPA victim's body dug up in Davao Norte

From the Philippine Information Agency (Dec 18): NPA victim's body dug up in Davao Norte

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Government troopers and tribal leaders have exhumed the remains of a former New People’s Army (NPA) member who was allegedly summarily executed by his former comrades nearly three months ago in Davao del Norte

In a report to the Philippine National Police (PNP) national headquarters, Police Chief Supt. Marcelo C. Morales, regional director of Police Regional Office-11 (PRO-11) said that the body of Olas Salangani was found in a grave yesterday at Sitio Dulyan, Barangay Palma Gil in the town of Talaingod.

A composite team of PNP and Armed Force of the Philippines (AFP) personnel together with the Mindanao Peoples Council of Elders and Leaders (MIPCEL) proceeded to the area to conduct "Lakbay Hukay” operation, a digging of mass grave of Indigenous People’s (IP) leaders liquidated by the NPA.

Datu Alambe Salangani, a brother of Olas, said his younger brother surrendered to the government in 2014.

The remains would be placed under forensic examination in Davao Norte Crime Laboratory.

"Lakbay-Hukay “ sought to provide a decent burial to the victims of summary executions perpetrated by the NPA and expose the atrocities of the rebel group to the IP leaders and members

Prior to the digging, a ritual was conducted by the victim’s family as part of the IP’s cultural traditions.

In a press conference at the Municipal Tribal Building in Talaingod, Morales said "the mass grave is another chilling testament of NPA atrocities and the evil acts that they are capable of doing against those who oppose or leave their group."

He added that PRO-11 condemned the vicious killing of the wife of an active member of the Civilian Armed Auxiliary by the NPA.

Gina Montayona, wife of CAA Mario Mantayona, was shot dead by the rebel group in their house last Sunday, October 16, at Sitio Nasilaban Proper, Barangay Palma Gil in Talaingod.

"The incident is already not a form of armed struggle but an outright criminal act. Their armed struggle has degenerated to criminal acts which put innocent civilian lives in danger. This attack by the NPA is a heinous crime, and violates human rights, R.A. 9851, and International Humanitarian Law," Morales said.

Talaingod Mayor Basilio A Libayao and former Talaingod Mayor Bae Pilar Libayao were one in condemning the presence of the communist terrorist group in their area.

"The NPA is responsible for the hardships and the killings of the tribal communities," the incumbent mayor said.

They appealed to the government security forces to address the insurgency problem in their area so that development can take off in their locality.


Remains of tribal leader slain by NPA found in Davao Norte

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 18): Remains of tribal leader slain by NPA found in Davao Norte

Oplan Lakbay-Hukay

A member of the Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) take samples from the skeletal remain of  tribal leader who was summarily exectuted by the communist New People's Army (NPA) three years ago in Sitio Dulyan, Barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod, Davao del Norte, on Monday. (Photo courtesy of PRO-11 PIO)
TALAINGOD, Davao del Norte--A joint army and police team tasked to discover burial grounds of New People's Army (NPA) victims scored their first find in a mass grave in this town.

Dubbed "Oplan Lakbay-Hukay," the team is composed of forensics specialists who travel to suspected burial grounds where the NPA is believed to have disposed victims of atrocities.

On Monday, the team said it found the skeletal remains of one of the victims of NPA's summary execution in Sitio Dulyan, Barangay Palma Gil here, believed to be that of Datu Ulas Salngani.

The team said five other graves of tribal leaders killed by the NPA here will be exhumed in the coming days.

Chief Superintendent Marcelo Morales, Police Regional Office-11 (PRO-12) director, said Salangani's remains were identified by his brother, Datu Alambe Salangani.

During a press conference here following the exhumation of Salangani's remains, Morales said a bone was taken by the Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) for confirmation through DNA testing.

Chief Inspector Jason Baria, PRO-11 spokesperson, said the first discovered grave is five kilometers from the nearest military detachment and reachable only by foot and

Datu Alambe Salangani offers a white chicken as a ritual before the digging of the grave where his brother, Datu Ulas Salangani, was buried after he was summarily executed by the New People's Army (NPA) one September night three years ago. (Photo courtesy of PRO-11 PIO)

According to Salangani's relatives, the NPA stabbed the tribal leader then riddled his body with bullets one night in September 2015 while he was going home from a community activity.

Salangani's remains were wrapped before he was buried in the family's graveyard.

Charges eyed
Morales said that the evidence collected from the town's six mass graves will be used to charge NPA members who took part in the killings.

The evidence will also be presented to the international community to show the human rights violations committed by the NPA--the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The CPP-NPA is listed as terrorist organizations by the United States and the European Union.

Morales also vowed to widen the scope "Oplan Lakbay-Hukay" in the region to unearth more remains of NPA victims. The potential areas for diggings, he said, are identified through witnesses and testimonies of former communist rebels.

He pointed out that the recovery of the remains will not only give justice to victims of NPA atrocities, but also put closure among their loved ones.

“Even until now a number of them (relatives) still yearned for justice to be served and the punishment of perpetrators,” he said.

Morales hoped that together with the AFP and tribal communities, more remains will be found and given decent burial.

Morales said "Oplan Lakbay-Hukay" aims to investigate at least NPA 17 atrocities, including killings of the Indigenous People's leaders and members.

He said these atrocities include the June 25, 1989 massacre in the village of Rano, Barangay Binaton, Digos, Davao del Sur, where 39 churchgoers were massacred by armed men believed to NPA members; the murder of Talaingod mayor Jose Libayao in September 2001; and the killings of many other members of the cultural  communities from 1983 to 2017.


Army’s 7ID probes personnel on 'link' to gun running

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 18): Army’s 7ID probes personnel on 'link' to gun running

CABANATUAN CITY, Nueva Ecija -- The Philippine Army's 7th Infantry "Kaugnay" Division sees the investigation on alleged link of any of its personnel to a gun running activity as an opportunity to cleanse its rank.

Col. Eugenio Julio Osias IV, 7ID spokesman, said on Tuesday that Major Gen. Felimon Santos, Jr., the division commander, welcomed the investigation after the Philippine National Police (PNP) reported that the 12,893 rounds of bullets recovered from a suspected gun running couple in Gapan City, this province might have been sourced from Fort Ramon Magsaysay.

He said the probe will "really help us to weed out (wayward cops) if ever".

Osias noted, however, that they run a huge military reservation with several tenant units, including the Special Operations Command (Socom), Special Forces (SF), Light Reaction Regiment (LRR), Army Artillery Regiment (AAR) and Aviation Battalion.

The 7ID, he said, has coordinated with the respective commanders of these units.

"We are investigating it, in collaboration with the intelligence unit of the PNP and we are checking the lot number of the bullets,” Osias said in an interview.

By checking the lot numbers, he explained, probers will know where the ammunition came from and to what unit these were issued.

Osias noted, however, that the firearms also recovered from the suspects did not come from any unit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as per report relayed "by the higher headquarters".

"These are commercial firearms which were found outside," Osias said, referring to those recovered from Edgrado and Rosemarie Medel of Gapan City, Nueva Ecija, in an entrapment operation in Valenzuela City last Sunday.


NPA attacks in Sorsogon injure 4 cops

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 18): NPA attacks in Sorsogon injure 4 cops

At least four policemen were wounded in a series of attacks by suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebels on Philippine National Police (PNP) and Army detachments in two provinces of Bicol on Monday evening, police reports said Tuesday.

In Gubat, Sorsogon, the first rebel-initiated attack was at around 7p.m. Monday at the 3rd Maneuver Platoon detachment of the Mobile Police Force that resulted to a firefight lasting for at least 20 minutes. No one was reported injured.

In Magallanes, Sorsogon, at least 16 armed rebels strafed at around 7:30 p.m. Monday the town police station in
Barangay Poblacion .

Police said at least three policemen were wounded in the attack, who were identified as Police Officers (PO) 1 Rolan Geul, Sonny Son Estera and Melvin Bartolata.

In Bato, Camarines Sur, suspected rebels riddled with bullets an Army detachment in Barangay Cristo Rey in Bato, Camarines Sur at around 8:30 p.m. Monday. No one was hurt as the attackers were estimated to be 200 meters away from the government troopers’ camp.

In Bula Camarines Sur another group of suspected rebels strafed at around 9:15 p.m. Monday a police detachment in Barangay Panoypoyan, Bula, Camarines Sur resulting in a two-minute firefight that wounded PO1 Francisco Santiago.

Bicol police officials scoffed at the rebel attacks launched at the eve of the arrival here yesterday of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to attend a full council meeting of the Bicol Regional Peace and Order Council headed by Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal, as RPOC chairman.


Ex-rebels attend peace and dev’t forum in Bohol

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 18): Ex-rebels attend peace and dev’t forum in Bohol

PEACE IN BOHOL. Central Command Commander Major General Noel Clement speaks with former members of the New People's Army (NPA) in a peace and development forum in Tagbilaran City, Bohol, Dec. 18, 2018. (Photo by the U7, Central Command)

More than 30 former members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Bohol on Tuesday joined military and local government officials in a peace and development forum, Central Command (Centcom) acting chief Major Abel Potutan told the Philippine News Agency.

Centcom commander, Major General Noel Clement, Bohol Governor Edgar Chatto, and House Deputy Speaker Arthur Yap also joined the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) officials in handing over PHP15,000 livelihood assistance and reintegration assistance of PHP20,000 to each of the former communist rebels.

Potutan said the surrenderers participated in the general assembly of the Kauban sa Reporma/Former Rebels (KR/FR) and People’s Advocacy for Collaboration and Empowerment (PEACE) Inc. Bohol Chapter held at the Panda Tea Garden Suites in Tagbilaran City.

The former rebels said they decided to go back to the fold of the law due to unexplainable hardships in the mountain fighting for nothing. They underwent orientation about the administration's Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) conducted by the provincial government.

In his inspirational message, Chatto told the returnees that the province’s progress is dependent on the peace and order situation.

“Walay kalambuan kun walay kalinaw (There is no progress if there is no peace),” he said.

The governor urged them to help the government and the people to achieve peace.

For his part, Centcom commander Clement told the former rebels that peace, good governance, and development are important aspects in ensuring long-lasting peace in Bohol.

Clement said the armed forces in the Visayas will not cease in its operations against armed groups, including the NPAs, who pose threat to the local peace and order.

Following the directive of President Rodrigo Duterte, Clement said the campaign against illegal drugs and other forms of criminalities have become part of their task in securing the people of the Visayas.

According to Clement, government officials could not serve well their constituents if armed groups continue to pose threats to a locality.

He added that development will not be possible if the rebel groups continue to challenge the local peace.

Deputy Speaker Yap, for his part, agreed that poverty continues to be a challenge in Bohol.

He, however said that the Duterte administration is totally different from previous administrations, as it has invested much in infrastructure projects which in effect would change the lives of the poor.

The representative of Bohol’s third district explained that in 2006, the poverty level of the province reached as high as 35 percent.

In 2010, Yap said, the poverty level of Bohol reached the highest rate of 51 percent.

“The government’s investment program on new infrastructure and irrigation projects, the current government is able to lower the poverty level to 21 percent,” he further claimed.

He said the farmers must get the necessary assistance on seeds and soil management in order to ensure their productivity.

He also said that investing in agriculture sector will help boost the tourism-based economy of the province.

“We have 1.3 million Boholanos. If we can feed two million more, it means that we can accommodate tourists with that number,” Yap said in Cebuano, adding that the growth in local tourism industry would surely uplift the lives of the poor.


SC asked to issue TRO vs. Bangsamoro Organic Law

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 18): SC asked to issue TRO vs. Bangsamoro Organic Law

A petition filed before the Supreme Court (SC) is asking the tribunal to declare the Bangsamoro Oranic Law (Republic Act No. 11054) as unconstitutional and void.

In its suit received by the SC on Dec. 11, the Philipine Constitution Association (Philconsa), through counsels Rodolfo O. Reyes and Manuel M. Lazaro, urged the High Court to invalidate the fledgling law and to stop the release of funds for the legislation.

"Unless a TRO or preliminary injunction is issued, petitioner and the Filipino people will continue to suffer from a grave and irreparable damage or injury inclusive of the adverse aftermaths to the nation, warned by the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) to happen, should the government fail to succumb to the politically irresistible aspirations of the MILF," the petition said.

The suit suggests that the enactment of amendatory law to change the name Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and the inclusion of additional territories the MILF desires is not in accordance with laws and the Constitution.


SC to decide on Bangsamoro law's constitutionality

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 18): SC to decide on Bangsamoro law's constitutionality

Malacañang said Tuesday it will let the Supreme Court (SC) decide on the constitutionality of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) after a group of framers of the 1987 Constitution asked the high court to declare it unconstitutional and void.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo made this remark after the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), in a petition filed on December 11, questioned the legality of the BOL (Republic Act No. 11054), which forms the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Philconsa claimed that BOL violates the 1987 Constitution as only an amendment to the Charter would allow the creation of a new autonomous region.

Panelo, however, said Malacañang will keep its hands off the matter, citing the sub judice rule that restricts comments and disclosures pertaining to judicial proceedings to avoid prejudging the issue, influencing the court, or obstructing the administration of justice.

“We will let the Supreme Court decide on that matter. As we said, we will always defer to the other branch of the government,” Panelo said in a Palace briefing.

“I said we will defer to the Supreme Court. It’s sub judice so we will not make any comment on that,” he added.

On July 26 this year, Duterte signed the BOL, which seeks to establish a new Bangsamoro political entity to replace the ARMM and achieve national rapprochement with the Moro rebel groups.

Formerly known as the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the BOL is premised on the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, a signed peace deal.

He urged Filipinos to give the BOL a chance to succeed in providing the Bangsamoro more autonomy, and at the same time keep the country “indivisible.”

Duterte expressed hope that the BOL would be ratified during its plebiscite on January 21, 2019.


Albayalde orders PNP units to intensify ops vs. NPA

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 18): Albayalde orders PNP units to intensify ops vs. NPA


Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief, Director General Oscar Albayalde, on Tuesday ordered all police units to stay vigilant and intensify operations against the terrorist New People’s Army (NPA) despite the latter's declaration of a unilateral ceasefire.

Albayalde said he directed all police units to beef up internal security and intelligence operations against the leftist group to ensure peace and order during the Christmas holidays.

“Kaya nga ang sabi natin yung ating mga kapulisan (I told our police force), they should be always alert and vigilant. Kamakailan lang merong harrassment na nangyari kaya ito yung sinasabi natin na (Recently there is a harrassment incident that’s why I’m telling) they should maintain their alertness and of course, (their) camp defense plan,” Albayalde told reporters on Tuesday in ambush interview.

Earlier, the CPP-NPA said they will observe a temporary holiday ceasefire on 12:01 a.m. of December 24 until 11:59 p.m. of December 26; and at 12:01 a.m. of December 31 until 11:59 p.m. of January 1, during the Christmas holidays.

The CPP-NPA will also be celebrating their 50th founding anniversary during the period.

Asked if there have monitored threats from the NPA, Albayalde answered: “Actually meron na (there is a) threat.”

“In Sorsogon, so we expect na meron pa rin mangyayari na ganyan kaya (that there are occurrences so) we have to be on guard lagi (always). Alam naman natin na (We know that) this leftist group, lalo na yung (especially their) armed wing are really trying to show that they are still a force to reckon with. These are very isolated and being perpetrated (in) remote areas (especially in what we call) soft targets,” he added.

Police mobile strike forces were earlier deployed to 10 provinces in Eastern Visayas, Negros Island and Bicol region and have linked-up with their AFP counterparts in an active defense posture to strengthen community defenses against the NPA, the CPP's armed wing.

Albayalde said that while the PNP maintains a stiff and decisive stance against the CPP/NPA, it is keeping the doors open to all rebels deceived by the false promise of a just society under communist rule, and now want to lead normal lives with their families.


Reds claims of massive military losses false: AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 18): Reds claims of massive military losses false: AFP

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) dispelled claims of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) that the military has sustained severe losses in its ongoing campaign against the rebels in Mindanao.

"The claims of the CPP-NPA that the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) had casualties is not true. It´s their way of covering up for the debacle that they suffered in the series of encounters in the Agusan Sur-Bukidnon boundaries that resulted to the capture of the area that is suitable for a huge clandestine gathering," Col. Noel Detoyato, AFP public affairs office chief, said in a message to the Philippine News Agency Tuesday.

He added that information given by the surrenderers was a big help in pinpointing the exact location of the two clandestine areas.

"In the next few days, we expect more surrenderers to come down and avail of the E-Clip offered by the Task Force Balik Loob headed By Usec. (Reynaldo) Mapagu of DND (Department of National Defense). They will take advantage of the 'ceasefire' declared by the CPP-NPA," Detoyato said.

NCRPO, Army to lead probe on arms haul seized from couple

From the Philippine News Agency (Dec 18): NCRPO, Army to lead probe on arms haul seized from couple

The National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) and the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army will conduct a joint probe on the couple, who were arrested for allegedly supplying firearms and ammunition to local terrorist groups in Mindanao - as well as to “rogue” politicians – during an entrapment operation in Valenzuela City.

“I have already coordinated with the commanding general of 7th ID (Infantry Division) and nakapagkasunduan nga na (it was agreed upon that) we will be conducting a joint investigation and they are so much willing to cooperate in the investigation,” Albayalde told reporters in an ambush interview Tuesday.

“This is a serious matter. Kung talagang totoo na nanggaling doon sa arsenal nila ito napaka delikado nito, napakarami. (If it is true that these came frome their arsenal, it is really dangerous. These are lots of weapons.) Almost 13,000 rounds (of) ammunition and high powered firearms are coming there and these are going into the hands of the terrorists and even criminal groups especially in Mindanao,” Albayalde stressed.

Albayalde said the operation stemmed from intelligence information provided by PNP units in Mindanao regarding arms sales provided by a civilian informant.

“Further intelligence research revealed that Medel also figured in previous arms transaction with buyers from Mindanao. A subsequent test buy was conducted wherein NCRPO operatives were able to obtain ammunition from Medel, who also assured them he can also supply as many as 10 rifles,” he said.

Albayalde said the couple has agreed to meet the police officer, who served as the poseur- buyer for the pickup of PHP1.2 million worth of firearms and ammunition.

Seized during the operation were two assault rifles, a handgun and 12,893 rounds of live ammunition for M-60 light machine gun and M-16 assault rifle.

The PNP said initial investigation showed that among the couple’s clients were the Maute terrorists and the Abu Sayyaf Group, as well as politicians who uses arms to gain advantage over their competitors, particularly as the mid-term election nears.

Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Tuesday said it is now conducting its own investigation on how weapons and ammunition intended for the military landed in the hands of the couple.

"Yes, the (Philippine) Army is already on it," AFP public affairs office chief Col. Noel Detoyato said.

He added that the military investigation will start from the initial probe of the Philippine National Police (PNP), which took custody of those caught in possession of the weapons and ammunition.

"In (the) light of the recent PNP apprehension of gunrunners in (Valenzuela) and the recovery of firearms with ammunition stamped with AFP markings, the AFP is conducting an immediate investigation to verify the source of these firearms and ammunition. While we can already confirm that the captured firearms are not in our inventory, only a thorough inventory of our ammunition stocks will confirm whether there are losses in our stocks that could have fallen to the hands of these gunrunners," Detoyato noted.

Detoyato also said the markings on the ammunition boxes will play a key role in the ongoing investigation.

"Also from the markings on the boxes of the ammo packaging so that the unit source can be traced. If its imported, or from (the) Government Arsenal, it has its lot numbers that can be used to trace the issuing unit. The paper trail can be followed," the AFP public affairs office chief said.

He also assured the implementation of strict handling and control of ammunition, as well as the conduct of periodic inventory and wall-to-wall counting to account for each and every cartridge.