Tuesday, February 5, 2019

PNP: Jolo blasts considered solved

From Tempo (Feb 5. 2019): PNP: Jolo blasts considered solved

THE Philippine National Police (PNP) disclosed Tuesday that the twin explosions at a cathedral in Jolo, Sulu, last month has already been solved with the surrender of the five suspects and the filing of charges against them.
However, Senior Superintendent Bernard Banac, PNP spokesperson, noted that the case cannot be considered “closed” yet as deeper investigation is still being conducted to arrest at least 14 other suspects, including Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan.

“This case is solved but not yet closed. This means that the suspects were already placed under police custody and the charges against them were already filed. We cannot close the case yet because pursuit operations are still on-going against the other at-large suspects,” Banac said.

The twin explosions occured at Our Lady of Mount Carmel on January 27 which resulted in the death of 23 persons.

Over the weekend, five suspects linked to the twin bomb attacks at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral surrendered to authorities, according to PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde.

They were identified as Kammah Pae alias Kammah, from Abu Sayyaf Group-affiliated Ajang-Ajang; Albaji Kisae alias Awag and his sons Rajan Bakil alias Radjan and Kaisar Bakil alias Isal; and Salit Alih alias Papong.

Charges for 23 counts of murder, 95 counts of frustrated murder, and damage to property were filed against them and 14 other suspects before the Sulu Provinvial Prosecutor’s Office on Monday.

Other respondents include Sawadjaan, Usman Absarah, Barak Ingog, Makrim Abisi, Bapah Absara, one alias Ebing, and several John and Jane Does.

Earlier, Albayalde said Kammah Pae and his cohorts were “forced” to surrender “out of fear for their lives” because of the massive pursuit operations being conducted by the police and military.

Albayalde also noted that Kammah Pae admitted to being part of the Ajang-Ajang Group but denied his involvement in the Jolo cathedral bombing.

Banac, for his part, maintained that the “Kammah” they had in custody is the same person that the police and military have been hunting all along.

On the other hand, he said the police and military will continue to work on “further developments” of the case.

“Our coordination with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is continuous. We have created a special investigation task group [SITG Mount Carmel] to monitor further developments,” Banac said.

Meanwhile, Senior Superintendent Edgar Monsalve, Intelligence Group (IG) director, confidently said that the suspect “Kammah” they identified through intelligence monitoring and the “Kammah” who surrendered to authorities “is one and the same person.”


Philippines ‘facing a new wave of terror’: Experts

From the Arab News (Feb 4. 2019): Philippines ‘facing a new wave of terror’: Experts

Director General Oscar Albayalde of the Philippine National Police at a news conference Monday to announce the surrender of five suspected Abu Sayyaf militants. (AP)

  • On Jan. 27 the bombing of a Roman Catholic cathedral on Sulu island left 23 dead and more than 100 injured
  • Security analysts say Manila urgently needs new counterinsurgency strategy
  • The Philippines is facing the threat of a new wave of terror attacks following the recent cathedral bombing which killed 23 people, security experts have warned.

    A new counterterrorism strategy is urgently required to combat an influx of Daesh-inspired foreign fighters who are expected to launch further raids over the coming months.

    Rohan Gunaratna, a professor of security studies at Nanyang Technological University, in Singapore, told Arab News that since the five-month siege of the Philippine city of Marawi in 2017, the threat from Daesh-linked militants has spread to other regions of Mindanao.

    The Philippine authorities declared victory against Daesh in the country after government forces won a bloody battle to liberate Marawi from insurgents led by the Maute Group.

    But Gunaratna said that since then, the regeneration of Daesh in the Philippines has created an environment for the flow of foreign terrorist fighters into the country. And unless the government immediately addresses the situation, he warned of more attacks like last month’s deadly bombing of the Roman Catholic cathedral on Jolo Island, Sulu province, which also injured more than 100 people.

    “The Philippines is facing a new phase of threat influenced by foreign fighters, ideologies, and funding,” Gunaratna said. “Manila needs a new counterinsurgency strategy to restore strategic peace in Mindanao. Otherwise, the progress made to create a Bangsamoro entity (an autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao) will be negated.”

    He said the strategy should be to contain, isolate and eliminate the main four Daesh-centric groups identified as posing the greatest terrorism threat to the Philippines.

    “They present a long-term threat to the stability to the region. There is no better opportunity than to do so immediately after the Sulu attack,” he added.

    Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, in Jakarta, backed up Gunaratna’s views.

    Jones said it was a mistake to think “that military means could defeat an ideology that has taken root among some groups in Mindanao.” The militants driven from Marawi have remained active, he told Arab News.

    Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has already admitted that the country has been monitoring foreign fighters from Malaysia, Indonesia, Morocco, Yemen, and Pakistan who are in Sulu, Basilan, and Central Mindanao. There have also been reports of the presence of a foreign fighter from Singapore and a suspected Egyptian suicide bomber.

    Lorenzana said Daesh-linked groups in the Philippines had been actively recruiting foreign fighters, and an intelligence report obtained by Arab News recently also indicated that one commander had been communicating with potential recruits via social media.

    The Philippines is working closely with foreign governments, particularly the US, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, in the fight against terrorism, said Lorenzana.

    In a forum at the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Monday, Lorenzana said that the US had been swift to help following the cathedral bombing. “They helped us immediately, but they were (also) helping us track these terrorists even before the bombing,” he added. Singapore had also offered information on possible perpetrators.

    Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines are “infested by terrorists,” Lorenzana said. “But we are all in this together and we have agreed to fight this together.”

    Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) announced on Monday that one of the main suspects in the Jolo bombing, Kammah Pae, and four others are now in police custody.

    Aside from Pae, the four other suspects are all said to be members of the terror cell Ajang Ajang, part of the Abu Sayyaf group.


    Indonesia offers help to the Philippines to identify Jolo bombers

    From Xinhua (Feb 5, 2019): Indonesia offers help to the Philippines to identify Jolo bombers

    Philippine Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Ano said on Tuesday that Indonesia has expressed willingness to help Philippine authorities identify the Indonesian "suicide bombers" that carried out the twin blasts on Jan. 27 which left 23 people dead and more than 100 others wounded.

    "It is officially confirmed that (the Jolo incident) was a case of suicide bombing. The bombers for both explosions are Indonesian couple," Ano said.

    The conclusion is based on post blast and forensic investigation as well as the testimonies of survivors, Ano said.

    He said authorities are in the process of identifying the Indonesian bombers. "It may take time. The Indonesian government is willing to assist," he added.

    On last Monday, the Philippine National Police (PNP) filed multiple murder and frustrated murder charges against alleged members of the Abu Sayyaf Group suspected of plotting the Jolo blasts.

    PNP Chief Director General Oscar Albayalde said the five suspects led by Kamah Pae have surrendered to police over the last weekend.

    The PNP also filed charges against 14 other suspects still at large, including the group's leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, alias "Imam".

    All suspects are facing 23 counts of murder, 95 counts of frustrated murder, and a case of damage to property, according to Albayalde.

    Albayalde said that the suspects were part of a 22-member Abu Sayyaf band led by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan.

    Three other suspects, including two suicide bombers believed to be Indonesian male and females, have died.


    Naval Forces hold donning of ranks, awarding ceremonies

    From the Sun Star-Zamboanga (Feb 5, 2019): Naval Forces hold donning of ranks, awarding ceremonies

    ZAMBOANGA. Rear Admiral Rene Medina, Naval Forces Western Mindanao command chief (left), pins medal to a sailor during the Donning of Ranks and Awards on Monday, February 4, at the Naval Station Romulo Espaldon. (Contributed photo)

    THE Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NFWM) has donned ranks and awards to the Fleet-Marine Personnel for gallantry in action while in the performance of their mandated tasks.

    Rear Admiral Rene Medina, NFWM commander, led the donning of ranks to the newly promoted enlisted personnel and awarding ceremony to the gallant sailors and marines held on Monday, February 4, at the NFWM headquarters in Zamboanga City. The award of Bronze Cross Medal was given to Marine Battalion Landing Team-11 (MBLT-11) and 83rd Inshore Boat Company of the Inshore Boat Battalion for the successful conduct of raid operations on November 23, 2018 which led to the neutralization of Alias Abu Nibras, a known Basilan-based Abu Sayyaf Bomb maker.

    Alias Abu Nibras was behind the July 2018 Lamitan City bombing incident that killed 10 people, including five militiamen.

    The members of the Seaborn Patrol Unit of Naval Station Romulo Espaldon also received the award of Bronze Cross Medal for the successful search and rescue operations of the victims of a distressed motor boat on October 20, 2018 near Maasin village, this city.

    Military Merit Medal is given to the officers and men of Philippine Marine Ready Force-Sulu (PMRF-S) for services rendered during the conduct of security operations assisting the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in the January 21 plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

    Military Merit Medal was also given to the officers, enlisted personnel and civilian employees of NFWM for attaining the highest rating among other Naval Operating Forces during the conduct of Annual General Inspection 2018.

    The members of basketball team and the men and women volleyball team of NFWW also received the award of Military Commendation Medal for participating and winning as 1st Runner up during the Inter-Government Agency Basketball and Volleyball tournament organized by the city government October 2018 to January 2019.

    Medina congratulated and commended the sailors and marines who were just promoted to the higher rank as well as the awardees for the exemplary performance of their duty.

    Meanwhile, Medina condemned the recent bombing of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu and grenade attack on a mosque in Zamboanga City.

    “We in Team Navforwem is doing the best we can to help our operators in the ground in pursuing those perpetrators and prevent the same incident to happen again,” Medina said.


    Army’s 4ID new commander installed

    From the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Feb 5, 2019): Army’s 4ID new commander installed

    THE Philippine Army's 4th Infantry Division on Tuesday, February 05, installed a new commander to head the military force in Caraga and Northern Mindanao regions.

    The new commander, Brigadier General Franco Nemesio Gacal, officially assumed office in a change of command ceremony held Tuesday at Camp Evangelista, Barangay Patag, Cagayan de Oro City. Gacal, a native of General Santos City, is the former 402nd Brigade commander in Agusan del Norte and Surigao del Norte.

    He replaced Major General Ronald Villanueva, who took his post as the 4ID commander in August 2017. Late last year, Villanueva also serve as commander Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) in an acting capacity.

    Villanueva has sought for an early retirement.

    Under Villanueva's leadership, about 468 New People's Army (NPA) surrendered and another 570 militia ng bayan and 3,150 NPA supporters also surrendered.

    Gacal, as brigade commander caused the surrender of about 139 NPA rebels, 142 militia ng bayan, and another 1,256 NPA supporters in his area of responsibility.

    He vowed to sustain the gains of the previous leadership and reduce the number of NPA rebels by stopping the cycle of recruitment.

    “We will embark on a peaceful war, a non-kinetic war to defeat the enemy. We need reconciliation, we need peace-building,” he said.

    “Maganda lahat ng aspirations ng Region 10 and 13, economic and social progress so kailangan ng collaboration with our government agencies,” he added.

    Gacal also warned that the military will use its power against those who challenge the government and his leadership.


    Police recover explosive device in Surigao Sur

    From the Sun Star-Cagayan de Oro (Feb 5, 2019): Police recover explosive device in Surigao Sur

    SURIGAO DEL SUR. The Explosive Ordnance Division team recovered an improvised explosive device in a national highway of Marihatag, Surigao del Sur. (Contributed photo)

    AN ANTI-TANK improvised explosive device (IED) was unearthed along the national highway of Barangay Amontay, Marihatag, Surigao del Sur last Friday, February 1.

    Authorities recovered one anti-tank IED buried along the said national highway with a dimension of eight inches diameter, one foot height and weighs up to seven kilos. An excavation of the Department of Public Works and Highways which started on January 28 led to the recovery of the anti-tank IED with wiring and a blasting cap.

    A team from the Explosive Ordnance Division disarmed and removed the said IED.

    The explosive device was turned over to the Philippine Army for proper disposition.


    Two explosions in Lanao del Norte

    From Malaya Business Insight (Feb 6, 2019): Two explosions in Lanao del Norte

    TWO explosions rocked Lanao del Norte yesterday, eve of the plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law.

    No one was reported killed or injured in the blasts.

    One occurred at the back of Kauswagan town hall at around 4:50 p.m., said Col. Alex Aduca, spokesman of the Task Force Plebisito of the Army’s 3n2 Mechanized Brigade.

    Aduco said the improvised explosive device (IED), placed in a bag, was left under a dump truck.

    Aduco said the second IED explosion occurred around 4:35 p.m. in front of a gas station in Barangay Maranding in Lala town.

    “We’re still confirming who is behind these,” said Aduco.

    Asked if the blasts were related to the BOL plebiscite, Aduco said: “That’s one of the angles were looking into – peace spoilers who want to sow fear.”

    Aduco expressed confidence no further bombings will occur “because we already intensified our checkpoint operations and our patrols.”


    Año: Jolo cathedral attack a case of suicide bombing

    From Malaya Business Insight (Feb 6, 2019): Año: Jolo cathedral attack a case of suicide bombing

    INTERIOR Secretary Eduardo Año yesterday said the bomb attack at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo town in Sulu on January 27 is a case of suicide bombing involving an Indonesian couple.

    “It’s officially confirmed that it’s a case of suicide bombing,” Año said referring to the twin bombings at the church, which killed 23 persons and injured about 100 others.

    Año said the conclusion was based on the “post-blast and forensic investigation, as well as the testimonies of survivors.” The investigation was conducted by the police.

    The cathedral attack is the second case of suicide bombing in the country. The first was in July last year when a Moroccan blew himself up in Lamitan City, killing 11 people. Officials initially denied the Lamitan incident was a case of suicide bombing.

    Año said the cathedral bombers are an Indonesian husband and wife couple.

    He said the Indonesian government “is willing to assist” in the identification of the two.

    Intelligence reports said the couple, identified by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier as Yemenis, linked up with the group of Abu Sayyaf leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan after arriving in Sulu from Indonesia.

    The two, prior to the blasts, were escorted to Jolo by Kammah Pae alias Kamah, a member of the Ajang-Ajang which is a group associated with the Abu Sayyaf.

    Pae and four other suspects surrendered to authorities on Saturday and Sunday. PNP chief Oscar Albayalde said Monday Pae did not admit participation in the attack but his cohorts said Pae “escorted” the Indonesians to his (Pae’s) house in Jolo.

    Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has said another man with the name “Kamah” is behind the blasts, and not the one who surrendered last Saturday.

    Officials have said about 40 foreign terrorists are in the country, mostly in Sulu and Maguindanao.

    The foreign terrorists supposedly include Indonesians, Malaysians, Pakistanis, Moroccans, Egyptians, and Singaporeans.

    Año said the foreign terrorists continue to teach Filipino terrorists on suicide bombing.

    “By showing and doing these suicide bombings, they are expecting the Filipino Muslim terrorists would follow soon. They underestimate the influence of Filipino culture on our Muslim brothers,” he said.PNP spokesman Senior Supt. Bernard Banac said the police force considers the Jolo bombing case as solved but not yet closed.

    “We’ve arrested the (five) suspects and filed charges against them so the case is solved but it does not necessarily mean it’s closed because we continue to pursue other suspects. We continue to pursue them as of now,” he said.

    Police said there are 14 other suspects in the blasts, including Sawadjaan, who Banac said masterminded the attack. Soldiers clashed with Sawadjaan’s group in Patikul on Saturday. The clash left five soldiers and three terrorists dead.

    Banac said Kamah, during questioning, denied any involvement in the bombing “but his four companions admitted that he is their leader.”

    Banac maintained that Kamah and his companions provided transportation and food to the Indonesian couple “until the bombing of the Sulu cathedral was consummated.”

    “It’s his right to deny the charges against him. That is his right. But because of the testimony and evidence we gathered against him, we included him in the case (that was filed),” Banac said.


    Maguindanao bomb blast misses candidate’s convoy

    From Malaya Business Insight (Feb 6, 2019): Maguindanao bomb blast misses candidate’s convoy

    AN improvised bomb exploded in Talayan town in Maguindanao yesterday, barely missing the convoy of former town mayor Datu Ali Midtimbang Sr. who is running for mayor in the May elections.

    PNP spokesman Senior Supt. Bernard Banac said one person sustained minor injuries.

    Banac said the bomb, placed in a motorcycle, exploded at around 11:45 a.m. The motorcycle was parked on the side of the national highway in Sitio Nes in Barangay Tambunan.

    He said initial investigation showed two unidentified men on board two motorcycles “stopped, parked one motorcycle on the side of the road, and pretended to buy fruits from a nearby makeshift store.”

    They left aboard one motorcycle.

    The motorcycle that was left behind exploded moments later, Banac said, when the convoy of Midtimbang “was passing by, and barely a few meters away.” No one was reported hurt from Midtimbang’s convoy.

    The injured person was fruit vendor Sera Mangelen, 25, a resident of the town.

    Responding bomb experts from the Army and the Talayan town police recovered bomb components from the blast site.

    Asked if the attack was politically motivated, Banac said, “It’s hard to speculate. We’re still determining (the motive). But based on the initial investigation, we are now in the election period so it could be a reason to harm anyone.”

    Maj. Arvin Encinas, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the blast site was about 100 meters from a checkpoint manned by soldiers.


    WESTMINCOM: JTF Zamboanga prepares for youth peace camp

    Posted to the Western Mindanao Command (WESTMINCOM) (Feb 4, 2019): JTF Zamboanga prepares for youth peace camp

    A consultative meeting was conducted by the Civil Military Operation officer of Joint Task Force Zamboanga with 22 youth leaders of the city at the Detachment of the Alpha Company, 11th Infantry Battalion at 2pm yesterday (February 3, 2019).

    The meeting was done purposely to discuss the Youth Leadership Seminar overview and the preparations for the upcoming Gawad Kalinga Youth Peace Camp.

    Also present in the said activity was Mr. Judy Selloriquez of the Gawad Kalinga/Youth for Peace Movement and Mr. Jufel Pacana of the Crime Watch Volunteers of Zamboanga City.


    WESTMINCOM: With lamps in their hands, soldiers win battle in Maguindanao

    Posted to the Western Mindanao Command (WESTMINCOM) (Feb 4, 2019): With lamps in their hands, soldiers win battle in Maguindanao

    With lamps as their weapon, troops from the 33rd Infantry Battalion successfully operated in a remote village in southern Liguasan Marsh to free the villagers from the infiltration of darkness on January 25, 2019.

    The army soldiers handed over solar torches that works both as a flash light and lamp to each and every household in the village as part of the “Light a Barangay” project.

    Since the start of this project, the troops of the 33IB led by Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc have already provided 32 solar lamp posts and 300 solar flashlights and still continuously conducting social and civic operations in the different villages of Maguindanao including the former armed conflict-affected area of Barangay Midpandacan, General Salipada K. Pendatun which bring them closer to the populace.

    “Gaining the people’s trust, we facilitated the surrender of 41 members of the notorious drug syndicates in Bulod without employing coercive military operations. They have also collaborated with us in confronting the Dawlah Islamiya Toraife Group,” Lieutenant Colonel Cabunoc said.


    WESTMINCOM: BIFF sub-commander and his followers surrender in Maguindanao

    Posted to the Western Mindanao Command (WESTMINCOM) (Feb 4, 2019): BIFF sub-commander and his followers surrender in Maguindanao

    One (1) Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) sub-commander under Karialan faction and nine (9) of his members who surrendered to the troops of the 601st Infantry Brigade in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao were presented to Joint Task Force Central/6th Infantry Division Commander Major General Cirilito E. Sobejana by 601st Brigade Commander Brigadier General Diosdado C. Carreon at the Officer’s Club House of the 6th Infantry Division in Awang, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao yesterday (February 3, 2019).

    Commander Gani Saligan, 4th Brigade Commander of 2nd Division, BIFF and his followers namely; Rafael Asim, Ksain Bantilan, Alex Datungan, Aladin Saligan, Longs Bantilan, Elmer Mangatog, Alan Saligan, Muhammid Maslamama, and Kanaw Maslamama submitted themselves to the government forces on February 1, bringing along with them their high-powered firearms including one 50 Caliber Barret rifle, Ultimax 5.56mm rifle, M14 rifle, and 45 Caliber pistol with assorted magazines and ammunitions.
    “I want to live a peaceful life with my family. There are promises from our leadership that did not happen,” said Saligan.

    “Even our organization has its problems, particularly the leadership,” Saligan added.

    “The surrender of the rebels is a breakthrough in countering violent extremism considering that there are still members of the outlawed group who desired to return to the folds of law,” Major General Sobejana said.

    “We encourage other members of the BIFF as this is a good opportunity for them to live a better life and eye-opener that the soldiers will not hurt them, but instead, we will provide a necessary assistance and care to include health services.”

    “We will help the surrenderors to go back to their normal lives by assisting them in getting livelihood opportunities through the local government. Each individual initially received 10,000 pesos as assistance from the provincial government of Maguindanao.”

    “We will also ensure their safety and security as these people won’t be lured to join the rebel group again,” Major General Sobejana added.

    As of this date, a total of 53 BIFF members surrendered to the 6th Infantry Division.

    “I commend the troops of the Joint Task Force Central under MGen Sobejana for their unfaltering campaign against terrorism in their area of operation,” said Lieutenant General Arnel B. Dela Vega, commander of the Western Mindanao Command.

    “Though there are unexpected circumstances that disrupt our mission, the Armed Forces is still gaining grounds in our intensified operations against radicalism and terrorism,” he added.


    EASTMINCOM: Surrender continues to weaken NPA

    Posted to the Eastern Mindanao Command (EASTMINCOM) Website (Feb 5, 2019): Surrender continues to weaken NPA

    NSFA, Panacan, Davao City - Eastern Mindanao Command (EMC) noted surrender remains the main NPA neutralization during the first month of the year.

    This was reflected in a briefing made by MGen. Felimon T. Santos Jr., Commander of Eastern Mindanao Command to Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr. during the latter's visit in Headquarters EMC in Naval Station Felix Apolinario, Panacan Davao City on February 5, 2019,

    MGen. Santos Jr., in his report, accounted for 37 NPA regular members and 26 members of the Militiang Bayan from January 1- 31, 2019 in the whole area of EMC. In their surrender, they brought along with them 33 assorted firearms.

    Additionally, MGen. Santos' report reflects that troops figured in 20 encounters wherein nine NPA regulars were killed while 3 others were arrested leading to the capture of 25 various firearms.

    The visit of the CSAFP is part of his situational assessment and way of issuing operational guidance in peace and security effort of the AFP.

    MGen Santos during the conference vowed to sustain the pressure against the terrorist group and operational gains of EMC and reechoed to all units through a directive to continue the effort in peace constituency building and harness the support of the other agency through Executive Order 70 to address the socio-economic dimension of the insurgency.

    "We shall take advantage of the operational gains of the Command in building conflict resilient communities. While we continue to eliminate the threat of armed conflict, we should work an extra mile to prepare our communities in a post-conflict scenario to cut the cycle of insurgency in our area of responsibility once and for all and contribute to the overall objective of the PRRD to bring sustainable peace in the country." MGen Santos said.

    Source: Public Information Office, Eastern Mindanao Command


    2 explosions hit Lanao del Norte on eve of BOL plebiscite

    From Rappler (Feb 5, 2019): 2 explosions hit Lanao del Norte on eve of BOL plebiscite

    No casualties have been reported so far
    EXPLOSIONS. Amy and police operators secure the explosion site along the national highway in Maranding, Lala, Lanao del Norte. Photo by Bobby Lagsa/Rappler
    EXPLOSIONS. Amy and police operators secure the explosion site along the national highway in Maranding, Lala, Lanao del Norte. Photo by Bobby Lagsa/Rappler

    LANAO DEL NORTE, Philippines – Two grenade explosions occurred here on Tuesday, February 5, a day before the second leg of the Bangsamoro plebiscite.

    One of the explosions occurred in Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte, around 4:50 pm Tuesday. No casualties were reported.

    "The explosive was emplaced under a dump truck parked at the back of the municipal hall," said Col. Thomas Sedano, the 2nd Mechanized Brigade commander.

    "Currently the area was already cordoned while the elements of PNP Explosive Ordnance Division were conducting investigation to determine the kind of explosive and identify culprits of the incident," Sedano added.

    Another explosion occurred near a Petron gasoline station along the national highway in Maranding, Lala, Lanao del Norte.

    There were no recorded casualties as well. Authorities are still verifying what type of fragmentation exploded. (READ: Comelec: Security is 'main concern' in BOL plebiscite on February 6)

    The explosion in Maranding occurred after K9 units inspected vehicles parked outside the Christ the King Church an hour earlier.

    Witnesses outside the church said that K9 units sat on the suspected motorcyle, forcing authorities to take the motorcycle and bring it to the Lanao del Norte Provincial Police Headquarters for inspection.

    "Everything is under control, and we encourage everyone not to panic and exercise their right to vote," said Major General Roseller Murillo, 1st Infantry Division and Joint Task Force Zampelan commander.

    "Rest assured that the Tabak troopers and PNPs will respond to any eventualities that will emerge during and after the BOL election," Murillo added.


    Why the second Bangsamoro plebiscite matters

    From Rappler (Feb 5, 2019): Why the second Bangsamoro plebiscite matters
    The February 6 plebiscite in areas in Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato is more than just the final hurdle for advocates of the new Bangsamoro region. Here's why.
    HISTORIC PLEBISCITE. The second part of the plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law is set for February 6, 2019. File photo by Martin San Diego/Rappler
    HISTORIC PLEBISCITE. The second part of the plebiscite on the Bangsamoro Organic Law is set for February 6, 2019. File photo by Martin San Diego/Rappler

    LANAO DEL NORTE, Philippines – Residents of areas in Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato will have their chance to decide whether or not they want to join a new and powerful Muslim region on Wednesday, February 6.
    It is the final hurdle to seeing the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), which seeks to replace – and outdo – the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
    Residents in Lanao del Norte, except Iligan City, and 7 towns in North Cotabato will be asked if they agree to having key areas of their provinces included in the new Bangsamoro region.
    The vote on Wednesday makes for the second voting day in the Bangsamoro plebiscite. It follows the first voting day last January 21, which saw a majority of residents in the ARMM and Cotabato City vote in favor of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).
    But if the BOL was already ratified and the BARMM already created, why does this second vote still matter?
    1. It will ensure a larger BARMM with greater territory.
    If majority of residents in Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato vote in favor of the BARMM, 6 Lanao del Norte towns and 67 North Cotabato barangays would be added to the new Bangsamoro region's territory.
    Along with Cotabato City's "yes" vote, this would ensure that the BARMM will cover more areas than the ARMM.
    For University of the Philippines Islamic Studies professor Julkipli Wadi, this is important because the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would be heading a truly new autonomous region. (WATCH: Rappler Talk: MILF chief Murad on hopes, challenges for the Bangsamoro vote)
    "If they will not be able to get these areas, it would mean it is only in Cotabato that the MILF had got, which would not really speak of the MILF as heading a new territory," Wadi said.
    However, getting these territories to join the BARMM will not be easy.
    The vote faces the difficult challenge of winning a double majority. This means residents in both the areas seeking inclusion and their mother units need to vote "yes" to their being a part of the BARMM.
    If majority of residents in either the concerned municipalities or the province vote no, the area will not be part of the Bangsamoro region.
    Institute for Autonomy and Governance executive director Ben Bacani said Wednesday's vote in Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato also present a second chance for voters to voice their sentiments on joining a new autonomous region. These areas previously voted to be included in the ARMM during the 2001 plebiscite under Republic Act No. 9054, but their mother units rejected it.
    "They said yes in the last plebiscite. So it is significant in the sense that there is now an opportunity to recognize, if this is self-determination, their voice," Bacani said.
    2. The MILF is up against the ruling and powerful Dimaporo clan.
    While the MILF has a strong presence in the 6 Lanao del Norte municipalities vying for inclusion – Tagoloan, Balo-i, Pantar, Munai, Nunungan, and Tangcal – it is up against the powerful Dimaporo clan which has ruled the province for over 4 decades.
    In a video message posted on Facebook last Thursday, January 31, controversial MILF commander Abdullah Macapaar, known as Commander Bravo, urged residents to vote "yes" for peace. The alternative, he said, would be a "violation of our right to live in peace."
    On the eve of the plebiscite, Lanao del Norte 2nd District Representative Abdullah Dimaporo told Rappler that he expects a landslide win for the "no" vote in the province.
    Dimaporo is banking on the majority Christian population to troop to the polls. He's convinced they will vote in favor of exclusion as they had delivered votes in support of his family for years.
    He likewise downplayed the majority "yes" vote seen among the youth who make up 45% of voters in Lanao del Norte, saying they would still be outnumbered by the Christian vote.
    Dimaporo added that residents are also not fully convinced by the BOL's promise of peace, as the province had been attacked by the MILF in 2000, 2003, and 2008.
    Unlike in Cotabato City where the presence of MILF members was tolerated, Lanao del Norte residents openly showed opposition upon seeing MILF observers who traveled to the province to guard the vote. (WATCH: Groups engage in standoff on eve of BOL plebiscite in Lanao del Norte)
    Despite the tension in the province, both the MILF and the Dimaporos said they would respect the outcome of the vote.
    "It would be to the best interest of everybody that the democratic process be respected and the results be respected," Bacani said. (READ: More than 2,000 soldiers, cops to secure Bangsamoro plebiscite in Lanao del Norte)
    3. Lanao del Norte hosts MILF camps key to the decommissioning process.
    The second part of the Bangsamoro plebiscite is also crucial because the 6 Lanao del Norte towns eyed for inclusion in the BARMM are where camps of the MILF are located.
    Bacani said seeing their inclusion in the Bangsamoro region would also mean seeing the smoother transition of MILF members from rebels to civilians.
    "If these [areas] get into the whole BARMM, it's part of the whole mainstreaming also of the MILF. Especially in Lanao, kung saan very active si Commander Bravo (where Commander Bravo is very active)," Bacani said.
    The decommissioning process, where rebels lay down their arms in exchange for social and livelihood programs, started as early as 2015. It was part of the peace deal between the MILF and the Philippine government which made the ratification of the BOL possible.

    PEACETALK: Can the MILF carry the momentum in North Cotabato?

    From MindaNews (Feb 5, 2019): PEACETALK: Can the MILF carry the momentum in North Cotabato?

    Can the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) carry the momentum in North Cotabato after the overwhelming victory in Cotabato City?

    In the last two weeks, a resounding ‘Yes’ reverberated among local government officials in every gathering as they manifested their support for the ratification of RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (also referred to as Bangsamoro organic law).

    Excitement and hope filled the atmosphere at the last gathering on January 19 in Kabacan, where about 50,000 Muslim residents from different parts of the province joined local government officials, cabinet officials, military officers, former rebels and members of civil society organizations to manifest their support to the BOL.

    While it was not the first time that the local government officials signified their support to the peace process, it was quite a momentous occasion because of the presence of MILF chief Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and his fellow MILF leaders.

    Last January 12 was perhaps the first time that a highest official of a former enemy of the state had set foot in the seat of government of Cotabato Province.

    Officials of the MILF were ecstatic after hearing the assurance of the local government officials, particularly Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza that they fully support the ratification of the BOL.

    Originally, there were 39 barangays that have been included in the proposed territory of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

    Based on the reports, of the 120 petitions, only 28 have been approved by the Commission on Elections.

    Should the ‘Yes’ vote prevail in all of the 67 barangays in seven towns, it will definitely redraw the map of the province.

    In my recent interview with MILF Information Committee chair Mohagher Iqbal, he expressed confidence; he said he is ‘almost sure’ that ‘yes’ vote will win in North Cotabato.

    Aside from the momentum of the recently concluded plebiscite in Cotabato City, Iqbal was banking on the assurance of the provincial government officials that they fully support the ratification of the BOL as well as the inclusion of the 67 barangays to the proposed BARMM.

    Infographics by KEITH BACONGCO

    Under the law, all towns should vote favorably for the inclusion of the listed barangays to the BARMM. However, some misconceptions still abound on the ground. Some are assuming that if the ‘Yes’ vote will win, the entire town will be part of the BARMM. Again, only the barangays listed in the proposed territory will be part of the BARMM.

    In the town of Pikit, 23 of its 42 barangays are included in the list of proposed territories. Eleven of which have voted ‘Yes’ in the 2001 plebiscite while the 12 new barangays have filed the petition for inclusion.

    This means that more than half of Pikit’s total land area, which is about 604 square kilometers, would be carved out of the province if the ‘Yes’ vote will prevail. In this Muslim-dominated town, over 80% of the 47,000 voters are Muslims.

    In November last year, 19 barangays from Pikit filed petitions for inclusion. Thus, 30 barangays could have been included in the proposed territory. A bigger part of Pikit would have joined the BARMM if the 19 petitions were approved.

    To note, the 23 barangays are more than enough to create a new municipality.

    In Midsayap, 13 of its 57 barangays are included in the proposed BARMM territory. Twelve of them are interconnected except for Central Labas, which is located in the northwest part of the town. However, the 12 barangays which are part of the proposed territories have cut-off barangay Lomopog like an island.

    Barangays Rangeban and Tumbras filed petitions last year but only the latter made it to the list.

    In Pigcawayan, Mayor Eliseo Garcesa was perhaps the first local chief executive I interviewed who openly expressed his support to the ratification of the BOL as well as the inclusion of eight barangays to the proposed BARMM.

    Of the additional six barangays that filed the petition, only four have been approved making the list from eight to 12. These villages are mostly located on the southern portion of the peninsula-shaped municipality.

    Should ‘Yes ‘vote prevail in this town, this would cut about one fourth of its total land area. Only Barangay Patot will be isolated from the 11 adjoining barangays . Patot, which sits on the mountainous northern part of the municipality, was once among the gateways to the sprawling Camp Abubakar Assidique – the former MILF main headquarters.

    Perhaps the most complicated, at least in terms of geographical implications, among the seven towns when the ‘Yes’ vote will win are in the towns of Aleosan, Carmen and Kabacan.

    In Aleosan, the four barangays listed on the proposed territory are not contiguous to Maguindanao but it is interconnected to some barangays in Pikit that are also in the list of proposed Bangsamoro territories. The barangays of Dungguan, Lower Mingading and Tapodoc are among the 39 barangays that voted ‘Yes’ in the 2001 plebiscite while Pagangan was added later after it filed a petition before the Comelec.

    In Carmen, only the village of Kibayao is directly contiguous to Datu Montawal town in Maguindanao. The other six barangays are interconnected to Manarapan, which is among the original 39 barangays.

    The villages of Kibayao, Kitulaan, Langogan Pebpoloan and Tupig were among those added in the list upon getting the approval of Comelec.

    Should the ‘Yes’ vote prevail in Carmen and Kabacan, it would punch a hole in the map of Cotabato Province. Because in Kabacan, the villages of Buluan, Pedtad, Nangaan, Sanggadong Simbuhay, Simone and Tamped are not contiguous to Maguindanao.

    The villages of Nangaan, Simbuhay and Sanggadong were among the 39 barangays. Thus, making the adjoining barangays eligible to file the petition for inclusion.

    In Kabacan, only the village of Sanggadong was isolated from the rest of the adjoining barangays included in the proposed territory.

    The latest to the towns to be added in the list is Tulunan after Galidan village filed the petition for inclusion. The barangay is contiguous to Datu Paglas town in Maguindanao.

    While Iqbal is ‘almost sure’ that they would be able to get all the 67 barangays, in my own view, the town of Pikit will earn a resounding ‘Yes’ vote amongst the seven towns and will certainly redraw its territory on February 6.

    Pikit is home to the third biggest camp of the MILF — the Camp Rajamuda — under the command of veteran Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) commander Jack Abas, chief of the MILF’s Eastern Mindanao Front.

    The number of barangays in Pikit that wanted to join the BARMM speaks a ton of message as to how deep is the influence of the MILF in the grassroots level. It is a clear manifestation of MILF’s control and power in the area.

    More than half of the 67 villages sit on the shores of resource-rich Ligawasan Marsh. For years, the Ligawasan Marsh’s natural resources have remained untapped. Thus, whoever controls these villages may also have the total control of access to the marsh.

    Over the years, hundreds of MILF mujahideen have sacrificed and fought up to their last breath to defend these territories. In Pikit alone, several wars have devastated communities — among these are the 23 barangays — and until today have never fully recovered from the ashes of conflict.

    The seeds of revolution have been nurtured by the blood, sweat and tears of the mujahideen. Do you think they will just let this once in a lifetime opportunity slip away?

    (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her thoughts on peace in Mindanao. Keith Bacongco is a staff photographer of Manila Bulletin based in Davao City. This piece was first published in his blog www.bacongco.com and reposted here with permission. Bacongco grew up in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato and spent most of his early years as journalist in his home province.)


    Army seizes guns, motorbikes in Sultan Kudarat ops

    From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5, 2019): Army seizes guns, motorbikes in Sultan Kudarat ops

    SEIZED. The guns seized from couple-suspects Bai Mashia Sangkai and Amando Ebad during a combined Army-police operation on Monday (Feb. 4) in Barangay Zeneben, Lambayong, Sultan Kudarat. (Photo by 6ID)

    CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao – Army troopers and police officers on Monday seized illegal guns from a couple in Lambayong town, Sultan Kudarat province.

    Acting on reports from concerned citizens, combined elements of the Army’s 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion (MIB) and the Lambayong municipal police swooped down on the house of the suspects in Barangay Zeneben, Lambayong, arrested the couple and recovered the guns.

    Major Arvin John Encinas, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (ID), said the operation at 5 a.m. resulted in the confiscation of an M-79 grenade launcher and one locally made 12-gauge shotgun from Bai Mashia Sangkai and Amando Ebad.

    “Both suspects are now in police custody,” Encinas said.

    He told reporters that informants alerted the Army and police about two persons with guns.

    “The couple was acting suspiciously in the village,” Encinas said.

    Also recovered from the suspects was a motorbike with dubious documents.

    In a separate law enforcement operation on the same day, police and soldiers recovered several motorbikes with questionable papers at a checkpoint that was set up in the same village.

    The operation led to the recovery of 36 motorcycles that were brought to the Lambayong municipal police station for proper documentation and disposition.

    “The cooperation and support of local residents in the area by providing vital information led to the positive result of the operation,” Major Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, 6th ID commander, said.

    He commended the 2nd MIB and the Lambayong police for another successful security operation that resulted in the recovery of firearms and undocumented vehicles.

    Army foils bombing attempt in Maguindanao

    From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5, 2019): Army foils bombing attempt in Maguindanao

    Google map of Talayan, Maguindanao

    CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao – Soldiers manning a checkpoint along a highway in Maguindanao prevented on Tuesday what could have been another bombing incident in the province or nearby areas, a military official said.

    Major Arvin John Encinas, speaking for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said a suspected bomber on board a motorbike was traveling to Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao from Talayan town at 12:30 p.m. but abruptly stopped upon seeing soldiers checking on motorists.

    “The man decided to turn around and ran away, leaving his motorbike behind,” Encinas said. Minutes later, the motorbike exploded and caught fire in Sitio Nes, Barangay Tambunan, Talayan, Maguindanao.

    “The still unidentified bomber was struck by fear that his motorbike would be subjected to scrutiny by soldiers, so he abandoned it,” Encinas said.

    No one was injured in the blast but the incident forced police and Army personnel to shut down portions of the highway for about one hour while clearing operations were being conducted.

    Encinas said they believed that the bombing attempt could be in retaliation over the recent military offensive against the Islamic State-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the province.

    Eight BIFF members were killed during military airstrikes on a terrorist lair in Sultan sa Barongis, Maguindanao on Saturday.


    PH needs better cyber defense

    From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5, 2019): PH needs better cyber defense

    There is a pressing need to improve the country's cyber security, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Monday.

    "Another concern is the increasing attacks in cyber space. Previous years have seen the rise of cyber threats, which can be expected to persists as the vital economic and security mechanism become more connected; thus propagating the opportunity for adversarial states and even non-state actors to create disruption on a global scale," the defense chief said during the National Defense College of the Philippines Alumni Forum, which was dubbed "The National Security Outlook for the Philippines in 2019" and held at the NDCP Compound, Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

    Given the large scope that a simple cyber-attack covers, much attention and resources are needed to curb such incidents, Lorenzana pointed out.

    "Extraordinary attention is required on this matter. It is important to note that the Bangladesh Central Bank heist to which a local bank was implicated must serve as reminder to strengthen both civilian and military networks," the DND chief emphasized.

    Lorenzana said he is pushing for the passage of a law requiring the mandatory registration of SIM cards since a lot of improvised explosive devices in the southern part of the country are being detonated by cellphones.

    "I did not ask Congress, only (Senator Richard) Gordon. I asked him if he could sponsor a bill that requires the mandatory registration of SIM cards. How will it help us? It makes tracking criminals easier," the DND chief said.


    DND to help secure Bangsamoro gains

    From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5, 2019): DND to help secure Bangsamoro gains

    The Department of National Defense (DND) will do everything it can to secure the gains of the Bangsamoro people against all peace spoilers.

    "We will ensure that there is a smooth transition from the current to the new BOL (Bangsamoro Organic Law) government. The Armed Forces (of the Philippines) will be assisting in the disarmament of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and help them transition from a life of fighting to life of peace," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in his speech at the National Defense College of the Philippines Alumni Forum Monday.

    The defense chief also said the success of the first BOL plebiscite last Jan. 21 will operationalize the BOL and pave the way to a greater autonomy and self-governance, and provide more opportunities for long-sought peace and regional growth.

    Another plebiscite for the BOL will be held on Wednesday in the province of Lanao del Norte, except Iligan City; the municipalities of Aleosan, Carmen, Kabacan, Midsayap, Pigcawayan, Pikit, and Tulunan in the province of North Cotabato and the 28 barangays to be included in the proposed region.

    The military has deployed over 10,000 troops and support units to help secure the BOL plebiscite along with the Philippine National Police.


    Pag-asa Island beaching ramp completed soon: Lorenzana

    From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5, 2019): Pag-asa Island beaching ramp completed soon: Lorenzana

    Department of National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said efforts are ongoing to rehabilitate all existing facilities on Pag-asa Island, the largest of the Philippine-occupied feature in the Kalayaan Island Group.

    He made this statement Monday when sought for an update on the ongoing rehabilitation efforts on the island, during the question and answer portion of National Defense College of the Philippines Alumni Forum, which was dubbed "The National Security Outlook for the Philippines in 2019".

    "Our rehabilitation of Pag-asa, it's ongoing, the building of the beaching ramp to be used by the Navy is still ongoing because of (the) rough seas, they have to stop to jive the construction when the sea is a little bit more calm, the problem with Pag-asa is that you have to bring in everything you need for its repair -- steel bars, sand, gravel, heavy equipment," Lorenzana said.

    To expedite these efforts, the DND chief said the construction of the beaching ramp has to be completed so that these items can be brought in.

    "Without that, you have to anchor (the ship carrying these supplies) and bring these (items) in by small (boats)," he added.

    Lorenzana, however, said he expects the beaching ramp to be completed by the first quarter of this year.

    "I believe it should be finished by first quarter of this year, this beaching ramp, and after that we can bring in all the heavy equipment to pave the runway (Rancudo Airfield). We have to pave it so that we can use it every day if we want to, even if there is inclement weather for as long as the runway is hard, and there is also plan to lengthen it some more to accommodate larger aircraft, also we are also building some facilities there for our personnel and also helping on the residents in the area," he added.


    DOJ completes inquest of 5 Jolo church bombing suspects

    From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5, 2019): DOJ completes inquest of 5 Jolo church bombing suspects

    The Department of Justice (DOJ) has completed the inquest proceedings and will resolve within the week the pieces of evidence in pursuing charges against the five suspects arrested by police for their alleged involvement in the Jolo Cathedral bombings.

    "The prosecutor has terminated the inquest proceedings and deemed submitted for resolution the case against the five arrested suspects in the Jolo Cathedral bombing," DOJ spokesman Undersecretary Markk Perete said in a message to newsmen late Monday.

    Perete named those subjected to inquest as Mukammar L. Pae/Kammah L. Pae alias Kammah; Albaji K. Gadjali alias Apah Albaji/Awag; Radjan B. Gadjali alias Rajan; Kaisar B. Gadjali alias Isal; and Said Alih alias Papong.

    Seven other identified suspects and several John and Jane Does are still at large.

    The suspects have been named respondents in the cases for 23 counts of murder, frustrated murder and damage to property filed by the Sulu Police Provincial Office.


    DND opens bids for ammo of 2 PH Navy frigates

    From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5, 2019): DND opens bids for ammo of 2 PH Navy frigates

    The Department of National Defense (DND) on Tuesday announced that it has begun the acquisition process for the ammunition needed to arm the 76-mm automatic main cannons and 30-mm secondary cannons of the two missile-equipped frigates, being constructed by South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI).

    An invitation to bid bulletin posted on the DND website indicated that PHP77,536,964 is the approved budget for the so-called Frigate Acquisition Project Lot 2C Sublot-1 or the acquisition for the 76-mm ammunition.

    Meanwhile, the budget for the Frigate Acquisition Project Lot 2C Sublot-2 or the acquisition for the 30-mm ammunition, is placed at PHP100 million. Both will be sourced from the AFP Modernization Trust Fund.

    Winning bidders are required to deliver the items within 240 calendar days upon receipt of the Notice to Proceed.

    They must also have completed a similar project in the past 10 years, DND Bids and Awards Committee 1 chair, Assistant Secretary Manuel Felino V. Ramos, said in the bulletin.

    The pre-bid conference for both projects will be held at the DND Bids and Awards Committee Conference Room, Basement, Left Wing, DND Building, Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City at 10 a.m. on February 7.

    The opening of the bids will be held at the same venue at 10 a.m. on February 21.

    Earlier, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the two missile-armed frigates being constructed by HHI will be named BRP Antonio Luna and BRP Jose Rizal, two of the country's leading patriots.

    He added that these names are fitting as they came from Filipino heroes.

    Rizal is considered the country's national hero for his writing against the abuses committed by Spanish colonial authorities that inspired the Philippine Revolution.

    Luna, meanwhile, is known for his staunch resistance against the Americans during the Philippine-American War.

    The construction for the first missile-armed frigates is proceeding smoothly, Philippine Navy (PN) flag-officer-in-command Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad announced.

    "(Construction for) our (first-missile) frigate is moving forward. It will arrive in February (or) March of 2020. All systems go and we should very happy. We should be happy for our country," he added.

    The keel-laying for the first-missile-armed frigate took place in Ulsan, South Korea on October 16 last year, with steel-cutting for the second ship taking place last September 17.

    HHI is expected to lay the keel for the second frigate by the first quarter of 2019.

    The Philippines and HHI signed a PHP16-billion contract for two missile-armed frigates, with another PHP2 billion set aside for its weapon systems and munition. The projected delivery date for the first frigate is by 2020 and the second one, in 2021.

    “The ceremony was conducted at the building dock number 6 of the Special and Naval Shipbuilding Division of HHI. Three blocks of the first PN frigate (with HHI Project Number 159) was installed on the dock,” Capt. Sergio Bartolome, the PN officer supervising the project, earlier said.

    Keel-laying formally starts the ship's construction and is among the four highlights of a vessel life with the other three being the launch, commissioning and decommissioning.

    The keel is also considered the backbone of any ship and breakage will result in the destruction and sinking of any water craft.

    The steel-cutting for the first frigate took place last April.


    PH not surrendering any part of its territory: DND chief

    From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5, 2019): PH not surrendering any part of its territory: DND chief

    While it continues to maintain warm ties with China, the Philippines is not surrendering or compromising any part of its territory.

    “While we recognize China as a bilateral partner for joint ventures and other endeavors, it is worth emphasizing that our territorial sovereignty and integrity, maritime entitlements and rights should not be compromised. We are not compromising them; we are not giving them away,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said during Monday's forum at the National Defense College of the Philippines dubbed, "The National Security Outlook for the Philippines in 2019”.

    “The Philippines continues to view the arbitral tribunal ruling as valid and legitimate. We have not, and we will never surrender any part of our territory,” he added.

    The DND chief also cited the competing territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea as the most critical external security challenge for the country.

    Lorenzana also shared that the government has already reiterated its call on China and other claimant countries to finalize and adopt a valid, binding and mutually acceptable code of conduct in the South China Sea.

    He also maintained that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) maintains its presence within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and with its limited resources, does its best to safeguard the farthest ends of the country’s territory.

    “Since it is imperative to secure the national territory, sovereignty and sovereign rights of our country’s maritime claims and entitlements, to include the West Philippine Sea and the Philippine Rise, the AFP is steadfast in performing this constitutional duty,” the DND chief emphasized.

    In the same forum, Lorenzana also reiterated the need to review Manila's Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with Washington.

    “Given this challenge with China, everyone must be asking why we initiated the call to review the MDT with the United States, our only treaty ally. We believe it is time to sit down with our US counterparts and revisit the terms of our alliance,” he stressed.

    While the Philippines has always valued its partnership and in its deep historical ties with the US, Lorenzana noted that the two allies “must clearly define our roles and responsibilities when the need arises.”


    Metrobank, AFP distribute 'food packs' to indigents

    From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5, 2019): Metrobank, AFP distribute 'food packs' to indigents

    The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), together with Metrobank, through the GT Foundation, Inc. (GTFI) and the Metrobank Foundation, Inc. (MBFI), distributed food packs to 10,000 poor families in celebration of the Chinese New Year.

    Each food pack was worth PHP1,000, military public affairs office chief Col. Noel Detoyato said in a message Tuesday.

    Since 2011, the Metrobank Group, with their late chairman Dr. George SK Ty, through GTFI and MBFI, have been giving these "Bags of Blessings" to the underprivileged families in the country as a way of carrying out their tradition of sharing.

    Since 2015, the AFP has been one with the GTFI on this tradition of sharing by giving gifts to the families.

    Aside from being the partner of MBFI and GTFI in the “Bags of Blessings” program, the AFP also provides security and manpower before, during, and after the distribution of gift packs to the recipient-families.

    This shows the commitment and cooperation of the AFP with the private sector in nation-building and peace development, Detoyato said.

    “I express my appreciation and gratitude to GT Foundation, Inc. and Metrobank Foundation, Inc. for being our partners in the private sector in nation-building and peace development. Our partnership with the different sectors of our society, such as the business sector and the Filipino-Chinese community, is very helpful in creating a better future for our children,” AFP Chief-of-Staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr. said.

    The City of Manila receives the most number of food packs with 600 recipient-families, while Quezon City and Marikina City have 500 recipient-families each.

    The Joint Task Force National Capital Region assisted the foundation in giving the food packs.

    In Luzon, the Northern Luzon Command joined the MBFI in giving the food packs to the provinces of Pampanga, Pangasinan, Bulacan, Ilocos Sur, and Cagayan.

    Meanwhile, the Southern Luzon Command assisted in giving the food packs to the provinces of Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, and Naga, while the Western Command assisted in the province of Palawan.

    The Central Command assisted Metrobank in giving the gift packs to the provinces of Cebu, Bohol, Negros Occidental, Eastern Samar, and Iloilo. The Eastern Mindanao Command and the Western Mindanao Command distributed the gift packs to the provinces of Davao, Surigao del Sur, and Zamboanga.

    The AFP said it is one with the Filipino-Chinese community in celebrating the Chinese New Year by sharing happiness and prosperity to every member of the society, including the less fortunate and the underprivileged.


    Authorities verify identity of Indonesian couple in Jolo blast

    From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 5, 2019): Authorities verify identity of Indonesian couple in Jolo blast

    Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año on Tuesday said authorities are still in the process of verifying identities of the suicide bombers who carried out the twin bombings in a church in Jolo, Sulu.

    "Bombers are Indonesian couple (husband and wife). Identification is on the process but may take time. The Indonesian government is willing to assist. It is officially confirmed that it's a case of suicide bombing," Año said in a message to reporters.

    It was Año who first revealed that the suicide bombers in the twin blast at Our Lady of Mount Carmel are Indonesians, based on his intelligence sources.

    The DILG Secretary said the confirmation is based on post-blast and forensic investigation as well as the testimonies of survivors.

    Año also said that Jolo twin blasts perpetrated by suicide bombers is one of the ways foreign terrorists are educating Filipino Muslim terrorists on how to cause chaos in the country.

    "That is what they are trying to do. By showing and doing these suicide bombings, they are expecting Filipino Muslim terrorists would follow soon. They underestimate the influence of Filipino culture to our Muslim brothers," he told reporters.

    There has been no record of any suicide bombing in the Philippines committed by a Filipino terrorist as it was deemed too violent by security officials and experts.

    Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, Director General Oscar Albayalde said that they would further validate the information by conducting a DNA test on two unclaimed pairs of feet.

    "It will be part of our DNA testing. We will subject everyone who died in DNA testing even if it is a long process," Albayalde said.

    He said they are already coordinating with their Indonesian counterparts in identifying the couple.

    The woman reportedly was the one who detonated the first improvised explosive device (IED) inside the church then the man detonated the second IED at the church entrance seconds later.

    Albayalde said the investigation on the church bombing is still far from over as “there are more pieces of evidence that need to be carefully examined to test its consistency with other facts and circumstances surrounding the incident.”