Sunday, March 3, 2019

Bangsa-moro after the plebiscite

Posted to Asia & the Pacific Policy Society (APPS)-Forum (Mar 4, 2019): Bangsa-moro after the plebiscite (By Zachary Abuza)

What comes next in the Mindanao peace process?

With a great number of political and economic obstacles standing in the way of peace in the Philippines, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority has a long list of challenges to tackle, Zachary Abuza writes.

The two phases of the plebiscite for the implementation of the Bangsamoro Organic Law have now been carried out.

The first phase saw an overwhelming response for inclusion in five of six provinces and cities. The second round, which was for contiguous areas that were not part of the original Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), was held on 6 February.

The results were decidedly mixed in the second round. Barangays in North Cotabato voted for inclusion but none of the six towns in Lanao del Norte joined, after a complex two-phase voting process that kept individual towns out despite their vote for inclusion.

So where do we go from here?

The 80-person Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) was recently named and sworn in. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) appointed 41 people and the government appointed 39, of which 25 were from the previous autonomous government.

The BTA will act as the interim government based on a parliamentary system. Headed by the MILF chairman, Ebrahim el Haj Murad, it will be in power for three years until elections are organised within the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The timing of recent attacks and suggests that they were most likely meant to spoil the peace process. Pro-Islamic State groups – including the Abu Sayyaf, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and the Maute group – oppose the BARMM, as it undermines their narrative of Christian invasion and colonial rule from Manila which demand a ‘defensive jihad’.

None of these groups have shown any interest in negotiating with the government. Indeed, they all stand to gain by continued attacks that will force ongoing military operations against them.

This serves their interests in two distinct ways. Firstly, the government’s heavy-handed tactics and human rights abuses alienate the local population, as does their continued reliance on artillery fire and gravity bombs, which – more often than not – kills civilians. Second, it reinforces their narrative that, despite autonomy, the region remains under colonial subjugation.

While there is still no conclusive evidence that the 28 January attack was a suicide bombing by Indonesian militants, Mindanao will continue to attract foreign fighters from the region with the declaration of the Islamic State of East Asia, with its wilayat – or province – centres located in southern Philippines. It is only there that pro-Islamic State militants have any hope of controlling territory.

The onus will be on the MILF to restore law and order. That was one of their key arguments in selling the peace process to sceptical Philippine legislators and to the public following the 2015 Mamasapano incident. Only the MILF has the incentive and intelligence to go after pro-Islamic State groups and prevent the next Marawi from occurring.

The MILF will have to commence the next phase of decommissioning. The first phase – which involved heavy crew-serviced weapons – took place in 2015. But with the plebiscite’s completion, they now need to demobilise 30 per cent of their men, and retire the remainder following the elections.

This brings us back to the plebiscite results in Lanao del Norte – where the MILF campaigned actively against a powerful anti-inclusion clan. The MILF now have three camps in the province and are unlikely to relinquish them or decommission those arms.

Other powerful clans that have historically allied themselves with the government also fear the loss of political power – if not retribution – under BARMM governance. This includes powerful clans such as the Ampatuans who were allegedly responsible for the massacre of 58 people, journalists, and political rivals in 2009.

The MILF has said that one of their first orders of business will be to not only decommission their own arms but to also retire private armies.

The decommissioning of weapons from any party in a region where lawlessness and insecurity prevail is a tall order – it could unleash a new wave of intra-Moro violence. In the past few years, a significant percentage of violence was the result of rido – or clan wars. As long as people rely on violence and extra-legal means to resolve disputes, broad-based decommissioning seems unlikely.

Moreover, there is insufficient funding for the decommissioning, demobilisation, and rehabilitation processes.

The reality is that a lot of MILF combatants will be demobilised without sufficient training, jobs, or opportunities for them to return to. The BIFF and Mautes both grew out of the MILF and continue to recruit from its ranks.

If the new government can establish a modicum of law and order, the real challenge will be growing the economy. Expectations are very high that the peace process will lead to a period of prosperity.

The BARMM is the poorest part of a developing country with some of the lowest human development indicators. In addition to the ₱32 billion (US $650 million) budget that was allocated to the ARMM government, the BARMM government will receive an additional ₱30 billion (US $577 million) block grant and a ₱50 billion (US $961 million) special grant for rehabilitation in conflict-affected areas.

On top of that, the region will receive a larger block grant from the national government next year. With nearly three times what the preceding ARMM government had received, these funds give the new government considerably more resources to revitalise the economy.

In addition, the 2014 peace agreement gives the BARMM government 75 per cent of the revenue from natural resources, which also includes some offshore oil and gas fields.

The real issue is the degree to which they can extract natural resources without endemic corruption. While there are calls for a rainy day fund for natural resources, there are no plans to establish one yet.

Mindanao has a potentially rich agricultural sector and a plethora of natural resources that have largely been untapped due to the multiple conflicts. The potential for a surge of domestic and foreign investment is there. The question is whether there is a sufficient legal system as well as there being enough safeguards against rent-seeking and predation to allow for broad-based economic growth.

Perhaps there is no greater challenge for the BARMM government than the rehabilitation of the city of Marawi in Lanao del Sur, which was largely destroyed in a five-month battle following a takeover by pro-Islamic State militants in mid-2017.

Reconstruction of the city has been contracted to a consortium of three Chinese firms, two of which had once been blacklisted by the World Bank for corruption, and the whole process has now stalled due to a lack of capital. At the time of writing, almost no reconstruction has begun.

What lies ahead for the Bangsamoro Transition Authority and, more generally, the country is still unclear. Amidst a m̩lange of violence, corruption, and economic instability, what the Mindanao peace process needs to fulfil its purposes is strong leadership Рa great challenge in and of itself.
[The views here are the author’s alone, and do not reflect the views of the National War College, Department of Defense, or the US Government.]

NPA terrorists sabotage development program in Cagayan

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 3, 2019): NPA terrorists sabotage development program in Cagayan

Several heavy equipment being used in a development project were burned by about 20 Communist New People’s Army (NPA) terrorists in Alcala, Cagayan, on Thursday, February 28.

The suspects, who were identified as members of the CPP-NPA’s Northern Front, burned three cement mixers, a compactor, a grader, and a dump truck owned by Camia Construction Company based in Tuguegarao City.

According to the military, the pieces of equipment were being used in the construction of a concrete road and bridge in Brgy. Agani, Alcala, Cagayan as part of the developmental program of the province.

Cagayan is a main producer of agricultural products like rice, corn, peanut, beans, and fruits. The building of roads and bridges is crucial for the province as this will enable farmers to transport their products to the local market.

With the help of concerned citizens who reported to the authorities, troops from the Army’s Fifth Infantry “Star” Division (5th ID) immediately conducted pursuit operations against the perpetrators of the crime.

Brig. Gen. Perfecto M. Rimando Jr., the Commander of the 5th ID, said the Army denounced the atrocious act and will use all of its capabilities in order for all the perpetrators to face the bar of justice while continuing to support the local government units and other concerned agencies in the implementation of projects that will uplift the socio-economic condition of our people.

“We condemn this criminal act committed by the NPA terrorists against the people of Cagayan. The burning of the heavy equipment affects the livelihood of innocent civilians and delays the delivery of development projects to those in need,” Rimando said.

“We urge the public to remain vigilant and continue on working hand in hand with us in addressing the communist threat here in Cagayan,” he added.

Suspected NPA rebel dead in Camarines Norte clash

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 3, 2019): Suspected NPA rebel dead in Camarines Norte clash

A suspected New People’s Army (NPA) member was killed on Sunday morning in a clash with members of the police mobile force in a remote village in Basud town in Camarines Norte province, a police report said.

Chief Insp. Maria Luisa Calubaquib, Bicol police spokesperson, said police troops, while on internal security operation around 6 a.m., engaged a 15-man NPA group at Purok (zone) 1 Barangay (village) Tuaca.

A 5-minute firefight ensued that led to the killing of the still unidentified NPA rebel.

Recovered from the scene were a .45 caliber handgun, carbine rifle, and a hand grenade.

Policemen were still tracking down the rebel group that fled in the neighboring village as of Sunday noon.

General vows to expose communist ‘evils’

From Malaya Business Insight (May 4, 2019): General vows to expose communist ‘evils’

THE Armed Forces’ new deputy chief of staff for civil military operations, or J7, yesterday said the communist movement should fear his appointment as he vowed to expose the evils of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army.

Brig. Gen. Antonio Parlade, who assumed his new post on Friday, said he would step up an information drive that he said would provide the public a true narrative of what the CPP and NPA really are.

“We will expose the CPP as the greatest scam of the century. They are the reason why our poor remain to be poor. They are the reason why our rural areas remain undeveloped,” he said.

Parlade recently earned the ire of some Metro Manila colleges and universities for describing them as NPA recruitment hubs.

Parlade, a member of the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1987, succeeded Maj. Gen. Danilo Chad Isleta (Class 1985) who vowed out of the service on February 27 upon reaching the retirement age of 56.

“We (military) have to share with the people the correct narrative of everything. The thing is, the people are not yet aware how mischievous the CPP and NPA are… civil military operations will be a big factor (to reverse this),” he said.

He said he would “expose” how the communists “exploited” indigenous peoples, teachers, peasants and other groups just to advance their 50-year-old revolutionary struggle.

He also he would make public how the communist movement has “manipulated international organs like EU (European Union) and UN (United Nations) in order to solicit billions of funding from them.”

He said the communists have been soliciting funds from the EU and the UN through “bogus front organizations.”

AFP public affairs chief Col. Noel Detoyato said Parlade’s new J7 post will help a lot in the fight against the CPP-NPA.

“He commanded units fighting the CPP-NPA. He is well-adept in the fight against the communists...

He takes his work seriously and he does his job 24/7,” Detoyato said, referring to Parlade.

 Parlade was assistant AFP deputy chief of staff for operations (AJ3) when he disclosed last year that 18 colleges and universities in Metro Manila serve as NPA recruitment hubs.

Parlade also served as commander of the Army’s 203rd Brigade based in Oriental Mindoro where intensified operations against communist rebels for a few years until September last year.

He also served as Army spokesman but he was relieved in October 2011 by then President Benigno Aquino III for suggesting that higher authorities should lift government’s ceasefire with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Auditors flag P3.6B in Philippine Coast Guard transactions

From Rappler (Mar 3, 2019): Auditors flag P3.6B in Philippine Coast Guard transactions

EXCLUSIVE: The Philippine Coast Guard has to answer for billions worth of allotments without contracts, while some projects remain unliquidated

RED FLAGS. Internal auditors notice P3.6 billion worth of red flags in the Philippine Coast Guard's transactions.

RED FLAGS. Internal auditors notice P3.6 billion worth of red flags in the Philippine Coast Guard's transactions.

Auditors have flagged P3.6 billion worth of transactions in the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), adding to the list of financial irregularities that the agency has to answer for.

Rappler obtained two Audit Observation Memoranda (AOMs) showing that, on February 11 and 18, resident auditors found that:
  • P1.75 billion worth of allotments were issued without final contracts or even bidding;
  • P1.91 billion worth of programs remain unliquidated.
AOMs are issued internally. These memoranda will give concerned agencies time to respond and address flagged issues with the Commission on Audit (COA). Flagged transactions like these are often included in the COA annual audit report (AAR), which will be publicly released starting April.

The PCG should have responded within 5 days of receipt of the AOM to explain why it issued and charged allotments even though there were still no contracts or even biddings, and, for the second issue, why almost two billion worth of programs were not liquidated.

Millions worth of flagged transactions have hounded the PCG for years now, with the COA constantly reminding it to fix its financial control mechanism. The COA has repeatedly found in PCG records millions worth of fake receipts as well as transactions “disowned” by suppliers.

Past anomalies have subjected top level officials of PCG to graft charges; some of them were even suspended by the Office of the Ombudsman last year.
(READ: Duterte again promotes PH Coast Guard officers facing graft raps)

The AOMs highlight the need to scrutinize more how the PCG has been spending public funds.

PCG spokesperson Captain Armand Balilo did not respond to our requests for comment.

A second source privy to the issue confirmed both the existence of the AOMs and the findings of the resident auditors.

Unliquidated program

In the AOM dated February 18, 2019, auditors found that a total of P1.91 billion was fund transferred to the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC). The programs under this remain unliquidated as of December 31, 2018.

“Thus, the timely completion of the intended projects/programs were not assured,” said the AOM.

Funds were transferred to PITC for the “procurement activities for infrastructure, goods and services” covered by a contract dated May 10, 2017.

According to the AOM, the P1.91-billion fund transfer covered supply and delivery for 41 unliquidated projects. Purchases include guns, machinery, equipment, dogs, computers, body gears, body camera, construction and repairs, and others.

Auditors said the funds are money which were not obligated by the end of 2017 and 2018 because of failed biddings and failed awarding of contracts.

“Thus, the PCG resorted to outsourcing by commissioning PITC to conduct procurement activities in its behalf for a fee, and accordingly transfer the funds to the latter,” said the AOM.

Page 1 of AOM No. 2019-008(2018) of the Philippine Coast Guard involving P1.91 billion
More irregularities

Auditors also observed that the agreement between the PCG and PITC did not indicate a delivery period, “resulting in an open-ended or indefinite period of delivery, which is detrimental to the achievement of the projects of PCG which are supposed to be scheduled and completed within the year.”

“The timely completion of the intended projects/programs was not assured. Further, the unspent amount could have been used by the government for other public purpose,” said the AOM.

Payments were also transferred “despite incomplete required supporting documents.”

Auditors also said that because the procurement was “not highly technical in nature,” the PCG could have internally handled the procurement. “As such there’s no reason to outsource by commissioning PITC to handle the job for a fee,” said the AOM.

The AOM said the PCG could have saved P69.2 million if it handled the procurement itself rather than tap PITC.

The PCG was given 5 days within receipt of the memorandum to reply. The auditors asked that the PCG submit the lacking documents and status reports, as well as to “stop issuing additional fund transfers unless the previous projects are completed and delivered.”

No contracts, no bidding

The AOM dated February 11, 2019, involved transactions worth P1.75 billion. These were withdrawn and parked for transactions which either did not have contracts or did not have biddings.

Auditors flagged 5 obligation requests, or the reservation of money, for the supply and delivery of a twin engine helicopter, weapons, weapon stations, body gears, and the construction of 7 lighthouses in Mindanao.

For the equipment, the obligation requests either did not have bidding or no contract was awarded. For the lighthouse construction, the contract has yet to be signed.

“It appears that the above-mentioned projects were only obligated at the end of CY 2018, just so to avoid reversion/lapsing of the allotment/funds. Worse, some of the above projects were not yet bidded out by PCG as of date,” the AOM said.

Auditors said that while heads of requesting offices claimed that the allotments were lawful, the documents lacked the pertinent details, such as dates of issuances of the Obligation Request and Status (ORS) and certifications of availability of allotments.

“This practice may constitute circumventing the mentioned law and regulation which may result to nullity of the obligation and payments," the AOM said.

Auditors said that incurring obligations without valid claims violate several financial control rules such as Presidential Decree No. 1177 and the Government Accounting Manual.

Resident auditors gave the PCG 5 days within receipt to comment on the memorandum. They recommended the agency to “stop the practice of issuing obligations charged to allotments without the benefit of the approved contract or valid claims documents.”

Page 2 of AOM No. PCG-2019-006(18) concerning P1.75 billion worth of transactions

25 ex-Red fighters surrender in NegOcc

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 3, 2019): 25 ex-Red fighters surrender in NegOcc

Col. Benedict Arevalo, commander of the 303rd Infantry Brigade, receives a surrendered firearm of a former rebel during the ceremony held at the Philippine Army’s 79th Infantry Battalion headquarters in Barangay Bato, Sagay City on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of 79th Infantry Battalion, Philippine Army)

A total of 25 former fighters of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Negros Occidental yielded to military and police authorities in northern Negros on Saturday.

The group, operating in the boundaries of Murcia and Don Salvador Benedicto towns and San Carlos City, surrendered after months of localized peace negotiations, in a ceremony held at the Philippine Army’s 79th Infantry Battalion (79IB) headquarters in Barangay Bato, Sagay City.

They turned over their firearms and took an oath of allegiance to the Philippine government before Col. Benedict Arevalo, commander of the 303rd Infantry Brigade; Police Col. Romeo Baleros, director of Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office; and Ma. Fatima Daiz, cluster leader of Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG)-Negros Occidental North.

The firearms included three M16 rifles, four Garand rifles, one M14 rifle, four shotguns, one .22-caliber Magnum rifle, one .38-caliver revolver, 12 .45-caliber pistols, two 9-mm submachine guns, 14 assorted rifle and pistol magazines loaded with ammunition, and two shotgun bandoleers with ammunition.

In a statement on Sunday, Lt. Col. Emilito Thaddeus Logan, commanding officer of 79IB, said the series of surrenders of former NPA rebels and their supporters can be attributed to the combined efforts of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, and concerned local government units.

These included the conduct of focused military operations, intelligence efforts, civil-military operations and reintegration efforts, and the implementation of peace and development programs, he added.

“The barangay officials also played an important role in urging the NPA rebels to give up violence. The Army recognizes their efforts and support to the localized peace talks initiated by the 303rd Infantry Brigade since November last year,” Logan said.

Arevalo said former rebels deserve another chance to lead normal lives after their surrender because they were only deceived by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front.

Police Lt. Col. Mario Baquiran Jr., commander of 1st Provincial Mobile Force Company, said it is high time the rebels realize that they are just being used and fooled.

“The communist organizers and recruiters agitate them on various issues not meant to be resolved,” he added.

Personnel of the 79IB and the DILG will facilitate enrolment of the former rebels into the government’s Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program.

Through the program, a former rebel is entitled to receive immediate assistance of PHP15,000; livelihood assistance, PHP50,000; firearms remuneration, PHP12,000 to PHP500,000; half-way house assistance; PhilHealth enrolment and medical assistance; education assistance; housing assistance; legal assistance; and healing and reconciliation initiatives.

9 loose firearms turned over to Army in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 3, 2019): 9 loose firearms turned over to Army in Maguindanao

Some of the guns surrendered to the Army in Sultan Sumagka, Maguindanao on Saturday (March 2). (Photo courtesy of 90th IB)

SULTAN SUMAGKA, Maguindanao – An Army battalion commander has vowed to push for the peaceful collection of loose firearms in its area of operation following the surrender of nine firearms from the hands of civilians here on Saturday.

Lt. Colonel Crizaldo Fernandez, commanding officer of the Army’s 90th Infantry Battalion, said nine firearms of various calibers were turned over to them by the local government unit “as part of a continuing campaign against the proliferation of loose firearms in the area.”

The Alpha Company of the 90th IB received the firearms during simple ceremonies held at the Sultan Sumagka (formerly Talitay) town hall on Saturday.

The guns collected were from the villages of Poblacion, Pageda, Kilalan, Makadayon, Manggay, and Kiladap, all of this municipality.

The firearms include two M16 rifles, five shotguns, one homemade M14 rifle, a .38-caliber revolver, and ammunition.

Maj. Gen. Cirilito E. Sobejana, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (6ID), lauded the efforts of town officials in supporting the government’s campaign against loose guns.

Sobejana said to date, a total of 2,025 were surrendered and recovered in the areas covered by the 6ID comprising the provinces of Maguindanao, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and part of Lanao del Sur.

Masagca named new Army 5ID commander

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 3, 2019): Masagca named new Army 5ID commander

Brig. Gen. Alden Juan Masagca has taken over the command of the 5th Infantry (Star) Division (5ID) of the Philippine Army which has jurisdiction over Cordillera and the Cagayan Valley regions.

Masagca took over the position from Maj. Gen. Perfecto Rimando Jr. who retired from active service on March 2.

Maj. Jefferson Somera, Division Public Affairs Office chief, in a telephone interview Sunday, said Rimando turned over the command of the over 5,000 army soldiers to Masagca in a ceremony on March 2.

"He vowed to continue the programs and projects of the Command in consonance with the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ development support and security plan ‘Kapayapaan’," Somera said, quoting Masagca.

“He also asked the personnel of the command to take the initiative and make themselves professionally competent in their respective duties so that they could best deliver the Army’s core purpose of serving the people and securing the land,” Somera added.

Having jurisdiction over Cordillera and Cagayan Valley, he asked for continued partnership with stakeholders in securing peace, supporting development and promoting prosperity in the area of operation.

Rimando had consistently sought the help of different sectors in the two regions which had contributed in the accomplishment of the command’s mission for several years.

Masagca is a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) “Sinagtala” Class of 1986.

He held various positions in his 33 years of service such as platoon leader, company commander, battalion commander, brigade commander, and recently as assistant division commander.

He is also a recipient of numerous commendations and military awards such as five Gold Cross Medals, Bronze Cross Medal and Military Merit Medal to name a few.

Mutual defense treaty review needed: expert

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 3, 2019): Mutual defense treaty review needed: expert

Although the United States repeatedly gave its assurance to the Philippine government that any armed attack against the Philippines, including on the disputed South China Sea, would trigger its defense pact, the government should still push for a review of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), a political expert said Thursday.

"In case of an attack, the US has to go through its constitutional processes, which means the Congress, the lower chamber and the upper chamber, still have to look into it while in the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) it's automatic -- when there is an attack, there is automatic retaliation," political analyst and University of the Philippines professor Clarita Carlos told the Philippine News Agency.

"We need to have automaticity," she said.

In a joint presser with visiting State Secretary Michael Pompeo, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said a review of the MDT requires "further thought.”

He noted that "in vagueness lies uncertainty, a deterrent, specificity invites evasion and actions outside the MDT framework."

Although “too much vagueness lends itself to doubt the firmness of commitments,” Locsin said he “doesn’t believe that going down into the details is the way the sincerity of the American commitment will be shown.”

He pointed out that Washington would respond depending on the circumstances, but the country is "very confident" that US, in assurances made by Pompeo and US President Donald Trump, has the Philippines' back.

Carlos underscored that assurance alone is "not enough", more so when invoking a treaty as old as the MDT, which was created as a product of the Cold War that ended three decades ago.

"Treaties are usually invoked but you will have to agree on what the terms in the treaties mean, what an attack means, etc.," she said. "After Trump, paano 'yon (After President Donald Trump, what will happen?"

Pompeo's affirmation that Washington would come into Manila's aid in the event of an attack in the South China Sea is seen as a significant policy statement from the US, as the Philippine government has long wanted a clarification if the disputed region is covered in the 67-year-old defense treaty.

Earlier, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said US interpretation covered only the "metropolitan Philippines" and does not include the Philippine-occupied areas in the contested waters.

China, Taiwan and other littoral states such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam have competing claims in the South China Sea over which Beijing has asserted its nine-dash line or the invisible demarcation that claims almost 90 percent of the strategic waterway.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry, in response to Pompeo, thanked "the concerted efforts by regional countries" in keeping the situation in the South China Sea "generally stable and sound."

"If non-regional countries, for example the US, truly wish for peace, tranquility and well-being for people in the region, they should stay away from stirring up troubles," Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang warned.

Bulatlat: Government ramps up red-tagging, gets broad-range ripostes

Posted to the pro-CPP/NDF/NPA online propaganda publication Bulatlat (Mar 3, 2019): Government ramps up red-tagging, gets broad-range ripostes (By Satur Ocampo)

Putting to work its National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, the Duterte government since last month has ramped up its red-tagging campaign against human rights defenders, militant people’s organizations and alliances, and left-leaning candidates in the May 13 elections.

Instantly the ripostes were vigorous – denials, condemnations – from a broad range of personalities and organizations here and overseas, including from the Commission on Human Rights. The CHR has denounced the “harassment and vilification of lawyers” as a “new trend of attacking progressive rights groups.” It called on the government to ensure the protection specifically of members of the Union of People’s Lawyers of Mindanao (UPLM) and the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL).

The National Task Force (NTF) was formed through Executive Order No. 70, which President Duterte signed on Dec. 4, 2018. Headed by Duterte as chair and his national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. as vice chair, the NTF is mandated to ensure the effective implementation of a “whole-of-nation” approach aimed at ending the 50-year-old armed revolutionary movement, led by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

On Feb. 14, a NTF-initiated government delegation was sent to the meeting of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UN WGEID) in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Its purpose: to ask the UN WGEID to delist 625 cases of enforced disappearances in the Philippines, mostly attributed to state security forces, documented by human rights organizations from 1975 (under Marcos’ martial law dictatorship) to 2012 (first two years of the P-Noy Aquino administration).

The delegation claimed that the Philippine government had already put in place a “strong legal framework and institutional mechanisms” to deal with the enforced disappearances issue. However, human rights groups led by Karapatan urged the UN body to reject the government request and its arguments for the delisting. Karapatan asserted that the two laws invoked by the Duterte administration – the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act of 2012 (RA 10353) and the Human Rights Violations Recognition and Reparations Act of 2013 (RA 10368) were not state-initiated. These were enacted, it pointed out, mainly due to the efforts of the people, relatives of the victims, human rights groups, and concerned legislators.

Most pointedly, Karapatan told the UN that, to this day, the government has continually denied any role in enforced disappearances, such as the widely publicized case of Jonas Burgos in 2007 and most recently (September 2018), the case of Joey Torres Jr., Bayan Muna coordinator in Nueva Ecija.

Piggy-backing on the UN WGEID meeting, the NTF sent a team to visit diplomatic offices of various countries and aid organizations in Europe, campaigning for the withdrawal or denial of funding and other forms of support to human rights organizations and defenders in the Philippines, tagging the latter as “fronts” of the CPP-NPA. Two officials of the Presidential Communications Operations Office were with the NTF team, PCOO chief Martin Andanar acknowledged.

Among others, here are other instances of red-tagging in the month of February alone:

On Feb. 23, Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) Obispo Maximo (Supreme Bishop) Rhee Timbang issued a pastoral letter strongly denouncing a flyer distributed in Cagayan de Oro City and Northern Mindanao. The flyer “maliciously and irresponsibly red-tagg(ed) our clergy,” the pastoral letter states, naming IFI bishops Felixberto Calang and Antonio Ablon, priests Rolando Abejo, Khen Apus and Chris Ablon, and “some prominent partners of the IFI in its work.”

“We again cry foul to these baseless accusations and condemn in the strongest terms the continuing attacks on our clergy and the IFI itself,” the letter says, along with the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), (UPLM), and (NUPL), which are “partners in the IFI’s work of prophetic witness, social advocacy and solidarity and engagements with the peasants, fisherfolk, workers, urban poor, lumad communities, and the Moro people.”

All these activities, the pastoral letter adds, “are in consonance with (IFI’s) mission and fidelity to its history enriched by the bold, courageous and fearless witnesses of Apo [Gregorio] Aglipay and Don Belong [Isabelo delos Reyes] and other heroes of the Filipino church in the nationalist and revolutionary tradition of the Filipino people.”

Addressing President Duterte, the IFI pastoral letter warns that the red-tagging “serves as green light for the neutralization and termination” of all those the state security forces mark “wrongly as terrorists,” thus endangering the lives of IFI clergy and partners. It urges Duterte to “make history by standing for his people, by directing the GRP peace panel to resume peace talks [with the NDFP] and resolve the basic problems of our society that breed insurgency.”

Human rights and labor lawyer Beverly Selim-Musni, who with her two lawyer-daughters are tagged in the flyer along with the IFI clergy, spoke loud and clear: “The bias of my daughters for the poor and the oppressed is distinct, much more [it’s] my pride, since they have inherited my compassion.” Their father, Oscar Musni, she pointed out, was a member of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and a political detainee under the Marcos dictatorship.

“The attacks against lawyers under the administration of President Duterte, a lawyer himself, are not new and not only in Northern Mindanao,” Selim-Musni noted. “Moreover, the attacks against the brave lawyers who have chosen the hard battle of fighting repressive state mechanisms is consistent with the history of our country’s repressive governments.”

The courageous stand taken by progressive lawyers since the time of Marcos has led to the sacrifice of the lives and liberty of many of them. After the slaying of human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos in Negros Occidental last November, the CHR called for steps to prevent another killing. At least 78 lawyers have signed a petition asking the Supreme Court to ensure a “thorough, prompt, impartial, and independent investigation” into the killings of 34 lawyers so far under the Duterte administration.

The red-tagging has also formed part of the Duterte regime’s avowed campaign to prevent progressive candidates from winning in the May 13 mid-term elections. On Feb. 28, copies of a leaflet bearing the face of Makabayan Coalition senatorial bet Neri Colmenares began circulating in Manila. It depicts Colmenares, with a red hammer-and-sickle sign on his forehead, as allegedly making statements maligning the Liberal Party’s Otso Diretso senatorial slate.

There is of course absolutely no truth to this despicable stunt, as we shall see in the next two days.

* * *
Published in Philippine Star
March 2, 2019

Xavier University slams red-tagging of its faculty, immersion program

From Rappler (Mar 2, 2019): Xavier University slams red-tagging of its faculty, immersion program

University president Fr. Roberto C. Yap, SJ, denounces the red-tagging incident as an orchestrated effort to intimidate faculty members and undermine its programs.

Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan (XU) denounced the black propaganda that linked a number of its faculty and its immersion program to communist rebels and terrorists.
In a statement released on Friday, March 1, university president Fr. Roberto C. Yap, SJ, slammed the red-tagging incident as an orchestrated effort to intimidate faculty members and undermine its programs.

“We vehemently condemn this malicious, slanderous, and groundless red-tagging against some XU personalities and one of our well-established immersion programs,” he said.

Two boxes containing the black propaganda, printed on a long bond paper, were reported to have been found during an opening program of a photo exhibit by XU development communication students in a mall in Cagayan de Oro City on February 20.
Local mall security seized the boxes to prohibit its distribution.

“This propaganda is devoid of any semblance of truth and substance. We must be critical and discerning in our news and information consumption, especially with those which were propagated and distributed through disreputable modes and channels,” Yap added.

He further clarified that XU’s programs are in line with their “ethos of forming leaders who will be instrumental in promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue, nation-building, and sustainable development.”

“We would like to assure the Xavier Ateneo community... that we continue to look out for our safety and security at all times... No evidence exists that our university, programs, and activities are currently exposed to any grave threat,” Yap said.

Just recently, there was a similar case of red-tagging in Cagayan de Oro City. An anonymous handout containing a list tagging several groups and individuals as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines was distributed to journalists on February 22.
In light of recent incidents, Yap encouraged all people to be vigilant and to think critically of the state of the nation.

“This calls us to unite as one Xavier Ateneo to exercise our academic freedom in pursuit of truth and speaking truth to power to build a healthier and more effective democratic society,” he said.

Hostages safe following gunfight

From The Star Online (Mar 3, 2019): Hostages safe following gunfight

KOTA KINABALU: A Malaysian and two Indonesians held by Abu Sayyaf gunmen are safe after the militants trying to escape from Jolo island were caught in a gunfight with the Philippine military earlier this week.

It is learnt that the militant group with the three hostages, who were snatched from eastern Sabah waters on Dec 5 last year, were trying to flee Jolo when the military closed in on the group on Simisa island, off Jolo, on Wednesday.

Soldiers managed to capture a militant couple and killed an Abu Sayyaf member during the fight at Simisa.

However, the Abu Sayyaf gunmen led by the notorious kidnapper Salip Mura managed to slip back to their hideout in Jolo.

The three hostages are unharmed, and the gunmen have brought the hostages back to their hideout in the Panamao area (Jolo), a regional intelligence source said.

The three fishermen – Malaysian Jari Abdullah, 24, and Indonesians Heri Ardiansyah, 19, and Hariadin, 45 – were snatched from their fishing trawler in the Kinabatangan side of the Pegasus Reefs that borders southern Philippines.

The gunmen have been getting desperate as they have not been able to draw either the Indonesians or Malaysians into negotiations for the release of the three amid outrageous ransom demands running into millions of pesos.

Last month, a brief video of an Abu Sayyaf gunman holding a knife against the neck of one of the Indonesian hostages who is seen pleading for his president and also a negotiator to assist in securing their release.

The emergence of the video on Feb 14 came after Jaris’ wife Nadin Junianti Abdullah was contacted by a suspected Abu Sayyaf member by telephone at about 7pm on Feb 11, deman­ ding for Malaysian authorities to contact them to secure her husband’s release.

In their attempt to flee Jolo, Filipino intelligence sources said the fighting in Simisa between an Abu Sayyaf group of about 15 gunmen led by Salip ended with the death of a militant and the arrest of the couple.

The woman was identified as Nurlinda Sulaiman and her husband, Abdu Mohammad.

NPA to heighten attacks to celebrate 50th founding anniversary

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Mar 3, 2019): NPA to heighten attacks to celebrate 50th founding anniversary
The communist New People’s Army (NPA) vowed to intensify attacks against government forces to celebrate its 50th founding anniversary this month, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) said Sunday.

“We are celebrating the NPA’s 50th anniversary as its units carry out tactical offensives across the country to punish the worst of the Duterte regime’s fascist agents and defend the people’s rights, advance their struggle for land reform and build the people’s organizations and organs of political power,” the CPP information bureau said in a public advisory to its cadres, Red-fighters and revolutionary forces, a copy of which was forwarded to the Inquirer.

After an ideological split with a 1930s era pro-Soviet communist party that was defeated by the military in the 1950s, former University of the Philippines professor Jose Maria Sison set up on Dec. 26, 1968, the revitalized CPP with a Maoist-oriented ideology.

On March 29, 1969, the CPP founded the NPA in a village in Tarlac province. The first ragtag Maoist-inspired guerrillas were armed with automatic rifles, single-shot rifles and handguns.
The CPP urged the revolutionary forces to also wage “all forms of information, educational and propaganda activity to broadcast the call for waging people’s war. Let us rouse the people to support and join the NPA”.

“Let us show why the NPA is cherished by the masses as their true people’s army. Let us belie the ‘terrorist tagging’ of the US-Duterte regime and show who the real terrorists are,” it said.

The military trumpeted that the ranks of Red warriors have been wracked by mass surrenders of tired and disgruntled NPA rebels.

The government estimated that the NPA rebels across the country are now less than 5,000 armed combatants.

In an earlier interview, Sison claimed that the total number of armed NPA rebels “are far beyond 5,000 in more than 110 guerrilla fronts in 73 provinces, and are intact, alive and kicking.”

NPA killed in Masbate clash

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 3, 2019): NPA killed in Masbate clash

A suspected New People’s Army (NPA) rebel was killed on Sunday in a clash with members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) mobile force group in a remote village in Basud town in Camarines Norte, police said.

Police Major Maria Luisa Caluybaquib, PNP Bicol spokesperson, said while on internal security operation at around 6 a.m. Sunday, police personnel engaged a 15-man NPA group at Purok 1 Barangay Tuaca.

A five-minute firefight ensued that led to the killing of an NPA rebel whose identity is still unknown.

Recovered from the scene include a .45-caliber pistol, carbine rifle, and a hand grenade.

Policemen are still tracking down the rebel group that fled to the neighboring village of the town.

Army dismantles NPA front

From the Sun Star-Cagayan (Mar 2, 2019): Army dismantles NPA front

THE 4th Infantry Division (4ID) said its collective efforts has led to the dismantling of one New People’s Army (NPA) guerrilla front and weakened seven others in its area of responsibility.

Brigadier General Nemesio Gacal, 4ID commander said, Guerrilla Front 8 was dismantled, while Guerilla Fronts 6, 88, 14, 19, 21, and 30 weakened.

He said there are only five remaining NPA front - guerrilla front 4A, 4B, 16, and 12.

Soldiers will continue its focused military operations to target other existing fronts of the enemies.

A total of 16 barangays also declared the NPA as persona non-grata and cleared 85 villages from the conflict-affected areas list, declared 8 provinces of Northern Mindanao and Caraga as conflict-manageable and ready for further development.

“This year, we will continue to pursue the convergence area for peace and development, and we want everybody to be involved, kasi there are a lot of issues that can be addressed by other government agencies, we must apply a whole of nation approach,” Gacal said.

Some 381 Former Rebels (FRs) received Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-Clip) benefits that include remuneration of firearms surrendered, livelihood assistance, education and training among others.

The joint AFP-PNP campaign meanwhile significantly neutralized 413 NPA personalities.

National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Undersecretary Jose Miguel Dela Rosa, guest speaker during the 49th anniversary celebration of the army division, lauded the accomplishments, urging the soldiers to continue to protect the people.

“You have done far more than what is required of you as soldiers. I am a civilian but I want to salute you,” Dela Rosa said.

Gacal, for his part said, the milestones achieved in 2018 are attained “through blood, sweat, and tears of every soldiers and the stakeholders”.

“Today we do not only look back at what we have achieved but also look forward to the exciting times in 2019 and beyond in building sustainable partnerships for peace and development in CARAGA and Northern Mindanao,” he added.

BIFF attacks BARMM area, 3 soldiers killed

From the Manila Times (Mar 3, 2019): BIFF attacks BARMM area, 3 soldiers killed

Three soldiers were killed as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) attacked anew, the first incident under the Bangsa­moro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), which preceded a grenade blast here several hours later.

Even with the newly installed BARMM, peace has remained elusive here.

The BIFF is not covered by the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front chaired by Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim, now the BARMM chief minister.

Major Arvin Encinas, spokesman for the 6th Infantry Division (6ID), said the first victim was P/Staff Sgt. Lardera Verande, of the 6ID intelligence unit, who was killed by motorcycle-riding men in a broad daylight attack along Sinsuat Avenue in Cotabato City on Thursday.

Meanwhile, two more soldiers under the 6ID were killed on the same day in an ambush in Barangay Sambulawan, Datu Salibo town in the second district of Maguindanao.

They were identified as Privates Junard Estribor and Nelier John Pinto who were both off-duty and belonged to the 57th Infantry Battalion of the 6ID.

Encinas said the victims were on board a red car en route to Cotabato City when BIFF gunmen, positioned along the highway, opened fire with assault rifles, killing them on the spot.

Their companion, Private Muqtadir Sampulna, was wounded and recuperating in a hospital.

Abu Misry Mama, BIFF spokesman, told reporters that the killings were carried out to avenge the death of a ranking companion in a military operation in Maguindanao three days before.

“We will retaliate each time one of us gets killed in a government offensive,” Misry said.

The separate attacks that killed three soldiers preceded the powerful explosion in a residential area not too far from the Cotabato Regional Medical Center in Cotabato City.

Investigators said the grenade that a lone bomber lobbed on the roof of a house owned by retired police officer Rudy Payag, fell on one side of the building and exploded as it hit the ground.

No one was hurt in the explosion, but the incident triggered panic among members of Payag’s family and their neighbors.

Personnel of the Cotabato City police and intelligence agents from the 6ID are still validating circulating text messages alleging that the BIFF was also behind the grenade attack.

The blast site was less than 2 kilometers southwest of the BARMM capitol, the operations center of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority.

Rangers encounter Abu Sayyaf in Basilan

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 3, 2019): Rangers encounter Abu Sayyaf in Basilan

Government troops conducting focused military operations encountered more than 12 Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) militants in Basilan on Friday, March 1.

A military report disclosed that troops of the Ninth Scout Ranger Company of the Third Scout Ranger Battalion were on patrol when they encountered about 20 ASG members in Barangay Camamburingan, Ungkaya Pukan, Basilan Province, at about 10 a.m.

The encounter lasted for about 20 minutes, after which, the enemy withdrew towards the south.

No casualty was reported on the government side while on the enemy side it is yet to be determined as pursuit operations are still being conducted.

Armed Forces of the Philippines-Western Mindanao Command (AFP-WestMinCom) Chief Lt. Gen. Arnel B. Dela Vega said the group encountered by the troops were trying to reorganize but he gave the assurance: “We will not allow them to do so,”

“Intensified operations are currently being conducted to pursue the fleeing bandits,” Dela Vega added.

Pope Francis names Cebu bishop to head PH military ordinariate

From the Manila Times (Mar 3, 2019): Pope Francis names Cebu bishop to head PH military ordinariate

POPE Francis has appointed a Cebu bishop to head the Military Ordinariate of the Philippines.

Cebu Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Jaime Florencio, 53, will be succeeding the late Bishop Leopoldo Tumulak.

The position has been vacant since Tumulak died in June 2017, according to a post from CBCP News, the news service of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

The post said that the appointment was announced by the Vatican on Saturday at 12 noon (7 p.m. in Manila) on Saturday, March 2.

The military ordinariate has jurisdiction over the Philippine National Police (PNP), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).

Florencio served the Archdiocese of Palo, Leyte, his hometown, as its priest for 25 years. He became an ordained minister on April 3, 1990.

In 2015, Florencio became the first priest from the Palo archdiocese to be promoted as bishop in 28 years.

Two years after, Florencio assumed the post, apostolic administrator of the military diocese.

The prelate earned his doctorate in sacred theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.

Commentary: Broken trust, when officials rush to close southern Philippines church bombing case

Posted to Channel News Asia (Mar 3, 2019): Commentary: Broken trust, when officials rush to close southern Philippines church bombing case (By Sidney Jones)

Trust and relations between Indonesia and the Philippines have become casualties of the Jolo cathedral bombing, says Sidney Jones, Director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict in Jakarta.

A Philippine Army member inspects the damage inside a church after a bombing attack in Jolo, Sulu province, Philippines January 27, 2019. (Photo: Armed Forces Of The Philippines - Western Mindanao Command/Handout via REUTERS)

JAKARTA: The Philippine government’s premature declaration that Indonesians were the perpetrators of the Jolo cathedral bombing last month has set back the prospects for regional cooperation on terrorism and reinforced a perception among Indonesian counterparts of the Philippines as an unreliable and unprofessional partner.

The eagerness of senior Philippine politicians to declare the case closed does a disservice to all the younger, well-trained law enforcement and intelligence officers in Manila and Mindanao who are determined to find out who the perpetrators actually were and uncover the sequence of events that led to the attack.

Indonesians may well have been involved, and if they were, the need for proactive information sharing is critical. As the last Islamic State strongholds in the Middle East are falling, the call of Islamic State leaders to their supporters to wage war at home takes on a new significance for Southeast Asia, underscoring the need for cross-border cooperation.

READ: Battered in the Middle East, IS eyes Southeast Asia as next terrorism hotspot

The urgent task now is for donors to use every opportunity to bring Indonesian and Philippine officials together from all agencies at all levels to counteract the distrust caused by irresponsible political statements.


Hard facts remain scarce. On Sunday (Jan 27) morning, an explosion took place inside the cathedral, followed seconds later by another bombing outside the church as soldiers on duty rushed to the scene.

On Jan 29, President Rodrigo Duterte spoke to reporters and said he learned from intelligence sources that the bombers were a husband-wife team, and while reports were conflicting, they seemed to be Indonesian.

READ: Surabaya bombings and the conundrum of family suicide bombers, a commentary

On Feb 1, Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano identified the suicide bombers as Indonesians, though he did say the information had to be verified.

In a press conference on Feb 4, Philippine National Police Chief Oscar Albayalde announced the “surrender” of five suspects (all Abu Sayyaf members), gave the death toll as 23, one more than most previous accounts, and referred to an Indonesian woman as one of the suicide bombers. Many remain sceptical of the circumstances surrounding the “surrender”.

President Duterte said a woman who remains at large left a device that exploded during mass at the cathedral in the remote Muslim-majority island of Jolo on Sunday, and her husband later blew himself up outside (Photo: AFP/NICKEE BUTLANGAN)

READ: Why the use of women and children raises the stakes in the fight against terrorism, a commentary

There is no hard evidence to identify the bombers: No immigration or travel documents, no fingers to take prints from, no skulls to reconstruct possible facial images, no identification that would make DNA matches possible. To this day, it remains unclear whether the bombs were detonated by the couple themselves or by someone else near the site.

The information that the couple was Indonesian rests on the testimony of witnesses. One who heard them speaking Indonesian and who himself had lived in Indonesia for six months so knew the language, another who had spent several months in the same camp as the male foreigner and testified he was Asian but did not know his nationality.

The camp, led by Abu Sayyaf Group leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, is believed to be hosting a handful of other foreigners, including an Egyptian and two or three minors.
READ: Islamic State brides and the meaning of citizenship, a commentary


Indonesians were outraged that senior officials would jump to conclusions about the bombers’ nationality based on such skimpy evidence.

Indonesia’s elite counter-terrorism unit, Detachment 88, sent a team to Jolo to see what additional information they could glean, only to find the crime scene in shambles. Families retrieving the dead and wounded, top officials visiting the site with media in tow, dogs eating human remains - all of this meant that key evidence was lost.

The Indonesian ambassador in Manila sent a formal request for clarification to the Philippines foreign secretary while Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi stressed that there was no concrete proof that Indonesians were involved.

A file photo of Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. (Photo: AFP)

READ: The secret group dynamics that fuel horrifying terror attacks, a commentary

The casualty is the trust that is vital to cooperation on counter-terrorism issues. Some Philippine officials believe that Indonesia is deliberately sending its terrorists to the Philippines to ensure they don’t do damage at home.

Some top Indonesian officials see Philippines as incapable of conducting serious investigations, so why share sensitive information that will get misused?


The Jolo bombing has widened the gulf, at a time when there is more of a need than ever to understand the linkages between extremist movements in the two countries. Donors can help.

Now is the time to take whatever budgets governments have for exchanges and bring Indonesians and Filipinos together in the same programmes: Law enforcement, immigration, prison administration and intelligence, to ensure that even if the politicians make a mess of things, the personal ties established can go some way to make up for it.

[Sidney Jones is the Director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, Jakarta. This commentary first appeared on Lowy Institute's blog The Interpreter. Read it here.]

Vice Admiral Medina takes helm of AFP-WestCom

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 3, 2019): Vice Admiral Medina takes helm of AFP-WestCom

Vice Admiral Rene V. Medina assumed command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Western Command (AFP-WestCom) during the traditional Change of Command Ceremony held at the Lawak Gymnasium, Camp General Artemio Ricarte, Puerto Princesa City, on Saturday, March 2, 2019.

(L-R) AFP Chief of Staff General Benjamin P. Madrigal, Jr. and Vice Admiral Rene V. Medina assumed command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Western Command (AFP-WestCom) during the traditional Change of Command Ceremony held at the Lawak Gymnasium, Camp General Artemio Ricarte, Puerto Princesa City, on Saturday, March 2, 2019. (AFP-WESTCOM / FACEBOOK / MANILA BULLETIN)

The activity was presided by no less than AFP Chief of Staff General Benjamin P. Madrigal, Jr.

Madrigal gave recognition to Commodore Dorvin Jose L. Legaspi, who served as the acting commander of WestCom for almost three months of securing and sustaining peace in the province and in the West Philippine Sea.

He also expressed his confidence in the commitment, passion, and dedication of the new commander, Vice Admiral Medina to bring the Command to new pinnacles of excellence.

Medina, the 32nd Commander of Western Command, is a member Philippine Military Academy “Sinagtala” Class of 1986.

Before taking his post in WestCom, he also served as the Commander of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NFWM) which he will turn over to his successor.

The NFWM is the largest naval operating force of the Philippine Navy and the recipient of the prestigious award as Naval Operating Forces of the Year 2018 while Medina is a commander.

Medina held senior positions in Naval Education and Training Command (NETC) for a year. He has also commanded the Sealift Amphibious Force (SAF) of the Philippine Fleet.

In his almost 33 years in service, he is honored to join the great lineage of WestCom Commanders who defeated threats, set as an example to uniformed men and women of Team WestCom and secured the province to peaceful and progressive development for more than four decades now.

Medina thanked President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and the AFP leadership for the trust and confidence in appointing him as new WestCom Commander.

Vice Admiral Medina becomes 32nd Commander of Western Command

From GMA News (Mar 2, 2019): Vice Admiral Medina becomes 32nd Commander of Western Command

Armed Forces of the Philippines' Vice Admiral Rene Medina on Saturday formally assumed as the 32nd commander of the Western Command during the turnover rite at the Lawak Gymnasium, Camp General Artemia Ricarte, Puerto Princesa City.

AFP Chief of Staff General Benjamin Madrigal Jr. presided over the traditional change of command ceremony and expressed his confidence in Medina's commitment, passion, and dedication.

Madrigal also gave recognition to Commodore Dorvin Jose Legaspi, who served as acting commander of the Western Command for almost three months.

Before taking his new post, Medina served as commander of Naval Forces Western Mindanao, the largest naval operating force of the Philippine Navy.

Medina is a member of the Philippine Military Academy "Singtala" Class of 1986 and has been service for 33 years.

During the ceremony, Medina thanked President Rodrigo Duterte and the AFP leadership for appointing him as the new Western Command commander.

DFA chief wants US to re-arm the Philippines

From the Philippine Star (Mar 3, 2019): DFA chief wants US to re-arm the Philippines

In a post on Twitter following his meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday, Locsin described enhancing the Philippines’ self-defense capability as the “wisest” alternative that the US can take amid concerns over China’s aggression in the region.

Despite President Duterte’s position that the Philippines will avoid procuring military equipment from the United States, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. still wants the country’s long-time ally to re-arm the Philippine military.

In a post on Twitter following his meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday, Locsin described enhancing the Philippines’ self-defense capability as the “wisest” alternative that the US can take amid concerns over China’s aggression in the region.

“The wisest, most expeditious alternate to one or the other view is for the US to help re-arm our military (it prefers US weaponry as I kept telling the US) and enhance our self-defense capability; leaving the initial decision to fight to us in our best light,” he wrote.

Locsin issued the statement after Pompeo committed to defend the Philippines in the event of an armed attack on its forces or interests in the disputed South China Sea.

In January, Duterte vowed not to acquire military equipment from the US, noting its criticisms of alleged human rights violations in the country.

“I will not agree to buy. It doesn’t look good. It does not sit well with the Filipinos that they will treat you that way and you just obey,” the President said in a mix of English and Filipino in a speech in Bulacan.

“If you buy from China or maybe Russia, you will be included in embargo, you cannot trade with America,” he added.

Duterte earlier pushed for procurement of military equipment from other countries, particularly Russia.

Still on Twitter, Locsin maintained that contrary views of members of the administration do not show division but a “big brain” for being able to have multiple positions.

“Let’s not hear that it shows division in the administration. No, it only shows this is a big brain administration that can hold contrary views in its mind. Only simpletons can hold just one. I refer you to previous administrations,” he said.

Locsin may have been referring to conflicting positions on the review of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and the United States.

The foreign affairs chief on Friday said there is no need to review the treaty, contradicting Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana who earlier said there is a need to look at the 68-year old agreement.