Monday, March 4, 2019

Analysts flag ‘potential fractures’ in Bangsamoro Transition Authority

From the Business World (Mar 3, 2019): Analysts flag ‘potential fractures’ in Bangsamoro Transition Authority


DEFENSE Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana on Saturday said the national government may exercise its power to “remove” any appointed transition leader who is “perceived to be sabotaging” the transition government of the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

This is in response to the view by analysts interviewed by BusinessWorld that the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), which is composed of members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and other sectors, has “potential fractures” that can complicate efforts to fulfill its legislative priorities, including how a block grant is to be spent and the enactment of the region’s administrative and other codes during the three-year transition period.

Michael Henry LI. Yusingco, senior research fellow at the Ateneo School of Government, said via e-mail: “While we all pray that the BTA will be successful in shepherding the transition from ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) to BARMM, there are still potential fractures within the BTA that can hinder its success.”

“The first group would be the people who expected to be part of the BTA but for some reason or another were not appointed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte. They can play the role of spoilers to the BTA’s plan for the next three years. Just last week, we saw one personality from such group openly protesting that the composition of the BTA is akin to ‘tyranny.’ Moreover, we also heard one Moro group saying they will not even recognize the leadership of the BTA. How far will these disgruntled groups carry their feelings of disappointment with the BTA? This a question loaded with a lot of scary possibilities. But no clear answers yet for now,” he said.

The second group, Mr. Yusingco also said, “would be those appointed in the BTA who know nothing about being in government and are unwilling to learn how to be successful in their new roles.”
For his part, Mr. Lorenzana said via text: “The government will be closely watching the BTA. I believe the government has the power to remove anybody or group within the BTA who is perceived to be sabotaging it.”

Mr. Yusingco said the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) is silent as to the power of the President to remove members from the BTA. “But inherent in the power to appoint is the power to remove. This is already an established principle of law in our jurisdiction. Hence, President Rodrigo R. Duterte can, for cause, remove any member of the BTA.”

But Mr. Lorenzana assured that factionalism within the BTA “will not happen [because] these people were chosen to do a job.”

“I believe in the leadership of Acting Chief Minister Murad [Ebrahim] and the MILF. I have talked to him and [MILF’s first vice chair] Ghazali Jaafar, and they have explained to me the objective of the BTA. That is to form a governing body and to craft laws that will serve the people of the BARMM. The Government has 39 nominees and we expect them to do their job as well,” the defense chief said.

Also in a phone message, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Q. Iqbal said: “That possibility might happen, but it is not good to underestimate the inner strength of our people to unite when there is a need for it. As long as the BTA under the leadership of the MILF will work for the common good, factionalism might not happen at all.”

Political history assistant professor Marlon B. Lopez of the Mindanao State University-Tawi-Tawi College of Technology and Oceanography said via chat last Friday that “MNLF members are seeing the MILF-led BTA quite troubling” because only a few seats were given to the group. “It was seen as disregarding the MNLF and the people who are still loyal to the group. The Sama and Tausug people are also unhappy that the BTA is dominated by Maranaos and Maguindanaons. Equal representation in the BTA is a must, according to them.”

For her part, Yasmira P. Moner of the Young Moro Professionals Network and the Department of Political Science of MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology said factionalism will most likely happen.
“Most likely, pwedeng ganyan ang maging scenario (the scenario may turn out that way),” she said in a chat exchange.


Mr. Yusingco said the “potential fractures” he mentioned “will be severely tested…when decisions have to be made concerning the budgeting of the block grant.”
“Where will the funds go and for what? When the BTA starts to address these questions, the diversity in views and interests amongst the members of the BTA can be a difficult issue to overcome. If members retreat to their respective corners, meaning protect their own interests, then the BTA itself could be severely compromised,” he said, adding that “when the BTA is faced with making difficult policy decisions, the group fractures can rear its ugly head as well.”

“Bear in mind that this office will exercise legislative and executive powers over the new and expanded Bangsamoro autonomous region during the transition period. Hence, in the spirit of managing expectations, this immense power vested in the BTA begs the question as to how it should be wielded.”

Given the BTA’s transitory existence, should it still pursue the enactment of substantive laws on local government, education, civil service and so forth? Or should the BTA focus primarily on organizing the regional bureaucracy and managing the administrative transition from ARMM to BARMM? Indeed, it can be argued that given the substantive nature of these proposed laws, it would be more appropriate to have a duly elected legislative body, such as the Bangsamoro Parliament, to draft and enact them according to the legislative procedure mandated by the BOL. Save perhaps the enactment of a new electoral code, the other matters requiring legislation can wait for the election of the first set of Bangsamoro parliamentarians in 2022,” Mr.Yusingco said.

“When the BTA is compelled by circumstances to face this issue, how will the various groups react? Again, retreating to their respective corners, meaning protecting their own interests, could be catastrophic for the prospects of the BARMM itself. Insisting on legislating these laws in such a short period of time can lead to the enactment of bad laws,” he added.

For his part, Mr. Lopez said: “The differences on the interpretation of the Shariah and the Hadith, especially among ustads who are being followed by MILF and MNLF members, will influence their decisions.”

The power struggle between the two groups, he said, “will surely affect [their decisions on] the election code and the apportionment of the shares of local government units.”


Ms. Moner said via phone interview that the transition leaders need a capacity-building support, “especially on the part of the MILF.”

“They need to be trained in leadership and technical know-how on how they are going to carry out their functions. There has to be a clarification of their roles and responsibilities. They have to be really learned, and it is both a challenge and an opportunity for them to strive,” she explained.

Mr. Yusingco said, “How they will blend with other members of the BTA, who have been studying and training to be part of the new regional government the past years, remains to be seen. Will this novice group of BTA members be able to adjust to the politics and politicking? Will they remain true to their revolutionary ideals? Or will they also succumb to the temptations of money politics? Again, no definitive answers to these questions yet.”

Ms. Moner said majority of the Moro people are “hopeful and optimistic” that BARMM will succeed. “But there are also skeptics because this is a new region and there are new devolved powers.”

The budget, she also said, remains an issue to them “because as far as we know the first year budget for the interim government is still the budget from the previous ARMM.”

“Hence, it is very early to judge what this interim government could deliver,” Ms. Moner said further.

Soldiers recover 2,025 loose firearms in Central Mindanao

From the Business Mirror (Mar 4, 2019): Soldiers recover 2,025 loose firearms in Central Mindanao
The Army’s 6th Infantry Division (ID) based in Central Mindanao reported it had already confiscated or received a total of 2,025 loose firearms.

The campaign against loose firearms, initiated by 6th ID commander Major Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, aimed to ensure that only authorized individuals are allowed to possess and carry firearms in Central Mindanao where the government is battling terrorist groups, especially the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

Sobejana said the campaign also supported the drive of the Philippine National Police to recover at least a million firearms that are in the hands of unauthorized civilians in the whole of Mindanao.

Over the weekend, at least nine loose firearms were turned over to the members of the Alpha Company of 90th Infantry Battalion during ceremonies in the Barangays of Talitay in the province of Maguindanao.

The firearms were surrendered by residents of Barangays Poblacion, Pageda, Kilalan, Macadayon, Manggay and Kiladap, all of Talitay.

The surrender of firearms was facilitated by Datu Fajad Midtimbang, the president of the Association of Barangay Captains of Talitay. The weapons surrendered included two M-16 riffle, five shotguns, a homemade M-14 rifle and one locally made .38-caliber revolver with assorted ammunition.

Sobejana said he welcomed the surrender of the weapons, adding that he considered the act as a show of support to the 6th ID’s campaign to recover loose firearms.

WESTMINCOM: 9 firearms surrendered anew by Maguindanaoans

From the Western Mindanao Command (WESTMINCOM)  Website: 9 firearms surrendered anew by Maguindanaoans

Residents of Talitay, Maguindanao surrendered nine more undocumented firearms to Army troops from February 28 to March 2, 2019.

1st Lieutenant Bladimer Suanque, the commanding officer of the Alpha Company under the 90th Infantry Battalion, received the said firearms from residents of Barangays Poblacion, Pageda, Kilalan, Macadayon, Manggay, and Kiladap in a ceremony in Talitay, Maguindanao.

Residents presented two M16 rifles, five shotguns, an M14 rifle, and a Caliber .38 pistol with magazines and ammunition.

“This is an offshoot of the concerted efforts of our soldiers and the Association of Barangay Captains of Talitay, headed by its president, Datu Fajad Midtimbang. My profuse gratitude and commendation to the local officials of Talitay and the constituents for their untiring support to our campaign against the proliferation of loose firearms in Maguindanao,” said Major General Cirilito Sobejana, the Joint Task Force Central Commander.

As of March 3, military troops recovered 2,025 firearms in the operational area of the JTF Central.

“Rest assured that we will remain committed in curbing the proliferation of undocumented firearms, the resolution of which will aid in our efforts to address security issues that beset Mindanao,” said Lieutenant General Arnel Dela Vega, the commander of the Western Mindanao Command.

“We, of course, attribute this progress to the commitment of our troops on the ground and that of the leaders and of the people of Maguindanao, who are with us in our campaign for peace in the regions of Mindanao,” added Lieutenant General Dela Vega.

“Together, we will continue to achieve greater feats for long-term security and development in Mindanao.”

EASTMINCOM: Troops discover Landmine, arms cache

From the Eastern Mindanao Command (EASTMINCOM)  Website: Troops discover Landmine, arms cache

NSFA, Panacan, Davao City - Two laid landmines were discovered by troops of 23rd Infantry Battalion (IB) under LTC Francisco Molina along So. Bulak, Brgy. Lower Olave, Buenavista, Agusan del Norte on March 2, 2019, at around 11 o' clock in the morning.

In a report by LTC Molina, the discovery came upon the information of a concerned individual while troops were conducting security operations.

The International Humanitarian Law-banned anti-personnel landmine was recovered and undergone safety process before it was brought to Headquarters 23IB for safe disposition.

On a separate occasion, troops from 39th Infantry Battalion (IB) discovered a Communist NPA Terrorist Group (CNTG) arms cache along the "Peace Zone" of Sitio Alimodian, Barangay Banayal, Tulunan, North Cotabato in the morning of March 1, 2019, upon the information of a former NPA member who surrendered to the unit.

LTC Rhojun Rosales, Commander of 39IB in his report states that the cache yielded a machine gun, two high powered rifles, and four rifle spare barrels.

The officials of the said barangay have witnessed the discovery of the cache and the actual recovery of the firearms.

"The spontaneous flow of information from the communities is proof that they are for peace and renounce violence to rule in their respective communities. This, along with the declaration of different communities of the CNTGs as undesirable in their respective areas, should be enough for them to understand the message," LTGEN Felimon T. Santos Jr., Commander, Eastern Mindanao Command said.

On February 26, 2019, it can be recalled that operating troops of the 56th Infantry Battalion also recovered four high powered firearms in a Communist NPA Terrorists' arms cache in Barangay Dagohoy, Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

Meanwhile, another arms cache and hideout at Sitio Bulak, Barangay Lower Olave, Buenavista, Agusan del Norte was tipped off to the patrolling platoon of 23IB, 4th Infantry Division on February 27, 2019, yielding firearms and medicine.

Source: Public Information Office, Eastern Mindanao Command, AFP


From the Eastern Mindanao Command (EASTMINCOM) Website: Troops foil NPA attacks

NSFA, Panacan, Davao City - Troops from different units of Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) foiled CPP-NPA Terrorist Group after they were encountered in five instances in different areas over the weekend.

This came after the CPP's Jose Maria Sison directed the New Peoples Army to conduct atrocities across the country.

Responding on the reported arms cache in So Sil-angon, Brgy Cawayan, San Fernando, Bukidnon, troops deployed by 1003rd Infantry Brigade figured in a firefight against Communist NPA Terrorist Group (CNTG) in the said area at about 10:30 in the morning of March 2, 2019.

The brief skirmish led to the death one CNTG member and the seizure of three shotgun.

Earlier at about 9:30 AM of same day March 2, 2019, one team from 3rd Special Forces Battalion, while conducting security operations encountered an undetermined number of CNTGs at Barangay Mabuhay, Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur. The brief encounter caused the life Cpl Ambert C. Maramag.

In a separate instance, at about 9:20 AM of March 2, 2019, troops from 30th Infantry Battalion, while responding to a reported presence of CNTG in Sitio Katikoyan, Barangay Camam-onan, Gigaquit, Surigao del Norte was fired upon by undetermined numbers of CNTG that led to a 20-minute firefight.

The CNTGs scampered to different directions leaving a bandoleer containing AK47 ammunition, one anti-personnel mine, one hundred (100) meters detonation wire, Motorola HH radio, and other belongings.

Late afternoon of March 1, 2019, troops from the 4th Scout Ranger Battalion, while on the process of validating the reported presence of CNTG in Barangay San Roque, San Miguel, Surigao del Sur likewise figured in an encounter with undetermined CNTGs thereat. The firefight lasted for about 15 minutes with no casualty reported on both sides.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Felimon T. Santos Jr., Commander Eastern Mindanao Command attributes the foiling of the attacks with the cooperation of the communities.

"The foiling of the evil plan of the CNTG is brought about by the information from the communities, the CNTGs are losing space to hide and run," Lt. Gen. Santos Jr. said.

"The NPAs should read the message that they are not welcome in the communities, instead of continuously joining the armed group in futility they should lay down their arms and join the mainstream, our doors are open and willing to assist in their surrender," he added.
Source: Public Information Office, Eastern Mindanao Command, AFP

Rebels surrender 27 guns

From the Visayan Daily Star (Mar 4, 2019): Rebels surrender 27 guns

The New People’s Army suffered a setback with the surrender of 25 of its members who endorsed 27 high-powered firearms to the authorities on Saturday, in a ceremony held at the 79th Infantry Battalion headquarters in Brgy. Bato, Sagay City, Negros Occidental, Col. Benedict Arevalo, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, said yesterday.
This is also proof that localized peace talks are succeeding in Negros, contrary to claims of leaders of the Komiteng Rehiyonal-Negros that they will not succeed, Arevalo said.

The surrender of 25 NPA members with their firearms will lessen the proliferation of guns, and will contribute to a reduction of possible election-related violence in the 1st district of Negros Occidental, during the May 13 elections, he added.

The 25 NPA red fighters and squad leaders belonging to the Platoon Robinson of the Northern Negros Front surrendered 27 firearms, including three M-16 rifles, an M-14 assault rifle, four M-1 garand rifles, 12 .45 caliber pistols, a .22 caliber magnum rifle with scope, four 12 gauge shotguns, and two 9mm Uzi machine pistols, a .38 caliber revolver, and magazines with ammunition, Police Lt. Col. Mario Baquiran, commander of the NOCPPO Provincial Mobile Force Company, said.

Lt. Col Emelito Thaddeus Logan, 79th Infantry Battalion commander, yesterday said that former rebels also took their oath of allegiance to support the government, before DILG North Cluster leader Fatima Daiz.

Logan also cited the important role of barangay officials in urging the NPA to give up violence, in support to the localized peace talks initiated by the 303rd Infantry Brigade last year.

The surrender of the 25 NPA members, who are operating in the tri-boundaries of Salvador Benedicto, San Carlos City and Murcia, was made through a joint effort of the 79IB, Special Action Battalion (SAB) 6 of the PNP, and 1st Provincial Mobile Force Company of NOCPPO.
The 303rd Infantry Brigade and NOCPPO, under the leadership of Police Col. Romeo Baleros.are now coordinating with the DILG in processing the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program that can be availed of by the former rebels, as well as an immediate assistance of P15,000.

Arevalo said the former rebels can also avail of P50,000 in livelihood assistance, firearms remuneration f from P12,000 to P500,000, education, medical and housing assistance, among others, from the government.

He added that negotiations are also ongoing for the surrender of more NPA rebels, but he did not elaborate on the details.

"It is not too late for them to surrender because the government knows that they are only victims of the CPP-NPA-NDF deception, Arevalo said.

The surrender of 25 NPA red fighters was also preceded by the return to the folds of the law of 254 Yunit Militia members and supporters of the CPP-NPA who also pledged to support the government, as a result of the Community Support Programs of the various infantry units of the 303rd Infantry Brigade in Negros Occidental.

To curb ISIS influence, Bangsamoro gov't must involve youth – Samira Gutoc

From Rappler (Mar 4, 2019): To curb ISIS influence, Bangsamoro gov't must involve youth – Samira Gutoc

The Moro youth, vulnerable to radicalization offline and online, should be included in the task of governing the new Bangsamoro region, says opposition senatorial bet Samira Gutoc

NEW CHALLENGE. Mindanaoan civic leader Samira Gutoc wants the youth to be part of the governance of the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Photo by Leanne Jazul

NEW CHALLENGE. Mindanaoan civic leader Samira Gutoc wants the youth to be part of the governance of the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Photo by Leanne Jazul

Mindanaoan civic leader and senatorial candidate Samira Gutoc said the best way to prevent the radicalization of young Muslims is to involve them in the task of governing.

The formation of a new Bangsamoro region and government presents an opportunity. On Monday, March 4, during Rappler's and Ateneo School of Government's "The Leader I Want Forum," she called on the new Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) to involve the youth of the region in crafting policies.

"You need young people to accept that they can be part of governing, they can be part of deciding, they can be part of crafting administrative codes where a youth commisison will be installed," she said.

"They should be able to be part of political parties. Young people have a right to be heard, decision-making isn't just for the elders," she added.

Aside from the youth, she said indigenous peoples of the Bangsamoro region should also be included in or consulted by the BTA.

Gutoc stressed that ensuring inclusivity in how the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) will be run is a crucial aspect in the fight against violent extremism since a lot of grievances that fuelled terrorism stem from the sentiment of being left out by government. (WATCH: Samira Gutoc: Are you the leader I want?)

Pursuing only a military solution, she said, will not work.

Duterte has named 76 of the BTA members. Led by Interim Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim, the BTA held their first meeting recently and is set to convene as Bangsamoro's first parliament within the month of March.

Gutoc herself was appointed by Duterte into the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTA), the group that helped craft the Bangsamoro Organic Law, which created the BARMM.

But she resigned in protest of Duterte's martial law in Mindanao and his rape joke about soldiers raping Moro women.

Blaze hits Camp Aguinaldo as fire prevention month begins

From Rappler (Mar 4, 2019): Blaze hits Camp Aguinaldo as fire prevention month begins

The fire hits a one-story warehouse at the military camp

FLATTENED. A one-story Camp Aguinaldo warehouse is brought to the ground after flames spread in the afternoon of Monday, March 4, 2019. Photo courtesy of DWDD Radio

FLATTENED. A one-story Camp Aguinaldo warehouse is brought to the ground after flames spread in the afternoon of Monday, March 4, 2019. Photo courtesy of DWDD Radio

A storage facility inside Camp Aguinaldo caught fire on Monday, March 4 – during the first week of Fire Prevention Month.

According to a report from the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), the fire spread at 2:41 pm, and peaked at first alarm level at 2:56 pm.

As more firefighters arrived, the flames were declared under control at 3:22 pm, and were declared completely out by 3:29 pm.

The fire hit a one-story warehouse at the military camp, with the spark believed to have come from a stockpile of office supplies. It is unclear what other items were kept at the warehouse aside from office materials.

The BFP initially estimated the damage to amount to about P30,0000.

Hunt on for killers of NoCot police intel officer

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 4, 2019): Hunt on for killers of NoCot police intel officer

Police in North Cotabato province are hunting down two men who ambushed and killed a police intelligence officer in Carmen town over the weekend.

Lt. Col. Bernard Tayong, North Cotabato police spokesperson, said the ambush on Saturday of Cpl. Resahemer Dolano, intelligence chief of the Carmen police, in Barangay Manarapan of the town was “work-related”.

Police teams, backed by elements of the Army’s 7th Infantry Battalion, are now hunting down the suspects whose facial description and identification were provided by civilians.

He said Dolano, 32, was driving his multicab vehicle when tailed and fired upon by a motorcycle riding-in-tandem at about 7 a.m.

“Dolano was conducting surveillance activities on suspected carnappers in the borders of Barangays Manarapan and Aroman when ambushed,” Tayong told reporters here Monday.

Responding village officials rushed the officer to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Task Group Cebu commits troops for marijuana uproot ops

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 4, 2019): Task Group Cebu commits troops for marijuana uproot ops

ANTI-CANNABIS OPERATIONS. Col. Noel Baluyan, chief of Task Group Cebu, Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO) chief Police Colonel Manuel Abrugena, and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA-7) Director Wardley Getalla witness the ceremonial burning of marijuana plants that were confiscated during the joint uprooting operations, held at old Regional Training Center 7, Barangay Gaas, Balamban, Cebu, March 1, 2019. (Photo courtesy of 302nd Infantry Brigade, Philippine Army)

The Philippine Army in Cebu on Monday said it will continue to deploy troops in civilian law enforcement agencies to participate in marijuana uprooting operations at the hinterlands of Metro Cebu.

This, as it successfully joined in the operations on Friday (March 1) in Sitio Agop Daku, Barangay Gaas in Balamban, Cebu that uprooted PHP4.6-million worth of marijuana (Cannabis sativa).

Col. Noel Baluyan, chief of Task Group Cebu, said the joint operation of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in Central Visayas, Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO), and the task group was part of the military’s commitment to assist other agencies in the campaign eradicating cannabis plants in the mountain barangays of the province.

Baluyan said troops under his command are ready to provide support to PDEA and CPPO in future operations against marijuana cultivators in central Cebu’s mountain barangays.

“The 302nd Infantry (Achiever) Brigade will continue its unwavering efforts in support of law enforcement agencies in eradicating all forms of illegal drugs within Region 7,” Baluyan, who is also the concurrent deputy commander of the Brigade, said in a statement.

Soldiers from the 47th Infantry Battalion’s Bravo Company led by 1Lt. Jayrod Cabahug also joined the agents from PDEA-7 and policemen from CPPO in the uprooting operation in the said place. The 47-IB is under the operational control (OpCon) of the 302nd Brigade.

The joint operatives conducted an on-site burning of 11,500 stalks of fully-grown marijuana plants at the old Regional Training Center (RTC-7) which is also situated in Barangay Gaas in Balamban.

Baluyan said CPPO Director, Police Colonel Manuel Abrugena, and PDEA-7, Regional Director Wardley Getalla also witnessed the ceremonial burning of uprooted stalks.

Soldier shot dead in Maguindanao

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 4, 2019): Soldier shot dead in Maguindanao

Joint police and military probers are investigating the slaying of an Army soldier by a lone gunman in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao on Sunday evening.

Major Arvin John Encinas, the Army’s 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, identified the victim as Corporal Sahelbasar Alaja, a member of the Army’s 90th Infantry Battalion (IB) assigned in the area.

Alaja was on a pedicab traversing Barangay Broce around 7 p.m. when a still unidentified gunman appeared from nowhere and fired, hitting him on the chest. The gunman fled after the incident and disappeared.

“The victim was rushed to the hospital but doctors declared him dead upon arrival,” Encinas said.

Recovered from the crime scene was one empty slug of a .45-caliber pistol. Alaja was the fourth soldier slain in the Maguindanao-Cotabato area during the last five days.

On Feb. 28, suspected members of the Islamic State-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters waylaid three soldiers who were onboard a car in Barangay Sambulawan, Datu Salibo, Maguindanao.

Slain were Privates Junard Estribor and Nelier Pinto, both of the Army’s 57th IB, while injured was Pvt. Muqtadir Sampulna, also of the same unit.

A stray bullet also injured a woman bystander in the incident. On the same day, a motorcycle riding-in-tandem also gunned down Staff Sgt. Verande Lardera of the Army’s 37th IB along Sinsuat Avenue, Rosary Heights 10, Cotabato City.

Lardera was onboard his motorbike when shot from behind by the gunmen amid heavy traffic in Sinsuat Avenue.

Police said they are looking into personal grudge as the motive behind Lardera’s murder.

Murad leads first BARMM flag-raising ceremony

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 4, 2019): Murad leads first BARMM flag-raising ceremony

Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) Interim Chief Minister Al Haj Murad Ebrahim addresses BARMM officials and some 500 employees after the first-ever flag-raising ceremony of the new autonomous regional government held inside Shariff Kabunsuan Complex in Cotabato city on Monday (Feb. 4). (Photo courtesy of United Bangsamoro Justice Party)

SHARIFF KABUNSUAN COMPLEX, Cotabato City – Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) Interim Chief Minister Al Haj Murad Ebrahim led here Monday other regional officials for BARMM’s first-ever flag-raising ceremony at the complex of the now-defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Murad stood at attention as he sang the “Lupang Hinirang” national anthem together with the other BARMM ministerial officials and some 500 employees at the grounds fronting the BARMM administrative building here.

“This is the first time that I, as your Chief Minister, and the members of the Interim Cabinet, have joined you in this flag-raising ceremony,” Murad said in his speech following the hoisting of the Philippine flag.

He noted that the new regional set up is in the very early stage of the transition process, and brings with it some elements of fear, doubt, and resistance.

“Maybe the most frequently asked question among yourselves could be, what would happen to us now?” he said, adding that consistent with his earlier statements, the employees’ status in the BARMM would be determined by the nature of their appointments.

“That is, for the permanent (employees): you remain in your posts until the Bangsamoro Transition Authority has finally adopted the transition plan, which shall contain the organizational plan as well as the schedule for the implementation thereof,” Murad said.

For those holding contracts of service, he said the BARMM would honor such contract in general, but a review of the nature of the job and performance shall also be made.

“For those co-terminus, I know that you are also aware that your service has to end simultaneous with the end of the term of the one who appointed you,” he stressed.

Murad told the BARMM workers to prepare for some snags in the coming months as there would be adjustments in the administrative, fiscal, organizational, legal, and relational matters to be resolved during the transition process.

“My only request to you, fellow workers of the BARMM, is cooperation. I truly understand your concern for your careers, but somehow we have to start this overhauling of the regional government,” he said.

Murad said a ministerial form of government would be established, necessitating bureaucratic changes, that is, changes in structures, processes and even people.

“We have to remember that the constitutional provisions on the creation of our autonomous region are grounded on the history of the struggle of our people for, among other things, the opportunity to improve their lives and their communities,” he said.

Navy intensifies maritime operation to secure Visayan seas

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 4, 2019): Navy intensifies maritime operation to secure Visayan seas

TASK GROUP 'STINGRAY.' A photo taken from guide ship BRP Ivatan shows Naval vessels BRP Salvador Abcede, BRP Alfredo Peckson, and BRP Abraham Campo sailing in formation en route to Tagbilaran City Pier in Bohol. (Photo courtesy of Naval Forces Central/Public Affairs Office)

The Philippine Navy has embarked on an intensified maritime operation to secure the central Philippine seas through its sail missions to different regions in the Visayas.

Naval Forces Central (Navforcen) public affairs officer, Ensign Maria Amanda Precious Zamuco, said the “Naval Task Group (NTG) 50.1 Stingray” started its operation on Friday (March 1) at the Captain Veloso Pier, Naval Base Rafael Ramos in Lapu-Lapu City.

Zamuco said the fourth “sortie out mission” will end in different ports of call in different regions.

“After series of successful engagements from its previous missions, STINGRAY is ready for more intensified operations as it is equipped with different components that are readily available for the different services that can be rendered for immediate action during the missions,” Zamuco said in a statement.

Under Navforcen’s Naval Task Force 50, “NTG 50.1 Stingray” is a multipurpose task group that can perform both combat and non-combat operations, Zamuco said.

The task group includes fleet of Navy ships intended for maritime patrols and security, she said.

The ships listed for the operations were BRP Ivatan (LC 298) as guide ship, followed by BRP Salvador Abcede (PC 114), BRP Alfredo Peckson (PC 372) and BRP Abraham Campo (PC 396).

Naval Special Operations Unit 5, medical, dental and civil military operations team and Navy reservists as force multipliers are integrated under the task group, she added.

Naval flag officer in command, Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad, led the activation and first sent-off mission of “NTG 50.1 Stingray” last December 3, 2018 at the Navforcen headquarters in Lapu-Lapu City.

The first leg of the mission included the ports of call to different municipalities in Leyte, while the second leg was in Samar, which included seaborne security for officials who attended the Balangiga Bells turn-over ceremony, she said.

The most recent mission of the task group was in the eastern seaboard, with Naval vessels departing from Lapu-Lapu City and sailed for Catbalogan City, Samar on February 1, she said.

The task group visited Allen and Dalupiri Island in Samar, Naval Biliran, Palompon, Ormoc, Maasin and Limasawa in Leyte, and the island province of Siquijor.

“Naval Forces Central has brought maritime security and territorial defense to greater heights as the Navy ships are no longer deployed individually but as a task group, more effective in projecting force from the sea,” the statement read. “The said task group also serves as a training group for the personnel of the Philippine Navy, law enforcement and local government units.”

The statement also said the Navy is committed to “developing a versatile and adaptive response based on our best available assets and capabilities in dealing with evolving challenges”.

The Central Command, headed by Lt. Gen. Noel Clement through the Naval Forces Central, is always ready “to respond to ensure the safety and security of the people in the Visayas and its nearby communities,” it said.

“We will ensure that there’s always a plan of action for every situation. We will not hesitate to aid our fellow countrymen. Through the establishment of strong partnerships, we will continue to create a maritime environment suitable for our country’s economic growth, development and sustainment,” the statement read.

Military willing to help victims of NPA atrocities

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 4, 2019): Military willing to help victims of NPA atrocities

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is more than willing to help individuals or groups victimized by New People's Army (NPA) atrocities.

Col. Noel Detoyato, AFP public affairs office chief, said the military is more than willing to help individuals or groups wanting to charge the communist rebels in court for the atrocities they suffered.

He issued this comment when asked what the AFP can do to make communist rebels liable for the crimes they have committed over the years.

"The AFP can assist those groups who wants to formally charge the CPP-NPA-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front) with formal complaints in our local courts and by using the provisions of IHL (International Humanitarian Law) in the International Courts and the UN tribunal by providing them with records of incidents of violation of human rights and provisions of IHL," Detoyato said in a message to the Philippine News Agency Sunday.

Earlier, the AFP official said the NPA attacks and destruction of civilian targets highlights its aim of pressuring businesses to give in to their extortion plans.

The wanton attacks also highlighted the communist rebels’ terroristic inclinations, he added.

"The burning spree of heavy equipment being perpetrated by the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army) is meant to continue with their terrorism plans and to pressure the companies to give in to their extortion demands," Detoyato said.

The NPAs also target the equipment of construction companies because they are soft and undefended and destroying them will delay and prevent the government from bringing basic services to rural communities.

The NPA is listed as a terror organization by the United States and the European Union.

ROTC grads can help in clean-up drives

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 4, 2019): ROTC grads can help in clean-up drives


Aside from beefing up the number of troops and helping in disaster response missions, Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) graduates can also help the government in its ongoing efforts to clean the country's vast coastal areas.

This was bared by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Col. Noel Detoyato when asked Sunday on whether or not the ROTC can be tapped in the ongoing efforts to clean Manila Bay and other coastal areas.

"The ROTC, aside from the trainings to become citizen soldiers and prepare them for HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster relief) duties, can set the example in caring for the environment by participating in clean-up drives both in coastal areas and forest reserves," Detoyato said in a message to the Philippine News Agency.

Earlier, Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson Arsenio Andolong said the country is planning to have reservist units, which can be activated in a moment's notice if needed.

"It is this state of readiness that we would like to achieve through the revival of mandatory ROTC along with the instilling of discipline, patriotism and love of country in our current youth and the other generations to come," he said in a message to the Philippine News Agency.

Since ROTC graduates are part and parcel of the AFP's Reserve Force, along with the Ready and Standby Reserves, Andolong said the former can be directed to report to their respective reserve units, which may be tasked to do any or all of the following when a contingency arises:

* Serve as a base for expansion of the regular force in the event of war, invasion or rebellion;

* Assist the government in relief and rescue operations in the event of calamities or disasters;

* Assist the government in socio-economic development and environmental concerns;

* Assist in the operation and maintenance of essential government and private utilities (e.g. power, telecommunications, and water).

"When analysts profile and examine the military strength of adversary nations, they pay special attention to the quality and quantity of their reserve forces. Israel and Singapore, for instance, maintain a relatively small regular force to maintain the armed forces but they have a large and very capable number of reservists who can be activated in a moment's notice," the DND spokesperson stressed.

House Bill 8961 seeks to amend for the purpose Republic Act 7077 or the Citizen Armed Forces of the Philippines Reservist Act.

Under the proposed measure, ROTC training would apply to “all students in Grades 11 and 12 in all senior high schools in public and private educational institutions.”

The bill also states that ROTC training shall be a requirement for graduation.

As provided for, the following students may be exempted: those who are physically or psychologically unfit; those who have undergone or are undergoing similar military training; those who are chosen by their school to serve as the school’s varsity players in sports competition; and those who may be exempted from training for valid reasons as approved by the DND, upon recommendation by an educational institution where the concerned student is enrolled.

The proposed measure also strictly prohibits the use of ROTC training for “political” objectives and for teaching and instilling a particular political ideology on students. House Bill 8961 also specifically bans hazing and other forms of physical or mental abuse.

PH Army gets mortars, assault rifles from US

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 4, 2019): PH Army gets mortars, assault rifles from US


The 44 mortars acquired by the Philippine Army (PA) through the US military assistance program was formally delivered at the PA Headquarters in Fort Bonifacio Sunday.

This was bared by Army spokesperson, Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala in a statement Monday.

This is aside from the 80 assault rifles provided by the US government through the same assistance program.

Assault rifles are the primary direct fire weapons used by infantry units participating in armed battles against the enemy, while mortars are indirect fire weapons mainly used to support the infantry.

"The PA expresses its gratitude to the US government in granting the assault rifles that will greatly improve the fighting skills of our frontline troops," Zagala said.

JGSDF chief visits PH Army counterpart

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 4, 2019): JGSDF chief visits PH Army counterpart

Japan Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF) chief of staff, Gen. Koji Yamazaki, and his party formally paid a visit to Philippine Army (PA) commander, Lt. Gen. Macairog Alberto at Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City Monday.

The purpose of the visit is to reinforce the two country’s strategic partnership and exchange insights on mutual interests.

The Philippines and Japan signed the Memorandum on Defense Cooperation and Exchanges in January 2015.

The agreement is meant to provide a framework for defense cooperation between the two defense ministries and their respective armed forces.

On June 8, 2015, the Philippine Army – Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Terms of Reference was signed, strengthening the friendly relations and cooperation while promoting open discussion of subjects of mutual interest for both armies.

As a result, the PA-JGSDF Working Group was established as a platform for both armies to plan or develop bilateral engagements that will enhance capabilities, interoperability and promote discussions of topics which are of mutual interest or mutually beneficial.

Yamazaki started his military career in 1983 as an army engineer later holding various key positions in the engineer field of specialization of the JGSDF.

Before assuming the leadership of JGSDF on August 2017, Yamazaki served as the Commanding General of the Northern Army in July 2016, he was also the Vice Chief of Staff of the Joint Staff in 2015.

He led the 9th Division as its Commanding General on August 2014, and he also served as the Commanding General of the 4th Engineer Brigade in 2008.

The two army chiefs expressed both their nation’s willingness to continue the exchange of information as both countries recognize each other’s expertise particularly in humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

The JGSDF chief also recognized the PA’s counter-terrorism efforts during the Marawi siege and the leadership decisions that helped resolve the crisis.

“My visit implies that my country recognizes the Philippines as a significant strategic partner in East Asia," Yamazaki said.

“I’m very honored to be here to strengthen our bilateral relations,” he added.

For his part, Alberto said he is optimistic that the visit of the JGSDF chief will boost the bilateral cooperation between Japan and the Philippines.

“Both armies can learn from each other’s experiences in terms of counter-terrorism and humanitarian assistance and disaster response through the conduct of training exchanges. We will continue the cooperation with renewed vigor in order to better tackle the various security challenges that both our countries are facing,” he added.

Also on Monday, Yamazaki also made a courtesy call on Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr. in Camp Aguinaldo.

During the visit, the maturity and development of AFP-JSDF military engagements have been emphasized, which includes the active service-to-service exchanges through the concluded Defense Cooperation Agreement.

The visit also reviewed all army-to-army engagements between the Philippine Army and JGSDF.

“The visit of the JGSDF Chief of Staff and the Defense Cooperation Agreement between AFP and JSDF encouraged more high-level or mid-level exchange visits in the future” Col. Noel Detoyato, AFP public affairs office chief, said in a separate statement.

Madrigal also expressed his appreciation on the donated spare parts and other excess military equipment from Japan to the Philippines, which greatly contributed to the advancement of AFP’s capability.

During his three-day visit which will last until Wednesday, Yamazaki is also set to meet with Defense Undersecretary for Defense Policy Ricardo David Jr.

Duterte assures court Misuari will return if allowed to travel

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 4, 2019): Duterte assures court Misuari will return if allowed to travel


President Rodrigo R. Duterte has assured the court that Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari will definitely return if permitted to leave the country.

Duterte made this assurance as he asked the court, the police and the military to allow the MNLF leader to travel abroad.

“Now Misuari came to me sa opisina ko (in my office) the other night because he wanted to go out, he was not allowed, tapos may kaso siya (because he is facing cases),” Duterte said during the PDP-Laban campaign rally in Zamboanga City on Sunday (March 3).

“Kinausap ko ang police pati military pati ang korte na palabasin muna siya (I spoke to the police, military, and court to allow him to leave the country). Ako ang nag-guarantee (guaranteed) that he will come back,” he added.

Malacañang, for its part, said that it saw nothing wrong with Duterte asking the court to allow Misuari to leave the country, noting that this move could help attain peace and order in Mindanao.

“Kung yung pagbibigay ng laya temporarily to Misuari makakatulong, palagay ko tungkulin ng Presidente na ipaalam sa hukuman na makakatulong itong taong ito (If giving temporary freedom to Misuari will help, I think it is the mandate of the President to tell the court that this person can help attain peace in Mindanao),” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a Palace briefing.

Panelo, Misuari’s former legal counsel, clarified that Duterte was not violating the separation of powers because he was not demanding but only persuading the courts.

“Ang tinatawag na interference ay kung sinabing ‘palabasin mo ‘yan’. Kumbaga inuutos mo. Pero kung kakausapin nyo, (Interference is when you ordered to allow him to go out. But if you persuade), I need this man to help us preserve peace in Mindanao,” Panelo said.

“What he is saying is, mas gusto niya na makalabas si Misuari (he would prefer to allow Misuari to leave) para pagbalik, maayos na ang problema sa Mindanao (so that when he returns, the problems in Mindanao have already been solved),” he added.

He said Duterte was simply providing the court with input to convince them to grant Misuari’s plea to leave the country.

“Hindi mo talaga diretsang pinakikialaman ang desisyon ng isang hukuman. Pinapabayaaan mo sila, (You’re not directly interfering with the decision of the court. You leave it to them), provide them with inputs and let them evaluate),” Panelo said.

Courts can’t be intimidated

Panelo also believed that courts would not allow themselves to be coerced or intimidated by any branch of the government.

“You have to call the attention of the court to this position so that it can be evaluated kasi if it means the survival of this country then the President should do everything in his persuasive power to convince other branches,” Panelo said.

However, he also said other branches of government should cooperate with the executive in efforts to achieve long-lasting peace in Mindanao.

“Kung kailangan ng Presidente na makiusap sa bawat sangay and after all itong tatlo sangay na ito ay dapat magtulungan para sa bansa natin (If there is a need for President to appeal to every branch of government and after all, these 3 branches need to help each other for our country),” Panelo said.

Duterte and Misuari had a short meeting at Malacañan Palace on February 25, during which, the President expressed admiration for Misuari’s patience in the peace talks.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said that Duterte and Misuari are scheduled to meet again soon.

Medialdea, however, clarified that Duterte only wanted a gentleman’s agreement with Misuari after the President said he wanted to “craft a new deal for the MNLF of Misuari”.

PNP chief warns possible revocation of ACT members' licenses

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 4, 2019): PNP chief warns possible revocation of ACT members' licenses


The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Monday said it considers asking the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) to revoke the licenses of members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) which is allegedly linked to communist rebels.

PNP chief, General Oscar Albayalde, made the remark after ACT asked the Court of Appeals (CA) to reconsider its decision junking their petition to stop the PNP's supposed conduct surveillance and profiling of public and private school teachers.

"The court has already dismissed their petition. I don't know if that will be entertained, though it is their right. We also have the right to file cases against them once we find physical evidence that will show their participation in rebellion. We will not hesitate to file a case against them and we will not also hesitate to file a petition to have their license revoked if necessary," Albayalde told reporters.

The PNP chief said they are now in the process of gathering physical evidence against the group's members.

“Remember, your license is not a right. It’s a privilege given to you by the state. It can always be revoked by the state if you abuse your profession,” he added.

However, Albayalde said the profiling of ACT members has been scrapped, noting that it was a mere part of intelligence efforts for national security after they were tagged by Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Maria Sison as one of their legal fronts.

“We did not say that. It was Joma Sison who said the ACT is one of their front organizations. And until now, they cannot denounce that they are actually a front organization of the CPP-NPA-NDF,” said Albayalde.

Last month, the appellate court's 11th Division cited shortcomings in ACT's petition, including its failure to include certified true copies of the memoranda supposedly issued by the PNP's intelligence units.

The court also cited the failure of ACT to state material dates in their petition, specifically the dates when the petitioners received the various assailed PNP memoranda.

It stressed that the petition likewise did not include the “current date of issuance of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines membership number of the petitioners' counsel” and “the current date of issuance of the Professional Tax Number of the petitioners' counsel” in violation of Bar Matter No. 287 dated Sept. 26, 2000 and Bar Matter No. 1132 dated Nov. 12, 2002, respectively.