Wednesday, March 13, 2019

DVIDS: U.S. and Philippine Service Members train side-by-side during Salaknib 2019

From the Defense Information Visual Distribution Service (DVIDS) (Mar 9, 2019): U.S. and Philippine Service Members train side-by-side during Salaknib 2019

U.S. and Philippine Service Members train side-by-side during Salaknib 2019

Photo By Sgt. Ariel Solomon | Filipino soldiers from the Philippines Army's 1st Brigade Combat Team and U.S Soldiers from 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, conduct military operations in urban terrain, or MOUT, training during Exercise Salaknib on Fort Magsaysay, Philippines, Mar 8, 2019. Salaknib is an annual exercise sponsored by U.S. Army Pacific and hosted by the Philippine Army, contributing to and enhancing U.S. and Philippine defense readiness while strengthening multinational relationships. (U.S. Army Photo By Sgt. Ariel J. Solomon, 128th MPAD)

Teamwork is built on mutual trust and understanding how each member of the team functions. Salaknib, an annual exercise sponsored by U.S. Army Pacific and hosted by the Philippine Army as part of the larger Pacific Pathways series of exercises, helps the U.S. Army and its Armed Forces of the Philippines allies get in step with each other should they be called into a conflict.

Part of learning to work together is sharing a working knowledge of tactics and techniques, even down what weapons each nation uses and how military working dogs are trained.

While out on the range, 1st Lt. Gamaliel C. Carin, Alpha Company Commander, 451B, 1st Brigade Combat Team, Philippines Army, explained how training with the U.S. and its weapon systems gives his troops a chance to see what their allies are capable of and how the U.S. uses its BCT teams effectively.

With U.S. and Filipino Soldiers working closely together, both are learning from each other. The practical experiences from combat in the south of the Philippines and the lessons from the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan are shared between each country.

“My Soldiers got an Improvised Explosive Device class this morning from the Filipino soldiers who have come back from conflicts in the south of their country,” said Capt. Glendon McCallum, company commander of Co. C, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker BCT, 2nd Infantry Division. “Getting these sorts of hands on lessons and hearing personal stories are really valuable for my Soldiers. Hearing their experience fighting in their own country has brought it home.”

Soldiers from the 520th Military Police out of Hawaii got to see how the Philippine army trains it’s working dogs from puppies and how its dogs are also used for search and rescue, two things that aren’t done in U.S. Military Working Dog program. The Filipino K-9 battalion likewise got lessons in how the U.S. prepares its dogs for duty on the battlefield.

“If this training happened every year it would greatly benefit both the U.S. and the Philippines K-9 programs,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Holmes, the K-9 subject-matter expert and plans NCO for the MWD Detachment of the 520th MPs. “We have a lot to learn from each other.”

On the range, infantrymen from both countries came together to shoot each other’s weapons and to see how those weapon systems each deal with the unique island conditions of the Philippines. Beyond just learning each other’s weapons, training together helps build bonds between Soldiers who may find themselves fighting side-by-side in a future conflict.

“I am very thankful we can have this exercise with the U.S. armed forces,” said Carin, adding that this training helped build comradery between his soldiers and the U.S. Soldiers.

The strong partnership and deep bonds created through training together will continue to benefit both countries into the future.

The US-Philippines Defense Treaty and the Pompeo Doctrine on South China Sea

From Just Security (Mar 11, 2019): The US-Philippines Defense Treaty and the Pompeo Doctrine on South China Sea (By Mark Nevitt)

In his recent trip to Asia, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reinforced the United States’ alliance with the Philippines, stating, “[a]s the South China Sea is part of the Pacific, any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea would trigger mutual defense obligations under Article IV of our Mutual Defense Treaty.” Secretary Pompeo was clearly referencing key terms of the 68-year old U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty. Specifically, he clarified that the United States considers the geographic scope of the treaty obligations to encompass activities in the South China Sea, while reinforcing the U.S.’s commitment to the treaty’s collective self-defense provisions. In the current geopolitical context, however, it’s no longer clear whether the Philippines sees this as a reassuring clarification of the robust scope of iron-clad obligations or an unwanted irritant vis-à-vis their neighbor China. In what follows, I unpack the Mutual Defense Treaty’s key terms and place it in context with current U.S.-Philippine relations and rising tensions in the South China Sea.

The 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty’s Key Terms

The U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty is fairly short (just one page) with eight succinct Articles. It has served as the cornerstone of U.S.-Philippine relations since 1951, facilitating a U.S. military presence in the Philippines throughout the Cold War and beyond while allowing the Philippines to concentrate on internal security matters following its 1946 independence.

Articles IV and V provide the treaty’s most important commitments, but many of its key terms are undefined. Article IV states,

Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.

Further, the treaty provides that any armed attack and all measures taken in response shall be immediately reported to the Security Council.

Article V of the treaty should be read in conjunction with Article IV. It states:

For purposes of Article IV, an armed attack on either of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack on the metropolitan territory of either of the Parties, or on the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific or on its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.

Two fundamental questions arise from the treaty’s text that are particularly relevant to understanding the treaty’s applicability to disputed territory in the South China Sea.

“Armed Attack”

First, what exactly, qualifies as an armed attack within the meaning of the treaty? This key term, mirrored in Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, the NATO Treaty, and other defense agreements, is not specifically defined in the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty. Its precise definition remains unclear and subject to varying interpretations under international law, too. To trigger the treaty’s collective self-defense provisions, an armed attack must first occur. Although a majority of states believe an armed attack is a use of force that passes a gravity threshold due to its scale and effects, the United States has historically interpreted “armed attack” to include any illegal use of force by another State. This means a lower threshold for the invocation of self-defense, which could have implications in tense regions like the South China Sea.

That said, an added complication here is that the Philippines, like most of the world, may hold the standard view that an “armed attack” requires a certain threshold. So, what to make of the term in a bilateral defense treaty in which the two sides might have a very different concept in mind? While the precise answer to this question remains unclear, the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet does sponsor an annual maritime exercise between the U.S., Philippines, and other Asian navies. The multinational Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise builds cooperation between the navies and works through a multitude of issues —to include legal issues—arising in an increasingly complex maritime environment. It is likely that any “daylight” in applying differing armed attack, rules of engagement, or use of force standards between the navies would be worked though in this annual exercise, or through other forms of bilateral communication, prior to any real-world engagement.

In the South China Sea and nearby waters, we have witnessed an uptick in maritime “gray zone tactics” to include dangerous maneuvers by Chinese vessels, use of water cannons by Chinese coastguard vessels, and Chinese harassment of Philippines fishermen near an island controlled by the Philippines that China claims. While these actions are unlikely to rise to the armed attack threshold (however defined), there exists a continual and mounting risk that mistakes could occur or a situation could escalate.

Of course it is in the interest of all parties to de-escalate tense situations whenever possible And any use of force would be legally constrained by governing self-defense principles of (1) necessity—states must use force only as a last resort; and (2) proportionality—states must limit the magnitude, scope, and duration of any use of force to that level of force which is reasonably necessary to counter a threat or attack. Further, by the treaty’s own terms, each nation’s response is subject to its own internal “constitutional processes.” This should partially mitigate concerns of an automatic and unwanted involvement in hostilities.

“In the Pacific Area”

Second, what is the precise geographic scope of treaty’s term “in the Pacific area”? This term is also undefined in the treaty’s text. The Mutual Defense Treaty’s geographic scope is a surprisingly hard­—albeit fundamental— question: the Pacific Ocean lies to the east of the Philippines while the South China Sea lies to the west. Are both considered part of the “Pacific area” for purposes of the treaty? Secretary Pompeo’s recent statement appears to clarify that in the U.S. view the answer is yes – the treaty applies to activities in the South China Sea, which include its contested rocks, islands, and low-tide elevations, and not just to the Pacific Ocean east of the Philippines.

Recall that for several years China and the Philippines were locked in litigation before the South China Sea Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). The PCA’s 2016 ruling was a resounding legal defeat for China’s vast legal claims in the South China Sea. While the Philippines won the legal battle, China has effectively ignored the PCA’s ruling and has continued its buildup in the South China Sea apace, amassing large military facilities on disputed territory. In referencing the U.S. commitment to interpret “in the Pacific” to include the South China Sea, Secretary Pompeo is clarifying that the U.S. is committed to uphold historic Mutual Defense Treaty obligations in the South China Sea.

A New Approach from the Philippines?

The U.S. and Philippines share a remarkably long (and complicated) history, dating to the 1898 Spanish-American War when the Philippines became a U.S. territory. The U.S. military’s large footprint in the Philippines ended in 1992 when the Philippine Senate voted to end existing U.S. military lease agreements, effectively ending a 100-year U.S. military presence in the Philippines. Nevertheless, the U.S. and Philippine militaries continued to work together as evidenced by the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement and a 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that allowed U.S. military access to several military bases on a rotational basis. But China’s flaunting of the PCA’s South China Sea ruling and the U.S. determination to uphold freedom of navigation principles in the area are challenging this historic relationship in new and profound ways.

Indeed, many Philippine leaders appear to be wary of the increased saber rattling between the United States and China. Unlike his predecessors, Philippine President Duterte has adopted a more conciliatory approach to China. Previous Philippine leaders sought an expansive view of the Mutual Defense Treaty and assurances that the U.S. would apply the treaty to disputed Philippine territories—but that logic may be shifting. Just this week, the top Philippine defense official, Delfin Lorenzana, stated that the Philippines’ government should review the terms of the 1951 treaty. He expressed concern that the frequent passage of vessels in nearby waters is likely to involve the Philippines in a “shooting war.” Yet as discussed, the treaty’s reliance on each nation’s “constitutional processes” should alleviate some of the concerns that the Philippines, or the U.S., would automatically be drawn into an unwanted conflict.

Where Do We Go From Here?

While the Philippines “won” the PCA litigation, international enforcement of the tribunal’s decision has failed. As I have argued before, international law and freedom of navigation norms are slowly eroding in the South China Sea, giving way to the law of raw power and control.

While Secretary Pompeo’s statement may have sought to reassure the Philippines in the face of growing Chinese assertiveness in the region, Philippine leadership appears to be reassessing its historic relationship with both the U.S. and China. Indeed, it may no longer view the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty as a security asset in the face of an already-militarized South China Sea and a rising and determined China seeking to exert ever-more control over the area.

[Mark P. Nevitt (@MarkNevitt) is the Sharswood Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a member of Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council. He previously served a 20-year career as both a naval flight officer and member of the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps with the rank of commander.]

P480M assistance for rebel surrenderers

From the Sun Star-Bacolod (Mar 13, 2019): P480M assistance for rebel surrenderers

NEGROS. Colonel Benedict Arevalo and Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Sec. Carlito Galvez discuss localized peace talks in Negros. (Contributed photo)

THE Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) will be releasing P480 million worth of assistance to the members of Revolutionary Proletarian Army – Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB), said Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr.

Galvez, who met with Col. Benedict Arevalo on Tuesday, March 12, commended the 393rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army based in Murcia, Negros Occidental.

He said that the P480 million is aid to the decommissioned combatants or members of the RPA-ABB and their families, in order to show how serious and committed OPAPP is carrying out its mandate and offering peace to the rebels.

The benefit package for the said aid includes the following: social protection, capacity development, livelihood/employment assistance, housing assistance and assistance to decommissioned combatants / families.

Galvez, meanwhile, lauded the efforts of the Armed Forces of the Philippines – Philippine National Police (AFP-PNP) and local government units in pursuing localized peace talks, which resulted in the successful surrender of 25 members of the New People's Army (NPA) operating in North Negros. The NPA also turned over 27 high-powered firearms and other war materials to the 79th Infantry Battalion in Sagay City, Negros Occidental last March 2.

This established the effectiveness of localized peace talks between the Army and the NPA on the ground. Military records show that it is the highest number of NPA surrenders and firearms surrendered in the province since 2000, Galvez said.

Galvez also assured that for CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines) -NPA members who want to surrender by unit, Opapp can also design an exclusive benefit package on top of the Enhanced-Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-clip) benefits.

Galvez, during his assumption last Dec. 20,said that his experiences in armed conflict has made him more determined to choose peace and do his best in trying to solve political disputes in the country as the entire peace processes are at the crossroads.

And with the series of CPP-NPA surrenders occurring nationwide since the start of 2019, Galvez recognized the efforts of the security forces and stakeholders and encourages more rebels to follow suit.

Galvez is now urging the rebels to surrender “en masse” or by large groups, units, guerrilla fronts, platoons and even down to squad levels rather than surrendering individually.

This will allow the Opapp to design a more exclusive benefit package for them that is over and above the assistance of the E-clip, he added.

Gov. Alfredo Maranon Jr. said that the Province will also provide additional financial support to CPP-NPA surrenderers apart from the E-clip benefits.

Whither The US-Philippines Alliance? – Analysis

From the Eurasian Review (Mar 12, 2019): Whither The US-Philippines Alliance? – Analysis (By Mark J. Valencia)

US President Donald J. Trump participates in a bilateral meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte at the Philippine International Convention Center, Monday, November 13, 2017, in Manila, Philippines. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

US President Donald J. Trump participates in a bilateral meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte at the Philippine International Convention Center, Monday, November 13, 2017, in Manila, Philippines. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The US-Philippines military alliance is based on their 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). A subsidiary arrangement — the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) — reached in 2014 under US pressure–allows the U.S. to construct military facilities, preposition assets, and rotationally deploy troops at five agreed bases in the Philippines. Continuance of the MDT and implementation of the EDCA are critical to U.S. strategic interests in the region.

But Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has delayed implementation of the EDCA and now the Philippines is undertaking a review of the MDT itself. Philippines Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana said that the review will look at ways to “maintain it, strengthen it, or scrap it. Some think this means the alliance is in danger of unraveling or at the least needs a major readjustment to meet the challenges of the changed political environment.

Indeed, these possibilities have caused considerable consternation and concern in US Asia policy circles and sparked a stopover by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on his way home from the now infamous Hanoi summit. In an attempt to assuage the Philippines’ angst, Pompeo declared that “Any armed attack on Philippine forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defense obligations under Article 4 of our Mutual Defense Treaty”. The significance of the declaration was that after decades of ambiguity and waffling it was a public statement by a US Secretary of State specifically affirming the application of the MDT to the South China Sea.

Nevertheless, there is lingering doubt as to the nature, strength and swiftness of any US response to defend Philippine forces and assets in the area. Invoking Article 4 of the MDT does not mean automatic US military backup. The MDT requires that the parties consult “when either party determines that their territorial integrity, political independence or national security is threatened by armed attack …”

It also says “an attack on either party will be acted upon in accordance with their constitutional processes“. Such consultations and processes would likely engender some delay and could eventually result in a non-military response — like sanctions rather than military action. Moreover, Pompeo’s commitment specifies an “armed attack”. But China might use its ‘civilian militia’ to blockade and harass Philippine forces and vessels thus confronting the alliance with the difficult and controversial decision of whether to respond with force.

Complicating the concern is US President Donald J. Trump’s “America First” policy. This makes the Philippines leadership wonder if the U.S. will really risk considerable blood and treasure in a confrontation with China on behalf of the Philippines– especially if it thinks the Philippines provoked the attack. When the Philippines and China confronted each other in 2012 near the disputed Scarborough Shoal, the U.S. failed to come to the Philippines’ assistance – – and as a result China now controls the feature. The Philippines also feels that the U.S. should have acted in 1995 to prevent Mischief Reef from falling into China’s hands.

Finally, in an ironic twist, the Philippines is now afraid of being dragged into a conflict between the U.S. and China Lorenzana says “It is not the lack of reassurance that worries me. It is being involved in a war that we do not seek and do not want.”;

For these reasons and others, despite Pompeo’s attempt at reassurance, the Philippines’ leadership remains uncertain of the degree and specifics of the US commitment and the meaning of key terms in the MDT. Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said that terms in the defense pact should be [more] “clear-cut”. “There may be some kinks in the treaty that need to be clarified”.

The MDT and the alliance are clearly suffering a crisis of confidence and trust. Nevertheless some US commentators are ‘whistling by the graveyard’ of the US-Philippines alliance and missing the ‘forest for the trees’. Satu Limaye, the director of the East-West Center in Washington, published an opinion piece in the Philippines press that displayed both of these flaws. .

Limaye asks the rhetorical question “Is the historically tangled and tumultuous alliance in unprecedented trouble?” He then answers to his own question by asserting that “US-Philippines relations have weathered far worse than the current tempest.”] In other words, to Limaye, the alliance is not in danger or unraveling. It is true that the relationship has a turbulent history. But Limaye may not appreciate the context and gravity of the present situation.

The overall slant of his article is towards the interest of the U.S. In parts it reads like an argument against a renegotiation or even a Philippines review of the MDT. What Limaye and other similar minded analysts and policy makers fail to recognize is that the legacy of U.S. cultural colonialism is still very much alive in the Philippines. It manifests itself in the constitutional recognition of English as an official language and in the US oriented educational system. It is felt daily by Filipinos and especially Filipinas that are dependent on the U.S. military and ‘tourism’. As former US Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair observed the Philippine resentment of the U.S. stems from ” a combination of the U.S. having had big bases there, of supporting Marcos for too long, and providing economic support through _ _ demeaning channels_ _ “.

The U.S. is now reaping what it sowed. After one of Duterte’s anti-American outbursts, his then Foreign Minister, Perfecto Yasay explained that “the U.S. held on to invisible chains that reined us in toward dependence and submission as little brown brothers not capable of true independence and freedom”.

This was a major indictment of US policy towards the Philippines from its foreign minister and provides a glimpse into the depth and breadth of Filipino resentment and mistrust of the U.S. This cultural pain and anger will not be easily dissipated.

There are also new strategic dynamics at work. The Philippines leadership has come to realize that in the long term it will have to live with and get along with China. This new strategic reality been reinforced by the condescending attitude of the U.S. — regarding certain Philippines domestic policies. Given the convergence of these strong external and internal political currents, it is understandable that the Philippines leadership, wants to promote a more independent foreign policy, rebalance its military relationship and perhaps eventually remove foreign troops from its soil. The U.S. must recognize that despite whether misgivings it might have, Duterte is the democratically elected President of a sovereign state and is still hugely popular at home. Any forward movement in the alliance cannot be one-sided like a first and foremost focus on – – the prime interest of the U.S.– implementing the EDCA.

I certainly agree with Limaye that the most important alliance reassurance would be “for both countries to create the conditions for public commitment to it.” But Limaye then seems to contradict that very concept. Indeed, he seems concerned that opposition to US neocolonialism might influence the government’s position and the outcome of any renegotiations. He reminds us that renegotiations of the US – Japan security treaty led to huge protests in Japan, implying that to allow the public to play a role would be dangerous for the MDT and the alliance. But if the public is to be committed to the alliance, it must be allowed to play a role in forging its future whatever that turns out to be.

Many, including Limaye, refuse to recognize the reality that the circumstances and the Philippines have changed, and that so must the US attitude and the MDT itself. After and with public input, it should be renegotiated to address the current political and strategic environment.

The only way to rebuild the integrity and robustness of the US-Philippines alliance and public support for it is for the U.S. to shed its neocolonial approach. It must focus on respect for and the satisfaction of Philippines’ national interests to a degree equal to its own. Otherwise the alliance itself may indeed come to an ignominious end.

[Mark J. Valencia, is an internationally known maritime policy analyst, political commentator and consultant focused on Asia. He is the author or editor of some 15 books and more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and Adjunct Senior Scholar, National Institute for South China Sea Studies, Haikou, China]

Managing the US-Philippines Alliance: The Limits of Commitment Clarity

From The Diplomat (Mar 13, 2019): Managing the US-Philippines Alliance: The Limits of Commitment Clarity (By Prashanth Parameswaran)

AFP-NoLCom prepares for PH-US Balikatan 35-2019

From the Manila Bulletin (Mar 13, 2019): AFP-NoLCom prepares for PH-US Balikatan 35-2019

The Assistant Exercise Director of Balikatan 35-2019 (BK35-2019), Major General Elvin B. Velasco visited the Armed Forces of the Philippines-Northern Luzon Command (AFP-NoLCom) on Monday, March 11, 2019, to ensure the successful planning and execution of the upcoming Balikatan Exercises which is scheduled from April 1 to 12, 2019.

Armed Forces of the Philippines-Northern Luzon Command (FRANCIS WAKEFIELD / MANILA BULLETIN)
The biggest annual bilateral exercise between the United States of America (USA) and the Philippines known as “BALIKATAN” is now undergoing preparations for its 35th iteration which aims to strengthen the bilateral alliance of both countries and their capabilities to address non-traditional security challenges, and further sustain PH-US bilateral alliance.

The AFP Northern Luzon Command will exercise command, control and supervision in implementing rules and regulations for visiting forces as well as monitor all BK35-2019 training events which will be conducted on its area of responsibility.

Major Erickson C. Bulosan, the Public Information Office Chief of NoLCom, said several activities are included in this year’s Balikatan which include the Staff Exercise (STAFFEX), Joint Inter-Operability Event (JIOE), Combined Inter-Operability Event (CIOE) and the Humanitarian and Civic Assistance (HCA).

In a statement, Bulosan said the AFP aims to strengthen the long-standing relationship between the PHL-US through exercises and operational cooperation for mutual benefit of involved forces.

They will also ensure the safe and successful conduct of PH-US Balikatan 35-2019, together and in coordination with all stakeholders in- different sites within the Northern Luzon Command area of responsibility.

US-PHL Balikatan set for April 1-12, 2019

From GMA News (Mar 13, 2019): US-PHL Balikatan set for April 1-12, 2019

The 35th annual bilateral exercise between the United States and the Philippines called the "Balikatan 35-2019" has been set for April 1-12, 2019.

Major General Evin B. Velasco went to the Northern Luzon Command (NOLCOM) on Monday to oversee preparations for the military exercise. 

The event aims to strengthen the bilateral alliance of both countries and their capabilities to address non-traditional security challenges, and further sustain PHL-US bilateral alliance, the NOLCOM said in a press release.

This year, NOLCOM will exercise command, control and supervision in implementing rules and regulations for visiting forces.

It will also monitor all Balikatan training events which will be conducted in its area of responsibility.

Activities include the Staff Exercise (STAFFEX), Joint Inter-Operability Event (JIOE), Combined Inter-Operability Event (CIOE) and the Humanitarian and Civic Assistance (HCA).

"(The) AFP aims to strengthen the long-standing relationship between the PHL-US through exercises and operational cooperation for mutual benefit of involved forces and will ensure the safe and successful conduct of PH-US Balikatan 35-2019, together and in coordination with all stakeholders in- different sites within Northern Luzon Command area of responsibility," NOLCOM said.

CPP-NPA-NDF derail PH progress: PCOO exec

From the Philippine News Agency (Mar 14, 2019): CPP-NPA-NDF derail PH progress: PCOO exec

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Undersecretary Lorraine Marie Badoy on Wednesday said the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People's Army, and National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) derail progress in the Philippines.

“For over 50 years, we were held hostage and we had no idea that we were in such dire straits. For every one step we took forward, we were held back three steps; and how ever hard we tried, we couldn’t seem to make any progress," Badoy said in a press briefing.

Badoy commended President Rodrigo R. Duterte for issuing Executive Order No. 70 creating the National Task Force to End the Communist Insurgency.

"The only Philippine President who has taken on the country’s real problems has taken on this huge problem at a level no other president has – whole of nation and by going to the very roots of the problem and hacking those roots off," she said.

She said one of the roots is the funding the CPP-NPA-NDF has been getting through their legal fronts like the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Kaparatan and the IBON Foundation.

"To be able to get such funds, it was necessary that they paint such a dire picture of the country and to pull numbers and statistics out of thin air to for instance make the war on drugs seem like a bloodbath with their latest made up number, 30,000 killed; and to make a wildly popular, highly trusted President seem like a butcher, a dictator, a misogynist," Badoy said.

"In order to perpetrate this scam, the Joma Sison-led terrorist group, the CPP-NPA-NDF had to keep the poor so poor and to create havoc and obstruct progress," she added.

Badoy said the Philippine government delegation who went to the European Union (EU) explained this scheme by the communist rebels.

"The money that they thought was going to the poorest of the poor was in fact being funneled into the pockets of Joma Sison and his cohorts; and that in effect, they were funding terrorism and poverty in our country. Money they had given out of the generosity of their hearts had been used to sow and perpetuate grief and hardship," she said.

"We therefore went there to ask that they stop funding terrorism in our country," she added.

Badoy said the military have seen the abuses committed by the CPP-NPA-NDF such as extortion and arson for failure to pay revolutionary taxes, rape, pillage, violation of indigenous people's rights, mass murders, and torture and "then to put the blame on government, to paint faithful public servants as traitors".

"They (military) have also seen how the political opportunists in our midst took advantage and formed unholy alliances to further their political agenda no matter if it doomed our country further," she said.

The US State Department and the European Union have both tagged the CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization.

Joma says Duterte 'must be crazy' for asking NPA to drop their guns

From GMA News (Mar 14, 2019): Joma says Duterte 'must be crazy' for asking NPA to drop their guns

Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Maria "Joma" Sison on Thursday lambasted President Rodrigo Duterte for calling on New People’s Army (NPA) rebels to drop their guns.

“Duterte must be crazy or clowning in reiterating the preconditions he made so many times before,” Sison said in a statement.

Duterte has urged the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, to drop their arms and cooperate with the government's land reform program, as he acknowledged that decades of war with the communists will never end if they are not given land.

According to Sison, Duterte's "preconditions amount to having the armed revolutionary movement commit political suicide before even going to the negotiating table and submit itself to surrender talks and possible slaughter in the venue offered by Duterte."

Sison reiterated that Duterte is not willing to participate in a serious peace negotiation, noting the escalation of attacks against suspected revolutionaries and government critics.

The self-exiled communist leader also accused the Duterte administration of spending billions of pesos for its propaganda.

He said the administration is paying for “unbelievable poll surveys, fake news by official agencies and troll armies, TV-radio ads, ubiquitous tarpaulins and paid crowds” to give his candidates a winning chance in the May 13 midterm elections.

Sison advised the public to expose the alleged evil character of Duterte’s administration to defeat its candidates in the coming may polls.

Sabah on full alert over Abu Sayyaf threats

From the Manila Times (Mar 14, 2019): Sabah on full alert over Abu Sayyaf threats

Sabah extended anew its curfew hours from dawn until dusk as it went on heightened alert over threats posed by the Abu Sayyaf terror group.
Sabah Police Commissioner Datuk Omar Mammah said the curfew was necessary due to the “continuing threat of kidnap-for-ransom groups and other criminals from neighboring Philippines.”

The curfew has been extended until March 27 in Sabah’s eastern coast which is now on full alert following Philippine intelligence reports that at least 17 Abu Sayyaf bandits led by subleaders Salip Mura, Majan Sahidjuan, alias Mike Apo, and Abu Radin were planning to strike or are on the hunt anew for targets of ransom kidnappings.
This was also reported by Malaysia’s The Star newspaper, saying that “intelligence reports in the Philippines stated that the group was going to team up with Tawi- Tawi-based criminal elements who acted as spotters or lookouts for hostages in the eastern Sabah sea border.”

It said Datuk Huzani Ghazali, commander of Eastern Sabah Security Command, admitted they were aware of the information about the movement of the Abu Sayyaf gunmen along the sea border. “We remain on full alert and have deployed all available forces to the area,” he said.

Ghazali added that the focus of operation was across the east coast sea border with southern Philippines that includes Semporna, Lahad Datu and Sandakan.

The Star, quoting intelligence sources, said Mura, who was responsible for at least two kidnappings in Sabah’s east coast late last year, was among the group using two speedboats with 75 horsepower-engines when they left Sulu recently.

“With him this time around was subleader Mike Apo, who was actively behind the kidnappings in Sabah between 2014 and 2016,” the newspaper sources claimed. It added that the Abu Sayyaf gunmen were looking for “higher value” targets as they failed to gain much attention after they abducted two Indonesians and a Malaysian fisher from Pegasus Reef in the Kinabatangan area on December 5.

The curfew was first implemented on July 19, 2014, following a series of kidnapping incidents which saw the beheading of Bernard Then Ted Fed, a Sarawakian, and the killing of several others, including a policeman and tourists. In September last year, the Eastern Sabah Security Zone extended a dusk-to-dawn sea curfew covering three nautical miles off the border of Tawi-Tawi’s chain of islands over Abu Sayyaf threats.

Abu Sayyaf bandits, whose group had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, have threatened to execute the Indonesian and Malaysian hostages if their demand for ransom was not met.

The sources said the bandits, who spoke in Bahasa Malaysia, released a video clip showing the Indonesian hostages — believed to be Heri Ardiansyah, 19, and Hariadin, 45 — being guarded by the gunmen. The Malaysian hostage, Jari Abdulla, 24, was not with the two.

The captives, their eyes covered with black cloth and hands tied behind their backs, made an emotional appeal to their government to save them. One militant even held a bolo to the neck of Hariadin as he spoke to the camera in a forested area.

The video, reports said, surfaced several days last month after Abu Sayyaf gunmen called up Jari’s wife, Nadin Junianti, saying that no Malaysian authorities or negotiators have contacted them to secure her husband’s release.

The gunmen said her husband would face difficulties if there was no contact from Malaysia. They also asked her for telephone contacts of Malaysian journalists. Nadin appealed to Malaysian authorities to help secure her husband’s release.

Malaysian media did not say how much ransom the Abu Sayyaf was demanding for the safe release of the hostages. The terrorists are believed to still be holding nearly a dozen captives, mostly foreigners.

2 foreign fighters believed to be among 20 killed in Maguindanao clashes

From Rappler (Mar 13, 2019): 2 foreign fighters believed to be among 20 killed in Maguindanao clashes

The military is retrieving body parts to identify all of the fatalities in clashes between troops and suspected members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines – At least two foreign fighters are believed to be among the 20 suspected members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) killed in military operations that began since Monday, March 11.
Major General Cirilito Sobejana of the 6th Infantry Division (ID) said “more or less 20” were killed “including one foreign terrorist." He said a body of an Arab-looking fighter was seen among the dead.

He said
Singaporean fighter Muhamad Ali Abdul Rahiman, known as Mauwiyah, was also in the area along with BIFF subleader Salahudin Hassan during the air strikes. They are believed to be among those killed.
Sobejana said they're still retrieving the body parts so the fatalities may be identified.

The 6th ID launched on Monday, March 11, air strikes and ground operations against BIFF fighters in the so-called “SPMS box” – the towns of Shariff Aguak, Pagatin, Mamasapano, and Salibo where the different BIFF factions operate.

Up to 1,360 families or more than 5,000 residents were displaced in the military operations that was supposedly coordinated with the local government units and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Captain Arvin Encinas, 6th ID spokesman, said the deaths resulting from the operations significantly reduced the number of BIFF combatants. The military estimates that over 200 fighters compose the 3 different factions of the breakaway group of the MILF, which now heads the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Encinas said the military operation was triggered by information coming from the communities about the supposed consolidation of armed groups.

Encinas said they have names of at least 17 of the fighters killed in the operations, based also on information from the community. He said residents believe Mauwiyah was among those killed although only two bodies were recovered.

Mauwiyah is a senior Jema'ah Islamiyah member reportedly coddled by Moro rebels.

4 killed in Lanao del Sur clash

From Rappler (Mar 13, 2019): 4 killed in Lanao del Sur clash

Army troops clash with the group under the command of Owayda Benito Marohomsar alias Abu Dar

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Two members of the Islamic State (SIS)-linked Maute Group and two soldiers were killed in an encounter in Pagawayan, Lanao del Sur, on Monday, March 11.

Troops from the 55th Infantry Battalion clashed with over 20 members of the ISIS-Maute group Dawlah Islamiyah Ranao under the command of Owayda Benito Marohomsar alias Abu Dar, said Colonel Romeo Brawner, 103rd Infantry Brigade Commander.

The Dawlah Islamiyah Ranao is a remnant of the Maute-Abu Sayaff Group that led the siege of Marawi City in May 2017.

“We received information from the local populace on the presence of DI-Lanao group in the area and we responded to their call,” said Brawner. “We are sustaining our focused military operation in order to destroy the remnants of this group and make the province free from terrorist,” he added.

The slain terrorists were identified only through their aliases – Abu Tahir and Abu Jihad.

The names of the fallen soldiers were not released as their families had yet to be informed about the incident. One soldier was also wounded in the clash.

Additional troops had been deployed to the area to pursue the fleeing terrorists, the military said.

PH asks EU, Belgium to stop funding alleged CPP-NPA 'fronts'

From Rappler (Mar 13, 2019): PH asks EU, Belgium to stop funding alleged CPP-NPA 'fronts'

Philippine officials want EU and Belgium to stop funding the Rural Missionaries of the Philppines, Ibon Foundation, Karapatan, and other groups saying the funds are only prolonging the communist insurgency

The Philippine government has asked the European Union and Belgium to cut funding for certain groups the Duterte administration alleges are “fronts” of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

Posing this plea to European officials was among the objectives of the February 17 to 20 visit of military and Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) officials to Bosnia, Switzerland, and Belgium.

Brigadier General Antonio Parlade Jr, among the members of the delegation, said they asked the EU and the Belgian Foreign Ministry to stop financing around 30 groups claiming their funds are being used to fuel terroristic acts by the CPP-NPA.

“Maybe with the large amount they are getting, the insurgency we wish to end will be prolonged,” Parlade said in Filipino in a Palace press briefing on Wednesday, March 13.

Parlade claimed that the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) was among these CPP fronts receiving EU and Belgian funding. He described it as a group of nuns who supposedly “radicalize” children.

RMP, according to its website, is a “national organization, inter-congregational and inter-diocesan in character, of women and men, religious, priests, and lay.” It says it was founded in 1969 and that it lives and works with farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, and agricultural workers.

Parlade claimed the EU had released P32 million to the RMP in December 2018 and is set to release another 2 million euros this year.

The Belgian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, supposedly said it was providing funds to 7 Belgian groups who work with groups the military says are CPP-NPA fronts. Among these groups are RMP, Ibon Foundation, Karapatan, and Alcadev (Alternative Learming Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development).

According to Parlade, Belgium has been providing 3 million euros for 5 years to the 7 groups.

EU, Belgium response

The EU and Belgian officials were supposedly “surprised” to hear they were funding supposed “fronts” of the “terrorist” CPP-NPA, said Undersecretary Severo Catura. Catura is the executive director of the Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat.

The officials supposedly committed to stop the funding if the Philippine government can provide more evidence of its accusations against RMP, Ibon Foundation, Karapatan, and the other groups.

“They wanted us to provide more evidence and to file a formal complaint. As soon as they have that they promise to stop this funding,” said Parlade.

Aside asking these European institutions to stop support for certain groups, the Philippine delegation was also in Europe to clear up the “muddled human rights narrative,” said Parlade.

He described those critical of the administration as “masquerading as NGOs and human rights defenders.”

“It was an affirmation by the international community that we are doing things right. We have to challenge the negative information that are very critical of this administration,” said Parlade.

PCOO Undersecretary Joey Sy Egco also defended the “truth caravan” which PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar had said would be used to explain Rappler CEO Maria Ressa’s arrest to European media.

Parlade denied the trip was a “junket,” as had been alleged by senators Francis Pangilinan and Grace Poe.

LOOK: U.S. Navy's most advanced commanding ship docks in Manila

From Rappler (Mar 13, 2019): LOOK: U.S. Navy's most advanced commanding ship docks in Manila

The USS Blue Ridge is manned by over 1,000 sailors, of whom around 150 are Filipino Americans excited to drop by their home on the other side of the world

MANILA VISIT. USS Blue Ridge stops by off the coast of Manila on Wednesday, March 13. Photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler

MANILA VISIT. USS Blue Ridge stops by off the coast of Manila on Wednesday, March 13. Photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler

USS Blue Ridge, the United States Navy's most advanced commanding ship is in the Philippines for a port visit, arriving off the coast of capital Manila on Wednesday, March 13.

The USS Blue Ridge is the flagship of the US Navy's 7th fleet, which patrols the Indian and the Pacific Ocean in Asia. As a commanding ship, it is meant to be a base, not a combat vessel, just in case a maritime conflict explodes in the region.

"Blue Ridge is a literal command and control ship. Our mission is to provide the commander of 7th fleet Vice Admiral Sawyer a command and control platform from which we can take care of all the forces in the 7th fleet, whether it is carriers, cruisers, or anybody else," said Captain Eric Anduze, the commanding officer of the ship.

He added: "We provide the network, the computer systems, and the data that he needs in order to get the mission done. So, We're his home base if you will."

Photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler

The USS Blue Ridge is 194 meters long and 33 meters wide. It carries over 1,000 sailors. Of them, 150 are Filipino-Americans who, according to Anduze, are excited to drop by their home on the other side of the world.

Despite being smaller compared to aircraft carriers that have recently visited the Philippines, the technology it uses cannot be underestimated. It has the most advanced communication equipment in the US Navy after a 2-year break for repairs and revamps.

"The interesting thing about Blue Ridge is we can do our mission whether we're at pier's side or at sea. So depending on the threat, we would go underway or we could do it at Yokosuka. It doesn't matter where we are in the world. We can command and control," Anduze said.

The USS Blue Ridge will stay in the Philippines for talks with national security officials and the top brass of the Philippine Navy.

Anduze declined to comment on the current security situation in light of China's expansive claims, but he assured the public that they will continue to promote "freedom of navigation" in the region.

WATCH: USS Blue Ridge visits the Philippines

From Rappler (Mar 13, 2019): WATCH: USS Blue Ridge visits the Philippines
The USS Blue Ridge is the US Navy's most advanced command ship. Watch why the visit matters.
MANILA VISIT. A United States Navy ship stops off the coast of Manila Bay on Wednesday, March 13. Photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler
MANILA VISIT. A United States Navy ship stops off the coast of Manila Bay on Wednesday, March 13. Photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler
The Philippines received another important guest on Wednesday, March 13.

The USS Blue Ridge dropped its anchors off capital Manila, kicking off the US Navy's visit to meet Philippine Navy officials and "get to know the country better."

The USS Blue Ridge is the oldest yet most advanced US Navy command ship. At 42 years old, it can be used as the command center for the US Navy's 7th fleet from anywhere in the world.

Why does the visit matter? Rappler's Rambo Talabong files this report.

‘It’s like a hero’s burial’: Thousands attend MILF leader’s funeral

From Rappler (Mar 13, 2019): ‘It’s like a hero’s burial’: Thousands attend MILF leader’s funeral
Ghazali Jaafar, the key MILF leader who brought the peace process to the finish line, dies at 75. The crowd at his funeral in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, was nothing locals had seen in recent history.
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Ghazali Jaafar died on March 13, 2019, more than two weeks after members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority took their oath of office in Malacañang. File photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Ghazali Jaafar died on March 13, 2019, more than two weeks after members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority took their oath of office in Malacañang. File photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Cars were stuck on the road leading to the big family farm of Ghazali Jaafar in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, where his remains were buried on Wednesday, March 13.

Many got off their cars and hiked a few kilometers under the punishing heat of the sun to line up for the public viewing. Jaafar's body was wrapped in white cloth, but his face was showing. More people stood or sat on monoblocs under the trees nearby, seemingly content to watch people come and go.

“It’s the biggest funeral I’ve seen. It’s like a hero’s burial. Thousands of people attended,” said Guimel Alim, chairperson of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society. He walked 3 kilometers to reach the farm house packed with people to see the remains of the rebel who didn’t fight with guns but with ideology.

Jaafar was one of the pioneers of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a key political personality whose strong character at times put him at odds with his fellow rebel leaders. He passed away just as the MILF was beginning to set up a new autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao, the fruit of their decades-long struggle.

Jaafar brought it to the finish line as chairman of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission that worked with Congress to pass the enabling law. His astute understanding of national and local political dynamics, coupled with his closeness to Mindanao politicians including President Rodrigo Duterte, allowed Jaafar to navigate the challenges even if his colleagues may not have always agreed with his decisions.

“He was the closest to Duterte. Remember he was the host when Duterte went to Camp Darapanan during the campaign,” said an MILF observer who refused to be named.

The political battle to pass the law creating the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) was tough. Jaafar pushed himself beyond his limits, at the peril of his health.

He was hospitalized after a bicameral conference committee meeting in January 2019 as they were finalizing the law. There are those who say he had a heart attack, although the MILF supposedly tried to keep it a secret from most.

“The BOL (Bangsamoro Organic Law) survived in both houses because Vice Chairman Ghazali Jaafar was an agile negotiator and a true diplomat,” Maguindanao Representative Bai Sandra Sema posted on her Facebook page.

The passage of the law creating BARMM didn’t stop him from working. He helped in the campaign for the law to win the plebiscite, attending major rallies if only briefly and making sure to make the important calls.

“We will never forget that, despite his health condition, Jaafar went the extra mile to join several campaign rallies to push for the realization of the Moro people’s aspiration for a genuine and meaningful autonomy,” said Carlito Galvez Jr, chief presidential adviser on the peace process.

But his health continued to deteriorate. He showed up in Malacañang on a wheelchair when members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) took their oath on February 22. MILF leaders and peace advocates surrounded his wheelchair, happy to see the future Speaker of the Bangsamoro Parliament after a long absence.

He forced himself to stand up for the photo of the BTA members with President Duterte, who held his hand while they spoke in Malacañang. Jaafar later collapsed on his own weight, his back fell on another member of the BTA.

It was Jaafar’s’ last public appearance. He died past midnight on Wednesday, March 11, after 3 days of confinement in a hospital in Davao City.

At his farm house on Wednesday, many were seen mourning but just as many were also celebrating Jaafar’s life.

Jaafar joins MILF pioneers Hashim Salamat and Aleem Abdul Azis Mimbantas in the afterlife. As the people watched the MILF leadership pay their respects, it dawned on many how the once young rebels may only have a few years left on earth.

“He was exhausted. He left us because he had accomplished his mission,” Sema quoted Jaafar’s wife saying.

But there’s more work to be done. Jaafar’s death is a wakeup call to the MILF to prepare the succession line.

MILF’s Ghazali Jaafar passes away; his last public appeal to fellow leaders: “be the unifying forces for our people”

From MindaNews (Mar 13, 2019): MILF’s Ghazali Jaafar passes away; his last public appeal to fellow leaders: “be the unifying forces for our people”

Ghazali Jaafar, 1st Vice Chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), newly-appointed member of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) and nominated Speaker of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) passed away at 1 a.m. Wednesday in a Davao City hospital.

Jaafar, who went through a heart surgery late last year, passed away at the Metro Davao Medical and Research Center in Davao City, Prof. Raby Angkal, his chief of staff, announced at 6 a.m., through a text message using Jaafar’s mobile number.

President Rodrigo Duterte shakes the hand of Bangsamoro Transition Commission chair Ghazali Jaafar during the oath-taking of the members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority inside the Heroes Hall in Malacañan Palace on 22 February 2019. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Jaafar, Vice Chair for Political Affairs until the title was changed to “1st Vice Chair,” was the first chair of the MILF peace panel. He signed the general cessation of hostilities between government and the MILF in Cagayan de Oro City on July 18, 1997.

He chaired the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) that drafted the Bangsamoro Basic Law in 2017 and oversaw the progress of the draft law until the Bicameral Conference Committee of Congress passed its substitute bill – RA 11054 or the Organic Law for the BARMM.

The law was passed in July 2018. Shortly thereafter, he underwent a heart surgery.

Jaafar’s last public appearance was at the oathtaking rites of the BTA in Malacanang on February 22, 2019. He arrived on a wheelchair shortly before President Rodrigo Duterte entered the Rizal Hall, insisted on standing up when he took his oath along with 71 other BTA members, but fell on his back while conversing with President Duterte.

Jaafar was not present during the turnover rites from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to the BARMM on February 26 at the Shariff Kabungsuan Cultural Complex. It was here where interim Chief Minister Ahod Balawag Ebrahim (MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim) named him as Speaker. But while he is recuperating, he said, a Deputy Speaker – former Lanao del Sur Rep. and Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Pangalian Balindong — would take his place.

In a message sent to MindaNews Wednesday morning, interim Chief Minister Ebrahim said “the entire MILF officers, members and sympathizers are very saddened for the passing away of Brother Ghazali Jaafar, the 1st Vice Chairman of the MILF and to be recommended for the Speakership of the BTA Parliament.”

Jaafar, he said, was “one of the pillars of the MILF leadership and had been with the Bangsamoro Struggle for around fifty years or more. We sincerely pray to Allah to reward his good deeds and accept his soul in His paradise.”

MILF Peace Implementing Panel chair Mohagher Iqbal said they lost “one of the most dedicated leaders of the MILF and Bangsamoro people. My family and I express our utmost condolence and sympathy to the bereaved family of the departed leader.”

In a sit-down interview on February 18, 2017, six days before they took their oath as BTC members, MindaNews noted the aging leadership of the MILF, that some of them might no longer be around in the next five years. Jaafar replied: “There is no problem with us because when we conceptualized the.. MILF many years ago, together with our leader si Salamat Hashim, included in the conceptualization of the MILF is the development of God-fearing leaders and … trustworthy, righteous leaders and I think we have produced some, although not many. I think we produced some… so if pioneer leader is no more, there are these new leaders developed by us… ready to take position and assume the leadership of the Bangsamoro.”

Ghazali Jaafar, chair of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, in this file photo taken on February 18 2017. Jaafar then said he was confident the 21-member commission would be able to submit the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law before President Rodrigo Duterte delivers the second State of the Nation Address on July 24, 2017. MIndaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Jaafar in the 2017 interview declined to give his age but described himself as having graduated from high school ahead of Ebrahim and Iqbal who were batchmates in high school. Ebrahim is turning 71 in May while Iqbal is 72.

On March 1 this year, when MindaNews asked him for his age, Jaafar said his birth certificate states he was born on May 6, 1954 – placing his age at 65. MindaNews clarified if he meant 1944 because he had earlier said he was older than the two. He reiterated he was older. He was likely 75.

While in high school, Jaafar told MindaNews in 2017, he founded a youth group that sowed the seeds of activism among students and those out of school in Cotabato City and neighboring areas. At the Notre Dame College (now University), he took up AB in Political Science. “I wanted to be a lawyer pero hindi na ako umabot doon.”

Like many in Jaafar’s generation, finishing college took a back seat to the struggle for liberation of the Bangsamoro.

Jaafar said it was important that government and the MILF are on the same page on the definition of peace “kasi the way we look at it, ang definition ng gobyerno sa peace is the absence of fighting. That is not the peace that we want. There can be no peace if the Bangsamoro agenda is not addressed to the satisfaction of the greater majority of the Bangsamoro people. This can be addressed if ma-realize yung demand ng Bangsamoro people na meron silang gobyerno and government they will run for everybody, Muslims and non-Muslims alike and a democratic government and still under the Republic of the Philippines.”

Jaafar did not live to see the inaugural session of the BARMM. It was supposed to have been inaugurated March 11 but this was moved to March 21.

In his last speech delivered at the Shariff Kabungsuan Cultural Complex on January 18 during the “Peace Assembly for the Ratification of Republic Act No. 11054 or the Bangsamoro Organic Law,” Jaafar appealed to “all my fellow leaders to be the unifying forces of our people.”

“Our personal political interests should not stand in the way of the collective interests of the Bangsamoro, settler communities and indigenous peoples, the overwhelming majority of whom are pinning their hope for peace and progress through the Bangsamoro Organic Law,” he said.

“This coming Monday (January 21), we will make history again. The opportunity to set into motion our long-cherished Bangsamoro Government is now in our hands. We no longer need bullets and arms, but only a mere stroke of the pen. Let us all say Yes to the BOL, and together let us chart a new future for ourselves, our children and our posterity,” Jaafar concluded.

Military names 2 militants slain in Lanao Sur clash

From MindaNews (Mar 13, 2019): Military names 2 militants slain in Lanao Sur clash

The military on Tuesday identified two alleged Dawlah Islamiyah fighters killed in a clash Monday in Lanao del Sur as among the “students” of slain Malaysian bomb maker Zulkipli bin Hir alias Marwan.

Capt. Clint Antipala, public information officer of the 6th Infantry Division said they identified the suspected militants as Abu Tahir and Abu Jihad.

“We received information that Tahir moved to Lanao del Sur to join the remnants of the Daesh-inspired Maute group right after Marawi City was liberated in 2017,” Antipala told MindaNews.

He said Tahir joined the band of Benito Owayda Marohombsar, also known as Abu Dar after he arrived in Lanao del Sur.

He said they obtained the names of the two alleged Dawlah Islamiyah members from residents of barangay Calaludan, Pagayawan town in Lanao del Sur where the clash took place last Monday.

He said the Dawlah Islamiyah group may have stayed long near the village for the residents to be familiar with their identities.

Two soldiers were killed and another one was wounded in the clash that left Tahir and Jihad dead.

Government troops recovered one carbine rifle and the lower receiver part of an M16 rifle at the encounter site.

BGen Romeo Brawner, chief of the 103rd Infantry Brigade said there is an ongoing operation to flush out the remnants of the group who escaped after the clash to make the province free from terrorists.

Marwan was killed in a raid by the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25, 2015. He reportedly ran a bomb-making school in his hideout in the marshlands of Maguindanao.

Soldiers capture NPA fighter in southern Negros clash

From the Mindanao Examiner (Mar 13, 2019): Soldiers capture NPA fighter in southern Negros clash

A NEW PEOPLE’S ARMY (NPA) fighter was captured by troopers of the Philippine Army’s 15th Infantry Battalion following an encounter at Sitio Bunga, Barangay Salong in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental late Tuesday afternoon.

A report from the 303rd Infantry Brigade (303IB) on Wednesday identified the rebel as 21-year-old Arnel “July” Sairot, a resident of Escalante City in northern Negros.

Col. Benedict Arevalo, commander of 303IB, said the troops conducted combat operations around 5 p.m. following reports of the NPA’s extortion activities and encountered about nine fully-armed rebels, whom they engaged in a five-minute firefight.

After the rebels retreated, the soldiers conducted pursuit operations and cleared the area. Sairot was captured in the process.

The troops recovered a 9mm pistol, an improvised shotgun, a hand grenade, a radio handset, two mobile phones, two hammocks, and materials for fabrication of improvised firearms.

They also found copies of NPA extortion letters for construction companies, an NPA training certificate of completion, and subversive documents.

Arevalo said the documents and firearms seized by the troops show that the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front is indeed an extortionist terrorist organization.

“The regular NPA rebels do the difficult and dirty work in the countryside while their leaders and political officers are enjoying the fruits of their extortion activities, living luxuriously and comfortably in the cities,” the Army official said.

Arevalo reiterated his call on the communist rebels to surrender to be able to lead normal lives again.

Both the United States government and the European Union have declared the CPP-NPA as a terrorist group.