Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Another Army battalion returning

From the Visayan Daily Star (May 21, 2019): Another Army battalion returning

The Army’s 11th Infantry Battalion dispatched to Mindanao two years ago, is returning to Negros.

Lt. Gen. Noel Clement, commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Central Command in Visayas, said that he is bringing back the 11IB to Negros Oriental probably by the end of the month, or in June.

The 11IB is presently deployed in Zamboanga City.

Clement, who was among the guests of the 302nd Infantry Brigade 45th founding anniversary on May 17 in Carmen, Bohol, disclosed that the return of 11IB is aimed at helping solve the problem of insurgency in Negros Island.

At present, only the 94th Infantry Battalion is assigned in Negros Oriental, with three other battalions, the 15th, 62nd and 79th assigned in Negros Occidental.

Brig. Gen. Ignacio Madriaga, 302nd Infantry Brigade commander, who supervises the 47th Infantry Battalion in Bohol and 94IB, yesterday said that the return of 11IB to Negros Oriental is a welcome development.
It will help fast track our objectives of clearing Negros Oriental of armed insurgents sooner than anticipated and desire to make the whole Region 7 insurgency-free, Madriaga added.

An Army battalion is composed of about 500 military personnel.

The 3rd Infantry Division, which has the control of all Army infantry units deployed in Western and Central Visayas, has another infantry battalion - 82IB, which is now deployed in Marawi.

Clement said he is proposing to return the 11IB to its previous headquarters in Guihulngan City, also in coordination with the concerned local government unit.

In the past several months, the violent activities of the New People’s Army have been centered in the hinterlands of Guihulngan City and its neighboring areas, including Moises Padilla and Isabela towns in Negros Occidental, military records show.

But Madriaga said he was puzzled by the sudden stop of NPA violent activities in Guihulngan City in the past several weeks, as he raised the possibility that the communist rebels may be in a period of re-assessment.

Once the new set of elected officials assumes office on July 1, Madriaga said he will sit down and work with them.

There are also talks to relocate the 302nd Infantry Brigade headquarters from Carmen, Bohol, to Tanjay City, Negros Oriental, with the 47IB to remain in Bohol.*

Soldier slain in alleged NPA attack in Northern Samar

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 21, 2019): Soldier slain in alleged NPA attack in Northern Samar

An Army soldier was killed when some 50 suspected members of the New People’s Army (NPA) attacked a temporary base camp about 4 a.m. on Tuesday, May 21, in Barangay EJ Dulay, Laoang, Northern Samar.

The fatality was identified as Corporal Alex Saliwan.

Lt. Col. Allan Gullem, commanding officer of the 20th Infantry Battalion, said in a text message that the troops were assigned in EJ Dulay, Laoang, Northern Samar to secure the Samar Island Road Project.

He said the troops were preparing for their routine security patrol when alleged members of the NPA attacked them.

The Army troops held their ground and engaged the suspected NPA members in a 30-minute firefight, which resulted to the death of Saliwan.

Two members of the alleged NPA were killed, Gullem said.

Recovered from the suspected NPA camp was a fired improvised hand grenade.


Sulu residents complain of 6-hour lockdown in Jolo

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 21, 2019): Sulu residents complain of 6-hour lockdown in Jolo

Residents from the towns of Patikul, Indanan and Maimbung in Sulu province complained of a six-hour lockdown in Jolo on Sunday that prevented them from getting inside the town and nearly depriving them of food for their evening’s breaking of the fast (iftar) for Ramadan.

Monah Idjirani, a mother of two and a local trader in Patikul, said they were not able to get inside Jolo to buy food for iftar due to the lockdown.

“It was more than six hours, all we got was water. After six hours, it was lifted but it was already past 7 p.m.,” Idjirani said.

Khalil Mawadi, a driver in Indanan, said the lockdown stranded many people. “A detachment in Barangay Tagbak in Indanan prevented us from going inside Jolo,” he said.

Mawadi said the lockdown was imposed from noon to 6 p.m.

But Maj. Gerald Monfort, public affairs officer of the Joint Task Force Sulu, denied the military had imposed a lockdown in Jolo.

Security measure
“What we did was implement strict security measures … to preempt the monitored Abu Sayyaf plan to bomb key installations in Jolo,” he said.

“Non-Jolo residents who wished to transact official business, [and other] functions such as health services and the procurement of family provisions may enter Jolo provided they were covered with legal documents,” he added.

The military in Sulu appealed for understanding since the security measures would disrupt the activities of residents.

Brig. Gen. Divino Rey Pabayo, commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu, confirmed the recovery of three improvised explosive devices in separate locations in Patikul and Talipao towns, only four days before Sunday’s heightened security alert.


US plans new anti-terrorism training centers for Southeast Asia, East Africa

From the Stars & Stripes (May 21 2019): US plans new anti-terrorism training centers for Southeast Asia, East Africa

Philippine Rangers Capt. Alex Estabaya and Capt. Ramse Dugan fought in the battle to liberate Marawi from Islamic State insurgents in 2017.  SETH ROBSON/STARS AND STRIPES

The United States plans to build new antiterrorism training centers in Southeast Asia and East Africa, according to information provided by the State Department.

“RTCs (Regional Training Centers) are under negotiation or development at locations in East Africa and Southeast Asia, but are not yet operational,” a State Department official said in an email Tuesday.

One of the new facilities, in the Philippines, would train elite counterterrorism units from across the region, including Malaysia and Indonesia, The Wall Street Journal reported May 6.

The State Department’s Antiterrorism Assistance program already operates training centers in Jordan and Senegal where local first responders can, for example, train as a quick-reaction force, learn to use special weapons and tactics and respond to bombs.

Southeast Asia has been plagued by terrorism for decades. From 2002 to 2015, hundreds of U.S. special operations troops assisted the Philippine armed forces with training and surveillance through the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines.

At its high-water mark, in 2010, the task force included about 600 special operators working out of Camp Navarro in Zamboanga city on the island of Mindanao.

In 2017, just two years after the task force ended its mission, hundreds of militants occupied the southern city of Marawi, forcing Philippine government forces, assisted by the U.S. military, to fight a bloody five-month battle to liberate the city.

The State Department didn’t list potential locations for the new Southeast Asian training site.

However, U.S. forces can operate facilities on Philippine bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, and U.S. personnel often visit military bases in places such as Zamboanga, Sulu and Palawan, according to Patricio Abinales, a Philippines expert at the University of Hawaii.

“I’m sure they are not just there for some light training,” he said.

The State Department didn’t specify the training that might go on at the new facilities but listed some of the courses offered in Jordan and Senegal.

In Jordan, the training is conducted at the Jordanian International Police Training Center and at the Gendarmerie Training Center. The Senegalese training facility is in Theis, outside of Dakar, the State Department official said.

The centers offer various tactical courses and classroom-based training, the official said.

Recent training courses delivered at the centers included: “Quick Reaction Force; Crisis Response Team/SWAT; Tactical Emergency Medical; Explosives Incident Countermeasure/Bomb Squad; Post-Blast Investigations; Tactical Methods of Entry, and; Protection of National Leadership,” the official said.

Since 1983 the antiterrorism assistance program has delivered counterterrorism training to more than 150,000 law enforcement officials and first responders from more than 150 countries, according to information on the State Department’s website.

“The ATA program helps our partners deal with security challenges within their borders, defend against threats to national and regional stability, and deter terrorist operations across borders and regions … all ATA courses emphasize the importance of the rule of law and respect for human rights,” the website states.

Save the Children Philippines has raised concern on the situation of 1.8 Million children living in conflict affected areas in Mindanao

Posted to the Relief Web (May 21, 2019): Save the Children Philippines has raised concern on the situation of 1.8 Million children living in conflict affected areas in Mindanao

REPORT from Save the Children
Published on 21 May 2019

Save the Children Philippines has raised concern on the situation of 1.8 Million children living in conflict affected areas in Mindanao who face death, injury, diseases and psychosocial trauma due to lingering gun battles.

Lawyer Albert Muyot, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Save the Children Philippines said children are the most vulnerable in armed conflict as they have fragile bodies and dependent on parents and adults for care and protection.

He said reports gathered by Save the Children Philippines showed that 96.4 percent or 3.6 Million of the population of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) are vulnerable to conflict. Of this number, 48.8 per cent or 1.8 Million of them are children. BARMM provinces include Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-tawi.

Save the Children, now celebrating 100 years has launched its global campaign " Stop the War on Children" to seek protection of some 420 Million children around the world who are living in conflict zones , a rise of 30 million more since 2016.

"Across the world, children wake up to the sound of explosion of bombs, gunshots, suffer hunger and displacement, are orphaned and are separated from friends and classmates," said Muyot.

He said armed conflict either end or disrupt childhood as children die from gunshots, injury and diseases, forced to leave homes and miss out on school.

"The impact of war on children linger beyond the end of conflict," said Muyot. He said the breakdown of essential services such as healthcare, water and sanitation aggravate the situation.

Save the Children global data showed that from 2013 to 2017, the number of deaths of children five years old and below due to armed conflict has reached 870,000, five times higher than the 175,000 adult fighters who died during the same period.

Muyot said children in Mindanao suffer grave violations of their rights. Atleast 16 children were killed in a crossfire in Mindanao last year and another 17 children injured due to similar cause.

He said since 2017, there were 157 recorded cases of grave child rights violations that include 24 attacks in schools and 36 attacks in health care facilities, recruitment of child soldiers and trafficking for sexual exploitation.

The condition in evacuation centers also put children at risk of suffering physical and sexual exploitation.

In the last two years, Save the Children Philippines has provided assistance to more than 22,000 children affected by the Marawi siege. These include emergency relief and hygiene kits, learning and teaching materials and psychosocial support services.

Save the Children Philippines continues to provide help to children in Mindanao to have access to education by setting up Temporary Learning Spaces and Child Friendly Spaces. It also trains barangay health workers and set up birthing facilities to improve child and maternal health care.

"Schools and health centers should be treated as zones of peace and protection," said Muyot.

He said there is need to improve the living conditions of communities to avoid child recruitment for economic and sexual exploitation.

Muyot hopes that the situation of children in Mindanao will improve with the passage of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict (CSAC) or Republic Act 11188.

The law guarantees humanitarian support and protection of children in situations of armed conflict.

"Every child deserves a future, we must be relentless in pursuing peace to improve their situation, particularly those trapped in situations of armed conflict," said Muyot.


Marawi's ruins a reminder of ISIS' devastating reach

From the Straits Times (May 21, 2019): Marawi's ruins a reminder of ISIS' devastating reach

A drone shot of Marawi’s commercial hub, which was destroyed during the five months of fighting between Philippine security forces and militants.

A drone shot of Marawi’s commercial hub, which was destroyed during the five months of fighting between Philippine security forces and militants.PHOTO: ST FILE

MARAWI CITY, PHILIPPINES (REUTERS) - It had only been a week since Mr Mohammad Ali Acampong finished renovating his house when bombs and bullets struck Marawi City.

Two years ago, pro-Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants took over in a bid to carve out their own "wilayah", or province, forcing nearly 100,000 people to flee what became the Philippine military's toughest and longest conflict since World War II.

Mr Acampong, a local government official, left his three-storey lakeside house with his family of eight.

"When the chaos began, our life suddenly became really difficult," Mr Acampong, 42, told Reuters.

"We had a comfortable life before. Now we live in between shelters, enduring heat, the lack of water, the lack of everything."

Marawi was once one of the most picturesque cities in the Philippines.

About half of it is now charred concrete and skeletons of buildings, the effect of 154 days of air strikes and artillery hits by the military and booby traps the rebels laid everywhere to keep them at bay.

The Acampongs now live in a tiny temporary housing unit on the city's outskirts, competing with thousands of families for water and other basic utilities.

At least 500 other families live in plastic tents, like Ms Asnia Sandiman, 25, who produces made-to-order clothing with a government-issued sewing machine.

"The tent is fine until it rains and it gets so cold, or until the heat is so bad," Ms Sandiman said.

"My deepest hope is that we are allowed to go back to Marawi, but honestly, I would take any permanent address just to get out of here."

Hundreds of militants, 165 soldiers and at least 45 civilians were killed in the five-month conflict. President Rodrigo Duterte in October 2017 declared the city liberated, and its rehabilitation officially underway.

But there is little sign of progress.

Bangon Marawi (Rise Marawi), an inter-agency task force in charge of reconstruction, has a deadline of 2021 for rebuilding, and remains confident of meeting that.

"We could only go as fast as legally possible. We can't make shortcuts," its field office manager, Mr Felix Castro, said.

"It takes a while in the beginning but it will be quick once it starts."


Except for stray dogs and soldiers on guard, Marawi's commercial centre has been abandoned. There is no sign of the promised rehabilitation.

Thousands of people are in limbo following a conflict that no one saw coming.

Most are jobless and dependent on relief goods, like Ms Noronisah Laba Gundarangin, a mother of three, who lives with four other families in her sister's home.

The 73,000 pesos (S$1,910) her family received from government agencies isn't enough for a small business. They have debts to pay and children to feed.

Ms Gundarangin, 40, wonders what happened to all the help and money pledged by the international community when the war was in the spotlight. The authorities say not all of that has materialised.

"I know billions (of pesos) were donated to Marawi but they go through so much bureaucracy that by the time it reaches us, they are pennies," she said.

The task force commander, Mr Eduardo del Rosario, on Monday (May 20) said obstacles to progress were debris, unexploded ordnance and unsafe structures, but said those should all be cleared by November, with some construction to start in September.

While awaiting that, the task force has been allowing people to return to see the place they once called home. Now they call it "ground zero".

Mr Acampong gave his consent for his house to be demolished. He returned recently and found a papaya tree growing in its place.

"It's painful because we had nothing to do with this war. We were just caught up," he said.

"Everything we've worked hard for, all the big and small investments, are now all gone... Every day, it's like this. Waiting and waiting, as if waiting for death."

Islamic State slips into Asia through family terror cells

From Nikkei Asia Review (May 21, 2019): Islamic State slips into Asia through family terror cells (By Marwaan Macan-Markar, Asia Regional Correspondent)

Sri Lanka bombers' wealth and choice of explosives raise red flags

COLOMBO -- The night before the Easter Sunday suicide bombers killed over 250 people at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka's capital and two other towns, 28-year-old Fathima Ilham called her mother and asked her to come over the next morning. She gave no hint of the carnage that was in store.

The next afternoon, the mother faced the grim truth: Fathima and her husband, 32-year-old businessman Ilham Ahmed Ibrahim, had been involved in Sri Lanka's worst act of terrorism in a decade.

The couple's radicalization was by no means an isolated case. The rise of families as terror cells shows how the Islamic State group and its offshoots are advancing and mutating in South and Southeast Asia, warn regional analysts who are monitoring IS-inspired extremists' drive to establish a "virtual caliphate" to offset losses in the Middle East.

At its peak, IS controlled significant swaths of war-torn Iraq and Syria. But over the last five years it has lost almost all the territory where it had planned to build its caliphate. The group staked a claim in Mindanao in the southern Philippines -- Southeast Asia's largest Catholic country -- for the caliphate in 2017, raising fears over a largely Muslim area already gripped by a nearly four-decade civil war that has cost more than 120,000 lives.

The IS call to establish a pure "Islamic environment" continues to attract Asian followers, sweeping up whole families in the process -- rich and poor alike.

"This family phenomenon has a lot to do with the ideology of the IS caliphate," said a South Asian intelligence operative. "It was an appeal to radicalized Muslims to live as true Muslims and enjoy a perfect Islamic life, which is a shift from [al-Qaida] since it never talked of creating a caliphate."

Ilham Ahmed Ibrahim joined the cause despite his family's status as wealthy spice traders. He was one of the two bombers who attacked the luxury Shangri La Hotel, while his brother, Inshaf Ahmed Ibrahim, hit another hotel.

Fathima, who was pregnant, blew herself up with her three infant sons hours later, after a team of police investigators arrived at the mansion where she lived with her in-laws.

An armed Sri Lankan policeman stands guard outside a Catholic church on May 12, when the first Sunday Mass was held since the Easter bombings. © AP

Family members recalled that when Fathima's mother visited, she had found her daughter sitting on a sofa, reciting a prayer with her sons by her side. Fathima gave instructions about payments that had to be made, then said, "I am going in the path of Allah," before asking her mother to leave.

IS wasted no time in claiming responsibility for the Sri Lanka attacks, staged by two homegrown Islamist groups: National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) and Jamathei Millathu Ibrahim (JMI). And the Ibrahims were not the only family involved.

Relatives of alleged mastermind Mohamed Cassim Mohamed Zaharan, the other Shangri La bomber, detonated themselves on April 26 when their hideout on the east coast was surrounded by government troops. The dead included two women and six children.

The bombings -- which shattered the fragile peace in predominantly Buddhist Sri Lanka since a civil war ended in May 2009 -- followed a spate of terrorism involving extremist families across the region.

In mid-March, the wife of a jihadi cell leader triggered a bomb in North Sumatra, Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country. The explosion destroyed an entire neighborhood.

In late January, an Indonesian husband and wife carried out a suicide attack on a church in the Philippines, killing 20 and wounding 102.

Back in May of last year, families -- four children aged 9 to 18 and their parents -- targeted churches in Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city. At the time, Indonesia-based analysts described the attack as "unprecedented," since parents were taking their children "to blow themselves up."

The more active role of women marks a notable shift, according to the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.

"From the beginning, they played important roles [in IS networks] as teachers, couriers, propagandists and financiers. But in the new decentralized ISIS world, they are playing combat roles as well," the independent think tank noted in a report in April, using the alternative acronym for the group also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Counterterrorism operatives in Malaysia agree. The country's Special Branch, an intelligence unit, has noticed how women are moving from "supporting roles to front-line roles," said a Malaysian national security source. Alarm bells went off after a 51-year-old woman was arrested for plotting to pack her car with gas cylinders and crash it into voters at a polling station during the country's general election in May 2018.

Malaysian security forces are on the lookout for other threats, possibly from jihadis returning home from the fight in the Middle East.

Kuala Lumpur believes over 100 Malaysians, women among them, left the country to bolster the IS ranks in the wake of the group's dramatic rise in 2014. Jakarta estimates that over 500 Indonesian did likewise, while Colombo's estimate is 32, including some entire families. But the vision of a Middle Eastern caliphate has gone up in the smoke left by U.S.-led military strikes.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte confers with military and other officials after a terrorist attack in Jolo, in the south of the country, on Jan. 28. © AP

India faces the same worries about returning fighters. The southern state of Kerala became fertile ground for recruitment: Over 20 affluent, well-educated men and their families left to join IS in 2016. Some were doctors and engineers, while others had business degrees.

The Muslim-majority Maldives, which has a population of 400,000, saw somewhere between 250 and 450 leave to join the movement. That made the necklace of islands, better known for idyllic resorts, the largest supplier of IS recruits per capita. The volunteers included 61 men who took their wives and children through Turkey to IS camps in Syria, according to the country's counterterrorism body.

Mosharraf Zaidi, an adviser to Pakistan's foreign ministry, has analyzed the IS influence in his country and believes it is instructive for understanding the group's appeal across the social and economic spectrum.

There is the "worker bee level of terror operator," who fits the stereotype of being poor, illiterate, young and impressionable, he said. And there is also the "ideological warrior," who is wealthy and educated.

"The ideological warrior is capable of speaking English fluently and is very, very deeply invested in a civilizational narrative about how the world works," Zaidi said.

A forensic investigator inspects burned motorcycles following a blast at a church in Surabaya, Indonesia on May 13, 2018. © Reuters

Some of the Easter Sunday suicide bombers and their suspected allies fit this second profile, hailing from families of means and having received a foreign education. Security analysts say the same was true of the squad of Bangladeshi Islamist extremists who attacked an upmarket cafe in Dhaka in July 2016, killing 29, most of them foreigners who were dining.

IS claimed responsibility for that attack through its AMAQ news agency, just as it did after the suicide bombings in Sri Lanka.

Seasoned observers also link the spike in Islamist extremism in Asia to the proliferation of the Wahhabi and Salafi ideologies since the 1980s. Propagated by Saudi Arabia, these strains of Islam have been blamed for promoting intolerance that has spawned terrorist networks including al-Qaida and IS. And they have seeped into Asian communities that had practiced more moderate forms of the religion.

Explosives experts, meanwhile, see another troubling connection between mushrooming IS cells in Asia: the materials they use.

The Easter bombers used TAPT, or Triacetone Triperoxide -- a substance al-Qaida dubbed the "Mother of Satan" for its destructive power. The same explosive was used in the bombings in Indonesia this past March and in May of last year.

"TAPT has become a popular explosive among terrorist groups, because you can get the basic material from hardware stores and supermarkets," said Phill Hynes, the lead terrorism expert at ISS Risk, a Hong Kong-based security consultancy. "You don't have to go to Syria or Iraq to learn the bomb-making skills."

A woman attends a special Mass for the victims of Sri Lanka's Easter Sunday bombings, held at St. Lucia Cathedral in Colombo on May 11. © Reuters

Sri Lankan investigators think the terrorists who struck with military precision on Easter honed their bomb-making techniques within the country. A brother of Mohamed Zaharan, who detonated explosives when troops surrounded the eastern hideout, is suspected of having been one of the bomb makers.

But piercing the network of the NTJ and JMI plotters is no easy task for the authorities. "They kept most of their conversations about the plans within the family, and also depended on face-to-face exchanges rather than leaving a trail on the Internet," said a Sri Lankan intelligence operative.

"Inshaf and Ilham would have meetings with Jameel in a BMW for hours after finishing their early morning prayers," the operative said, referring to another, British- and Australian-educated bomber.

Experts say investigators must get to the bottom of the Sri Lanka bombings fast. Before the attacks, the South Asian country had barely registered on the radar of new IS frontiers. Now it is seen as an indication of what IS-inspired networks are plotting.

Ethnic tensions in countries like Sri Lanka only add to the volatile mix. The Easter attacks triggered an anti-Muslim backlash, but analysts caution this could simply fuel further radicalization.

Hynes said extremists could try to take advantage of local grievances, "exacerbating them and turning them into rallying points or touchstones for the IS trend in Asia."

Philippine, Australian troops train together in urban warfare

From the Philippine Star (May 21, 2019): 
Philippine, Australian troops train together in urban 

The training is being held simultaneously with the 7th Maritime Training Activity between the Philippine Navy and Royal Australian Navy. Handout photo

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines — Australian and Philippine troops are training in urban warfare as part of greater defense cooperation between the two countries, which have already been holding maritime drills together.

The Philippines-Australia Army to Army Exercise 2019 formally opened Monday with troops of the 1st Infantry Division at Camp Sang-An in Labangan, Zamboanga del Sur.

The training is being held simultaneously with the 7th Maritime Training Activity between the Philippine Navy and Royal Australian Navy.

Brig. Gen. Roberto Ancan Jr., commander of the 1st Infantry Division, said the exercise aims to enhance combat skills and competence and develop interoperability between the Philippine Army and the Australian Defence Force.

"The training will provide opportunity to conduct combined mission planning and combined resolution of terrorist incident," Ancan said.

The 1st ID was tapped for the training because of the unit's experience fighting the Islamic State-inspired Maute and Abu Sayyaf group in the battle for Marawi City in 2017.

The Australian Defence Force assisted the Philippines during the siege of Marawi by providing intelligence through two P-3 Orion surveillance planes.

Australia has sent 47 ADF personnel who will train with 540 troops from the 1st ID, including soldiers from the 11th and 15th Division Reconnaissance Companies, the 16th Scout Ranger Company, the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade, the Combat Engineer Battalion, and the scout platoons of the division's battalions.

"The best gift that a commander can give to his men is training. Make the most out of it and apply it when the time comes," Ancan told his troops.

Australian Ambassador to the Philippine Steven Robinson said on Monday that his government is very keen in assisting the Philippines reduce the threat of terrorism and that Australian troops ready to share and learn from the experience of the Philippines.


Stable Seas: Sulu and Celebes Seas

From Stable Seas (Feb 19, 2019): Stable Seas: Sulu and Celebes Seas

sulu and celebes seas report

Release Date: February 19, 2019

Alexandra Amling, Curtis Bell, Asyura Salleh, Jay Benson, Sean DuncanTopic:
International Cooperation, Rule Of Law, Maritime Enforcement, Coastal Welfare, Blue Economy, Fisheries, Piracy, Illicit Trades, Mixed Migration

Publication Type: Report:
Download Full Report (26.29 MB)
Download Executive Summary (1.4 MB)


The Southeast Asian Archipelago includes the world’s busiest shipping lanes, its most biodiverse marine environment, and many of the global leaders in fisheries production. No other maritime region combines the geographic and political complexity of this area, making it one of the world’s most challenging maritime security environments. The maritime security challenge is especially daunting around the Sulu and Celebes Seas. Here, the region’s three most populous states, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, converge in a tri-border area with a complex political history and a long legacy of illicit maritime activity.

Stable Seas: Sulu and Celebes Seas adopts a holistic approach to analyze linkages between maritime governance themes and maritime security challenges in the Sulu and Celebes Seas.

Stronger maritime governance requires enacting solutions to complicated and interrelated problems like poor coastal economic welfare, rooted shadow economies, human trafficking, and organized political violence against soft coastal and offshore targets. This report shows how such problems relate to each other and, importantly, how the improvement or worsening of any one issue area can have downstream consequences for seemingly unrelated maritime security threats. This holistic approach to the topic can facilitate stronger cooperation, both within and across governments, for the ultimate purpose of sustainable maritime security. In turn, this progress should hamper the illicit networks and violent political organizations that have used the poor security environment to finance and facilitate their efforts.

Read the Press Release Here


  • Although piracy and armed robbery incidents in Southeast Asia have significantly declined, security concerns remain in the Sulu and Celebes Seas;

  • The region’s most populous states, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, converge in an area with a complex political history and a legacy of illicit maritime activity;

  • The improvement and worsening of any one issue can have repercussions that impact the region’s wider maritime security;

  • Illicit maritime activities are intricately rooted in complex issues like poor coastal economic welfare, shadow economies, and organized political violence against coastal and offshore targets;

  • The vulnerability of coastal regions to the boom and bust cycles of global commodities markets gives rise to troubling political actors who weaken the local rule of law and facilitate subversive activities such as piracy, armed robbery, kidnapping, and trafficking;

  • The three countries are strengthening maritime enforcement and governance in the region by working independently, tri-laterally, and with international partners; and

  • This report can inform stronger cooperation within and across governments in order to hamper the activities of illicit networks and cultivate sustainable maritime security.



The Deadly Evolution of Abu Sayyaf and the Sea

From the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) Website (May 21, 2019): The Deadly Evolution of Abu Sayyaf and the Sea (By Meghan Curran)

On the morning of January 27, 2019, two bombs exploded inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in Jolo on the Sulu Province in the southern Philippines. Tearing a hole through the cathedral during a Sunday service, the bombs claimed 20 lives, injured dozens more, and propelled Islamist extremism in the Philippines back into international headlines. In the aftermath of the blast, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte promised to “pursue to the ends of the Earth the ruthless perpetrators behind [the] dastardly crime,”as the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the country’s notoriously violent Islamic separatist group, claimed responsibility for the attack. While President Duterte may not need to go to the “ends of the Earth” to put an end to the ASG-fueled terror, his government will certainly need to act beyond its own shores. Illicit maritime activities are at the root of ASG funding and operations, and ensuring the group’s defeat will require focused government efforts to improve maritime security in its area of operations.

As External Support Dwindled, ASG Turned to the Sea

ASG has overcome several transition periods throughout its history, and in many ways, its resilience in the face of both internal and external pressures lays in its ability to morph; from Islamist group, to bandit group, and back; and the sea has provided the means for it to do so.

Until fairly recently, ASG relied on substantial funding from global Islamist terror organizations, notably al-Qaeda. Much of this funding was funneled through charitable front organizations, led by Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, a Saudi businessman and Osama Bin Laden’s brother-in-law. As head of the Islamic Organization’s Philippine branch, and later IIRO’s regional director for Southeast Asia, Khalifa also founded several other organizations to support ASG.

However, ASG turned to the sea for funding in the mid-2000s when external support began to wane. Following the discovery of Khalifa’s involvement in the botched Bojinka Plot, which involved the bombing of several airplanes over the Pacific, Philippine authorities blocked his reentry into the country thereby weakening al-Qaeda’s support for thegroup. After the September 11 attacks, increasing international counterterrorism measures further strained external financial and operational support for the group.

With dwindling support and mounting pressure from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), ASG began capitalizing on the strong maritime tradition of the Sulu archipelago to engage in widespread criminality at sea to fund its operations. In the mid-2000s the group became notorious for seaborne kidnappings for ransom, and orchestrating attacks on numerous diving resorts. Although these activities were mainly profit-motivated, the ransoms were used to purchase weapons and other supplies for the group.

ASG is Pushed Further out to Sea

In 2016, continued AFP pressure combined with renewed international interest in fighting global piracy further restricted ASG’s freedom of movement on the Sulu archipelago, limiting its ability to conduct onshore kidnappings via maritime routes. In response, the group moved its operations further out to sea, and according to One Earth Future’s 2016 State of Piracy Report , conducted 21 successful kidnappings of seafarers while ships were underway. During the first half of 2016, the group mostly targeted smaller vessels, but by October they began attacking larger vessels, presenting a threat to both international and regional traffic. Although these incidents increased dramatically in 2016, in 2017 there was a noticeable lull in similar activities, which some have attributed to militants refocusing their efforts on the siege of Marawi City, and an increasing number of maritime patrols by stakeholders in the region.

However, in September and December 2018, the group conducted two more seaborne kidnappings off Sabah, Malaysia. On March 12, 2019 Malaysian security forces announced they were on full alert following intelligence reports that ASG militants were once again active in the waters off Sabah, seeking new hostages to fund their campaign. The report stated that ASG had been using contacts on the island province of Tawi-Tawi, the Philippines’ southernmost province, to identify high value targets.

Sea Routes Key to ASGs Next Wave of Operations

Besides using the sea to carry out kidnappings for ransom, ASG is also currently utilizing the maritime space in a manner more closely related to the recent headline-grabbing attack in Jolo.

The group is using sea routes to move foreign fighters into the Philippines, allowing it to utilize foreign suicide operatives, while also maintaining a local base. The January 2019 cathedral attack was carried out by suicide bombers from Indonesia, and experts estimate that there could be up to 100 additional foreign fighters, mostly from nearby Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Middle East, currently operating in the Philippines. During the five-month siege of Marawi City on the island of Mindanao, the AFP fought an enemy bolstered by an influx of foreign fighters whose presence emboldened local pro-Islamic State groups, playing a key role in bridging divides between the group’s many factions. In the aftermath of the siege, intelligence failures on the part of both the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP) pointed to militants from neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia navigating the Sulu and Celebes Seas to join Abu Sayyaf’s fight in the southern Philippines.”

The Sea is the Key

As the Islamic State continues to lose territory in the Middle East, foreign fighters are viewing the Philippines as an increasingly attractive battlefield. The battle for Marawi City prompted a rise in ISIS propaganda focused on Southeast Asia, with one video explicitly urging supporters to travel to the Philippines. While several foreign fighters have been detained, arrested, and deported after flying into Mindanao, others have been using a backdoor, transiting routes in the Sulu and Celebes Seas that involve island hopping along the region’s numerous archipelagic chains.

On October 23, 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte claimed victory against terrorists in Mindanao, following the liberation of Marawi City. With 1,200 dead, a city in ruins, and martial law declared, many wondered if ASG was truly defeated. But once again the group has illustrated its ability to adapt. The influx of foreign fighters in the Philippines has changed the dynamics of Islamist terrorism in the region. According to analysts, Filipino terrorist groups have traditionally avoided suicide bombings, preferring “sustained combat to cowardly tactics.” But in July 2018, the first ever suicide bombing by militants in the Philippines was carried out in Basilian province by a Moroccan fighter, with assistance from both Abu Sayyaf and other foreign fighters from Malaysia. Shortly thereafter, a cathedral bombing in Jolo rattled the Philippines once again.

As the AFP continues to engage ASG in the forested islands of the southern Philippines, it is imperative that the Duterte administration continues to invest in regional transnational maritime domain awareness mechanisms. This is particularly crucial in the tri-border area between the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, which has a long legacy of illicit maritime activity, porous borders, and cross-national family bonds that make undocumented entry and exit into countries in the region common.

The Sulu and Celebes Seas. (Freeworldmaps)

While some regional coordination efforts to address illicit maritime activity already exist, the Philippines must build on recent successes and regional initiatives. For example, the Trilateral Cooperative Agreement (TCA) formalized in 2016 resulted in joint maritime and air patrols, as well as coordination between maritime command centers in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. And while the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) indicates that the TCA has resulted in a decrease in transnational crime in the tri-border area, issues regarding trust across agencies and governments, unclear agency mandates, and duplication of efforts have limited the impact of such organizations. Without sufficient attention to these issues, the defeat of the region’s most persistent violent groups will continue to be out of reach.

[Meghan Curran is a researcher with Stable Seas, an international NGO focused on maritime security issues. This article advances themes published in a new report titled Stable Seas: Sulu and Celebes Seas.]

World peace under threat from terrorists using social media

From the New Straits Times (May 21): World peace under threat from terrorists using social media

The use of social media and mobile messaging applications to promote terrorism is threatening global peace. (NSTP Archive)

KUALA LUMPUR: The use of social media and mobile messaging applications to promote terrorism is threatening global peace.

Counter-terrorism expert Andrin Raj said such threats from terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) were real.

“These groups have established effective platforms with skills, knowledge and know-how to influence, radicalise and create a virtual caliphate for their ideological and perpetrated religious beliefs,” said Raj, the International Association of Counter-terrorism and Security Professionals (IACSP) regional director for Southeast Asia.

He said IACSP found that the threat had expanded from Southeast Asia to Europe, the Middle East and Northwest Africa.

“They have links to all jihadist groups working in support of al-Qaeda and IS through (messaging app) Telegram. Email systems are also being reactivated by these groups.

“Information never is transmitted directly to anyone, to safeguard their members’ identities and locations, but the information sits in the draft box with the same username and password that the network relies on,” said Raj in response to the arrest of seven radicals by Special Branch counter-terrorism operatives recently.

The seven are reportedly members of the IS linked to a cell group which had plotted to attack non-Muslim places of worship and assassinate high-profile personalities here.

Raj said the informants’ source was kept limited that even the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation took up to a year to investigate money laundering via terrorist networks.

“(Some of) these cybertroopers, with operatives globally, have infiltrated political parties, non-governmental organisations and security agencies mainly in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.”

Raj said a new Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), with a new structure and leader, had been established in Indonesia with direct links to al-Qaeda, IS and Abu Sayyaf.

“They have also begun recruiting members with the assistance of former JI members who have not been identified or captured, to build the network within Southeast Asia using social media.”

For this reason, he supported Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu’s call for the establishment of a new cyber defence force globally to counter militant threats.

Raj said counter-terrorism information technology experts who were knowledgeable about the militants’ operations and psychological aspects needed to be brought in to complement such a force.


1ID Hosts Philippines-Australia Army to Army Exercise 2019

From the Philippine Information Agency (May 21, 2019): 1ID Hosts Philippines-Australia Army to Army Exercise 2019

CAMP SANG-AN, Labangan, Zamboangadel Sur –The Philippines-Australia Army to Army Exercise 2019 formally opened here on Monday, May 19, 2019.

The Phil-Aus Exercise aims to enhance the combat skills, competence on urban warfare operations and interoperability of Philippine Army and Australian Defense Force that will provide an opportunity to conduct combined mission planning and combined resolution of a terrorist incident.

The 27 training days which will end on June 21, 2019, is joined by Philippine Army composed of 540 personnel coming from the Organic and Opcon units of 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division namely, 11DRC, 15DRC, 16SRC, Scout Platoons of Infantry Battalions, 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade, and Engineer Combat Battalion; and 47 Australian Defense Force personnel purposely to strengthen the bilateral relationship between the two armies.

“The best gift that a Commander can give to his men is training. Make the most out of it and apply it when the time comes.” said Brigadier General Roberto T. Ancan, the 1st Infantry Division Commander. (ALT-PI9/Zamboanga Sibugay/11D Press Release)

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Female cadet from Ilocos Sur tops PMA Mabalasik Class of 2019

From the Philippine News Agency (May 21, 2019): Female cadet from Ilocos Sur tops PMA Mabalasik Class of 2019

MABALASIK CLASS OF 2019. The top 10 cadets of Philippine Military Academy’s Mabalasik Class of 2019 are presented to mediamen on Tuesday (May 21, 2019). Five female cadets are in the top 10, including valedictorian Dionne Mae Apolog Umalla from Alilem, Ilocos Sur. (Photo courtesy of Ian Russell Requiso/Midtown Photography)
FORT DEL PILAR, Baguio City -- The Philippine Military Academy, the country’s premier military institution, announced on Tuesday the top 10 graduating cadets of Mabalasik Class of 2019, topped by Dionne Mae Apolog Umalla of Alilem, Ilocos Sur

In a press conference, PMA Superintendent, Lt. Gen. Ronnie Evangelista, said that aside from graduating valedictorian, the 22-year-old Umalla will receive 14 other special awards, including the Presidential Saber for finishing on top of the class.

She will also receive the Philippine Navy Saber, Distinguished cadet award (Starman), Academic group award, Humanities plaque, Management plaque, Social Sciences plaque, Natural Sciences plaque, Computing and Information Sciences plaque, Department of leadership plaque, the Joint United States Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG) award, Australian Defense best overall performance, Spanish Armed Forces award, and the Association of Generals and Flag Officers (AGFO) award.

Umalla, daughter of a retired teacher, is the fifth female cadet to land on top since the academy started accepting females in what used to be a male-dominated institution.

The first was Arlene dela Cruz in 1999, Tara Velasco in 2003, Andrelee Mojica in 2007, and Rovi Mariel Martinez in 2017.

Joining Umalla are Jonathan Eslao Mendoza, the class “Baron” or brigade commander who will join the Philippine Air Force (PAF). He is from Sangley Point Cavite and the son of an enlisted personnel from the PAF.

Landing in the third spot is Jahziel Gumapac Tandoc from La Trinidad, Benguet.

Completing the top 10 are Daniel Heinz Bugnozen Lucas of Barlig, Mountain Province (4th); Aldren Maambong Altamero of Kidapawan, North Cotabato (5th); Richard Balabag Lonogan of Sagada, Mountain Province (6th); Marnel Dinihay Fundales of Legales, Iloilo (7th); Glyn Elinor Buansi Marapao of Buguias, Benguet (8th); Ruth Angelique Ricardo Pasos of Pinagbuhatan, Pasig City (9th); and Daryl James Jalgalado Ligutan of Sta. Mesa, Manila (10th place).

The academy also identified cadets for the special awards.

Recipients of the athletic saber award are Kimberly Joy Sali-an Baculi of Tanuda, Kalinga and Nicolas Crisanto Ranguine Guysayko of Naga, Camarines Sur.

Jesriel Alvendia Calimag will receive the Chief of Staff Saber award, while Geoffrey Ortega Valdez of Mintal Davao City is a Journalism awardee.

The "Mandirigma ng Bayan, iaalay ang sarili, Lakas at Tapang, Para sa Kapayapaan" (Mabalasik) Class of 2019 entered the Philippine Military Academy on April 1, 2015 reception day with a total of 349 young aspirants -- 259 males and 90 females.

There were 11 males who made it to the final screening but did not report on reception day.

There will be 263 members of the class -- 186 males and 72 females who will graduate on May 26 with President Rodrigo R. Duterte leading the ceremonies as commander-in-chief and guest speaker.

Of the total number of graduating cadets, 40 are Cordillerans, followed by those from Region IV-A with 29; National Capital Region with 27; Region III with 23; Region II with 22 and Region I with 18. The other members of the class are spread out in different regions.

Fifty percent of the graduates are female.

During the presentation of the top graduates, Brig. Gen. Cheston Valencerina said the academy implements a rigid screening process that starts from the pre-qualification stage and continues until they graduate.


Philippines, Australia hold Army to Army exercise

From the Philippine News Agency (May 21, 2019): Philippines, Australia hold Army to Army exercise

TRAINING EXERCISE. Filipino troops (upper photo) and Australian army (lower photo) undergo a 27-day anti-terrorism training in Camp Sang-an, Labangan, Zamboanga del Sur. (Photo courtesy of Army's 1st Infantry Divison Public Affairs Office)

Filipino and Australian soldiers are undergoing a 27-day training exercise to strengthen the capability of both forces in the fight against terrorism.

The training, dubbed as the Philippines-Australia Army to Army Exercise 2019, kicked off Monday in Camp Sang-an that houses the Philippine Army’s First Infantry Division in Labangan, Zamboanga del Sur.

Brig. Gen. Roberto Ancan, Army’s 1st Infantry Division commander, said Tuesday the training aims to enhance the combat skills, competence on urban warfare operations and interoperability of the Philippine Army and Australian Defence Force (ADF).

Ancan said the training will provide an opportunity to conduct combined mission planning and combined resolution of terrorist incidents. He said the training will also strengthen the bilateral relationship between the two armies.

“The best gift that a commander can give to his men is training. Make the most out of it and apply it when the time comes,” he said.

He said the 27-day training exercise, which ends on June 21, involves the participation of 540 troops--493 Philippine Army and 47 Australian Army.

He added that the Philippine Army participants are from the different organic and operational control units of Army’s 1st Infantry Division namely, 11th and 15th Division Reconnaissance Companies, 16th Scout Ranger Company, Scout Platoons of Infantry Battalions, 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade, and Engineer Combat Battalion.


IPs who 'escaped' from UCCP compound in Davao return to Kapalong

From the Philippine News Agency (May 21, 2019): IPs who 'escaped' from UCCP compound in Davao return to Kapalong

RETURNING HOME. After three years, the 31 Ata Manonbos who reportedly escaped from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Haran Compound in Madapo Hills, Davao City return home to their ancestral land in Gupitan, Kapalong, Davao del Norte on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of PIA-Davao)

The 31 members of the Ata-Manobo tribe who reportedly escaped from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Haran Compound in Madapo Hills, this city, over the weekend have finally returned home to their ancestral land in Kapalong, Davao del Norte Tuesday.

Their return to Sitios Lono-Lono, Muling, and Tawinian in Barangay Gupitan followed a debriefing or case conference conducted by the local government of Kapalong on Tuesday.

The Kapalong police reported that the IPs, accompanied by personnel of the Army’s 60 Infantry Battalion, arrived at the Kapalong Municipal Police Station on Saturday night.

Of the 31 rescued, 10 are of legal age and 21 minors of whom 13 are aged below 10 years old. The youngest are two children who are both two years old while the oldest is 55 years old.

The Kapalong police said they conducted custodial investigation, documentary, and profiling on the rescued persons. The IPs were also brought to Davao del Norte District Hospital-Kapalong Zone for medical and physical examination before they were turned over to the Municipal Social Welfare and Development (MSWD).

They have been secured by the 60th Infantry Battalion after their reported escape from UCCP Haran on Saturday with the help of some tribal leaders and the Kapalong local government.

The escape of the lumads was known after 23-year-old Jovelyn Tiklonay of Barangay Suawon, New Corella, Davao del Norte, personally appeared at the Kapalong Police Station to report information she received from a fellow tribe member at the UCCP Haran.

Tiklonay had told police that one of her colleagues in UCCP Haran informed her he escaped along with the 30 other Ata Manobos by jumping over the back fence of the compound.

Tiklonay said the IPs had wanted to return home to Barangay Gupitan, Kapalong, Davao del Norte, and they were asking for a vehicle to take them home from Davao City because their money was not enough to travel. Most of them are residents of Sitio Muling.

In an interview on Tuesday, Col. Eugene Osias, the assistant chief of staff for Civil-Military Operations (CMO) of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom), confirmed the rescue on Saturday started around 4 p.m. The IPs arrived in Kapalong at almost 10 p.m., he added.

"Rescued were 21 children and 10 adults, so overall there are 31," said Osias. "They jumped over the fence so that no one can prevent them from leaving."

Osias said the Kapalong municipal government led by its information officer and two tribal leaders helped in the rescue of the 31 IPs including women and children.

"The rescued IPs were brought to Kapalong and were given de-briefing by the local government unit," he said.

"We will look into the individual security of every Filipino especially those within the area of the Eastern Mindanao Command," said Osias, vowing to help the LGUs especially on the security concern of the IPs and local officials.

“We are committed to helping every individual here in Eastern Mindanao Command," he added.

According to Osias, there could be at least 50 IPs still in UCCP Haran where they have stayed since 2016.

In a statement, the Pasaka--an IP organization--denied any IP had fled the compound.

“It has been our stand as Lumad bakwet here in Haran to allow Lumad families to go home. We recognize the right of every Lumad and we do not refuse such request,” the statement said.

Pasaka claimed that Datu Basing Balanban, Dol-om Tumagsa, and Jovelyn Tiklunay arrived with soldiers in civilian clothes and forced some families to leave Haran on Saturday.


DND, AFP hail passage of mandatory ROTC for senior high

From the Philippine News Agency (May 21, 2019): DND, AFP hail passage of mandatory ROTC for senior high

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday lauded lawmakers for approving on third and final reading House Bill 8961, which makes the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) mandatory for senior high school students.

"The DND welcomes the approval of House Bill 8961 at the House of Representatives on the third and final reading today, 20 May 2019. The reinstatement of mandatory ROTC in Grades 11 and 12 will help instill love of country, good citizenship, respect for human rights, and adherence to the rule of law," he said in a message to reporters.

The House of Representatives voted 167-4-0 to approve House Bill 8961 on third and final reading.

"We thank our legislators for making the youth their priority. Now more than ever, we need the strength of an empowered Filipino youth with leadership, sense of duty and service, discipline, and leadership to sustain our nation’s growth and momentum," Lorenzana stressed.

Instilling patriotism

Meanwhile, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Marine Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said they strongly welcome this development.

"The AFP is a consistent advocate of a military training program that shall form part of the curriculum because that will help nurture nationalism and patriotism to the youth in schools," he added.

Also, ROTC enrollment among Grade 11 and 12 students envisions to instill discipline and sense of purpose; respect for the laws and the authorities; and obedience to rules and regulations.

"Today’s young generation needs to be exposed to the rudiments of basic soldiery no matter brief to help develop and hone their leadership potentials," Arevalo emphasized.

Arevalo added that this move will protect the youth from getting brainwashed by communist rebels.

"They need to be exposed to the rudiments of basic soldiery no matter brief (four semesters) to help develop and hone their leadership potentials and character. Not to the teachings of local communists and their minions who are wolves in sheep’s clothing They enter school premises or are already inside school grounds in search for fertile minds. Idealist young men and women whom they can plant the seeds of discontent and hatred and later on exploited and manipulated to lead NPA’s to fill the dearth of their cadres — to the detriment and suffering of parents who bear all the sacrifices and hardships in sending their children to school in the hope of a bright future," he added.

Warning to parents, students

The military spokesperson, meanwhile, warned the public not to be deceived by groups linked to the communist movement.

"Parents and students, therefore, should not listen to the noise that Partylist groups like Kabataan, Gabriella, et al. that Jose Maria Sison acknowledged to be CPP-NPA allies. Such links were confirmed by surrenderers who were former NPA members and Cadres,"

Arevalo also stressed that the opposition of these groups to the measure did not come as a surprise.

"What will we expect from this bloc but oppose the ROTC Program because they stand to lose their pool of potential cadre recruits? Remember those students who were among NPA who died in armed confrontations in Batangas and Laguna? Both turned out to be from the University of the Philippines, in Manila and Los Baños, respectively," he added.

He also assured that the AFP will "assign as trainers officers and enlisted personnel with no criminal, civil, or administrative case involving corruption or other malpractices so that they will provide good role models to the students".

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 in the bill, students 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 are exempted and others those who may be exempted from training for valid reasons, as approved by the Department of National Defense 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” objective 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.


BRP Jose Rizal, BRP Antonio Luna first real combat ships for PH

From the Philippine News Agency (May 21, 2019): BRP Jose Rizal, BRP Antonio Luna first real combat ships for PH

The missile-armed frigate BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150), which is scheduled to be launched at the shipyard of Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) in South Korea's southeastern city of Ulsan on Thursday, is the first combat vessel to be designed and purposely acquired for the Philippine Navy (PN), whose fleet is mostly composed of second-hand ships acquired from allies.

"She (BRP Jose Rizal) is the first combat ship to be designed and acquired for the PN along with her sister-ship, the BRP Antonio Luna (FF-151) whose steel-cutting is also scheduled for this week," said Navy spokesperson Captain Jonathan Zata in an interview with the Philippine News Agency late Monday.

Launching is considered the four highlights of a vessel's life with the other three being steel-cutting, commissioning, and decommissioning while steel-cutting is considered the formal start of a ship's construction.

The two ships will be armed with a variety of sensors and weapons capable of detecting and neutralizing surface, sub-surface and air threats.

Once the two ships are commissioned into PN service by 2020 and 2021, Zata said these will help secure the country's maritime chokepoints or primary sea routes used for trade, logistics, and naval operations from the above-mentioned threats.

The Philippines and HHI signed a PHP16 billion contract for two missile-armed frigates, with another PHP2 billion set aside for its weapon systems and munition.

Also, Zata said the two ships will become more capable once the two AgustaWestland AW-159 anti-submarine helicopters are integrated into operations.

This is because the AW-159s will extend the range of the ships in detecting and neutralizing surface and sub-surface threats, he added.

This is possible because of the helicopters heavy missile and torpedo weaponry and its various surveillance detections including sonar for submarine location and hunting.

The two AW-159s are expected to be commissioned into PN service by May 27, which coincides with the Navy's 121st anniversary.

These aircraft were acquired for PHP5.4 billion including its munition, mission essential equipment and integrated logistic support.

The AW-159 (previously called the Future Lynx and Lynx Wildcat) is an improved version of the Westland Super Lynx military helicopter.

The helicopter has been ordered for the Royal Navy and British Army.

It is capable of speeds of 291 km/h (181 mph), range of 777 km (483 miles), ferry range of 963 km (598 miles) and an endurance of one and a-half hours (fours hours and 30 minutes if fitted with auxiliary fuel).

The AW-159 can also be armed with rockets, machine guns, missiles, torpedoes and depth charges.


Peace implementing panels turn over transition plan to BTA

From the Philippine News Agency (May 21, 2019): Peace implementing panels turn over transition plan to BTA

TRANSITION PLAN: Members of the Implementing Panels of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) pose for a group picture after the turnover of the Proposed Transition Plan to the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) in Cotabato City on Tuesday (May 21, 2019). The Plan was officially accepted by BTA Interim Chief Minister Al Haj Murad Ebrahim (center with copy of the Plan). (Photo courtesy of OPAPP)

The Implementing Panels of the government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Tuesday turned over in this city their Proposed Transition Plan to the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA).

The plan was officially accepted by
BTA Interim Chief Minister Ahod "Murad" Ebrahim, Al Haj.

Ebrahim said the Proposed Transition Plan will serve as a working draft that will be further enhanced by the technical working group (TWG) created by the regional cabinet.

“Subjecting the proposed Transition Plan to a TWG composed of permanent employees can elicit vital learning or lessons in bureaucratic norms, ethics, practices, and experiences," he explained.

The chief minister also thanked the members of the Coordination Team for the Transition (CT4T) to the BTA, as well as the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for the technical assistance and resources it extended to the BTA.

The Proposed Transition Plan was crafted by the CT4T and submitted to the government and MILF Implementing Panels chaired by Minister Mohagher Iqbal and Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Executive Director Gloria Jumamil-Mercado.

The plan includes the critical priority codes that the BTA should legislate, electoral, local government, education, administrative, revenue, and civil service codes.

It is crucial for the codes to be passed into law to provide the necessary structure when crafting the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s budget for the next fiscal year, and the usage of the block grant.

Among the main priority programs of the BTA are education, health and sanitation, food security, and environment protection.

In his message, Iqbal said he was very pleased with the achievement of another milestone in the Bangsamoro Peace Process.

He expressed hope that "the chief minister will find it (Proposed Transition Plan) valuable and useful in establishing a government structure that is ethical, inclusive, dutiful to the needs of the constituency it vowed to protect and serve."

"Indeed, the work placed in this plan was inspired by the aspirations of the people in the Bangsamoro, which includes just and lasting peace for generations to come," he added.

For her part, Jumamil-Mercado expressed her gratitude to the CT4T for drafting the transition plan.

"We’d like to express our gratitude to the CT4T who worked tirelessly to come up with a plan that is inclusive and inspired by the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people. Let us sustain the gains of peace as we continue to work for peace and development for the Bangsamoro," she said.

In his remarks, Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation and Unity Carlito G. Galvez Jr. said the proposed plan embodies the parties' commitment to utilize the appropriate processes and mechanisms to ensure the efficient transition from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao government to the BTA.

"We hope that the interest of the people, the reform in the Bangsamoro, and collaborative engagement among various agencies both at the regional and national level(s) be given utmost priority as we implement the transition plan," he said.

Galvez reaffirmed President Rodrigo Duterte’s strong support for the Bangsamoro, as he underscored the national government’s unwavering commitment to implement all signed peace agreements with the various Moro fronts.

"President Duterte wants all stakeholders to help the Bangsamoro. We (OPAPP) are your partner in this journey towards self-determination and development of (the) Bangsamoro not only until 2022 but even beyond. On a personal note, it’s a lifetime crusade. I am and will be your big brother," he said.

Galvez and the members of the government’s Implementing Panel also went to the session of the BTA to observe the parliamentary procedures.

The CT4T GPH representatives were composed of Undersecretary Hernan B. Jumilla (Department of Budget and Management), lawyer Jose I. Lorena (OPAPP), and engineer Baintan Ampatuan (ARMM), and lawyer Krunimar Escudero III (DBM).

On the other hand, the CT4T MILF members were composed of Executive Secretary Esmael Pasigan, engineer Mohajirin Ali, lawyer Sha Elijah Dumama Alba, Abdulmotalib Ismi, and Aragasi S. Mohammad.

The CT4T has already fulfilled its mandate with the submission of the Proposed Transition Plan and will cease to exist.

The body endorsed the plan to the Implementing Panels in Manila last March 26, beating the 60-day deadline as provided in Article XVI, Section 6 of the Bangsamoro Organic Law.


Malacañang welcomes passage of mandatory ROTC bill

From the Philippine News Agency (May 21, 2019): Malacañang welcomes passage of mandatory ROTC bill

Malacañang on Tuesday welcomed the House of Representatives' passage of the bill making the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program mandatory for senior high school students.

"That’s good news, the President wants that passed," said Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo in a Palace briefing.

On Monday, the House of Representatives voted 167-4-0 to approve the ROTC bill (House Bill 8961) on third and final reading.

Under the proposed measure, ROTC program would apply to “all students in Grades 11 and 12 in all senior high schools in public and private educational institutions” and shall be a requirement for graduation.

As provided for in the bill, students 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 are exempted and others those who may be exempted from training for valid reasons, as approved by the Department of National Defense (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.

The bill also specifically bans hazing and other forms of physical or mental abuse.

The DND and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) earlier expressed their support for the measure.


Palace on China’s fishing ban: “That’s against the sovereignty”

From the Philippine News Agency (May 21, 2019): Palace on China’s fishing ban: “That’s against the sovereignty”

The fishing ban imposed by China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is against Philippine sovereignty, Malacañang said on Tuesday.

“That’s against the sovereignty – that’s our position,” replied Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo when asked in a Palace briefing if the fishing ban was objectionable on the part of the Philippines.

“Is it objectionable for a sovereign country to have its property or island assaulted or intruded into? Your question, if your answer is yes, then the answer to your question is yes,” he said.

The Chinese agricultural ministry reportedly said the annual fishing ban, which covers both Chinese and foreign fishermen, will run from May 1 until August 16.

Vietnam “resolutely” rejected China’s unilateral fishing ban decision, according to media reports.

Panelo said the government will always be consistent with its policy “that it will assert its sovereignty over the areas claimed to be its own”.

“So, it will always pursue that line,” he added.

The Presidential Spokesman, however, said he will leave it to Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to make a statement on the issue.

“I will leave that to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs to make a direct statement on that,” he added, noting that all department heads “know their jobs”.

On April, President Rodrigo Duterte met with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the 2nd Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China from April 25 to 27 where both leaders reiterated their respective stands on the sea row.

Panelo said the two leaders also agreed to use a bilateral consultation mechanism to resolve the conflict.


NSA, DND ‘studying’ issue on Huawei Android restrictions

From the Philippine News Agency (May 21, 2019): NSA, DND ‘studying’ issue on Huawei Android restrictions

President Rodrigo Duterte will wait for recommendations from National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and the defense department on matters concerning Google's decision to bar Chinese smartphone company Huawei from some updates to the Android operating system.

“I suppose the Department of National Defense as well as the National Security Adviser are studying that matter,” said Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo in a Palace briefing.

“And the President will be waiting for whatever recommendation they have on that,” he added.

These restrictions came after U.S. President Donald Trump placed the Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. on a trade blacklist which prevents access to future versions of the Android operating system.

Google is one of the first American companies to comply with Trump’s order.

Huawei will be barred from purchasing U.S. licensing part and technology without special permission.

The U.S. Commerce Department granted Huawei a 90-day relief for transactions necessary to maintain existing networks and minimize disruptions to its customers.

Despite this development, the Philippines’ major telecommunications companies assured that customers will not yet be affected by the U.S. restriction.

In a statement, Philippine Long-Distance Telephone Inc. and Smart vowed to work closely with Huawei to address concerns regarding firmware and software updates for their devices.

Globe Telecom Inc., in a separate statement, assured Huawei will continue to provide their devices with security updates and after-sales services.